Monday, March 07, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 3. The Journey Begins

The story thus far: We meet Oliver Grendell, cat par excellence, and his friends; they learn that little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, is missing; the trail leads to Fenway Park.

The Dill’s having high-speed Internet access was quite fortuitous and I had the information I needed within a half an hour. I glanced at their wall clock and discovered that it was nearing 11:00, the time I arranged with the ladies for my Monday morning poetry recital out on Mrs. Swift’s back deck.

By “ladies,” I naturally refer to my devoted followers: Cleo, Gildie and Rosie. Gildie and Rosie in particular are susceptible to the charms of my verse. I had prepared for the occasion a poem entitled, “Ode to a Catnip Mouse,” a rather heartfelt literary achievement of mine which I was sure would have pleased the ladies very much. But today, I appeared on the back deck to tell them that the recital was to be put off. The Red Sox website had indicated that there was to be, on that afternoon at 1:00, a baseball contest between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians at their stadium, which is called Fenway Park. They were aghast and immediately protested my plans out of concern for my safety.

“Ladies, ladies,” I said. “I am quite capable of looking out for myself.” Here Gildie began to weep and Rosie gave me a beseeching look that quite shook my resolve for an instant.

Then Cleo stepped toward me and put her soft little paw on one of mine. “I’ll come with you,” she said.

I believe I have said elsewhere that I am not very emotional, but Cleo has an uncommon way of disrupting my equanimity. It’s very trying to me sometimes.

“Cleo, Cool Jay has kindly consented to accompany me. Insisted on it, in fact. His loyalty is most remarkable.”

“But Oliver,” she said, “do you really mean to get on a bus?” She referred, of course, to those loud, horrid, smoke-belching contraptions that always seem to signify the coming Apocalypse to even the most stout-hearted cat.

“I can think of no other way.”

“How often have you been in a moving vehicle?”

“Several times. Perhaps the last was when Mrs. Swift took me to the vet when he — he — well, the result was not very much to my liking.”

“When do you leave?”

“Almost immediately. Cool Jay said he would join me here.”

“Let me walk you to the bus. Where is it?”

“In Oak Square, not very far from here.”

I live on Bigelow Street in Brighton, at the top of a high hill. Some seven or eight blocks to the bottom of the hill there is Oak Square. The distance wouldn’t be but a quarter of a mile. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s website indicated I needed to find a bus number 57. It’s terminus, Kenmore Station, was precisely where I wanted to be if I were to gain Fenway Park. It couldn’t be simpler.

At that moment, Cool Jay hopped onto the deck. He had the ticket in his mouth. He laid it down in the little circle we cats had formed and said, “Ready sir.”

“Very well, Cool Jay. Cleo wishes to accompany us to the bus. I propose that we memorize the pertinent data on this ticket stub now and leave it behind. Nothing should encumber us.”

“I have sir,” he said, and he then recited to perfection the location of the seat as described on the ticket. I should mention here that I, myself, had taught Cool Jay how to read, and it gave me no small amount of satisfaction to witness how well my pupil had done under my tutelage. Naturally, Cool Jay’s attainments are a tribute to my efforts, but still some credit must be given to a considerable intelligence on the part of my orange-furred charge. He really did impress me sometimes.

By 11:30, Cleo, Cool Jay and I struck off down Bigelow Street. We hadn’t gone but three blocks before I heard, in a voice that never failed to set my fangs on edge: “Grendy! Well, well, well! And how is his lordship today?”

Ugh! Hobo! The one cat I didn’t want to encounter at such a moment. And that nickname! How I hated “Grendy!”

“Hobo, your concern for me is much misplaced. If you’ll excuse us, we have important business and no time for your chicanery.”

“That’s my Grendy,” said Hobo, stepping in front of us. “ Using a ten dollar word when a one dollar one will work just as well. Who would ever think we came from the same animal shelter?”

His referral to our common origin was no help to my composure.

“So,” he continued, “where is everyone off to?”

“Come on now, Hobo,” said Cool Jay nervously. “I’ll tell you all about it later.”

“What do you see in the pompous windbag anyway?” Hobo asked Cool Jay. “All the cool cats know he’s a fool. Look at him,” he said surveying me critically. “He’s not much to look at, is he? And yet so much.”

Here Hobo touched on a personal feature of mine I haven’t yet imparted to the reader: I am what some might kindly call “portly.” Mrs. Swift is an excellent provider, especially in the way of meals, and my sedentary, bookish lifestyle does not lend itself much toward physical conditioning. I think Gildie and Rosie might have had my physique in mind when they feared for my well-being.

“Oliver is a great cat,” said Cleo. “And I’ve heard all about your ‘cool cats.’ Their fondness for garbage, never cleaning themselves. You’re getting more like them, Hobo. I could smell you back at Perthshire Street.”

“Aw, Cleo,” said Hobo. “I didn’t mean it. Grendy’s OK. Don’t be mad at me.” It was common knowledge that Hobo was a bit sweet on Cleo. “Look,” he said, “maybe I can help. Let me come with you.”

“I don’t think so,” said Cool Jay with a pleading look. “Like I said, I’ll fill you in later.”

But Hobo followed us. Finding his presence odious, I said very little. He told us stories of his exploits: teasing dogs and making them chase him until their chains ran out and they nearly choked themselves, catching birds, climbing trees way up to the little branches. He was quite boastful, yet none of us doubted that his stories were true. Hobo might be a disagreeable cat, but he had nerve. More than what was good for him, I’m sure.

We hadn’t told him what we were up to, but when we halted at the bus stop and waited there for a minute or two, Hobo divined what Cool Jay and I meant to do and burst out laughing.

“Wait! This can’t be true! Grendy, are you waiting for the bus? Are you going to ride the bus?” And then he laughed even harder.

Cool Jay said at length, “So what of it?”

Hobo addressed me with a look of pure glee. “Listen, my rotund, all-knowing friend, cats aren’t allowed on those things. You’ll never get away with it. Tell me: have you ever heard of a cat riding a bus?” And here he erupted into more laughter.

“Can that be true, Oliver?” asked Cleo. “Then you must find some other way.”

I instantly felt that what Hobo said was correct. “Even so, I can think of no other way. The path to finding Susie Beans leads directly to Fenway Park and this is the way to get there.”

This rendered Hobo speechless for a moment. Then he said,“Susie what? Fenway Park? Well, Grendy, maybe you’ve got some pluck after all. Come on now. If I promise to help you, tell me what this is all about.”

There was nothing else for it. Things like buses and such appeared to be more in Hobo’s line than mine, and if Cool Jay and I couldn’t get to Fenway Park, then our efforts for discovering the whereabouts of Susie Beans would come to an end. I permitted Cool Jay to tell Hobo everything. He listened very attentively and even asked some shrewd questions. When Cool Jay had finished, Hobo had the cheek to give Cool Jay what I can only call a “knowing” look. He even went so far as to call our conclusion that the criminal could be found in the manner we proposed more than a reach, but then, although Hobo may be credited with a certain native intelligence, it was plain that his intellect would be forever subordinate to my own, and my judgement must therefore predominate. He did, however, conceive a plan for getting Cool Jay and myself onto the bus, and it happened like this:

After some ten minutes the bus arrived and by that time a modest crowd of seven or eight persons had gathered. Cool Jay and I stood near the bus stop sign and Hobo, with an unmistakable look of mischief written on his face, stationed himself on a low stone wall nearby. Cleo hid behind a bush where she could observe without being seen.

As the bus approached our stop, I glanced at Hobo and noticed his intent look trained at the biggest person of the group, a tall, heavy-set man, about fifty or so, wearing tradesman’s clothes. His back was as broad as the window ledge I am fond of napping on and he had a pugnacious, rough and ready look. The bus came to a stop and the door swung open.

“It’s now or never,” said Cool Jay.

Then, so quickly that no one could have traced his movements with any precision, like a streaking, gray, pistol shot of a blur that came with no warning, Hobo sprang at the man, scampered up his back and dug his claws into the poor fellow’s neck with merciless tenacity. How that man howled! The terrible suddenness of it froze everyone into inaction; everyone, that is, except for the poor wretch who bellowed and roared with unequaled vehemence. He groped and spun and lurched and did a sort of demented tarantella to shake off his attacker, but Hobo eluded his wild grasps and was almost scientific in how he drove his victim to a greater frenzy. By now, the people nearby and those in the bus were finally roused into action. The driver emerged from it to help and the passengers already in the bus crowded to the windows on the side where everything was taking place.

“Now!” said Cool Jay.

Cool Jay and I scampered along the curb and darted up the bus’s steps. At the top landing, we saw before us rows of benches all facing forward.

“Let’s run underneath them toward the back!” I exclaimed.

This we did until the forward-facing benches ran out, to be replaced by long benches on either side of the bus that faced in toward the aisle. There was room underneath these benches and it was there, near one rear wheel well, that Cool Jay and I found a spot dark and obscure enough to hide. I was out of breath and my heart beat like how a bird’s wings will when he first takes to the air. I think I had never been so scared, yet so exhilarated, in my life.

“Are you OK?” asked Cool Jay.

“Yes. How about you?”

“Fine. What about Hobo, eh?”

“Hobo is a cat who enjoys his work,” I remarked. “I don’t know if he was doing us a favor or if we provided him with an opportunity. But in any case we must remain absolutely still here. And remember: when the bus stops and all the passengers get off at once, that’s when we get off. Until then, we must be content to wait.”


Next chapter: Kenmore Station


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