by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
Edwin Petrosian, most people called him Ed, sat with his cup of coffee and watched the TV in the small coffee-shop he used to go to in his spare time. The TV was always tuned in on the local TV station TCC, or as it was called, “The Cheap Channel,” because advertizing on it was ridiculously cheap. The fun was watching the crappy personal ads, where people tried to sell their used furniture, small social groups published their meetings and so on. A guy once proposed to his girlfriend on it. Twice a day for a week. It was most funny. TCC was also the only channel the company Ed worked for advertized on, and the ad was on:
A comical animated yellow cat playfully ran over a plain field toward a dish, in which awaited it a motley pile of cat food. The cat munched on it, and meowed with pleasure. The most god-awful cartoony happy-music was played for the duration, and a voice at the end said: “Happy Kitten Catfood, the best choice for your pussy.” After it there was the chorus of female voices, joyfully singing the even more awful text: “Cats are always in a mood, for Happy Kitten Catfood!” Large blue letters on the top and bottom of the screen displayed the product’s name again: “HAPPY KITTEN CATFOOD.”
That was all. This awful show usually generated laughs, more when Ed was there. He was the driver. He shipped the product to the shops. The whole 1500 packs a month. Sometimes there were 2000 packs, but that was rare. It was understood this was the entire production run, and it was all sold in the same area. It was only sold in three shops, and a few individuals had it driven straight to their door. It was the best cat food, the clients said. Cats loved it.
But not just cats. There were at least three people he delivered to that didn’t seem to have a cat. He always wondered about them. One time he decided to sneakily find out. He knocked on the door to deliver the food, as usual, and when the customer came to the door, Ed handed him the pack, saying as he did, “Here’s what your cat’s been waiting for.”
“What cat?” said the customer, giving Ed a sideways glance.
Ed was a bit startled, and looked wide eyed at the man. Aha! He was on to something here!
But then the man noticed, “Oh, you mean because of the cat food? No, I don’t have a cat. I eat it.”
“You eat cat food. Hmm. I never would have thought.” Ed said. Actually, he had suspected it, but he somehow figured it would be impolite to ask directly.
“Yes. It’s actually very good. I use it as snack while I watch TV, and I’ve offered it at parties. It’s always quite popular. It’s hard to come by though. Can you... maybe... you know...”
“Bring you more? No, sorry. They told me when I began working, that they only produce 1500 packs a month. The stores complain they can’t get enough of it as it is.”
“It’s good, you know,” The man said, “anyway, I can’t stand here talking all day...”
“I understand. Neither can I.”
Ed walked back to his small van. He was intent on having a taste now. He knew about the demand, but he never knew people actually ate he stuff. After all, it was cat food. Now he had that confirmed. His own cat liked it more than all the other cat foods.
When Ed came home, he opened up the bag, and picked up one of the many morsels inside. It was reddish brown in colour, molded into a triangle, with bits of grainy salt actually visible to the naked eye. Smelled similar to bacon. He bit off a small chunk. Not bad, he thought, and put the rest of the triangle into his mouth. It was a bit dry and salty, but good. He understood why this would make a good snack. A glass of Coke would be great with it. He had some more. Good stuff, to be sure. He had five or six more pieces, but decided to leave the rest for the cat; a man ain’t supposed to eat cat food.
His curiosity got hold of him, and he decided to call up his friend, Rob Henderson, who worked at the local crime lab. It would be funny to know what sort of stuff went into the cat food. He would laugh if it was actually better then that stuff in hotdogs. He had once fooled Henderson to run some tests on a hotdog. It turned out, that it was all filled with exotic materials, not all meat. But no dogs, despite the name. Suffice to say, he never had a hotdog again.
Ed called his friend: “I want you to test a little thing for me.”
“Can do, if you get me five packs of that cat food you’re peddling,” said Dr. Rob Henderson.
“All at once?”
“What about two now, three next month, or two then, and the last one in the month after that?”
Dr. Henderson agreed, as long as he’d get the stuff before Christmas.
Ed drove to the lab with the cat food. When he met Dr. Henderson, he immediately handed him the packs of cat food along with a sample piece. Dr. Henderson received them, and asked, “Okay. What do you want to know about the cat food? Are we talking toxic chemicals here, DNA, or what?”
“I’m just curious to know what it generally is. Then maybe we can compare it with the hotdog. You remember?”
“Oh, yeah. That was disgusting! We should’ve written to the paper about it.”
“I think people kinda suspect hotdogs to be low quality. But nobody actually cares what’s in cat food.”
“Actually, I once tested a brand of cat food. It was 10 % sawdust.”
“Well, if you find any sawdust let me know.”
“Sure. And I’ll get a DNA scan of it too, so I can tell you if there’s a rat in it.”
Ed arrived the next day for the results. Dr. Henderson handed him a few papers, and began to outline the findings:
“It’s meat, all right. Ground meat, liver, kidneys; the almost complete set of organs. I found some bone-fragments in it too, and that prompted me to open up one of the bags to get a better overview. Turns out there is a lot of bone fragments in it. There are also bits of skin, fragments of teeth and traces of hair. The strangest thing I found in it, was a very small amount of fecal matter. Shit, basically.”
At this point Ed cringed, and felt a bad taste well up in his mouth. But he held his composure and listened on.
“There’s also an ungodly amount of salt in it, that was the only added ingredient, so we are talking natural and pure; that is, apart from the shit. As for nutrients, this is probably the best food there is, apart from the quantity of salt, and of course, feces. They probably just stick the entire animal into a grinder, pulp it, and mix in some salt. There’s little or no traces of brain-matter in it though. The strangest thing. They must remove it from the head. And as for the DNA... it’s inconclusive. It’s a mammal, that I can tell you.”
After listening intently, Ed said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Well, do you think your cat food is actually cat food?”
“So you do think what I’m thinking.”
“Don’t tell your cat. I’m gonna run this through the machine a couple of times to find out. I’ll call you tomorrow with the results.”
When Ed got home, he read through the papers. The cat in the cat food idea seemed even more plausible as he read on. There were all the vitamins and minerals, in all the right quantities. Dr. Henderson had even formed a theory of how the stuff was produced: the cat would be put in a grinder, and ground to a pulp. The pulp was heated to just below 65°, so as to not destroy the vitamin-C. It bore evidence of having been compressed, freeze-dried and radiated to kill bacteria. The stuff was completely sterile, and the DNA was messed up.
Ed thought about why anyone would want to make cat food out of cats. Maybe there was a huge violin-bow factory somewhere, that saw a new way to dispose of the rest of the cat. Perhaps it was just a well thought-out way to make cat food. A cat will contain all nutrients that a cat needs. It goes without saying. But what would cat owners say if they ever found out? And what in hell were the producers doing with all the brains?
And of course cats would love it. Animals instinctively like what is good for them; well, that’s the theory at least. As for the people who were munching on it: well, some people can’t get enough pussy.
The phone rang after work. It was Dr. Henderson. He seemed agitated. “I can’t speak to you over the phone.”
“They might be listening.”
“You know who. Come to the lab. I have something to tell you.”
Ed understood that the phone might be tapped. Phones often were these days, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was the landlord, sometimes your employer, sometimes the cops and sometimes the state itself, for some obscure reasons of national security. None of it was actually legal, but the technology existed and was used by all, for all reasons and for no reason. If his employers found out he knew what was in the cat food, and what was in the cat food was cats... there could be problems. The word on the street was that some guys would come during the night and shoot you up with heroin or just any other illegal narcotic. After that you could say what you damn well pleased. Nobody would believe you. Some times they threw in a dead girl or a live boy.
Ed got in his van and drove to the lab. When he got there, Henderson was gone. A trainee handed Ed an envelope, and told him that Henderson had gone away in his car in a hurry. Ed thought he might do the same, got right into his car and drove downtown. He parked at a large parking area, and opened the envelope. There was a brief message, and some results from the tests. He didn’t understand the test results, but the note attached made sense:
“Find out where the cat food comes from. I’ll meet you in a month.”
This assignment presented no problem. Homing beacons were cheap to buy. He got half a dozen in a pack with the tracking device. It had an eight-kilometer range. Attaching the beacon was no trouble at all. He would go to the warehouse to get the cat food every week, and there he loaded the goods right out of another van. He’d just sneakily put the beacon on the undercarriage of that van, and go away.
This worked perfectly, and Ed could see the van as a dot on his tracking device, which he had fitted to the steering-wheel of his car. He followed the van all the way to the nearest motel. It turned out that the driver was staying there for the night. Ed had enough time to fill up on fuel and finish his route, which was a good thing. He’d have attracted a lot of unwanted attention with his absence.
The next day, Ed came in early to watch the guy leave. He drove on to the freeway, and didn’t stop till he was in Canada. It was an entire day’s trip, and Ed was feeling both tired and hungry as he parked out of sight, and went for a bite at a near by fast food restaurant. Normally that same trip would have taken more than a day, because Ed would have stopped at least three times for food, and to move around to stay awake and alert. Ed was starting to think that the guy was a robot or something.
On the second leg of the trip, the guy didn’t stop till he was deep in the woods. There was a small town where he stayed, but Ed parked in the woods, and slept in the car. The next day the guy just went about his business, not moving his van at all.
For two whole days nothing happened, other than the guy lived his life. He appeared to have another job, as a waiter in a pub, or a coffee shop. Ed never dared to go in there because he was still wearing his “Happy Kitten” uniform, and didn’t want to arouse suspicion.
On the third day, the van moved. There was a different driver this time. He went into the woods, and Ed after him. After a fifty-kilometer drive, he stopped suddenly. Ed stopped too. He didn’t dare to move in closer for fear of being seen. He was beginning to think it would have been a good idea to rent a car for this. He decided to do that next time.
In fifteen minutes time, the van started moving again, this time coming towards him. Ed saw no place to hide, and fled the scene. The van was approaching fast, so he had to step on it to keep his distance. He drove the whole way back the way he came, as fast as his little van could carry him, always with the other on his tail.
It was a bit hard for Ed to look like nothing was wrong when he picked up the cat food. He smelled funky, for one thing, because he hadn’t had a bath in a week. But this time he was in no hurry. He knew where the van went. After he finished with his round, he went and rented a car. It was drab and uninteresting to look at, just the thing for tailing someone.
He made his way to the small town, and got there just in time to follow the van on its way into the woods. This time there was no need to stop. Driving the rental car, and wearing his sunglasses, nobody would recognize him. He drove right past the van. It was parked by the side of the road, in front of a large GMC 4X4, and the driver and another guy were off-loading the cat food from the GMC truck into the van. Ed drove right past them.
What now? He thought. He figured he’d just park by the side of the road, and pretend to be reading a map. The GMC was bound to go past him again. And a moment later, it did. He followed it until it turned into a side road, more than sixty kilometers from where it had been parked along with the van. Ed hesitated a little, but curiosity got the better of him, and he went after it.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson