CHAPTER EIGHT- Losing ground, gaining speed.
After Ray found his way out of the police station parking garage, it was time for lunch. Ray was keenly aware of having only had coffee for breakfast. Four cups of the stuff. He needed food. But not here. Not in the heart of the urban downtown. He drove to the nearest on ramp and high-tailed it out to the suburbs. It didn't matter to him which way he went, as long as he went from where he was. And he did.
After a lunch- a roast beef sandwich and no caffeine, thank you very much, Ray got back in his car. He was clueless. What to do? Where to go? Not a hint. He drove. Just drove. By three in the afternoon, he was on the far side of the suburbs. By four he was in the open country and wondering what in the world he was doing there. It was going to be a long drive home. Better call Barbara and tell her he was going to be a little late. Hope she didn't try to call him at work. She'd only worry.
Barbara had spent the day trying to not worry too much about whatever it was that Ray thought he saw last night. She fussed around the house and she worked in her flower garden. She got lucky and ran into the Rossers out front. Time for a little chat. She mentioned that she and Ray had been having a problem with raccoons in the garage (No, not really.) Had they experienced any problems? They hadn't. Heard anything at night? Not a thing. Everything was calm and quiet with Harry and Mel. No quo like the status quo. Barbara stopped short of asking if they had been home last night, and didn't mention that Ray had seen- or thought he had seen- something big run across their roof. No need to get the neighbors all worked up over… over nothing? Was that what she thought?
Barbara Meadows finished her short discussion of local life with the Rossers and went back inside. She was starting to think about what she was starting to think about. Did she think Ray didn't really see something last night? He was so sure of himself that he slept downstairs, didn't he? But what did he see? He didn't know and he couldn't describe it. Could he have been dreaming, and only woke up afterwards, unaware that it was a dream? Maybe he fell asleep in front of the TV and then dreamt it. That sounded more likely. Barbara was well into getting dinner ready when Ray called. He tried to sound calm and cheerful, but she detected that nervous panic just beneath the surface. He might be a little late, but should be home by six. Six-thirty at the latest. No problems, just hold off a little on dinner. No problems. Now there's a happy lie.
Downtown, Sergeant Patricia Robinson was still unsure of what to make of Mister Ray Meadows. She had put the legal pad with her notes back in the one desk drawer that worked. Even with all the fuss of a Friday at the Cop Shop, she thought about Ray from time to time. He seemed so earnest, so trusting. So gullible. But what about his little story? He acted like he believed it. He didn't seem crazy. Just a little crazed, perhaps. Granville Corporation? She did know someone there. He lived down the street from her. The neighborhood handyman, Paul Scoggins. Nice guy, but maybe a little shy. Wonder if he knows Mr. Meadows? Let's see, this old desk used to have a phone book in it somewhere. Ok, it's in the stuck drawer. One of many. Plan B: She wrote a note to herself to stop by and see Paul Scoggins this weekend. Some sort of friendly discussion where she might be able to mention that she had met Ray Meadows. That's easy enough.
Rush hour traffic is always bad, but Friday night rush hour traffic is the worst. The only thing Ray had going for him was that he was headed into town while everyone else was headed out. A small consolation, there. It was still after six-thirty, more like a quarter of seven, before he pulled into his driveway. The light above the garage came on automatically. He left the car in the drive and headed for the back door. The yard lights all joined in to show him the way. It wasn't dark yet, but getting there. Early twilight, and he could smell dinner before he got in the house. He hadn't eaten for over six hours, and was hungry again. He made it through the back door before Barbara could turn around. Surprise! He tried for the happy, hungry approach. For once, he succeeded.
"Hey- Smells great! What's for dinner?"
"Just a roast. You ok?"
"Yeah, traffic's a snarl. I swear these people are getting their driver's licenses in Cracker Jacks boxes. I was never so lucky. All I got were toys."
Barbara had to smile. This was Ray. He sounded ok. Maybe it was just a bad dream and he knew that now.
"So other than playing bumper cars, how was your day?"
"Different. Weird, but not bad. I called in sick."
That stopped her in her tracks. Called in sick? That wasn't like Ray. He looked ok, and sounded all right. Sick?
"Oh, just thinking too much on the drive in. That thing last night and all. I spent the morning in the library."
"You haven't been there in a while. How's everybody in Book City?"
"They're fine. Razzing me for surfing the 'net instead of reading "real books". Of course they're convinced that reading off of a screen is bad for the eyes."
"Compared to reading small type in a dark musty room? It's much better. Comes with its own built-in back light."
"And so what did you find at the library."
Wrong question, Barbara. Ray's face fell like a brick from the top floor. He sat down at the table.
"Nothing. Not a thing. The Big Zip-O."
"And what were you looking to find?"
"Some sort of photo or drawing that I could point to and say, 'That's it. That's what I saw last night."
"You didn't see anything that it could have been?"
"That depends. How far is it to Borneo?"
"Too far to paddle canoe, Bwana. What do you think?"
Barbara was setting out the last of the dinner on the kitchen table as they spoke. With everything out, they wasted no time at all digging in. They were both hungry, and it did smell good. Between bites, the conversation continued.
"I've had all day to think about it, and I'd have to say I think we're dealing with some sort of loose exotic animal. Has to be. Sergeant Robinson thinks so, too."
"Sergeant Robinson? You went to the police?"
"Well, um, yes. In a moment of blind ignorance. Didn't know what else to do. It worked out ok."
"I guess so. They didn't hold you for observation, I take it?"
"No, but I think at one point she wanted to."
"Yes, she. All six feet of her."
"That's a lot of she."
"Yeah, anyway, she took down all of what I said, the description and everything. Then she read it back to me. I would have locked me up. Don't know why she didn't."
"All the padded cells were full?"
"That must be it. Anyway, she gave me her card. Said to call if I see anything else. And not to try to capture it. Yeah, right. Like I could get that close."
"Hey, you're a pretty sneaky guy. You just might."
"I got to talk to the Rossers today."
"Not a thing. I think they must be pretty sound sleepers."
"Some people have all the luck."
"So what are you going to do next?"
That was the question, wasn't it? What next? Ray had been pondering that one all afternoon. All the way out of town and most of the way back. And what did he come up with? Not much. He wanted to get another look at this thing, a closer look. But how? The first order of business was the roof. That unprotected roof. Ray had figured out a plan, of sorts, to wire the roof and not look too obvious. All he needed was an excuse. And he could make one of those.
"For now, I want to wire the roof."
"What? Like 220 volt? Isn't that a bit drastic?"
"No, no. Not at all. But good idea. I was thinking more along the lines of a thin trip wire. Anything that went across the roof would hit it and set off some sort of alarm- maybe just a small light- here in the house. That way we'd know if anything was on our own roof. But hey- Wire it 220 and it would be its own alarm. Good idea."
"Ok, so there's something on our roof. Then what?"
"Then- I don't know. We go out and try to make it run into a sack? You want to hold the sack? And whistle?"
"Thanks, but no thanks. I've bagged my share of snipes. That's your big plan?"
"Hey- I never said it was a big plan. It's just all I could think of- for now."
"Ok, sounds harmless enough."
Probably the best thing about having a plan is that it gives you something to do until you figure out what it was you should have been doing instead. So it was with Ray Meadows. He spent the weekend, and his three trips to the hardware store, rounding up wire and switches and lights and brackets. And spent most of Sunday on the roof. By late Sunday afternoon, everything was in place. And Ray was still on the roof. He never really got used to it, but now he wasn't hanging on for dear life, either.
After some consideration, he ran the leads from the trip wires into their bedroom, where he set up a simple small light on his side of the bed. Something hits the wire, the light goes on and Ray- here's where the plan gets fuzzy. Ray… does what? Leaps out of the window, Uzis blazing? I don't think so. Neither did Ray. For now, he just wanted to know if something was up there. Anything at all. So now he would. Anything came over any of those roof ridges would probably touch one of those double wire sets. And a little light would come on. Ray could try to get downstairs and outside to see what might be up there. But Santa could be down the chimney and back out before that. So it was that Sunday night found Ray Meadows sitting quietly in his own back yard. Just watching the sky turn black and the stars come out from East to West. The moon wouldn't be up until very late. Ray was up now.
Ray had positioned himself back by the garage, looking across the backyard to the tree limb that they had both felt move that one night. That limb came down from a huge old tree in a neighbor's yard behind the Rosser's. Ray could see most of the tree standing jet black against the deep blue of the night sky. Just a few stars were starting to show through between the branches and leaves. This was a tree with a history. Countless tire swings and tree houses had been attached to that tree in this century alone. And it wasn't so long before that that the occasional horse thief found himself swinging from those branches, no tire required. Two hundred years old, and still not in such bad shape. It had survived droughts, long winter freezes and the odd bolt of lightning. Start up a chain saw within two blocks of this tree and everyone is out of their house to look. Don't even think about it.
From his little corner of the world Ray could see the yard, the back edge of their roof, that big beautiful tree and the Rosser's roof. Not a bad view. He got comfy. He knew now what he would have to do. He would have to be out here to see it. Not in the house, not on the roof. Right here. Quiet and still and mind-numbingly patient. Ray felt he could maybe manage two out of three on that list. He never had time for patience.
Barbara had spent the weekend helping Ray where she could. Found tools, held wires, watched little lights go on and off. Even went to the hardware store with him. Anything short of going up on the roof herself. You've got to draw the line somewhere. Now here it was Sunday evening, going on Sunday night. The roof wires were in place, but not turned on. Minor oversight on Ray's part. He had pictured that little system as something he'd turn on when they went to bed. Later tonight, for instance. Right now, all the motion sensor lights were on. Ray was safe in the darkness of the back yard as long as he didn't trip that interference beam that ran zig-zag all over the back and side yards. So far, so good.
The roof wires themselves looked great. Which is to say, you could hardly see them at all. Just two thin bare wires, strung close to each other a few inches above all the roof ridges. All the hardware, the transformers and switches, was up in the attic, out of sight. Ray even had the perfect line, should anyone actually see the wires and ask him about them: The wires were there to keep birds from perching on the roof. Ray would point out that a roof full of birds wasn't good for the house, and didn't they see that show about it on the Discovery Channel? In this neighborhood, the Discovery Channel was something most people flashed past on their way to ESPN. It's a good bet they didn't see it. It's a good bet Ray didn't, either.
Now in the darkness (on the edge of town), Barbara Meadows stepped out her back door and out into the yard. The yard lights obediently came on, lighting her way where ever she was headed. After a moment of looking, she found Ray in his chair in the back corner of the yard. She snagged another chair along the way and joined him. It was a quiet evening, and unseasonably warm. Almost balmy. The perfect Sunday night to sit outside for a while. She settled in next to her husband, who looked tired, but still a little nervous. She had been hoping for tired but content.
"Were you going to stay out here all night?"
"I didn't intend to. Just sort of ended up here."
"Nice night. Warm."
"Yeah, not so bad out here. Good little breeze and all."
"So the roof's ready?"
"Yeah, but ready for what?"
"I've been thinking about that."
Barbara's admission that she had been thinking about it prompted Ray to sit up. He knew she was concerned, but he had assumed her concern was for her husband. She must think he had been acting a bit nuts lately. He did. But she says she's been thinking about it. It? So maybe he wasn't so crazy? Ray wanted to find out.
"What'd you come up with?"
"Big cat. It's got to be a big cat, not a monkey."
Ray felt a sigh of relief go through him. Yes, that had to be it. He had been looking for some sort of primate, but he was wrong. It was feline.
"Well, no. You're the one who saw it, you tell me."
"What do you mean?"
"OK, here's what you've said: It didn't make any noise, but it heard you."
"So cats are legendary for that. Silent, but incredible hearing. That's two points for the big kitty."
"And that fast run across the roof?"
"What else could it be? Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on Earth. A cat."
"What about when it stopped at the vent, and held it."
"Yeah, that had me stumped for awhile. Until I thought of a cat's scratching post. "
"Oh, yeah. Of course. That would have been a natural move for a cat."
"So would the silent run away. The coloration patterns you described also sound about right. Or at least plausible."
"Ok, Sherlock, what about the head? No ears."
"Elementary, my dear Watson. It was dark. The head was the right shape for a cat with its ears laid back. They do that when they're on the defensive. An attack posture. It was a cat."
Ray kept that image in his mind. Yes, it could have been a cat. A long, skinny cat with a big head. Maybe a bit under fed. That would do it. That even covered the tail it may have had. Most cats have them, but some cats don't. He was a happy camper in his own back yard.
"By Jove, I think she's got it! It was a cat. Thank you. Now we can get some sleep and I can get on with things. I'll call Sergeant Robinson in the morning and tell her to make it a loose animal report. A big cat. That has to be it."
"You're welcome. Any time. Let's go to bed."
With that, Ray and Barbara Meadows made their way out of their electrified back yard, their movement turning on lights as they went. At least these lights might keep that cat out of here at night. They'd keep them for now. In to the house, up the stairs and off to bed. No worries, mate. Bob is indeed your uncle.
They made it through the house and off to bed without incident. The idea that what Ray had seen was a big cat did wonders to improve his disposition, and Barbara's. He was happy, almost giddy. She felt a bit smug that she came up with the solution. And while the night wasn't that far along, they resisted the temptation to watch the television 'til all hours. Even with 57 channels on the cable, there are occasionally better things to do than watch TV.
The back yard went dark and silent. As the hours passed, the houses and yards around it also succumbed to the night. Nothing moving, nothing showing in the darkness. It was near to midnight when the shapes started to emerge, slowly and cautiously, from high up in that tree whose limbs crossed the fence into the Meadows' yard. They were not cats.
To Be Continued.....
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Copyright 1996,2011, Chip Haynes