It was an hour and a half before. Before the end. Before they would disappear forever. I was on an all-nighter staking out Little Red, an assignment to catch the diva slinking around the back streets of Chicago; seventy-five grand was on the line. Word had it she had been seen cavorting with all manner of sleaze and was known to have her two-year-old kid in tow. I had a man on the inside, a guy who knew Red too well, and I had no reason to think that his intel was bad.
So there I yawned, the fog of each exhale stacking against the windows of my ’66 Falcon. I swirled clear another patch with the meat of my paw and drew the camera into focus on the back door of the Puffer Belly, a squalid little club where my buddy the Cat plays fiddle in an alternative band. I held my breath and played dead each time another belly-exposing, narcissistic figurine giggled past my car. A bear like me isn’t exactly the willowy picture one has of a paparazzo.
It was getting late and it was getting early, depending on your alarm clock. I was about to pack it in since I hadn’t seen Red or her entourage in the three hours I’d been kidding myself. Besides, the three greasy honey burgers I had washed down with a couple of chocolate milks were working on me and I needed to be in the woods. Cat and I were going to have some words.
I twisted the lens and it snapped free of the camera body as I heard the ‘moo’ from the night sky. It was exactly three in the morning. Cow was nothing if not punctual. As I watched her dip to the western horizon, the corner of my right eye was darkened by a shadow that covered the opposite edge of the moon. The rectangular figure pulled closer, one edge lit in a soft green glow. I scuttled to reattach the large cone, but with my eyes locked on the object moving above, I was useless.
The rear door of the Puffer Belly cracked open behind me, but my attention was on whatever it was that sucked up my attention. My salmon hooks fumbled to get the lens just right, and the solid click told me I had it. The camera wasn’t even at my eye yet and I snapped off three frames. The auto-winder did its job, and the film slid inside the box as fast as I could push my finger.
I got off about ten frames when the bottom — I have to assume it was the bottom — of the thing started to swirl. The pattern in the metal-like skin resembled the curlicues on my car window until it was spinning faster than I could push my kid on the merry-go-round at the park. Then there was the scream.
I swung the gun-like lens 180 degrees toward the back entrance of the club just in time to snap a frightening scene. Cat was lying on the ground, his arms wrapped around the feet of Dish, Red’s well-known frienemy (the Little Red diva must have walked right in the damn front door). Dish was doing her best to hang on to the feet of her longtime beau, Spoon but it was no use. Like he was dipped in butter, Spoon slid from Dish’s grasp and into the belly of the ominous craft. Dish then lost her battle, and was soon clearing Cat’s hold as well. With the camera now at my side, Cat and I watched as Miss Muffett became the third and final victim to the hungry craft.
Maybe it was out of respect, or disbelief, or maybe it was embarrassment for not helping, but I never turned in the pictures of that night. Everyone speculated that Red and Dish had a falling out, and that Dish and Spoon just ran away.
Months later, as I slid the pictures across the desk to the editor, I wondered if guilt had finally gotten the better of me. I think it was just greed.