by Graham B.
Jealousy and cats make for a deadly combination.
I swear I'm not making this up. I know it sounds insane, but you guys are cops. You can verify some of this, right?
Tia had never been the particularly jealous type. She would give a look whenever another girl would smile at me, as if it was my fault that the same things that drew Tia to me would draw in others. Tia would give me a little shove and pout a bit in that cute way of hers, but things would get back to normal in short order. We never stayed mad at each other for long.
That was before Zaria came along and shook things up. I don't know why Zaria made me do a double take that day. She couldn't have been more different from Tia. Where Tia had jet-black hair, Zaria was a redhead. Where Tia wore black lipstick and nail polish in some homage to Gothic fashion, Zaria wore nude lip gloss and pink nail polish, and her fashion sense was California rather than Victorian. Where Tia smoldered, and glowered, Zaria bubbled and beamed. They were like day and night to me. And like the perennial flower, I needed both.
Tia noticed, and made sure that I knew she noticed. After my gaze lingered a little too long on Zaria's hair as it spilled over her bare shoulders, I could feel the storm brewing all the way back to the apartment we shared. I could always feel her moods, as if they were coming from an electric heater nearby. And boy, was it hot in the apartment that day.
"Who was that?" Tia asked, her tone telling me she would brook no nonsense. I knew better than to lie to her.
"I don't know! I've never seen her before."
Tia stared at me, as if into my soul. Usually confident that I couldn't lie to her, now she didn't look so sure. But it turned out that while I wasn't lying to her then, I lied to her later.
She knew. She always knew. And it was because of that damn cat.
I saw it as I went to work at the coffee shop. You know which one, right? I see you cops in there every day, usually the rookie getting a holder full of Columbian for the rest of you guys. Anyway, Zaria surprised the hell out of me at the shop and ordered a cappuccino. She smiled at me again, and I knew something was going on. Something clicked between me and her. You know, it was the power. And it was the same thing I felt when I first met Tia, only a different...how do I say it... flavor? Night and day, like I said.
So, I finished my shift, and Zaria was sitting at one of the tables outside, her empty cup on the table right next to her. She must have been sitting there a while.
"I feel like we've met before," she said to me, and she waved me to a chair next to her.
Now I didn't believe in the supernatural or occult or any of that bullshit before that day, even with all of the weird shit that Tia was into, but I felt something jump between us - me and Zaria - like electricity. Like it was destiny, you know?
We talked for hours, and before I knew it, it was nine at night and I knew I had to be getting along. Except that I didn't want to leave.
Zaria looked at me and said, "Don't worry. The world will still be here tomorrow."
She said a lot of deep things like that, which always put me at ease, even when I was feeling guilty about seeing her behind Tia's back. She put her hand on my arm, and it was like having one foot in heaven.
But that night, the cat showed up. I didn't see it until I was halfway home, but when I stopped to cross the street, I saw it, just sitting there on the sidewalk staring at me. It was a gray tabby, nothing special or anything, except that it wasn't even minding the people walking past. It just looked at me. I'd never seen it before, but somehow, it looked familiar.
When I got home, Tia was into her occult books and stuff.
"How was Sasha's?" I asked, meaning the place she worked. You know it? It's like Hot Topic, but a little more mainstream.
She didn't answer, but kept her nose in her book. She had other things on her desk: a candle, which is pretty normal, a mirror with a frame full of jewels, a tuft of hair, like from an animal, and a woman's hairbrush that I never saw before. Looking closer, I thought the hair in the brush was red, but I wasn't sure at the time.
Anyway, I had brought home a bunch of almond toffees, her favorite. It took a long time to get her to come out of that bunker, you know? Once Tia gets into one of her moods, it's like storming Normandy. I asked her what was wrong, but instead of telling me, she attacked me! And by attacked, I mean ripping off my clothes! I don't think we ever had sex like that before, but it was like she was trying to prove something.
After we wore each other out, we got to talking.
"Where are you?" she said.
"I'm right here," I said, but I'm sure she meant something a lot deeper. I guess I'm too dumb to take a hint, but that should have been my first clue that things were going off the rails pretty fast.
The next day, I came out of the coffee shop, and Zaria was there, again.
"The world's still here," I said to her, and she laughed, one of the laughs that kind of sparkles, you know? Like water coming out of a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day? We talked again, about nothing in particular, but somehow it meant everything. Zaria was like the sun to me, and I couldn't take my eyes off her.
I went to her place. I know I shouldn't have, but I wasn't firing on all cylinders upstairs. You know how it is when you meet someone and they're like a well you just fall into? That was Zaria. Long story short, we ended up in bed together, and I don't think I remembered much else from that day.
But when I left her apartment, I heard purring. Real loud purring. I looked down, and that cat was sitting right outside her door, waiting for me. The cat looked up at me, and I swear that it glared, like I had done something wrong. And I did do something wrong! But what the hell does a cat know about it?
"Shoo!" I said.
I tried to chase it off, but it just kept sitting there with that look on its face. So, I walked past it and left, but somehow, I could hear that purring all the way home. I didn't see Tia at the apartment, but I saw her stuff still at her desk, and the candle was burning. The book was something I'd seen in her collection before, but not something I really thought about until now: Profiles in Sorcery. The hairbrush was still there and sure enough, the hair on it was red. I don't know where Tia got it, but it gives me goosebumps to think about it after everything that's happened.
I called Tia on her cell, but it went straight to voicemail so I threw together a dinner of ramen and went to sleep.
The next day, I got up, and still no Tia. Ate breakfast and went to work. On my way there, I saw that damned cat again. Only this time, it had something in its mouth. It was standing right next to the busy street in the same spot it was the first time I saw it. I looked closer, and saw that it had that hairbrush in its mouth! Weird, huh? But the next thing I knew, the cat looked straight at me, then ran out into traffic! I tried to shout, but it happened so fast. I watched the street, expecting horns to sound, or screeching tires, or a greasy, furry stain on the road. Nothing happened, and the cat just up and vanished. It was like I imagined the whole thing, except that I didn't. Before I walked away, I saw the hairbrush. It was in the road, bouncing as it was run over by one car after another.
Do you think I'm crazy? Then explain what happened next!
I did my shift, and just like the other day, Zaria was here when I came out. She kissed me, full on the lips, and I could taste that cappuccino that she always got, but I didn't mind. She was bubbling over with news, something about a new job at a PR agency or something. She was dancing in front of me, her skirts twirling around. And she stepped backwards into the street.
You guys know what happened next. You took my statement, and you know how messed up I was when I told you about the bus hitting her. But I didn't tell you about the cat and the hairbrush, did I? Would you have believed me?
After the medical examiner took Zaria's body away, and you guys left, I was sitting in front of the shop trying to get myself together. It was like the sun went out, you know? You ever lost somebody you really cared about? It's like losing your right arm. Anyway, I was sitting there, and the cat came up to me. It was looking at me, but it looked sad, or even guilty somehow. And I knew, right there, that the cat had killed Zaria. I knew it! The expression on that cat's face told it all. I still don't know if I'm crazy, detective, but I just knew the cat was responsible.
So, I leaped up and grabbed it. You should have seen the look on its striped face. It was surprise and fear, and it looked almost human! I started choking the thing, that devil cat that killed Zaria, and the cat was hissing and spitting and scratching the shit out of my hands, but I held on. I held on until it was dead.
And that was when the other part of me died, like my other arm was cut off. I knew something terrible had happened, and that I was part of it. I can't describe it, but it was like emptiness upon emptiness. One loss after another.
I went home and found Tia, just like you saw her, strangled to death at her desk. I know because I saw that bruising around her neck. The candle was burning, and she had that animal fur in her left hand. If your CSI guys check under her fingernails, they're probably going to find my skin cells there.
I know you think I'm crazy, detective, but you're going to think you're crazy when you check the security camera from the bank right next to coffee shop. But you did that already, didn't you? Did you see me strangling a cat? Right at about time of Tia's death? Can't find the dead cat either? Can't explain it, can you?
It doesn't matter much what happens to me. Everything I've ever cared about is gone, and I might as well go to jail. I'll be in hell either way, and that cat's got a couple of more lives to haunt me with.
Do you hear that, detective? Does it sound like purring?