“A classic case of trag-i-dip-i-ty: the occurrence and development of events by chance with tragic or CATastrophic consequences.”
It is rare two seemingly unrelated incidents in time come together at precisely the same place such that the lives of all involved – or in this case the lives–and–death of one – become inextricably entwined and forever changed. But on Halloween in the year of nineteen hundred and sixty-nine, not two but four incidents, each of which should have had no relation to each other, coincided in such a way that forty three years later some cannot yet speak of what came to pass. And Halloween each year, some cannot help but doing so. It is this tale true I tell to you. A classic case of trag-i-dip-i-ty: the occurrence and development of events by chance with tragic or catastrophic consequences. As a tribute to Rod Serling, I ask for your indulgence.
Bull and I decided this, our fifteenth pagan holiday, would be the time to pull off the greatest prank since Dr. Frankenstein created the monster. And apparently it was the Doctor who inspired us for the plan began with a mission to obtain a fresh road kill from the back country roads outside our small town of Finn’s Landing, Indiana. It went on to involve a burglar alarm my brother had purchased from an army surplus store. The alarm worked on the same principle as a hand grenade with a pin which, when detached, caused the alarm to emit an ear piercing screeching sound which could be heard two or three city blocks away. The plot was to freeze the road kill in a standing position then surgically insert the alarm into the abdomen of the animal. This incision would be stitched tight but a string would hang attached to the pin in the alarm now inside the creature. The final phase of the plan was to put the mechanically altered cadaver on the front porch of some hapless victim, activate the alarm by pulling the string thus removing the pin and leave them to process how such an aberration of nature could have managed to visit them this holiday.
Our morbid scavenger hunt began the eve before. We enlisted the help of Little Schuler who, a year older than us, had his driver’s license and a huge, white 1963 Plymouth which bore a striking resemblance to Moby Dick. A raccoon is what we had in mind as we climbed into “The Dick” and began to scour the county roads. What could be more fitting then a furry trick or treater already sporting a mask? On any other occasion, the roads would have been littered with countless creatures of the night which had a particularly difficult time crossing the road. But this afternoon was the exception. We searched almost three hours to no avail. It was almost as though the highway department was one step ahead of us clearing the roads of carcasses and thus spoiling our plan. Finally, as dusk set in and the shade of the trees over the road began to blend with the night, Bull said, “Dang, Henry–it looks like this is one scheme of yours is one that isn’t going to happen. At least not in time for Halloween.”
“Yeah,” said Little Schuler. “It looks like you’re going to have to kill something if you want to make this happen.”
“I was thinking the same thing myself,” I said. “But now I think I have a better idea.”
“Uh, oh,” said Schuler. “When Henry gets a better idea – things usually get worse!”
“Head back into town and turn east on Main Street,” I instructed him.
Schuler did so and we proceeded to that end of town. “What do you have in mind, Henry?” asked Bull.
“Dr. Bird, our family veterinarian has his office three blocks up. When we get to it, I want Little Schuler to pull the car behind the office. When my cousin worked for him as an assistant, she told me they always take the animals they put down that day out to a separate dumpster behind the office and the city picks them up each morning and takes them to the county landfill. All we have to do is reach in that dumpster and “voila'” we got our dead dog or whatever to work with. It won’t be quite the same as having a screaming raccoon on your doorstep but a very high pitched poodle would be pretty cool, don’t you think?”
“Henry is a genius,” said Bull.
“Yeah, a regular Leonardo DaVinci!” laughed Schuler as he pulled into the alley behind Dr. Bird’s office. I got out and asked Schuler to open the trunk of his car while I approached the first dumpster. He did then came up behind me. I opened the lid and peered inside. It appeared to be filled with nothing more than trash bags full of paper and used supplies. No dead pets. I moved to the second dumpster, red in color, with the words City Property painted on it. I opened the lid and peered in. Little Schuler could not do the same because … well – because he’s little – so he asked, “What a’ ya see in there, Henry?”
“Well – we got two choices. We can go with a Saint Bernard or we got an orange tabby cat. What do you think?”
“I think it will take Bull to get a Saint Bernard out of there and how are you ever going to get it into your mother’s deep freeze!”
“You are right about that, for sure!” I answered. But the sight of a frozen St. Bernard on their porch would make quite an impression!” I laughed. Still – it would take days to freeze him even if I could keep my mom from getting any frozen waffles out of the freezer.” With that I climbed over the edge and into the dumpster. The cat, an old female, was a little stiff, but not terribly so. They must have put her down at the end of the day. I handed her over to Bull who had exited the car by now. He took and threw the kitty in the trunk and said, “Let’s get the heck out of here.”
Once back at my house I got a box from the garage, we put the tabby in it and I carried it into the house and down into the basement where my mother kept her bronze upright Amana deep freeze full of the aforementioned waffles, pot pies, tv dinners and fudge sickles with which she fed her four kids as she tried to earn a living as a single mother. We went past it to my bedroom which had formerly been McNamara’s Irish Tavern before we owned the house. It was the main reason my father, and Irish drunk if ever there was one, had wanted the house. Now that my parents divorced, I asked mom if I could move my bed in there next to the pool table. She said, “Sure, honey, if that will make you happy.” It did and had instantly made me the most popular kid in the freshman class. I slept in the glow of flashing Pabst Blue Ribbon and Falstaff beer signs along with statues of Johnny Walker Red and Kentucky racehorses lining the ledge along the walls.
We set the box down on the pool table and I told the guys I would be back in a minute. I went upstairs and grabbed last Sunday’s edition of The Indianapolis Star. Once back with Bull and Little Schuler, I removed the cat from the box and lay him on the financial pages which I had spread on pool table. “She’s getting stiffer by the minute. Pretty soon, I won’t even be able to work with her,” I said. I then took the newspaper and rolled it into a big, fat roll and tied it with some string I had also grabbed on my way back down. I placed the roll of paper in the middle of the bottom of the box running length wise. It was a perfect fit with the ends of the roll wedging themselves up against the ends of the box. Next, I picked the cat up and placed it on the roll, straddling it with two legs on either side. I made certain to bend all her paws and place them on the floor of the box so she would freeze in a perfect standing position. The cat was just a little too long for the box and I had to pull her chin up and rest it against the end of the box. This meant she would freeze with her head posed as though she were looking up at a forty five degree angle. Her tail was hanging out and over the edge of the other end of the box and I took it and bent it over and wrestled it under the flap at that end then closed the other three, took some duct tape and taped the box shut. As it was mid evening by now, I thought it safe to take the cat to mom’s deep freeze and deposit her for the evening. There was a key to the freezer on a nail on the wall behind the freezer and after burying the cat under a pile of pop tart and ding dong boxes, I closed and locked it. The plan was to let her freeze all night then get her out in the morning before my mom opened it to prepare for breakfast . I would then take her into the bar and place her in a smaller freezer inside a refrigerator there. The key to the deep freeze would remain with me until then.
I then explained the rest of the plan to Bull and Little Schuler. “Ok, guys. I will get the cat out of the freezer early in the morning and move her into the one in my room. You guys be over here right after school tomorrow.” Tomorrow would be Halloween and a Friday. “By then ,” I continued, “the cat should be frozen but not entirely. We will implant the burglar alarm in the cat and place her back in the freezer to really make her hard and frigid. You guys can leave then but be back a little before dark when we’ll load her in the car and go out to find our victim.”
“Whose porch are we going to put her on, Henry?” said Bull, a look of boyish glee on his face.
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t thought that far ahead. But you guys think about it. Think about some teacher or someone you hate enough to do this to. ”
“Wow, this is going to be so cool, Henry!” This will be cooler than when we hand-cuffed Mary Ann Atkinson to the tray at the “Dog N’ Suds” when she brought us our Black Cows and Coney dogs!”
“Oh yeah, this will be way bigger than that!” laughed, Bull, literally jumping off the floor with delight. “But who do we hate that much? This is going to be tough!”
They left and I went upstairs and watched Bewitched and Dragnet on TV before bed. I returned to my bedroom and pondered what a great Halloween awaited as I fell asleep to the flashing red recessed lights in the ceiling and the almost lullaby quality of “Hey Jude ” on the 78 rpm album by The Beatles.
My alarm (not the one for burglars or cats) went off as planned at 6 a.m. By now, kitty had been on ice for approximately ten hours. I did not bother to inspect her as I moved her from one freezer to the other. In approximately nine hours, Bull and Little Schuler would return and we would proceed with the next phase of our plot. In the meantime I went back upstairs for some of those frozen waffles before school. My little brothers and sister ate with me, oblivious to the macabre plot which was unfolding in the inner sanctum, which was my Irish tavern bedroom, beneath them.
Almost on cue, I heard Bull and Schuler pounding on the back door of my home opening to the stairs leading to my basement and bedroom. I went to let them in and, to my surprise, it was not only Bull and Schuler waiting to enter, but “Reidy Bones”, Mark Comerford, the Maverick twins and “Finko”. Word gets around in a small town and it seems every teenage boy that got wind of this wanted to witness the unveiling and surgical enhancement of our frozen feline friend.
I led the seven others down and into the room where they gathered around the pool table and took seats on the scotch guarded floral fold out sofa bed and one of several bean bag chairs. The pool would become the surgery table and I had prepared it in advance with the burglar alarm, sewing needle and thread, a ball of white kite string, scissors, a pair of kitchen tongs and my mother’s GE electric kitchen knife. This was the same knife that, less than a month later, my grandfather would use to carve the Thanksgiving turkey. It and the other items were spread out in an orderly fashion on another edition of the Indianapolis Star. The guys were laughing in nervous anticipation until I spoke up and asked Little Schuler to serve as my surgical nurse and assist me in the operation. He agreed and rose to stand at the table beside me. I went to the door of the bedroom and locked it to make certain neither my mother or one of my siblings barged into the less than sterile environment of the operating room. I then went to the refrigerator and opened the door. Next I opened the freezer compartment where I had barely managed to wedge the box containing the cat and pulled it out. I turned and carefully carried and placed it on the pool table behind me. The boys leaned forward in their seats as I began to remove the duct tape from the lid of the box.
No one knew what to expect. The orange tabby had gone in as someone’s recently deceased pet but other than the obvious lack of animation had no particular characteristics to distinguish it from living house cats. As I raised the lid, one flap at a time, the boys rose and gathered at my and Little Schuler’s backs. “Oh my god, what in the hell is that!” exclaimed Schuler. We all caught our breath as we peered over the edge and into the box. After regaining my composure, I reached in and carefully grasped under the sides of the cat and slowly pulled her off the newspaper roll, extricated her from the box and placed her on the papers spread on the green felt of the table. I pushed the box aside to give full view and an opportunity to appreciate my creation thus far.
What had gone in as an old but otherwise, cute tabby cat whose head one could have easily imagined themselves stroking as they smoked their pipe, sipped their tea or enjoyed the Ed Sullivan Show, now bore more resemblance to some poor creature which had somehow survived a nuclear holocaust or was the genetically mutated result of such. It looked like one of the monsters in the Japanese horror shows which came on at midnight except that this one was three dimensional and in color standing in the middle of the pool table.
“Holy shit! That’s one ugly fucking cat!” said the Maverick brothers as one.
“If I saw that on my porch, I would sure run like hell!” said Finko. “Get as far away from that fucking thing as fast as I could!
Of what were once two beautiful green eyes, the right was now frozen shut. The left was frozen wide open but covered with a deep frost making it white as the cue ball in the corner. It’s left ear was frozen so flat against the top of its head, it was imperceptible. On the other side the right one stood straight in the air as though perked to hear what was next in store for its owner on reprieve from a junk yard grave. Of the four paws, three remained steadfast to the surface beneath them. But the left front leg had somehow retracted in the freezing process was raised as though pawing the air in front or attacking some invisible adversary. Say another cat or some horrified homeowner for example. But it was the tail . . . the tail that defied imagination and provided the coup de grace to my excellent invention. After having been wrestled and contorted in the process of manipulating it into the box, it now was frozen, rising straight into the air for a quarter of its length. When observing the cat head on, its tail next took a ninety degree turn to the right for another quarter, then a ninety degree straight up again before taking a ninety degree turn to the left. In essence, it formed a perfect question mark which is exactly what you thought when you saw it. Specifically – “what in the hell is that!”
After ample time for admiration had been had by all, and an abundance of effusive accolades heaped upon me for my artistic genius, I announced the surgery would begin.
“Schuler, while I prepare to make the incision in the cat, you cut off and tie about a twelve inch piece of string to the pin of the alarm.”
As he did so, I turned the cat over on its side with its belly facing me. I inserted the chrome knife blades into the electric knife and plugged it into the extension cord I had running under the pool table. I pressed the trigger on the knife and the blades quickly slid into motion ready to prepare a holiday dish like none before. I asked Schuler to hold the front paws still as I raised the top rear leg to provide me full access to the abdomen, started the knife and began to make a length wise incision which would ultimately run from about half way down from its neck to its groin. I proceeded managing only to run it about a quarter inch deep due to the frozen constituency of the cat. I made a second pass which took it another quarter inch down or so. At this point I came to realize if I were ever going to get the alarm hidden entirely within, I would need to plunge the knife at least four inches in cut a path the same in length. To do this, I turned the cat on its back and with the knife whirring away forced it hard into the belly. I pierced it inch or two when the knife suddenly broke through to unfrozen material, followed by the emission of some of what remained of what was obviously kitty’s last meal. This was accompanied by the foulest odor I encountered before or since. Schuler and I gagged simultaneously and everyone in the room began spewing expletives. It was then I knew instantly why surgeons ask you and your animals to fast before surgery. But imagine if the patient has had Fancy Feast Tuna Delight putrefying in its large intestine for a least two days–a portion of which while lying in the bottom of dumpster with a Saint Bernard.
After several of us went through an odd dance of heaving, waiving arms and spinning to some tune unheard to all but bearing no resemblance to “Hey Jude”, I attempted to proceed with the surgery but could not succeed in disengaging my gag reflex. So I called a recess and everyone backed into a corner of the room while I went upstairs. I soon returned with two red bandanas and a can of lilac air freshener I requisitioned from the back of a toilet seat. I instructed Schuler to spray the air fresher directly at the cat while I proceeded with the surgery. Enveloped in the fog of the air freshener which created the ambiance of a sewage treatment plant in the middle of a field of lilacs–all too insufficiently filtered by the bandana–I managed to create an orifice of large enough to allow insertion of the alarm. I had installed fresh batteries and quick test of it produced a loud screech which had the result of the guys instantly placing their hands over their ears confirming its functionality for this mission.
Once inserted with the string hanging out, I took needle and thread and stitched the cat at least as tight as a Wilson football. Having done so, I turned the cat upright in a standing position and stood back to admire my work.
“Excellent job, Henry!” said Bull. It’s beautiful! We have to give her a name. She needs a name!”
Everyone immediately agreed and as we continued to admire her offered all the predictable clichés, most of them names of cartoon characters. In the end, that’s what we settled on. Felix – a cartoon cat popular on television in the fifties and sixties.
“But Felix was a tom cat and this cat is a female!” objected Bull.
Little Schuler, who suggested the name in the first place, countered, “That’s a technicality! Can you think of a famous female cat?” None of us could so the name stuck.
“Yeah … well by any name she’s gonna really going to scare the shit out of someone!” I said with no absence of pride.
Then Mark Comerford asked the “sixty thousand dollar question”. “So whose porch are you going to put it on, Henry?”
I answered, “I still don’t know. I’ve been so concerned with getting the cat ready I haven’t given it much thought. Have you and Schuler thought of anyone?” I asked Bull.
“All I can think of is “Dog Ears”, our school principal whose ears appeared cropped like a Doberman Pincher’s, or “The Blond Bomber”, our history teacher, Mr. Rossi, who dyed his long thick hair platinum blond and combed it straight back over his head before shellacking it with so much hair spray spit balls just bounced off it.
Everyone said something to the effect that they agreed those were rather worthy options and I said, “Well – that will do for a start. We’ll think about it some more while I put the cat back in the freezer and let it set up until this evening when trick or treaters start to hit the streets.”
With that I put the frozen feline back in the Frigidaire and the rest of the guys departed up the stairs and out of the house laughing as they went.
(TAKE NOTE, DEAR FRIEND. THAT WAS THE SECOND OF FOUR INCIDENTS INEXPLICABLY LINKED IN TIME AND SPACE THAT HALLOWEEN OF 1969 I SUBMIT FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.)
That night, about an hour before dark, Little Schuler and Bull arrived in “The Dick” which they pulled into the alley next to the back door to the basement. I told Bull to get in the back seat and deposited the cold cat cargo, still in its box between us. Schuler exited the alley headed east down Sycamore Street, our ultimate destination still uncertain.
“Ok, guys–it looks like we are thinking of Dog Ears or Rossi, is that right?” I said this as I removed the duct tape from the lid of the box and removed Felix. I threw the box in the front seat next to Shuler and stood our frozen companion on the seat between myself and Bull. Bull immediately began to stroke her head. “Don’t pet the cat, Bull! You’ll make her thaw out too soon! Look! The frost on her eye is already starting to melt!”
“Geeze–she’s hard as a rock! I think it’s going to be awhile before she melts!” Bull replied.
Little Schuler spoke up from the front seat, “I sure would love to see Dog Ear’s face when he sees this! But the “Blond Bomber” is such a priss – he’d probably have a heart attack. It’s a tough call!”
“Well I know where The Bomber lives, but do you guys know where Dog Ears lives?” I asked.
“Nope.” They both answered.
“If we are going to put it on his porch we better get a phone book and look his address up,” I said. “Go to the phone booth by the fire station.”
It was just around the corner. Schuler parked and I got out and went into the booth. A few seconds later I got back into the car shaking my head. “No such luck. His number is unlisted.”
“Well that’s probably a good move on his part,” said Schuler. “He probably got tired of having his house egged and grocery bags full of dog poop lit on fire on his porch!”
“Yeah . . . so I guess it’s ‘The Blond Bomber’,” I said.
Everything and everyone was just a few short minutes away in Finn’s Landing and “The Bomber” lived two streets north and just a few blocks west so in no time we were cruising slowly by his house.
“All his lights are off. It doesn’t look like anyone is home,” Schuler said. “The curtains are open in his living room but it’s dark inside.
“Maybe he’s playing not a home,” I said. “Maybe he’s tired of the eggs and the dog poop too! Pull in the alley behind his house and we’ll check his garage and see if his car is in there.”
We did. I got out and peered in the window of his garage. Felix patiently waited on the seat but was now moist to the touch. I steadied her as I slid back in next to her. “Nope. His car is gone. He must be staying at his mother’s house wherever she lives. You know what a momma’s boy he is. ”
At this point, Bull shouted out, “Hey, how bout Missy Bumbauer? She lives right next to ‘The Bomber’ and the lights are on in her place!”
” Missy Bumbauer!” exclaimed Schuler. “What do you have against Missy Bumbauer?”
“She broke up with me about six months ago.”
“You mean you want to torment her because she had the good sense to break up with you!” I laughed as Schuler drove out the alley and around the block while we gave it some thought.
“Yeah . . . and because she’s a real bitch!” Bull continued, pressing his case. “Besides she is so uptight and proper and all that. I would just love to see her when she sees Felix. They’ll probably hear her scream clear across town!” As he did we passed her house slowly and the three of us checked it out. It looked like everyone was home and preparing for trick treaters a few of which were beginning to make their way down the sidewalks. A five foot witch of the scarecrow variety was on the porch with a lit Jack O’ Lantern next to her. Two women were in the kitchen and Mr. Bumbauer was in full view through the full length glass of the storm door. The wooden front door was fully opened behind it. He was seated in his leather recliner with his feet resting on an ottoman.
Now Mr. Bumbauer had the distinction of being an Indiana State Senator and had been for the past twenty years or more. Like many of his kind he had a reputation of having a penchant for women and scotch which even as kids we, along with everyone else in town, had heard of. He constantly won reelection through his support of farm subsidies including a federal program which paid farmers for an experiment conducted by Purdue University in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture. Its purpose was to determine whether classical music played round the clock in barns increased the birth weight of pigs.
“Yeah, Missy Bumbauer would be pretty cool!” agreed Little Schuler.
“Well, I guess that settles it. Bumbauer it is! Now drive down the street for a minute while we get the plan straight. Schuler – I want you to go turn around and come back west by her house so that my side door opens facing her front porch. I am going to jump out, run to her porch and put Felix right next the pumpkin looking up at the front door. I’ll set off the alarm, jump over the side rail of the porch and run through the alley next to the house and come out on the other side of the block. I want you to drive like blank around the block and – when I come out – I want Bull to have my car door open so I can jump right in so we can get the blank out here! You got it?”
“Got it!” they said in unison.
We had turned around and slowly approached the house. I pulled Felix onto my lap and grasped the handle of the car door with my right. “Now remember!” I reminded Schuler, “Pull right around the block and get me!”
He quietly pulled the car to a stop and I jumped out, carrying Felix like that Wilson football as I jumped three steps and landed on the front porch. A quick glance and I could see the Hogan’s Heroes on the television. Senator Frushour was engrossed in the newspaper with a tumbler of scotch in his hand which rested on the armrest of his recliner. He did not even look up and was apparently going to let Becky and her mother greet all the trick or treaters. I set the cat down staring straight up through the glass of the front door and pulled the string. The alarm went off as planned and, even from inside Felix, its scream was deafening. With one hand on the porch rail, I cleared it and ran down the alley to the back side of the block. As I exited, I saw “The Dick” fly around the corner almost on two wheels as it sped toward me. It never came to a full stop as, on cue, Bull opened the passenger side door and I jumped in, my face almost landing in his lap. I sat up, and pulled the door shut as we sped east away from the crime scene. As I got my breath I joined in with Bull and Schuler laughing hysterically.
“Boy, can you imagine Missy’s face when she sees that cat!” said Bull.
“Yeah, and I bet Senator Bumbauer drops his scotch right out of his hand,” I replied. “Let’s give it a few minutes, but we have to drive back buy so we can see what they are doing”
We drove around downtown which was just a few blocks north for about five minutes before heading back toward Missy’s. “You know there’s going to be a huge crowd in front of the house. Everyone who lives in the neighborhood is going to come out of the house. All of the Olsons, the Bunnells, the Blacks, the Schnerples will be trying to get a look. We probably won’t even be able to get the car through the crowd,” said Schuler.
As we got closer to the house, we grew silent. The windows were down and we could hear the alarm still wailing, its new batteries holding up nicely. But to our utter dismay there was no one in the streets. In fact, as we slowly drove by, there was no one on the porch. The streets were conspicuously absent of any sign of life, including trick or treaters. It looked like a ghost town. Once again, we drove around the block, our speed now down to that of a slow crawl as we expressed our disbelief. We tried to peer back through the alley toward the Bumbauer’s but it was now dark and we could not see a thing.
“What the hell!” said Bull. “Why aren’t they out there checking it out. The front door is still open and there is no one even in the living room! Who wouldn’t be out there looking at something like that!”
I was just staring ahead, struggling for an explanation. “I don’t get it. No one is in the street. No one is on their porch. It just doesn’t make sense!” Two more passes in our car confirmed this was still the case before I finally said, “Well . . . I guess you might as well drop me off at my house. I suppose we’ll hear something about this from Missy when we get to school on Monday.
(TAKE NOTE, DEAR FRIEND. THAT WAS THE THIRD OF FOUR INCIDENTS INEXPLICABLY LINKED IN TIME AND SPACE THAT HALLOWEEN OF 1969 I SUBMIT FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.)
“The Dick” dropped me off in front of my house and no sooner had the car door slammed than my little sister, just eight years old, came running from the house. “Donnie! Donnie!” she screamed, tears streaming down her chubby face, “Tell me it isn’t true! Tell me you didn’t do it!” she pleaded. Kenton is my middle name. Donnie is what everyone called me whenever I was in trouble. They called me that a lot.
“Do it? Do what, Sis?” I didn’t have to feign I was incredulous. Was she referring to the cat? How could they possibly know?
“The police are on the phone with mom right now! They say you put a bomb on Senator Bumbauer’s porch inside a dead cat and it is going to go off any moment and blow his house up! Tell me you didn’t do it!” she continued, clinging with her arms around my waist as I made my way into the house.
“A bomb! I didn’t do it! I promise, Sis!”
I walked into the house as my mother set the phone down on the receiver. She looked up almost expressionless and said, “The police are at the Senator’s house. They cannot figure out how to disarm the bomb you put in the cat and they want you to go there and stop it before it explodes. They have patrol cars out looking for you right now.”
“Mom, I didn’t do it …” I began.
She instantly held her hand up in traffic cop fashion instructing me to stop. “That was Mr. Fink I just got off the phone with. He is going to accompany you to the Bumbauer’s.”
I could see there was no point in lying all together or even in trying to explain it was a burglar alarm and not a bomb for now. I went out the door and over, to Mr. Fink’s (Finko’s dad) house.
Mr. Fink was on his porch when I arrived and as I started to walk up his steps I attempted to explain. He must have attended the same traffic school as my mother for he immediately presented the hand gesture to stop. I hung my head as he came down the steps and together we headed down to the middle of the block and cut through the alley where we saw a huge crowd gathered at its end. The Bumbauer’s lived just one street over and the alley came out almost directly across the street from their house. The street where there was no one a half hour earlier there were now dozens, fifty or more people including all nine of the Olson kids and the Schnerples lined the sidewalk opposite the Bumbauer’s. They had all come running when they heard the emergency vehicle sirens. Mr. Fink and I had to push our way through the crowd. “There he is, that’s him! Kenton Henry, you’re a freak!” yelled Missy angrily pointing her finger at me. Senator Bumbauer, had a obviously finished his scotch, perhaps the entire bottle, and was off to the side telling anyone who would listen that this was probably some plot to thwart his reelection campaign. I didn’t know it at the time, but Mrs. Bumbauer was in the back of the fire engine emergency vehicle that was first on the scene. She was being treated for a rapid heartbeat before eventually being taken to the hospital and sedated.
“I don’t know, but he could be a ‘Young Republican’!” I heard the Senator him rant as we made our way toward the porch. It was an already surreal event which became more so by the moment. Standing safely back, a uniformed police officer kept the crowd out the street, while another in fully padded, white bomb detonating protective gear–replete with a helmet and facemask–stood on the steps of the porch with an instruction manual in hand. 1969 was the height of the Vietnam War and people were constantly calling in bomb threats to high schools around the country. Supposedly, it was to protest the war but I know, on at least one occasion, it was to get out of school the rest of the day. Regardless, after a few of the these scares, the City Council ordered a costly expenditure for this equipment. This was probably their first opportunity to use it in disarming what they, apparently, truly believed to be a bomb. The problem appeared to be there was nothing in the manual which accompanied with the equipment on how to disarm a cat.
I still was not ready to accept responsibility for what at this juncture I rationalized was simply a huge misunderstanding. Instead of holding up that ubiquitous stop sign, the man in the mask simply pointed to the cat. By now the batteries were almost as dead as it was and the sound was reduced to one long whining moan as though the cat were trapped in the bottom of well. Or perhaps a closed dumpster. And the miracle of refrigeration was running its course also for now the cats head was hanging and its fourth paw had surrendered to gravity. So too had its other front one and they were both splayed flat on the porch. However, the rear legs remained frigid enough that they left her butt suspended in the air and aimed pretty much in the direction of the guy with the instruction manual. And that question mark of a tail? By now it was dangling like a participle and was more a comma than a major punctuation point.
Still the whole image begged the question which I provided, “Oh no!” I feigned. “Who could do such a thing to an animal. I love cats. This is terrible!”
“Cut the crap, kid and just disarm the damn thing!” said Mr. Bomb Squad.
I thought I’d give it one more try. “I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to disarm it. What if it blows up! We don’t have gear on like he does, Mr. Fink.”
As if he had realized he had lived his finest hour and was ready to surrender to the inevitable fate he miraculously dodged for days now – her right rear leg collapsed under her and Felix rolled over in much the same position he assumed on the pages of the Indianapolis Star, exposing his belly. Those football stitches had done their job, but now the incision gaped open as Felix experienced a meltdown and a portion of the alarm had slipped out and exposed itself. Mr. Fink spotted the string on the porch with the pin tied to it and picked it up and examined it. He looked and reached to grasp the alarm. “Don’t, Mr. Fink–it could blow up on us!”
He didn’t hesitate, but took the alarm with his fingers and extricated it from the cat. Holding it in one hand and the pin the other, both level with his face and without saying a word, he put the pin back in the alarm. With that the quiet was deafening. Felix the Cat had purred her last.
I do not know if the astute Finn’s Landing police department realized at that point the device Mr. Fink had just saved the neighborhood from was a burglar alarm from the army surplus store or whether they believed a major terrorist threat had just been averted. But for some reason, they found it necessary to handcuff me in front of all my friends and neighbors before escorting me to the first six or seven squad cars which had to include a State Police car to two all of which were in line behind the fire engine and emergency ambulance. I guess when the call goes out from a state senator that a bomb is on his porch it’s almost the equivalent of screaming officer down over a cb radio. Even if the delivery device is a frozen orange tabby. As they pushed my head down and me into the back seat of the squad car, I could hear Mrs. Bumbauer screaming at the Senator from the back of the ambulance. I had no idea why.
We arrived at the police station where, until my lawyer, Ferman Thompson arrived, they attempted to charge me with everything from criminal mischief, disturbing the peace, committing mayhem, threatening a federal official, theft of city property and desecration of a corpse. Even I knew that last one wasn’t going to stick because I’d been charged with that one before.
“Aren’t you one of those kids who stole that tooth out of Dr. Farrar’s skull up there at Mount Hope Cemetery last spring?”
I started to say, “That would be me”, but Ferman held up that stop sign again and for once I was glad to see it.
“You don’t have to answer that Kenton, ” he instructed me.
I caught on real quick and mouthing a line I’d heard watching episodes of Perry Mason, I said, “On the advice of counsel, I politely …” but before I could finish Ferman put his hand on my shoulder and gave it hard squeeze.
“So now we’re not only dealing with a grave robber and a terrorist but a smart ass to boot!” proclaimed Officer Dawalt.
Ferman asked the officers to step into the hallway with him and when he came back in, he had apparently Ferman worn the guys down. Or maybe it had something to do with the green fee vouchers he gives to officers so they can get in 18 holes at the country club or the tab he’d cover for them at the bar afterwards. Whatever it was, he managed to work a pretty sweet deal in which I agreed to plead guilty to disturbing the peace. That one was pretty hard to argue. Besides, Ferman said he had to give them something. I wanted to ask if that was in addition to the eighteen holes but I saw an invisible hand sign and stopped myself. I told you I was a fast learner. Ferman explained to me the disturbing the peace charge was a misdemeanor and would be expunged when I turned eighteen along with the one for grave robbing. That one he had succeeded in getting reduced to petty vandalism. I copped that plea. Furman was worth every penny of what would have otherwise funded my college education.
Before releasing me to the custody of my mother, I had to have an answer as to how the police learned it was me who placed Felix on his porch.
“Well, you see, kid–we’ve got a list of people in this town who do bizarre things to the remains of things that were once alive and precious to someone. It’s a pretty short list. But the truth is, while our squad cars were patrolling for you earlier this evening, I was questioning Senator Bumbauer. It seems your jig was up even before you executed your cat caper. Or before your cat was out of the bag, so to speak. When you pulled him out of the freezer the first time there were several witnesses present. One of them, Mark Comerford, ran from your house just dying to tell the story of how Kenton Henry was the mastermind of a plot wherein he and a couple of his twisted friends would put a bomb inside a frozen cat and detonate it on the front porch of, at that point, an unknown, and therefore, unnamed victim. As fate would have it Mr. Comerford chose to tell relate this plot to a one Miss Melissa Bumbauer, the Senator’s daughter. You said your original target for this demonic Halloween prank was Principal Swihart, with a close second being Mr. Rossi, your history teacher. Maybe it has something to do with Halloween and the spirit of that poor desecrated cat but you screwed the pooch when you picked Missy Bumbauer as your mark, kid.”
(TAKE NOTE, DEAR FRIEND. THAT WAS THE FOURTH OF FOUR INCIDENTS INEXPLICABLY LINKED IN TIME AND SPACE THAT HALLOWEEN OF 1969 I SUBMIT FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.)
“But it gets worse, Henry. Stick around for this one Ferman– there may be some business for you still to come. This whole feline fiasco–and I’m about to tell you just what a fiasco this really is–could very well cost Senator Bumbauer his marriage and–when this gets out–his bid for reelection!”
“I don’t understand,” said Ferman. “How could my client’s prank possibly cause those things?”
“Again, Ferman, maybe it’s just a Halloween thing or bad kitty karma. But it’s definitely one for the books.” He turned his attention to me. “It seems that cat you boys took to calling Felix, in life, went by the name Mrs. Beasley. Now are you ready for this?” He said, almost doubled over in his chair with laughter. “Are you ready for this, cause your just gonna love this! She was named this after being rescued from the Killarney County Animal Shelter by one, Mrs. Hubert Bumbauer. That orange tabby was her beloved Mrs. Beasley and her constant companion of the last seven years. Can you believe it!”
My mouth had been hanging open so long I had begun to drool on myself.
“Well, it’s pretty hard to believe, but how does that cost the Senator his marriage and his office?” Ferman asked a second time.
“Pretty simple really, Ferman. Poor Mrs. Beasley had come down with inoperable cancer and, after a trip to the veterinary hospital at Purdue confirmed this, Mrs. Bumbauer brought her home but couldn’t bring herself to do what was necessary. Senator Bumbauer finally convinced her putting Mrs. Beasley down was the only humane thing to do. She finally accepted this but insisted she could not be present and asked that it be done while she left to visit sister in Marion for a few days before returning today. Because she was aware of the common practice of disposing of animals at the city landfill, she made Senator Bumbauer promise to bring Mrs. Beasley home from Dr. Bird’s office and bury her in the flower garden in the back yard. There she sleep beneath what would become a literal bed of roses when spring came around. Obviously he did not. He left Mrs. Beasley with Dr. Bird, came home, kicked a little dirt around in the flower bed and, I guess put some big rock over the spot beneath which he told Mrs. Bumbauer he buried Mrs. Beasley. Apparently, Mrs. Bumbauer was greatly consoled by all this. Then you show up tonight, Henry and she comes running to the door when the alarm sounds and who’s the first trick or treater to the door? None other than Mrs. Beasley, defying death on Halloween, her paw raised in anger and back to take revenge on another politician who broke a promise! Mrs. Bumbauer fainted at the site of seeing her beloved kitty who was supposed to buried in the back yard which is where they quickly carried her after falling all over each other escaping out the back door before the bomb went off! The Senator kept everyone behind the house including all the neighbors and that is why the streets were bare of people when you drove by survey your damage. But the real story is Senator Bumbauer name will be mud even among his loyal constituents when it gets out what he did to his own wife and it will be worse than that with cat lovers everywhere when they find out he let Mrs. Beasley go in a dumpster. When the Finn’s Landing Republican gets wind of this, and somehow I think they will, he might as well resign from office. So there is some justice in the world! What a ya’ think of that Ferman!”
(TAKE NOTE, DEAR FRIEND. THAT WAS THE FIRST OF FOUR INCIDENTS INEXPLICABLY LINKED IN TIME AND SPACE THAT HALLOWEEN OF 1969 I SUBMIT FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION.)
And so I learned the hard lesson of unintended consequences. Bull and Little Schuler were brought in for questioning. Not because I ratted on them but because Mark Comerford dropped more than my name that Halloween in 1969. No charges were brought against them because law enforcement had already nabbed and forced a confession and plea agreement out of the mastermind. No point in trying to get accomplices to accept more serious charges than the ringleader. Senator Bumbauer’s marriage somehow survived his betrayal of his wife but his senatorial career did not survive that of his betrayal of Mrs. Beasley. It was soon over. He was soundly defeated by a cat loving Republican. Mrs. Beasley, I think we can safely assume, ended up in the bed of roses where it was always intended she spend eternity. I just saw Missy at my fortieth high school reunion and–after all these years–the only word she had to say was–“freak!”. I thought that’s what Halloween was all about.