Cat Tracks

“Why detective, so good to see you,” I said sarcastically.

“I’m sure it is, Ms. Maximine, I’m sure it is. What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into this time?” Tom asked.

“Are you a major yet? You guys have captains, lieutenants, foot soldiers, I think you should be a major. Major Tom, can you hear me major Tom? Can you hear me major Tom?” I sang.

Detective Tom Czerneski was clearly not amused. He never was. Tom always had an angle. The kind of cop who assumes to know every answer before he asks the question. The kind of man who spends too much time in the bathroom slogging on all matters of alchemy designed to keep women 29 until they’re 69. This guy would arrest his own mirror.

“That’s twice in a week, Philippine. I think it’s time you let me in on it don’t ya think?” he asked.

“There’s nothing to let you in on, Tom,” I said.

“Really? Let’s just recap for a second shall we? A mountain lion just happened to pick the lock on your office door for what? Because he was tired? Because he wanted a cup of coffee?” Tom asked.

“Oh hey good idea. You want a cup?” I asked.

“Cut the crap Maximine. I’m on your side here. Someone is trying to kill you and it’s my job to find out who and why,” he said.

A miscellaneous officer walked in and handed Tom a plastic bag.

“We have the bullet sir,” the officer said.

Detective Tom held the bullet up to the light in front of both of us.

“I imagine that would have hurt a bit,” he said.

“I’ll bet you’re the kind of class act who would hold up a baby and say that same thing to the mother,” I said.

“Let’s face it, you’re no kind of mother Maximine,” he said.

“Let’s just say I like to have the option. After all, you never know when a post middle aged tin star one forgotten birthday away from forced retirement might wander in and sweep a girl off her feet, you know that cop pension and all,” I said.

“You know I ought to run you in,” he said angrily.

“On what charge?” I asked.

Eight knuckles down on my desk he leaned in close and turned the tone dial up to serious.

“I’ll think of something,” he said quietly.

In poker terms, sometimes a dog bluffs, growling even though it’s afraid. It’s hoping you’ll fold and get the hell out of the game. Other times a growl can be its tell, it’s going all-in and attack is imminent. A dog person can tell the difference. As it turns out, I’m neither a dog nor a cat person, but I sure can tell when a cop is serious. I guess that makes me a cop person although I will refrain from taking one as a pet.

“Alright, alright, you win. Because you and I both know I’m going to need those ballistics…have a seat. Have you ever heard of the AAPT?” I asked.

I handed him a full cup of coffee and he took a seat in the old precinct chair.

“Rings a bell, something to do with the drug dogs downtown,” he said.

“Animals Are People Too,” I said.

Major Tom nearly spit his joe in my face, flinging himself forward in his chair in order to give his mouth a head start on catching it. He swallowed hard, clearing his throat to more effectively state his disbelief.

“In a nutshell, I have a woman cheating on her husband with an executive of the company. Not only is her husband completely aware of the situation, he’s busy whoring around with the all too young trophy wife of the father of the executive, head of the aforementioned AAPT. This guy, the husband is also the real estate broker for the company that is currently expanding. The wife knows the husband is cheating but doesn’t know with whom. That’s where I come in. I have an ex-client who recommended me to the executive, who in turn tells the cheating wife to hire me to prove the husband is unfaithful so she can take him for all he’s worth in the pending divorce. No sooner does she hit the bricks, when the husband walks in, tells me he knows what his wife wants me to do, that I shouldn’t trust her, and as long as I’m at it, he’ll double my fee to prove she’s cheating on him,” I explain.

“That’s a pretty big nutshell,” Tom said.

“Wait, it gets better. While I’m tailing the husband and the trophy wife, I see they are being tailed by a guy who appears to be a hired thug, likely put in motion by the father, i.e., the husband, founder, and CEO of AAPT, none other than Sir Alfred Meltone, renowned philanthropist and rabid animal rights activist. After my window was shot out, I saw what appeared to be the same car the guy was driving ripping down the alley,” I said.

“You get a plate?” he asked.

“I did not, I was too busy watching my cat escape.”

“That explains the smell,” he said.

“Yeah, well, anyways I don’t really think it was him. I think I’m just supposed to think it was him. Whoever took the shot couldn’t have been that bad at their job. And why shoot once? Why let me see the car after you missed? Something, besides this office just doesn’t smell right,” I said.

I couldn’t tell if I lost him, or if the gears were just turning all too slowly.

“So, the cat. That wasn’t the cat that…”

“No,” I laughed.

“Totally different cat. That was Dick. I acquired Dick, formerly Richard from the AAPT as a means of getting me in the door. Actually, that reminds me of something I need to do,” I said.

I grabbed a can of disinfectant and a handful of napkins from the credenza in my office.

“If you’ll excuse me,” I said.

“So what, that’s it? I’m just supposed to go on my merry way after that convoluted explanation?” Tom asked.

“Listen, I’ll keep you in the loop and if I need you, I’ll call you. You want an attempted murder rap, and I want to get the guy who’s attempting to murder me, so trust me, we’ll be in touch. Just let me know what you find out about that bullet,” I said.

“You’re going to have to give me more than that Maximine. For instance, where you going with that?” he asked.

“Um, there’s something on my car that desperately needs to be cleaned off,” I said.

“What’d you, or should I say who did you hit? You know destroying evidence will get you locked-up quicker than…” 

“Oh trust me, if I could have hit him I would have, and I would have been proud of the stain,” I said.

“Why not just take it in for a wash then?” he asked.

I fully intended on lumping Major Tom and all men together during my eloquently planned explanation detailing their disgusting tendencies and hence the need for an industrial disinfectant. Instead, he gave me an idea.

“First of all, car washes cost money, and anyways, they closed the only one on this side of town,” I said walking out the door.

I staked-out the car for more than an hour before the driver came out of the building. To accentuate the beauty of my mock filthy face I pulled my hair back and tied it under a floral print handkerchief. The ripped material over the toes of my old blue tennis shoes complimented the stained jeans I kept around for chores. My sweatshirt embarrassingly straight off the hanger in my closet completed my bum ensemble all too well.

“Wash your window? Wash your windshield?” I asked.

I came from the street side. Approaching from the sidewalk would have given the chauffeur a chance to thwart my advance. Although his window was open, his attention was given to the front doors of the AAPT office building, presumably waiting for his client. I sprayed the cleaner and started to smear it with a dirty rag immediately triggering an incensed reaction.

“Hey, what the, what the hell are you doing? I’m gonna, why you, get the hell…” 

The chauffeur flung the car door open and slammed it closed hard enough to pop the glass out of the mirror housing. It bounced once, providing us both with that split second of relief, that feeling you get when disaster is averted. At least until the rug is pulled out and it hits the ground a second time shattering on the concrete.

We both just stood there staring at the broken pieces glistening in the sun. Slowly he turned his gaze towards me. I could tell by the look on his face he blamed me.

Sure I could have apologized, most people would in that situation. I also could have ran away and based on his angry eyes that would have been understandable. Instead, I offered an alternative.

“Tell you what, let me clean that up for you, no charge,” I said.

Enraged, he grabbed me by my neck and threw me onto the hood of the car. As he was in the process of offering me a close-up look at the back of his knuckles, a man came from nowhere and grabbed his wrist.

“That’s enough!” 

Detective Tom spun the chauffeur around and slammed him onto the hood next to me. The man rolled off the car and faced off with Tom. He said nothing, even when Tom dangled his gold shield in the man’s face.

“Like I said, that’s enough,” Tom said.

Tom looked at me like a disappointed father would look at a daughter who got caught coming home late with her prom dress on backwards.

“You. Get the hell out of here,” Tom said.

I slid off the hood, wiped my mouth and slowly walked away, looking the limo over as carefully as I could. Having sort of found what I was looking for, I went back to my car and waited. It didn’t take long. Tom opened up the passenger door and slid into the seat.

“What the hell were you thinking Philippine? Had I not come along that guy would have…”

“I know, I know. And thank you. I never thought I’d be grateful for being followed,” I said.

“What did you hope to gain by that little stunt?” Tom asked.

“Cat tracks,” I said

I was holding a napkin to my bloody lip and presumably I was difficult to understand.

“What?” he asked.

“Cat tracks, claw marks, anything. Dick, the damn cat landed on the car that left the scene. The way my office was trashed with litter, he would have left a mark, something, anything,” I explained.

“Well?” Tom asked.

“Nothing, not a damn thing. The car was clean,” I said.

“Maybe he had it washed,” Tom said.

“I doubt it, there was no time. I mean, I would have asked him, but…”

“Yeah I know, you were too busy being an asshole,” he said.

“Yeah funny. Did you get anything, ask him anything?” I asked.

“I did. He told me he was getting coffee. He still had the cup in his center council. Hell, it was still warm,” Tom said.

“Still warm? That would have been hours ago,” I exclaimed.

“Let’s just say he went to the kind of place where you get a cup, you stay awhile, and then you get another cup to go. As a matter of fact, I’m going to head over there now, see if I can’t collaborate his story,” he said.

“Head over where?” I asked.

“Starboinks,” Tom said.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” I said.

I’m not much of a fan of literature in any form, but some time ago a bartender who I’d become familiar with rattled one off that struck a chord with me. So much so that I committed it to memory.

It was a year ago September, a day I well remember. I was walking down the street in drunken pride. When my knees began to flutter, I fell down in the gutter and a pig came by and lay down by my side. As I lay there in the gutter thinking thoughts I could not utter, a lady passing by was heard to say, ‘You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses,’ and the pig got up and slowly walked away.*

Starboinks may not have had the best coffee in town, but it didn’t matter, pigs who go to strip clubs generally don’t care what they serve.

“I’m coming, I’ll drive,” I said.

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