It was well on its way into my mouth when I heard a loud commotion from over by the patio across the dining floor to my right and—
Wait. Whoa. Strike that.
To call what happened a “commotion” is an understatement verging on the ridiculous.
The word doesn’t come close to describing the shrill screams of confused, horrified diners and servers, the loud crash of chairs and dinnerware, or the simultaneous and totally freak-out-worthy chorus of barks, grunts, neighs, and squawks that accompanied the rest of that bestial cacophony.
I’ll mention the hoofbeats later. This is mainly because my brain was on a ten-second time delay as far as realizing what they were. But it’s also because I should probably talk about the monkey first.
The monkey was what jolted me out of my utter shock and disbelief as it plucked the
from my chopsticks, bit off half of it with a smack of its rubbery lips, and then generously held the rest out to me in a furry, almost human paw.
Now, I will admit it was a cute monkey. A very, very cute brown monkey. Not that I’ve ever been aware of
cute ones. This particular primate, however, was only a little over a foot tall, weighed five pounds tops, and had a wrinkled round face under a high tuft of fur that resembled a radical fifties pompadour and was several shades darker than the rest of its fur. Its twinkling almond eyes said it probably enjoyed a good laugh every so often—and I would find out later that it did. I’d also learn that it was a trained capuchin named Mickey who knew how to prepare microwavable popcorn, could operate a DVD player, and really would have preferred a peanut butter-cucumber sandwich, or maybe a handful of Tic Tacs, to a stolen rice ball.
But later’s for later. Since I already have to explain all about Mike and me, we’ll just add Mickey to the list. Their names are alphabetically proximate anyway.
There at Shoko’s Madhouse, I wanted only to pull myself together and figure out what in the world was going on as the creature—who’d seemingly taken my befuddled stare as a no-thanks to its offer to share the bento box delicacy I’d thought was mine—gulped down what was left of it, let out a contented grunt, and sprang from the table to my lap with a kind of soft, fur-butted thud. Before I could react, it had scrambled up my body and wrapped its scrawny monkey arms tightly around my neck.
“Chief Vega!” I hollered, unable to even blame myself for reverting to the formalese under the circumstances. “It’s a monkey! We’ve got a monkey at our ta—”
Then I cut myself off. Not because I was dumb enough to think the chief wouldn’t have noticed the fuzzy little thing giving me a hug. But because I’d suddenly realized Vega had leaped up to his feet from the tatami and was staring gape-eyed at the very large and diverse menagerie of critters charging in our direction—and every other direction besides, racing round and round the room in a chaotic frenzy.
As I also got to my feet, my shrieking, grinning, food-grabbing simian pal still wrapped affectionately around me, a greyhound came springing through the patio door behind a pony or miniature horse—not being Jack Hanna or Dr. Dolittle, I didn’t know which it was. But its hooves were clopping and clomping pretty loudly as the dog ran into a tiny kimono-clad waitress, knocking her to the floor, saki glass-laden tray and all.
Sprawled on her back among the spilled drinks, she shouted something that sounded like
I didn’t know what that meant. But it sounded panicked. Justifiably.
This is what I remember of the next minute or two’s confusion:
The horsey-pony thing galloping past the waitress and knocking over a cabinet full of china. An alpaca—that’s right,
—spitting in the tea-cups of mortified customers I recognized as Rena and Ritchie Freund, the saltwater-taffy makers. Dishes crashing to the floor as maybe a dozen cats pounced and skidded across tabletops. Chairs toppling over as a honking white goose harassed Henry Stootz, the hairdresser. And then the vegetable man Gazi Del Turko’s little girls, Evie and Persha, squealing with sheer delight as a peacock strolled into the place behind the rest of the zoo crew, regally unfanning a large plume of iridescent blue tail feathers.
When the police came dashing into the restaurant behind the stampede, it was oddly anticlimactic. Well, I shouldn’t speak for everybody. Although the waitress with the saki tray had collected herself, a cashier with a phone in her hand was still screaming her lungs out in Japanese.
For the record, the word she was hollering was
Which I later learned, but will tell you right this instant, meant “Cops!” Not wanting to make you wait for everything.
And then one of the officers—it was my old square-jawed friend Ronnie Connors—pulled to a halt in front of us.
“Chief Vega,” he began breathlessly, pausing an incredulous beat to notice the huggy monkey in my arms. “Chief . . . it’s the veterinarian across the road. Someone’s murdered her.”
I squeezed Mickey, who I did not yet know was named Mickey, as tightly as I could.
“Dr. Pilsner?” I said with horror. “
I felt my spine stiffen. Alex looked at me. I looked at him. And then we both stood there at a loss for words as something soft and downy quacked between my ankles.
Gail Pilsner was my cat Skiball’s vet and every pet owner in town’s favorite animal doc. Besides being smart, experienced, and compassionate, she was the only one around to specialize in exotic creatures like monkeys and alpacas.
She was also one of my cleaning accounts. Bry’s weekly cleanup of her offices and boarding kennels had inspired him to post some pet-cleaning hints on our Web site’s Grime Solvers blog.
I obviously knew Gail’s office was across the road. I had also seen a pack of escaped animals invade the restaurant, and heard a very distressed uniformed officer say the word “murder” in connection to the reason for their escape. That made my question to him the very definition of rhetorical. Of course he’d meant Dr. Pilsner. Who
would it have been?
I squeezed my new monkey friend against my chest for comfort, and listened to Connors continue to fill in Chief Vega.
“. . . think we have a suspect,” he was in the middle of saying. “Caught him trying to make tracks. It’s the kid who works there . . . He’s talking a mile a minute in Spanish and we need you to translate.”
A second passed. Dr. Pilsner’s kennel assistant, Orlando, was a Dominican immigrant who barely spoke a word of English. But he’d always seemed very sweet, and Gail had adored him—I must have heard her mention how gentle he was with the animals a dozen times.
I sat there looking stunned. It was hard to imagine Orlando hurting anyone, let alone her.
Then Chief Vega said, “I don’t speak a word of Spanish.”
Connors looked at him, mystified.
“But I figured—”
“My father came from Mexico,” Vega said. “That doesn’t mean I speak Spanish. Any more than my mother being Irish American gives me a brogue.”
Although it did explain his sexy emerald green eyes, I thought but didn’t say.
Connors had flushed with embarrassment.
“Oh,” he said.
“Right,” Vega said.
“But we need somebody who—”
“I speak it,” I said, breaking a hand free from the monkey’s hug to wave it in the air. “Fluently.”
The two men looked at me.
“You do?” asked Vega.
“College minor—and I lived in New York,” I said with a nod.
He looked at me for a moment. The monkey reached for my upraised hand, tugged it down by the wrist, and pressed my palm against the top of its head, making an improvised monkey cap out of it.
Then we heard a terrific bang somewhere in the restaurant, followed by an exclamation that I’d phonetically approximate as,
I think it was bestial in origin, but it might have been a person who was really upset.
Chief Vega grabbed my elbow and started toward the patio door.
“We’d better hurry up,” he said.
Its cheek pressing against mine, my monkey pal hung on for the ride.
SKY TAYLOR’S GRIME SOLVERS BLOG
Bry the Wonder Guy’s
Awesomely Cool Cleaning Tips
for Pet Owners
When it comes to cleaning, Sky’s the Limit and I’m not. But it ain’t like I totally
—I mean, Skyster never would’ve made me her apprentice if I didn’t have the clean gene in my cells. Or somewhere. Anyway, I cooked up these hints for pet owners, and now she says I gotta be a sharer. So check ’em out. You’ll stress less over Cuddles’s next mess.
1. Fleas were put on this world for a single, solitary reason, namely, teaching us how to hate living things that’re way smaller than we are. My advice is to keep your carpet flea free, since that’s where they lie low waiting to hop aboard the Cuddles Express.
The best way to obliterate ’em is with old-school mothballs. Pop a couple into your vacuum cleaner bag before turning on the machine. Then go ahead and vacuum. Most of the fleas you suck up are gonna be instant toast—and the rest are gonna wish they were. When you’re done vacuuming, take the bag out of the vac right away, close it up in a plastic bag, and trash it.
2. Listen to me, ppl, litter ain’t just for cats. Say your dog has an overshare moment in the house—i.e., goes poopsie-doopsie on the rug. You can either stand there screaming,
or deal with it. Pouring cat litter on the mess makes pickup a snap by drying some of the moisture and . . . well, I don’t hafta get any more graphic. Try it. Nobody sez you’ll like it. But you’ll wanna thank me once you quit holding your nose.
3. While we’re on the subject of accidents, here’s a tip for when Cuddles leaves a puddle on a concrete floor—say in your garage or basement. Kinda like what golfers call a water hazard, except for your foot instead of a ball. To zap the
eau de urine
, soak the floor with equal parts vinegar and water. That’ll also keep your furry little bud from coming back to that spot to do its business.
4. Y’know that cheapo grooming brush you bought and never use? The rubbery one that pulls Cuddles’s fur, and makes him stare at you like you’re some freaked-out dom chick whenever it comes out of the drawer? I suggest you resist the urge to chuck it in the trash, since it’s good for getting pet fur off upholstered chairs and couches. Run it over the cushions and it’ll clump the fur for easy pickup. Big plus: Unlike your dog or cat, the couch won’t nip, scratch, or scram into the next room.
5. Don’t get caught without a pickup bag when walking your dog—unless you’re into paying fines and getting the one-finger howdy from poop-phobe neighbors. I buy small black scooper bags at the pet shop, take a few out of the pack, fold ’em lengthwise, and tie them to the handle of my dog Tat’s (yeah, that’s short for Tattoo) retractable leash. Usually I put about four of them on for starters. Since I hang the collar and leash on a coat hook near the door, I can’t miss noticing when I’m down to the last bag. That’s when I substitute new ones for the bags I’ve used.
While I’m talkin’ retractable-leash utility: I know people in the Cove never lock their doors, but it ain’t so in Gloucester, where my apartment door’s got a spring lock that bolts on its own. If yours does too, I’ve got some advice. Put a spare house key in some plastic wrap, lay it flat against the side of the leash handle, and then wind some duct tape around it. If you’ve got an inner and outer door, use both sides of the handle, one for each key. The plastic keeps the tape from gumming up your keys. Some night when Cuddles drags you out of bed on an emergency run, you’ll realize you forgot your keys and be glad I kept you from freezing to death in your pj’s.
6. One for the birds, ha-ha. Spread a layer of wax or parchment paper on the bottom before you line the cage with newspaper. How come? you ask. ’Cause it keeps the newspaper from sticking to the bottom of the cage after Pretty Boy does his thing (and does it and does it and does it, if you know what I’m sayin’). Besides that, it makes scraping history. Spray the cage bottom with pet-safe cleaner and wipe dry. Done.
7. Final words: Be effective, not defective. And, uh . . . later for monkey tips, sisses and bros.
Dr. Gail Pilsner’s veterinary clinic and pet-boarding kennels were on the first floor of an expansive three-story Colonial that doubled as her home.
As I went rushing over with the two policemen and the clingy brown monkey, I saw an EMS vehicle from Addison Gilbert Hospital parked out front behind a couple of patrol cars and the coroner’s station wagon. To my surprise, Corinne Blodgett from City Hall stood out front talking to an officer with a notepad, her yappy little Lhasa apso running tangled circles around her legs on an extendable leash. But I was too busy breathlessly keeping up with Vega to wonder what Corinne was doing there.
Dr. Pilsner’s residential entrance was beyond the vehicles at the curb, set slightly back on a low hill with a half dozen wooden steps climbing to the top. She had used a door at the side of her house for her veterinary practice, where yet another cruiser sat with its roof hurling off strobes of red and blue light. Sawhorses had been hastily thrown up in the cross streets to detour traffic away from the place.
“We got the assistant in the kennel,” Connors said, hustling along between Vega and me. “The body’s in the front foyer . . . at the bottom of the stairs.”
Vega glanced over at him.
“You’re sure this wasn’t an accident?”
“No way,” Connors said. “She went clear through the rail.”
Vega picked up his pace. It was somehow odd to see him acting every bit the top cop in his dress clothes, racing along in an expensive charcoal suit, his necktie flapping in the wind. “I want to have a look. Bring Sky around to the clinic and wait for m—”