Ella loves her new apartment. She has met neighbors Dave and Fanny and goes for a walk to explore the area. A vicious dog threatens her, but inexplicably stops and turns away. She plans to call Animal Control about it
It rained all night until the next day when an officer from Animal Control agreed to meet me where the dog had threatened me. By late morning, gray clouds sat low in the sky and occasional wind gusts pushed me along the broken sidewalk. Rainwater clinging to a skeletal tree dripped on my now frizzy hair. I waited at the intersection until the officer’s van pulled up to the lot. Feeling safer with some company, I hurried to introduce myself.
The officer nodded, smiled, shook my hand, and reassured me that the neighborhood had very few reports of vicious animals. No one had ever called about coyotes either. I wondered what he was getting at but followed him around the lot. He swept the ground with his flashlight as he started toward the cone-shaped structure and waved me forward.
“Could you get closer, Ma’am? Ah, c’mon, it’s just an old trash burner. The old dog you think you saw probably left when the rain stopped.”
He didn’t believe me. Why? I knew I’d really run into some kind of big, vicious dog and I absolutely did not want to get anywhere near that trash burner, but Officer Falk, a tall, solid guy in uniform, boosted my courage. I stood next to him on the burner’s threshold, where the dog had disappeared.
“I dunno, Ma’am, I don’t see any tracks or droppings. I’ll have a look inside.”
I called after him. “Maybe the rain washed them away? And some bones were over there on the sidewalk last evening.”
He disappeared into the cone. I waited just outside and pulled the hood of my jacket over my head. The rain was starting up again. “Hello? Officer Falk, where are you?”
I shivered from the damp cold and was about to call him again when he rushed out of the trash burner, pointed me toward the sidewalk, and told me to stay there. “What’s going on? What happened?” I asked. But the man turned his broad back to me, and I heard only snatches of the intense conversation he was having with someone on his phone. Agitated, he was waving his arm toward the trash burner and pacing as he talked.
A cat appeared out of nowhere and ran across my feet toward the trash burner. Totally bewildered, I started to go after it, but Falk yelled, “Stay back, stay back” and I retreated to the sidewalk.
Now the rain was pelting me and the wind picked up, but the storm could not mask the sound of sirens approaching. Several wailing police squad cars and an ambulance pulled up to the curb. Accompanied by Falk, paramedics rushed with their equipment into the trash burner just as the cat dashed out and headed toward me. Sitting just in front of me, she—I assumed she was a female because of her small size— was sort of an old cat, a little ratty with matted, gray fur and odd eyes, not the usual yellow or green. I couldn’t see them well in the growing gloom. Probably a stray, I thought.
Police officers joined the paramedics and were marking off the lot with yellow and black barricade tape. “Danger” was written all over it. I’m sure they weren’t punning. Falk came out of the cone and once he reached the sidewalk he gingerly tapped my shoulder and asked me to walk toward the intersection. When we reached the corner, he said, “It’s a good thing you called me. I found a body in there. No, I can’t tell who it was, it was, well, so, so—what’s the word—dismembered. Yeah, torn apart. That’s why I didn’t want you to go inside.”
I gasped. The cat started rubbing my calves. Falk looked at her and asked, “Yours?” I gulped, “Oh, yes.” I don’t know why but I couldn’t let him take her.
“Well, go home with her. This is no weather for a poor, old cat like that. You should be taking better care of her. Look.” He handed me a business card. “Call me tomorrow, after 10 a.m. and I’ll update you if I can; but, you know, the police…they will probably want to ask you some questions. Oh, here comes Ferguson now. I’ll get a blanket for the cat. When Ferguson finishes, get on home, you hear?” He went to his van and returned with a little coverlet, wrapped the cat, and thrust her into my arms.
I nodded, too overwhelmed to speak. Instinctively, I hugged the cat who now was nestling in my arms and purring quite loudly.
The policeman reached me, his phone in hand. He was a few inches taller than I, trim but a bit grizzled, perhaps close to retirement. “Sorry, ma’am for all this but we’ll have to ask you a few questions. Where do you live?”
Gripping the cat in one arm, I pointed down my street. “In a four-flat down a couple of blocks, Number 1515.”
I gave him my contact information and he told me to expect his call tomorrow afternoon or whenever Forensics gave him the green light.
Falk insisted on walking me home and reminded me to groom my “fur baby,” as he called her. I watched him stride back to the crime scene. Relieved and with my thoughts in a jumble, I relaxed my hold on Miss Kitty and she jumped out of my arms. Without another “meow,” she ran away, behind the apartment building. I followed her, but she was out of sight by the time I reached the back of the lot.
Shaking from the effects of my adrenaline rush and the cold, damp weather, I sat on the top step of our back stairway under a patio awning. I must have been there for quite a while lost in my thoughts, because I jumped when Fanny opened the door behind me. Wrapped in a heavy, chenille robe and rubbing her wet hair with a towel, she laughed and said, “You look like a drowned rat. I know how you feel. Come inside and I’ll give you a nice cup of hot tea.”
Something about her blue eyes startled me. Then I remembered the cat. “Fanny, I found a cat—just now—but she ran away.”
“The gray stray?” I nodded. “Oh, she’s a regular around here. I’m glad you’ve made friends with her.” Fanny winked and pulled my arm. Her long, manicured nails were painted blue.
“I guess I did. Anyway, warm tea would be perfect after what I’ve been through.” I followed her down the service corridor and into her apartment.
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