Lisa West and the Goat

Lisa West was used to receiving odd messages. Running a 24-hour bakery brought that kind of thing to her. Well, that and her moonlighting career as a spy. Not a detective. She was pretty sure you needed a license for that and she hated the imagery of teenage heroines hunting ghosts. She’d discovered last year that her hometown was crawling with spies, so what was one more joining the profession?

But lately the messages were getting weirder.

She’d checked into the motel 15 minutes ago when she found a package on the grimy bedspread in the room. It beeped at her and kept beeping until she tore it open to find out what she had.

She found a burner phone inside, of the ancient flip phone variety, and tipped it into her hand. It flashed a text message at her.

“Bring the money to the place where the wheat meets the light at sundown.”

She gave a heavy sigh. The messages were definitely getting weirder. “I want proof of life,” she responded. She’d picked that up from a movie somewhere. Maybe it would give her a clue about what to do next.

The text came back with a picture of a goat tied to a tree. A hand holding an axe loomed in the foreground.

“C’mon! Who threatens a goat?” she asked the empty room. The florescent light flickering was her only answer.

She looked back to the phone. Sundown. The sun was setting later now that summer was coming, but she really had no idea when it officially set. How specific were the kidnappers going to be?

She didn’t know who the goat belonged to. It certainly wasn’t hers. She’d never owned a goat in her life. But she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep tonight without knowing what happened to it. She made a phone call.

“Gil? It’s Lisa. Lisa West. Can you send someone to keep an eye on my place around sunset?”

“Sure, but- where are you?”

Gil was an old friend, and one of the people who’d gotten her into the spy trade in the first place.

“I’m in that crummy motel at the north end of town.”

“The place where all the murders took place last year?” Gil asked.

“That’s the one. My house is being fumigated. There are seven weddings in town this weekend and not one of them is using my bakery. The hotels were all booked up. It was either this or sleep in the shop,” Lisa said.

“But are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I want someone to keep an eye on the bakery in case things get weird on my end. I have to save a goat.”

“A goat? As in, curry?”

“I hope not.”

#

The place where the wheat meets the light was easy. It was the slogan for the historic brewery downtown, Wheat State, which would almost certainly be hosting at least one of the bridal parties for dinner or drinks around sundown. She didn’t know if that would hurt or help the goat when she showed up without any money.

Lisa hadn’t been to this part of town in a while. Restaurants were always coming and going in the area. She knew who’s goat she was looking for as soon as she parked her car. Right across the street from the old, historic brewery that had dominated downtown for over a century was a shiny new restaurant. The Black Goat brewery. It dominated the other side of the street.

Pedestrians dodged a sandwich board on the sidewalk as Lisa went to investigate. In place of the specials, the brewery had put up a missing poster for their goat. Lisa was pretty sure it was the same goat. She couldn’t stop her brain from superimposing the axe from the text onto the poster. What was she going to say when she walked in? Hey, get any ransom notices for the goat yet because I think I got your mystery phone?

A group of women dressed to the nines jostled Lisa as they pushed into The Black Goat. Judging by the one wearing her best white dress and a veil covered in penises, it looked like a bachelorette party. Good cover. Lisa strolled in right behind them and gave the hostess as nod as they flocked up to the bar.

“Getting an early start, Charlie?” the bartender called, already setting up a row of shot glasses.

The bartender was the hipsteriest hipster who’d ever existed in town, minus the flannel shirt which he’d replaced with a denim button-down for work. The beard, the hair, the fancy mustache. It was a look.

“And why shouldn’t I? It’s either this or sit in my shitty motel room tonight so my groom doesn’t see me. I want to celebrate my wedding and I want to celebrate it here, in my own bar. With the only family I have,” the bride said, disturbing an elderly couple trying to have an early meal.

Lisa made her way to the bar casually, trying to look like she was with the bridal party or maybe not, depending on what turned out to be convenient when she started talking. The bartender handed her a tray of shots for the party, which a bridesmaid conveniently took before Lisa had to do any explaining.

“You with Charlie’s gals?” the bartender asked as Lisa took a stool in the least graceful manner possible. Damn. So much for not explaining anything.

“Not exactly,” Lisa said. She grabbed one of the drink menus floating around. “The Black Goat. Was that named after someone’s real goat?”

The bartender tapped the photo on the back of the menu. It was definitely the goat Lisa was in the process of rescuing. “Named after Richard here. Charlie’s pet goat.”

He nodded towards the bride. Not only had someone stolen her pet, but they’d done it on the eve of her wedding. This was truly a monster Lisa was hunting.

He leaned in close over the artisanal wood counter. Lisa didn’t know if the glass polishing was part of his hipster-bartender act or not. “If you ask me, it was Wheat State who took him.”

“The other brewery?” Lisa whispered. “What do they want with your goat?”

“Demoralize the enemy. They don’t want us to succeed, ya know?”

Lisa nodded sagely. In her experience, it wasn’t the other businesses in town trying to drive each other away. She’d had help from several other bakeries in town when she opened. But why get in the way of a good story. She’d probably find out the real reason eventually.

“So where would they even hide a goat?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Lots of places to hide a goat in a restaurant.”

The ladies nearest the door pulled the bartender’s attention away from Lisa and she took it as the right moment to make her escape. He clearly didn’t know anything, but she left some cash on the bar for his time. The world needed more talkative bartenders in her experience. Lisa liked to reward them whenever possible.

“That guy can’t be in here,” the bartender shouted. “I don’t want any Wheat State guys in here tonight.”

The ladies in the bachelorette party were already on it. Five of them had the dude surrounded even though he stood six inches taller than them. They looked like hens driving away an angry rooster. He had dark, slicked back hair and a sneer that went on for days.

“What do you want, Chad?” they asked.

Yeah. The dude looked like a Chad.

“Ladies. I’m here as the groom’s best man. Checking in on things. Everything going well for you all? Nothing amiss? Nothing out of place? Nothing missing?”

Lisa tried to slip past the confrontation. She didn’t have time to see how this played out. But the other women in the bridal party had her surrounded. More of them had moved in behind her while she wasn’t looking. She’d joined the crowd against Chad without even trying.

“You’re in the wrong bar, Chad,” one said.

“Go find your own party. This is our bar and you need to stay in yours.”

Chad’s sneer never faltered. He bestowed it on each of the women in turn, including Lisa, before leaving the bar in a huff. He managed to look half magnanimous about it, too.

#

The hostess across the street didn’t recognize Lisa, but Lisa knew this restaurant. The faces changed over the years, but the food and the service never did. It was a good place. The kind of place where you took your parents instead of admitting you preferred the dive bar down the block.

Everything in town was packed with wedding groups tonight. A bachelor party had taken over the bar area in the center of the main floor. They weren’t as loud as the bridal party across the street, but they made up for it. Lisa dodged elbows skirting the guys at the bar.

One of them turned around too quickly and Lisa didn’t manage to dodge him in time. Half his beer hit the floor as she muttered an apology. His buddy grabbed his shoulder, letting Lisa escape.

“This is bullshit. Why does Lyle put up with these crowds?” she heard the first guy ask his buddy.

“What’s the big deal? Just get another drink.”

“Let’s head up to the party room. This place is too packed.”

“Already a private party or something up there, man.”

She kept her head down. She didn’t need to get tangled up with these dudes on her mission of mercy. There was a goat to save here somewhere.

Bring the money where the wheat meets the light. The goat had to be in the building by now. Where would she keep a goat if she were a goat-murdering axe dude?

The dining area at Wheat State was two stories with a private room upstairs, a bar in the center of the dining area, an extra room tucked into the back, and kitchen to the rear. The goat was clearly not going to be in the dining areas and the private room was in use. Lisa made her way to the bathrooms between the main dining area and the back room. She remembered a supply closet or something back there. Maybe it was big enough for a goat.

No go on the supply closet, which turned out to only exist in Lisa’s mind. There wasn’t one in the actual restaurant. And the ladies’ room was clear. Lingering outside of the mens’ room, she didn’t hear or smell goat-like things. It seemed an unlikely hiding spot so she moved on to something she didn’t want to try. She went into the kitchen of a restaurant that wasn’t hers.

Crossing from the dining room to the kitchen was like crossing a magic threshold. Immediately the noise factor went from a 6 to an 8. The bachelor party outside had nothing on the kitchen staff in terms of sheer loudness and swearing.

There was no goat here either, but there was a back door. She was running out of time.

“Hey, you can’t be in here.”

Lisa turned. It was Chad from across the street. Of course this would turn out to be his bachelor party. Of course this was his bar. Lisa couldn’t have one stroke of luck on her side. The rest of the staff looked up when he called her out. They clearly knew him and didn’t know her.

“Spying for the other side?” he sneered.

For a second, Lisa thought he might know about her moonlighting career. But he didn’t have the usual spy swagger she’d run into everywhere else in town. He was just a common jerk.

“Sorry, passing through,” she said.

He grabbed her elbow, his big hands bruising her one good blouse. She pulled her arm away and he let her, but he puffed his shoulders out to show that he could stop her if she tried anything. He might be right, too, given the situation.

“Is there a problem in here that the entire fucking dining room needs to know about?”

The manager came bustling through, with his dark apron and his blonde hair. He looked from Chad to Lisa and back to Chad, seeming to settle on Chad as the problem.

“She’s a snoop, Lyle. She shouldn’t be back here.”

Lyle lowered his voice. He managed to keep it to a hiss just above the sound of the kitchen noise. “Look man. I get off in 20 minutes and then you and I are gonna celebrate my upcoming nuptials and I cannot do that if you’re going to make a case over some drunk girl cutting through the kitchens.”

Lisa said a silent prayer to the god of decent managers. While Lyle distracted Chad, she ducked her head and ran for it. No one tried to stop her as she stepped out into the alley.

What a dick. Chad clearly worked at Wheat State if they didn’t throw him out of the kitchen alongside her. And he certainly had the “would kill a goat for fun” demeanor. Maybe he was her perp. Maybe she needed to march back in there and confront him in front of his manager.

She was starting to gear herself up for that disaster when two of the kitchen staff came out to sit on the curb for a smoke break. Lisa pulled her scarf over her mouth to block the smell and steered clear of them, keeping to the shadows. There were no trees out here like the one she’d seen in the text with the goat. That animal was going to die if this turned out to be a dead end. She’d have to circle the building and try another way in. Maybe they had a basement.

“So I guess Lyle’s got a fucking pet goat now,” one of the kitchen staff said.

“Yeah. Who knows what he’s going to do with it. If it were me, I’d fry it up and serve it as tomorrow’s special during the wedding.”

Lisa stepped out of the shadows and grabbed the culinary monster by the elbow. She twisted him around and shoved him against the brick wall. Little bits of mortar crumbled on his cheek as she put her weight against him.

“Where does Lyle live?” she demanded.

“Out on Sycamore,” he stammered, too startled to process that he was ratting out his buddy.

“Where on Sycamore?”

#

The sun was already kissing the tallest trees in the neighborhood when Lisa parked in front of Lyle’s house. It was a quiet neighborhood, bordering on well-kept. The porch drooped and the bushes were overgrown, but a coat of fresh paint and a freshly mown lawn kept up the illusion.

No one answered when she rang the doorbell. She waited longer than she felt comfortable waiting and tried again, just in case. Still nothing.

“Lisa West, that goat doesn’t have time for you to play it safe,” she muttered.

She went around back where she was greeted by a tall fence and absolutely no gate. If there was one, it must have been on the other side of the house. Shit.

There were no obvious animal noises in the yard. She found a gap between two of the slats and peeked in. In one corner of the yard was a pen. It was a nice pen, not something put together slap dash by an axe-murdering goat kidnapper. Someone had built a hut for the goat and fenced in a big area for it to roam. And there was absolutely no goat inside.

What the hell.

There was a window next to her and she was frustrated enough to peek inside the house. She had a view of the living room and everywhere, every surface covered, there were wedding decorations. Lisa had seen a lot of homemade centerpieces in her day – she’d even made a few for various friends and relations – and these were on the nicer side. Each centerpiece featured a shaggy black goat in a field of wheat.

She could just see a picture of the happy couple: Charlie and Lyle. The pen must have been for Richard. But if they were getting married, then who’d stolen the goat?

#

It was dark by the time Lisa found another parking spot near the breweries. She raced for The Black Goat, hoping that the axe-wielder was too busy drinking to execute his hostage.

Charlie was holding her liquor better than most of her bridesmaids by this point. Lisa didn’t wave at the hostess as she went in. She stormed past the crowd and planted herself in front of the bride.

“I know where your goat is,” Lisa said.

“Show me.”

Lisa and Charlie raced across the street at the head of a glorious band of valkyries, hell bent on justice. The poor hostess at Wheat State tried to stop them.

Lisa looked her dead in the eye. “We’re going upstairs.”

“I’m sorry, but the party room is closed today,” the hostess called after them as Lisa hit the stairs.

“Not for long.”

Chad noticed them next. “Hey, you can’t be in here. What happened to ‘you stay in your bar and we’ll stay in ours?’”

Charlie’s bridesmaids closed ranks better than any sports team Lisa had ever seen. “This is a private party, Chad.”

Lisa turned back to Charlie on the stairs ahead of her, certain the bridesmaids had things in hand below. The upstairs party room was just a twist and turn away from the staircase. The bride was already at the door. She hesitated, her hand on the doorknob.

“Richard is in there,” Lisa said. “He’ll be okay.”

Charlie pushed the door open and was met with a very angry, very matted black goat on top of the long table, bleating his disapproval of the living conditions.

“How did you find us?” Chad asked as he arrived, the rest of the bachelorette party trying to drag him away.

Lisa grabbed him and pushed him up against the wall. Fortunately, he was too drunk to react. “Where’s the axe?” she asked.

“What?”

“Where is the axe? The one you threatened the goat with? Who the hell threatens a goat?”

“Hey, it was a prank. You know, a joke. A hoax. A gag the night before the wedding,” he explained as if Lisa didn’t understand the words. “I wouldn’t have hurt it.”

The groom was the next one up the stairs, still in his bartender’s apron. Lyle pulled Lisa off his best man. Lisa tried to push him off because she wasn’t done with this fuckwit, but he muscled his way between her and Chad.

Lisa queued up some choice insults for Chad, but Lyle had things well in hand. He grabbed two handfuls of Chad’s shirt and shook him.

“You kidnapped my girlfriend’s goat, man?”

“It was a joke!” Chad’s voice rose in pitch now that he was between a wall and a hard place. The sneer fell off his face.

“You don’t joke about killing someone’s pet. Dude!”

“You hated that goat. You go off about it every time we hang out. It smells bad. It eats too much. You want your yard back. I was just trying to make a point, man.”

Lyle pushed Chad one last time and let him go, holding his hands up in disgust. He turned to Lisa. “Get Trix and tell her to bring up anything Richard wants to eat. I don’t care if the goat wants champagne and caviar, bring up whatever.”

One of the other bridesmaids ran off, saving Lisa from having to ask who Trix was.

“You’re out, Chad,” Lyle said.

“Dude. I’m your best man.” He tried a grin again, but it didn’t quite stick.

“Not anymore.”

Lyle turned to Charlie, who was busy reassuring the goat that he could eat the bad man’s jacket if he wanted to. “Let’s get Richard home,” he said.

Lisa was ready to get home, herself. Or back to the motel, anyway. This wasn’t the strangest mission she’d been on, but it had the happiest ending so far.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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