A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

The Black Cat
by Betsy Randolph (Oct 2011)


I threw my leg over the turquoise-colored Harley and melted into the seat. Tightening the chin strap on my helmet, I caught my warped reflection in the narrow handlebar mirror. A fake smile on a killer’s face looked back at me. The authorities had ruled the death an accident, but I knew better. Rolling the throttle, I eased into traffic on a narrow two-lane black-top road in Artesia, New Mexico. It’s where I’ve been stationed since graduating from the New Mexico State Police Academy six years ago. I hate it here, but I’ll admit I hate everywhere and everything. It’s hard to say what caused me to feel this way. There is darkness inside me, that no one sees, but I know exists. I do my best to keep it in check, but sometimes the blackness escapes even my most guarded attempts. When that happens, people die. People like Tammy Sanchez. I began to think of Tammy as I escaped my life on the back of my Harley headed west out of town.       Tammy was my best friend. She was everything I was not; beautiful, talented, witty and a dreamer. She was 28 when she died. I figure that’s too young to die, but then again, they say the good ones always die too soon. Tammy was the toughest women I had ever met. She had been with the State Police for three years. She was a sheriff’s deputy someplace in Oklahoma before that. A New Mexican by birth, Tammy returned to her home town of Artesia after graduating from college. She would be alive today if she hadn’t come back to Artesia. No, that’s incorrect. She would be alive today if she had never met me. I revved the engine hard several times. I had to get her off my mind. I forced myself not to think, just focus on the ride and the road ahead. A cool wind blew out of the north and danced on my skin. This escape is what I had needed. The past two weeks had been absolute hell. I’ve seen dead people before and even watched a few die, but when I saw the life in Tammy’s eyes fade, part of me died with her.

Tammy had amazing caramel-colored eyes with thick, long black lashes; thanks to her Mexican mother and her full-blood Apache Indian father. Her eyes were the first and last thing I will remember about Tammy. I met her for the first time in the spring of 2007. She was riding shotgun with an Eddy County Sherriff’s Deputy named Phil Chavez. They were cousins and Phil was trying to talk her into going to work for his agency. Looking back, that probably could have saved her life also. But she didn’t go to work for them. She met me that night in my starched black uniform with my, “Gestapo-looking hat” as she called it, and her fate was sealed.

“I’m Cat Carlyle,” I said, as I held my hand out to greet her. Tammy’s grip was surprisingly painful on my slim fingers. Feeling an instant flash of anger wash over me, I wanted to hurt her. The memory, equally grating, had me changing lanes unexpectedly and accelerating through a yellow traffic light. The Harley’s invisible exhaust belched out undeserved freedom with every mean revolution of the motor. The thunderous rumble reverberated throughout my body while a wild, reckless itch clawed up my spine.

Throwing the throttle wide open with abandon I roared out of town devouring Highway 82. I drove for several minutes void of thought when instantly she reappeared, Tammy. My assigned partner turned best friend. We were constantly together on and off duty. How was I ever going to cope without her? Would she ever forgive me for what I had done?        As I neared the town of Hope, I realized I had lost all of mine. Hope was an elusive dream, never to be awakened from. Nothing and no one would ever be the same. Vicious darkness began to choke me. Like wicked fingers, her memories attempted to squeeze the worthless life out of my soul. Frantically, I picked up speed whipping through the dusty little settlement of Hope, N.M., unaffected by the black patrol car I could see parked near the highway on the outskirts of town. I knew the patrol car was empty, it had always been. Like me, it was a convoluted hoax.

Empty miles I can’t recall fell away behind me as I ran from a ghost. Blessed nothingness gratefully cruised the watery circuits of my brain. I coasted into Mayhill as the orange drenched clouds announced sunset. I squinted as I passed a stark, white church at the edge of town. Its bright white steeple and pristine exterior sent a penetrating shudder through my being as I passed. Further up the road a couple of aging stores with wooden facade fronts lined the highway on either side. I parked in front of the old diner and climbed off my sizzling bike with a little difficulty, stretching my stiff legs.

No one had informed Mayhill that it was spring I decided as I pulled my leather jacket out of my saddle bag. I was relieved I had brought my leathers. It was already cold here in the bleak Rocky Mountain foothills. Looking off toward Cloudcroft and Ruidoso on the ride in, I could see snow on the mountain tops and knew the remainder of my ride was going to be cold and probably miserable. I hadn’t made my mind up where I would stop for the night, but I was thinking about Cloudcroft and the tidy one-room cabin with the pinion burning fireplace. Cabin number five, that’s where Rick had proposed to me and where I collapsed in grief after he died, but that was one excruciating memory I could not afford to visit tonight.

When I slipped my arms in my leather jacket, I caught a glimpse of Tammy’s beautiful face. I remember seeing her beaming with pride as she put her muscular arms through the sleeves of her State Police uniform that first time. She could have been a poster child for the agency. Her sleek, willowy frame was just built for a uniform and I remembered seeing her eyes light up… “Stop it!” I yelled. This was madness, this constant remembering. Just stop. Let it go. I told myself.          

Changing the venue abruptly, I crossed the street and dipped inside a dimly lit, run down tavern and joined the only other occupant at the dingy bar. The place reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke and I instantly felt at home. “What’ll you have?” asked a scruffy-looking, 60-something, white man from behind the bar. His scraggly brown hair and unshaven face said he didn’t care much about his appearance. “Double Crown and Coke, and hold the Coke.” I said, as I tapped out a peach cigar from a pouch I carried in my jacket. I bit it gently and allowed my tongue to taste the sweetness of peach nicotine. The bar tender slid the drink in front of me and barked a price as I took a stool. Tossing the cash on the bar, I caught a mean glare in his eyes as he stared at the pistol stuck in the waistband of my jeans. “Cool your jets, hero.” I ordered, flashing a small badge that I carried in my wallet. He took a step away and retrieved a hand towel and began wiping the bar. “Here, allow me,” he said as he lit my cigar with shaky hands and an antique lighter he had retrieved from his pocket. He rewarded me with a gapped-toothed smile as I sat back and puffed on the little peach cancer stick. I slammed the drink back, swallowing the contents in one swift practiced movement, and then pushed the empty glass back towards him. My insides were screaming as the delicious heat from the alcohol began to gradually warm me from the inside out. He refilled my glass while never taking his puffy lidded eyes off me. He asked where I was from as he sat the liquid relief in front of me. My wicked silence should have been a clue, but he either couldn’t or didn’t get it. He asked me several more prodding questions before I screamed at him with a silent stare. Then without a word, I sloshed the evil water against the back of my dry throat, paid up and headed for the door. My head was roaring as I replaced my helmet and pulled my leather chaps across my jeaned thighs. Dreading the ride ahead, I stuck my already frozen fingers into my gloves. I was thinking about how much I detested the cold when I saw him across the street. His cocky swagger sickened me. I watched as he circled my bike. He knew who’s it was just as I knew him. I stepped back into the darkness of the tavern entrance and waited.

Ten minutes passed as I waited. Finally, he disappeared into the diner. So I crushed the miniscule remains of my sweet cigar on my boot heel and looked around like a thief. Feeling somewhat safe in the darkness, I stole across the street and jumped on my bike. I let it roll out of the parking space before hitting the electronic ignition. As I sped away, I saw in the side mirror a tall, manly figure run out of café and head for a silver pickup truck parked near the highway. Barreling around corkscrew corners, in the mountains, in the dark, on a motorcycle with a mad man chasing me was not my idea of fun. I had been stupid to flee. I pushed that Harley as much as I dared and when a family of deer crossed the road in front of me, I knew my time was up. Without even thinking, I closed my eyes and laid on the brakes. What happened after that I couldn’t tell you. When I came to three days later, I was in a hospital bed in Alamogordo and I was in a world of hurt. If it hadn’t been for my leather jacket and chaps, I would have lost all my skin. As it was, I just had broken bones, four to be exact. The doctor and nurses said I was lucky to be alive, but it didn’t feel that way.

It may have been the concussion or the medication, but I was certain I had seen Tammy. Part of me believed that she had been with me during or after the wreck. Had she done for me what I couldn’t or wouldn’t do for her? Had she saved me?

The man that had been chasing me was my supervisor, Lt. Lonny Hergert. I despised him for many reasons, the least of which was for not blaming me, as I did, for Tammy’s death. Days after my crash, he explained that he had followed me to Mayhill after seeing me tearing through Artesia. He wanted me to know that the coroner’s report showed a congenital heart defect had caused Tammy’s untimely death. It wasn’t the overtime shift I had talked her into working, or the pursuit I got her involved with, or the drunk driver that slammed into her car that killed her. It was a birth defect.

“Cat, it wasn’t your fault.” Lt. Herbert assured me. He must have said it a hundred times, but the irony is, no matter what the cause, people I care about always die. My parents were first, they died in a house fire, and then my fiancé, Rick had been accidentally shot. Now my best friend was dead from a heart defect? I still felt like I was to blame. I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be a bad luck charm. Wait a minute, bad luck charm? The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end then as I suddenly remembered what Tammy jokingly had called me the very day before she died; she looked at me with those caramel eyes of hers and said, “El gato negro.” Cat Carlyle, “the black cat.”

Site Map

HOME           ShortStories           Essays           Poems         Websites      

Meetings         Comments         ContactUs         Members

This is the website of the Red Dirt Writers Society.
Revised October 2011.