Bert awoke early the next morning, around 5:00 AM. He lay in bed listening to the birds in the maple trees out front, thinking immediately of the tweets and gurgles of Peggy’s answering machine. He rolled over, the twisted sheets from his restless night strangling his neck like a garrote. The thought of her New Age recording enraged him. He decided to leave her another message, this one longer and to the point. He would tell her he watched her that morning a week ago, yes, he had seen her lurking around the carport with a sledgehammer and a screwdriver, the tools he knew she used to smash and gouge Betty Blue. “The gig’s up, Peggy,” he would say. “I saw you do it. I saw you killing Betty Blue.”
Just as the “killing” part came to him, a blast from an air horn pierced the morning quiet like a sledgehammer of its own. It was immediately followed by a gunshot, close range. Jumping out of bed, Bert ran to the sliding glass doors and peered outside. Three people were walking quickly down the hill through the rising fog and into his back yard. He recognized two of them, Officer O’Riley and Wanda Chapin, Beastie riding in her big black purse, his head wobbling like a spent jack-in-the-box. The third was a stick thin man in an olive drab uniform, rifle in hand. Bert opened the door.
“What you doing on my property, gentlemen?” he asked, realizing he should have said “ladies” too, but since there was only one, had left it out.
“You should appreciate these men, Bert,” Mrs. Chapin said. “They’re watching out for your safety.” Her hair was disheveled and she was in her bathrobe, a tent of purple valour.
“Mrs. Chapin here sited the lion,” Officer O’Riley said, hitching up his shoulders. “Right above your place. Olson got a bead on him, but the cat ran just as he took a shot. Air horn scared him off.” Mrs. Chapin looked sheepishly at the ground, clutching her horn to her bosom like someone might take it away. The thin man pursed his lips, and looked up at the sky. The sun peeked through the fog, opening a jagged patch of blue.
“Could be wounded,” Officer O’Riley said, punching his radio. “2562 here, O’Riley, requesting back up. Wounded cat on prowl. 256 Sparrow Court Lane. ASAP…huh?…no, not someone’s cat… lion!…no, not African...mountain! Pronto.”
“Best stay in doors, Mr. Grunwald,” the officer said. “If you go out, be mighty careful.”
“One question before you leave, Officer,” Bert said. “What’s the status of my investigation?”
“Yes, Betty Bl…ah, my T-Bird. The vandals. Did you get a lead on…?” He stopped there.
“Ah, well, no, nothing yet.”
Wanda Chapin glanced quickly at Bert, then pulled Beastie from her purse. “Well, snookums,” she said. “How’s about we go home and get some breakfast, huh? This morning is just too exciting for us, isn’t it?” Beastie shut his eyes as if he couldn’t take the world anymore.
After they left, Bert went out to check on Betty Blue. She was still there in all her dented glory, but there was something new, something on the only part of her that had had remained pristine. Scrawled across her trunk in bright maroon lipstick was a message: “Get Rid of This Thing or Die.”