“Clear & Obvious” is a new kind of sort of vertical/brand/excuse for us to make fun of the deeply strange and wonderful world of MLS. Please take it very seriously.
JULY 24, 2019 - RIO TINTO STADIUM - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
A cat sprints onto the field during a match in the “Leagues Cup” or “Nations Cup” or something between Liga MX side Tigres UANL and MLS’s Real Salt Lake. Tigres’ Andre-Pierre Gignac runs with the ball near the touchline. In pursuit of Gignac is RSL’s Aaron Herrera and, stunningly, a cat named Whiskers. Herrera closes in from behind. Whiskers does the same.
All three are on a collision course. For two of them, the intersection of their three worlds will mean little. For one, everything.
DECEMBER 20, 1968 - BENICIA, CALIFORNIA
Two teenagers are shot to death on a well-known Lovers Lane.
JANUARY 31, 2019 - CAT BAR - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
A young cat named Socks walks in. His first night in Salt Lake and he’s already being dragged out to a bar. He shook his head at the pinups on the wall and walked over to the booth below the neon “Cold Milk Served Here” sign. His newest acquaintances waived him over.
Socks had just met them earlier in the day. A new job at the paper had brought him from Charlotte. It paid less, but Charlotte...Charlotte didn’t have space for him anymore. Besides, the paper in RSL had promise. There were promising paper tearers here. A little young and inexperienced, sure, but clearly on their way to making a name for themselves. At least, they had the outward ambition to appear as such.
Besides, anyone under 25 who still wanted to be a part of the world of paper tearing had to be ok in Socks’ books. It had become a thankless job. Once considered a public necessity, anyone who worked at a paper now received constant criticism and faced a job market in regular flux. But Socks still believed in the industry. And so, at their request, he agreed to go to a bar for the first time since she had told him he wasn’t worth the work.
He tried to remember the name of the waver as he squeezed into the booth. The loud one who had invited him...something new age...Reginald?
“Reggie who’s your friend?” the tabby at the end of the booth asked.
“This is Socks. Our new guy at the paper. Already making friends with Lorenzo today weren’t ya there, Socks?”
The table groaned. Lorenzo ran the paper. As most bosses are, he was far from beloved. Socks thought he seemed fine. At least he wouldn’t end up engaged to this boss.
“Eh, he’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, sure, give it time.”
“Y’all come here a lot?”
“Yeah this is the spot. Cheap milk. Greasy wet food. Every now and then a couple of girls will talk to you if Tangerine doesn’t scare them off.”
“Shut the hell up Reggie.”
The table laughed.
“Yeah we’ve even got our resident drunk.”
Reginald motioned towards the corner of the bar. An old cat sat slumped over. His fur greyed and muted from age and the drinking. He had that look you only get from years of ignoring skim and going straight to whole. Something about him trapped your eyes. An energy? A lack thereof? Socks stared.
“Old timer is there before we get here and there when we leave every time.”
“You ever talk to him?”
“Talk to him? No way. Something’s off there.”
“So,” the tabby next to him said while she placed a paw on Socks’ leg. “Where ya fro-”
Before she could finish Socks began a journey to the corner of the bar.
JULY 4, 1969 - BLUE ROCK SPRINGS PARK - VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA
A young couple sits in a car. It’s July 4 but the fireworks are far enough away for it be quiet. They’re alone in the park until a second car pulls up. It stops. Then pulls away. Moments later it returns.
At 12:40 A.M. July 5, a phone call is placed to the Vallejo Police Department claiming responsibility for the murder of two teenagers last December and the shooting of two more teenagers that night.
MARCH 2, 2019 - CAT BAR - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Socks looked at his phone. Another call from Princess. She had been worried about him lately. To be fair, he’d been distant. But she knew what this was. At least, he thought she knew.
They’d started casually dating a few weeks after that first night at the bar. The night he had ignored her to go talk to the old cat at the corner of the bar, only to find him asleep despite the appearance of sitting...well not quite straight up. Socks found it impressive. Although he did think it a strange time for a sloop. He remembered that humans had a name for this. “Cat sleeps” or something equally racist.
Either way, he was glad she hadn’t taken that personally. It felt nice to have someone care again. Even if, honestly, that only went one way.
Over the last few weeks, Socks had started another relationship. Even more one-sided than the dynamic between him and Princess. He couldn’t stop thinking about the old cat. No one seemed to know anything about him other than his regular R.E.M cycles at the bar. Each time Socks tried to talk to him, the cat had already checked out for the night. Socks even showed up early one time. Not early enough.
Socks had him this time though. He’d finally been at the paper long enough to ask for an early leave. He made something up about a checkup at the vet. They didn’t question it.
He waited at the bar. The empty bar. He sat alone, the first one there. Right at the opening.
He didn’t wait long. The old cat stumbled in.
AUGUST 1, 1969 - VALLEJO AND SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Three letters are sent. One to the Vallejo Times Herald, one to the San Francisco Chronicle and one to the San Francisco Examiner. Each letter includes a 408-symbol cryptogram and details of the July 4 and December 20 murders that only the killer would know.
AUGUST 7, 1969 - SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
Another letter is delivered. It begins, “Dear Editor, This is the Zodiac speaking.”
JULY 17, 2019 - UNKNOWN NEIGHBORHOOD NAME - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
“What do you mean I don’t know?” Socks asked.
The old cat stared. An argument hanging in the air like grey clouds itching to release a downpour.
“You just...you wouldn’t understand.”
Socks felt as close as ever to understanding the truth. He had finally talked to the old cat at the bar a few months ago. At first, he seemed hesitant. Unsure of why anyone would take an interest in him. He stayed silent. But Socks peppered him with questions and eventually, the old cat relented and at least offered that he thought Socks was annoying as all hell.
Socks gave up for the night shortly after but showed right back up at the bar the next afternoon. He beat the old man there again. Something...something in Socks had to know his story.
After a couple of weeks of showing up to the bar early, Socks lost his job. He lost the girl too. He hoped Princess and Reggie were happy. Honestly, he did.
He kept prodding and prodding at the old cat, day after day, and finally began breaking him down. Even if Socks annoyed him, he seemed pleased to have company. One day he even told Socks that he was the first friend he’d had in as long as he could remember.
Socks’ heart broke. “Why is that?” he asked.
“I haven’t done anything that wasn’t just for me my entire life,” the old cat said.
And that piece of introspection is as close to really knowing the old cat as Socks had gotten. Until now. When Socks had followed the old cat back to his...well you couldn’t really call it a house. There were no windows, no water bowls, no furniture. But still, Socks went in. And that brought us to the argument.
“What do you mean I wouldn’t understand? Just tell me what you want from all this. Because if you don’t want anything, why the %^&# are you still around?”
The air hurt. The weight of it all crashing into them over and over like the middle ball in Newton’s Cradle.
“I’m...I’m sorry I didn’t mean…”
“No. No, you’re right. “
They both looked at the ground, studying nothing.
“They used to call me Tiger,” the old cat said.
“Tiger. My friends. They called me Tiger.”
Socks still didn’t even know the cats real name. This was a breakthrough.
“And ever since I had to leave those people, I’ve always wanted to feel like ‘Tiger’ again. That’s the only time I didn’t feel like a bad person.”
“Well...I mean you can still be Tiger if you want.”
“Nah kid. I can’t. I have to earn that. I have to fix everything first. I have to…”
The old cat stared off.
“Have to what?”
“Look, just do me a favor. Be at the bar next Wednesday. Keep a close eye on the television. If I’ve done it right, it’ll be the last time you see me.”
“Now get out of my house. And thank you.”
JANUARY 29, 1974 - SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
The Chronicle receives the final communication from The Zodiac. Investigators agree that there are seven confirmed victims at this time. The papers never hear from The Zodiac again. The case is never solved.
JULY 24, 2019 - RIO TINTO STADIUM - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Whiskers saw his chance. Sneaking into the stadium hadn’t been hard and now he was here. The ball coming toward him. His chance to have one more moment as “Tiger”. It wasn’t perfect. But if he could get out there and take part as a member of Tigres it would be enough. It would be his last act and he knew that feeling would make it ok. It would take him back to before everything went dark. Before he woke up and realized just how deep he had gotten. He had done what he could to make sure there would be no more questions. He was ready.
The ball rolled closer. Whiskers sprinted out and for the first and last time in his life felt free.
JULY 24, 2019 - CAT BAR - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Socks sat quietly at the bar. He took special care of cool glass of milk and stared at the TV. RSL had gone down to ten men. Socks anxiously took stock of every movement on the field.
“What did the old cat mean? Why did he thank me? Why am I watching this Champions Cup...or wait Nations Cup? League of Nations Cup? Whatever, why am I watching this random soccer game? No one is even really playing their starters.”
The bartender walked over. For the first time, Socks took his eyes off the game.
“That old drunk you’re friends with asked me to give you this.”
The bartender reached down and pulled out a tiny box. He placed it in front of Socks.
“I’m going for a nip break.”
Socks stared at the box. He felt sick to his stomach. He had no idea what it contained but something seemed off. Uneasy.
He reached to open it. Slowly. He pulled the top off and...and…
It was paper.
He looked closer. Just some old newspaper clippings about some old murder case and what looked to be a letter with a string of random symbols on it. Each symbol had a letter below it.
“Amazing,’ Socks thought.
It was a wonderful gift. Some quality old paper for Socks to tear up. His favorite pastime. He hadn’t been able to do it since he lost his job. Good, old paper was so hard to find. The old man, as his last act before leaving Socks’ world entirely, had finally produced an act of kindness.
Socks got so excited he tore all the paper up right there. A shred of paper fell to the floor. On it, a circle combined with a plus.
Socks finished tearing the paper. He looked up at the TV. Just in time to see Whiskers try to outrun his demons.