They came to arrest me on a Saturday morning. I had been hearing tripartite hoots from the tawny owl all night. I slept in fitful spurts only. The pewter fog that shimmied on the surface of Monterey Bay showed no signs of lifting. The infernal banging would not stop.
I opened the door, recoiled, and slurred, “What?”
Neither man had any outstanding features that proved to be helpful for descriptive purposes. Unless the lack of visual acuity was all mine. Both were whitish, bipedal, and borderline pudgy. One of them claimed, “We’re absolutely not here to arrest you. We only want to talk.”
If I’m dumb enough to believe in absolutes, I thought fuzzily, what idiocy will I succumb to next? I said, “You go first.”
“I’m not at liberty to say just yet.”
I said, “Who is?”
“There’s a certain someone who wants a word with you.”
They were wearing frumpy blue uniforms. My slack-jawed eyes were unable to decipher the embossed insignias on the shoulder pads, but they looked foreign. In my random experience, one word of certainty tends to lead to another. I had planned to go to the Farmer’s Market early and beat the crowd. I desperately needed green beans, bok choy, garlic, peaches, and cilantro.
The borderline pudgy man who did all the talking said, “I think you probably know why we’re here.”
Confidently, I replied, “I think you’re probably wrong.”
Then he said something that sounded an awful lot like, “Hurrumph.” He followed it up with a look that tried to disguise symptoms of a known hair-trigger take on constipation.
“And I think probably you know that,” I continued. “And not for the first time.”
He said, “We’ll see about that.”
I said, “The tween twins who share my bona fide DNA are asleep. It could be traumatic at that sensitive in-between age if I become one of the disappeared and never come back.”
“You’ll come back.”
“I’m not at liberty to say. But you can wake them first if you’d like, and explain. We can wait.”
I said, “I don’t know how to explain. Why don’t you explain?”
He said, “This won’t take long if you cooperate. It’s up to you.”
I said, “If it’s up to me, go away.”
He said, “We were warned that you think you’re pretty funny.”
I replied by mimicking lyrics from the great John Lee Hooker. I said, “Evabody funny. You funny, too.”
He said, “That’s not funny. I think even you know that.”
I admit I was curious where the warning came from. I woke up the tween twins, which was not easy. The yin twin thought I was trying to trick her. She refused to look into either of my weak eyes. She stayed in her frilly bed. She tried not to take me seriously. Ever.
I said, “Report me missing to the United Nations.”
She rolled over and said, “You’re not funny. Go away.”
I said, “Okay then.”
The yang twin exposed a razor sharp sneer. His teeth were yellow and creepy. One incisor looked as if it had ambitions to become a fang. There was gunk on his tongue that was hanging out. But, he perked up when he found out I was being carted away in semi-bondage. He got out of bed. He wanted to see all of the gory details.”
I said, “You know where to forage for organic vittles when the time comes.”
He took a picture with his phone. The ruthless apparatchiks led me outside. The driveway was wet, though not too slippery. I was the only two-bit thug not wearing jack boots and I stepped lightly. The yang twin took four wide-angled shots of the unmarked car. The borderline pudgy agent who had yet to say a word grimaced as he climbed behind the wheel. I figured he had hemorrhoids. I figured he was the strong, silent type, and would soon take over the interrogation with a pair of pliers, rubber gloves, and a rubber hose. I vowed to be ready for him. Unless the hose was nylon.
The yang twin said, “This is so dope. You’ll probably get fried a blotchy magenta under a heat lamp. After you get skin cancer, we can sue. Wait until I tell mom.”
“First, call the United Nations. The number’s in the rolodex. Send them the pictures.”
“What’s a rolodex?”
“Look it up.”
The yang twin said, “I’ll post the pictures on Facebook.”
The borderline pudgy agent said, “You’d better not.”
Now, he’ll do it for sure, I thought. This sorta pudgy guy must be dumber than me.
I said, “Sorry about the peaches.”
The yang twin said, “What peaches?”
The borderline pudgy agent, who in retrospect was not really all that borderline, unless it was borderline paranoid, said, “Yeah, what peaches? You’d better not be trying to pull a fast one.”
Smiling crookedly, I said, “Objects may appear closer than they seem.”
The yang twin said, “Is that a secret code I should know?”
The borderline pudgy agent said, “It better not be.”
The yang twin said, “I still don’t get it.”
I repeated, “Look it up.”
They drove me to the nearby Forest of Nisene Marks, a California State Park, where I often take solitary walks under the majestic canopy of redwood trees when not dodging reckless mountain bikers. The driver parked behind a glitzy limousine. I knew exactly where we were. There was that same monotonous trickle of water in Aptos Creek. If I had sufficient cojones grandes I might have considered making a break for it at that point.
The dumb-ass who I finally concluded was in fact no less than a full fleshed fat man said, “I have faith you’ll do the right thing.”
I said, “Is that the awesome brand of faith that destroys all desire to know the truth?”
“I’m a moderate Lutheran so I’m going to overlook that. For now, we have disturbing evidence of an imminent animal uprising on our hands.”
“How can animals rise up, being so inherently sub-human?”
“That’s a good question. We’ve thought long and hard on that. But that’s for future discussion. This is where we are now. We have a need to use you.”
Just then, there was a cheap sound and a fury and there was a black light accompanied by chintzy strobes. The door of the limousine opened sequentially as if in a low budget wet dream, and the important man who wanted a word with me stepped out. Except he wasn’t a man.
“Meet the Beverly Hills Rat.”
He stuck out his hairy chest and he struck a rigorously faux pose. His menacing smirk featured one big brown tooth capped in gold. He puffed up like a bass heavy hip hop mogul, and he stroked his own greasy tail demurely. When he leaned over, his ass-crack popped out from below his droopy drawers.
He hissed, “Is what is. Yo.”
“Is that a revolutionary new fragrance I smell?”
He said, “Fo shizzle.”
The rat proceeded to display all attitude, all the time, for a comprehensive thirty seconds, that included a monotonous beat that the slow kids could dance to. He ended with a twirl that was suggestively repulsive.
Then he got down to the real nitty-gritty. He held up a gilded bird cage. There was a warm bed inside of the cage that was puffed and fluffy. There was a shiny swing with a bell that tinkled and a steamy mirror that ironed out unsightly wrinkles. Silken swags framing a dual valance were fringed in luminous metals. The wan colors made me feel stupefied and woozy. There seemed to be a lost metaphor struggling to be born from inside a haze. And yet the cage remained empty.
The Beverly Hills Rat hissed, “As you can see my property is missing.”
“I see a load left behind.”
“The missing occupant of this cage remains my property. Woodsy Owl is missing, as I know you know.”
“I’m rarely reliable when it comes to knowing. You wouldn’t believe the shit I believe.”
“I have purchased all licensing rights to Woodsy Owl from his former masters, The U.S. Forest Service. I have purchased all residual rights. I own Woodsy Owl from beak to butt to tail and I want Woodsy Owl back. My plans for Woodsy Owl will become huge. The Forest Service backs me all the way, as does the well known Secretary of the Interior, all the Senators from all of the Dakotas, as well as hefty bovine officials from New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico.
“What more could one sewer rat ask for?”
“Tree, not sewer. In Beverly Hills we rats live in palm trees, above the swimming pools.”
“Oh yeah, nuts, dates, and coconuts, highly nutritious.”
“Don’t think we don’t know all about this imminent war against the human enablers of cats who murder birds. Don’t you see that birds can’t win? Cats are too strong, especially the fat cats who work for me.”
“You employ cats who are willing to be bossed by rats?”
“It’s the ultimate. Better than the best boner pill?’
I said, “Whoa, fucking whoa.”
He said, “Woodsy Owl is going to be the centerpiece of our campaign. His image will be plastered all over basic international cable. You want to be on the winning side, don’t you? Of course, you do. We all do. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. I offer a handsome reward, naturally.”
I’ve already become a traitor to my species, I thought, and look where it has me. I may not be flying but I’m higher. So why not go Benedict Arnold one better? Is a turncoat twice turned out sort of like a straight jacket with fancy gold braid? Will I soon hear the next highest bid? All I’ll need then is a multi-dimensional mirror. Is it only my imagination knocking or can I already hear the tawny owl laughing his as off? This rat don’t know what tail he’s chasing and where it ends.
“I don’t have to think any longer or harder. I’m your man.”
“I knew you would be.”
“Just tell it like it fucking is.”
“We’ll be in touch.”