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And now, the story continues! (After this brief commercial message.)
INCIDENT AT ANKERS’ BOARDING HOUSE
JULIE BROWNING – Salvage Diving Expert
I’m so glad you’re still up, Kay. Thanks for coming over.
Yeah, I know I’m just down the hall from your room, but I still appreciate it.
Most sensible folks are in bed at this time of night—at least here in the thriving metropolis of Phantom Lake.
Ha ha. No. I’ve never really thought of myself as sensible, and maybe what I’m about to share with you proves it. But I just had to talk to someone.
Anyway, thanks for dropping by so I could bend your ear.
Kay, I am starting to think that the universe just does not want me to get together with Lieutenant Richard Agar.
Yes, we did have a date tonight—the opening of that movie producer’s new showboat display of Egyptian artifacts—and, yes, Rich and I were having a really good time.
Were—that is, until right in the middle of a nice, slow dance, disaster strikes.
I mean, one moment we’re twirling around the floor, leaning in close, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears while Corman’s hired band softly plays “Perfidia,” and then the next instant…
Just like that, Rich’s whole body sags against mine, and I have to practically drag the big lug back to our table in the corner of the exhibit room.
I know he’ll deny it, Kay, but that lovable galoot totally fell asleep right there on the dance floor. As God is my witness!
Needless to say, him dozing off kills the mood a bit.
“Sorry,” he apologizes blearily.
“Rich… How long have you been awake?” I ask.
It’s not really a difficult question, but Lieutenant Agar looks puzzled and has to think real hard before answering. “Thirty-six hours, I think. Maybe. Maybe longer?”
I sigh. “That does it, dreamboat; I’m cutting you off at the bar and giving you a ride home.” I down what’s left of both glasses of champagne that we’d been sipping—because clearly a quick shot of booze is all the fun I’m going to have for the rest of the night—and then I help Rich to his feet.
He looks at the newly empty glasses. “Are you sure you should drive after…”
“Better me than you,” I say, flashing him a wry grin.
So we say a couple of short goodbyes and then walk off the boat and down the pier to where I’ve left my car. Weird thing, though: there’s a stray cat sitting on the hood of my MG.
I gently shoo the animal away, load Rich into the passenger seat, and just a few minutes later, drop him off at his place. He asks if I want to come in for a bit… But I decline.
If that boy is going to get frisky with me, I want him to remember it later.
Anyway, I see Rich to the door, give him a good-night kiss on the cheek, and head back to the car.
But when I get there—what do you know?—there’s another cat on the hood. I mean, I guess it could have been the same animal—I wasn’t really paying attention to the coloration—though that doesn’t seem probable this far away from the docks. More likely, this cat just smelled the other on the MG’s hood and decided to check it out.
“Scat, you!” I say shooing the critter away.
Then I climb behind the wheel and head for home.
I’m still near the center of town, though, when all of a sudden, the MG quits on me. Just gives up the ghost, right there on the corner of Lewton Avenue and Tourneur Boulevard.
“Rats!” I growl, wondering if somehow those darned cats have gummed up the MG’s works.
I pop the hood to take a look, but the streetlamps don’t give me enough light to see clearly, never mind to work by. Naturally, the flashlight in my glove box picks that moment to poop out as well.
“Double rats!” I curse (or something like that), ’cause it looks at this point like I’ve got no choice but to hoof it back to the boarding house. Sure, it’s only a mile or two, and most of the pavement is pretty good, but my dancing heels are definitely not made for hiking.
So, I slip ’em off, figuring it’s better to have runs in my stockings than ruined shoes and maybe a twisted ankle.
I’ve only gone a couple of blocks, though, when I notice something spooky:
I’m being followed … by cats.
Just a few strays at first, but then more and more, until maybe a dozen tabbies are tagging along behind me.
Even weirder, not one of them makes so much as a meow. They just follow me down the street, keeping about ten yards away, watching intently with their yellow-green eyes.
I think about throwing one of my shoes at the varmints, but what’d be the point? Either they scatter and I risk busting one of the heels I’m trying to save, or—if they don’t scatter—I just rile them up. And the last thing I need is a pack of angry feral felines on my tail.
I decide that ignoring the burgeoning pointy-eared brood is my best tactic.
Sticking my nose in the air, I march forward resolutely, heading for the good old Ankers Boarding House.
I only get a few blocks further, though, when I hear something else behind me—something louder than the soft patter of kitten feet on pavement.
I glance back, and, out of the corner of my eye, I notice somebody following me.
At first, I’m not totally sure I’m being tailed, because, whoever she is—and I’m certain it was a she I spotted—she’s keeping to the shadows.
After a couple more blocks, though, I manage to catch a glimpse of her. She’s short and dark and dressed in some kind of crazy outfit—all gauze and gold.
The Egyptian-costume model Rich spotted at the party, I think, remembering an earlier encounter on the boat. But why is she following me?
I figure maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe this gal is just on her way home, too. Heck, maybe she’s a new tenant at the boarding house that I just haven’t met yet.
Something about her, though, gives me the willies.
I mean, if she’s just another party-goer out for a stroll, what’s with the cats? Why aren’t any of the felines bugging her? Why is the whole pack all trotting along between the Lingerie Princess and me?
And why is this weird chick getting closer to me every time I check?
I reach the edge of the city, my nerves jangling like I stuck my finger into an electric socket.
It’s only a few more blocks to home, but I decide to confront my stalker. I’ve been working on my right cross, after all, and this gal and her pussycats have got me just worked up enough to use it.
I spin, bunching my hand into a fist, accusations springing to my lips…
And she’s gone.
I’m not sure where or how. Maybe she ducked into a building at the edge of town while I wasn’t looking. In any case, the Egyptian girl is not behind me now.
I let out a long, relieved sigh, feeling like a dope.
Silly of me to get so worked up over nothing!
I turn toward the boarding house once more.
That’s when the meowing starts.
Suddenly, cats are appearing out of the darkness on all sides—coming out of the bushes and from between trash cans on neighborhood driveways—and every one of them is converging on me.
Call me a fraidy-cat, Kay, or call me crazy, but I from that point, I ran all the way home.
I didn’t spend a lot of time glancing behind me, but I would swear that pack of cats followed me the whole way—at least until I reached the safety of our boarding house’s front door.
No. I don’t see any of them outside now. And, yes, I’ve checked. More than once.
And twice more while I’ve been telling you this story.
So, here I stand, safe and sound in my own living room, my stockings torn to shreds from running, my body shaking like a teenager before her first dance, and pumped so full of adrenaline that I feel like I could jump over the moon.
Anyway, thanks for listening, Kay. I really needed a friend to talk to after all that.
Want some tea or coffee or something? Sorry. I should have asked before launching into the whole Weird Tales thing.
Why are you staring out the window?
Have the cats come back or…?
Oh… my… God!
NEXT: All-Points Bulletin
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