by Janet Oakley
Justine Fellows sat on her bed in her dorm room with her épée across her knees. Since the discovery that her charge, Annabelle Watson, had left the Student Commons and was now considered missing, she felt particularly down. She had only wanted to show the prospective student all the good qualities of the school.
“I really do like the school,” she said out loud. Perhaps I was little too enthusiastic. She ran her hand across the sword’s thin blade like she was smoothing it down. “I shouldn’t have left her like that,” she muttered. “I was only gone for five minutes—but then, who could have imagined an abduction?” Justine wondered if they put out amber alerts for fifteen-year-olds visiting a prestigious high school.
Justine slipped her hand into the sword’s rounded guard and folded her fingers around the grip. She flicked the épée out so the plastic tip quivered on its end.
Take that, Daddy. And you, whoever you are behind Annabelle’s disappearance.
Despite the fact her dad had gotten her into a great college with a nationally known competitive fencing program, it was really her mom who had encouraged her to take up fencing in fifth grade after Justine saw a demonstration at their town’s local mall. She had already been curious about the sport after spending Saturdays at her grandmother’s and watching 1940s movies like Zorro, The Black Swan, At Points End or Captain Blood with actors Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Sullivan fighting for freedom or the King or Queen. Tyrone Power! Justine was a huge fan of that man just like her grandmother was, though the actor Basil Rathbone was considered the finest swordsmen on the backlot.
Justine’s first lessons were with Parks and Rec. Mom had signed her up. “Give it try, and see if you like it,” Mom had said.
Her dad’s only comment, “Why would you want to do something like that? Martha, our daughter is spending too much time at your mother’s. Dropping ideas in her head.” Beyond that, he showed no interest at all, putting most of his attention on her younger brother, Roger, who had announced in third grade, he was going to be a famous architect. (Good luck there, your Lego towers sucked and you got an F in drafting your first year here at Westminster.) When Justine started to latch onto the important foot work required before even holding a sword, Mom found Justine a real fencing salle, run by two French brothers. She enrolled Justine immediately.
Justine looked up at the poster on the wall. Wearing her hair in braids, she was dressed in her white fencing jacket and holding her screen-faced helmet in one hand and her épée in the other. Four gold medals hung around her neck.
Fencing had given her a special freedom to be herself away from the sometimes-contentious homelife. She was grateful for her mother for providing for her escape using the household funds Daddy gave her. It was a joy to go the salle after school, finding camaraderie with the other members in her class level. But she quickly reached a skill level that captured the French brothers, Marceau and Mattieu’s attention. They began to sign her up for local and state tournaments. With Mom was always there to cheer her on, Justine placed well in her level. It was only when Justine earned a silver medal at her first Junior Olympic tournament in eighth grade that Daddy finally took notice and after that insisted, he should be the one to guide her career.
Justine sighed. It was just like him to take over and control the one thing that was her own. Granny, however, said, “Shrugged it off. You’re not doing it for him, but for you. And if you like, for your mother. I sometimes don’t understand my son-in-law at all.”
Justine got up and put her sword into its long storage bag, gently nestling it on top of her other swords and equipment. She was still upset that Annabelle was missing, but as yet no one knew why Justine left her.
It was really an innocent thing. Mr. Bradley was a popular teacher and lot of fun. The only reason she dashed off to see him was because they were planning a surprise for his literature class—they would recite a fight scene from Macbeth while fencing with her swords. She had been showing him how to use the foil she had given him for the past week. Because of her unexpected assignment to give Annabelle a tour, she had to cancel today’s session. She only wanted to let him know.
Outside her window she searched for any activity on the campus grounds. It looked like everyone had dispersed for the day to study hall or the various clubs sponsored by big name corporations or local organizations. Justine had a French club to go to, but after that security officer grilled her—he reminded her of Barney Fife from another of Granny’s shows, The Andy Griffin Show, only chubby—Justine had gone back to the Commons to ask if anyone had seen the girl she was showing around. Over by the German coffee machine, one of the work study students was cleaning up a mess on the tiled floor.
“Hey, Ginger, were you here earlier—around three?”
“Wondered if you saw that new girl I was showing around.”
“Oh, her. The one who’s missing?”
“Yeah, Annabelle Watson.”
Ginger leaned on her mop. “I saw her make something out of the machine, then take a seat.”
“I don’t know. I got busy back behind the counter. It was so slow that I did some tidying up. Later on, I did see her leave. She was hanging on some guy’s arm.”
“Why? And who was it?”
“She did look a bit unsteady, but I never thought I’d see Troy playing the hero for any good reason.”
“She went off with Troy?”
Ginger wet her mop and slamming it on the floor, gave the tile an extra swipe. “Yup.”
“Geesh.” Now Justine felt really bad. This was all her fault. Why did she have to be a jerk as she took Annabelle around? Why did she have to act all superior, just like her father? That’s not really me.
The one thing about being a cat was that humans often didn’t take you seriously. They thought all you did was lie around on some cushy pillow watching bird TV or curled up in the laundry just taken out of the dryer; that you never came when they called unless there was a fresh, dollar ten can of Fancy Feast (I like the Medley one with the greens) waving in the air. But when there was a mouse in kitchen or a spider the size of a spice lid on the bathroom wall, you betcha they expected you to show up and do your thing. Personally, I don’t like spiders all that much, but they are a challenge. They tend to go into a ball when you tap them and are hard to pick up, but you gotta keep your kill rating up to date.
What humans didn’t know about cats and in particular, my esteemed family, was our high powers of deduction that would put Sherlock to shame. (I do read books in the library as long as they are open.) While we sit around with our eyes at half-mast and our paws tucked in under our chins, we are actually taking it all in, mentally noting the comings and goings of things inside and outside our abode, wherever that should be. Our problem is how to communicate what we know. Though I have rational and cultured thoughts, my vocabulary comes out in only short list of tones: meow, yowl, screech, etc. Very unproductive when there is important information to convey.
So there I was. After finding a young human under my favorite tree, I checked to see if it was responsive by getting on its back and giving it a good kneading, with my claws a tad out, but all I got was a moan. After several tries, I surmised that I needed to find an adult human. (There are quite few here and some of them I like very much, others, meh.) I jumped down and headed out into the green. The place looked empty, but down by the parking lot I noticed some lovely streamers flapping in the wind like the end of a mad cat’s tail. What fun that would be to play with! But I was on a mission.
I headed down toward them, but when I found no adult nor even any human, I trotted back up to the tree. Suddenly, I spotted what I wanted: an adult human making his way up from the place where humans put their noisy machines. Not my first choice, but I knew he had an official capacity after walking all over his files in his office. So Sarge would have to do. As he got closer, he seemed to be out of breath. I cleared my throat and meowed at him, but he didn’t notice, so I more took a personal approach and began to rub and wind myself around his legs. I must have scared him because he kicked me off.
“Scram, you blasted critter.”
Oh, dear. This was not going well. As I said, communicating for even more erudite cat can be difficult, but I had to get him to see what was under the tree, so I bit him.
“What the hell!” Sarge pulled out a stick and as I hoped, began to chase me. I ran like the Dickens up to the tree, preparing to jump over the young human, but when we both arrived, the place was empty.
Now I really had to scram.