No-Kill Shelter

By Brenda Kilianski

Woman Found Strangled in Uptown Apartment

August 19, 1997. Dateline: Chicago. Diana Charlton, 29, a Loop-based attorney, was found strangled in her apartment in the 900-block of West Argyle. While police have no definitive suspects, a spokeswoman for the department noted similarities between the murder of Ms. Charlton and another murder four months prior on nearby Margate Terrace. That woman, 31-year-old software engineer Madison Riley, was also a victim of a no-forced entry strangling. Neither woman appeared to be missing jewelry, cash or other valuables and their apartments were both locked from the inside. No one from Ms. Charlton’s family was available for comment, but a spokesman for Crumley, MacDonald, Gores & Roueché, LLC stated, “Diana Charlton was an outstanding young attorney and she’ll be sorely missed.”

According to Detective K.T. McGuire, the murders seem eerily similar to several homicides which occurred up and down Uptown’s Kenmore/Winthrop corridor between Montrose and Foster during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Chicago Police Department’s 20th District.

***

You know they hate you. They mark you. Brush up against you, their tails in the air. And they walk away just as you bend down to pet them or pick them up. Fuck ’em! You don’t come here for them anyhow. They’re a means to an end. Some people use worms for bait, you use cats. You’re still doing the same thing as the guy fishing on the edge of a pier at Montrose Harbor. Catching dinner or a trophy. Something to mount on a wall or hang in a closet or place on the lower rack of your oven.

“I saw him first!”

You knew she was a bitch the first time you saw her, but you let her have her way just like a fisherman loosens his line, lessens the tension before reeling in his catch. The cats jump too every time they hear her voice. You look over at the woman who calls herself Pamela. The urge to slap her cold is tremendous but you know to save that pleasure for another time. When you’re alone. Together. Not surrounded by three hundred cats and a purple-haired, tatted receptionist. You don’t like her either. It’s not like she screeches the way Pamela does, but she seems too kind. And too observant. You noticed her eyes flicker when you first walked in. Recognition? Perhaps. Your rotten luck that you returned to the shelter on the day she volunteers.

But Pamela? You know why she’s here. She doesn’t want a cat any more than you do. But she pretends. Pretends she cares, pretends she’s worth whatever she thinks she’s giving away for free. Why doesn’t she just turn tricks on Cicero Avenue just north of Midway?  Near those crappy motels that line the east side of the street. But no, those over-educated college chicks always talk themselves into believing one night stands are relationships too.  Ha! You know better. Ow! That damn cat, always tripping you up.

And that receptionist.  What’s her name? Katie? That desk of hers is a mess. How can she keep track of anything? Binder after binder, folder upon folder. Cat toys, a coffee cup half-filled. OK. So Peet’s Coffee tastes better than that Starbucks swill. I’ll give her that. But you’ll probably have to come back for her too.

“Please! I told you I saw him first!”

“No you didn’t. You came in after I did”

You nod over to this Katie chick.

“Did I sign the register book first?”

She seems a bit flustered, unprepared.  Unprofessional. Good.

“Uh…I don’t know.”

She flips through pages of the register book on her desk.  It’s not like anyone else has come in here in the last thirty minutes. So you have to prompt her.

“The name’s Danny. Danny –”

“Yes. I’ve seen you in here before….”

You will have to come back.

“Danny O’Hara?  You signed in at two fifteen and –”

“I signed in at two twenty-five. Pamela DeVito. Fine. I came in ten minutes after Mr. O’Hara did, but I’ve been with that cat for the last twenty minutes. I was just going to fill out the paperwork to adopt the little guy. Where the hell were you?”

You hold up the documents and wave them in her face.

“Filling out the paperwork to adopt the little guy.”

You can see the wheels turning, that face on the precipice of false emotion. Go ahead. Bring it on.  You’ll give her something to really cry about later.

“Oh. I’m sorry…it’s just…”

And here comes the waterworks.

“I really bonded with that cat!”

You flinch as another brushes up against you, but it’s not a cat this time, it’s Katie. She moves between you and Pamela. 

“We have over three hundred cats in our shelter. I’m sure you could find another kitty to adopt in no time.”

She rolls her shoulders. You see she’s gearing up for a sales pitch.

“Of course, we do have kittens. Everyone wants kittens. But really, there are so many other cats who could use your loving home. We have blind cats, diabetic cats, cats with feline leukemia and those with feline HIV, feral cats who have been domesticated and…”

You remember your first catch like it was yesterday, but it was Saturday, September 13, 1985. You remember she cackled. Pointed at your crotch, said ‘small and soft,’ pointed again as she rolled off the bed looking for her pumps. She zipped her black leather skirt up the side, picked up her purse and scanned the floor for what you already had rolled up in your hands.

“Looking for these?”

And she reached out to grab them from you, but you showed her how they looked so much better around her smooth white neck than on those long waxed legs. And then there’s a scream.

“I just want Sammy!”

You notice her cheeks are dry but at least the wailing puts an end to the cat promo. Katie, you sense, gets easily confused.

“Who?!?”

“Sammy.  Short for Samson. It’s a perfect name for a longhaired male.”

Oh brother, is this broad trying to work it.  You’ll give her an A for effort but a C for execution.  That’s your department.  But you underestimate Katie.  She’s able to pivot.

“We have plenty of longhaired males just waiting for a new home. I’m sure we can find you another Samson. Let me check.”

And she walks out of the reception area leaving you and Pamela alone but together, except for that damned orange tabby eyeing you from the litter box behind the desk. You’re not a cat lover. You love nothing. But you would never hurt them either. Just like a fisherman who takes care of his flies, covets them, handles them with care, you know the value these cats bring to every fishing expedition. Lures are an important part of your sport and you’re a good sportsman, a good sport.

“You know. It’s too bad we’re not married.”

This bitch is unreal.

“Or married getting divorced. Then we could have joint custody of Sammy.”

Pamela struts around the room like one of the cats. So pleased with herself.  Knows she’ll always stand out in a crowd. Tall, slender, wearing black leather boots and skinny jeans, showing off a five-ten frame, that long, thick hair falling down the back of her blue silk blouse.  She looks back at you before rolling her neck from side to side, then sliding her right hand up the back of her neck, pulling away that auburn mane as if it were a hundred degrees in the shelter in spite of the air-conditioner, giving you a glance at that white porcelain neck. You’ve seen few better.

And you decide to play along.  Why not?  Let her think she’s the one in control, the hunter not the hunted.  Mix it up a bit.

“Are you really upset that you can’t have this cat or that you can’t have what you want?”

You see her chest rise. Faux indignation. Bring it on.

“What are you talking about?!?”

Back-reel, now cast.

“Because if you really want this cat…”

The purple-haired one walks back in the room and you notice her sweatshirt covered in fur while she stands under the glare of fluorescent lights.  But she doesn’t hold your attention for long. Not when Pamela tugs at your unfinished sentence like a trout on a hook.

“Well, you already have one, right?  She said you’ve been here before.”

You nod. Flash that smile. Engage.

“Several times. But I still don’t have a cat.”

She bites.

“Why? Because you didn’t find the one that really felt like yours? You didn’t bond with them…like the way I bonded with Sammy.”

“No. I signed the adoption papers on two cats. And I never brought either one of them home.”

“Changed your mind? See. You’re not ready to be a cat owner.”

Time to reel her in.

“No. I ran into two women who insisted that they “bonded” with my cats and nice guy that I am…I let each one have it.”

“Really? You’re so sweet!”

“I didn’t say I was going to give you Sammy.”

She saunters closer and you fight the urge to step back.  Sometimes even you forget how much they repel you. 

“But you like the name?”

This is the toughest part. Every time. You raise your hand as if to stroke her hair, make a connection. She beams. She thinks she has you where she wants, when in fact, you know otherwise. You nod to yourself, so confident in fact, that you speak the words aloud.

“Yeah. It could work….”

“Even if we weren’t married –”

“We’re not.”

You take one step back hoping there isn’t a tail underfoot.

“I’d still give you joint custody. I mean….”

You take another step back, but she follows. You need to make her think she has to work for it.

“You’d let me have visitation rights.”

“Something like that. Yeah.”

She takes another step forward. Time to turn on the vulnerability.  Works better than charm.

“I don’t know. I mean…I’m lonely too.”

“Who says I’m lonely?!?”

Ooh. Too harsh? Too soon? You sense her indignation this time is real.

“Oh…I didn’t mean to imply that you were.”

“Look. I just want one cat, OK…not seven or eight.  You’re describing my older sister. She coughs up hairballs regularly.”

“So you have a boyfriend. Will he want to compete with Sammy for your affections?”

“There’s no boyfriend. Not yet.”

So obvious. But it helps to know the field is clear. Almost.

“No roommates?”

“No. I live alone.”

Sweet. And then you give the line a gentle tug.

“Me too.”

She tilts her head and beams at your admission, telegraphing an invitation you’ll guarantee she’ll not live to regret. And then you see the purple-haired one named Katie take a breath and you turn not so she can speak her mind, but because you’re already tired of listening to Pamela. You have what you need from her.

“You’re in luck, Miss DeVito.  We have at least two dozen longhaired males and five of them are actually healthy!”

“She is in luck. She just got herself a Sammy.”

Pamela lunges at you, hugs you tight, but you keep those arms close to your side.  Give nothing away.

“Thank you!”

She jumps up and down like a junior high princess and turns to Katie who’s just looking up at you, mouth open like another fish.

“Isn’t he the best?”

Katie closes her mouth and then reopens it. You half expect bubbles to emerge but words come out instead.

“Are you sure? Again?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, since you already paid the adoption fees, do you want to look around some more or come back another time?”

You stare at Katie a moment before turning back to Pamela. You’re going to have a busy night.

“I’ll look around a few moments. But can I at least say good-bye to Sammy?”

And the bitch just can’t stop touching you.  Just wait until it’s your turn.

“Of course!”

You walk towards the corridor to where the cats live, their rooms nicer than yours. But you stop, backtrack a moment and lean close to the purple-haired one.
    
“I didn’t realize you recognized me.”

You whisper instructions you know she will follow and then walk under the archway.  But you have no plans on visiting Sammy. You’ll see him later. Now it’s time to watch the fish. You hold tight against a wall, then listen. Katie, of course, is a sucker for anyone paying it forward.

“Wow! Is he something or what?”

“Well, very few men have the stomach to watch a woman cry.”

Wanna bet?

“You clearly hooked him. He just told me he’s covering the adoption fees for Sammy.”

“Even better. Cat food and litter are expensive enough.”

“I hope he finally gets his cat. He’s such a sweet guy.”

“He’s got a cute ass too.”

Too bad she’ll never see it.

“You can tell a lot about men by the way they treat animals.”

“I certainly do know how to pick them.”

If she only knew.  You almost feel sorry for Katie, babbling away while the bitch isn’t even listening to her. 

“I mean, Jeffrey Dahmer tortured birds in his backyard when he was a little kid…now there’s your red flag waving “Hey! I’m a serial killer!” And Uptown is where John Wayne Gacy found most of his victims.  You remember. The clown killer? What did he have, like thirty bodies in the basement? Ugh! Some neighborhood, huh? Glad we can at least get the cats off the street.”

“It’s getting late. Can I take Sammy home now?”
           
You can tell from Katie’s expression she won’t miss her either.

“Let me get him in his box.”

***

Rats Competing for Turf with Feral Cats

September 6, 1997. Dateline: Chicago. Residents on the Northside, from Uptown, Edgewater, up through Rogers Park, have noticed their neighborhood rats are getting stiff competition from a band of feral cats. West Ridge resident Jacob Faraday spoke about his own close encounters with the fearless felines. “Usually I just worry about huge rats when I’m throwing out garbage in the alley. Now I’ve got these cats who hiss if I get too close to the cans.” Residents have seen a tremendous increase in the feral cat population and wonder if the tradeoff is temporary. Animal Control is trying to determine whether to let the new predators roam free as an inexpensive and less toxic means to manage the Chicago rat population. But another resident from Edgewater, Luis Delgado, has other thoughts. “The rats are just scavenging what they need. But the cats? I don’t know. They look like they could pick a fight.”

***

You quickly dart into one of the rooms before the purple-haired one sees you in the hallway. You listen for the sound of her footsteps to diminish before squeezing out of the doorway, careful to not let any cats escape their room. You saunter back towards the reception area, hovering under the archway, watching Pamela toss cat toys aimlessly across the room. The orange tabby is having none of it. You step behind her. She jumps.

“You walk around here as quietly as the cats do.”

“Let’s talk joint custody.”

That piques her interest.

“Excuse me?”

“OK. I know we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Marriage and divorce usually come first. But since you already brought it up, can I at least make sure Sammy’s got a good home?”

You’re going to have to slap that smirk off her face sometime. When you’re alone. Together.

“That’s the lamest pick-up line I’ve heard in a while.”

Like you haven’t heard her use them in the last five minutes.

“But yes. You can. And I only live a few blocks from here. It’s a short walk.”

Now it’s your turn to drive.

“I’ve got my car. It would be easier on Sammy if we drove him home.”

“Of course. Sammy. I can see you’re always going to put the kids first.”

“Of course.”

The purple-haired one named Katie reenters through the archway carrying a cardboard cat carrier and a bag of toys which she shakes.

“Here you go!  Sammy…meet your new mommy!”

Pamela carelessly takes the carrier, doesn’t even bother to look at the cat as she sashays to the front door. But you’ll be there for poor Sammy. You turn to Katie who already regrets the handoff.

“Thanks for everything.”

“I don’t know why you’re thanking me. You’re the one giving up another homeless feline to another helpless female.”

She gestures toward Pamela.

“Would you remind that one to return my well-being call? I always do a thirty-day wellness check on our adoptees and neither woman called back to tell me how their little guys were doing. Seriously?!? How difficult is it to return a call? About a cat?”

You nod. Slowly. Solemnly.  She smiles.

“Well, I do hope one of these days you get a cat of your own.” “I’m sure I will. Sooner than you think.”

You watch Pamela as she slips her hand around the doorknob. You follow close behind, only the cat carrier between you. As she opens the door, you wrap your right hand around her neck, steering her out the door. She smiles. You don’t. With your left hand, you point out towards the street.

“My car is right over there.”

“That grey one?
           

You wait a beat, look over your shoulder at Katie and smile.
           

“Uh, yeah. I’ll meet you over there.”

While she walks out to the wrong car, you glide over to Katie.

“When do you get off work?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Uh…you know…I really would like to get a cat…but it seems I’m always…giving them away. Could I maybe come in before closing and you let me pick out another one? I’m pretty sure I know which one I want.”

You move just a bit closer to the purple-haired one. If she got rid of the tats and stopped coloring her hair, you could almost call her pretty. Much more so than that Pamela. Too bad.

“What about your…uh… ‘wife’?”

You can’t help but laugh.

“I’m already starting divorce proceedings.”

She smiles. You really can be such a charmer.

“I kick everyone out at five. Come in a few minutes before.”

“Looking forward to it.”

You turn towards the open door. Stupid bitch didn’t close it. Any cat could have escaped.  But the orange tabby stays put, keeping watch. He knows the score.

“Is Sammy going to be OK?  I mean…you know…with her?”

You want to remember that face. So trusting. And you want to keep it that way.

“Of course.”

You look outside at Pamela, pacing back and forth on the sidewalk. She’s angry. Clearly, she’s not used to waiting. Her posture is somewhat lopsided as Sammy is already too heavy for her cold, black heart. You smile at Katie, turn on that charm, and dial it all the way up to ten.

“Why else do you think I’m going to let her have it?”

***

Man Linked to Two Murders Caught in Police Dragnet

November 1, 1997. Dateline: Chicago. Chicago Police have arrested Daniel O’Hara, 31, on suspicion of murder last evening. Authorities attribute the two recent homicides of Diana Charlton and Madison Riley to Mr. O’Hara, who may be tied to additional unsolved murders on the Northside over the past decade. According to Detective Katherine “K.T”. McGuire, who led the investigation, Mr. O’Hara was on their radar when police noticed a pattern with the two victims who recently adopted cats from Treetops Cat Shelter in Uptown. Detective McGuire, along with her partner, Detective Pamela Finch-DeVito, were able to apprehend Mr. O’Hara during an undercover sting operation after having had the suspect under surveillance for several weeks. McGuire stated, “we’re working to connect unsolved cases to Mr. O’Hara.”

***


Bio: Brenda Kilianski’s play Free Radicals, was published by Chicago Dramaworks, its world premiere produced by Stockyards Theatre Project.  Her work has been published in Brava! Chronogram, ONTHEBUS, Shotgun Honey, Spillway, and HalfHourToKill.com.  She was recently awarded an artist’s residency from Ragdale and named a finalist for the Edith Wharton & Straw Dog Writers Guild Writers-In-Residence Program. A recipient of a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, Brenda holds an MA in Writing from DePaul University and currently lives in Albany, NY with two cats and ten thousand books and works as a reference librarian, the closest she could get to becoming Nancy Drew. Visit her profiles at the Dramatists Guild and the New Play Exchange for more information.

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