“IN THE SUMMERTIME WHEN THE WEATHER IS HIGH YOU CAN STRETCH RIGHT UP AND TOUCH THE SKY. WHEN THE WEATHER’S FINE YOU GOT WOMEN YOU GOT WOMEN ON YOUR MIN-“
My hand comes down on the alarm clock with enough force to render a lesser appliance into slag.
I groan up at the ceiling in frustration. That wasn’t enough sleep. Not by a long shot. But if I don’t get out of bed now, I’ll be here until the late afternoon. And I’ll be exactly hungry enough that greasy take-out will sound like a good idea by then, so out of bed it is, lest my health suffer.
“Grahganfangin coffee…” I mumble to the empty room, hoping that forcing myself to speak will get the rest of my brain working again. Why the hell was I up so late last night?
Mr. Coffee doesn’t seem to have an answer, but then I don’t keep him around for his conversation. With the caffeine brewing, all that’s left for me to do is start figuring out what the hell to eat. Peanut butter on toast is the easiest option, as always, but I did buy eggs and grapefruit a few days ago with the promise to myself that I’d try to start my mornings right. It’s probably worth trying to get a good meal in me the first thing in the morning. Now, what cabinet did I put the frying pan in?
Who the hell is groaning in-oh that’s right, I let a strung-out lightbulb obsessed prowler in my house last night. That’s why I’m so tired. Kaitlyn shuffles in groggily a few moments after her cry of hunger, still wrapped in the quilt from the couch, and takes a seat at the table.
“<Yawn> Mornin’. What’s for breakfast Jennifer?”
“A swift kick in the ass if you ever call me that again.”
“Sounds too rich for this time of day. I’ll just have some coffee and a little of whatever you’re eating, JENNIFER.”
God I hate morning people.
The coffee machine dings, signaling that the life-giving caffeine is finally ready. I pull the pot off the heating element and bring it over to the table, along with the sugar shaker in case she takes her coffee sweetened. I’ve always preferred it unadulterated.
“Ew, you drink your coffee black?” Kaitlyn purses her lips in disapproval as she tilts the sugar shaker over her mug.
“I don’t get how people can drink it like that…”
“…It’s so much better with a little sugar in it.”
She finally decides her coffee is sweet enough and deposits the mercilessly exploited sugar container back on the table.
“Right. I see how a ‘little’ sugar could improve it, but I’ll stick to black, thanks.”
Kaitlyn gives another uncanny four-armed shrug.
Thankfully, the conversation dies there, and I have a good 10 minutes of silence to savor my coffee before the hollow feeling in my stomach forces me from my seat.
“How do you like your eggs?”
“Yolks thickened but still runny. With some toast if you’ve got it.”
Well, that’s one thing we can agree on at least. I pop the last of the bread in the toaster and get a quartette of eggs going in the pan. The grapefruits can wait until everything else is done. Kaitlyn watches me over the rim of her cup of horrendously oversweetened coffee, more because there’s really nothing else to do in here than because watching someone cook a light breakfast is particularly interesting.
“So…” she says, rolling the mug between her hands, “Did I manage to make a complete idiot of myself last night or do I still have a little bit of dignity left?”
“I’d say you’ve got just enough left to keep out of clown school for the time being. Though you are a bit of a cuddly…drunk? Lit? What word do you use to describe someone who’s gotten wasted by staring at a desk lamp?”
“I’m not sure. We should try to come up with one.”
“I’ll get right on that.”
“I want fifty percent of the net on this project. It was my idea.”
She smiles in contentment at her tiny victory and sips her drink in silence until I present her with her breakfast. The toast and the eggs seem to suit her fine, but she surprises nobody by reaching out to dump all the sugar that managed to evade her coffee over her grapefruit half. I can feel my teeth rotting just looking at her.
*Knock knock knock*
Of course there’d be someone at the door. Can’t get a break this morning.
*Knock knock knock*
“Yeah I’m coming I’m coming.”
I leave Kaitlyn at the table and make my way to the door, careful to avoid tripping over the array of throw pillows she somehow scattered all over the living room while she was sleeping. I open it, but there’s no one there.
“-AHEM-. Down here.”
Oh whoops. My visitor is so short I looked right over them.
There’s a small cottonball in a brass badge-bedecked uniform that struggles to contain a curvature which can only be described as “healthy” standing on the porch. The cottonball’s face is obscured by the brim of a Stratton hat with set of curled, grayish horns protruding from either side. A set of woolly arms shuffle around at the cottonball’s belt for a moment to retrieve a small booklet and bring it up underneath the brim of the hat, from which emanates a high-pitched voice reciting what is most assuredly a bureaucrat-approved statement of purpose.
“G-GOOD DAY SIR OR MADAM. I AM AN OFFICER OF THE STILLWATER COUNTY SHERRIFF’S DEPARTMENT. I AM CURRENTLY INVESTIGATING A CRIME AND OR PURSUING A SUSPECT SLASH PEPRETRATOR AND AM IN NEED OF YOUR…eh…”
The cottonball pauses from her hoarse monologue to turn the page.
“…COOPERATION. UNDER STATE LAW YOU ARE ENTITLTED TO CO-“
“Excuse me ma’am, if I could just interrupt for a moment.”
“S-sure. What is it?” The cottonball looks up at me and I get a look beneath that black brim for the first time. She’s not bad looking. Soft, gentle features marred slightly by a perpetual look of worry and insecurity. Large wood-brown eyes enclosed in a set of bifocals and framed with dark circles, darting left and right beneath a shock of eggshell-colored curls that refuses to stay put. She looks more like an overworked English teacher or a candystriper than a law dog.
“What exactly are you here for?”
She looks back down at her booklet and thumbs back to the page she was on earlier.
“DON’T give me the state-sanctioned version of it. Just tell me what you’re doing here.”
“I’m looking for a eh, prowler. Wanted for repeated trespassing infractions.” She explains quietly, wringing her booklet nervously in her hands.
“Yeah. People keep reporting the same mothman creeping around their houses at night and gawking at them.”
Sounds like someone I know.
“Really now? That certainly sounds terrible, but what does it have to do with me?”
“W-well she was headed this way last time I saw her. Or I think she was. She probably was. I think. I’ve been following her all night.”
She starts toeing the ground as she speaks and I notice that her hooves are caked with dirt and the wool coating her legs has twigs and leaves stuck in it.
“I’d certainly give you an A for effort, but there’s no one around here but me.”
“Hey JENNIFER, who’s at the door? Your food’s getting cold!”
Something something something don’t tempt fate.
“Just my weekly cottonball delivery, Kaitlyn.” I can’t scream my frustration at her, much as I’d like to, so laying into my visitor for no reason will have to suffice.
“That’s so mean!” The diminutive weresheep huffs and stamps her hoof in annoyance, “I’m an officer of the law! You have to be nice to me!”
Her irritation seems genuine, but the cracking of her voice detracts somewhat from the authority that brass shield on her chest lends to her. It’s hard to take someone seriously as a threat when they’re in a perpetual state of looking like they need a hug.
“Oh hey Charlotte.” Kaitlyn says from the living room
“Hi Kaitlyn.” The weresheep raises a gloved hand in greeting, then realizes what she’s doing and shakes her head, “No! I mean, you’re under arrest! You’re coming with me!”
“…okay.” She says in a timid whisper.
“Uh, I don’t want to ruin your plans,” I interject, “But aren’t you technically out of your jurisdiction?”
“A-am I? I thought I was still in Stillwater.” Charlotte wrings her hands in distress and turns toward the woods, “Which way’s the river? The river’s the county line. Or it’s pretty close to it. I think.”
“I don’t know anything about a river, but I do know that the lease I signed says the house is in Big Rock County, not Stillwater.”
The fuzz-fringed sheep’s ears that poke out beneath Charlotte’s horns droop so low that their tips are almost even with her chin.
The poor thing looks like she might cry.
“Hey look, why don’t you come in and have breakfast? You must be whipped.”
“Sure,” she says, shoulders sagging in defeat, “That sounds lovely.”
Charlotte kicks as much dirt as she can off her hooves and lets me lead her inside. She practically collapses into her chair at the kitchen table, the fact that her quarry is tucking into eggs and toast right across from her apparently of no concern now that’s she’s at last gotten the weight off her feet.
“We’ve polished off the last of the bread,” I say apologetically as I look through the fridge for something to feed my guest, “But there’s still a few eggs in here, and some grapefruit…”
“I’ll just have some of that lettuce there if you don’t mind.” I hear her say with more enthusiasm than all the rest of her conversation today combined.
I look over at her and see she’s pointing down at the bottom drawer. Huh, there is lettuce in there. Forgot I had that. No reason not to give it to her I guess.
“Can I offer you some probably-still-fresh french dressing or croutons with that?”
“No, no, just the lettuce will be fine.” Charlotte assures me, her stubby white tail wiggling in excitement.
I hand a bowl of greens off to her and she tears into them like they’d insulted her mother.
“Hmm-hmm~” she hums with contentment around a mouthful of vegetation.
Kaitlyn brings a hand up to her face to hide a sudden smirk and gives me a look that asks ‘Isn’t that cute?’
“So how’s it going Charlotte?” she asks between bites of heavily sweetened grapefruit.
“Better now.” She says after gulping down another fistful of greenery.
“Catch any criminals lately?”
Her ears droop again.
“No, you’re still pretty much the only thing going on around here.”
“Well, at least you’re not a Detroit beat cop.”
“Yeah, yeah I guess things could be worse. Say, what’s with all those bandages?”
“Ah, I see.”
“Judge Spooner still on your case about those hippies?”
“Yeah. But I still can’t find any legal reason to compel them to leave their little forest hovel.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. They seem really nice for a Sabbath offshoot.”
“Have you tried some kind of ‘public safety, doin’ this for your own good, yadayadayada angle’?”
“I thought about that, but all the gun-toting ferals living out there would probably get a little uptight at the implication that anyone is unsafe except the dumb cop who crossed their perimeter with nothing but a condemnation notice.”
“Makes sense. Paperwork is no match for a Remington 1740.”
“Plus, some of the less crazy ferals have apparently taken a liking to having a bunch of cute little amateur bakers underfoot.”
“So what you’re saying is that nothing less than a tank is going to get them out of there.”
“I’d say maybe two tanks.”
It’s kind of weird how easily they can converse is when one of them is supposed to be slapping cuffs on the other.
“So you two know each other?”
“It’s a small town.” They both say in unison.
They glance at each other in surprise for a moment. Kaitlyn is the first to get back on beat.
Charlotte’s shoulders sag, and she continues crunching through her bowl of lettuce in silence.
“Are you actually going to play this game with her?”
She nods and keeps her mouth firmly shut. It’s WAY too early for this.
The pest control department comes padding into the kitchen, dragging his tail behind him.
“Mornin’ Shit Head.”
Kaitlyn seems delighted by the ragged beast’s arrival on the scene, but Charlotte suddenly looks distressed. Really, really distressed. Terrified in fact. Like all cats, Camacho has an instinctual grasp on when people are uncomfortable with him, and he immediately makes a beeline for the trembling weresheep and climbs into her lap.
Charlotte was rather fair skinned to begin with, but now she’s bleached-white.
What? It almost sounded like she was trying to say something.
She’s definitely trying to talk.
“HA! You owe me a soda!” Kaitlyn jumps up and pumps a fist in the air victoriously.
“I’ll b-buy you a case of s-s-soda if you’ll get this thing off me!” Charlotte whines.
Camacho is either oblivious to or thoroughly enjoying how terrified Charlotte is of him, because he starts nuzzling against her and purring.
“Okay Honey,” Kaitlyn coos as she rounds the table to reach for the cat, “Time to get off the nice offic-AHHH!”
Like a Zippo without any flint.
“Hey! Camacho! Off!”
The rat-catcher responds immediately, having learned better than to ignore me this early in the morning, leaving Kaitlyn to dust herself off.
“I think he’s starting to get used to me.”
Charlotte and I share a look and roll our eyes in unison.
“Well, sorry to kick you all out, but I’ve got to shower and run some errands, so I’m going to have to ask you to get the heck outta here.”
“No problem!” Kaitlyn declares before quickly downing the last of her coffee.
I show the both of them to the door.
“Ouch, that’s bright.” Kaitlyn muses as it opens, shielding her kaleidoscopic eyes with one hand while another digs an enormous set of brass-framed aviators from her pocket.
“Bye guys!” Kaitlyn tosses a casual wave over her shoulder before kicking off the ground and buzzing into the air on her orange and white-patterned wings.
I feel a timid tap on my shoulder as I wave to Kaitlyn. Charlotte peers up at me nervously, fidgeting with her fingers and looking, well, sheepish.
“Could you uh, if it’s not too much of an inconvenience…” she trails off and continues fidgeting.
“Could you please give me a ride back to my squad car? It’s parked really far away from here and it was such a long walk over here and I’m not even really sure how to get back there and…” Charlotte reaches down to the little booklet on her belt again, readying herself to screech out some official regulation or other regarding helping her out.
“Yes! Yes, absolutely. It’s no trouble at all.”
“Thanks.” She sighs with evident relief.
“I really do need to take a shower before we leave though. Do you mind just waiting down here? I’ll put the cat in the garage.”
“Sure. Can I have some more lettuce while I wait?”
Charlotte claps her hands together in delight and looks happier than I thought she was capable of looking.
“So, how long have you been the sheriff around here?”
Charlotte looks over at me from the passenger’s seat. She’s been in a much better mood since she crunched through that whole head of Boston Bibb.
“A little over a year.”
“How’s that going for you?”
“Not good. I’m so bad at this job. I wish I could just stay home and eat baby kale and listen to Prairie Home Companion.”
Ouch. I think I might have just set the record for fastest buzzkill.
Crap. What the hell do I say in response to that?
“…I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.”
“Really?” The morose weresheep perks up immediately at my vague reassurance.
Make something up, state it firmly, even arrogantly.
“Absolutely. I’ve met quite a few cops in my life and you remind me a lot of them.”
Charlotte smiles ear-to-fluffy-ear and squirms happily in her seat a bit, taking my words at face value. That was easy.
“So I’m pretty sure we get NPR out here if you want to listen.” I suggest, hoping that the radio will keep us both distracted and prevent me from saying anything else to depress her.
“That’d be nice. Thanks.”
I turn the radio on and click it over to NPR. Charlotte listens attentively for a few minutes, but as the drive wears on she starts to lean back against the headrest, and soon after she falls asleep. Not a major loss, I know roughly where her cruiser is parked and what number it is. It does concern me on a somewhat broader scale though; We’re in trouble if this incompetent hugpillow is the only thing between us and anarchy.
“Nnn…Mama I don’t wanna get sheared it’s scary…”
SERIOUS trouble. I should check to make sure all my locks are in good shape.
After another half hour’s drive we make it around to the far side of the woods and I start poking into each road-side clearing, looking for Charlotte’s car. I also start to notice that the car is handling funny, and that the low tire pressure light on the dashboard is on. Great. Luckily the next clearing turns out to be the right one, so I don’t have to worry about doing any lasting damage to my car.
“End of the line.”
Charlotte wakes up with surprising ease, taking a moment to stretch before she gives me a rather apologetic look.
“Sorry I nodded off.”
“Don’t worry about it. You can make it up to me by helping me change the tire. We must’ve punctured it on the drive over.”
“Oh no. I’m really sorry, this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn-“
“You don’t have to apologize,” I cut in before she can get worked up, “Just please tell me you have a jack and a wrench in your car.”
“Oh yeah definitely. Maybe. Probably. I think.” Charlotte purses her lips in concentration for a moment, then unlatches her door and makes for her car.
“Uh, let’s go look.”
I wait until she’s out of earshot to heave a sigh that’s been building in me all morning before I climb out and start after her.
“My tools have got to be in here somewhere,” she says as she opens the doors and kneels on the driver’s seat, “I don’t remember taking anything out recently. Go ahead and start looking in the back.”
The back of Charlotte’s squad car is a cluttered neat-freak’s nightmare dwarfed in scale only by the front. There’s a veritable ocean of “Double Veggie Deluxe” and candy bar wrappers strewn about the place, along with a heap of legal texts, a copy of “Law Enforcement for Dummies”, and…
“Hmmm?” Charlotte peers at me over the driver seat’s head rest, “Oh those.”
She reaches down to pluck a straw-colored ursine plushie out of a pile of crumpled parking tickets and reposition it on the seat.
“I keep them in the car so that if I have to arrest somebody they’ll have something to make them feel better. Judge Spooner said I’m not allowed to hug my arrestees ever since this dark elf nicked my handcuffs and chained me to my door handle while I was trying to convince her that a speeding ticket wasn’t so bad.”
I can’t think of any good way to respond to that, so I get back to sifting through the contents of the back seat in search of the elusive toolkit. It’s nowhere to be found.
“It doesn’t look like it’s back here. Any luck up there?”
“None yet.” Charlotte sighs
“You know if you kept your tools in the trunk this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.”
“The trunk?” Charlotte’s ears perk up in realization, “Oh right! They’re in the trunk!”
Charlotte pops the trunk, crosses around to it, and comes back with a jack and a set of wrenches in less than a minute.
“Sorry, I forgot about that.”
Lord, give me patience, because if you give me strength I may use it to kill this woman.
Changing the tire takes no time at all compared to how long we wasted looking for the tools to do it. Which is still enough time for me to delicately raise the question that’s been brewing in the back of my head since last night.
“So what the heck is the deal with Kaitlyn?”
“She’s a moth woman who skulks around other people’s property at night staring at lights, you’re supposed to arrest her if you get the chance, and she’s just, well, what’s the word…”
“Yeah. Weird. That’s her to a T. All that stuff kind of calls for an explanation.”
“I don’t know. She lives here. She’s kind of known as a nut, but a harmless one, and friendly enough.”
“If she lives here, couldn’t you just go to her house and arrest her?”
“No one is really sure where she lives. I think she kind of bums around.”
Charlotte shifts her gaze down to her shoes and plays nervously with the brim of her hat.
“And to be honest, I don’t really want to arrest her. That order came down from Judge Spooner; She doesn’t really like Kaitlyn. I just want her to get that whole lightbulb fetish of hers under control. It’s not good for her.”
“Seems like a cleaner way to get a buzz than two-fisting your way through a case of Schlitz.”
“I’m more worried that she’ll fly into some powerlines or something. She’s clumsy enough when she’s sober. ”
“I see your point.”
“If she ends up at your house again, could you please keep an eye on her? I don’t know if she has any friends close enough to watch out for her on the regular.”
“I can try.”
“Thanks. Plus, as long as she’s in Big Rock I can just tell The Judge that there’s nothing I can do about her.”
Charlotte lets out an embarrassed laugh and looks away, rubbing the back of her head. The conversation at an end, I slot the spare into place and bid our local law dog goodbye. Stillwater is actually the closest town to my house, so we actually end up following the same route for a while, before she breaks off for the sheriff’s office and I continue toward the grocery store