Beans, my cat, saved my life once and now he’s a little full of himself.
Beans also solves mysteries, which is why I am standing here in the forest in the middle of the night, with a gun pointed at me.
Technically, Beans leaves me clues and leads me places that allow me to solve crimes, find things that are lost and answer questions that affect people’s lives.
I don’t know how he does it. He won’t tell me. Every time I ask him, he moans and puts his paws over his eyes so he can ignore me.
This morning, Beans was standing on the dining room table with that look that cats have when you’re late with their dinner. His paw was on a picture of a missing girl that had been featured on the news last night.
Beans had gotten particularly worked up about the story last night when it came on the news. He stood with his paws on my shoulders and meowed loudly directly in my ear.
“Alright, Beans, I get it” I tried to calm him down. “But I’m going to need a little more to go on.”
That’s where the paper came in. Next to the picture of the missing girl – Melissa Mansour – Beans had placed my car keys on an article about a bridge that was being repaired on the Eastside hiking trail.
Which is why I was now standing by the washed-out bridge trying to figure out what Beans was trying to tell me. It had something to do with the bridge, but there was nothing obvious that pointed to what might have happened to the girl.
The story said she was riding her bike home from soccer practice and told her friends she had left something at the field and was going back for it. That was the last time anyone remembers seeing her.
I had a bad feeling about the situation, and my ability to do anything about it, but Beans was apparently sure that there was some connection to the bridge.
“You’re not supposed to be here.” The voice scared me, and I wasn’t sure whether I had the right to be at the bridge. I turned and saw an old man in faded overalls and a plaid shirt, with a scrawny, white beard and a baseball hat with a logo that couldn’t be read any longer.
“What do you mean?” When in doubt, ask questions.
“This is a construction zone.” The old man pointed at the bridge.
“The City Council hasn’t approved funds for the reconstruction yet.” The story was also on the news last night.
“Well, it’s dangerous, and you shouldn’t be here.” He gave me a look that was intended to scare me, but didn’t work.
“I am done here, so I will be going.” I headed back to my car, but I could feel the old man watching me. There was something off about him, but I wasn’t sure what.
“Sorry, Beans,” I told my cat when I got home, “Nothing there but a cranky old man and a dead bridge. I’m going to need a little more.”
There was a short follow up on the missing girl story, saying there was nothing new, which I could barely hear over Beans, who was standing on his back legs with his paws on the TV, whining and pawing at the reporter. This was new.
“Give it a rest, Beans. There is nothing that anyone can do without a clue, or some reason why someone might take the girl … or cause her to run away.” This set Beans off even more and he jumped on me and started at me, with a low growl that he only uses when he doesn’t like me sitting in his spot.
I finally gave in. “Okay, tomorrow we will look for something that might help.
In the morning, Beans was on the table again. He had set my keys on a short article about the Hall of Records being repainted over the summer. I couldn’t imagine what that had to do with the missing girl, but by now I knew better than to question Beans.
I had never been to the Hall of Records, which was just an office in the government building where they kept public records, posted construction notices and processed plan reviews. As I walked into the office, a woman behind the counter who was date-stamping papers looked at me as if I was interrupting her important work. “Can I help you?”
She didn’t sound particularly interested in helping me. I noticed the documents posted on the wall. “No, I just want to look at the notices.”
She seemed relieved and went back to stamping her papers.
On the wall, there were several notices, but the one that caught my eye was a request to build a food cart and gift kiosk on the Eastside trail. I didn’t really believe in coincidences, so I made a note of the requestor and the location, which was given in GPS coordinates. The request had been made by Alistair Abercrombie on behalf of Taco Wagons, Inc. I had no idea how it might relate to the missing Melissa, but at least it was something to look at.
“Have you heard of Taco Wagons, Inc., Beans?” He ignored me, which was not uncommon.
I looked up Taco Wagons, Inc. on the web and found a local address. I didn’t want to bother them with questions when I had no idea what to ask, so I decided to drive by and see what I could find out.
Taco Wagons, Inc. was at the end of a local strip mall. There were two beat-up food carts parked by the side of the building and an even older Jeep that had once been painted red. I pulled into the lot and parked in front of the Smile Forever Dental Clinic so I could watch the office for a while. I didn’t think Dr. Hamir Nessar would mind, since all the other spaces were empty.
Nothing happened. After two hours, and two dental customers, I decided to call off my vigil. Beans usually did better than this. I started my car and backed out of the space. I looked at the Taco Wagons Office as I drove by slowly, just as the door opened and the old man who had yelled at me about being at the bridge came out. He looked at my car but I couldn’t tell if he could see me. I had definitely seen him, however. The thing I noticed is that he was wearing a suit, and not a cheap one.
Beans thought it was strange as well, but didn’t offer any explanations. Instead, he crawled up on my lap and went to sleep. At least until the news came on. The lead story wasn’t about the missing girl, but the protest at the city council meeting about the reconstruction of the Eastside bridge not being approved. And in the background, back in his overalls and leading the chants of “Build the bridge,” was the old man.
Beans jumped off my lap and walked over to the television and stared at the screen, growling loudly.
“I see him, Beans. But I don’t know what it means.”
When the story ended, Beans stopped growling and walked into my bedroom. A few minutes later, when I went into the bedroom, there was a pamphlet from an insurance company that I had received in the mail sitting on the bed. The headline of the pamphlet was, “What’s in It for You?”
I spent the next two hours on the computer looking at Taco Wagons, Inc. and their CEO, Alistair Abercrombie – Mr. Overalls, trying to figure out why he might be so interested in the reconstruction of the bridge … and what it might have to do with the missing girl. Nothing.
In the middle of the night, Beans came and dropped my keys on the pillow next to my head.
“I’m not going anywhere, Beans, go back to sleep.” He must have thought I said, “Don’t let me sleep,” because he started moaning and nuzzling me so there was no way I was going to get back to sleep.
I sat up in bed and turned on the lamp on my nightstand. There, sitting on my chair, was the missing girl – actually a picture of the missing girl, which didn’t help with sleeping or solving the mystery.
Then a thought came to me, something I had read online about the expansion of the Eastside trail being a part of the reconstruction project, which would mean significantly more foot traffic through the park – who all might want to get something to eat or drink, making a food cart very profitable.
I also remembered the name of the company that was opposing the project – Mansour Environmental. They felt the additional foot traffic on the hiking trail would destroy the forest.
Beans was right, I needed to go back to the bridge site, I obviously missed something.
When I finished getting dressed and reached the back door, Beans was already standing there, waiting for me, He followed me out to my car and jumped in when I opened the door and sat in the passenger seat. I was surprised because he didn’t usually like to go in the car with me.
Instead of going back to where I had seen the old man, I drove to the other side of the creek where I could get closer to the bridge site. I had no idea what I was looking for, or why it was so important that I looked right now, but Beans had been pretty insistent.
Beans stayed in the car, which was not unusual because he didn’t like the forest, and I grabbed my flashlight and headed into the park. Technically, the park was closed, but nobody was up at 4:00 in the morning so I wasn’t worried. I walked down the path slowly, looking around to see if there was anything that might relate to the missing girl.
Ahead of me on the trail, I saw lights flicker and thought I heard voices. I stopped and turned off my flashlight, and tried to keep my breathing from drowning out all the sounds around me.
When I calmed down, I could hear two men arguing, and thought I heard a girl’s voice say, “No, please …” but didn’t have time to process it before I heard the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked.
Thank you, Beans! Here I was in the forest in the middle of the night with a gun pointed at me.
“Move.” The man didn’t sound like he wanted to discuss it. He pointed a very powerful flashlight on the path in front of me, and I followed the light without saying a word.
We walked about fifty yards and entered a small clearing. On the side of the path there was a sign that said, “Future site of Taco Wagon.” It was all starting to make sense.
Mr. Abercrombie looked at me and said, “You were outside my office yesterday, and I saw you by the bridge.”
I didn’t feel it was necessary to say anything, and wasn’t sure I could speak anyway, so I just grunted.
“Too bad you didn’t just go away like I told you the first time.” He looked at me and them back at the other two people. The moon came out from behind a cloud, and I could see that it was the owner of Mansour Environmental, and the missing girl, Melissa.
“Mr. Mansour had just agreed to withdraw his objection to the bridge project in exchange for his niece, but now you’ve complicated things.”
He turned to the man behind me. “Hansen, what do you think we should do with these three?”
“Well, Mr. A,” The man sounded tough and I didn’t think I wanted to hear what was coming next, “we will be digging a big hole soon, for the pad for our new taco wagon.”
“Indeed.” Mr. Abercrombie sounded pleased. “For now, we can hold them in one of the old food trucks. Take them back to the office and lock them up. Make sure there is no way they can escape.”
“You got it, Mr. A.” Hansen reached out and put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed hard. I winced, and moved with him toward Mr. Mansour and Melissa.
A light hit us from behind. “POLICE, drop your weapon.”
Hansen let go of my shoulder and turned toward the voice. The bright light was in his eyes and he dropped his gun and slowly put his hands in the air.
Mr. Abercrombie began to run down the path but tripped on a tree root and fell hard to the ground. Mr. Mansour ran over and sat on him. I went to Melissa to see if she was okay.
Several police officers, a paramedic and two firefighters later, Abercrombie and Hansen were being led off in handcuffs, and Mr. Mansour and his niece were heading home. I stepped over to the officer who had showed up first. “How did you know to come look for us?”
“There was an empty car parked on the side of the road with the emergency flashers on.”
“I figured something was going on. Then I saw the lights coming from the path.” He turned to walk away, and then looked back. “The funny thing is, there was a cat in the car with his paws on the steering wheel, like he was driving.”
I’m never going to hear the end of this.