The Spotted Tail
Chapter 1
    Paxine brushed hair out of her eyes, focusing her binoculars.  She felt like a spy on a stake out.
     “What are they saying?” her grandma said, sitting next to her on the park bench.  Her grandma spoke in a soft voice, covering her mouth with her hand.
     “Something about not spoiling Timmy.  ‘You spent $300 on a coat?’  Boy, he’s really mad about it,” Paxine said, speaking into the binoculars.
     “What’s she saying?” her grandma said.
     “She’s turned away from me, but I can tell she’s trying to defend herself.  Now he’s saying ‘you have to be cautious about your spending.  Our expenses are getting too high.  How can you spend that much on a…’  Oh.”
     “What?” her grandma said, covering her mouth with both hands as if to hold in her laughter.
     “Timmy’s a dog,” Paxine said, lowering her binoculars and rolling her eyes as a huge Great Dane, wearing a lime green coat, trotted up to the couple.  The couple stood on the other side of the park where her grandma was teaching her how to read lips while they pretended to bird watch.
     Her grandma laughed.
     “Grandma, you knew it was a dog,” Paxine said.
     “Cover your mouth,” her grandma said behind her hand.
     “Sorry, keep forgetting,” Paxine said, behind her own hand.
     “Yes, I see them here with their dog all the time.  Who else can we eavesdrop on?” her grandma said, looking around the park with her own binoculars.
     The park was small, circled by two and three story older brick buildings.  The trees, wide and tall, told the age of the park and the area.  Their branches above provided abundant shade.  In the middle of the park was a small fountain where water bubbled out of the head of a statue that looked like a winged child.  Paved walks meander around the trees with benches under the biggest trees providing the most shade.
     Paxine felt like she owned the park, having met her grandma here so often.   She thought her grandma was the best and she loved spending time with her.   Even her friends thought her grandma was cool.  Who else would teach her to read lips?   Not her parents, for sure.
     “Such a beautiful day and no one else in the park,” her grandma said with a sigh, turning her binoculars up into the trees.
     Her grandma wasn’t like any other grandma Paxine knew of.  No frumpy dress or sweater.  No knitting bag. There wasn’t even a single quilt in her house. 
     Today, her grandma was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, just like herself, and wearing the latest high tech walking shoes.  Paxine would bet that anyone watching them would think they were mother and daughter rather than grandma and granddaughter.  There was just a hint of gray in her grandmother’s hair. 
     Paxine smiled to herself, thinking about whenever she went out with her mom.  Everyone said she looked just like her.  She thought about it logically, like she learned in her Logistic class at school.  If she looked like her mom and her mom looked like her grandma, then she looked like her grandma.  At least a younger version of her grandma.  Paxine was almost twelve with brilliant blue eyes and blond hair and was the tallest girl in her class.
     “Meow.”  A black and gray stripped cat strolled by them, staring at her grandma.
     “Spider?” Paxine said.  “Did that cat just say…”
     “You don’t say,” her grandma said, swinging her binoculars toward the fountain.  “What the…”  She almost dropped her binoculars.
     A two-foot tall metallic spider stood by the water fountain.  One of its six legs dipped a pink watering can into the water before tiptoeing over to a tree and watered it.
     “What’s that?  It looks like a six legged stool?” Paxine said behind her binoculars.
     “A rogue spider,” her grandma said, pulling out her cell phone.  “Greta?  I found the Waterer.  Look out the window toward the fountain.” 
     Greta was her grandma’s assistant.  Paxine heard Greta’s name a lot, but had never met her even though she knew her grandma’s office was nearby.  She’d never been to her grandma’s office, always meeting her in the park.
     “Yes, you tell him this can’t happen,” her grandma said in an irritated voice.  “If it’s smart enough to find the fountain to water the trees it’s smart enough to stay within the boundaries of the office.  Yes, you tell him that.”  Her grandma hung up, shoving the phone back into a pocket.
     Paxine giggled.  “That’s yours?”
     “No wonder my begonias were so droopy.  Yes, that’s mine.  Keep it under your hat.”  Her grandma pulled out a small box from her handbag.  “Oh, no.”
     Paxine picked up her binoculars.  “Police.  They’re asking that couple about some robot in the park.  Ah, there’s a lady with three kids in the stroller.  Looks like she reported it.”
     Her grandma pointed the box at the Waterer, which veered away from the fountain, where it was intending to refill the watering can, going into a bush.
     “Okay, where were we,” her grandma said, hiding the box behind her binoculars.
     “Dog coat,” Paxine said, watching a car circle the park.
     “Not that…” her grandma said as if prompting her.
     “Oh, robin,” Paxine said.
     “Actually, I think that was a pigeon,” her grandma said.
     “Good afternoon ladies.”  Two police officers stopped in front of them.  “Whatcha seeing?”
     “Robins and pigeons.” Paxine said, wondering if all policemen had to look the same.  These two had identical hair and eye color.  They smiled at her grandma and ignored her.
     “And one nuthatch,” her grandma said.
     “No robots or anything?” one officer said.
     Her grandma moved the box, pretending to adjust her binoculars in her lap.  “I don’t think so.  Are we supposed to have?” she said, giving the policemen a wide smile that seemed to hold their gaze.  The Waterer tiptoed out of the bush toward the street.
     “No remote controlled cars or airplanes?” one officer said, shifting to look about, but her grandma almost dropped her binoculars, bumping into him.
     “Oops, so sorry,” her grandma said with a big smile.  “No, I haven’t seen any remote airplanes.”  Her grandma looked up into the trees as if to see one.  Both officers copied her.  The Waterer was almost to the street.
     “Been here long?” the other office said, still scanning the treetops.
     “The last hour,” her grandma said, looking away from the Waterer as it crossed the street.  “Oh, look, another robin.”
     “Okay,” the one officer said, his gaze following a robin fly up into a tree, “Thanks, if you do....” 
     “Officer.  Officer,” the woman with the stroller said, hurrying over.  Her tennis shoes slapped the pavement with every step.  Her dark blue sweatpants hugged her tight, making Paxine think of a duck waddling along.  A clean diaper hung over one shoulder and a pacifier hung on a finger like a ring with a large bulbous gemstone.   The woman kept looking over her shoulder at the street where the Waterer crossed.
     “How old are your babies?  They’re so cute,” her grandma said, almost sticking her head into the stroller.
     “Oh, ah, six months.  Her name is Bethesda,” the woman said, pointing to one fat bald baby who had her entire hand in her mouth.  “And Jackie is two years.”  Jackie’s mouth hung open as if she’d never seen people before.  “And this one I’m babysitting.  Dawn is twelve months.”  Dawn burped and resumed chewing on a pacifier.
     “How precious,” her grandma said.
     “You saw the robot again?” an officer said with a shift to his head as if looking around.
     The woman turned to point across the street, and …
     Her grandma’s binoculars hit the ground and the lenses shattered.
     “Oh, dear.  Look for glass.  We don’t want to have any cut the babies,” her grandma said, stooping to collect glass.  Everyone followed her lead.
     The Waterer tiptoed up the sidewalk, half hidden by parked cars. A woman stepped out of a doorway, grabbing the Waterer and disappearing inside.
     Paxine giggled into her hand.  So, that was where her grandma’s office was.
     “No glass in the stroller.  That’s a relief,” her grandma said, resuming her seat on the bench, picking over her broken binoculars.
     “I think those are ruined,” said one officer as he turned to the woman with the stroller.  “So about this robot.”
     “Oh, yes.  Yes, over there,” the woman said, pointing across the street at the exact spot here the Waterer crossed.  “I’ll show you.” 
     The two officers exchanged looks, following her.
     “I think that concludes our lesson for the day,” her grandma said, rising from the bench as the policemen reached the street.  She dumped her handful of glass and the binoculars into a nearby trash bin.
     “I take it that the Waterer was worth more than your binoculars,” Paxine said, packing her binoculars into a case.
     “Yes, well worth it.  Getting excited about your new house?” her grandma said.
     Paxine sighed, noting the change in subject.  Her grandmother wasn’t telling her everything.  There always seemed to be just something missing when she did ask her grandma questions.
     “A house is a house,” Paxine said with a shrug, wondering if the Waterer was something top secret.  “Moving’s never fun.”   
     “Your mom’s looking forward to it.  She really likes the new house,” her grandma said.
     “I don’t know why we have to move.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the old place.  And my new bedroom is smaller than the old one.”
     “Sometimes you gotta change shoes,” her grandma said with a smile.
     Paxine thought her grandma looked sad, despite the smile, but didn’t say anything about it.  She already knew why.  It wasn’t about the broken binoculars either.  Her grandma’s cat had died.
     “You looking for another one?” Paxine said, following her grandma over to the fountain.  There were a few pennies surrounding the statue.  For a moment, she thought her grandma was going to toss one in, but instead, she scooped out a leaf.
     “Yes, I am going to see some kittens today,” her grandma said.
     For some reason, cats were important to her grandma, but Paxine didn’t know why.  Deep down inside, she felt that she needed a cat too.  Her friends were more interested in getting phones or hanging out at the mall checking out the cool fashions they weren’t allowed to wear yet.  And she just wanted a cat.  She didn’t tell anyone.
     “Can I come with you?” Paxine said, sounding hopeful.
     “Maybe another time.  I have a tight schedule,” her grandma said with an apologetic smile.
     “Police are leaving,” Paxine said, watching the police car circle the park.
     “I’m sure that lady has been labeled a kook who spends too much time with children,” her grandma said.
     Paxine laughed, thinking it sort of applied to her grandma who spent a lot of time with her.
     “I hope your Waterer left weird footprints.  Stroller lady looks pretty determined to find her robot.  She’s checking around the bushes and trees,” Paxine said.
     “Your mom will be here soon,” her grandma said, looking up as if she was checking time with the sun.
     “Darn.  I wish I could stay longer,” Paxine said, thinking she saw a cat scoot out of sight under a bush.  “Say, did that stray cat talk to you?”  The question popped out before she realized how stupid it sounded.
     “Such a beautiful day and no one else in the park.  We’ll have to try the mall next,” her grandma said.
     “BoumaBounty?” Paxine said, suggesting her favorite place and wondering why her grandma avoided the cat question.  The cat meowing and her grandma seeing the Waterer was coincidental.  Wasn’t it?  And didn’t the cat say “spider”?
     “Perhaps.  That’s a busy place with lots of people to eaves drop on,” her grandma said.
     A car drove around the park.
     “That’s not the first time that car’s circled the park,” Paxine said, covering her mouth with her hand.
     “Which one?” her grandma said, looking as if she was looking for birds in the trees.
     “Blue sedan,” Paxine said, wishing she hadn’t packed up her binoculars.
     A cat ran through the grass not far from them between two trees.
     “Did you see that?” Paxine said.
     “No, I didn’t see the car,” her grandma said.
     “No, the cat,” Paxine said, unpacking her binoculars.
     “Your mom should be here soon,” her grandma said, sitting back down on the same bench.
     Paxine joined her, getting her binoculars ready.  Excitement tingled up her spine as she positioned her binoculars in the air, but she wasn’t looking through them.
     “There it is,” Paxine said with a whisper, seeing the car out of the corner of her eyes.  The car was only in her sight a moment as it circled behind them, around to their other side, and…
     Paxine lowered her binoculars as the car reached the far end of the park that she faced.  The man’s eyes seemed to meet her eyes in the binoculars.  She almost dropped her binoculars.
     “A man.  He’s watching us,” Paxine said, almost shouting.
     The car squealed around, speeding off down a side street.  A cat jumped from a tree at the end of the park and ran after it.
     “There’s no need to shout and be so obvious.  Besides, he’s probably lost,” her grandma said.
     “And there was another cat.  Did you see?” Paxine said, but her grandma wasn’t paying her any attention.
     “Oh, my phone,” her grandma said as if startled as she pulled out her vibrating phone   “Hello?  Hi Dalia.”
     Paxine wondered what was happening.  Her mom didn’t call just to say she was coming, especially when she was already expected.
     “Sure.  That’s no problem.  See you later,” her grandma said, pocketing the phone.
     “Later?  Does that mean…” Paxine said, feeling hopeful.
     “I guess you are coming with me to see kittens,” her grandma said, not sounding too happy about it.
     “Really?” Paxine said in a high-pitched voice, as she bounced on her toes.
     “Your mom’s committee meeting is running late,” her grandma said, rising.
     “I love kittens.  Can I get one?” Paxine said, crossing her fingers and hoping.
     Her grandma laughed, walking over to an empty cement slab off to one side of the park.  She tossed out her cube.   It expanded from a few inches in size to large enough to hold both of them.
     “There are a few rules you have to follow in order to go with me,” her grandma said, putting her hand on the cube to shut the door.
     Paxine loved cubes.  They took you anywhere in a blink of an eye.
     “What rules?”