Mira Sampson's car rolled to a stop at the end of the highway off ramp. She looked both ways, taking in the difference between the neighborhoods on the two sides of the overpass, and then turned right as instructed by the dominatrix voice on the GPS. A sign on the left hand side of the street welcomed her to Rish Rush, Washington and recommended she visit Frontier Days, sponsored by 4H.
“Continue on North Second Avenue zero point three miles,” the dominatrix commanded.
Mira continued forward, taking in the view along the street. A couple of large chain hotels and a large winery. A cute restaurant with a couple of rail cars serving as dining rooms. A gas station. A strangely out of place looking one story art deco office building surrounded by far more parking than could possibly be necessary for the place. Another gas station.
“You will arrive at your destination in 300 meters.” A moment's pause. “You have arrived at your destination. The Mary Bleckman Hotel, Rish Rush, Washington is on the right.”
Mira slowed down and turned into the hotel parking lot. The lot took up more land than the hotel itself, despite the fact that the hotel was quite large. It seemed strange to someone from Seattle that everything out here was spread so thin on the ground, no high rises and nothing built down underground. The Mary Bleckman Hotel was remarkable in that it had a tower that rose 12 stories up into the air. Mira laughed at her own internal joke: Perhaps they'd set her up here thinking that she'd be more comfortable in a cityfied setting.
After pulling into a parking spot, Mira called the police sergeant who had asked her to come out here.
“Sergeant Higgins,” the man answered his phone without saying 'Hello'. That didn't sound very small town to Mira.
“Hello, Sergeant Higgins? This is Mira Sampson from the Seattle Aquarium. I've arrived. I just pulled into the parking lot at the hotel.”
“Oh! Hello! Yes, well, why don't you go and check in to your room. Take a break, grab some lunch if you haven't eaten yet, walk around downtown a bit, and we can meet up about 5. Does that sound alright?”
“Sure.” It seemed a bit odd to her, but they're paying her to be here and paying her expenses, so if the sergeant doesn't want to see her for another 4 hours, that's fine. It was a long drive, anyway, so it would be good to go take a walk.
She disconnected her phone from the car charger and put it in her pocket. She reached her hand through the strap on the backpack that sat on the passenger side seat and hefted it onto her shoulder as she opened the car door. She stretched her legs and arms as she straightened her body for the first time in nearly 5 hours. Maybe it was a good thing that she didn't have to go straight to the police station. She could get a workout or a nap before seeing the sergeant.
She grabbed her suitcase out of the trunk of the car and walked inside to the hotel lobby.
The inside of the hotel was quite impressive. Built in 1927 and remodeled at the beginning of the new millennium, it was all classic elegance and crisp beauty. It looked both modern and antique at the same time, in the way that only really high quality refurbishing can manage.
Mira's room was on the 5th floor of the tower. The Executive Tower Suite was perfectly designed for someone who was in town to get some real work done. Someone had put thought into the placement of every item in the room, whether it was a static part of the building or movable furniture. There was a fine desk in one corner of the room. A panel with plenty of electric plugs and wired ethernet outlets was placed just above the flat surface of the desk where they could be reached without having to get down on the floor. A folded card on the desk informed her that there was free wireless internet available throughout the facility as well. The SSID was “Bleckman” and the WEP password was “historic Rish Rush”. A cute touch, she thought. Even the technical details are artistic in their way.
She kicked off her shoes and stripped off her clothes as she walked to the bathroom to take a shower. It would be good to get rid of the sweat from such a long drive through the summery high desert. The artistic floor tiles were cool underfoot. The toilet was around a little corner so that you couldn't see it when you first opened the door to the bathroom. Along the wall directly in front of the door stood a counter for all your toiletry needs. The sink looked like a copper wash basin with a spigot that seemed to float magically above it. The bathtub and the shower were separate. The bath looked like an old fashioned claw foot tub, only it was probably newly made when they renovated this part of the hotel. The shower was a luxurious modern thing with a stall large enough for two people to fit comfortably and massaging shower heads with independent controls on each side.
After a refreshing shower, Mira came out of the bathroom wrapped in a thick, fluffy cream colored towel and flopped on the massive king sized bed. She could get used to this. OK. Maybe not. She'd miss her view of Puget Sound from her Queen Anne Hill condo on Highland Place. There's a reason that Mira studied Marine Biology, and it wasn't so that she could live more than 200 miles inland.
It was only 2 in the afternoon, and Mira didn't feel like sitting still to read email or watch TV, so she got herself dressed and headed back down to the lobby. She stopped at the front desk to ask if they had any walking maps of the city.
“Yes. We have a walking map and also a bicycle map which shows more of the region, bike trails, and back country highways which are popular with tourists. Which would you prefer?” The name tag above the right breast pocket of the man behind the counter said, “Mark”. He smiled in the way that someone who works in high end hospitality and is genuinely good at their job can. It didn't look or feel fake.
“I'll just be walking, thanks.”
Mark reached down below the counter and brought up a brochure with a picture of the hotel on the front of it. He unfolded it and laid it out on the counter facing Mira. He pulled out a green highlighter and marked the location of the hotel on the map. “We're here. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“No, I just wanted to stretch my legs a bit. It was a long drive, and I'm here on business.”
“Ah, well, OK. So, if you want to unwind, there are quite a few wine tasting rooms within just a few blocks of here. The Vineyard is just across the street and has live music nearly every night. Tonight is open mic night, but don't be afraid. They pre-screen all the open mic acts.” He smiled and his eyes twinkled with amusement. “Main street is just over here,” he pointed on the map, “and this whole area right here is where you'll find the shops, most of the restaurants, wine tasting, banks and pretty much any other business you might need.”
Mark folded the map back up and handed it to Mira. She kept it in her hand as she turned and walked out the front door back onto Second Street.
She turned right to walk towards Main Street. At Main she looked both ways before deciding to turn left. She crossed Second and stopped at the third store front. The sign in the front window said, “Save the Octopus!” Just below that were a selection of newspaper clippings and a letter appealing to the community for support.
“There is no logical reason that the city counsel should require us to destroy the mural above Octopod Amusements. In the few weeks since the mural was painted, it has already become a landmark and a source of pride within the community. The argument that this painting of a purple octopus playing in a toy castle represents an unlawful form of advertisement for the toy shop is absurd, as is the idea that this mural detracts from the character of this historic neighborhood.”
Mira looked up, and saw the mural. A huge grin spread across her face when she saw the cartoonish cephalopod sitting atop a fairy tale castle, some of it's limbs wrapped around the structure. The figure was flawed, of course. It's body was purple. It had a smiling face. Its eyes looked a bit too human and it lacked the characteristic octopus beak, but that's just pedantic. No one draws the octopus beak except geeky marine biologists and maybe a few other nerds.
She walked in to explore the store. Octopod Amusements was a classic independent toy store, filled with the sorts of toys that you don't find in big chain stores any more. There was a stand full of little plastic animals, enough to fill a play farm or a zoo or a mini-dinosaur exhibit. There were shelves full of science kits of various stripes. Another section of the store was dedicated to hand made dolls. There were wooden dolls and rag dolls, dolls to snuggle with and dolls for display. There were a few ride on toys made of wood and painted in bright primary colors. One rack held an assortment of crazy hats. Another held an assortment of hand puppets and marionettes. On the far wall there was a shelf of classic children's books in hardcover.
This was a store full of things meant to last and be treasured. These were the sorts of toys and books that your parents kept in your room long after you moved away for college, that you passed on to younger cousins or your own children when you were all grown up. Octopod Amusements lacked the flashing lights and electronic newness of most of the toys at Toys-R-Us, but a parent could buy a toy here and recapture a dream of the innocence and simplicity of childhood.
In the stuffed animal section, there was a plush version of the purple octopus that sat atop the storefront outside. Mira was smitten. She had to bring it home to Seattle. She picked it up off the shelf and hugged it to herself. It was soft and squishy. No octopus was ever quite that shade of purple – grape candy purple – but no matter, she was in love with this creature.
Mira was almost reluctant to put the stuffed toy on the counter in front of the cashier. She felt like a little child. She realized that she was grinning from ear to ear, and became suddenly self conscious.
The cashier was a man in his fifties. He smiled at Mira and asked, “Did you find everything alright?”
“Yes. This is a wonderful shop!”
“Why, thank you. We certainly like it. I think it's the best toy store in the world, but then I'm a bit biased.”
“Is it your store?” She wondered.
“What is this thing about the mural in the front?”
“Oh, that.” The man sighed, “One of the city counsel members has it in for the octopus. First he tried to get me to destroy the mural, saying that it doesn't meet the standards for business signage in the downtown area. When the counsel didn't seem to be going for his arguments, he had a conniption fit right there in the town meeting. He said that it wasn't fair to other businesses, that it destroyed the historical character of the downtown district. Then, this is the best part, he said that my mural is 'dangerous to the public'.
“I'm still trying to figure out how he came to that last conclusion. If it were a sign hanging out over the sidewalk, that would make sense. But it's a painting!
“Anyway, he convinced the counsel to order the removal of the mural, and when I took it to court I lost. Now I'm being fined $100 a day until I take the mural down.”
“Oh my gosh! That's terrible! Why would they do that? That mural makes the character of this street! I love it!!” Mira was shocked.
“Yes, you and most of the residents of Rish Rush, from the looks of the outpouring of support we've received.” The man stood a little straighter. The battle must be wearing on him a bit, but he still had fight in him. “My lawyer has filed an appeal. We're raising funds for the legal costs, and the possible final bill if we lose all appeals and have to pay the fines in the end. We're already up to $19,000 in fines!”
“Jeez. That's nuts.”
The man nodded. “Well, your purchase of the octopus will go straight to the legal fund. That is one of the items that has been made locally by supporters of the store to help raise awareness and funds. One woman made those tie dye shirts over there,” he pointed to a clothes rack with t-shirts emblazoned with crazy octopuses on tie dye backgrounds, “and the local print shop did these postcards for us free.”
“Oh, that's magnificent!” Mira said as she picked up a couple of the postcards with a photo of the front of the building and put them on the counter with the stuffed toy. “I'll take two of these, too. I'll send one to work and another to an old friend down at UC San Diego.”
“Great,” He pulled the items toward himself and asked, “Are you looking for anything else before I ring you up?”
“No. I think that's it for today, but if I'm ever back in town, I will definitely visit again!”
“OK, that's $42.23”
Mira handed the man her credit card. He ran the card through the reader and waited for the machine to spit out the slip for her to sign. He passed her the sales slip and a purple pen. She signed the slip and passed it back across the counter. The man checked her signature against the one on the back of her card and then handed her the receipt for her purchase and her card. Then he reached down behind the counter to pull out a large plastic bag with handles. He popped it open with flair and placed her purchases inside.
A moment later, Mira was walking out of the store, still grinning. She realized that she was getting hungry, so she stopped a couple doors down at a little place called Oleander. She got a seat outside in the covered eating area in front of the restaurant and ate a wonderful lunch. Fresh ingredients, house-made bread, local wine. This business trip was turning into an accidental vacation, and she loved it.
After finishing her meal, while sipping on her second glass of wine, she wrote notes on each of the postcards she'd purchased at Octopod Amusements. The first she sent to a friend from grad school who was now a professor back at their alma mater. They often sent silly postcards back and forth as a more tactile way to keep in touch beyond email and text chats. The next card she addressed back to the Seattle Aquarium. She wrote in the note area, “I have just discovered the amazing Inland Octopus. I'm going to publish a paper about it when I get home, and we shall call it Octopus sampsonus.” She pulled a couple of stamps out of her wallet and affixed them to the postcards.
After lunch she walked around a little while longer, taking in the sights and sounds and window shopping at all the cute little boutiques. She found herself again at the T intersection of First and Main, at a little public square when her phone rang. She saw the clock on her phone as she pulled it out of her pocket. 4:30. The police sergeant was calling. She answered the phone and walked over to lean on the banister that overlooked the river below. (Now she knew why the city lacked underground parking lots. They would be flooded by the underground rivers!)
“Hello,” Mira said cheerfully, answering the phone.
“Hello, doctor Sampson? I just wanted to call and make sure that you know how to get to the station.”
“Oh, yes! I was about to look that up on my little walking map.” Actually, she had completely lost track of time.
“Well, where are you now?” Sergeant Higgins asked.
“I'm at the place where you can see the underground river at First and Main.” She replied.
“Oh, great! So, you're just three blocks away. Just walk Southwest on Main street for three blocks and you'll be here. You can wait until 5, or you can just come on over now if you want. I'm done with the other tasks I had to finish.”
“Sounds good. I'll be down there in a few minutes.”
They said their good byes and hung up. Mira slipped her left arm through the unused strap on her backpack and hefted it up so that it sat evenly across both shoulders now. She still held the bag of octopus in her right hand. She looked a bit like a high school student walking down the street towards the police station.
When she arrived at the lobby of the station, there were two uniformed officers standing by the reception desk sharing what looked like a friendly chat with the officer who sat on reception that shift.
One of the officers looked up and greeted her by name, “Doctor Sampson?” He reached out to shake her hand.
“Yes.” She switched the toy bag to her left hand and put her hand in his while reading his name tag. It said “Jacobs”, so this wasn't her sergeant.
“I'm officer Jacobs. I can take you back to the meeting room,” he said, and then he turned to the officer behind the desk, “Could you call Higgins and tell him that the marine biologist is here for him?”
“Sure thing,” he said as he picked up the phone and pressed some buttons.
Officer Jacobs opened the door to a hallway that led deeper into the station. Mira followed him down the hall to a comfortable meeting room. It wasn't at all like the interrogation rooms or the classroom set up briefing rooms you see on television. There was a long table with 9 chairs around it. A coffee carafe sat in the center of the table next to a plate of Oreo cookies. There were mugs on top of a cabinet against the wall on one side. The police officer pulled a mug off the cabinet and set it down on the table.
“Help yourself to coffee, if you like. It should still be hot. We just got out of our meeting, and that was the third carafe. We're just your basic caffeine addicted lot around here.”
“What? No donuts?” Mira teased.
“Nope. Those were gone in the first half hour. Sorry.” Officer Jacobs didn't even seem to notice that she had been joking. “Would you like some water or some tea instead of coffee? I can bring it in if you like.”
“No, thank you. Coffee will be just fine.”
“Sergeant Higgins will be here in just a moment.”
Just as he said that, sergeant Higgins appeared behind Jacobs as if by magic. He had a folder in his left hand, and a slightly harried look on his face. He wore plain clothes, khaki pants and a white button down shirt with the top two buttons open so that he didn't look too formal, nor too sloppy. His sleeves were rolled half way up his forearms. His arms looked strong and muscular. This man may have an investigators job, but he was ready for physical action when it came up. In a small town, seniority on the force just means that you have more jobs to do, not cushier ones.
Sergeant Higgins shook Mira's hand, “Hi in person, at last! I'm sergeant Higgins. Please, have a seat.”
Mira sat in one chair and Higgins sat in the chair next to her, moving his chair so that it put space between them but turned slightly toward her to engage her better. Jacobs closed the door as he left. Higgins laid his folder on the table and opened it up for her to see.
“Thank you so much for agreeing to make this trip. We have such a very strange case here, I couldn't think of anything else to do but call in an expert in octopi.” His statement sounded bizarre, but the look on his face was deadly serious. Mira resisted the urge to correct him and explain that the plural of octopus is more properly octopuses.
“What exactly is it you need me for?” she was still completely bewildered.
“First, I need to reiterate that anything that we speak of must remain completely confidential until and/or unless there are any charges filed in the case, in which case you may be expected to testify in legal proceedings.”
“Yes, I understand that. I read all of the fine print before I signed the paperwork you sent me.”
“Good,” Higgins smiled for the first time since he walked into the room. “OK, so here's the situation,” he got serious again and pulled the cover page off the stack of papers in the folder to reveal a picture of a dead man with strange marks on his body. He looked to have been in his 40's, not quite young but not quite old, either. His brown hair had a few grays, but there weren't many lines in his round face. His body was twisted and crumpled on the ground.
Other photos from the scene of the crime included a puddle of inky liquid, and more splatters ranging in color from deep black to sepia toned brown, apparently based on how much of the liquid had landed there. This was probably the ink that they had sent to her at the Aquarium lab before asking her to come out. The close up photos of the dead man's body showed suction cup marks and bruising in eight distinct lines around his body that tapered off at the ends.
“This man,” Higgins began to explain, “was Jim Bosun. He was found by his cousin, Ben Bosun, one of the Rish Rush city counsel members. The story that Ben tells is about as far out as you could possibly imagine. It sounds like a bad drug trip, except that I know that man and he is the straightest arrow you could ever meet. Besides, the story he tells matches up disturbingly well with the forensic evidence.”
Mira waited for the punch line. She knew it was coming. This was just too strange.
“Ben says that he heard a shout of surprise outside in the alley that goes behind his house, and then some strange noises, like a struggle and gurgling and grunts. He says that he looked out the window but couldn't see anything because it was too dark on the street, so he went outside with a flashlight. He claims that when he got outside and turned the corner into the alleyway, he saw a purple octopus crawling away from the scene of the crime.”
Mira burst out laughing.
Sergeant Higgins looked at her with his coldest look. He was serious. Of course he was serious. Why would the city of Rish Rush be paying for her to come all the way out here if this wasn't serious?
Mira controlled herself and bit her lip, “Sorry.”
“This is no joke. Well, someone might think it is, but there is a dead man and another man at risk of losing his career and his reputation over this.
“On top of that, there is Jim's wife. When we arrived at her house, she had a black eye and a stitches from the eye back toward her ear. She said that they'd had a fight and that he'd left her hours before. She said that when he left, she went to the hospital to get the cut checked out.
“Thing is, she was at the hospital when the murder happened, so she's not a suspect at all.”
“What do you think is going on here?” She asked.
“Well, I've thought about several different possibilities. First off, we've determined that there really was an octopus involved. The next question is whose octopus. This was a very large animal, as you can see from the photos. It seems strange to think that someone in Rish Rush has a pet octopus that large.”
“Octopuses are very intelligent. They are not very good pets, though. They are smart enough to escape their cages and do all sorts of untoward things in your house. Even professional aquariums like ours have trouble taking care of an octopus that large. ” Mira offered.
“Yes, but it gets more complicated.” Higgins pulled out another set of photo prints. These were in the front of Octopod Amusements. The glass in the main door was broken, as were the drivers' side windows of two of the cars parked in front of the store. Close up shots showed that there were suction cup marks and tentacle prints on each of the vehicles and on the storefront. “This happened two days after the mural went up at the toy store on Main Street.”
“Wait. There was damage to the toy store two days after the mural went up, and then after that the man was killed? Or the other way around?”
“They happened on the same night.”
“Was anything stolen from the store?” Mira asked.
“No. Only the section of ride-on toys was vandalized. A couple of the push bikes were crushed, and one little red wagon was found sitting in front of the store when the owner arrived in the morning and called us. The only prints we lifted from the crime scenes belonged to the people who lived and worked there and, of course, our mystery octopus.”
“So, basically, I'm here to help you identify the octopus.”
“Yes, that is correct. And also, to assist us in figuring out technical details about how this crime was committed with the assistance of an octopus.”
“Well, this is a first as far as I'm aware. 'Octopus assisted murder and mayhem'.”
Sergeant Higgins gave her another of his cold looks. He found no humor in the investigation of crime.
They talked for a while longer in the meeting room, looking over photos and lab results, discussing the known details of the crime and grasping at straws for the details that were unknown. At about 6:30, the sergeant suggested that the two of them go out to see the locations in the pictures. She'd already been to the toy store, but it would be different to go back there now with the knowledge of the crimes and the local eyes of the police investigator.
“The thing that bothers me about this,” Higgins began as they walked out of the meeting room into the hallway, “is that I can't figure out if this is a plot against the Bosun family, or if it's a plot against Crissey, the owner of Octopod Amusements. The only motive for killing Jim I can get a lock on is the domestic problems with his wife, but making the counselman look crazy just drags the whole family down. With Ben calling in the murder and having such a crazy story, it sort of makes him look like the key suspect. But then, he turns around a few days later in the town meeting and gets the counsel to pass a resolution saying that the mural has to come down. The guy is obviously really freaked out. But is it because he's actually gone crazy and is doing everything himself, or is it because he's seen something so unbelievably weird that he's busted a mental gasket over it.”
“Well, has he been checked out by a psychologist?” Mira had to ask.
“Hmm...” So many different images swam in Mira's head.
“On the other hand, this could be some elaborate scheme against Crissey and the toy store. So far, people know about the murder and the vandalism at the store, but we've managed to keep all the octopus-related details out of the media. Until we really know what's going on, I don't want the public to go making their own minds about this crazy story.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
“But wait, why aren't there any CCTV shots of the crime?” Mira stopped walking and Higgins stopped, too.
“Are you kidding? This isn't a big city, in case you haven't noticed. We don't go in for that Big Brother stuff around here.”
“So, nothing?” She asked.
He shook his head and started walking again.
They reached the front door and walked outside. They climbed into Higgins unmarked car and drove to the conselman's house. They walked around for a bit, looking at the area, the front, the alley behind, and the setting of the house and the neighborhood. Then they got back into the car to return downtown. Higgins parked in front of the toy store. The shop had closed at 6, and no one was inside any more, so they just looked at the front of the building in silence, Higgins pointing at the place where the glass was replaced. There was really nothing else to see there.
Mira looked up at the mural again. She noticed something that she hadn't seen before.
“Hey, that's weird. I didn't notice the toy keys in his hand before. Did you?”
Higgins looked up at the painting. The octopus was holding a set of big plastic keys, like the sort that you give to toddlers for teething and rattling. He reached into the open window of his car and grabbed the case file. He flipped through some pages of photos and pulled on out with a full shot of the front of the building on the day of the break in. There were no keys in the octopus' tentacle.
They looked at each other.
“What the heck is going on?” Mira asked no one in particular.
Higgins went back to the car to grab a camera and snapped a few pictures of the changed mural. “I need to get back to the station, but there's no need for you to come along too right now. I'd like to see you tomorrow morning, though. 9 am?”
“Alright. I see you then.”
“Wait, I almost forgot to tell you. There's a concert going on at the Smithy on Spokane Street. You have free tickets to see it, just tell the doorman who you are.”
Mira looked at the sergeant a bit uncomfortably. This seemed like an inappropriate bonus for the job.
“Hey, don't look at me,” he put his hands up in an expression of innocence. “An old acquaintance of yours works there and recommended you to me in the first place. Just ask to see the assistant winemaker when you get there.”
“Who?” She was a little suspicious now.
“I promised to leave it a surprise. Don't worry. It's not a bad surprise.” Higgins smiled for the second time all day, then he got into his car and drove off.
Mira walked over to Spokane street, to the Smithy. There was a long line outside of people waiting to have their tickets checked. There was a taco truck parked on the street, too, and another line of people were waiting to order food or get a few tacos to take back to their friends who were saving a place for them in line. Mira almost decided not to bother when she heard a familiar voice.
She looked over and saw someone who looked like a taller, more grown up version of one of the teen volunteers who had worked at the Aquarium a few years before. “Oh my god! Anthony?” His smile filled his whole face and he walked towards her with his arms wide open for a hug. It was Anthony. He was all grown up and had a real job now. She'd thought back when he was 16 that he'd be a marine biologist, but no, he'd studied enology instead. What a strange day this was turning out to be.
Anthony put a bracelet ticket onto Mira's wrist and explained that it was the VIP ticket. Music, food (he pointed at the taco truck) and wine (he pointed indoors to the bar at the back of the wide open room), whatever she needed, it was all included. It was good to see her, and he hoped she had a great time. He introduced her to a few of the other VIPs, and indeed, she did have a great time.
When Mira walked back towards the hotel at midnight she passed right by the toy store on Main Street. Unfortunately, she was a bit too drunk to pay attention to details. She didn't notice that the octopus was no longer in the mural on the wall. Neither did she notice that the door to the toy store was standing wide open. She walked right on past and didn't see a thing out of place.
She arrived safely at the hotel, with no idea that there had been anything odd on her walk. When she stepped into the elevator, she was looking at her feet, and did not notice the suction cup marks on the mirror at the back. When she turned around and looked up to press the button for the fifth floor, she still didn't notice the slightly sticky circle that intersected the button.
Had she been sober, Mira would have been alarmed when she arrived at her room to find the door slightly ajar. As it was, she thought for a moment that it was strange, but then she simply kicked herself for not closing the door properly. She didn't remember that she had most certainly secured the door when she left.
She pushed the door closed behind her and locked the bolt and chain lock, not out of concern for her safety but simply out of habit.
All the alcohol was working its way through her system, and her bladder ached. She kicked off her shoes by the door and then turned into the bathroom. She only barely noticed that she tripped over something on the floor as she walked in the door and pivoted around the small separating wall that hid the toilet. She sat down and began to pee.
Something moved in the corner of her eye, and at last Mira looked up. A purple tentacle was moving the wooden blocks that she had kicked back into place on the tile floor. Mira tried to scream, but the sound got lost in her throat, so she just sat there with her pants around her ankles, her eyes wide open, and her mouth dry.
She was staring at a giant purple octopus in the claw foot tub. The tub was full of water. The tentacles finished rearranging the children's building blocks and then pointed at the words they displayed.
“HELP ME I DONT WANT TO DIE”
Mira looked from the words on the floor back to the thing in the tub and back to the floor again. She searched inside herself for some sense of reality, but it was completely missing. She pulled her pants back up, and walked over to the sink to wash her hands.
A tentacle rested on her shoulder, and at last she screamed. Another tentacle wrapped around her face to close her mouth. It was wet and rubbery. Mira stopped screaming and started to squirm. The two strong tentacles forced her to turn around while the other six tentacles busily rearranged the blocks again, pulling some out of a couple of mesh bags placed next to the tub.
“I AM NOT GOING TO HURT YOU I AM SCARED”
Mira decided that she might as well play along with this surreal situation.
“Why did you kill Jim Bosun?”
Purple tentacles flew around with little wooden blocks, “HE WAS BAD”
“Why would you say that?”
“HE DID BAD”
“Who told you that?”
“What? How could you see him do bad? What did he do?”
“HE HURT WOMAN IN FRONT OF MY CASTLE”
“What? His wife? He hit her in front of the store?”
“IN FRONT OF BLU CELLARS”
“Oh my god. So you saw him do that, and so you killed him? You can't do that! That's not OK! There are laws! There are police for that sort of thing.”
Two purple tentacles rested on Mira's cheeks and turned her face to meet the octopus eye to eye. He wasn't a real octopus. His eyes were too human. He moved the blocks around again and let go of Mira's face. She looked down.
“HOW WOULD I REPORT A CRIME”
He had a point.
“How can I help you?”
“You want me to take you to the Seattle Aquarium?”
“But you aren't a real octopus.” She paused, thinking that might not be the best thing to say to a murder who had her trapped in the bathroom. “No offense.”
“I SAW PICTURE I CAN BE ON PICTURE”
“Oh! The mural, on the front wall of the Seattle Aquarium?”
Mira took a deep breath and considered the idea. What could happen to her for sneaking a magical cartoon octopus away from the investigation of a crime he committed? The idea was just too much to hold in her brain.
“You can't kill anyone else. Or hurt them. That's not OK.”
“YOU KNOW ME NOW I CAN REPORT BAD THINGS”
“Oh, that's a good point. You could be like a guard, couldn't you?”
Mira considered it some more. Perhaps she would have done something different if she hadn't been drinking, but she had been, so her decision making faculties were not as good as usual. She made the decision to help the creature.
“OK, I'll help you. We'll leave in the morning. I'll figure something out.”
“I can't drive now. I've been drinking.”
“You can't drive!”
“You don't have a license!”
This time no tentacles pulled her face upward. There was just a long, unbearable pause until Mira looked into the creature's eyes.
“Gah! OK! You can drive.”
Mira packed all of her things back up, put her shoes back on, and then returned to the bathroom, to check on the octopus.
“YOU GO DOWN TO CAR I BE RIGHT THERE”
She had been trying to figure out how she was going to get out of there without anyone noticing the purple octopus with her. The octopus obviously had a plan already.
She went downstairs, dropped her room key off at the front desk and told them that she was checking out early. She told the person behind the counter that she had a work emergency and had to run back to Seattle. She'd probably be back in a day or two. They told her that was fine, just call up when she knew when she would return and they would make sure that she had a room to come back to.
By the time she arrived at the car, the octopus was already sitting in the drivers seat. Mira put her suitcase in the trunk and tossed her backpack into the backseat. She held the plastic bag with her stuffed octopus in her lap.
“How did you do that?” She asked.
The octopus could no longer spell out its answers, but a single tentacle held up a set of colorful keys. The tentacle deftly pushed the yellow key into the car's ignition and started the engine.
The next morning there was a new addition to the mural at the front of the Seattle Aquarium. A strangely cartoonish purple octopus was now swimming in the midst of a painting of highly realistic fish and other marine creatures.
In Rish Rush, the proprietor of Octopod Amusements found his store had been burgled. It looked as if the door had been opened with keys, so it must have been one of the employees. The strangest thing was that the only things missing from inside the store were a little red wagon and three mesh bags of hand made wooden letter blocks. Or maybe, the strangest thing was that the mural in front of the store was completely changed. It showed an empty castle, with no octopus at all.
That afternoon, the Bulletin's front page had a photo of the front of the toy store with the headline, “Agreement Reached. Octopus Gone, No Fines To Pay.”