CLEVELAND BRODERICK SAT DOWN heavily in the vinyl-covered recliner, lay back against the cool surface of the headrest, and closed his eyes. The darkness behind his eyes proved insufficient to hide the flashes of today’s events—flashes of memory that made no sense. This was what his life had come to, he thought, since his wife had committed suicide. Recollections of unreasonable occurrences.
Cleveland’s calico cat immediately found his lap and stretched out for the expected stroking.
“Missed your supper again, didn’t you, Franklin?” Cleveland asked without opening his eyes. “So did I.”
One of the brighter flashes in his mind illumined the summer-evening crowd that had gathered on Eight Street to see and hear the victim’s husband emotional display. Cleveland arrived on the scene some minutes later than the marked units, but still he’d gotten a good look at Mr. Brooker’s act. Brooker fell across his own trashcans at the street, releasing odors that should have been contained until tomorrow at regular pickup time. For Brooker’s own safety, two uniformed officers held him while Cleve tried to make some sense out of the distraught man’s un-patterned screams and whimpers. His wife was gone, that much became clear. Cleveland could relate to that. Eventually, Brooker’s slobbering words puddle into comparative clarity.
He had been with Mrs. Brooker in the kitchen, and she’d been talking to him complaining about the neighbors as usual. About 6:15 he glanced away from the television screen to where she’d been standing at the sink. But she wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere. Cleveland’s first thought was that Brooker had killed her and fabricated the weird story before the body turned up, which it had not. An unusual and unlikely defense, to be sure, and the tears and the anguish were as real as Cleveland had ever seen.
Still, Cleveland had Brooker cuffed and transported to headquarters. That was for his own good, really. The disorderly conduct charge could be dropped later, and the station offered a more productive atmosphere for questioning.
Cleveland entered the house on his authority of “exigent circumstances” as this situation would be termed by the courts. Brooker’s statements were enough to give him reasonable suspicion that something illegal had occurred behind the walls of the middle-class home.
Ill kept, the house was, but Cleveland found nothing inside indicative of recent violence. In the living room, he stepped among a jungle of live plants set on either side of a path that had been beaten into the shag carpeting. In the kitchen, where the alleged abduction had occurred, an announcer gave the five-day forecast from a small-screen television sitting on a dining table.
Cleveland stepped to the sink, his eyes on the floor and the once-white linoleum for any trace of blood. He put a finger in the sink’s soapy water. Still warm. A woman’s wedding band lay on the counter.
He turned his attention to the table. One chair had been pulled out. If Brooker had sat there he would have indeed have had to turn his head to see anyone at the sink. The tabletop was bare except for a few grains of salt that cast tiny shadows in the slanting evening light from the window.
The other rooms in the one-level home revealed no Mrs. Brooker.
Back outside, Cleveland approached one of the older patrolmen. “We’d best cordon it off, Jacky. I’ll try and get a search warrant. Can you stay here until the boys from the lab arrive?”
“Sure thing, Sergeant. I’m not off until eleven.”
Cleveland’s affidavit for the warrant was a little iffy, the magistrate said, but he issued it nonetheless.
The sergeant stopped at the station before going back to the Brooker home. He wasn’t prepared for what the detectives had to say. They’d interviewed Brooker at length, albeit gently. Brooker knew his wife was gone, but he had refused to offer any information as to who she was. He couldn’t remember her name, what she looked like, or anything else about her. Brooker only knew that he’d been married to a woman who’d disappeared instantaneously from the kitchen. He remembered a buzzing sound. A psychiatrist had
been called in.
* * *
Cleveland fell into that opaque area between relaxation and sleep, his hand upon Franklin’s back. The cat stirred and Cleveland opened his eyes long enough to glance at his watch. Almost midnight. Emily would have waited up, if she were here. She always waited up, and worried, even though she should have become accustomed to his late hours after fourteen years of marriage to a cop. Damn her for leaving. Anyway, he would have been home hours ago if not for that second call.
Mrs. Arlene Sever, wife of Doctor Hamilton Sever, had reported her car stolen. The dispatcher directed Cleveland to an art gallery across town where some of the local politicians and elite professionals had gathered for a viewing of some new works just in from London.
Cleveland parked his Ford between a Porsche and a Cadillac. Mrs. Sever met him on the sidewalk outside the gallery. He looked past her to the wide halls inside where tuxedos and long gowns mingled among themselves carrying crystal glasses.
“Detective Sergeant Broderick, Mrs. Sever. You’ve lost your car?” he asked as he crossed the street.
Mrs. Sever fixed dark eyes upon him and frowned. Cleveland had never met her, but he knew her husband, and the good doctor was at least thirty years older than the tall brunette he confronted now.
“No, I didn’t lose it. It was stolen.”
“I left it right there.” She pointed at Cleveland’s Ford. When I came out, it was gone.
“Did you leave the keys in it?”
The frown deepened. “Here are the keys, Sergeant.” She held them up in front of his face and wiggled them back and forth to make her point.
“All right,” Cleveland said. “If you’ll give me a description of your car, I’ll get out a broadcast. The sooner we can start looking, the better our chances of finding it.”
The pretty woman hesitated. “My husband has the registration card. He’ll have to give you the information.”
“I see. Well, just give me the make, model, and color.”
She said nothing.
“This is going to sound stupid, Sergeant, but I can’t remember what kind of car I have. No, I’ve not been drinking.”
“You can’t remember.”
“No, but I drove here. I parked where I told you, and I got out and locked the car. When I came out of the gallery, there was this humming sound, and the car was gone.”
* * *
Cleveland awoke when Franklin stood up in his lap to stretch. Sunlight had broken in by way of the front door glass. Checking the time, he realized he’d be late to the station again—the third time this month. He visualized the look he’d get from Lieutenant Garr.
But no one noticed his late arrival. Uniformed patrolmen and plainclothes detectives were bunched in small groups, talking low. He saw the top of Garr’s bald head as the lieutenant bent over a table arranging last night’s reports, two of which were Cleveland’s. Cleveland caught snatches of conversation as he headed for his desk.
“Just disappeared,” and “Couldn’t remember a damn thing,” and “Who would steal a corpse?”
“Take a seat, gentlemen.” It was Garr.
The several conversations died gradually as the men found a place to sit. Garr picked up each of the sixteen reports one by one, and spoke to his men in the steady monotone he was noted for. Laying the last one aside, he said, “As you know, we’ve got no consistency of motive in the items or persons taken. One BMW, one child, one adult female, one adult male, a corpse, a computer, a rifle, a cocker spaniel, the contents of a refrigerator, a television, every garment from a clothes closet, the mayor’s yacht, and a locomotive. What else?” He shuffled the reports. “Oh, yes. The merry-go-round from the fair grounds, the city clock, and an entire shelf of spirits from the liquor store on First Street. All in one night.”
“Lieutenant, I’ve got a theory.” That from a rookie who had taken the report on the merry-go-round.
“Shut up, Murphy. The abductions and thefts occurred in no geographical pattern. They’re spread out randomly throughout the city. No one man can be responsible.”
“Lieutenant?” Murphy again.
Garr ignored him. “Several of the victims reported a noise at the time they noticed their property or relative missing. They can’t agree on the sound. Some say a humming or buzzing, others say it was music.”
Murphy interrupted again. “Sir, it was aliens.”
“The really weird thing is that each person who lost property or a loved one cannot provide a description. Yet, preliminary investigation shows that each item or individual did exist and is indeed absent. Any ideas from anyone other than Murphy?”
Every man offered an explanation. These varied from terrorist activity to a huge prank by the university students. One patrolman suggested that someone had released a gas into the city, which muddled the minds of those the perpetrator wished to steal from. But nothing was resolved.
Cleveland stopped Murphy outside the station. “You said aliens, Murphy. Do you mean illegal immigrants?”
“They’re sampling us, sir. Taking things at random to analyze, trying to figure out what makes us tick.”
“Why do you say that, Murphy? Did you see something?”
“No, but I heard the noise. I was out of the car getting coffee. Never heard anything like it. Not music. Not humming. Voices, sir.”
“You heard voices.”
“Not words,” Murphy said. “But voices. Many at one time. It was in the air, not at any particular place or from any particular direction.”
“Where were you?”
“Near the fair grounds at that all-nighter. Not long before the report came in about the merry-go-round.”
“Why didn’t you tell the lieutenant?”
“You heard ‘em, sir. They laughed at me. I noticed you didn’t.”
Two more disappearances occurred during the next week. All the fish in the park pond and Cleveland’s cat.
* * *
Cleveland awakened just after dawn to a droning sound like a hive of disturbed bees might make. Thinking of the sounds described by the other victims,
Cleveland suspected what he had heard meant that he’d been in close proximity to another theft. He began a search of his own house. Only upon entering the kitchen and stepping over Franklin’s food dish, did he remember he had a cat. But he couldn’t remember what kind or what it looked like. Stepping outside wearing only his shorts, he looked skyward, remembering what Murphy had said. He saw nothing other that the yellow dawn. He stepped back inside not wanting to cause a scene.
A scene. Maybe he did want to cause a scene. If Murphy was correct, if aliens were sampling the community in efforts to learn about mankind, why not give them something to sample—something they couldn’t resist. He’d need a manikin.
Having a key to several of the businesses in the city gave him access to Penny’s at the mall. He took only the head from one of the window displays. He grabbed a wig on the way out. He’d have to remember to return the items if he himself were ever returned. What a thought that was. What would the chief say if he knew one of his sergeants was deliberately trying to get abducted by aliens?
Cleveland waited until well after dark before stepping into his back yard. He wore jeans and a white tee shirt, the same as the lady to his left. Not a lady actually, but the head of a lady. He’d attached her to his own neck with duct tape, and then utilizing a cut-off broomstick and a bit of string, he could turn the blonde’s head left and right.
So now he paraded around the yard turning his head and hers, sometimes in opposite directions. More than likely, visiting aliens had never seen a two-headed creature,
regardless of how far they’d traveled to get here. If they didn’t take him, it would be because they were smart enough to recognize his ruse.
He pushed the Indiglo button of his Timex and realized he’d been in the yard for almost two hours. He kept walking, thinking that a moving target would be easier to spot. At 1:30, he sat down in his one lawn chair for a short rest. The duct tape had begun to irritate his neck. And he was thirsty. He should have brought something to drink. Surely, the aliens could take him from inside the house. Several of the stolen items came from under shelter, as had the cat.
He stood up and had taken two steps toward the back door when he heard the buzzing.
Cleveland saw his house and yard below him, then the entire block. He wondered who it would be that didn’t remember him.