In the immaculately kept Apartment 5A, Roger Delacroix adjusted his tie. Roger was an investment banker, and therefore as immaculate as 5A–deals behind closed doors might be messy in that world, but outside appearances were always well-maintained. Roger was also a cat burglar. But then, some might say that was to be expected, as Roger was also a cat.
Roger proceeded to his well-appointed kitchen to prepare breakfast when someone knocked at his door.
“Yes?” he queried, after opening the door. The bird at the door in the rumpled brown suit reeked of the law. Half of a cigarette dangled from the side of his mouth.
“I’m Detective Rat Warren,” he said slowly, so as to keep the cigarette from falling. “And I have a few questions for you.”
The detective had often been asked, on the schoolyard, at the police station, on dates, why his mother had given him such an unusual name. Sometimes he’d shrug, and sometimes he’d reply honestly, that his mother never told him because bloodied whore corpses weren’t great at answering questions.
Roger did not ask any such impertinent questions. “Certainly, Detective. How may I help you?”
“Wondering if you’ve seen this female in your neighborhood.” Warren’s cigarette hung precariously as he proffered a photograph of a striking bird, opulently attired, with mesmerizing jewels circling her throat.
Roger forced himself to look away from the priceless gems and focus on the lady in question.
“I haven’t seen anyone even remotely like her around here. But those jewels–is she royalty?”
“She’s some rich socialite, visiting from Malta. She went missing and she was last seen a few blocks from here. There’s a team of us canvassing the area. You sure she doesn’t look familiar?
Roger shook his head. He wished he had seen her–he could almost feel those cool, unyielding stones in his paw.
The detective nodded and took his leave, giving no indication that he was unduly interested in Roger, instead knocking at the door across the hall to continue canvassing.
Roger spent the better part of the day obsessing about the necklace in the photograph–he never kept any of the goods he plucked, as the thrill was equally in the theft and the first flush of possession. But for some reason, this particular piece seized his attention—he thought it possible if he ever did manage to procure the necklace, he would be hard pressed to send it to his fence.
So naturally Roger thought he was dreaming when the frantic bird from the photo knocked on his door in the middle of the night. Bleary eyed, he opened the door and was nearly knocked over by the bird who charged in, eyes fearfully darting around the darkened foyer.
”Are you Roger Delacroix?” she whispered urgently. “I was told you were the only man who could help me.”
Roger, slowly realizing this wasn’t a dream, was perplexed. Who would send a damsel in distress to his door? He had never been one for heroics. Until possibly now, when the prospect of grasping those jewels in his paw was astonishingly real.
”Who said? Why? Where have you been? The police are looking for you.”
”I was told I was in danger–my family has many enemies and I was going to be killed, as a warning to them. But I was told to run, and hide here, until it was safe.”
”Of course you can hide here,” Roger said soothingly. (The jewels–would she have taken them with her while on the run? It was possible she had them on her, Roger thought.) “But who gave you my name? And why?”
She shook her head. “I was only told I could trust you, and only you. And to stay here until I got a message that it was safe.”
Roger nodded, distracted, when there was yet another knock at the door. He motioned for the bird to be quiet and hide herself.
Roger peered through the peephole and was startled to find the detective from the morning on his front stoop.
”Yes, Detective?” he asked as he opened the door.
And those were the last words he got out before losing consciousness, a blast of horse-grade sedative hitting him full in the face.
By the time neighbors were stirring the next morning, 5A was a full crime scene. Yellow caution tape blocked entry to the unit. Inside, Roger was conscious and pleading his innocence to anyone who would listen.
”I was framed! She came to me for help!” he said through gritted teeth, as the throbbing pain in his head threatened to unman him completely.
The officers searching the apartment paid him no heed. The missing bird’s feathers had been found throughout the apartment, evidence of a struggle as she tried to flee. There was no sign of the bird herself, which boded ill.
An officer appeared from the bedroom, asking a superior, “Is this the necklace in the photo of the bird?”
Roger’s head snapped up, the pain tripling, and he saw the object of his yearning in the officer’s hand, as though it were not a piece of sublimity but a common trinket.
The officer caught Roger’s expression and steeled his resolve to find the kidnapped bird as he took Roger’s reaction to be further proof of his guilt.
Outside, Detective Rat Warren was sorrowful, not for his role in framing the cat burglar he’d long sought to nab, or even for the message sent to the Maltese mob don whose daughter the police would discover had recently perished at the hands of local druglords. No, Detective Warren felt sorrow that his work had come to these convoluted means for the noble ends he’d always worked toward. Maybe his mother’s answer for him was that she had named him in a fit of stunning prescience.
Rat Warren shrugged and let the cigarette butt dangling from his mouth fall to the ground, before crushing it with his foot.