The Cat and the Columnist
By: Patric Quinn
Suddenly he was there she, maybe. A quiet spring from the floor to my desk top and the black ball of longish, shiny fur was in my way, examining the papers I was working on, sniffing. My bossy administrative assistant. When he finished, he twirled around twice, moved to my side and sat, those big yellow eyes in that black face staring at me, devoid of any comment. Or were they kind of green, too. And as usual I began a conversation which never ever stirred any reaction from him.
'Is everything okay? Meet with your approval?' Just the steady stare, no movement, No sound. 'You know, we do this all the time and you act this way all the time. Just a ball of jet black fur with those big yellow eyes. I can't tell if you approve or not. Today or any day. Considering that I feed and house you, do you think your unhelpful attitude is in order?' He stretched his head toward me and grazed my nose with his. I still don't know what that means. I glanced down at my work and back at him. But he was gone, back on the floor and about his own stuff. This was 'as usual' in my house.
I introduce him because in some way I suspect he had some part in what took place that day and night. My name is Ed Devereaux and I'm a…..what….article writer, columnist. I wasn't trained as a journalist, but slipped into it by virtue of the lack of virtue in certain areas of government. It all started with a LetterToTheEditor that became an OpEd article that nicked interest in the dark halls of power.
I wrote the piece aimed right down the middle. I figured, if I was effective, there might be interest from both sides of the power block. I was wrong. The power blocks were more than two and existed in cities and counties all over as well as in D.C., where the most disturbing of veiled responses came from. Veiled responses are creepy.
A friend of mine, Woody Witkowski, who was an authentic journalist called me one day to advise me to take the edge off my articles, that I was whipping up waves in the workings of hidden powers that operated far deeper than the bad stuff that was public scandal. That I was pushing the giant tides of power in D.C. And they didn't like me cutting to the bone. I was pleased and a bit flattered at that effect. Woody didn't think I should be flattered. He had some experience of his own and said, instead of being pleased, I should be, at least, watchful.
I went on being pleased until something did happen. A magazine article was critiqued to shreds on TV by an angry political talking head. And so was the author, me. This guy was off the wall with what I considered specious arguments. Silky lies, really. The 'Woody warning' part was that I had written the article, but had not yet published it. No one knew about it except me. How the hell did this guy get it?
Finding out took a lot longer, but the gist of it is this. I live by myself, unmarried, out by a lake in the far suburbs, very few folks nosing around, very few folks doing anything. Only the occasional and trusted visitor and the mailman. No burglaries, no trouble of any kind. Then how did who get the article?
I was sitting at my computer pondering when the cat jumped up, did his administrative dance and sat down next to my keyboard. I peered into those big yellow eyes. 'What do you think, buddy? How did they get my stuff?' He stared back like he was thinking about it or about how dumb I was not to figure it out. He went and rubbed back and forth across my monitor screen and came back, sat and stared at me. Those eyes. He didn't act impatient, but I knew he was thinking what a jerk I was. Of course, they got the article out of my computer. They broke in online and stole it. I felt invaded. I felt violated. I felt stupid. Woody was right.
I had space in the room, so, I bought a small desk and a second computer that I kept offline and loaded with a word processor program and very few others, but no internet connections. Even with no way to break in, I went an extra step. Every thing I wrote, articles, letters, and preparatory notes, I saved to external harddrive devices and erased from my offline computer. Everything was on my external drives and nowhere else. I hid the harddrives after every use. Places like a cigar box in the living room. No one I know smokes cigars and they'd choke on those stale ones that covered the harddrive under them. My Passport external harddrives were 3 inches by 4 inches and about a half inch thick. I hid another at the bottom of the big plastic coffee can from Costco. They'd have to drink a lot of coffee to get down to that one. Others were in like places around the house and garage. I felt pretty secure except for a little tremor running deep in my consciousness. What if they wanted me, if they couldn't find my work?
Aside from hiding things, I liked unhiding. On warmish Spring evenings, I liked getting out on my patio. Especially with the moonlight shining on the lake. Like that night. I slid back the door and my little friend zipped out and disappeared into shadows that were as black as he was. He liked getting out as much as I did and then could be gone for a few days. He never explained his habits to me and had come as oddly as he always went. Oddly, he showed up one day and sat on the patio staring in through the screen door. He didn't meow or fuss, but I opened the door and in he came. He's been here ever since except for his disappearances. Sometimes, if I were on the patio when he came back, he'd rub around until I petted him, stroked him under the chin and behind his ears. He seemed to appreciate that although he never purred about it. A pretty cool cat.
Felines are strange creatures, and have been kind of mysterious down through the ages. Like him. Him! him!....I call him 'him'. I could never tell nor bothered to find out about cat's sexes. He may very well be a 'she' for all I know. Be beautiful instead of handsome. But I could never bring myself to call her or him an 'it'. Maybe he enjoyed the full moon as much as I did, because that's when I like to be out on the patio and that's when he disappears for his few days.
My phone buzzed while I was out there. It was Woody and he sounded excited.
'Woody, you sound funny. What's the matter.'
'Your article today has the whole swamp afire. Is Part II set for tomorrow?'
'Yeah, Part II runs tomorrow. Why?'
'Word is in the wind that you're in big trouble.'
'Like with who, Woody?'
'We haven't got time for this now. Bad enough you stirred up the congressman and that big shot lawyer, Steadman, but you unmasked J.J. Cox with them.'
'Well, that's where my sources and connecting dots took me. I'm an investigator, or was, remember?'
'Cox is Mr. Invisible, Eddie, he never gets connected with anything. You know that other couple, right? The people connected with them that were found dead in their apartments? Or were suicides in the park? With two bullets in the head?'
'I've got some stuff turned up about them, too.'
'Word is Cox works the same as they do. You have to disappear, Eddie. Get lost.'
'Hey, Woody, don't make a Federal case out of this.......'
'That's just what it is. I'm not kidding.'
'Well, where the hell can I go tonight.....assuming you're right.'
'I am right. Come here, to my place. Now.'
'I can't come 'now'. Tomorrow morning I can come.'
'I can't. I have to close everything up. And I have the cat to get ready.....his cage, and food, and litter and all that. Tomorrow morning, Woody, I promise.'
'This is deep, dark, angry stuff, Eddie. Exposing Cox is threatening his worldwide network. He's really a connected hood. Big dangerous mistake.' We ended the call.
I was pondering these mysteries when I heard a car come into my driveway and crunch to a stop. I wasn't expecting anyone and couldn't hear any voices calling me or even talking. That little tremor deep in my consciousness began to twist. Footsteps came up the path at the side of the house. Three men walked onto the patio. two were dressed in suits and one big guy wore a sweat jacket and pants and looked like a weightlifter.
'What do you guys want? Who are you anyway?'
'We're ambassadors, Devereaux. You committed a serious error and we're here to fix it.' There was a mild sneer in his voice. His hand came out of his jacket holding a pistol. He pointed out to the lake. 'Later, the lake, first the house, inside, let's go.' His growling voice was as infuriating as his imperious attitude. The second suit walked to the path to the lake. Infuriating is the right word.
'What the hell error?'
'Your error, smart guy. All the stuff that feeds your articles. Those are the errors.'
'I'm not giving you anything, much less everything. And I wouldn't even if I knew who the hell you are.'
'Turn around and walk, Devereaux.'
'Screw you, tough guy.' Tough guy nodded to the sweat suit and I felt a load hit my back. As I crumpled under the blow, I heard a rushing sound in the undergrowth next to the patio. And then I was out.
I don't know how long I was out, but the moon was sliding down behind the trees when I awoke. I was disoriented, stretched out on the patio with my head and shoulders against the fieldstone wall. Darkness gave out the sounds of the night creatures, an owl. An EMT knelt on one knee beside me, testing my legs, feeling for breakage or damage. And my arms. I wasn't sure he was a 'he'. Long black hair shining in the moonlight, black uniform, gentle hands testing. The EMT's face was in shadow, only the slanted greenish eyes shown, watching me steadily. I moved then, a little, and I think I groaned. The touch was gentle as the hand took my chin in its fingers and moved my head back and forth, maybe, to see if my neck was broken or not. The hand was sheathed in a black glove, the folded fingers brushing my cheek so tenderly. I felt safe. That's all I remember.
'You're in the hospital, Mr. Devereaux. I'm Doctor Salmon.'
I wasn't putting anything together. 'How did I get here?'
'An EMT called in about you and we went and got you.' Dr. Salmon shrugged at the simplicity of his part. I remembered the EMT then and began to get lying on the patio and then the picture took on the dark night and the silence, only the night creatures. I looked past the doctor at the uniformed guy at the door.
'Police, Mr. Devereaux. He wants to talk to you, some questions, I guess. We send out an ambulance and a Sheriff's officer goes, too. Safety procedure. He's Sergeant Marino.' The doctor took a hand out of his lab coat pocket and motioned to the cop. Marino came in and introduced himself, I reflexively reached out to shake hands and hesitated when I thought of the other strangers who showed up on my patio.
'This is about last night?'
Marino grinned a little. 'How about last night two days ago, Mr. Devereaux?'
'Two days ago? How long have I been here? What about my house?'
'If you'll answer my questions, we'll get to your answers. Can you help me here?'
I looked at Dr. Salmon. 'How am I, Doctor? When do I get out of here?'
'You're fine as far as I can tell. I'll discharge you for tomorrow morning. And, if you don't mind, I'd like to stay and hear the story you have for Sergeant Marino.'
I shrugged. What did I know? 'Sure, stay. I'll tell you up to those three guys showing up on my patio. And roughing me up.'
Sergeant Marino took over with his questions. His voice was baritone and nicely moderated. 'First, you were on your patio? I was out there and saw the patio.'
'What time was that, Mr. Devereaux?'
'Ninethirty, ten.' I told him what happened in the few minutes from then until I was knocked down. And out. And until I woke up with the EMT tech taking care of me and went out again. 'And here I am, Sergeant.'
'Where did the three men go? Have any guess?'
'Don't know what they did or where they went. I was out. The place was theirs.'
'They didn't use the house, Mr. Devereaux. Nothing was upset, no drawers open and signs like that.'
'I don't know. I guess they took off.'
'That's your car in the driveway, the big SUV?'
'I don't own an SUV, big or small.'
'Well then, the three guys didn't leave in the SUV either.'
I shrugged and shook my head.
'Then where are the three guys?'
I shrugged again,
'What was the very last thing you recall on the patio? Think hard, but take your time. It doesn't need to make sense to you. Just tell me what you get.'
I tried to visualize that night. 'One guy was heading off the patio toward the lake path and...and I heard a rushing kind of sound in the brush near the patio. It distracted them and I turned trying to get the gun and that giant guy crushed me. And that was it.' I held out my hands in an 'I don't know' gesture. 'That's it until the emergency tech came.'
'We haven't found anything yet either, Mr. Devereaux. A bit of muss and foot tracks in the dirt. A torn up sweat jacket on the path to the lake. Testing some stains from the slate. My men are.... investigating....around the lake, but I may want your help again.'
'Fine, I'll be around. The Doctor says I'll be home. 'Only a sweat jacket? What about the EMT tech?'
'Never located any EMT that was there that night. Enough of them around and ready and willing, but none went to your place. None fit your tech's description either.'
Dr. Salmon stepped up. 'I have instructions you must follow. We don't know if the stress has caused any damage or may be triggered again. Get yourself those favorite books you've meant to read and that's all you do. No work. Sit around the house, loaf, read. Go to bed, read. Let your mind go where the books take you. Got it?'
Well, I did lay back and read and read. Nothing else happened and I only had friendly calls once in a while from Woody. He said he didn't call that much so as not to frighten me. And he didn't interrupt my reading which I enjoyed. I was even reading a fascinating book about cat history. Finally learning something about them.
I was looking out the patio door at the lake. I had slipped the door back and was looking through the screen. It was a quarter moon surrounded by a million stars glinting in a midnight blue sky. The water was rippling in a chill fall breeze and the tangle of spidery tree branches reached up into the night. Leaves still dropping off and sometimes skittering across the slate. The cat sat on the floor next to me looking out the door, too.
'It'll be Halloween soon, buddy. Isn't that a cat time?' The cat didn't move. 'Black cats like you and witches on broomsticks and bats and ghosties and all kinds of spooky stuff?' I slid the door closed and locked it. He looked up at me with those big yellow eyes. 'Yeah, we lock up, now, huh? I'm a bit nervous anymore. Had that big time a little while ago. You missed it. You weren't around. It's bedtime, my friend. I'm going to go read about you. I'm on Page 124, I think.' The conversation continued as he followed me down the hall. 'You cats go way, way back. You were big in ancient Egypt with the pharaohs and all those folks. You might have been a god, if you lived back then. Or, at least, pretty important. They believed you had powers. Something mystic or magic.' He disappeared somewhere while I chattered, got ready for bed and picked the cat book off the stack on my bed table. I smoothed the covers to keep me cozy in the fall night and opened the book. It was Page 137. I had read maybe twenty minutes when I felt the little thump of his paws on the bed and the almost imperceptible steps as he walked up and onto my chest. I held the book aside and watched him settle down, fold his paws under and set those big yellow eyes on me. 'Are you going to stay there?' He seemed to give off a little more weight as if his bone structure relaxed and sank into the cover. 'The Egyptian cats didn't look like you. They had shorter hair and sat up majestically. In the tombs. Would you want to be in a tomb? You probably came from somewhere else.' The big eyes gazed at me. 'You look like more of a Halloween cat. Dark and spooky.' I rubbed his chin with a finger and behind his ears. When I stopped he stared at me, almost intently, examining me. 'You know, you remind me of someone. Your shiny black hair, those yellow eyes. Greenish? And that look.' He didn't move. I stared back at him and thought of the EMT tech and her eyes in the dark. 'Is there anything mystic about you, buddy? A little spooky?' She blinked, a rare thing. 'You remind me....those eyes....of someone.' I put the book aside, turned down the light and looked back at him....her?....I was calling him a her. 'Him or her, whoever you are, you're just a little cat, huh?' Another rare blink. 'Or are you something else entirely? What would you know about that night?' She stared steadily at me, those big yellow eyes aglow in the low light. Another rare blink. Then, flipped her tail back and forth once. The End