Ten Cats and Three Gifts From St Gertrude of Nivelles
Gracie would stay with him.
Gracie was the only one who would sit in the grey plastic carrying cage. It was Gracie who had shown up on his doorstep like a miracle shortly after Gina had left him.
Gina never knew about what he did on the side. Corruption just happens. It starts by accepting a free meal or cup of coffee here or there. You rationalize, you justify. Eventually you are in over your head, and there is no way out. Extra money is good, but it is never enough. It is never enough to get out. Once you are in, it is just a question of time before something snags.
The day-to-day life is stressful. A corrupt cop hides from everyone. A corrupt cop questions everyone’s motives: other cops, Internal Affairs, people on the street, even friends and family. A corrupt cop knows that he only has to mess up once, and then everything falls apart. The life is slowly suffocating. It feels like a rodent being squeezed by a boa constrictor.
That level of stress and paranoia kills a marriage. Life was especially lonely after Gina left. Coming home to an empty house after a long stressful day on the streets is rough. But Gracie seemed to fix everything.
He found out that St. Gertrude of Nivelles was the patron saint of cats. He printed a paper saint of Saint Gertrude from the Internet, and taped it to his mirror: a little tribute to his Irish-Catholic upbringing.
Gracie had been abandoned. He had never owned a cat before, but somehow, they found each other. He thought of Gracie as a gift. She was a gift from St. Gertrude.
More came after: Shakey, Tom, Sasha, Jubal, Jules, Ruby, Chloe, Duke and Diablo. Ten cats.
It embarrassed him to own so many cats. He never mentioned them to anyone. He never talked about any of them to anyone at work except for the secretary at the station. She had about a dozen photos of her two cats on her desk, Persians just like Sasha. They made small talk about owning and grooming Persians, but he was embarrassed to let her know that he actually had nine others. So he did not talk to her very much after that.
All of his cats had distinct personalities. They were all like people. But not like real people with all their schemes and hidden agendas. Cats were complex, but you always knew where you stood with them. He loved his cats, each of them in its own way. And it was killing him that he had to give them up.
Shakey was the first to go. He was going to live with the neighbors. Shakey was an easygoing cat, but he quivered a lot. Daly wasn’t really sure why.
He asked his neighbors, Al and Martha, to keep an eye on him. They were the kind of neighbors who always wanted to help out. They always wanted to be neighborly Christians. Daly was the kind of neighbor who never ever wanted to talk to the neighbors. Ever.
Daly placed Gracie delicately in her grey plastic travel cage, and let her sit up front. The other eight cats roamed the car as he drove. Mostly they stayed in the back and lounged on the large blue duffel bag in the back seat. The large blue duffel bag was full of cash. It was almost a million dollars in cash; fifties and hundreds. How he came about the money was complicated. He just thought of it as the second gift from St. Gertrude of Nivelles. The cats that lay upon it did so with profound indifference.
Tom was next. He was going to go live with Daly’s partner, who was coincidentally, also named Tom: Officer Thomas DiAngelo. Tommy. Tommy had been Daly’s partner for seven and a half years. He was there the first time they were given a free cup of coffee.
Tommy always seemed so unaffected by the corruption. He seemed to have a much easier time taking payoffs and looking the other way. Maybe he was just better at rationalizing. Maybe he thought that the criminals are going to do what they do regardless, so he might as well make sure his family is taken care of.
Tommy the cop took Tom the cat inside. His kids were thrilled. Tom led Daly out into the backyard where they could talk privately while Tom’s kids played with the new cat.
“That guy Wilson from IA was asking about you.”
“Oh that guy, yeah he just called me.”
“He was asked me about Duwaun. You think he knows something?”
“Nah, he mentioned him to me too. If they had something on us they wouldn’t be so casual. He wanted me to come in to the station to answer a few questions. I’m heading there now actually. What do you think it is?”
Tommy crossed his arms and scratched his chin. “I don’t know. Why Duwaun Johnson? We haven’t done anything for him. Not since that Pacoima thing.”
“It can’t be about Pacoima. That was way too long ago. I don’t think it’s us. If it was about us, they wouldn’t be talking to us.”
Tommy laughed. “Well, not YET at least. Okay, just be careful. Let me know what he asks you.”
Daly needed to get Melinda’s phone number from Tommy. Tommy and Melinda knew each other from church. While Tommy looked for the church directory, Daly stood in his partner’s living room and waited. He looked at all the happy family photos framed on the walls and on the bookcase shelves. He heard the kids playing with the cat upstairs. Tom was an active cat. He would fit in well here.
He had never spoken to Melinda outside of work. She was surprised to hear his voice on the phone. Getting her to take Sasha the Persian was easy. Melinda loved her two Persians. She spent a lot of time with them, grooming them and coddling them like infants.
Melinda smiled brightly and nuzzled her nose. Officer Daly noticed how pretty Melinda looked out of her usual drab business clothes. She was bubbly and friendly and wanted to chat. A part of him wanted to stay and talk. He had never really talked to her except that one time. But he knew he had to leave. The clock was ticking.
Next he called Myron. It took forever but eventually he picked up.
“Myron. Get up. I’m coming over.”
“What? Wait. I have to, uh, clean up a little first.”
“Myron, I don’t have time for your shit. I’m coming over now.”
He hung up before Myron had a chance to answer. He had to be rough with Myron. It was the only language he understood. He needed to be intimidated. Myron was a relatively clean-cut, but strange, kid who paid his way through college by selling pot.
After he graduated he decided that the money he made selling pot was better than he could get at some entry level job, so he kept going. He did not belong on the streets. He was small, skinny, and terrified of going to jail. So he was allowed to keep selling as long as officers Daly and DiAngelo got a monthly tax.
Myron and his girlfriend looked uneasy and worried as Daly entered.
“Hey I paid you and Officer DiAngelo two weeks ago –”
“Shut up Myron.” Daly interrupted. “I need you to watch my cat.”
“Your…cat?” Myron squinted as if he did not know the word “cat”.
“This is Jubal.”
Myron looked at Jubal. “Dude. I can’t watch a cat.”
“You can. You will. It’s just for a little while.”
Myron looked confused as Daly held Jubal out for him.
“Isn’t a black cat bad luck?” Myron asked.
“No. A black cat is good luck. But you will have bad luck if you fuck this up. Now I know you and your girl take care of another cat. Jubal will just be one more for you.” He handed the cat to the girlfriend.
“Dude. I can’t watch another cat. Why me?”
Daly got into his face, intimidating the worried college kid. “You will fucking do it and that’s the end of it.”
Myron knew his place. “Okay. Fine. I’ll watch your goddamn cat.”
“Just be stern with him. He gets into trouble if you don’t watch him.”
“Hey a guy came around here yesterday looking for you.”
“I think his name is Shiggy or Shaggy… “
“Shiggy. Black Dominican with a goatee.”
“Yeah. Did you piss somebody off or something?”
“Of course not. Now shut up and listen to me. Jubal will get into trouble if you neglect him. Keep him fed and his box clean. Just give him some love and he won’t get into trouble. No love, and he gets into trouble. Understand?”
“Yeah. Give the cat love. Got it.”
“If one black hair on that cat is out of place when I get back I will seriously fuck your shit up. Understand me.”
“Yeah. Give the cat love, or shit gets fucked up. Got it. When will you be back?”
“I’m not sure. Probably just a few days, so be ready.”
“Yeah, okay man… I got it.”
He left Myron’s house and he knew Jubal would be taken care of. But the Shiggy thing really bothered him. Shiggy normally worked for Olivia Santos’ crew. But he was also known to have done work for Duwaun Johnson as well. Could Duwaun be looking for him already? He knew it would happen eventually…but not this soon.
As he drove down the lonely street, a blue Honda Civic passed. Inside were two men, both black, one with cornrows, and the other wearing an LA Dodgers Cap. They both made eye contact with him as he passed.
He headed to his mother’s house without calling first. He made sure that the blue Honda wasn’t following him. His mother had already agreed to take Jules. His mother’s house was exactly as it had been for twenty years. Everything was the same: the floral-pattern couch, the chip on the kitchen counter that looked like a rabbit. Even the smell of boiled onions and bleach was familiar.
“Oh come in come in…you look hungry let me get you something to eat.”
“No, Ma, I can’t stay.”
“But I haven’t seen you in so long.”
Jules leapt from his arms and darted under the couch.
“Oh, there he goes, I bet he will never come out.”
“Sure he will, Ma. Jules is a sweetheart. He’ll be by your side every night watching TV. His only issue is that he doesn’t really like cat food, so you may have to cook for him a bit.”
“Oh that’s no bother at all! We’ll have some grand meals together. Are you sure you can’t stay?”
Daly thought about the men in the Blue Honda. He had to get out of his mother’s house quickly.
“I, um…I was hoping to get Chris’ phone number from you.”
“Yeah … I haven’t talked to him for a while, I thought I would drop by and see him and the kids.”
Suddenly his mother became focused and determined as she shuffled through her desk. “Oh, yes. You must go see your brother. It always made me sad that the two of you barely speak to each other.”
“I know, Ma.”
“Here it is…”
“He keyed the number and address into his phone, kissed and hugged his Mother, and was gone. As he drove away he wondered if he would ever see his mother again. Certainly he could arrange for her to come see him…somehow. He pressed the “Call” button on the new entry in his phone. It rang three times.
“Hello Jackie, this is Kevin. Is Chris around?”
“Uh…uh sure one second.”
Daly heard her muffled voice say, “It’s your brother.” Then the worried voice of his brother Chris came on the line.
“Kevin? What’s up? Is it Ma?”
“No. No nothing like that. I just saw her. She’s fine.”
“Oh. Alright. Uh. So. What’s up?”
“I, uh, I need a favor.”
Moments later, Daly was at the doorstep of his brother Chris, handing over Ruby, the Calico.
“I really appreciate this,” He said to Chris.
“Yeah, no worries.”
“Hold on,” Jackie interrupted. “That’s it?”
“Jackie, come on now.” Chris said.
She continued, “You don’t talk to your brother for four years then you show up outta nowhere with a cat?”
Officer Daly closed his eyes. “I’m sorry Jackie. I don’t mean to bother you.”
“Bother us? You don’t even see your niece and nephew for Christmas! You know Michaela is in junior high?”
“Jackie,” Chris said “not now.”
“No,” Daly said, “You are right…look I am sorry. I know its’ been a long time. I had some personal problems but I’m better now. Okay?”
“We are family.” Jackie said, sounding more annoyed than familial. ”That’s what we’re here for.”
“I know. I know.”
“Listen” Chris said. “When you get back, why don’t you come over and we’ll grill some steaks out back and have a few beers.”
“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds great.”
He drove away from his brother’s house, knowing that he would probably never see him again. His brother had a nice family. Ruby would like it there.
He thought about the last three cats, not including his Gracie, of course. He hated the idea of the kennel, but at least they wouldn’t put them down. He was out of options.
As he drove out of his brother’s cul-de-sac, he saw the unmistakable blue Honda with the two black guys he had seen by Myron’s house driving past him. No way that could be a coincidence They were on to him. He had to move fast. He could feel the pangs of panic gurgling in his stomach.
Daly had a hard time at the kennel. They would only take two: Chloe the shorthair and Duke the tabby. He begged and pleaded but they insisted on only taking two. He decided on giving them Chloe and Duke because he did not know them as well as Diablo. If he had to keep a second cat, he would want to keep Diablo. Besides Gracie, he was the closest to Diablo.
But he literally smacked himself on the forehead as he drove away from the kennel. It was stupid to keep Diablo. Gracie and Diablo had never gotten along. They couldn’t stand each other.
Maybe it was because they were both Chantillies. Besides that, he only had the one cage. There was no way Gracie and Diablo would share a cage.
It broke his heart to think of Diablo out on the streets alone. He just could not let that happen. He had to man up and make the one call that he really did not want to make. The phone rang five times before the machine picked up. He called back again, and again until she finally picked up.
“Hey Gina. It’s Kevin.”
“Gina, listen. Please don’t start with me right now.”
“Do you know how late it is?”
“Yeah, I know. Gina, please, I need a favor from you.”
“I am going to hang up now.”
“Gina, please. It’s my cat.”
“You have a cat?”
“I have two cats. But they don’t get along.”
“You? You have two cats? When did you get two cats?”
“Just after you left. Listen Gina, I have no place to go. I would not have called you if you weren’t the only person I could turn to.”
“Oh HELL no.”
“Gina please, I’m serious. I need your help. Will you watch my cat for a few days?”
“You want me to watch your cat?”
“Yeah, will you Gina? Please? Its only for a few days.”
“No. Just take it to a kennel.”
“Those kennels treat cats like shit. I don’t trust them. But I trust you. I know you’d take care of him”
“He’s a black and grey Chantilly. His name is Diablo.”
“You have a cat named Diablo?”
“He’s a good cat, you just need to make sure he doesn’t wander away. He tries to get out sometimes, but I don’t think he can handle himself alone out in the world. You just need to keep an eye on him. Stay with him. Please.”
She sighed. “Okay. Bring him by tomorrow.”
“Oh my god, thank you Gina. Thank you so much”
“But I gotta bring him by right now.”
“I’m on my way.”
He hung up.
Of course Gina was not happy about him coming by in the middle of the night to drop off Diablo. She bitched and hollered at him just like she used to do when they were together. Some fights never really end. But despite all that, she eventually took the cat in. Daly promised he would be back by Thursday, which was, of course, a complete lie.
Finally it was down to just him and Gracie. He sat in the driver’s seat of his car and took a long deep cleansing breath. He heard Gracie purr and yawn from inside her plastic cage. His brief feeling of relief immediately shot to panic as the blue Honda plowed around the corner.
In the accelerated adrenaline of the moment all of his neurons fired at once and he pieced it all together: Shiggy was one of Duwaun Johnson’s guys, but he also worked for Olivia Santos, who definitely had the ability to track his phone. Olivia Santos was helping Duwaun Johnson. She was tracking his calls and telling the blue Honda guys where to go. Son of a bitch!
This time there was no mistake. The two men in the blue Honda were clearly there to kill him. The car slammed into the back of his car lurching him forward. He peeled out with the Honda inches away. In his rearview he could see that Dodger cap was holding a MAC 10.
His rear window exploded and bullets bounced around the inside of his car and whizzed past his ears. Two big shatter circles appeared in his windshield, as he turned hard to the right.
He tore through the candy-cane strip of plywood blocking the entrance to the parking garage. The Honda missed the turn, but they would be on him in a few seconds. He squealed up each of the lower floors of the garage. He accelerated, slammed on the brakes, and turned the wheel hard sending his car smashing into the single-lane entrance to the private upper floors.
He heard a car entering the garage below as he got out of his car with the duffel bag and Gracie’s cage in hand. His car blocked the only entrance to the upper floors. They would have to chase him on foot.
He bolted down the first flight of stairs. He heard the Honda tearing up the garage. Soon they would reach his abandoned car and if he were lucky, it would take them a moment to deduce that he went down the stairs.
Instead of following him, Dodger Cap lay on his belly and sprayed bullets at the stairwell. They bounced and sparked off of the steel handrails, and concrete stairs, each bullet echoing in the cavernous parking garage.
He emerged from the garage and on to the dark, single lane street outside. His back strained under the weight of the blue duffle bag and cage. His lungs were heaving air through his dry throat. On the street, outside the garage, there was no place to run. He knew it was over.
Then it appeared like a glowing glorious carriage from around the corner. It cruised carefully, cautiously almost as if the driver was looking specifically for Daly. It was a bright yellow taxicab: the third gift of St. Gertrude.
He flagged down the cab, tossed the heavy blue duffel bag in the back seat and placed Gracie’s cage carefully in his lap and said “Union Station.” to the driver. He looked out the back window as the taxi began to move. He was more than a hundred yards away by the time Cornrow popped out of the garage. Daly figured that it was too far for him to read the cab number or license plate. He had made it.
The driver drove in silence. Daly was still sweating in the back seat as he made a call to the United Airlines terminal at LAX. He asked the girl random questions for about two minutes before hanging up and tossing his cell phone out the taxi’s window. If Olivia Santos was tracking his calls, he expected LAX to be crawling with Duwaun’s guys at about the same time he boarded a train across town at Union Station.
As his phone smashed onto the street, he thought about everyone he had called that night: His brother Chris, Melinda, Myron, Al and Martha. Would Duwaun try to get to him through the people he knew? Daly never called his mother, but it would not be hard for Olivia Santos to find her. He looked at the money in the blue duffel bag. There was nothing he could do to protect the people he cared about.
But now, he was just a few steps away from getting out. He could take Amtrak all the way up past Bellingham Washington without even showing his ID to anyone.
Soon he and Gracie would start their new life together. He would finally be away from all of the corruption, stress and paranoia. They would be able to start doing good things. He rested his forearm on the top of Gracie’s cage.
The cab crept through the desolate downtown Los Angeles streets amid the chained-up storefronts, broken flickering streetlights and the wandering homeless people, alone and abandoned by everyone they ever knew.
“We made it, Gracie.” He whispered. “We are going to be safe now.” Daly looked down, and noticed the bullet hole piercing the gray plastic wall of Gracie’s cage.
Daniel Mkiwa is a writer in the Los Angeles area. His stories have been published in Everyday Fiction, Pulp Metal Magazine, and All Due Respect. http://www.mkiwa.com
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