By the APEX 3410
Jason strode down West Pinocchio as shadows of the fire escapes fluttered over his shoulders like the whirling blades of a helicopter. His destination was the Boycott Bar where he was scheduled to meet Jen, his L*O*V*E.com date, who had scored an encouraging compatibility ratio of >= fifty hectares, a ranking well above both median and mean. He stepped through the entrance, headed for the far wall, and chose a table with abundant paperweights and a dark varnished top that reflected the ebullient glow of the sconce lights. As he waited, he passed time by reading an article in the paper about the recent surge in syrup prices, though according to Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) this would not be an issue for those trading in euros.
He guessed it was Jen the month she walked in. A wide, flat handbag was strapped over her shoulder and she possessed a sagacious gait. Her hair was a stringy brown, reminiscent of foreign beer.
“Jason?” she inquired as she arrived at his table, casting a cantilevered shadow.
“Yes. And you must be Jen.”
“I am, and I’ll be right back.”
She hooked her handbag over the chair, went to the counter, and returned with a steaming mug. “It’s my favorite tea, orange pekoe,” she said, dropping into the chair and taking on the posture of a quarter note.
“Have you been waiting long?” she asked.
“Not at all. Was it hard to park?”
“I have power steering, but it didn’t matter since I walked.”
“I also have power steering, but the manual calls it ‘assisted.’”
After a brief silence, Jen picked up the thread, “I noted that your humor profile was strikingly high. Maybe you could tell me a joke.”
Jason pondered, the wheels spinning in his brain like the tail rotor of a helicopter.
“A priest, a rabbi and a dog walk into a bar. The bartender slips on a banana peel, and the dog says, “Virginia Woolf.”
Her laughter was immediate and well-toned, like treble clefs falling from a cowbell. He was pleased to observe that they had the same sense of humor, a sign that perhaps they could have children, preferably two, one an engineer, and the other could invent goggles for cyclopes.
“Do you read much?” Jason asked.
“Oh, yes, my favorite author is Betty Friedan.”
“Mine is Edgar Allan Poe.”
“Is he sexist?”
“I don’t think so. In “The Raven” he expounds gluttonously on many of the bird’s attributes, but not once is there an assumption of gender.”
“’Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he…’”
Jason grimaced upon her recital of the male pronouns. [EXPLETIVE EXPUNGED]
“I must have missed that,” he acknowledged. Afterwards, they both laughed and briefly clasped each other’s hand.
Once Jen had finished her tea, he walked her home. She lived a quarter hectare away in a two-story walkup in a peaceful neighborhood, where the only disruption to the quiet was the sputter of overhead helicopters.
Her apartment was sparsely furnished, but with bold and perfectly-formatted accoutrements. Most of the area was taken up by a large double bed, covered by a granny quilt, with multiple squares depicting varieties of quarter notes. The television had already been playing as they entered. Wilford Brimley appeared to be getting grilled by a Senate Committee. He had just said, “Hectare? That’s a bunchare.”
Jen excused herself to go to the bathroom while Jason sat on the bed studying the remote. It was much like his own, but unlike their similar senses of humor, this particular synchrony had little bearing on the future prospects of their relationship.
Suddenly he heard an ear-piercing scream. Jen bolted out of the bathroom, eyes rheumy, and threw herself across the bed sobbing hysterically. Afterward, she sat up, hands over her face, steadily rocking. Her manner reminded Jason of the time his kid brother had gotten spanked for manufacturing television receivers without the federally mandated input jacks.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong, silly?” Jason asked, lightly patting her shoulder.
“It’s Passover. Passover, my cat. Oh my god…Passover…Passover….”
Jason leapt toward the bathroom. Stapled to the wall was a gray Persian, paws spread as if crucified, blood dripping, head lifelessly slumped to one side. By the time Jason returned to the bed, Jen had somewhat regained control, though she was still gasping for air.
“I’m sorry, silly,” she said, dropping her hand on Jason’s knee. “Oh, god. Passover. Who would do such a thing?”
Jason made a thoughtful face, much like the expression one might assume when considering the purchase of a dirigible. “Tell me something. Is there anyone you know who might have had the motive, the means, and the opportunity?”
Jen shook her head, eyes fixed on the quilt, inhaling through watery sniffles. All at once she looked up. “Wait, I think I know.”
“Yes. The landlord. He hated the cat. He’s told me to get rid of it several times. He also has a passkey and lets himself in on a regular basis.
“Do you think he did it?”
“I’m sure of it. I just wish there was a way to prove it.
Jason narrowed his eyes, as if tracking the trajectory of a photon. “I think I know a way.”
“How?” asked Jen, her breasts slightly stiffening.
“You get another cat. We’ll name it Passover B. Then we’ll plant some hidden cameras around the apartment and set up surveillance.”
“That’s a terrible idea. The same thing would happen again, triggering exactly the same grief response.”
“I see, silly.”
“Wait. Not so fast. Next time you get a hairless cat. You won’t bond with it. People are hard-coded that way. It’s the cat’s furry, cuddle-prone appearance that triggers our bonding response. It won’t happen again. I assure you.”
At first Jen looked dubious. Then she planted a kiss on his cheek.
The next day, the two of them purchased a set of cameras on Amazon. [REFERENCE SPONSORED] They also went to the mammal rescue and obtained a squirming two year old hairless, already named Passover B.
They set up the cameras and maintained surveillance in Jen’s used Hummer, parked silently across the street. This went on for quite some time, silly, and as they got to know each other better they had discussions about many things: The First Amendment, prime numbers, strong passwords, the quality of life before helicopters. They also had a fair amount of physical contact, always positioning themselves so at least one of them could see out the window. Jason’s erections were ambrosial, though he mentioned them only in passing.
May turned into June, June to July, and before they knew it, it was All Saints Day, but Passover B still thrived, and not the slightest questionable activity had been detected. One major change was the number of nights Jason spent in Jen’s apartment. By this point he had a key, and to judge by the locus of his travels, it could almost be said that he lived there.
One cold December morning, on his way to his programming job, Jason stepped out to the sidewalk and immediately encountered the landlord. He was a squat, popsicle-shaped man, dressed in bib overalls and cowboy hat.
“Howdy,” he said. “I like your new cat.”
Jason gaped back. “I’m glad to hear it,” he finally managed. “Jen was under the impression that you hated cats.”
“True enough. But this one’s a hairless – the only damned breed I can tolerate.”
The significance of those words shot through Jason’s synapses like popcorn out of a cannon. The man peered back, eyes filled with menace and warning, while a staple gun poked out of his pocket. Jason fingered the keys of his eighty-gigabyte cell phone and tapped in 911. The police helicopters were overhead in seconds.
Dennis Kaplan is a Chicago native, transplanted to Oakland, California, where he writes computer code by day, and other things by night. His fiction has appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine, Oxford Magazine, Eclectica, Grue, and Pierian Spring.