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       Unleashed: Tail One, p.1

           Lori R. Lopez
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Unleashed:  Tail One


  Tail One

  by Lori R. Lopez

  All rights reserved

  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any

  media without written permission from the author, except

  brief excerpts in critical reviews and articles.

  This is a work of fiction.

  Copyright © 2011 by Lori R. Lopez

  Front Cover Illustration by Lori R. Lopez

  Would the tormented pet of a psycho, after witnessing countless abominations, begin to exhibit disturbing behavior? Find out in “Unleashed” what happens when a cat is driven over the edge and beyond the brink.

  In Honor Of Midnight

  SOMETHING DREADFUL KNOCKED late at night. It howled and thumped and quaked the door. My family in trepidation phoned nine-one-one. Squad cars arrived blaring, casting wavery lights across windows.

  Our bell chimed. Two uniforms slouched grimly on the porch, working graveyard. One of them clutched a cat. “Belong to you?” the officer queried.

  “That’s the neighbor’s pet,” my mistress responded.

  Pest, you mean! I disdained.

  “Oh. Sorry. It was sitting on your mat when we pulled up,” apologized the towering policeman. His skimpy partner nodded like a bobblehead monkey that squatted on a shelf in my youngest owner’s room.

  Spotting me hunkered next to my adult master, hackles rising, a menacing snarl deep in my gullet, the miserable wildcat split with a squeal. Just doing my job.

  I was backup, the family hound. Their bodyguard. Don’t ask what breed. I’m mixed, a mongrel. Floppy antennas, colorful coat, broad snout.

  They dubbed me Rags, hardly befitting a canine of my aptitude, my obedience-schooled intellect. On this block I was regarded by peers as The Scope — no detail eluded my attention.

  “You reported a disturbance?” The female cop adjusted her glossy brim. A radio crackled at her shoulder. Static ensued from the tall guy’s device. They wore masks of feigned interest.

  “Our door was being attacked,” the lady of the house stated.

  “It sounded like a monster!” Benny the six-year-old exuberantly described.

  “We noticed gouges,” remarked Male Cop, indicating the door’s exterior. “Was your dog in the house?”

  Sure, try to pin the rap on me! I know my rights. I see plenty of crime shows, and you don’t have a case! Or a cage big enough to hold me! I indignantly blustered.

  My mistress fortuitously nodded, providing an alibi.

  “How well do you know the cat?”

  “We see her wandering, napping on the Miller porch, peeking from windows,” Mistress Sara divulged. “But whatever did this damage couldn’t have been a cat. I’ve never experienced anything so intense! I was afraid the door would burst!”

  “Might be a catfight. Those get pretty vicious. We’ll look around and file a report,” the patrolwoman affirmed.

  “Thank you.” Blissfully the door was shut and bolted. “It’s okay, Rags. Keep an eye peeled,” bade Master Evan.

  Lights off. The humans retired. I whimpered, a lone sentinel. Then sighed and rested a disconsolate chin on cold tile.

  My favorite post, protecting the fridge.

  A stealthy silhouette loomed at the rear entrance through a sheer drape. My throat rumbled, warning the ominous four-legged shadow: Scat cat. A watchdog’s work is never done.

  Convulsive slumber was haunted with banshee wails, subdued pummeling of glass besieged by cat fury, the ferocious animalistic rage of a feline scorned. Crying out, I trembled. Legs flailed, nerves twitched. The sun dallied in languorous neglect.

  My impatient basset woof heralded day. I plodded to the glass and smudged it, sniffing. No sign of you-know-who. The hellcat’s tantrums had abated. Panting, I grinned and decided to collect a few more winks.

  With any luck, the pesky parasite had joined a traveling flea circus.

  “Lloyd MacKowski, Homicide.” Producing my badge, I clasped the hands of Evan and Sara Smith. Pleasant, attractive, sincere, I mentally jotted. At this stage I had no suspects for the demise of their neighbor. It was a place to begin, with at least a slender connection to the unexplained death: a complaint about commotion on their property the night of the incident.

  I tapped a bronze name plaque beside the door. “Smith. That’s not an alias is it? You’re not evading the law, are you folks?” I smirked too slow. They took me seriously.

  “No, of course not. Come in. We have nothing to hide,” panicked Evan Smith.

  “I’m sure you don’t,” I placated, following him to the living-room. I flopped my bulk in an armchair.

  The Smiths perched on the edge of their davenport. A dog barked from the veranda, then pranced outside a glass door.

  “This is our son Benjamin,” the missus announced.

  A cute precocious boy planted himself in my view. Amber eyes and curls. Finger up his nostril. “Hi, are you a detective?”

  My belly lurched. What do they teach children these days? You’d expect a decent family in a nice house to have better manners! “Yeah, are you a kid?” I cleared my throat, thumbed my notepad and clicked my pen, ready for business.

  “Yup.” The lad stared like I was from Neptune. The finger dipped to his pocket. Not being a parent, I confess I found the habits and behavior of smallish tykes especially annoying.

  “Sit with us, Ben.” The dad seemed too eager and polished, attired for the office, his necktie immaculate, meticulously knotted.

  A neon sign of chaos within.

  Could be compensating for a lack of self-esteem. Or concealing a guilty conscience.

  I scribbled my observations, then frowned at the family with a trained eye as Benjy joined his parents.

  Functional. Caring. Nonsuspects, I percepted.

  Unless they gave me a reason to think elsewise.

  Sara folded her arms. Defensive. I was expert at reading body language.

  “You’re from Homicide? Is this related to that night?” she quizzed. “The racket by our door?”

  “Uh, yes and no. It might be,” I suggested. “I’m investigating a death that occurred in the previous thirty-one hours on this street. In fact, it happened next door.”

  I aimed the police-issue pen toward a dingy gray house visible through sparkling panes. The couple gasped in unison, heads turning, tracing my arrow. Rehearsed? I scrawled the speculation. Guess they didn’t notice the hubbub, the usual crowd of autos and strangers a day earlier. Must not have been present while officers canvassed the block. Rather convenient? The story made the evening news. My peepers furnished a solution: no television set. Odd. I mused over that for a moment, snatching candy from my jacket, then masticated solemnly. Courteous to a fault, I held out a handful. “Jelly bean?”

  The parents declined. The brat glommed my whole stash in one swoop.

  Flustered, I peevedly grilled, “How well did you know Damon Miller?”

  “Does anyone really know their neighbors?” Wifey shrugged. “He kept to himself. We rarely saw him.”

  “You never spoke to the deceased?”

  “Once, delivering mail we were given by mistake,” asserted Hubby. Folding his arms, he pinched his lips together.

  “And?” I coaxed.

  He raised his eyebrows. “And what?”

  “Did your neighbor reply?”

  “Oh. Yes. Guy opens the door a crack, tells me to leave it in his box. Quite rude, wasn’t even grateful. A lot of people wouldn’t bother, they’d toss it. Not us. We’re law-abiding citizens.” I listened to him swallow.

  A fairly high gag-threshold prevented me from losing my scram
bled eggs. “Very commendable. You’re setting a fine example for your son.”

  Feeling claustrophobic, anxious to pursue other leads, I tucked my notebook away and surveyed three blatantly normal residents of a community where something major didn’t add up. “If I have more questions, I’ll stop by.”

  “So how did he croak?” the mister inquired. “Was it violent?”

  “An intruder?” probed the spouse.

  “Was it a monster?” Benjamin enthused.

  I deadpanned the trio, incredulous, blaming the media. Although they didn’t subscribe to the main source of sensationalism.

  “Drowned in his bathroom,” I revealed. “We discovered evidence of foul play.”

  The latter bit was bluff, a strategic ploy. My investigation concerned possible homicide. The medical examiner tentatively ruled it accidental — no fatal wound or tissue trauma; no foreign substance or toxicology; no hint of a struggle. But Bodycount Bernice was punctilious and preferred to weigh all options.

  A cinch like the current case deserved a second take, a skeptic’s touch. I liked to measure reactions, test the atmosphere surrounding death. And I sensed immediately this was not your average open-shut file.

  “Most murders are committed close to home,” I elaborated. “Accidents too. Makes you wonder if it’s safe to get out of bed.”

  Heaving the girth of an over-the-hill crime fighter aloft, I hobbled to the door. Bad circulation.

  My lumbar ached, yet I was motivated to poke further into the life of a private unpopular stiff kneeling with his face in the toilet, seat propped on his neck, bare tiles betwixt the door and commode slick with a dumped gallon of cloying strawberry shampoo. It was an ideal case for one of those proper British female snoops on Mystery my wife fancied. (I enjoyed a good foibled American sleuth myself.)

  I had filled the bathroom portal studying the topography, wrestling a combination of hysterics and morbid fascination. “Death by toilet. That’s a new one,” I ribbed Bernice. “Should spice up your coroner’s report. If it wasn’t assisted.”

  I shuffled aside so my forensic-pathologist sweetheart could photograph the scene, bag potential evidence.

  “I’m betting he fell in. Check the skid.” She pointed a latexed finger.

  “Horizontal,” I endorsed. We were a team, like Mulder and Scully.

  Pausing on the Smith doorstep, scowling, I harrumphed, “There’s a question I should ask but I forgot to write it down. It’ll come to me.”

  I ruminated, grimacing. The steel trap was vacant. I could hear the ocean between my ears. I couldn’t resist another feeble stab at humor. “Heck of a thing. He was flushed to death. Lousy way to go.” Twinkling eyes mirrored my mirth. I didn’t smile.

  Their expressions were priceless.

  I knew the type. Probably into dogs or trout. Streetwise caution compelled me to spy through a hedge. The oaf exited my chosen address, climbed into a sagging machine and cranked a weary engine. After he backed from the driveway, I sprinted to the family’s yard. He lingered, coach idling. I met the stranger’s gaze, my body rigid. His vehicle eased along the curb and parked. He watched, a statue of silent inspection. Self-conscious, I slunk into bushes lining the foundation.

  Creak. Thud. Legs appeared. Ascending my adopted stoop, he knuckled the door.


  “I won’t detain you. Remembered what I needed to ask. Do you have a cat? Black? White crescent moon above its eyes?”

  Busted. I had seen my reflection on windows, mirrors. I matched the description.

  “He’s hiding in your shrubs. There was a fresh paw print on the bathroom floor, beyond a puddle of shampoo. Definitely a cat.”

  Curses! I shoulda rubbed that out. No one’s purrrfect, I groused.

  “Our neighbor owned a black one. Guess the poor thing’s hungry,” Family Man acknowledged.

  “Okay then. I’ll let you get to work. Have a nice day.” Cat Hater approached. “Here kitty.” The ox emitted a sneeze. “Doggone allergies.” And trumpeted goosily into a handkerchief.

  I streaked from foliage and melted out of sight, scurrying to my former yard, the site of arrant dishevelry, traipsed and uprooted by strangers.

  Darting beneath a broken lattice that fenced a gloom-shrouded base, I cowered as the lunk circled Creep’s house then klutzily clomped inside. Footsteps groaned, halted directly over my refuge. I lounged moodily on my stomach, legs gathered, feeling secure the man would not invade my sanctum.

  A toilet flushed. Liquid channeled pipes. Attitude somber, hoping the clod’s friends had already removed my master-piece, I contemplated the dirt and roamed to a dream alley of copious nooks with no ghastly depraved cadavers soaking headfirst in basins.

  Were I the culprit, Demon Miller was as much the villain, the purveyor of his own doom. Sure, I organized his slaying, even made it look unmeditated, impromptu. I would not, however, accept full credit. Miller drove me to it. I plead insanity. An abundant imbalance of neurons.

  Try coexisting with someone who opted for nothing but reality programs! Talk about tunnel vision! I would click the remote when he wasn’t there and savor a movie, some toons, a rousing cat-food commercial.

  If Maniac was home, not accumulating surplus energy behind a convenience-store counter, not hypnotized by his picture screen, the ogre would deposit stinky socks in my basket. Rearrange the environment so my comfort zone would be disrupted. Sprinkle pepper, red chili powder on the carpet and furniture.

  He swept dust at me, ate my meals. Attached shoes, maracas, a live crab to my tail. Glued and feathered my fur, paperclipped my whiskers. The beast dressed me up like a doll!

  As if the aforetold violations weren’t enough, the lunatic ambushed me. Chased me with power tools, glittery blades, a horsewhip. Then shrieked to manifest my true identity, unveil my cryptic shape-shifted soul.

  Do you comprehend by now the extent of anguish and cruelty I was subjected to?

  But it wasn’t just me. Demon lured other strays to his lair — gullible adolescents, handicapped hitchhikers, geriatrics picked up at rec centers or parks — the vulnerable and weak.

  Torturing them, Miller forced me to glimpse his atrocities locked in a cramped wire coop. Eventually I snapped. Who can blame a gal for going a trifle berserk under such conditions?

  Only a wretch like that detective sifting the crime scene for clues! He might blow the whistle, summon the pound, order a lethal injection.

  And then there was Rover, who would relish an opportunity to devour me for lunch.

  With haughty indolent feline aloofness, I suppressed these worries. My motto and philosophy of life: Nap on it.

  The conniving impudent vermin managed to squirm her way into my territory! Meowing pathetically, pretending to be starved. Sneakily pilfering chow from my bowl. What an act! I caught a whiff of her despicable odor. Cat hairs contaminated my water dish. I was literally fit to be tied so they did, granting her the run of the place! She didn’t fool me. The rodent-taunting charlatan had nine lives and an equal number of faces!

  I would stare inside, smearing the glass door as they fawned, lavished affection, heaped strokes — my strokes — upon the creature . . . bamboozled, swindled, smitten by her charms. Why couldn’t they be the kind of dog-lovers who loathed cats? While Midnight (her Smith name) blinked at me, their discarded pet, and imperiously yawned.

  I barked, jumping on the door, attempting to warn them she was not so precious and adorable. For this valiant effort they scolded me.

  Sulking, adapting to a future of seclusion, I reclined before a cheap plastic doghouse purchased to compensate my loss of habitat. The brazen witchcat had to go!

  But wait, I smelled an accomplice, a confederate in my battle for domain.

  The hedge rattled as a sneezing buffoon awkwardly pitched past a border of twigs and leaves, tumbling into the yard. “Good dog,” the shmuck condescendingl
y praised. Or was he scared?

  I had seen the cop staking out my turf, tiptoeing after the cat, misguided toward various disasters. A rake handle, a fire-ant colony. The tripwire perimeters of flowers. A wasp hive. Brow-beating branches. A pile of lost marbles.

  Though his clumsical methods lacked technique, the lumpy limping swollen guy’s suspicions leaned in the right direction. That furball was trouble, and I intended to prove it.

  Rudder flapping, I bounded the limit of my leash to slurp the man’s bruised dour mug.

  “Hi, me again. Spoke with you last week? I wanted to ask some more questions, if you don’t mind.” The wife unlatched a chain. I brushed into her cheerful abode, shaking off a clouded drabness that mantled the day. Hubby was at work, Junior being educated (Health and Hygiene Class, I hoped).

  We proceeded to the living-room and resumed our seats, the same exact positions. “Remember anything else about your neighbor?” I toweled pooch slobber off my cheeks with the bottom of my tie.

  “As we said, he was quiet and kept to himself.” Sara paused. “I did hear metal scraping stone around Three A.M., if it helps. A month ago.”

  “You never can tell.” I recorded the tidbit.

  “Strangely, I heard similar noises in recent nights.”

  That would be me. I deducted her later comment as irrelevant.

  Offering tea, the cordial hostess hopped up to serve a platter, politely not mentioning my stings or contusions.

  I nibbled a cookie. Then recalled Benjy and my appetite vanished. I was glad I had eaten extra that morning.

  At breakfast, Bernice wryly suggested I ink the cat’s feet to compare with the print by Miller’s toilet. “Not that it would determine cause of death,” she dismissed. “It’s entirely circumstantial.”

  “Are you implying that I’m stuck?”

  “No, dear. I was trying to make you smile,” Bernie teased. “You’ve been preoccupied with this case. Sitting in a dead man’s bathroom. Pacing through his house. Arriving home middle of the night with grass stains and a runny nose from surveilling his pet. Are you taking your allergy medicine?”

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