Black Iris: Chapter Twenty-Six
Even politicians who aren’t robots don’t show their true faces in public. If I really want to know what’s going on with the mayor, I have to see him at home, where he’s most vulnerable. The security will be tight, but I don’t need to get into the house itself; I should be able to see and hear enough from outside.
I make arrangements for Lincoln and me to stay at my father’s place so I don’t have to take the bus home after my mission. During the day, Lincoln and I frolic in the backyard, chew on plants that give us diarrhea, and have a Gimli-vs.Legolas-style competition over who can catch the most birds (we tie with zero). There’s the usual grilled cheese for lunch, then my father grills steaks and burgers for dinner, and we sit outside at the splintery picnic table that is older than I am.
I head out as soon as the sunsets.
The mansion is white brick with columns by the front door and balconies at each second-story window. In the center of the circular driveway is a fountain with a statue of Ayn Rand’s head on Eleanor Roosevelt’s body. Gia knows the sculptor that Annette Bottom commissioned to design the piece, and apparently, he’s so ashamed of it that he denies it’s his work.
The property is secured by a 13-foot fence with a 20-foot-high metal arched gate in front of the driveway. As I’m figuring out the best way in, a disheveled middle-aged man in a beige suit comes stumbling out of the park behind me. He’s talking to himself loudly and guzzling something that smells like gasoline out of a bottle in a paper bag.
He stops and squints at me. “Are you one of them?”
“One of who?”
The Phantom’s reliable source.
“No. Well, I guess that depends on your definition of ‘alien.’ I’m a cat-man from another dimension, but my father’s from here, and this is where I grew up.”
“Oh, right. You’re that cat detective.” He takes a long pull on his bottle.
“That’s me. My name’s Snowball.” I avoid shaking his hand since his crotch is wet and smells like ammonia.
“I’m Kevin. I live… <burp>… I live down the street.” He points to the second biggest house on the block.
“Huh. So, what’s it like living next to the mayor?”
“Pff, he’s not my mayor.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Kevin burps. “I mean I didn’t vote for ‘im. Guy’s a crook, sellin’ the city to big corporations.”
“What’s he like as a neighbor?”
“Sometimes he hosts parties, which is annoying ’cause there are cars up and down the street, but he hasn’t done that in a while. If ya ask me, I think Dick’s still sick.”
“I thought he just had food poisoning.”
“Yeah, if ya believe the lamestream media. All I know is I saw ‘im out here with one of their dogs, and he was all hunched over, holding his stomach like he was about to explode.”
Dogs. Of course. That’s why the Phantom couldn’t get closer to the mayor, and the fact that he didn’t just use the raw steak trick tells me there’s probably a whole big pack of them. They could be a problem for me, too. Humans won’t be able to see me in the dark, and I can avoid cameras, but I can’t hide from all those dog noses. I’ll just have to be fast, I guess. The bushes will provide ample coverage on the ground floor, and then I can climb the trellises that lead up to the balconies and hide behind the potted plants. I just need to peek into a few of these windows before I get caught. With any luck, I’ll catch a glimpse of the mayor hooked up to a charging station or getting tuned up by robot technicians.
Of course, I can’t do anything with Kevin hanging around.
“Hey, Kevin, do you hear that?”
He crinkles his face. “Hear what?”
My ears rotate. “Don’t know. Sounds kind of like a… theremin, or… some kind of otherworldly engine…”
His eyes widen, and he drops his bag, shattering the bottle inside. “They’re back!”
“The aliens. They must’ve read that article in the Kibble Examiner, and they know it’s me who ratted ’em out. I gotta get outta here.”
“Good idea. Don’t worry, I won’t tell them I saw you.”
“Thanks, man,” he says as he shuffles down the street.
Once he’s gone, I walk the perimeter of the property looking for the best way in. The bars have spikes, but with a running start, I should be able to clear the fence cleanly.
On the west side of the house, I find a blind spot where a tree in the yard obscures the view of the only camera I see pointing in that direction. I push off hard and land a good 12 feet inside the fence. As soon as my paws touch the ground, a menacing screech rattles my brain. I drop to my knees and cover my ears.
I forgot about motion sensors.
I estimate the tone to be at 30 kilohertz, which makes it silent for humans but torture for dogs and cats. The sound ends abruptly just as 15 German Shepherds appear on the scene. They smell angry and desperate. I run for the tree, but they cut me off before I can get there. One of them leaps on me, and I throw him to the ground. I don’t want to hurt these guys, but there are so many that I might not have a choice. I’m faster, stronger, and smarter, and I have better eyes in the dark, but they have better sniffers, more endurance, and more rage.
I sprint towards the backyard. When I look behind me, I only see six dogs, but then I hear howling from in front of me. The rest of them have come around for an ambush.
One of them catches my foot in his steel jaws and takes me down, and the others pile on top. Once I smell my own blood, my claws come out. After slashing 10 out of 15 doggie schnozzes, I’m able to break free, but now they’re even madder.
I make it to the backyard, and the mayor’s bodyguards are there waiting. They fire a blue blast of energy from what looks like an electric razor, but I dodge, and the blast hits one of the dogs. The seething canine falls to the ground unconscious. I’ve been on the wrong end of a taser more times than I can remember, but I’ve never seen anything like these things.
My pursuers are relentless, and I’m getting tired. Resigning myself to the fact that my mission is blown, I make a beeline at cheetah speed for the far fence. As I pass through the center of the yard, I collide headfirst into an invisible wall. My legs give out, and I collapse to the ground.
Before I can gather myself, there’s a flash of blue light, and everything goes dark.
I wake up on a sofa that’s been covered with an itchy cotton bedsheet. I get why they wouldn’t bring out their best linens for a cat that just broke into their mansion, but I’m amazed they would even own sheets this crappy. They must be for the dogs.
As soon as I sit up, one of the mayor’s guards puts down her newspaper and walks over to an intercom on the wall.
“He’s awake.” She returns to her chair and continues reading.
I’m in a caricature of every study I’ve ever seen in a movie, complete with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a fireplace, and an antique globe on a mahogany desk.
My head is throbbing, and my mouth is dry. I try to reach a glass on the end table and fall off the sofa onto another shitty bedsheet they’ve used to protect their Persian rug.
The guard rushes over and helps me up. “Be careful. You just received a 1,200-kilowatt blast of electromagnetic radiation. You should probably lie down for a while.”
“What the hell was that thing I ran into in the backyard? That thing that wasn’t there?”
“I don’t know what you’re — ”
The door opens and in walks Annette Bottom with a lemony expression. The mayor follows behind her like a toy poodle.
“I guess those selfies weren’t enough,” Annette says.
“No, they were perfect. I just wanted to get a closer look at that beautiful fountain you have out front.”
“Cut the bullshit, cat. Why are you here? Did that greasy mobster hire you? Or are you working for one of those right-wing news outlets that’s been spreading all those bizarre conspiracy theories?”
“No, I swear I’m just really passionate about sculpture. I went to art school, you know.”
“I’ll give you one more chance, and then I’m calling the police.”
If she was going to call the police, she would have done so by now. I wonder why she hasn’t.
“Ok, ok. The truth is, I was playing in the road with some of the fellas, and someone hit the ball over your fence. I went to go get it, and that’s when your mean dogs attacked me.”
She turns to the mayor and the guard. “I need to talk to you two in the hallway. Now.”
Even with the door closed, I can hear them as though they were standing right next to me.
“This is bad,” Annette says. “We have no idea what he saw or what he knows. We’re going to have to zap him again.”
“We can’t do that without the risk of turning his brain into scrambled eggs,” the guard says.
“I’m willing to take that chance.”
“That would be a bad idea. He’s famous, remember? And we don’t know who else knows he’s here.”
“Well, can you guys at least try to read him?”
“We can’t see anything he doesn’t want to show us. Plus, it’s a two-way connection. If we see him, he sees us.”
She sighs. “Maybe we really should just call the police. If we say he tried to kill the mayor, we could keep him in jail for as long as we need to. Then, at least if he knows something he won’t be able to tell anyone.”
“What about his friends in high places?” the mayor asks.
“Right. Well, for now, let’s just tell him we called the police and see if that makes him a little more cooperative.”
The door opens, and the three of them return to my side. I’ve now gathered enough strength to grab the glass of water. Since it’s not a bowl, I have to drink it the same way I did in Dr. Bell’s office, which yields the same messy results. Annette’s eyes bulge in horror as the water soaks through the sheet onto her priceless couch.
“That is a 10-thousand-dollar sofa!” she shouts.
“Sorry. I can’t drink out of glasses.”
“Then why didn’t you ask for a bowl?”
“You guys were busy.”
She flares her nostrils. “Just so you know, the police are on their way, and they think you tried to kill the mayor.”
Even if I hadn’t overheard her plan, I would be able to hear the sirens already if she had actually called them.
“Cool. Now, I don’t have to take the bus back into town. Any chance I can get something to eat while I’m waiting?”
“You’re not our guest.”
“Fine. Can I at least go to the bathroom?”
She squints at me.
“Trust me, you don’t want cat piss on your rug.”
“Fine. Ms. Johnson, would you please escort the intruder to the bathroom?”
The guard grabs my arm and leads me out of the room. The hallway is lined with creepy paintings of Annette’s ancestors that look exactly like her, except they’re in old-timey clothes. I’ll bet this place has a network of secret passages from which you can watch people through holes in the eyes.
As we pass one of the rooms, I hear a voice that I’d swear is the mayor’s if I didn’t already know he was in the room I just left. I would love to sneak a peek inside if only I could lose my chaperone.
Unlike the rest of the house, the bathroom is space-age and sleek, with abstract photo prints and fluorescent lighting. It has one of those Japanese AI toilets that makes small talk as you’re taking a dump, then it washes and dries your asshole. This gives me an idea.
“Hey, uh, Ms. Johnson?”
“I don’t see any toilet paper.”
“Use the bidet function on the toilet.”
“Uh, bidets don’t really work for me, on account of all the fur. I’ll get soaked and then I’ll track toilet water all over the house.”
I expect to hear a sigh or some other expression of annoyance, but she answers matter-of-factly, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Once the footsteps have faded away, I open the door a crack and peer down the hallway. The coast is clear, so I make a mad dash to the room where I heard the mayor’s voice and barge right in.
“Shit!” shouts the mayor.
“Oh sorry, I was looking for the — ”
A hauntingly familiar woman springs up from the armchair across from him.
The woman stares at me blankly. “Who?”
I step all the way into the room to get a closer look at her and notice the mayor’s beach ball-sized stomach. I’m so confused that I don’t hear the two security guards charging at me until they hit me from behind like a couple of tiny rams.
“Too late,” the mayor says. “He saw us.”
Annette bounds into the room, followed by another mayor. The short one with a flat stomach that I saw earlier in the study. She glares at her two guards as they pin me to the floor with my arm twisted behind my back. “You idiots! Your one job was to make sure he didn’t come into this room.”
“Chill out, Annette,” says Beach Ball Mayor. “It’s not their fault. It was your idea to bring him up here in the first place. After you tased him, you should have dragged him outside the gate.”
“We needed to know what he was doing here. What he knows.”
“Well, now he knows everything. You might as well let him up.”
They release me.
I stretch my sore arm. “For the record, I don’t know everything. Like why are there two mayors, and why is one so short and the other one so fat?”
“See?” Annette says. “It’s not too late. He doesn’t understand what he saw. If one of these guys was to — ”
“He recognized me. Well, he called me ‘Queenie’, but that’s close enough.”
“Hey, guys, stop talking about me like I’m not in the room. And if you’re responsible for my memory loss or any of the other shit that’s happened to me over these last few months, I think I deserve a goddamn explanation.”
“Or we could just have Rejji wipe his mind again,” Annette says.
“Who the hell’s Reggie?”
“He’s our doctor,” Ms. Johnson says. “He’s on the ship right now.”
“Ms. Johnson!” Annette screams.
“What?” Ms. Johnson says. “I thought we were telling him.”
“We’re doing no such thing. He’s going to ruin everything. Think about it. What’s he doing here? Who’s he working for?”
“He’s here because of me. Even if he doesn’t know it.” The woman not named Queenie turns to me. “It’s Kweena, by the way. With a ‘K.’”
Annette is shaking her head in disapproval when her phone chirps. “I have to answer this.” She storms out of the room.
“Hey, what do you want us to do?” Short Mayor calls after her.
“Do whatever you want. I don’t give a shit anymore.”
This time, she doesn’t stay within earshot.
“Close the door,” Beach Ball says to Short. He pulls the lever on his recliner, and the leg rest drops. When he shifts his weight, something cracks, causing him to grimace. “Being pregnant sucks.” Everyone in the room stares at him.
“Did you say ‘pregnant?’” I ask.
“You said you deserve an explanation, and I agree with you. One of the things I learned early on in my political career is that sometimes a half-truth is worse than no truth. It’s obvious that if we don’t fill in the gaps for you, you’ll just keep digging and making things worse.”
Kweena walks over to him and rubs his shoulders. “This is all our fault. Maybe I should show him.”
“Show me what?”
“Your missing memories.”
Beach Ball sighs. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Telling him is one thing, but I’m not sure he needs to see that.”
She smiles and pats his belly. “Don’t be jealous. I hadn’t even met you when I was with him.”
“Alright, now I have to see.”
“I still don’t see why it’s necessary. Can’t you just give him a recap?”
“Because if he sees what’s happened, maybe he’ll help us.”
“Help you with what?” I ask.
Beach Ball glances over his shoulder at the door, then speaks in a whisper. “I thought we talked about this. Annette doesn’t want to involve any outsiders.”
“Again. Still in the room.”
“Yeah, we’re here, too,” says the guard I haven’t been introduced to. “You guys are being rude.”
“Zebruh, Zoloz, and Morque, why don’t you go check on my wife?”
“You’re using our real names?” Short Mayor says.
‘“We might as well.”
“Well, in that case…” Ms. Johnson extends her hand. “I’m Zebruh. Nice to meet you.”
“Zebra, like the animal?”
“It’s not spelled the same. It’s just a coincidence that it sounds like the word you know.”
The other guard shakes my paw next. “Zoloz.”
“You guys aren’t from around here, are you?” I ask.
Zoloz’s tight face bends into a slight smile. “Definitely not. You’ll see.”
“I’m not from around here either.”
“We know,” Short Mayor says. “I’m Morque.”
“Let me guess. You’re not named after the Robin Williams character.”
“Actually, he’s named after me. I hooked up with Garry Marshall in the summer of ’77 before my tour of duty started. Anyway, we’ll get out of your hair.”
Zoloz, Zebruh, and Morque leave the room, shutting the door behind them.
“Snowball, why don’t you come sit in this chair?” Kweena says. “You’ll be more comfortable.”
“Whatever you say.”
She spreads my legs and drops to her knees between them as though she’s about to give me a blowjob. Her hands slide up my shorts and rest on my bare thighs. A tingle starts from the point of contact and then quickly rushes over my body as though I’m slipping into a cold swimming pool.
“Give it a minute.”
Bright light pours from her pitch-black eyes. My body goes limp, and I sink into the chair as though it was made of pudding.