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EYES OF THE INNOCENT
by Brad Parks

Genre: Mystery, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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When my heart rate finally returned to merely dangerous levels, I lifted myself off the floor and rode down in the elevator – no more stairs for me, thanks. I was back to the warmth and safety of my Malibu when the phone rang. The number that flashed up was listed in my phone as “Office Incoming.”

“Carter Ross,” I said.

“You are despicable,” I heard in return.

“Hi Tina,” I said. “How’s the weather where you are?”

“Angry with a ninety percent chance of I’m-going-to-kick-your-ass,” she said. “I want you to imagine something. Can you do that for me?”

“I think so.”

“Imagine you’re in the 11 a.m. story meeting and you’re the City Editor. You do know what the 11 a.m. meeting is, right?”

“A bunch of editors gather around a conference table and decide how they’re going to ruin the next day’s paper?”

“You got it. Now, imagine you’re the City Editor, and a big story has broken in… the city. Are you with me so far?”

“I think so,” I ventured.

I felt like there was a Great Horned Owl winging overhead and I was a small burrowing animal, trying to scurry through a field, scared out of my wee rodent brain, unsure where or when the attack would come, hoping against hope that I could make it to safety.

“Okay, now you’re being a good little City Editor, trying to plan your coverage. And you happen to ask,

‘What’s our investigative reporter Carter Ross contributing to this?’ Can you imagine asking that question?”

The bird was circling overhead now, and I felt my weak, furry legs scrambling frantically, uselessly. The field was too big. I was too small. My tail kept getting snagged in the tall grasses. I could hear the beating of wings getting closer.

“Why would I ask a question about what I’m doing?” I said, futilely trying to stall the attack. “Don’t I already know what I’m doing?”

“No, you’re not Carter Ross. Try to keep up: you’re the City Editor,” she replied patiently, in that Kindergarten teacher voice most women over the age of thirty can summon instantly. “Remember, you have to imagine you’re the city editor?”

“Oh, right.”

“Okay, good. So anyhow, you’ve asked this question about Carter Ross. And do you know what the reply is?”

“Am I supposed to know this one?” I asked.

“No, not yet.”

“Okay, then no.”

Where was the edge of the woods, anyway? Where was my den, my nest, or whatever home I had managed to scrape out for myself with my continuously growing rodent incisors? Did the mouse ever win in those nature shows?

“The reply you get,” Tina said, sighing dramatically, and now I knew the attack was coming – the owl was swooping down from the left. No, the right! It’s too late for Mr. Mouse! Too late!

“The reply,” she continued, “is that Carter Ross, the investigative reporter, is off chasing after a young girl’s charm bracelet – although, really, he’s probably just chasing the young girl. Ha ha ha.

“Now,” Tina said, “how would that make you feel, Mr. City Editor?”

The owl’s talons closed around my tiny, trembling body and I was lifted off the ground, my meager eep-eep-eep cry all but drowned out by the victorious hooting as the owl flapped skyward.

“I don’t know,” I said, meekly. “Since we’re pretty clearly talking about you, why don’t you go ahead and tell me how it made you feel.”

“Well, let’s see here,” she said, sarcastically pretending as if she was suddenly considering the question.

“As an editor at this paper, I feel it’s a pretty foolish waste of resources that we’ve got major news breaking and you volunteered to go play Super Hero getting Sweet Thang’s charm bracelet back…”

“I didn’t volun…” I tried to interrupt, but by this point her voice was too loud for her to possibly hear me. She had her prey secured, and was bragging to the other owls nearby that she had caught a meal.

“… and as a woman, I feel pretty foolish for having ever occasionally professed that I may have slightly cared for you. Because if you’re that much of an idiot, there’s no way you meet the minimum IQ requirement to be my child’s sperm donor daddy anyway. So how did it make me feel? Frustrated, sad and angry. Yes, I would say that would be a start.”

Her volume had reached a level where it was no longer necessary to hold the phone to my ear – arm’s length was as close as I dared go without risking permanent hearing loss. I kept it there until I was fairly certain the screaming was over.

“Are you done?” I asked.

“Probably not,” she spat back.

I sighed.

“Look, Tina, what exactly is this all about?”

“What is what about?”

“This whole jealousy thing,” I said. “I mean, let’s just say – and this is strictly for sake of argument – that I wanted to date Sweet Thang. Or let’s say it’s not Sweet Thang, because I realize there are complications there. Let’s say it’s some other woman you don’t know and will never meet. So long as it doesn’t lower my sperm count, what’s it to you?”

There was a pause. Was the great bird considering releasing its quarry? Would I be reunited with my earth-dwelling, grub-eating clan of fellow furry friends?

Uh, no.

“I… can’t… believe… you,” she finally said, enunciating each word like she was teaching an ESL class.

“You didn’t really just do that, did you?”

“Do… what?”

“You just tried to have The Conversation with me over the phone?” she said, capitalizing the “T” and “C” with her tone. “Now it appears you couldn’t even be my child’s sperm donor because it appears you are a less evolved species. Who tries to have The Conversation with a woman over the phone?”

“I, ahh, was just asking a ques…”

“That’s it,” she declared. “You’re taking me to dinner tonight. You can’t possibly expect me to have The Conversation at any less than a four-star restaurant. Pick me up at eight.”

And that was it. Had I, in fact, escaped? Was I free to continue my burrowing and gnawing? For the moment, I must say I felt safer. Warmer.

Which probably just meant I was already in the owl’s stomach.