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"All's Well That Ends Well"

Cato's Retreat

By Chris ZPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 7 min read
1

“All’s Well That Ends Well”

Prologue

Last April, I upgraded from a squalid studio apartment in seedy Van Nuys to a spartan guest house in suburban Burbank. I whittled my inaugural evening away unpacking. At 11pm, I poured myself a drink and set about exploring my new digs. A subtly concealed missive awaited me inside the medicine cabinet…

04/20/04

First and foremost, welcome to “Cato’s Retreat” (my cheeky nickname for my old/ your new habitation). Fair warning, each of CR’s endearing quirks counterweights an equally queer one. For instance, the front door & floor jamb align poorly, beckoning vermin. Fortunately, endemic insects pose no peril. Endemic arachnids, by contrast, do. Black Widows & Brown Recluses abound. Make a habit of shaking shoes & bed sheets out before sliding into or between them.

Now, on to more pressing matters. The colossal financial debt I owe Gustavo Oro, Hub City’s uncontested king of crank, comes due at day’s end 04/22. Rumor has it that Gus has tasked his chief enforcer with its collection. You’ll recognize “Chiquio” by his galactic dimensions, his pronounced Aztec features and the incalculable tally of teardrop tattoos festooning his eyes. Professed ignorance as to my whereabouts guarantees that grievous bodily harm will befall you. In pursuit of self-preservation, employ lethal force preemptively. Given my contribution to what’s become your crucible, it felt only fair that I aid you in resolving it. To that end, you’ll find a scored & suppressed pistol beneath a “false bottom” where Cato’s south & west walls meet. When the deed is done, call the names on the next page. While there’s some chance that you’re someone for whom heartfelt thanks would suffice, the odds favor you favoring monetary rewards. The key to a bank box containing 12,500K in cash will find you the moment word of Chiquio’s final disposition finds me. Godspeed.

Cato Breslin

I stormed the bedroom. New to the district and domicile, it took forever and a day to divine the southwest corner. I displaced the bed. Eyed en masse, the tawny floor tiles bled into one another. The sickly ceiling light barely bested resident shadows. I parted the curtains to their polarities, but the new moon offered no alms. I took to my knees. Still, the tiles told no tales. Palpating their perimeters, I found a discreet linear fracture.

I knocked on Beatrice’s door at 9am the next morning. Though she’d never been Miss Congeniality, her disposition deemed my surprise visit unwelcome. She stared at me through an impromptu scowl well past the point at which any polite society socialite would have asked me in. I gave her a “Good morning!” that stopped just short of killer kindness. I broke the ice with one or two trite, obligatory pleasantries before chancing an innocuous question about Cato. “He kept to himself and paid his rent on time,” she huffed. My next query met with an equally skin-deep, close-ended quip. I proffered the premise I’d prepared, that I wished to return “an artisanal-looking lockbox” I’d found high atop the kitchen cupboards to its presumptive rightful owner. (The box in question was, in fact, a hand-carved heirloom I’d owned since time out of mind. By design, its purported hiding place implied valuable contents). Not one of the umpteen ways this gambit could have gone wrong occurred to me at the time. What if Beatrice offered to steward the box in my stead? Refusal to relinquish it would raise eyebrows. She was, after all, his former landlord. I’d never so much as met him. What’s more, I’d left several sentimentally valuable tchotchkes inside it for verisimilitude’s sake. Surrendering the box would mean surrendering its contents. Purging said contents would weaken my impetus for wanting the trove returned post haste. Fortunately, no misfires occurred. Beatrice didn’t even ask to see the orphaned item, much less lay claim to it. I pressed her for his digits. It had been so long since she’d dialed them “even the area code” escaped her. I solicited a forwarding address. Cato hadn’t left one. My face warmed with burgeoning ire. I flashed Cato’s letter to incite a raw reaction. Beatrice eyed it impassively. I proffered the papers like a process server. “Sorry,” she shrugged, “Haven’t seen my ‘readers’ in weeks.” My blood reaching a boil, I began reading the letter aloud. Her home phone rang before I’d finished the first sentence. She cut me off with a wave of her hand before clomping off to answer it. The call lasted a minute at most. From spilt dribs and drabs, I gleaned that some semiserious misfortune had stricken someone she knew. Beatrice shooed me out like a stray cat who'd wandered in unwelcome. She shut the door in my face before I could schedule a time to continue our conversation. Two or three minutes later, her monolithic American-made gas-guzzler vacated the car port.

I stewed on Beatrice’s stoop longer than I care to confess. I toiled to convince myself that I was enthusiastically enabling an elaborate prank. I toiled in vain. What inspired sadist would work so hard at a sham he wouldn’t even be present to watch unfold?!

I went from never having taken a sick day to “out sick for the next few days.” I phoned my brother, a command track law enforcement official with the California Bureau of Investigation. I read him Cato’s letter. An hour later he called back sounding staid as I’d ever heard him. Cato Breslin did not exist, at least not officially. No rap sheet or DMV records named him. Neither the Franchise Tax Board nor the Department of Fish and Wildlife had ever heard of him. I resolved to abandon my new dwelling in precisely the time it took me to pack. From there, I would plant my person in front of Beatrice’s carport until she returned. I would insist she read Cato’s letter and see the guest house’s concealed subterranean compartment herself. Lastly, I would demand a full refund. Any pushback would end with hell raised and COPS called.

I returned to my rental unit. On opening the door, acrid smoke cinched my throat. Fire phalanges bursting from a wall socket clawed at a loaded laundry basket, a feast fit for conflagration. Having no fire extinguisher handy, I grabbed a two-liter bottle of Coke Zero and improvised one. Amazingly, it worked. I dialed 9-1-1 anyway.

Turns out the “contractor” who built Beatrice’s annex was neither licensed nor bonded. Upon her return, BFD’s inspector minced no words detailing the depth of shit she’d have been mired in had I been hurt or killed. I made a point of demanding my refund from her whilst under his watchful eye. The joyless crone complied, albeit sullenly.

Seven days I resisted reflecting on the surreal sequence of events I’d just played protagonist to. Alas, curiosity won the week. I dialed Cato’s contact (a black-market crime scene clean-up crew) only to find the numerical sequence nullified.

Though it reads like plot convenience personified, what follows is the truth, the whole and nothing but: Cato’s subsurface cache had been cleaned out, with not so much as a single stray round left behind. However, the gun’s absence never curtailed my conviction that Breslin’s words were gospel. Admittedly, said conviction owes mostly to a vivid imagination hopped up on true-crime tabloids.

I told Beatrice to expect me at 6PM on the day of my move-in date. She phoned me around 5 claiming that she couldn’t find the key her last tenant had returned and needed to have another one cut. She would leave my door unlocked in case I got in before she got back. I arrived first to find my door locked. I thought little of it, conjecturing that someone Beatrice’s age likely forgets much and often. I passed the time with a paperback. When Beatrice found me loitering, she insisted that she’d unlocked the door before leaving. She crankily cranked the knob several times. The verdict upheld, she huffed and turned heel.

I entered the guest house for the first time since scoping it out some two weeks prior. Fine dust footprints quickly caught my eye. I tracked them to the bed’s bow. The prints could not have been Beatrice’s, as they were no less than men’s size tens. They could not have been relics, as the house showed signs of a recent, competent cleanse. The prints must have been Breslin’s, remnants from a recent return to his old haunt. That he came and went without pause spoke to purpose. Perhaps urgency clouded his mind so thick that he thought nothing of locking the door behind him out of habit? (While Cato having reclaimed his key from Beatrice’s custody without her knowledge is not outside the realm of possibility, I didn’t believe that to have been the case. First off, the door handle was the kind that could be locked by hand, from inside, on one’s way out. Furthermore, there’s no reason to discount the banal explanation that Cato made a duplicate during his residency).

As for what motivated him to scrap his original plan, risk arrest for B&E, burglary, larceny and possession of a defaced firearm, the possibilities are too many to contemplate. Maybe the sheer madness of signing his name to the means and motive for a marked man’s murder dawned on him. Your guess is as good as mine.

Epilogue

Full disclosure, I’ve redacted specifics from Cato’s dispatch that could compromise his anonymity or that of his colleagues, including but not limited to the entirety of page 2. I’ve also altered names, including but not limited to Cato’s, just enough to throw aspiring sleuths off their scent.

Cato’s letter now resides with my sibling upstate. Storing it some 400 miles out, in a high-ranking lawman’s hands no less, heightens security for both it and I. I hope.

13 months have passed since I fled “Cato’s Retreat.” Each dusk lessens the likelihood that this narrative’s unknowns will ever become this narrative’s now-knowns. All’s well that ends well.

Name Withheld

fiction
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About the Creator

Chris Z

My opinion column garnered more reader responses than any other contributor in the paper's 40-year run. As a stand-up comic, I performed in 16 countries & 26 states. I've written 2 one-man shows, umpteen poems, songs, essays & chronologies.

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