by Asma Mammootty
Art by Cynthia Wang
Issue: Mirage (Summer 2014)
“We will be there in half an hour. The suspect is armed. Do not confront him.”
“Don’t leave me,” came the hoarse whisper, but it was too late. The operator had already hung up.
Huddled behind a sofa, Ms. Mallory hugged her husband’s pistol to the pulsing vein in her neck. The gun’s silver muzzle shone gold under the glow of a china lamp, the sole source of light in the dark mansion.
The old woman assured herself that her front door could only open to her key and nothing else.
And she would never open that door. Never-
The panting man watched the black cat weave its lean body through the porch’s white railing.
Begging is useless, the man thought. The locked door in front of him was like that of heaven’s: heavy, stately and forever sealed. He swore at the welcome mat.
The man looked up to see a sliver of light to the left of the dim door.
“Nico?” a voice trembled from behind the dark.
The sliver turned into a rectangle of light, outlining the frame of an old woman. The black cat streamed past the laden door, leaving the two people silently staring in the night. Just as the woman tried to slam the door shut, the man pulled out his gun and thrust it between the door and its frame.
“Let me in,” the man growled, his pistol a centimeter away from her wrinkled forehead. With shaking hands, the woman pulled back the dense door so that the dark man could enter into the light.
Ms. Mallory sat on a white armchair in the dead center of the living room, all devices including her phone out of reach. Her hands itched to pet Nico’s sleeping form, but she did not dare to make a move. After all, the piercing lead eyes of a criminal had turned her spirit to stone.
She watched as the man pillaged her master desk. Stuffing his pockets with mints, stray dollars and a pair of diamond earrings, the man continued his spree with the violent desperation of a beast at bay.
As the man whirled around, Ms. Mallory flinched at his wild face.
“Have a map?” he asked, his dangling gun inches away from her spectacles.
“Third row, two drawers from the left,” she shuddered as the man pulled out a neatly creased map. Snatching a pen from her desk, he stormed to where she was sitting and slammed the map on the coffee table in front of her.
“How long does it take to get from here to the opposite side of the Nou River?” he asked, a cobra studying his prey.
“About ten minutes,” she squeaked.
“Give me a five-minute route, and I’ll give you your life.”
Ms. Mallory lowered her eyes.
“The police will take another ten minutes or so, so think hard,” and the man went back to dismantling her telephone with a kitchen knife.
Ms. Mallory groped for the pistol in her robe pocket, but she couldn’t get a proper hold of it. The trigger didn’t fit her finger as well as it did her husband’s. If only Nico were here. He still would have been here, if it weren’t for that-
“Ferry!” exclaimed Ms. Mallory so loudly that the man jumped. “My husband owns a ferry with a private captain, and it takes about two minutes to cross the river at full speed.”
“Draw the route,” he threw her a pen.
“Let’s see. It goes like…well…that.“ Ms. Mallory drew carefully upon the map.
“I’ll need a pass, of course.”
“Of course.” She pulled out a bookmark, signed her name, and handed it over. The man’s lip twitched to one side, but one look at his watch wiped off his smile. He rushed out the unlocked door and to his beat-up black sedan. He was about to climb in when he heard a pebble clatter behind him. He turned around to see the old lady holding out a shawl.
“To keep warm on the trip,” she said. “Be safe, Ni-“ she stopped, and her eyes widened as if a ghost stood in front of her.
The man glanced to his left, rubbed his nose on his sleeve and yanked the shawl out of her hands. Jumping into the car and twisting the key, he accelerated into the mouth of the night that devoured the dark vehicle whole.
Ms. Mallory stayed outside for a few minutes before hobbling back into her house and shutting the door.
As she stretched out on her sofa, her heart felt light. Fishing out the hard lump underneath her, she was surprised to feel even her pistol lighter, as if a bullet had been fired. But that was impossible. Only Nico had had the courage to pull the trigger.
Nico. That criminal reminded her of Nico. Not her cat, but the original Nico. Nico Ethane was her love, the love that died on a day so similar to this.
Ms. Mallory vividly remembered the rainy night when Nico had come in with bloodstained clothes. Her husband had been crying, saying he had accidentally run over a cat. Despite her pleading to see the body, he had refused and insisted on burying it on the other side of the Nou River. She had asked why go so far, but he had brushed her off. He had told her that he had bought a ferry, and the private captain would sail the dead cat and Nico across the river in two minutes flat.
As he had climbed into his car, Ms. Mallory had seen at a dark figure in the passenger seat. Ms. Mallory had whispered a “sorry about your cat” through a crack in the car window, but had received no answer. The person had sat still, face forward, neck bent, and lap covered by a scarlet shawl. With a screech, the car had sped off into the dark, leaving the old woman to wash the poor cat’s blood off her porch and pray for her husband’s safe return.
But why? What had gone wrong? What sort of monster had dragged him to the bottom of the river?
She still remembered that telegram the next morning. It was the sickliest pale color with a yellow tinge, and inky blocked letters that read, “Ethane, Nico, 45, drowned in the Nou River. Cause: sui-“
The old woman grunted as she swung her legs to the ground and walked to the door. She opened it to the face of a distressed, panting police officer.
“Ma’am! Are you okay? Was he here?” he asked, trying to catch his breath.
“He was here, sir,” said Ms. Mallory.
“Thank goodness you’re alive.” The hefty officer whipped out a map and a sharpie. “Do you, by any chance, know his route?”
“Yes.” Ms. Mallory drew with a calm that she hadn’t felt in many years. Perhaps it was because she had told that man to be safe. She had forgotten to tell Nico that day, but he would hear it soon enough.
“Ma’am, you told him to drive to the river?” asked the policeman.
“No,” she sighed. “I told him to drive to my husband’s private ferry that has its own captain and would get him across the river in two minutes flat.”
“Oh no! Then he would have crossed the river by now!” said the officer. “And we don’t have any available boats…I’ll have to call off the patrol and-“
“You misunderstand, sir,” Ms. Mallory said, stroking Nico’s twisted tail.
“There is no ferry.”