Episode 13: The Cat’s Claws – Conclusion

Note: To read the entire story from the beginning click here.

I had barely seen the motion on the far side of the warehouse when the .45 detonated with a roar right next to me. I turned in time to see a man flopping over backwards, arms flailing, his hat doing cart-wheels through the air. It was hard to tell in the low light, but it looked like part of his face was missing.

Lola Fanutti held the smoking pistol with confidence as she scanned the shadows for more of them.

“I hope that wasn’t a friend,” I said.

“If he knew me, he would have known to say something before stepping out like that.” She touched the chest of her dead friend, over his heart, next to his empty holster. She stood. “We need to get out of here.”

“I know a place we can go,” I said.

I reached the side door as she said, “Not the back room at Jake’s. Nothing personal, Mr. Lowell, but it is very easy to find you.”

I started trying to think of another place. “Up to now I’ve wanted to be found.” I flexed my aching legs and tried the door. It wasn’t locked. “Wait here,” I said, and stepped out into the alley. Over my head the sky was getting lighter. In the distance there was a siren; I couldn’t tell if it was heading this way or not. I stuck my head back in and was looking into the unblinking eye of a gun. I’m glad she hesitated a little longer this time before firing. “Let’s go,” I said.

We walked a few blocks and caught a cab, changed cabs, got out and walked a few more blocks to one of the little dive motels on the East Side. On the way over Lola handed me a respectable wad of cash.

The guy at the front desk didn’t bat an eye when we checked in. I signed the register with someone else’s name and we headed up the stairs. The room was small; the twin beds and the tiny writing desk took up almost all the floor space, making us walk sideways over the tattered rug. It was the kind of room used by unsavory people to do unsavory things. Hookers, junkies, and fugutives. Lola crinkled her nose at the musty smell that told stories of sex, blood, and vomit. It was already uncomfortably warm in there, residual heat left over from the previous day. If today was as hot as yesterday had been, it was going to be unbearable in that room. I tried the window but it was jammed or nailed shut. The bathroom was like the rest of the place but worse in every way.

Lola took the only chair in the room and sat heavily. I sat on the edge of one bed. Looking at the chair I wouldn’t have trusted it with my bulk anyway. She laid her bag on the desk with a heavy thud. That was a big chunk of iron she was handling so casually. As she allowed herself to relax fatigue overtook her and she sagged visibly. She rubbed her eyes and seemed to shed Lola Fanutti like a skin, somehow becoming smaller. She was Meredith from Kentucky once more. This dame changed personalities the way I change shirts. “Now what?” she asked.

“We’ll be safe here for a little while,” I said. “It’ll take them time to check all the hotels. By then we need to change the way you look. Different clothes, different hair. Alice can help.”

“What if they follow her? Can you trust her?”

I didn’t bother with the second question. “This won’t be the first time she’s done field work for me. There’s a phone on the corner. I’ll knock one-two-three, one-two when I get back. Any other knock, start shooting.” I didn’t think I needed to tell her that part.

I slid a dime into the phone and dialed the office. Alice picked up on the first ring. “Charles Lowell, Detective,” she said professionally.

“It’s me. Listen, doll, I don’t have much time—”

“Boss!”

“Right. Listen—”

“I was worried last night. And then I heard about some shootings—”

She’d missed her calling, that was for sure. She scooped all the papers on a daily basis. “I’m fine. Meredith and I have to lay low for a while—”

“Who’s Meredith?”

“Mrs. Fanutti. Our new employer. I need you to get some things—”

“You call her Meredith?”

“You’ll meet her soon enough. We need a new dress for her, something that won’t stand out too much.”

“What size?”

“I don’t know. About the same as you, I guess. Maybe a little more…” I stopped myself.

Alice’s tone got a little icier. “More what?”

“Taller. We need some hair coloring, too. We need to turn a brunette into a blonde.”

“It’ll look fake.”

“As long as it looks different I’ll take it. I’m just hoping she can pass the first-glance test. If anyone really looks they’ll recognize her anyway.”

“Why is that?”

“Never mind. You know our emergency meeting place?”

“Sure.”

“Go in the front, out the back and meet me where I knocked that guy’s tooth out.”

“How am I supposed to buy this stuff with no money?”

“Can you borrow any? I have cash now.”

“I’ll try. I’ll bring one of my dresses. They don’t stand out too much, apparently.”

“That’s a good girl. I’ll meet you in two hours.”

I hung up and looked around. The street was quiet; what traffic there was not acting suspiciously.

* * *

The guy at the desk snorted and shook his head when we came in. Alice glared at him. I had my hands full with the bags she had brought, but I managed to haul her up the stairs.

I knocked three and two and after a few moments the door unlatched and opened a crack. When she saw who it was she opened it further and we squeezed into the room. She set the gun back down on the table and turned to face us. The two women sized each other up. Meredith had been sleeping, it looked like. Her hair was wild and a few strands clung to her moist face and neck. Her dress was partly unbuttoned; she was holding it together with slender fingers. Her eyes still carried the dark circles of exhaustion. Meredith’s perfume was mingling with the other smells now, a strange combination of life and decay.

“You must be Alice,” she said and extended the hand that had held her dress closed. I studiously looked anywhere but there, but I was aware of pale skin and black lace. “Charles speaks highly of you.”

“Thank you. I’ve been with Mr. Lowell for a long time.” Alice was looking daggers at me. “He told me you needed clothes.”

“Yes, I need something plainer. Charles told me you were loaning me one of your dresses. I can’t thank you enough. I’ll reimburse you, of course.”

Dames. I moved to keep things businesslike before the claws came out. I opened up one of the bags and pulled out a navy blue number. “we don’t have all day,” I said.

“Let’s start with the hair,” Alice said. Meredith nodded and began to unbutton her dress further. While Alice tried to turn her toward the bathroom door I suddenly realized it was almost noon and I hadn’t had a drink yet. Now seemed like a good time for one.

“Where are you going?” Meredith asked. I had to climb over the bed to avoid squeezing past the two women.

“I’ve got some other business to take care of.”

“What if they come here while you’re gone?” She asked in a tiny voice. “I’m frightened.” She had more to worry about from Alice at that moment than all the crooks in the city. My secretary forcefully turned her and marched her into the bathroom. “Mr. Lowell will make sure you’re safe,” she said as the bathroom door slammed shut. It would be close quarters in there; I only hoped two people came back out.

Meredith’s fancy dress lay on the floor where it had slid off her shoulders and down over her round hips. The image of stockings over long legs as she disappeared into the bathroom was seared into my retinas. I really needed that drink.

Tune in next time for: Year of the Rat!

22 thoughts on “Episode 13: The Cat’s Claws – Conclusion

  1. So, I drop in to my favorite lit-blog to see what OMS is up to today and I get a big surprise. Bigger than the .45 with which Lola whacked that mug.

    Yes, wait for it……

    I am Mr13K1!!!!!11111one111!!!

    Only late returns from Florida and the Supreme Court can take this away from me. MR&HBI denizens, be very afraid. The end times are surely upon thee.

    Right, off to a few inagural balls and then to form some policy. Oh yes, you will be hearing a lot from your MOH in the hours and days ahead.

  2. Hi Brian,

    I add my congratulations, as well. I’m sure you’ll be an active (if not radioactive) MOH. Enjoy it while it lasts, becuase you will be pervious before you know it.

  3. Hi Jer,

    Thank you for the Eels. As usual, I enjoyed them greatly.

    “Year of the Rat” sounds like meeting the “snitch” character is imminent! Can’t wait. As usual, please hurry.

  4. Bob, in a former life were you the slave that rode in the Roman conqueror’s chariot during the parade and kept whispering into his ear, “All fame is fleeting.”?

  5. Aha! Now that ya’ll have what you whined for — what promises to be a meddling agitator in the office of MOH (no offense Brian, just mud-slinging politics as usual) — we’ll see how long it is before the days of the Shadow Administration are remembered fondly.

    Thank you for visiting the Vomitorium; this way to the Egress!

  6. No, Brian.

    In a former life, I was the barbarian who said “All flame is feeting” while setting the Roman dictator’s sandal on fire.

    I blame mistranslation and revisionist history for the confusion.

  7. Speaking of revisionist history, I can’t help wonder what futue MOH scholars will think of the Hensley Amillenium.

    Afer the innocents have done their time, the guilty have lived out their days in sunny Argetina (Alpaca ranching, anyone?), and the least troublesome documents are finally declassified, will the days of the Shadow Administration remembered “fondly” (as John asserts) or simply as the “literary coma” (as CA put it so aply)?

    Only time will tell.

    Extra Credit: Diagram the question in this post. Anyone? … Anyone?? …

  8. And what makes you think any documents, whether most or least troublesome, will be unearthed from a period of enlightened anarchy — or what some might have termed a “literary coma”?

  9. As for “Year of the Rat” it could have the weasel character Bob suggested. I won’t know until I write it. I just try to leave myself with a juicy title each time. anything that resembles planning in the story is purely coincidence.

  10. Hi John,

    If no documents are declassified, how will future MOH scholars be able to tell the difference between “enlightened anarchy” and plain, old fashioned sloth?

    So far, it seems that Brian is emulating your secret, silent style of governance.

  11. More than a quater of the way through the millenium and not a peep from our new MOH since his great declaration of activehood. Tsk…

  12. What will be the names for the two parties?

    The inerts and the inerters?

    The silents and the comatoses?

    What will be the mascots? Certainly Donkeys and Elephants will not do.

    The turtles and the sloths?

    I can hardly bear the suspense.

  13. Nah, I figgered you and pL, who may not have agreed on many things but certainly generated a lot of verbiage, represented a very wordy approach to MOHency, and thus are one party, while Brian and I represent the strong, silent (or simply lazy) MOH and are “the other guys.”

    I’ll let you and pL choose your own mascot, but will suggest that Brian and I are the Giraffes — noble, imposing, and lacking vocal chords.

    Hmmm. On second thought, giraffes really struggle just to take a drink, don’t they? Well, so much for that mascot.

  14. If we’re looking for two parties, I suggest that we look at Prague, where our beloved founder is now located.

    In the Mala Strana are many interesting houses, but two are of particular note. Before houses were identified by numerical addresses, they became known by a sign or logo, and that served as the address. “Three Ostriches” was the home of a wealthy merchant who dealt in ostrich plumes. “Three Little Fiddles” was the home of a family that made violins and other string instruments; the family still exists today and is known as the world’s finest maker of string basses, although the house is now a fine restaurant.

    If we wish to name the parties, I recommend the Ostriches and the Fiddlers — those who ignore everything, and those who interfere with everything.

  15. Eh hem. /Fanfare and flourishes sound/

    Jerry, you of all people know my political nature. He who governs least governs best. Seize power, kick back and enjoy the ride (kimda like W). I am the benevolent leader who provides the bread and circuses while secretly emptying the royal treasury. Now where was that confounded palace?

    John, our coalition of the quiet reigns.

  16. If anyone is going to be the Fiddlers, it ought to be John & Brian. Their mascot can be Nero (to tie back to Brian’s Roman theme) who doubtless demonstrated strong, silent (expect for the fiddling) “leadership” while Rome burned.

    The phrase “He who governs least governs best” is almost as big a cop out as “See number 3. (Satire)” was.

  17. Of course, here in the States, the erstwhile Fiddlers have become Ostriches (on Social Security), while the erstwhile Ostriches have become Fiddlers (on the right to die).

    Meanwhile, to go back to the slave in the chariot, what he said in the hero’s ear to keep the hero from getting too proud was “Remember thou art mortal.” Not quite the same thing as that fame is fleeting. That tradition is the origin of the phrase memento morii, reminder of death.

    It is interesting to note that in the movie Ben Hur, when the proconsul returns to Rome after the great sea battle victory, Charlton Heston’s character is his mememto morii.

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