1723 Caxton Lane
Toledo Ohio 43613
ALL IN A ROW
Linda M. Fields
Low black clouds scurried across the face of the moon and Lori knew that if she didn't hurry not only would she get soaked, but so would her house. Wind whipped relentlessly, slapping long auburn tresses into her dark eyes.
A loud snap of lightening made her jump and her step quickened into a run. Damned the weatherman, the only time this summer that he was right and she hadn't listened. Only minutes before, as she locked up the Antique Shop, did she notice the bank of threatening clouds coming in from the southwest. Even then she was sure that she could make it home before the rains came, but now, with three blocks to go, she knew she was wrong.
The first stinging drops of cold rain caught her on the cheek and, swearing, she tried to run faster. Her toe caught the corner of a turned up concrete sidewalk slab and as she went down, her forehead hit the edge of a rock marking the end of a driveway. She didn't move for a couple of seconds and let the rain wash away the warm sticky blood trickling down the side of her face. Finally, after blinking several times to clear her hazy vision, Lori tried to stand. At first her legs threatened to fold, then slowly she regained her balance and moved carefully towards her house, half a block away.
She sighed with relief as she climbed the four steps to the shelter of the porch, her keys already in her hand. Had she been more alert she would have noticed that when she inserted the key and turned it that the door locked, instead she quickly turned the key the other way, wanting nothing more than to get in out of the storm. Once inside another warning went unnoticed when a din light beneath her bedroom quickly snapped out.
She dropped her purse on the dining room table and, still unstable, went into the kitchen in search of aspirins. The curtains at the kitchen window were flapping wildly and rain soaked the papers she left there earlier in the day. When she reached to close the window the curtains snapped around her arms, and, like living things, pulled and tugged until she slapped them away and slammed the window down.
"Karma", she called softly into the dark shadows. The large calico always greeted her when she came home from work. He associated her arrival with his supper, which by the size of him anyone could tell he never missed.
"Karma?" She called louder, holding her head with both hands to stop the throbbing. Still he didn't come, and as lightening lit up the kitchen like a strobe light, she thought he was probably hiding from the storm. She would look for him later; right now she needed a couple aspirin. She opened the cabinet door over the sink and took out the only medicine she had in the house. She didn't believe in medicine, only herbs, but since aspirin's origins were willow bark, Lori allowed them into her home, and into her stomach when the need arose, as it did now.
The glass in the kitchen window rattled to the beat of thunder rumbling outside, but Lori was sure that she heard another sound, this one somewhere inside the house. Tiny hairs at the base of her neck stood on end, instinct was screaming her name.
"Karma?" She called his name but didn't believe the strange sound had come from him. Then a scratching drew her attention to the back door and she moved cautiously towards it. She heard a whimpered meow and she laughed out loud, threw opened the door, fighting the wind for control, and let the bundle of dripping fur into the kitchen.
"Where have you been? Come on, poor baby."
Karma hurried past, briefly glancing in her direction before slipping into the dark safety of the empty cabinet he claimed as his own six years earlier when he and Lori moved into the house.
That he was upset with her was obvious, but how he'd gotten out eluded her. She never left him out when she was gone. Usually the only time he ventured from the comfort of the house was when he joined her on the strolls she took around the neighborhood. She opened a can of cat food and tried to coax him from the cabinet, he cried a couple of times but refused to budge from his safe haven. She put the plate inside, "Ok, you win."
The aspirins weren't helping yet and she hurried through the house closing windows and checking to see if there was a hole in one of the screen where Karma got out, but there wasn't. She was cold and achy and in no mood for mysteries so she pushed the problem to the back of her mind. Right now all she wanted was a nice hot bath.
In the bathroom she looked into the mirror and the face glaring back startled her. She was a mess; there was dried blood and mud caked on her forehead. No wonder Karma hid from her. She turned on the water for her bath, added some bath salts, and stripped off her wet clothes. When the tub was full she slipped into the pungent water, sinking up to her chin. She relaxed letting the pain in her head float away as she meditated.
When her toes and fingers were wrinkled into white raisins she left the tepid water and wrapped in her warm terry robe. The pain was less now and she thanked the gods-who-be for teaching her meditation.
In the hall she called, "Karma, come on baby, I'm going to bed." She waited but Karma didn't come which was added to her weird-things-tonight-list. The cat always slept curled against the back of her bent knees, but she was too tired to worry about it now. With a mental shrug Lori walked down the hall and stepped into her bedroom and swore. She forgot to close the window here and the curtains were nearly horizontal in the rain-drenched wind coming through the window.
She moved quickly through the dark room, knowing each shadow and her hands were only inches from the window when she froze. One of the shadows had moved and the scream that tore through her lost it's momentum when a huge dark shape jumped at her.
Somewhere beyond the door she thought she heard Karma growl and she almost laughed. Sometimes he thought he was a tiger, then she forgot the cat and concentrated on the strong hand clamped tightly to her mouth, and the stink of stale beer. She sank her teeth into the hand but her slight victory was short lived when he hit her on the side of her head. She was being thrown across the room and suddenly the springy firmness of the mattress was beneath her.
"You bitch", a deep voice hissed. "Miss High and Mighty, thinking you're too good for me."
Her robe was ripped away and his hands were everywhere at once, never gentle, never caring. He grabbed and yanked until she thought the flesh was being ripped for her bones. An eternity seemed to pass in the few minutes it took him to satisfy his needs. She tried to free her mind with meditation, but a sharp slap brought her back.
When he laughed at her pain she screamed her fury and his fist sent her spiraling into darkness. She awoke once to someone panting in her ear, and looking over this shoulder saw the other five brothers standing all in a row like little toy soldiers, as they waited their turn. She spun away into her happy place where the little soldiers couldn't find her.
When she surfaced again there was just one person in the room and she said, "I'll get you for the Jerry, so help me God I will."
Jerry, shocked that she recognized him nearly dropped his guard, but quickly regained his composure and squeezed her wrist even tighter. "You're not a very bright girl, Lori. You know you've left me no choice now, don't you?" He sighed when he spoke and she could almost believe that he regretted what he was about to do.
"I'll see you burn in hell, Jerry", she whispered.
Jerry chuckled, "Oh, Lori, I'm so frightened. You always thought the boys and me were beneath you, never giving us so much as a kiss-my-ass. So we took what we wanted, and ain't no one gonna give a fart-in-the-wind about your death 'cause you ain't nothing but a witch and everyone in town knows it."
One huge hand was already clamped around her neck and he began squeezing, but she managed to croak out, "I swear I'll see you all in a row like little tin soldiers waiting at the gates to hell!"
He tightened his grip barely noticing how her body twisted and jerked beneath him. As the last breath of life crept from Lori she heard Karma hiss and growl and wondered what would become of him, her baby.
Jerry screamed, twisting frantically as he tried to grab the wild cat clinging to his back. Every time he grabbed for the animal it would sink its fierce canine fangs into the flesh on his hand. Lori was still beneath him, but she was dead and no further threat so Jerry threw himself to the floor and tried to squash the monster attached to his back. Karma made one last attack and managed to rake his claws across the left side of Jerry face before streaking from the room to safety.
Jerry searched the house but was unable to find the animal and decided revenge on the beast wasn't worth getting caught, and daybreak was quickly approaching.
Jerry Thomson watched the town's people carefully the next day, waiting for someone to point an accusing finger, but no one did. Finally a friend she was supposed to meet with about a Queen Ann chair found Lori Goodwin late that afternoon when she failed to open the store and didn't answer her home phone.
Jerry and his brothers owned the garage/gas station catty-corner across the street from Lori's Antique Shop, so it wasn't hard watching the goings on without seeming obvious. He just pumped gas for those old fools too stupid or senile to pump their own and watched the cops come and go across the street.
Jerry froze, his hand clamped on the gas pump, noticing nothing except the tall grizzly bear headed his way, John Walters, Chief of Police.
"Jerry! Are you deaf or what? I told you I wanted five dollars worth of gas and that's all I'm going to give you!" Mrs. Compton snorted from her blue sedan.
Jerry mumbled an apology, took the five and watched as she drove away. Damned old biddy was lucky the cop was so close, but he'd get her next time.
"Hey Jerry, how's it going?" Walters asked, noticing the scowl on Mrs. Compton's face as she drove away shaking her head.
"Not too bad, Chief. What's all the commotion over at Ms. Goodwin's place, somethin' happen?"
Walters wiped his brow on the back of his hand before answering, "Yep, 'fraid so, Ms. Goodwin was murdered last night. You didn't see anyone hanging around over there last night, did ya?"
Jerry hesitated before answering, he didn't want to appear too eager, "No, don't think so. No stranger than usual that is, she's got some pretty weird people come around that shop of hers. You know she was sellin' occult stuff over there, didn't you, Chief?"
Walters opened his mouth to say something but changed his mind and simply replied, "Yeah, well that's what folks are interested in I guess."
Jerry wanted the cop to leave, didn't like the way he seemed to be measuring his words, as though he were the one with something to hide instead of Jerry. "Sorry I can't help, Chief, but I ain't seen nothin' stranger than usual, like I said."
Chief Walters studied Jerry a moment too long before asking, "What happened to your face, Jerry?"
"Uh?" Jerry's hand automatically covered the scratches that ran from the corner of his eye down across his cheek to his ear. "Oh, that", he laughed. "One of Ma's cats got caught under the car and when I tried to pull the damned thing out it thanked me by slicing open the side of my face. Damned near took my eye out, never could stand those beast, give me a dog any time, but you know Ma." He was rambling and knew that he'd best shut his mouth before the cop got suspicious.
"OK, Jerry, you or your brothers think of anything, give me a call. This town is too small for something like this to go unsolved."
Jerry worked late so he could work on Tom Perkins' car, it was already a day late and he didn't need Walters back here asking why they didn't get it done last night. It was well after eleven by the time the car was tuned and ready to go, and Jerry turned off all the lights and locked the doors. He thought about the night before and a surge of desire flashed through him. Not now, he told himself.
He hadn't been sure how his brothers would take the death of Lori Goodwin, he'd had to silence her after they'd gone, but he hadn't expected their total lack of interest. They had their fun so they really didn't care what Jerry did with her as long as she wouldn't squeal. He chuckled as he locked the front door, the boys sure were a cold-blooded bunch, but then this wasn't the first time they've had to permanently silence a would-be witness. Some of the women they could scare into silence, but some of them swore revenge, and those were the ones who didn't survive the attack. The only reason Jerry was concerned about Lori's death is because this is the first time they did a woman right here in town. He really thought they could scare her into silence because she always seemed like such a delicate little thing. Boy, did he see another side of her last night. He laughed out loud as he slipped the key into the door lock on his pickup truck.
Movement by the corner of the building caught his eye, and when he turned to look his breath froze in his lungs. It was a cat, but not just any cat, this one was a huge calico and it was watching him from inside the building, not outside like he first thought.
Jerry moved slowly back to the front door and silently slipped the key into the lock and turned, letting himself back into the station. Karma had moved to the top shelf and was now watching Jerry with a strange light reflecting in his eyes. The cat was purring, purring louder than any cat should be capable of purring and the flesh on Jerry's arms and head tightened painfully.
He moved closer, but not close enough to be pounced on again, and cooed, "Here kitty, kitty, come on big guy."
Karma meowed once then stood, stretched, and leaped, only inches away from Jerry's face, across the office to a small window high in the wall. He looked back at Jerry, his canines diamond bright as he hissed his intentions, then disappeared into the night.
Jerry checked the windows and made sure they were all locked before leaving. Not that he was worried about the cat opening closed windows, but he didn't want anyone else opening one and the cat sneaking in again. Jerry never feared an animal in his life, but this one made the skin on his spine ripple with tension. As he hurried to his truck Lori Goodwin's curse echoed through his mind like a bad jingle, "I swear I'll see you all in a row like little tin soldiers waiting at the gates to hell!"
The Thomson clan lived in an old farm house six miles south of town. The house belonged to the boy's stepmother, but since she no longer got out of bed the boys called it their own. The closest neighbor was three quarters of a mile down the road, which the boys liked just fine, needing their privacy for personal reasons.
Jerry's headlights swept across the old farmhouse then came to rest on the cornfield out back that seemed to stretch on forever.
Slipping from the truck, Jerry stretched, and laughed at himself for letting a little old pussycat scare him. Damned thing can disappear just like Ma's fleabags of have; he smirked as he headed to the house.
The hot still night closed in around him as he walked to the back porch. The stink of cabbage hung thick in the breathless night air making Jerry's stomach growl loudly. A couple of the old lady's cats watched him fearfully from the corner of the porch as Jerry disappeared into the kitchen.
Pete was sitting at the kitchen table but didn't look up when Jerry walked in. Without a work Jerry walk to the sink and took out a dirty bowl and scooped himself a heap of cabbage from a big pot simmering on the stove. There was probably ham and potatoes in the pot earlier, but now all that was left was something that might have been cabbage and green beans but now looked more like a green slimy mush.
"Probably mush by now", Pete mumbled, not looking up from the girlie magazine in front of him.
Jerry sat down and said around a mouth full lukewarm green stuff, "S'kay. I saw her cat tonight."
Pete finally looked up, "Huh? Where?"
"In the office, sitting on the top shelf where we keep the extra oil. I called it, but the damned thing sailed through the air like it had wings, and slipped right out the window above the desk."
"So, what Jerry, you think it's out to get us?" Pete teased, but Jerry couldn't miss the tiniest hint of fear in his brother's voice. Jerry had told them about Lori's curse and they all had a good laugh about it, but that was last night, tonight it didn't seem quite so funny.
Jerry shrugged, unwilling to comment on either the tease, or the fear.
"You said Lori cursed us, maybe the cat's her . . . her, oh hell, what do you call it? Her particular?"
"Jerry laughed, "You mean familiar. Witches have them, but do you really think she was a witch, Pete?"
"Don't know. We always said she was, kinda kiddin' like, but maybe there was more truth to it than we knew."
"Yeah," Jerry replied. "She was a strange one, that's for sure. A woman that beautiful shouldn't be so strange. Besides, she brought it on herself, just like I said. She should have been more friendly, right?"
"She wasn't really unfriendly, Jerry. She always smiled and said hi when she saw me," Pete said softly, lowering his eyes.
Jerry glared, "You having second thoughts, little brother?"
The tone of Jerry's voice made Pete slump lower in his chair, "No, I just don't like that cat of hers hanging around the station. I have to work tomorrow night."
"Ah, quit whining. A little ol' cat ain't going to hurt you. Worse them damned critters can do is give you cat-scratch-fever."
"Yeah, well he didn't do you no good", Pete said nodding at Jerry's face.
"Don't you worry about it, I'll get rid of the cat. I'm going to set up some traps at the station, then we'll see just how smart that animal is."
"I don't think that's going to help, Jerry. Any cat smart enough to find out where you are is smart enough not to get caught in some dumb old trap."
Jerry slammed his empty bowl in the sink, "Well I ain't gonna let no dumb cat spook me."
The sound of cats yowling woke Jerry sometime in the predawn hours. Swearing, he moved quickly down the old wooden stairs to the back door. Ma's cats were always howling to come in, they just couldn't get it through their stupid heads that since the old lady never left her bed any more they had to stay outside, or suffer the consequences. Picking up a heavy boot from the floor next to the back door, Jerry slipped outside. As soon as he opened the screen door the racket stopped.
"Damn it", he swore, trying unsuccessfully to spot a target in the darkness.
Originally there were only two cats, but they quickly became ten, then twenty. He knew that somewhere out there in the night lurked at least twenty of the bastards, maybe more by now. Time, once again, to do some major thinning, Jerry thought, and almost laughed out loud as he thought about the hoards of cats fighting over the bowl of special milk he'd set out for them in the morning. He didn't doubt that they'd lap it up, they never got fed, which made it easy to trick them into exterminating themselves. The old lady would have a coronary if she knew how many of her 'babies' had become fertilizer for the near by cornfields.
Still straining to see at least one cat to throw his boot at, Jerry jumped when the inside door slammed closed behind him. Wind, it must have been the wind, he thought, even though the night was still as calm as death.
Jerry went back into the house and was just in time to see a blur of black, white, and orange disappear around the corner at the top of the back stairway.
Jerry didn't need the lights on to recognize the blur; it was the cat Lori called Karma. It had come for them through the blackness of night. Any doubt that this was a normal cat was gone, and Jerry had to admit that it was a very smart cat, but that's all he would admit too. There were no such things as witches, so there were no such things as familiars.
"John, Pete, Joe, Bill, Josh, get your asses out here now!" Jerry screamed, taking the stairs two at a time.
"Jerry? Jerry is that you? What's wrong, son?"
"Nothing, Ma, go back to sleep", he said to his stepmother's bedroom door.
The brothers emerged from their rooms, each trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.
"What's up, Jer?" John asked, stifling a yawn.
"That damned cat is in the house!"
"Huh? Cat? What cat? You woke us because one of Ma's cats got in the house?"
"Not Ma's cat! The witch's cat!"
The others immediately came awake, "What? How? Where did you see it? You sure you weren't dreaming?" They were all talking at once.
"I saw it come up the stairs. Call it by name, call it Karma and maybe it will come to you. Now find it, and don't wake the old lady."
Pete looked at Ma's bedroom door, "What if it's in there?"
Jerry glared, "How the hell do you think it got in there? You think it can walk through closed doors! You . . . go find the cat!"
While the brothers searched every nook and cranny Ma stroked and nuzzled the big calico cat that jumped on her bed just before Jerry started all that racket. She knew she had to hide the cat or the boys would throw it outside with her other babies. She heard them outside her bedroom window sometimes at night calling for her to let them in. It broke her heart that they couldn't be in here with her, but a year ago the boys right in her bedroom and trapped Silky and took her and her litter and she never saw any of them again. That was when she took to her bed and refused to let her babies in the house anymore because it was better they stay outside than chance those evil boys hurting any more of them. Silky had been her favorite, and when they murdered her, she had given up trying to keep the boys in line. She gave up on the boys, on the house, and on life.
At least her babies were eating well, she gave the boys plenty of money each month to buy cat food and they promised that they fed them twice a day, just like she did before she took to her bed.
She didn't know this cat, surely it hadn't come from any of hers, those were mostly grays and blacks. The cat purred loudly, soothing her, making her feel loved and needed.
She remained quiet, listening to her sons tramping around the house looking, she knew, for the cat that now lay snuggled against her side. If the door opened she would flip the covers over the cat to protect him from the cruelty of her late husband's sons.
"Karma", she whispered, nuzzling her nose into the soft warm fur.
The sun peeked in her window before she heard the boys return to their rooms. It would be safe now for a few hours, until Bill or Joe thought to bring her some breakfast. She let her eyes drift closed letting the soft vibrations from the animal curled next to her lull her to sleep.
When Bill brought her breakfast it was close to noon and the cat was already gone. She glanced quickly around the room, but the cat wasn't in sight. She smiled at Bill and thanked him for the runny eggs and moldy bread.
"Sure a lot of commotion last night. I was beginning to think you all went daft", she smiled.
Bill didn't answer, he just wanted to hand her the plate and get the hell out of the room as quickly as possible. He hated the smell of her room, hated the way her odor clung to his clothes and skin for hours after.
Nodding towards the open window he scowled, "You shouldn't leave the window open all night, Ma, you'll catch pneumonia."
"Please leave it open. I feel like I'm suffocating when it's closed", she begged.
Bill shrugged, if she got pneumonia and died he wouldn't have to ever come in this room again.
Pete's nervousness was obvious to everyone coming into the station. All the quick little glances over his shoulder told those near that he was upset about something. When questioned he merely shrugged and tried to smile.
At noon Chief Walters stopped by and Pete's attempt to appear calm failed miserably.
"Hey Pete, how's it going?"
Pete shrugged, "Okay."
Chief Walters sat silently in the chair behind the old scarred desk in the office and wondered why Pete kept looking up at the window behind him. He turned and looked up at the small window, then looked back at Pete who was now trying to look any place but the window. Pete was trying really hard to act nonchalant and failing miserably.
"Something bothering you, Pete?"
"No," Pete mumbled. Damned Jerry, he knows you never shit in your own back yard, now he's got us all in trouble.
"Just wondered, you're kinda jumpy for a fella with nothing bothering him."
"Nothin's bothering me! I . . . I didn't get much sleep last night, s'all."
"Oh? Why is that, Pete?"
"What? How the hell should I know, I just couldn't sleep!" Pete snapped.
"Heard tell a man with a clear conscience doesn't have trouble sleeping. Sometimes talking about what's bothering you helps, so if there's something you want to get off your chest . . .?"
Pete opened his mouth, but quickly closed it when Jerry's pickup truck pulled into view.
Walters followed his gaze and cursed under his breath at the untimely arrival. A couple more minutes and Pete Thomson would have been singing real pretty. One of these days I'm gonna have enough to nail you boys, he silently promised. There were too many young women, and some not so young, who the Thomson brothers had been terrorizing for years. Unfortunately whatever threat the men used worked, because not one woman would press charges, and that fanned the flames of guilt and anger he felt over Lori's senseless death. If only I would have found some way to lock those boys up years ago . . ..
Jerry came into the office and glared meaningfully at Pete, then glanced at Walters, "Chief?"
"Hey Jer. Me and Pete was just talking about sleep. You having trouble sleeping too, Jerry, you're looking a bit wore out."
Jerry frowned, "Nope, I sleep like a baby, why?"
The Chief stood up, "No reason. Well, guess I better get back to work. I'll be seeing you boys later."
The brothers watched as the big man slid behind the wheel of his squad car and drove away from the station.
"What the hell was that all about?" Jerry demanded.
Pete jumped at the sudden loud accusing voice, "Nothin', he just wanted to know why I was so . . . so jumpy. I told him I had trouble sleepin' last night, that's all."
"You see that cat around today?" Jerry asked, changing the subject.
"No, and you can bet I was watchin' for it too. If you ask me it's come to carry out Lori's curse for what you did to her."
"Shit, you talk like a flippin' idiot. It ain't nothin' but a damned cat, nothing more, nothing less. When I catch it I'm gonna make me a fur-skin cap with it's hide," he laughed.
Pete tried to join the laughter, but his heart just wasn't in it. When he tried talking Jerry into staying with him at the station Jerry laughed and made fun of his fear. All too soon Jerry was done setting the traps and was about to leave him alone with the devil-cat.
"Now listen, you don't have to worry about a thing. I got live-traps set up anywhere it might get in and I got bells rigged to jingle when we catch it, all you have to do is listen for the bells, got it?"
Pete wasn't convinced, "Yeah, then what?"
Jerry shook his head with disgust, "What do you mean, then what?" Jerry mocked Pete's whiny voice, then hissed, "Then you wring the bastard's neck!"
Jerry couldn't help but laugh at the shear horror on Pete's face, "All right, all right, just call me when it's caught. Think you can handle that without wetting your panties?"
From dusk to close, at eleven, not one person came into the station, and Pete felt like the last living person on earth. Used to be on a slow night he could watch the weirdo's coming and going across the street at the Antique Shop. Now only darkness greeted him from the store front, adding to his discomfort, and once he thought he caught a glimpse of Lori's pale face looking out the window right back at him. Almost did wet his pants then.
The wind suddenly rose to violent ferocity, whipping papers and dirt down the deserted street. Out in front the station sign whipped back and forth, and Pete knew he should go out and bring it in, but he lacked the courage to go out in the dark alone.
Lightening flashed and snapped near by, throwing the station into blackness. Pete's blood turned to ice as he slid from the chair and tried to squeeze into the small opening beneath the desk.
Lightening flashed in rapid succession, making huge shadows appear to move across the parking lot. Pete trembled, Jerry's parting words small comfort. "The cat can't get in, there are traps by all the openings." In the distance, as though in answer to his thoughts, a bell jangled, then another, and still another.
"I swear to God she did, she squealed just like a pig!"
Josh laughed, "Yeah? Then what'd you do? You tell her if she told you'd kill her parents?"
Bill shrugged, "Nah," I told her that if she told I'd never come back and make her squeal like that again and she promised not to tell a soul."
"Bullshit", Jerry snorted.
"Hey", Bill smirked, "when you're good, you're good. I don't have to kill the broads when I'm done with them because they always beg for more."
"Up your ass, jerk." Jerry knew his brothers were running on him, but he didn't see much humor in the way things were going. He wondered what Walters managed to pry out of Pete, who knows what the little shit blabbed. The way the kid was acting over that cat made him seem more like four instead of twenty-four.
Jerry heard the phone ring, but knew one of the others would answer it so he tried to concentrate on the ballgame on television and ignore the other's callous ribbing.
"Hey Jer? You better take this, I thinks it's Pete, but I can't tell for sure", John said, handing the phone to his oldest brother.
Frowning his displeasure, Jerry grabbed the phone, "Yeah, what? Hello? Damn it Pete, that you?"
The station was alive with the sound of bells signaling that each and every trap was sprung.
Pete managed to pull the telephone to the floor and frantically, on the third try, punched in his home number.
"Jerry! Help me! Please, you gotta help!"
"Pete, what the hell is going on? I can hardly hear you."
"The traps . . . all of them . . . oh God, Jerry, please help me! Jerry? Jerry . . . PLEASE!"
Pete stood slowly, the dead receiver still clamped tightly in his hand. The bells were ringing louder, and louder still until, finally dropping the phone, Pete clamped his hands over his ears to block out the maddening sound.
"STOP IT! Please, it wasn't me, it was Jerry. Please don't hurt me!"
Pete dropped to his knees and just as suddenly as they began the bells stopped ringing. He listened, not moving from his place on the floor next to the desk, afraid of break the spell of silence.
Minutes passed until he convinced himself nothing was going to happen if he lifted his head and took a little peek around. Slowly looking around the office through the crevices between the fingers still clamped over his eyes Pete was finally convinced that it was safe to lower his hands. The station was still in darkness and all he could see were two glowing yellow eyes staring directly into his own. The calico was sitting on the desk right next to his face!
Pete's scream filled the night. Karma remained still, watching passively as Pete turned to run and tripped over the trap below the plate glass window. Karma purred loudly when Pete hit the glass with the full weight of his body and crashed out onto the rainy drive. Blood mingled with muddy water, then swirled across the drive and into the sewer.
Karma stood, stretched, and then jumped lazily from the desk and disappeared into the shadows just as headlights flashed across the front of the station.
Working quickly so as not to attract attention the brothers took Pete's body into the station and laid it on the desk that Pete hid beneath only minutes before.
"What are we going to do, Jerry?" Bill whined as he wiped his little brother's blood from his hands.
"We've got to do something before that cat kills us all. It wants revenge, Jerry, it wants us all dead."
"I'm going to call the police", Joe snapped, grabbing the phone from the floor.
"Yeah, and tell them what? Excuse me officer, but you see it's like this, we murdered this woman and now her cat is stalking us?" Jerry sneered.
Joe shrugged, "We gotta do something for Christ sake, Pete is dead and we're going to be next!"
"Don't you think I know that?" Jerry hissed, pacing in the dark. "The cat's still here, it's still in the station. We'll catch it, and kill it, then we'll call Walters and tell him that Pete tripped and fell out the window. We'll have to get rid of all the traps too. Nothing to even remotely suggest we were trying to catch anything. Now get that cat."
With the absence of light the familiar station became an unfamiliar nightmare.
"Ouch! Hey he's back here!" Josh called, rubbing a bloody scratch on the back of his hand.
"Shit! No he's not, he's over here, he just scratched me!" Bill cried out, as he tried to stem the flow of blood seeping down his forehead and into his right eye.
"Listen, he's over by the pit, I can hear him meowing!"
"Jerry", Josh called from the back of the station. "I smell gas!"
"Hey genius that's really something! Do you think this being a gas station might have something to do with that amazing phenomena?"
Josh ignored the sarcasm and continued his search. The cat, he knew, was near; it had almost tripped him when it darted between his legs after scratching Josh. Somewhere to his left Bill cursed and there was a crashing sound when he tripped over something in the dark.
"If it's in here we're not going to find it until the lights come back one," John snapped.
"All right, all right, come on back up front. We'll wait for a while and see if the lights are gonna come back on."
"I still smell gas, and it's not just 'cause this is a gas station either," Josh insisted.
"Yeah, I smell it too", another voice echoed through the dark, then the others chirped their agreement.
"Come on!" Jerry called, panic heavy in his words. He too smelled the thick dense order of raw gasoline.
Several consecutive flashes of lightening lit up the office when Jerry entered, and he could only stare open mouthed. The brothers filled the office behind him and together they all stared at the huge calico lying peacefully on Pete's cold lifeless chest.
"It's evil", Joe hissed.
"Shut up!" Jerry hissed quietly, he didn't want the animal getting spooked and running off again.
Karma watched Jerry move slowly across the space that separated them. Karma's purr filled the night, louder and louder until the brothers thought it would deafen them.
Jerry kept his eyes on the cat as he moved slowly forward. In the dark he couldn't see the heavy-duty electrical cord stretched across the wet floor in front of him. Only when his foot caught in it did Jerry realize his error. The cat had out foxed him, out foxed them all. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. Six grown men bested by a little pussycat. Jerry knew as soon as the sparks began shooting out of the wall fixture that the electricity hadn't gone out at all.
In the glow of the flames Jerry saw the nozzle from one of the gas pumps gushing gasoline through the busted plate glass window. They stood all in a row like little tin soldiers while flames leaped and danced around them. A few feet away through the window they knew they'd never have time to reach, the Thomson brothers watched the huge calico cat flipped his tail and run across the street to the closed store where a pale face seemed to watch from within
When Chief Walters arrived at the Thomson house the next day he found Mrs. Thomson lying quietly in bed surrounded by some twenty odd cats. She smiled when she explained to him how her cats were the only creatures on earth that really needed her. Her stepsons? They only tolerated her 'cause their daddy left the house and station to her. "He knew them boys were bad, but they were his blood so he let them stay. They never cared about me like my cats do, especially this one", she smiled, stroking the huge calico's back. "He's new here, but already he's my favorite."
Walters started to say something but changed his mind when Karma looked up at him, and instead said, "That's a mighty fine animal, Mrs. Thomson, you take real good came of him and I'm sure he'll take care of you too."
Linda M. Fields