“Mr. Sparkles” by David Rachels

Everyone needs a go bag, but it’s one of those things that you keep putting off and then the day comes when you actually need it and HOLY SHIT you wish you hadn’t kept putting it off. At least I had gotten around to buying a bag, a $50 gym bag with a shoulder strap and pockets inside of pockets, and when I got it home, I threw my passport inside, but I never got much further than that. I needed some cash in there obviously, so when I emptied my pockets every night, I started tossing in my loose change. And one time, when I came home from the dentist, I put a new toothbrush in there, too. But that was it. I never zipped up the bag because I always thought I was about to pack it, but when I looked through my peephole and saw two cops, that bag held nothing but my passport, a toothbrush, and $117.62 in coins. All that change just goes to show you how long I’d been putting it off.

The psychology is obvious, I guess: You think, at some level, that if you never pack the thing, you’ll never need it, so not doing what you ought to be doing becomes an act of self-defeating self-defense because one day you’re going to need the damn thing, and then you’ll be exposed to yourself as the idiot that you are. Well, that’s just fucking great. So I grabbed the bag—I might need the passport, and I could use some of the coins to buy some toothpaste to go with the toothbrush—and I hightailed it out the back door. My gun was in its shoulder holster, which was on my shoulder, which was good. I had my keys in my pocket, which might be useless, because my car was parked out front, which was bad. And my go bag felt inexplicably heavy, which I didn’t have time to investigate just then. I had to go.

Whatever the cops knew, I knew they didn’t know it all because they didn’t have anybody watching my back door. I went out the door, through my back yard, through my rear neighbor’s back yard, through my rear neighbor’s front yard, and into the street on the opposite side of my block from the cops.

What now?

I dropped to one knee to look in my bag and see why it weighed so much. It felt like someone had stuck a bowling ball in there, but I found what I should have expected to find, my cat, Mr. Sparkles.

Shit.

Well, okay, not shit entirely. Now that the cops knew where I lived, there was no going back to my house, and I would have hated to have abandoned my cat. But, on the other hand, shit. If you’re on the run, how do you blend in with a cat? A dog is easy, but a cat? Follow the man with the cat! You’re done for.

I took Mr. Sparkles out of the bag and tried to walk away from him, but of course he followed me. I thought about killing Mr. Sparkles right then, but I couldn’t do it. I’m cold, but I’m not that cold. I thought about taking him to a shelter, but when you’re going to ground, you do everything you can to minimize contact with other people. But still, I couldn’t be going around with a cat in a bag.

Then I got to wondering if I could find a way to trade my cat for my car. The cops would be looking for the car, so I wouldn’t be able to use it for long, but I needed a way to get out of my neighborhood, and I needed a way to leave Mr. Sparkles behind.

I put my cat back in the bag, and I made a wide circle with my house at the center so that I could approach my house from behind the house on the other side of the street. Peeking around that house, I could see the unmarked car with two heads in it halfway down the block. The heads were pointed toward my house with a clear view of my driveway.

Thinking about my options, I realized a key question: Did the cops know what I looked like? I didn’t think so. I didn’t have any pictures of myself, I couldn’t have told you where to find any pictures of myself, so how could the cops have a picture of me? My driver’s license and passport were under false names. I’d never been arrested, so there weren’t any mug shots. There would be photographs if I had been under surveillance, but I flattered myself to think that if I had been under surveillance, I would have known it. No, as far as I knew, no one had taken my picture and attached it to my real name since high school. I decided that if the cops could recognize me from my senior portrait, then I was meant to be in jail.

In the backyard of the house across the street from mine, I heaved Mr. Sparkles high into the branches of a tree. I braced myself for him to come crashing back to earth, but he stayed up there, somewhere. And then he started wailing in distress. Perfect.

I went to the cop car and tapped on the passenger’s window. The cop didn’t look happy, but he rolled down the window.

“Yes?” he said.

“Hi!” I said, trying to sound like someone who liked cops. “Could you please help me get my cat out of a tree?”

The cop in the passenger’s seat looked annoyed. The cop in the driver’s seat leaned over to get a look at me.

The closer cop said, “Do we look like firemen to you? Do we look like we’re sitting here in a ladder truck?”

The farther cop said, “We could shoot your cat. We could bring him down that way. Is that what you want?”

I said, “But I’m a law-abiding citizen. Aren’t you supposed to help me?”

“By doing what?” said the closer cop. “By pulling a ladder out of my ass?”

“He’s in the big tree in the backyard of that green house.” I pointed at the green house. “Could I at least get you to go over and look?”

“Don’t think so, pal,” the farther cop said. “We’re going to sit right here.”

“Suit yourself,” I said.

I shot them both, got in my car, and drove away.

I felt really bad about leaving Mr. Sparkles up in that tree.


David Rachels has published noir fiction in SwitchbladeThuglit, Pulp Modern, and other similar places. As well, he is the editor of Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stories by Gil Brewer, which was published by the University Press of Florida in 2012.


Image courtesy of Pixabay. Altered by Cartoonize.

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