"What's up?" Officer Larson asked as Officer Adams climbed into the driver's seat, and closed the door. Adams put up a restraining hand as he fumbled with his pockets with the other, trying to find his car keys. Squinting in the evening sun, he shaded his eyes to improve
"I'll tell you on the way," he finally answered when he had succeeded in his task. Adams inserted the keys into the ignition and turned; the engine roared to life, and the black-and-white Cadillac pursuit car eased out of the driveway. Officer Larson looked at the one-story house on 1165 Nowhere Dr., and barely concealed his distaste at the sight; a purplish-brown-black paint job combination that looked like the invention of an enthusiastic two-year old, a half overgrown yard and garden, paint peeling off in places, roof missing a few shingles. If it was completely fallen to disrepair or completely tidy (and he had seen examples of both outside of Podunk), it would have been fine, but as it was, the half-and-half house was utterly repulsive.
This aberration in a Levittown of identically built residential homes painted in cheery shades of green, white, and yellow was soon left behind, giving way to the two-story red brick buildings of downtown Podunk. Larson pushed the brim of his police cap up, allowing the breeze coming through the window to cool his sweaty brow.
"So what did Ms. Y want," he repeated, seeing Adams had relaxed.
"She claims the Dr. Ruffleberg is collaborating with space aliens…or was it the Commies…anyway, she says he building some sort of device that will brainwash us all or make the animals talk or something," Adams chuckled. "She never changes."
"Let's just say that most of her calls could be made into a movie," Adam said as he stopped at a T-intersection of Main St. and Nowhere Dr. "There was this one time she claimed the tree was talking to her; turns out it was a nest of squirrels being hunted by a cat. And there was the time she was certain that J. Edgar Hoover, Elvis, Mayor Hinckley and Rev. Rotherstern were in league with the devil and conspiring to…."
"Seems to me she's got 3 of 4 right." Larson cracked as he looked around.
"Say, you seen The Adventures of Lockley?" he gestured with his thumb at the theater in front of them. Above the double-sided theater marquee, an orange neon light flashed 'Bijou' into the early dusk sky.
"No, but it looks fairly popular," Adams commented, noticing the crowds pouring in and out of the theater. "The missus has been bugging me to take her; it's supposed to be a tear-jerker." The light turned green and he turned right, heading east onto Main St. He braked in the middle of the turn, allowing a tardy group of children and their parents from the nearby park to cross the street.
"Could we possibly go any slower?" Larson joked.
Adams muttered a terse phrase under his breath in response as he kicked himself mentally for not going the long way to avoid all the evening foot traffic. The patrol car crawled through the brightly lit downtown like a beetle in the midst of an ant colony. Larson looked at the frustrated expression on Adams' face
"I tell you what, since Ms. Y's apparently telling another tall tale, let's stop for coffee and wait for the crowds to blow over."
Adams considered the idea thoughtfully. "Tell ya what: I'll buy if you'll write the report."
Larson grimaced. "Flip you for it." He grabbed a coin and tossed it in the air.
They sat at the table next to the window in David's Diner, chatting over steaming cups of coffee. Soon, however, the conversation ceased, and they stared out the window as the shops closed: Clio's Bookstore on the other side of Main Street and next to Edward's Antique Furniture, Dixie's Ice Cream Parlor across from David's Diner on the corner of Main and Fallis. Finally Larson pushed back from the bar.
"Time to go," he stated, leaving his money on the counter and turned to walk out the door into the gathering twilight.
Adams nodded in agreement. "Why are you down?" he smirked. "Mad that ya lost the toss?"
Larson shook his head. "I've just got a bad feeling about this Ruffleberg guy." Larson opened the door out of David's Diner and walked over the passenger side of the patrol car parked outside.
Adams snorted in derision. "You're letting Ms. Y get to ya." He opened the driver's side door, climbed inside and ignited the car engine.
"It's just…what does he do for a living? I mean, he's at all the public events: ribbon-cuttings, city council, charities, and so on, but what does he do? Where did he come from?"
Adams drove away from the curb and continued east on Main St. "Well, he showed up after sometime before World War II. Don't know where he came from, but he was running from something."
"No one knows." Adams shrugged as the red brick buildings of downtown gave way to residential neighborhoods. "Anyway, he built that huge mansion with his own money, and has been there ever since. It's rumored he worked on the bomb, but nowadays he's a real pillar of the community: you know, museums, libraries, art galleries, charities, that sort of thing. He's got this…there it is." Adams pointed ahead at the top of a light grey mansion jutting out of a tall brick wall. "I'll see if I can introduce…"
A brief flash of light and roaring boom from the mansion made the fence cast a well-defined shadow and rattled the patrol car windows.
"What the heck was…"
"Look out!" Larson cut him off as a horn blared in front of them.
Adams jerked the wheel to the right, barely missing the car traveling in the opposite direction. He jerked the wheel back to the left and hit the brakes as he grazed a parked car on the righthand side of the road, sending the car spinning. Disoriented, he struggled to regain control, but failed as the patrol car plowed through the front gate of the Ruffleberg mansion, coming to a rest just inside the courtyard.
Adams opened the car door and stumbled out, still dizzy from the crash. As his feet touched the ground, he heard the crunch of broken glass.
"You okay?" Larson asked from the other side of the car.
"Just great." Adams leaned against the inside of the gate post as he regained his faculties. "Did you see that light?"
"Yeah." Larson nodded quickly. "We need to get inside quickly. Dr. Ruffleberg may need hurt and need help."
"Right." Adams shook his head to clear it. He headed towards the mansion door, which was framed by male Greek statues and two tall antique light poles that gave off an inviting light. He climbed the stairs onto the portico and reached the entryway.
"Dr. Ruffleberg, are you there? This is Officer Adams," he said, knocking on the door. "Is everything alright?" Hearing no answer, he knocked again. "Dr. Ruffleberg?" he repeated. No answer.
"Let's climb through one of the windows," Larson suggested, gesturing towards the broken neoclassical frames. "He may be unable to respond."
Adams nodded silently, walked over to his left, and drew his weapon before entering the darkened room.
"This is creepy," Larson remarked as they slowly made their way up the well-lit stairs. "No one here, but everything's tidy and nice; there's even hot tea on the stove. I mean, this could be the inside of my house."
"Except for the wooden Easter Island head, and the masks on the living room wall." Adams concurred. "You have to admit: he has mostly good taste."
"Looks like the inside of a Sears catalog." Larson muttered.
They neared the top of the stairs, their footsteps echoing in the empty building. Four doors were in the hallway: two on the far right, one straight ahead on the end, and one close by on the left. A breeze came in from the left door.
"I'll take the left room; you take the right rooms," Adams whispered as he crept into the left room. Larson nodded, quietly stepping heel-to-toe down the hallway.
Adams covered the entire room with his pistol as he felt for a light switch and turned it on. Immediately sparking and cracking emitted overhead in the center of the room. Adams took out his flashlight, which revealed an elaborate chandelier covered with broken light bulbs. He moved towards the vast expanse of shattered windows, which in the daylight would have provided illumination for this particular room. From this particular view, Adams saw over the brick wall into the street. He noted the corner of Main and Usher, where he had first seen the flash of light.
So Dr. Ruffleberg pops a light fixture, and then goes for help, Adams thought. The explanation didn't satisfy, however. He felt like he was missing some important piece of information, but what? They had searched the entire house, and this was the last part.
At least Larson's writing the report, he smiled to himself. His smile faded into panic as he heard the roar of a .45 and a screech from the other rooms, and he dashed quickly into the hallway, tripping over a small fast-moving blur. Adams leaned up along the wall.
"Stupid…friggin…!" Larson yelled incoherently, stomping out of the room at the end of the hallway. "Scared me half to death…"
"Just a blasted tabby cat," Larson snarled. "Find anything?"
"That'll look good on a report." Larson brushed fur off his uniform as he holstered his weapon.
"I'll help you," Adams replied as they walked down the stairs and exited the house.
Author's Note: Standard disclaimer disavowing ownership of scenario, story etc.