Authors: Angela Pepper
“Hello?” said the woman on the other end of my phone call.
“Are you sure my father is asleep? I’d really love to hear his voice.”
“I can tell him you called. I’m sure he’ll be glad to know someone was checking up on him.” She paused, and I heard the clatter of something, either a food tray or a gurney, wheel by. After it was clear, she said, “How about you? How are you holding up, in light of everything?”
“Do you mean the snowman?”
The clattering returned, and she said over the noise, “I’m sorry, but I should be going. This isn’t even my shift. I hope to see you soon.”
“You probably won’t. He’s got a ride home arranged.” I kept my eyes on the TV screen in the room, watching as the killer nurse hid away her evidence. “Unless… do you think I should drive out there and stop in? Is there anything I should be concerned about?”
The clattering sound kept up, and now I could hear a woman in the background complaining about something—the vending machine, it sounded like.
“I should let you go,” said the nurse, and she ended the call.
I settled back on the bed, grabbed the remote, and quickly changed the channel to something a bit less creepy.
It took a while to find something that wasn’t about people being murdered, but I eventually settled on a show about a guy who helps people work through behavioral problems with their cats.
Jeffrey curled up next to me, not moving except to twitch one silky dark gray ear whenever a cat on the screen hissed or howled.
With each hour passing, I got more sleepy and Jeffrey started to get more alert. I stripped down to my T-shirt and slipped under the covers, which apparently meant play time for kitty. He chased the lump of my toes under the covers.
After a few minutes, he decided my toes were too easy to capture, and jumped up on the windowsill to look for better prey.
I switched to some late night talk shows. My eyelids were heavy, but I fought the urge to sleep. Suddenly, Jeffrey let out a yowl that was five times as terrifying as anything we’d seen on the cat program. He yowled again, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“What is it?” I asked him.
He huffed and paced the windowsill, his sharp feline eyes picking up on something he didn’t like.
I turned off the TV and switched off the bedside lamp so I could better see out into the dark with my regular human eyes.
I looked left and right, focusing on the ground, expecting to see a nocturnal rodent going about its business in the snowy bushes. There was nothing down there, as far as I could tell, but before I could return to my warm bed, movement caught my eye.
Something was flashing in the window next door. Was it just the reflections of a nearby vehicle, driving by? I held very still, becoming increasingly aware of the pounding of my heart. The window of the house next door had its curtains wide open.
Someone was inside the house, and the flickering light I saw had to be that of a flashlight. The longer I watched, the fewer doubts I had.
I could have ignored it as a game being played by the neighbor’s kids, if only I’d been standing on the other side of my father’s house.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t jump back into my warm bed and ignore this.
Someone had broken into the Mr. Michaels’ house. They were in there, right now, searching for something. Or hiding something. Like evidence.
Logic told me the robber could very well be the murderer. My pounding heart told me the same thing.
For the second
time that day, I got out my phone with the intention of calling the police. This time, instead of leaving the mailman with the job, I actually made the call to 9-1-1.
Jeffrey kept watch on the windowsill, fascinated by the flashing circle of light in the house next door.
The emergency dispatcher took the information and said, “Police are on their way now. There’s a car nearby, so it won’t be long.”
“Good. Do you know which officers are coming? I know some of the local police.”
“Ma’am, I can’t disclose that information. Are you alone in the house?”
“Yes, but I’m fine. Thanks for everything.”
She wanted to keep me on the line with her until they arrived, for my safety, but I told her I’d be fine and ended the call.
Jeffrey turned his head and gave me a wide-eyed look, like he was waiting for me to do something about the break-in happening next door.
“Maybe I would go over there myself, if things were different,” I told him. “Like if I was a big, strong man, and you were a dog.”
Jeffrey flattened his ears.
“I didn’t say it would be better. Don’t act insulted. I’m glad you’re a cat and not a dog. And I’m glad I’m myself, and not a big, strong man.”
I glanced over my shoulder at the door to the bedroom. It was open, and now every creak of the house setting in or the rattle of the furnace turning on sounded like the Crazed Snowman Strangler coming to take another victim.
How could I protect myself? My father probably had his old service revolver, but it was locked in a safe, in his bedroom. I quickly dismissed the idea of getting the gun and thereby inadvertently supplying the Crazed Snowman Strangler with another weapon to add to his arsenal of knock-out drugs and strangling hands. That was the last thing I wanted to do.
At least the police would be there soon.
Just to be safe, I walked over to the bedroom door, shut it, and twisted the lock. The door didn’t lock, though. I groaned. Growing up, my sister and I would chase each other around the house with water pistols, playing cops and robbers. My father got so annoyed at us banging on doors that he took the locks right off the few doors we hadn’t already broken.
I looked around the room for other options. I could move the dresser to the door and barricade myself in. I grabbed the side of the dresser and gave it a tug. Nothing budged.
“Speaking of big, strong men,” I said to Jeffrey, “I wouldn’t mind having one around for times like this.”
I gave up on moving the dresser and returned to the window, keeping a lookout for the police. The flashlight inside the house next door disappeared around a corner, and Jeffrey lost interest. He looked up at me like I was now the most interesting thing around. I was flattered, so I decided to tell him a story.
Since we were on the topic of big, strong men coming to the rescue, I told him about the time my former fiancé got the shock of his life, courtesy of me.
I’d been brushing my teeth in the bathroom of our shared house when I spotted an enormous, hairy-legged spider walking leisurely across the bathroom counter. I already had a plastic cup in my hand for rinsing my mouth, and I did what seemed logical at the time. I flipped the cup over and trapped the spider underneath it.
I finished brushing my teeth and used my cupped palm to hold water to rinse my mouth, so I wouldn’t disturb the spider. I planned to use a nearby magazine to slip under the cup, so I could then escort the harmless spider to somewhere better, outside the house. As I leaned down, my wavy hair fell across my face, which got me thinking about getting a haircut. Naturally, I spent the next ten minutes fussing in front of the mirror, styling my hair this way and that, imagining different looks.
I forgot all about the trapped spider. Half an hour later, my fiancé went in to brush his teeth, and that’s when I remembered the trapped spider, but it was too late. He lifted up the plastic cup, discovered a giant, beady-eyed spider staring back at him, and let out a blood-curdling scream
I ran to the bathroom, laughing harder than I had in months. I was glad for the excitement, because life had gotten tense, and we hadn’t been laughing much lately.
When I got to the bathroom, I was still laughing. I stopped as soon as I saw his face. He didn’t see any humor in the situation at all. We had one of the worst fights of our relationship. He thought I’d hidden the spider on purpose, and didn’t believe me when I swore I hadn’t.
“The spider was the beginning of the end,” I explained to Jeffrey.
He licked his paw and dragged it over his ear and whiskers. His ears flicked up and he turned to the window again.
Red and blue lights were bouncing off the snow.
“So much for sneaking up on the intruder,” I said, as much to myself as to the cat.
A room light flicked on inside the house, and then flicked off again. Was the burglar in a panic?
The red and blue lights grew dimmer as the police car continued down the street, not stopping at Mr. Michaels’ house.
“Damn it,” I growled.
They must be having trouble finding the address.
I pulled on my jeans and sweater. I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew I had to do something.
I ran through the kitchen to the back door, because my boots were there. I yanked them on without tying the laces, and sailed out the back door and down the steps.
I was so busy looking around for the location of the flashing lights and the police cruiser, I didn’t look where I was going. I crashed right into someone.
A big, masculine someone.
“Stormy!” he said. “Stay inside.”
I blinked up at Officer Tony Milano. “But… you drove past the house.”
“That’s my partner, Peggy,” he said. I couldn’t see his face that well in the dark back yard, with only the light of the street lamps from the front of the houses, so I couldn’t see if he was angry at me or just focused on the burglary call.
“You should know better,” he said.
I smacked my head.
“Right. I know this move,” I said. “You do a big light show at the front, and the perp runs out the back, right into your arms.”
“So, why are you here?” I stared up at him with wide eyes and gasped. “Tony, you don’t think I’m the perp, do you?”
“You did run right into my arms, kiddo.”
“Don’t you dare—”
He stopped me from giving him hell by clamping his hand over my mouth. I was just about to give him a good bite when I noticed the neighbor’s door slowly creaking open.
Tony saw it, too. He slowly dropped his hand away from my mouth. We both watched silently as a tall, skinny man crept out of the house.
Tony whispered, “Ladies and gentleman, we have a new suspect.”
I whispered back, “What are you waiting for? Get out your gun and shoot him.”
He glanced down at me, shaking his head.
“Kidding,” I whispered.
“Get inside your house,” he urged.
I stood where I was, training my eyes on the tall figure. This perp wasn’t getting away on my watch.
Tony took off running, bounding toward the fence separating the two yards. When he reached the fence, he leapt over it as easily as an Olympics high jumper.
I backed slowly toward the porch steps. Did I actually tell Officer Milano to shoot a robbery suspect?
Good grief. Some cop I’d be.
I’d played it off as a joke, but was it? Even now, if I’d had something heavy in my hands, I would have chucked it at the guy’s head.
The robber noticed Tony leaping over the fence and coming toward him. The guy let out a started whimper and started running. With his long legs, he might have gotten away, too, but he slipped on some ice and went down.
Tony was on him in a flash.
Moving the way he did, intimidating the suspect with his voice as he patted the guy down for weapons, I almost felt sorry for the burglar. He didn’t stand a chance against the powerful cop, still in his prime despite a few sleep-challenged nights.
I clutched my hands to my chest like an infatuated school girl and watched as Officer Tony Milano put the cuffs on the suspect and recited his rights. I climbed up the back steps and stood on the porch, mouthing along with the words I knew by heart.
The suspect was face down on the ground, but I had an idea who he was, just from the gleam of the street lights bouncing off his bald head. Tony got him to his feet, and I caught a glimpse of his face, confirming my suspicion: Mr. Jenkins, the costume shop owner.
A police car pulled up in the alley, lights off this time, and I watched as Officer Peggy Wiggles got out. She talked to her partner for a moment, their voices too low for me to hear, then she walked toward the house while Tony got the suspect, Mr. Jenkins, loaded into the back of the police cruiser.
“Hi again, Peggy,” I called over. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She reached the top of the back porch for Mr. Michaels’ house and waved over at me in a friendly manner.
“You can sleep easy tonight,” she said. “Looks like we got the guy.”
“And luckily my father didn’t have to get dragged into any of this. Trust me, you guys dodged a bullet.”
She looked confused. “We dodged a bullet?”
“I guess you probably started after my father retired, so you don’t know him, but trust me on this one. Finnegan Day would
have found any amusement in being considered a suspect.”
“Most people don’t,” she said. “Is there anything else you’d like to report before I go in there?”
“Just that I’m glad you guys got here so fast.” I blew air on my hands and rubbed my bare arms. It wasn’t the coldest of winter nights, and I did have my sweater pulled on over my T-shirt, but the sweat from my adrenaline rush was evaporating quickly and giving me a chill.