THERE’S NO SUCH THING as aliens.
Werewolves? You bet.
Zombies? Of course.
But aliens? It’s all just a pile of paranoia and conspiracy theories if you ask me.
“How many cats are we talking about here, Clem?” I asked.
“Five,” Clem said.
“Five?” I asked.
“Five,” he clarified.
“Someone has taken five cats from you?”
“Not all at the same time,” Clem said. “Every couple of days one of ‘em has gone missing.”
“How long has this been going on?” I asked.
“Little over a month now,” he said. “It started with Mrs. Whiskers.”
“Yes sir,” he said. “About a month or so back I got up one morning and filled all the cat dishes for breakfast. Them cats can hear that sound from anywhere in, or out of the house. That food hits one of them bowls and them cats come running.”
I nodded to show that I was listening.
“But that morning, all but Mrs. Whiskers showed up,” he said. “Didn’t think much of it at the time. I mean, though they do come inside once in a while, they are outdoor cats. I’ve had a few go missing over the years. They’ve wondered off or been run over or just went off somewhere to die from old age.”
“Sure,” I said.
“But then three mornings later, Meowzers didn’t show. Two mornings after that, it was Biscuit. Then Sweetcakes two days later. Then Princess Purrington. After that I figured something odd was going on.”
“Did you notify the authorities?”
“Yes sir,” Clem said. “I called and spoke to Francine down there at the station. She put me through to officer Hanks.” Clem leaned forward. “Officer Hanks, he came by, took my statement and looked around a bit. He even drove by the house once or twice, but he never did find out what was going on.”
“And that’s why you’re here,” I said.
“Yes sir. Actually,” he leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs. Some of the dried mud from his boot broke off and fell to the floor. “I told Barbra June, that’s my sister, I told her that it didn’t seem like there was anything that officer Hanks was gonna be able to do. So she told me ‘Clem,’ she said, ‘You gotta call that Norman Oklahoma,’ she said. ‘He specializes in these kinds of things that’s all mysterious and such.’. Then I remembered how you’d helped me with my wife them years back and so I took Barbra June’s advice and gave you a call. ”
“When Officer Hanks stopped by, did he do more than just take your statement?” I said.
“Yes sir, he came out and looked the place over real good but said he couldn’t find no evidence of foul play.”
“So it’s possible that each one of these cats just wandered off?”
“We’ll, it’s like I said. Cats will do that. But five of them in a month? I ain’t never had that happen, and I been owning cats for most of my life.”
He had a point.
“It’s them aliens, I tell ya,” he continued. “Them aliens came down in one of their saucers and took my cats away.”
I tried not to sigh, but one got out despite my effort.
Six years ago Clem’s wife, Nattie, took off on him just two days shy of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Clem woke up that morning to find her note stuck to the front of the refrigerator with a magnet in the shape of one a’them alien faces, the kind with the big, black eyes. Ironic really, once you consider what was in the note. But then, maybe that’s why she chose that particular magnet.
Anyway, her note said that aliens had been visiting her for the better part of a decade. She’d written that a lone scout had come at first to gather intelligence for his home planet so that they could better understand us as a species, making it easier for them to enslave us when the mother ship eventually arrived.
She claimed that she’d struck up a friendship with this alien who she called Blont Gaglefranch from the planet Bulp. Inevitably, the mother ship had arrived, managing to avoid all radar and other such tracking mechanisms being so vastly superior then us when it came to technology. She’d met with the High Flunt, the leader of the Bulponians, and explained to the alien ruler that Earth wasn’t worth their time.
She talked about global warming, World War I and II, the atomic bomb, slavery, the Trail of Tears, the Crusades, Nicholas Cage; basically all the bad stuff we’ve done to each other and the planet over the years. In the end, she’d had him convinced and the aliens were set to leave us alone.
That’s when Blont stepped in and threw himself a tantrum. Turns out this Blont Gaglefranch was the High Flunt’s son and he’d grown somewhat attached to Nattie. So much so that he wanted to take her back to Bulp with them. Well, of course, she didn’t want to go, but Blont threatened to use their superior alien technology to blow up the Earth if she wouldn’t leave with him.
The High Flunt, being one of them helicopter parents I suppose, backed his son’s play. So Nattie had no choice really. She would have to go with them if the Earth was to keep on spinning. At least that’s how she wrote it.
Clem, after reading the note, contacted me.
I’d given the case the attention that it deserved, which meant that I’d verified that Nattie Sims, wife of Clem Sims, had purchased a one way train ticket to California. She had herself a sister in Dunsmuir. So I’d made a few calls and tracked Nattie down at her sister’s house in Northern California.
When I spoke to her, Nattie had made me promise not to tell Clem. She didn’t want him knowing that she had left because of him. She may not have loved him enough to stay married to the man, but she loved him enough not break his heart.
Clem, of course, had believed the whole thing. He took to bragging to anyone that would listen about how his wife had sacrificed herself to save them all. Of course, most folks had known that she’d left, and why, but no one wanted to hurt old Clem so they kept up the charade.
Now he apparently believed them same aliens had taken his cats.
I had a different theory. I was pretty sure I knew what had taken Clem’s cats. And if I was right, he’d never see any of them again.
I didn’t want to worry him quite yet, however.
“Well now, Clem,” I said. “I can’t discount that aliens ain’t involved. I’ll look into it, that’s for certain, but I had their word the last time that they wouldn’t be taking anyone or anything no more, and being the trusting man that I am, I got to take them at their word. So, I have to think that aliens ain’t the case here.”
“Maybe so, maybe so,” Clem said. “But the cats are missing all the same. What’s more strange is that I got to talking about what’s been happening to one of the neighbors just the other day and she tells me her cat went missing too. So did a couple of other cats on the block.”
That about clinched it for me.
“Clem, do you have a basement?” I asked.
“Pretty dumb to live in Kansas and not have a basement,” he said. “Tornadoes and all.”
“So that’s a yes?”
“Mind if I come by and have a look around your basement?”
“Well, no,” he said. “But they ain’t in the basement. Checked it myself.”
“Still, I’d like to have a look around,” I said.
“Sure,” Clem said. “Anytime.”
We talked for a moment about my fee and made arrangements for me to meet him out at his house in an hour. With that he left.
I could have gone out to Clem’s right away, but the rumble that had just sounded in my belly told me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a little something to eat. I grabbed my coat and hat and stepped out into the waiting room.
“So?” Bob said. He was still behind his book.
Bob put the book down. “We got a case or not?”
“We do,” I said.
“Good,” Bob said. “Maybe you’ll start paying me again.”
“Oh, come on now, Bob. What do you need those paychecks for? You got more money than Mickey Mouse.”
It was true. Bob was the type of rich that was typically preceded by the words filthy, and stinking.
“That doesn’t mean I work for free,” he said.
“Dear Lord, Bob. You weren’t cashing any of them checks anyway, even when I was paying you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s the principle.”
“Well dern, Bob. If you want a paycheck I’ll write you out one right now.”
Bob’s eyes widened and he gasped as if I’d just asked him to steal from the Pope. “I’m not taking a bad check from you, Norman.”
“You ain’t gonna cash it anyway!”
“Like I said.” He went back behind the book. “It’s the principle.”
“Bob, you are a confounding man. I don’t understand your principles, but I surely do respect them.”