The next morning I went into the office early. Kitty was waiting by her bowl, giving me a dirty look, so I fed her and put on a pot of coffee. I put Kitty 2’s new mug on her desk and went into my office to check my YouTube account. The video of Kitty 2 being dangled out a window was doing pretty well. It had already garnered ten thousand hits and seemed well on its way to going viral. Most of the comments seemed to be from men commenting on how nice Kitty 2’s legs were, but the comment at the top was from user Kitty 2. It read, “I’ll get you for this.”
I was pouring myself a cup of coffee when Kitty 2 came in. She shooed Kitty off her desk and picked up the mug I had bought for her.
“For me?” she asked.
“Yes. A little souvenir from my trip yesterday.”
“You know this mug would be a lot funnier if it were ironic in some way. My therapist really does keep telling me that I’m crazy to keep working here. She keeps urging me to quit. She just shook her head when I told her you called me Kitty 2 because of the cat, and I’m afraid to tell her you just stood there recording me while I was being dangled out of a window by goons. I think it might make her cry. She’s very sensitive.”
“That’s why sensitive people make lousy therapists,” I said. “If you’re going to listen to people tell you their problems all day, the key is to be totally indifferent.”
“Well, I guess you’d make a great therapist, then,” Kitty 2 said.
“I would,” I said. “But don’t get any ideas. I don’t want to know your problems.”
“You already know my problems,” she said. “You’re the cause of most of them. Why were you at a mental hospital anyway? I know you didn’t have a sudden flash of insight.”
“I was trying to save myself some unnecessary work,” I said. “I’ve been hired to appraise an outlet mall and the guy who they hired before me was in the mental hospital. I was hoping he had finished the job before he went nuts, but no such luck.”
“That’s too bad,” Kitty 2 said. “I know how you feel about work.”
I shrugged. “You can’t win ‘em all.”
“Why’d the guy end up in a mental hospital?”
“As far as I can tell his wife had a shopping addiction that drove him over the edge.”
“Exactly.” I said. “And I guess it finally got to him.”
“So what’s on the agenda today?” Kitty 2 asked.
“I suppose I should look into going to Innsbruck and checking out this outlet mall.”
“I’m not sure.” I said.
“Let me look it up,” Kitty 2 said, sitting down at her desk. She spent a minute or two typing and then frowned. “I can’t seem to find an Innsbruck anywhere in the tri-state area.”
I decided to consult my library, which consisted of a real estate appraiser’s handbook, Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 26 (Pre-Colombian-Sacred), the 1997 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and a 1969 road atlas. I plucked the atlas off the shelf and started leafing through it. I found Innsbruck. It was on Route 33, in between Shanksville and Scupperton; two places I had heard of and was pretty sure were still listed on maps.
“Look at this,” I said, showing Kitty 2 the atlas.
“Look at this,” Kitty 2 said, pointing at her computer screen. There was no Innsbruck between Shanksville and Scupperton.
“Huh,” I said. “Maybe this Innsbruck place is a ghost town. Maybe everyone packed up and left years ago.”
“Why would there be an outlet mall there, then?” Kitty 2 asked.
I shrugged. “Maybe there’s not. Maybe Mr. Waite doesn’t know what year it is. He really didn’t seem like the type of guy who keeps up with current events, but his check cleared, and that’s really the only thing that matters.”
“So, What’re you gonna do?” Kitty 2 asked.
“I suppose I’ll drive out there and take a look around,” I said. “I mean, even if there’s only a burned out shell of a building, it’s still gotta appraise for more than that house I appraised yesterday.”
“Well, if you’re going out there I’m coming with you.”
“Who’s going to mind the office?”
“Who’s going to record Kitty if she knocks stuff off the desk or something?”
“Kitty can perform without an audience for once,” Kitty 2 said. “Sitting around here gets boring.”
“You just got dangled out of a window yesterday,” I said.
“That was yesterday,” Kitty 2 said. “I probably won’t get that lucky two days in a row, and besides, Rex is off working a case, so that really leaves me with nothing to do all day.”
“You could try organizing my files,” I said.
“Yeah,” Kitty 2 said. “I was saving that for a special occasion, like the end of the world.”
“All right,” I said. “You can come. It’s going to be a long drive and some company might be nice.”
“We’ll take my car,” Kitty 2 said. “There’s no way I’m listening to The Art of the Deal again.”
It was a two hour drive to Shanksville, a quaint little town that depended largely on the tourist trade for its economic well-being. Its claim to fame was that it was the site of the first major prison riot in the United States. The town was called Pittsfield until 1876, when a man named Wilberforce Shanks was incarcerated at the local prison for beating several people at a local tavern for looking at him funny. A generally ill-tempered man, he hadn’t been imprisoned long when he used a sharpened piece of metal to murder a guard and then set fire to a large part of the prison, resulting in the death of many prisoners and guards. Once order was restored, Shanks was dead, but he had given his name to any sort of improvised knife, achieving eternal infamy.
Pittsfield tried to put the incident behind them until the Depression killed the town’s other industry, and an enterprising chamber of commerce president had come up with the idea of renaming the town, doing tours of the old prison, and holding a weekend- long festival every year culminating in a reenactment of the riot. I had never been, but I had heard good things.
Kitty 2 had one of those new European cars, the kind that you can fit 63 clowns in, but only two actual people. It wasn’t all that comfortable to ride in, but the upside was it was easy to find a parking space. She managed to slide the car in between a lamppost and a fire hydrant, and we got out to stretch our legs.
Kitty 2 went to get a latte, and I went to see if I could learn anything about Innsbruck from the locals.
I wandered around the town square for a while. Preparations for the annual festival were obviously underway. Municipal workers were picking up litter, planting new flowers and cleaning the pigeon droppings off the statue of Shanks, standing on the corpse of a dead prison guard, his hand, clutching the weapon that now bears his name, thrust over his head in triumph.
I went into a local pharmacy and sat at the lunch counter next to an old man nursing a cup of coffee and frowning at a newspaper through a pair of bifocals. He made eye contact with the waitress behind the counter and she came over and topped off his drink before asking me if I wanted anything. I ordered a coffee, which she delivered with three creamer packets.
“The coffee’s crap,” The old man said. “You’ve been warned.”
“Then why are you drinking it?” I asked.
“It’s cheap,” he said. “And old habits are hard to break.”
I sipped the coffee. The old man was right. It tasted like someone had ashed a cigarette in it.
“Nice town you’ve got here,” I said.
“You should see it come festival time,” the old man said. “The prison riot reenactment is something to behold. Did you know they use three fifty-five gallon drums of fake blood every year? “
“No. I didn’t know that. If I get a chance I’ll have to check it out,” I said. “I’ll bet they don’t have anything half as impressive in Innsbruck.”
The old man looked down into his cup. “What’s your interest in Innsbruck? Shanksville’s got a lot more to do and see,” he said. “I’m kind of the unofficial welcoming committee around these parts, and I’ll be more than happy to show you around town. I was born and raised here, and spent twenty years as a long haul trucker. The happiest day of my life was when I gave up the road and settled down. Well, it would have been, if retirement hadn’t made me realize I liked my wife a lot more when I only saw her every three months. So, I spend my days here at the diner, and she gets the house. You could visit the Chamber of Commerce and get a map, but it won’t take you anywhere interesting,” the man said, nudging me with his elbow. “My tour, on the other hand…”
“While your offer is tempting,” I replied. “My girlfriend has her heart set on visiting Innsbruck.”
The old man grunted. “There was a time when Innsbruck was known for its shopping,” he said. “But not many people have reason to go there now. It’s an odd place, not very welcoming to outsiders these days. And people ‘round here tend to avoid it. Ther’re lots of people who’ll tell you crazy stories about Innsbruck. About how the townspeople made some kind of deal with the devil once the bypass was built, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in those stories. People like to talk is all. You see people from Innsbruck around here every so often, and they don’t seem all that different from you and me, truth be told. I suppose you can go there if you want, but I don’t know that there’s much to see. You’d be better off stickin’ around here for the festival.”
“I do enjoy a good re-enactment of tragic events. In fact, I lost my virginity in one of the medical tents during a high school field trip to the annual Gettysburg reenactment, but I’ve got a schedule to keep.”
“Well, feel free to stop by the festival if you get bored in Innsbruck.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll do that.”
I hopped off my stool and went outside. I found Kitty 2 leaning against her car sipping from a gigantic cup of coffee. She had put on large Jackie-O style sunglasses even though it was overcast. She was frowning.
“I got recognized,” she said.
“From a wanted poster?”
“You know what from!” Kitty 2 hissed. “The barista didn’t ask for my name when she took my order. She just wrote ‘Window Dangler’ on my cup.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s the Internet. Tomorrow there’ll be a video of a monkey riding a skateboard or something and everyone will forget you ever existed.”
“God, I hate you,” Kitty 2 said. “I hate you so much I probably should just keep this to myself, but I think we’re being followed.”
“Really?” I said. “What makes you think that?”
“Well, it was the two goons that followed me into the coffee shop and then followed me back here and are now sitting on a bench across the street pretending to read upside down copies of Ladies Home Journal.”
I looked across the street, and there were indeed two large men in cheap suits who seemed very interested in their choice of reading material. I couldn’t see their faces, so I couldn’t tell if it was the same two goons from yesterday, but I was willing to bet it was.
“Let’s play it cool Kitty 2,” I said. “Act like you don’t notice them.”
“You really don’t have to call me Kitty 2 outside the office,” she replied. “Your cat’s not here.”
“She’s here in spirit,” I replied. “Now let’s get going. I want to make Innsbruck before lunch.”
“Did you manage to find out anything?” Kitty 2 asked.
I told her about how many drums o fake blood the prison reenactment used. “Man, I’ve got to see that someday.” Kitty 2 said. “That sounds almost as good as a Gwar show.”
“I didn’t know you were a Gwar fan,” I said.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” she said. “Now let’s get going.”
I offered to drive, but Kitty 2 said she didn’t trust me that much, so she got back behind the wheel, and we headed out of Shanksville. I fiddled with the radio dial, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t country music or talk radio, so I decided a game of punch buggy might break up the monotony. When I saw a red Beetle going the opposite direction I yelled out, “Punch Buggy Red!” and gave Kitty 2 a good, solid punch in the shoulder. Kitty 2 didn’t respond. She didn’t say a word. After about ten minutes another Beetle came down the road. Kitty 2 rolled down her window and opened the sunroof.
“Mace Buggy Blue!” she yelled, producing a can of pepper spray from out of nowhere and blasting me right in the face.
“AAARRGH!” I yelled. It was difficult to yell. My throat was closing up. I undid my seatbelt and stuck my head through the sunroof. The wind helped blow some of the tears and mucus out of my eyes, but I still couldn’t see. Lucky for me, it started to rain. I turned my face up and let the water wash the poison out of my eyes. When I could see again I sat back down. Kitty 2 closed the sunroof.
“You could’ve just said you didn’t want to play Punch Buggy,” I rasped.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Kitty 2 replied. “If you can see again, I need you to consult that atlas of yours. My GPS is on the fritz and I haven’t seen a single road sign for Innsbruck.”
I opened the atlas and squinted as best I could.
“Are we still on Route 33?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“Then the turnoff for Innsbruck should be up here on the right, I think. If we hit Scupperton we’ll know we went too far.”
“Don’t you think it’s odd that there aren’t any signs?”
“The guy who hired me said it was hard to find, but I’m sure we’ll find it.”
The rain intensified, and Kitty 2 turned on her lights and wipers. Fog set in, and our progress slowed to a crawl. After about half an hour I saw what looked like a turn-off.
“There,” I said, pointing. “That’s got to be it.”
“You’d better be right,” Kitty 2 said. “I’m not stopping at some dilapidated farmhouse to ask directions. I’d rather not end up as stew.”
“Kitty 2,” I said. “I’m surprised. I didn’t know you were racist against hillbillies. And besides, the last documented case of cannibalism in this state was in 1983 when the health department shut down the Martense Diner.”
“Hillbillies aren’t a race,” Kitty 2 replied. “And they haven’t documented any more cases of cannibalism because anthropologists keep disappearing.”
“Speaking of which,” I said. “I’m getting kind of hungry.”
“You should’ve had something to eat in Shanksville,” Kitty 2 replied. “We’re not stopping until Innsbruck. If there is an Innsbruck.”