Angela Reese opened the door to find two men wearing dark suits and brimmed hats on her front porch. Both men briefly held up badges, but whisked them back into their pockets before Mrs. Reese could read them.
“Ma’am, I’m Special Agent Leeland and this is Special Agent Dunce,” said the taller man. “We’re responding to an anonymous phone call reporting a disturbing allegation.”
“Oh my, can I be of assistance?” Mrs. Reese asked, glancing over her shoulder. She gripped the door jamb tightly.
“Honey, who is it?” Mr. Reese yelled from the kitchen.
“Just a minute, dear,” Mrs. Reese called back.
“Ma’am, may we come in?” Special Agent Dunce asked.
“Of course, Special Agent Dunce.”
He held up his hand. “Please call me Agent Dunce, ma’am. We don’t insist on the ‘Special.'”
Mrs. Reese opened the door wider and stood back to let them in. “Can I get you some coffee?” she asked, nervously smoothing her tightly curled brown hair.
“Thank you, that won’t be necessary,” Leeland said. “We’re here to inspect your bedroom, ma’am. You see, we—”
Mr. Reese came out from the kitchen, an egg-smeared napkin tucked into his collar. “Gentlemen, can I help you?” he said. “We’re in the middle of breakfast, so if you could state your business—”
“Stephen Reese?” Leeland said.
“Yes,” Mr. Reese said, puzzled.
“I’m Special Agent Leeland and this is Special Agent Dunce.”
“From what agency?”
Leeland ignored the question. “We have a warrant to search your bedroom, Mr. Reese. Please do not interfere.” He walked past the couple and up the stairs, Dunce right behind him.
“Now hold it!” Mr. Reese called after them. “This is my private home, and you haven’t explained–” He looked at his wife, who flushed and shut the still-open front door.
“Mr. and Mrs. Reese, can you please come up here?” one of the agents called.
Looking grim, Mr. Reese stomped up the stairs, followed by his reluctant wife. Both agents were in the master bedroom, looking at the bed. The plaid bedspread and white cotton sheets lay heaped on the floor.
Leeland pointed to the now-bare mattress. “Tell me, Mr. Reese, what do you see there?”
Mr. Reese looked puzzled. “What? I don’t see anything.”
“Precisely, Mr. Reese,” Dunce said. “Nothing. Would you care to tell me where the mattress tag is?”
Mr. Reese’s face turned red. “Who the hell cares where the mattress tag is?”
Leeland’s expression was stern. “We’ll thank you not to use profanity, Mr. Reese. Special Agent Dunce asked you a simple question: where is the mattress tag? The one that said, in capital letters: ‘UNDER PENALTY OF LAW THIS TAG NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY THE CONSUMER.'”
“But I’m the consumer!” sputtered Mr. Reese. “I bought that mattress. I had the right to remove the tag!”
Leeland sighed. “Do you know how many times we’ve heard that, Mr. Reese?” he said. “Does this mattress look ‘consumed’ to you? Nobody has eaten or ingested this mattress.”
“But consumer also means—”
Dunce broke in. “Mr. Reese, 99.97% of the mattress-owning population happens to disagree with you, not to mention the law. And even the few people who share your misguided opinion about the meaning of the word consumer usually leave the tag unmolested just in case. So what makes you so special, Mr. Reese?”
Reese turned to his wife. “Angela, tell them they’re being ridiculous!”
Mrs. Reese’s voice was shaky but determined. “I told you not to remove the tag, Stephen. Just in case, remember? Those were the exact words I used!”
“But how did they find out? Are there cameras in every bedroom in America?”
“Hardly, Mr. Reese,” said Leeland. “As I explained to your wife downstairs, we received an anonymous tip, and that was enough to get the warrant.”
“But who the hell—”
“Language, Mr. Reese,” Leeland warned.
Mr. Reese stood dumbfounded. Then he looked again at his wife, accusation entering his eyes.
“Angela,” he said. “Did you call them? Did you call the, the ‘Mattress Police?'” he demanded, practically spitting the words.
Mrs. Reese’s chin quivered. “I’m sorry, Stephen. I couldn’t sit by and be a party to your blatant law-breaking. I just couldn’t.”
“I don’t believe it,” Mr. Reese said, throwing up his hands. “You ratted me out. Your own husband!”
“Listen to yourself, Stephen,” she cried. “‘Ratted out.’ You even sound like a criminal! I don’t know the man I m-m-married,” she sobbed.
Leland and Dunce exchanged glances, then Dunce spoke. “You did the right thing, ma’am. Considering the number of mattresses sold every day, it would be impossible for us to catch every violator without the cooperation of law-abiding citizens such as yourself.”
Leeland nodded. “Aside from tracing the mattresses that end up in landfills back to their owners, tip-offs from family members are how we catch most violators. Your desire to uphold the law is commendable.” He pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket. “You may get a follow-up visit from our Pillow Subdivision; I’m sure they’ll also appreciate your assistance.” He turned to Mr. Reese. “Sir, please turn around and place your hands behind your back.”
Mr. Reese did so, glaring at his wife all the while. Once he was cuffed, Leeland led him downstairs, followed by Dunce and the weeping Mrs. Reese. The agents escorted Mr. Reese to their parked gray sedan while Mrs. Reese observed from the doorway, uncomfortably aware that several open-mouthed neighbors stood watching.
Just before Leeland shut the car door, Mr. Reese leaned out and yelled, “She puts dry clean only clothes in the washing machine, you know!”
Mrs. Reese gasped. Special Agents Leeland and Dunce turned and looked at her with stony expressions.
“It’s, it’s not true,” she said desperately. “I mean… maybe by accident, once.” The two men said nothing. “Dry cleaning is just so expensive…” she trailed off.
Leeland shook his head. “You’ll be hearing from our colleagues in the Dry Cleaning Division, Mrs. Reese. In the meantime, I suggest you don’t tamper with the evidence.”
Amy Sisson is a writer, reviewer, librarian, and crazy cat lady currently living in Houston, Texas. Her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and a number of licensed Star Trek anthologies from Pocket Books.
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