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Book 2 – Chapter 1 – Déjà Vu- Part 1

It was the last Tuesday in May before the weekend of Furrificon, and a bunch of us were celebrating that we weren’t going. In cities across the nation every year, Furrificon had caused a mass exodus, dividing the “haves” from the “can’t this year’s.” Typically, it was a time of great sadness and resignation for those who couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia. It split lover from lover, friend from friend, and not going usually required an explanation. “I’m sick,” “I can’t afford it this round,” “I’m burnt out,” or “I have to work.”

However, this year, a number of e-mail lists floated the idea of having a “Left Behind (for Furrificon) Extravaganza.” We poor survivors would have just as much fun as the Dearly Departed, with only a fraction of the drama they would face. Kristin gathered several ideas for activities, which started a flame war online over whose idea they were in the first place.

The festivities began with the last showing of “Repo Man,” at the Brattle Theater in the evening. “Repo Man” is a sacred movie for freaks, geeks and weirdos. Unlike the latest Hollywood fluff that demands ridicule while we watch it, “Repo Man” is temple and demands absolute silence, broken only by laughter. It is good for the soul to see a film with no product placement except for white boxes marked “Food,” and to hear those cathartic dialogue exchanges. “What about our relationship” “Fuck that!”

The Left Behind party was spread out inside the theater. Even Kristin and her boyfriend were several rows apart to avoid the temptation to whisper and share private giggles. I had my tub of popcorn, buttered once at the halfway point and again at the top, and I try hard not to ask the girl beside me to take her finger out of her crinkly bag of Reese’s Pieces. Simon and Trisha had not joined us, since the scuzzbags had had their hotel rooms booked for over a month.

I had been a good doobie and turned my cell phone to vibrate when the floating computer graphics on the big screen asked me to. We were at the point where Emilio Estevez was forcefully handed his first repo paycheck, when the buzz rattled inside my coat, the girl beside me shot me a look for how inconsiderate I was to leave it on at all.

I slid it out to find the “Off” button and I glanced at the screen out of habit. The caller was Professor Terry Lanyi.

I powered down the phone. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Della had bungled her end of our deal. I was watching “Repo Man” though, and Terry would have to wait. But I couldn’t get back into my great-movie-groove. He might have been calling me with a court order or an actual warrant. Maybe he told on me to my mom and I was so going to get it. I watched Emilio Estevez sneak into a car beside a darkened house and as he turned the keys, a shotgun blast almost took his head off.

The movie began to crawl, but I was a dozen seats away from the aisle. If I’d got up, I wasn’t coming back. I had suspected Della would fudge it up, but so many weeks had passed, I convinced myself she had forgotten. The worst does happen and it waits until you’re least prepared.

I stayed through the credits, until most of the audience had cleared out with only the Left Behind crowd remaining. Stunned and shaken, we took our jackets and headed for the door.

Christian’s boyfriend admitted he had never experienced the movie before. Everyone pounced on him for his opinion, to see it through his virgin eyes again. I used the distraction to escape to the women’s room.

Terry had left me a message. I locked myself in a stall to hear it.

“Hello Cheryl, this is Terry Lanyi. Please call me back. I think you know what this is about.”

I look at the cell number I would have to dial eventually. I hunched over on the toilet seat. The walls were too close and I needed to pace. I hit “redial” before I thought too much about it.

He picked up quickly. “Cheryl, hi,” he said, “Thanks for calling back.”

“Not a problem,” I said, “Look, I thought my girlfriend explained everything.”

“She did,” he said, “I got off the phone with her this afternoon.”

“I’m really sorry she dragged you into this,” I said.

“Well, we’re not done yet,” he said, “Wags is still missing.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” I said and I spoke the truth.

“I thought it would turn up during inventory last week,” he said, “But it didn’t. I wouldn’t have called you except that parts of her story check out. Emma says you were at the lecture in February and Allyson confirmed it.”

“I had a fan site for your tail,” I said, “Of course I went.”

“I’m not going to press charges,” he said, “If you have it, you can bring up my office tomorrow.”

“I don’t have it,” I said, “I never had it. I don’t know what’s going on. Emma told me it was missing and my girlfriend found out. If I took it, why did she wait to tell you until she needed money out of me?”

“I’m not accusing you,” he said.

“Well, you are,” I said, “Everybody is. Della is. I’m I supposed to do? You can come by my apartment any time and search for it. It’s not there.”

“Calm down,” he said but I couldn’t. There’s no truth in assuming only the guilty panic. The innocent are flustered beyond belief. It’s more convenient to cart them away.

“I thought I had gotten over her,” I said, “I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll let you go then,” he said, “Thank you for speaking with me. If you run into anyone who knows anything, please don’t hesitate to call.”

“I won’t,” I said, “I mean, I will.”

And he hung up.

I closed my eyes and lay my head on the phone. I was screwed unless the tail showed up soon.

I called Emma, but her phone was off and her voicemail was full.

It seemed that Della had defended me. Professor Lanyi had spoken to Emma though. Perhaps she had hid the tail too well, to explain how it had been missing in the first place.

I caught up with a few of the Left Behind crowd in the lobby, discussing dinner plans. I asked a programmer boy if he had Emma’s home number. He did, but her household’s phone was busy, too. He offered me a ride to her place in Medford, on the way to an Indian restaurant that the group had decided on.

I thanked him and waited away from the ticket line until we were ready to leave.

On the ride over, we talked mostly about a do-it-yourself web site which let visitors create their own airplane boarding passes. Due to a flummoxed passage in the Patriot Act, it was completely legal. It was one of those “fix the law by showing how easily it is abused” pieces of performance art, and everyone was watching to see how soon it would be shut down.

They let me out by a family house with great glass windows, ones I’d seen too often in suburban horror movies. The fence out front was freshly stained and the yard was sprouting crocuses through the thawed grass. An oak tree had two iron eyes, a nose, and a mouth stuck into its trunk. The satellite dish was screwed into the house side like a small megaphone ready to go off. It was the sort of home I pictured I would retire in, someday.

The lights and a television were on inside, so I rang the bell. A sharp-eyed woman in the V-neck sweatshirt answered, with her ample cleavage almost falling out. Although her hair was tied in a bun, she seemed vaguely familiar in the way everyone I met through my friends was.

“Can I help you?” she said.

“I’m looking for Emma,” I said.

“I don’t think she’s here. Hold on,” she said, and shouted down the hallway, “Someone for Emma. Do you know when she’ll be back?”

A fuzzy, but handsome gnome of a man leaned out of a doorway. He was cross and I had the feeling I had interrupted something important. “She’s away at some convention for the weekend,” he said, “Dot and Brenda picked her up this morning.”

The woman shrugged me. “Sorry,” she said.

“You know if she had something of mine?” I said, “A chain of metal nubs about this long with electrical wiring running inside them? One of the nubs would be broken. And it had a big plastic base at the end.”

“I don’t know,” the woman said.

The man was still watching me. “Oh that,” he said, “Yeah, she was working on that a few weeks ago.”

“Working on it?” I said, “It was broken.”

“No, I saw her wearing it around the house,” he said.

“Like a tail?” I said.

The woman pulled the door wide. “Do you want to come in?” she said.

I nodded and stepped in. “Thank you,” I said. The hallway had golden light from Tiffany lamps, and had dragon and wolf curios scattered over the matching bookcases. I gestured behind myself to the man, to show how I’d worn my tail.

“Right, just like that,” he said.

“It moved by itself?” I said.

“It was little jerky,” he said.

“Like, if knotted itself, or it started whacking things?” I said. I swung my arm around in my best imitation.

He shook his index finger at me. “Yes, that’s it exactly,” he said.

“Have you tried calling Emma?” the woman said. She leaned on a shelf behind me, so I was between the two of them.

“Her voicemail’s full,” I said, “And she didn’t pick up.”

“Well, she may have packed it with her,” the man said, “She is going to a furry convention.”

“Furrificon, I know,” I said, “But I didn’t think she was going to leave this early.”

“Maybe Ben knows more,” the woman said.

“He had symphony rehearsal tonight,” the man said, collected and way too calm.

“All right,” the woman said and turned to me, “Ben’s our other housemate besides Emma. I’m never around so I don’t keep track.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, “How long ago did she have the tail working?”

“A couple weeks back,” the man said, “But she was tinkering with it every night for weeks before that.”

“That’s where the solder smell was coming from?” the woman said.

“I asked Emma to put her fan on,” he said, “But she didn’t always keep her window open.”

“Did you ever see the tail behaved behind her?” I said, “I mean, did it ever hang down and curve naturally, or coil up when she sat down?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “She didn’t wear it outside her room much. And she’s been so busy packing, I doubt she’s had time to fix it more.”

“Packing?” I said, “For the convention?”

“No, she’s moving out soon,” the woman said. “Didn’t she tell you?”

“No,” I said.

The man’s face softened and his eyes turned to the floor. The woman sighed and stared at a painting over my head.

“I’ll ask her later,” I said, “To know where she’s moving to?”

“Los Angeles, I think,” the man said.

“By the way, I’m Kaylee,” the woman said and reached for my hand, “Have we met before? You seem familiar.”

“I’m Cheryl,” I said and shook hers, “I went with Angie to some fetish parties at Michael’s.”

“That’s where I know you,” she said, “Did you ever know Scott Peterson? Kind of a roly-poly guy who cut his own switches and wore a leather vest with lots of pockets?”

“Hun, don’t even,” the man said and tossed his hand up.

I had a brief flash of him, cheerful but much warmer to girls he had decided would sleep with him. “I think I vaguely remember him,” I said.

“What you think of him?” Kaylee said.

“Not this again,” the man said.

“I can ask her,” Kaylee said, “So, what did you think?”

“He seemed to keep the girls he played with happy,” I said.

The man shook his head. “Maybe you didn’t hear about the time he was kicked out of his house for bringing home a drunk 15-year-old,” he said.

“And that was six years ago,” Kaylee said, “He has done everything he can to apologize to the community and he’s grown up a lot since then.”

“Well, I’d have to live with him,” he said.

“I think he’d be great to take Emma’s room,” Kaylee explained to me.

The man casually spun around and shut his door. He flicked on some Vivaldi very loud.

Kaylee crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m sorry about this,” she said.

I shrugged. “It’s okay,” I said, “Would you mind taking out her room if the tail’s in there?”

“Sure,” she said. She walked up the flight of stairs to the top floor. I wasn’t sure if I should follow her, so I went as far as I could to peek over the landing. She emerged from one of the rooms, holding one of the tail’s links in her hand. “It looks like this, right?” she said.

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

“I don’t see the rest of it,” she said, “But there are a lot of boxes in there. You’re better off asking Emma.”

“Thanks,” I said, “Just put that back where you found it.”

I waited for her downstairs until she let me out. She pursed her lips tight. “I wish I could’ve helped you more,” she said.

“It’s fine,” I said, “Good luck finding a new roommate.”

“We’ll need it. Thanks,” she said. She closed the door.

On the ride over, I had spotted a bus stop and headed its direction. I could clear my name with one phone call. Once Professor Lanyi talked with those two, his eye would turn right to Emma.

Categories: Chapter 1 - Déjà Vu.

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