Buckeye State Blues
Under a bridge, somewhere south of the Michigan-Ohio state line
February 9, 2006
The morning dawned crisp, clear, and very cold. My truck’s thermometer indicated the outside temperature as 30 degrees. The temperature inside the truck cab was a frigid 55 degrees. I started the engine and turned the heater up to thaw myself out. Once the cab was a more comfortable temperature, I was able to bring myself to look at the scene of beauty before me. All around was a winter wonderland of snow. The creek babbled with water flowing around built-up chunks of ice. Several small woodland animals scurried across the ground and disappeared into the bushes. A couple hundred yards away I could see a small ranch-style house nestled among the trees, its chimney emitting a white wisp of smoke into the pale gray early morning sky.
The tranquil morning calm was rudely interrupted by my stomach informing me that I hadn’t eaten anything in the last twelve hours. I had no provisions packed, so I would have to drive into town or find someone willing to give me food. There was no snow under the bridge, which was convenient. My four-wheel-drive F-150 was more than capable of churning through a thick layer of the white stuff, but that would leave tracks. And it would make a mess of my truck, which I had just washed the day before. On second thought, getting the truck dirty would disguise some of the body damage it had suffered. My stomach growled again. Enough worrying about dirt; I needed breakfast.
I backed up and turned around, then drove back up the hillside to the dirt trail and then to the highway. I crossed the bridge heading southeast and drove into a small town in Delaware County called Radnor. There was almost no traffic in town, due partly to the morning still being early. The town was pretty straightforward: only a few streets, hardly any traffic lights ... and not a single restaurant. I saw a small corner store that looked like it might sell food, but it wasn’t open.
I continued south toward the much larger town of Delaware. On the northern outskirts I spotted a McDonald’s with a drive-thru. It would be a place where I could get a halfway-decent breakfast and not have to worry too much about being seen. I pulled into the drive-thru and stopped next to the speaker with my window down. “Welcome to McDonald’s, can I take your order?” came a staticky voice.
“Yes, I’d like two Egg McMuffin sandwiches, a small orange juice, and a coffee,” I said into the speaker.
“That’ll be $6.42 at the first window, please.”
I drove up to the window with a twenty-dollar bill in my paw. The employee started to open the window, then suddenly slammed it shut again. I reached out and knocked on it. “Hey man, don’t do this to me! I’m hungry.”
Adding that last bit probably didn’t help my case any. It seems like every third person I’ve met has been afraid that I was going to eat them. Nevertheless, I continued knocking on the window. “Come on, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” I waved the money in front of the glass so that the shocked cashier could see it. “Look, I have money to pay for it.”
The cashier slowly opened the window back up and cautiously took the money from my outstretched paw. He counted up $13.58 in change and nervously handed it back to me. “P-pull up to the sec-second window ... please.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head, then put the change in my pocket and pulled forward to the second window to receive my food. The employee there looked at me strangely. I gave her a sheepish smile. It was the wrong thing to do; she must have thought I was baring my teeth at her. She thrust my bag of food and two drinks at me and I just barely caught them before they all spilled in my lap. Then she slammed her window.
I shook my head again sadly and drove away from the McDonald’s, parking at the far end of the lot to eat my breakfast. The two McMuffin sandwiches weren’t very filling, but they were better than nothing. After I finished the coffee and the orange juice, I realized that I had to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t just go in the bushes; it would attract unwanted attention. However, so would going into the McDonald’s. Either way, someone might call the cops. The bathroom in the restaurant was most likely cleaner and would certainly be warmer than the freezing weather outdoors. I decided to go inside.
Only two people sat inside the McDonald’s’ eating area, but I knew it would only take one with a cell phone to call the police on me. I made haste toward the bathroom. It looked like I had a lucky break; by the time I got out of the bathroom, the couple had left. I walked back out to my truck and overheard a voice on a phone. Sitting in a beige late-model Oldsmobile was the same couple, the man talking on a cell phone. “Yes, I’m at the McDonald’s at 2091 US Highway 23 North, in Delaware. He’s in the parking lot right now, looks like he’s about to leave. He’s driving a black pickup truck.”
The little fink had snitched on me! I wasn’t at all pleased, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t march over and grab his cell phone and beat him over the head with it. I was in enough trouble already without adding a count of assault. Instead, I gave the man the dirtiest look I could muster as I drove past him.
Things weren’t looking very good. My truck was stolen. It had no license plates on it. I had no proof of insurance or registration, and my license had disappeared weeks before. I was carrying two stolen handguns, and $10,000 in cash. If captured, I could be locked up for a very long time – and Ohio has a reputation for being very tough on those who break the law.
I acted normally as I drove out onto the road, careful not to burn rubber or accelerate too fast. I was probably safe, since the man had not reported the make and model of my truck, nor its (nonexistent) license plate number. Surely there would be plenty of black pickups on the road, right? Reassured by the thought, I began to calm down. I eased my death-grip on the steering wheel and began to enjoy the drive. My period of relief was short-lived, disappearing completely when I heard a siren up ahead. A Delaware County sheriff’s deputy sped past me going the other direction, probably heading toward the McDonald’s. It was a close call, one far too close for comfort.
I continued down the highway, looking for a place to hide until the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department stopped looking for me. The highway soon wound around into town, where there would be more witnesses and more cops. That wouldn’t do, unless I was on my best behavior, and that might not last long if I was spotted.
I took a risk and cruised through downtown Delaware, careful to follow the rules of the road, and seemed not to attract much attention. On the eastern outskirts of town, I entered a residential area with a few small businesses scattered here and there. One in particular drew my attention: Charlotte Beauregarde, Animal Psychologist. It was located in a nondescript brown house amid some trees. This Charlotte Beauregarde person probably ran the business out of her home.
What did I have to lose? Okay, bad example. I had everything to lose. But I was curious. I figured that an animal psychologist would be more likely to be friendly toward me than, say, a dentist or an attorney. I pulled off the road and parked in the driveway of the brown house, behind a faded gray Pontiac Parisienne. There seemed to be no garage or any other way of disguising the rather large black Ford. Hopefully the police wouldn’t notice it...
I walked up to the front door and knocked. My eyes darted back and forth between the door and the road behind me. After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened. Standing in the doorway was a short woman with curly gray hair, who appeared to be roughly 75 years old. “Hello,” I said conversationally. “Are you Charlotte Beauregarde?”
“That’s Miz Beauregarde to you, sonny,” the little old lady said sharply in a mild Southern accent.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” I said. “You see, I need someplace to lay low until ...” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “...Until the police get off my back.”
Ms. Beauregarde put her hands on her hips and frowned. “This is a joke, right?”
“No joke,” I said. “May I come in?”
“Who are you, boy?” she asked, raising one eyebrow. “I’m an animal psychologist. I don’t harbor criminals wearing animal suits – or counsel them, for that matter.”
“Oh, I assure you, I’m not some kid in an animal suit.” I decided that being frank with her was the only way to go. “I ... am a fox. That makes me an animal, and therefore the perfect sort of client for you. Now may I come inside?”
Ms. Beauregarde blinked a few times. “I ... I guess you can,” she said. “Here, make yourself at home.”
She turned and walked into the house, motioning for me to follow her. My senses were immediately assailed by the pungent (to my sensitive nose) odor of cats. So I was dealing with the neighborhood’s unofficial eccentric old lady. This was going to be an interesting visit.
“Go on, sit down,” Ms. Beauregarde said, plopping herself down in an overstuffed chair.
I sat down on a couch next to two of her cats. They eyed me suspiciously, as cats always seem to do. “So, sonny, what can I do for you?” Ms. Beauregarde asked. “Why are you here?”
“For one thing, my name’s not ‘Sonny’,” I said. “It’s Fox.”
Ms. Beauregarde rolled her eyes. “I could have guessed that.”
One of her cats rubbed up against my fluffy tail and purred. I looked down at the gray tabby and smiled slightly. “Anyway,” I said, “I’m here because I thought maybe you could help. You see, I have a lot of enemies. Even worse, there are tons of people everywhere I go who don’t understand me. They’re afraid of me. Just this morning I freaked out a bunch of people at McDonald’s. All I did was order breakfast and use the bathroom. I did nothing wrong.” I pointed to myself. “They’re afraid of me just because I don’t look like them.”
“That’s probably because of movies,” Ms. Beauregarde said. “For decades, people have been terrified by monster movies. They’ve been conditioned to be afraid of that which they don’t understand, that which doesn’t appear familiar or friendly.”
“I try my best to act human,” I said, giving Ms. Beauregarde a pleading look. “I do what I can to fit into society. But how can I fit in when everyone is repelled by my appearance?”
“Did you ever think that maybe you can’t fit in?” Ms. Beauregarde asked. “At least not the way human society is now. People may never accept you as a person until you force them to change their perception of you.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” I said sadly. “I’ve been courteous to others – some of them just can’t accept me. I don’t know whether they have a limited imagination, or if they just can’t handle the presence of a six-foot-tall talking woodland creature standing in front of them. The weirdest thing is that the average person thinks foxes are cute, huggable little animals. And then I show up, and they say, ‘Oh my God, what are you?’”
“I’m something of an outcast myself, Fox.” Ms. Beauregarde scratched the head of a calico cat that had just jumped in her lap. “I’m the ‘Cat Lady’, the crazy old coot who talks to animals. I live here with my sixteen cats, and I’ve been in this little town since I moved here from South Carolina in 1977. People may think I’m weird –,” Ms. Beauregard slammed her fragile-looking fist down on the coffee table, “– but I’m the best damn animal psychologist in the Great State of Ohio!”
“I don’t doubt that,” I said quietly. She’s probably the only animal psychologist in the state, I thought to myself.
Ms. Beauregarde calmed down. “Yes, I think there’s no way that you can fit in...”
My face fell. Was she about to tell me that things really were hopeless for me? “...Unless,” she continued, “you do something truly extraordinary that makes people stand up and take notice. Prove to them that you aren’t the monster they see.”
“I’m already headed toward Washington, D.C.,” I said. “I’m going to finish things right there.”
“Wait, wait,” Ms. Beauregarde said, waving her hands. “What’s this about finishing things?”
“It’s a very long story,” I told her. “I’m on a personal mission to get my freedom from a corrupt biotech corporation, the FBI, and, as of yesterday, a two-bit bounty hunter. I started this journey almost a year ago in Southern California when I escaped.”
“Escaped?” repeated Ms. Beauregarde quizzically.
“Yes,” I said. I was starting to get tired of having to explain my life story to everyone I met. “I wasn’t born this way; I was created in a lab. I’m not even sure exactly what I am. For all I know, I may be considered a new species.”
“My question is, why did the FBI go after you?” Ms. Beauregarde put on her reading glasses and began to jot down notes on a clipboard. “You seem perfectly harmless to me.”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “I’m not harmless. The project was carried out by order of the government. I have extensive military training comparable to the best soldiers. After I escaped, I was apparently deemed a threat to national security.”
Ms. Beauregarde continued writing down notes. She looked up when she was finished. “So what’s in D.C. that’s so important to you?”
“The President,” I said simply. “If anyone can help me, surely he can.”
“One thing you need to learn about human society,” Ms. Beauregarde said, pointing her pencil at me, “is that we are very sensitive about our public figures, the President especially. You can’t just drop in on him.”
I was confused. “What about what you just said about ‘doing something truly extraordinary that makes people stand up and take notice’?”
Ms. Beauregarde laughed. “I didn’t mean something that drastic.”
I threw my paws up in defeat. “What else is there that I can do? I’ve tried, ma’am. Really, I have. I’ve gone through several states and two countries. I tried to settle down. I started a relationship. Every time, something or someone got in the way. They won’t leave me alone. If it weren’t for my will to survive and my love for Diana –”
I caught myself a moment too late. “Who is this ... Diana?” asked Ms. Beauregarde.
I looked down at the floor. “She’s ... the woman I love. A human.”
Ms. Beauregarde jotted that down, too. “Human-animal relationship. Interesting. You were saying?”
“Basically, what I want to do is find a way to secure my rights. I want my pursuers to leave me alone. I want to be allowed to settle down and live my own life, and to be treated with respect.” I paused. “I don’t think I can get that by hiding out for the rest of my life. I’m going to find out who’s behind this and I want to make it all stop. That’s why I want to see the President.”
“But Fox,” Ms. Beauregarde said, “you simply can’t march into the Oval Office and have a heart-to-heart with President Bush! The Secret Service will be on you like a rash in seconds.”
“That’s a chance I’ll have to take,” I said.
Time passed slowly in the quiet house. The grandfather clock in the front hall struck noon and Ms. Beauregarde offered to make a lunch of cold-cut sandwiches. Shortly after lunch we heard a knock on the front door. My stomach sunk.
“That’ll probably be Lorraine Patterson,” Ms. Beauregarde said, turning from the kitchen sink where she was washing the dishes. She looked at a clock on the wall. “Hmm ... she’s early. Her appointment’s not until half an hour from now. Her dog must really have gotten worse.”
“If it’s who I think it is, that’s not the only thing that’s about to get worse,” I said quickly, jumping up from the table.
I had really let the bounty hunter have it when I beat him senseless the day before. But if he was really worth his salt, he probably could have followed me here. And even if he was too stupid to find me by himself, he had the resources of BioCon at his disposal. He just might be standing on the doorstep at this very moment.
Ms. Beauregarde didn’t know about Blake Tarpon. “I’ll get it,” she said, shuffling toward the door.
“No, I’ve got it!” I called out, running to get there first. I pulled open the front door, preparing to tackle the intruder.
But there was no bounty hunter. Standing on the front step was a middle-aged lady of medium height with frizzy red hair, wearing a pale blue parka. She had a dog, a shorthaired pointer, on a leash beside her. “Umm ... hi,” I said, turning red underneath my fur. “Are you ... Lorraine?”
“Yes I am,” she said. “Can I come in?”
“Uh, yeah ... sure. Ms. Beauregarde’s waiting for you in there.”
I was terribly embarrassed; I’d just come very close to slugging a housewife.
Lorraine walked into the house and greeted Ms. Beauregarde. “Hi there, Charlotte. I like your new assistant. How much do you pay him to be your mascot?”
Ms. Beauregarde laughed. “Oh no, he’s not my mascot. He just showed up this morning.”
Lorraine glanced over at me and smiled. “Is he single?” There was no question; just like everyone else, she thought I was a human in costume. “He’s good-looking.”
“I appreciate the compliment,” I said, “but I’m already spoken for. Besides,” I added, “I don’t look as good without the suit on.” I suppose, technically it wasn’t a lie.
“Oh, come on,” Lorraine said. “You can take the mask off at least.”
“Er, shall we get started with the session?” Ms. Beauregarde interjected, trying to rescue me from being found out. “I believe you said Buster has been having strange dreams lately?”
I took the opportunity to slip out the back door and retrieve my gun from the truck. If Tarpon, or someone from BioCon or the FBI, showed up, I’d be ready for them. Hand-to-paw combat can only get you so far. Sometimes the hardware is necessary.
I tucked the Beretta into the back hem of my pants. It was easy to reach quickly, but it wasn’t very inconspicuous. I put the gun down on a table and padded back into the living room. Ms. Beauregarde was chatting with Lorraine about her dog’s night terrors. “Excuse me,” I said politely, “may I have a minute alone with you, Ms. Beauregarde?”
Ms. Beauregarde got up and followed me into the back room. “What seems to be the problem?” she asked.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a spare jacket that I could borrow, would you?” I said. “Or anything in the attic that you don’t want?”
“Well, I don’t have an attic,” she answered, “but I do have a basement. You can look down there if you want. I’ve been meaning to clean it out for years.”
I thanked her and went down the basement steps into the dark underground room. I turned on a light and saw that while the walls were bare cinder blocks, the room was crammed full of junk. In one corner were some boxes full of old clothing. I padded over to the corner and began to dig through one of the boxes. Inside was an old brown leather jacket, cracked with age, and about two sizes too large for me. I figured it would probably work for me, because it had plenty of room to move around in. Underneath the jacket I found a shoulder holster and some yellowed newspapers. Amid the pile of papers I found a small lump. It was a tarnished sheriff’s badge from Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Next to it was a small metal name tag that read: G. Beauregarde. I unfolded one of the newspapers. It was an issue of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal from 1977. A headline read: Sheriff killed by drunk driver.
“Spartanburg County Sheriff George D. Beauregarde was killed Thursday when his police cruiser was struck broadside by a pickup truck at the intersection of Country Club Road and Hilton Street just outside Quail Hollow around 9 pm. The driver of the light blue Ford truck, Barry Shanks, 32, fled on foot after running a red light and crashing into Sheriff Beauregarde’s Plymouth. Shanks was arrested hours later on charges of reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter. Two of Shanks’s friends told police that Shanks had been drinking heavily earlier that evening. Beauregarde was pronounced dead at the scene. He is survived by his wife of 22 years. A memorial service will be held at 6:00 pm, Wednesday the 24th, at First Methodist Church in Spartanburg.”
The yellowed paper was lumpy, as though it had gotten wet. But the lumpiness was not uniform, as it would have been had the paper been fully submerged. Instead, there were a few spots here and there – like teardrops.
Suddenly it all came together: Ms. Beauregarde was single. She moved to Ohio in 1977, the same year as the accident. She had the sheriff’s belongings in her basement. Sheriff George Beauregarde had been her husband. The tears were hers.
I carefully packed all of the late sheriff’s things in the box except for the jacket and the holster. Then I turned off the light and walked back upstairs.
I felt terrible asking to borrow the jacket and holster from Ms. Beauregarde, but the truth of the matter was, her late husband didn’t need them anymore. I, on the other paw, did.
“Ms. Beauregarde?” I called from the back room. “Can you come here, please?”
She walked into the room where I stood, holding the jacket and holster. “Sure, hon, what do you nee–” She paused suddenly. “Where did you find those?”
I looked down at the worn leather jacket. “They were packed in a box in the basement.”
“Those belong to – those belonged to – my husband,” Ms. Beauregarde said, now looking quite distraught. “How can you do this to me?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said. “I didn’t bring them out to make you upset, I wanted to ask if I might borrow them.”
“But those are ... George’s,” she said.
“I understand that, but–” there was no other way for me to say it “–they’re of no use to him right now.”
I could hardly believe it. This woman was a counselor to animals and their owners, and she didn’t have a grip on her own life? Instead of coming to terms with her husband’s death nearly thirty years ago, she had tried to run from it. She moved from South Carolina to Ohio, and packed George’s belongings away in the basement to be forgotten. Charlotte Beauregarde hadn’t gotten over it because she only hid from her grief. Perhaps I should redefine irony and be the animal that counseled the animal counselor.
“If you don’t mind my saying this,” I said gently, “I know how you feel.”
“How could you know how I feel?” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek.
“You have no idea what I’ve been through in my life,” I said. “The first friend I ever had was mercilessly wiped out by an attack that was meant to kill me. You lost your best friend, your husband George. But he and you had each other’s company for years. Wanda and I–” I hated to mention her name, because even I still felt a sting deep down in my gut, “–knew each other for only a very short time. She was a wonderful person, and she looked out for me when I couldn’t really take care of myself in day-to-day living. She probably would have let me live with her forever, but it was not to be. Her life was cut short, and I still feel like it was all my fault. That happened over ten months ago. I have done my best to get over it, and it’s been difficult. I’m not an expert on the grieving process, but I hear that many widows like yourself make peace with themselves over a husband’s death in a relatively short time. They don’t do that by running from the truth.”
“But I didn’t ‘run’ from it,” Ms. Beauregarde protested.
“Yes, you did,” I said. “Instead of remembering George for his good qualities and all the fun times you had together, you thought you could speed up the healing process by banishing him from your memory altogether. Am I right?”
“I ... I thought that by putting his things down in the cellar where I wouldn’t see them, I could ... not be reminded of the accident,” she said tearfully.
“I saw the awards he won,” I said, remembering the papers inside the box. “I saw the commendation from the department. I saw the letter he got from the five-year-old girl for rescuing her cat so that she didn’t have to call the fire department. It sounds like your husband was a fine sheriff and a good man. You should be proud to display George’s achievements. I think it would be an honor to his memory.”
She wiped her tears away with a handkerchief. “You’re right, Fox. I’m sorry I got so ... emotional about this. What you said is ... pretty much what I would tell a client dealing with the loss of a pet.”
“Consider yourself lucky,” I said. “I have no physical evidence that I ever knew Wanda. All I have are memories. I’m not trying to start a pity party, but I think that you should have an easier time finding closure.”
Ms. Beauregarde motioned for me to give her a hug. I was willing to oblige. She gave one of those Grandma hugs that kids love so much, and in return got to embrace a warm, furry animal. It was reassuring for both of us.
By this time Lorraine and her dog had left, much to my relief. I was once again able to focus on my concerns about Blake Tarpon. “So, Ms. Beauregarde, what’s the answer?” I said, “May I borrow that jacket and stuff?”
I was very careful not to say “holster” because I knew she would ask why I needed a holster. If she knew I had a gun, that would likely throw a very large wrench into the works.
“Yes, you can borrow them if you like,” Ms. Beauregarde said. “Actually, if you really need them, you can keep them. And while we’re at it, call me Charlotte. ‘Ms. Beauregarde’ sounds too formal around friends.”
My people skills were definitely improving.
[story by wannabemustangjockey - (c) 2006]