Monday, April 11, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 8. The Culprit Exposed, a Happy Ending

The story thus far: we meet Oliver Grendall, winner of the Noble Prize for Physics for his brilliant study of Hairball Dynamics in Saline Solutions; little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, vanishes; Oliver and Cool Jay go looking for it; they have several close calls in Boston’s famed Fenway Park; Hobo proves not such a bad cat after all; Oliver figures it out at last.

The next morning was sunny and warm. Mrs. Swift let me out on the back deck at around 10:00. There were more birds around these days with the weather getting warmer, and several blue jays, safe on high tree limbs, squawked angrily at my presence, hurling several epithets at me which will not be repeated in these pages. If that weren’t enough, the squirrel who used me for sport the other day was back at his tricks again. For some unfathomable reason, his tiny brain wouldn’t grasp that he could not, under any circumstances, draw me in and make me chase him. Cleo appeared a half hour later and we settled into an earnest talk. Lately, our conversations have been a source of great pleasure to me. Cleo is a wonderful listener, instinctively knowing when to be silent or when a comment is due. And she has, of late, refined a talent for making the most salient remarks which, once introduced, have tended prod my mind toward fruitful avenues of thought. It seems we often think along the same lines now and I frequently seek out her company and her opinions. Indeed — and I say this despite the fact that my advanced mind can work well enough on its own — I find her contributions more and more indispensable with each passing day.

I had need for her wise counsel this morning and we talked at great length about the Susie Beans matter. I told her everything of Cool Jay’s and my adventure, what Hobo said to me and what I thought it meant. Then I explained all my reasoning for this conjecture. Cleo listened to all I had to say thoughtfully and without interruption. Then I went on to tell her that I had, during the night, determined on a particular approach and was gratified to hear that she agreed with me. I was further heartened to hear that she wanted to be there for it.

“Thank you,” I said, and I hazarded to put my paw on one of hers. Our eyes met and we sat looking at each other for a long moment, not embarrassed and in no hurry to fill the silence with words. Presently Cool Jay arrived, as he ordinarily did at this hour. The spell, perhaps, was broken, but the feeling remained.

“Cool Jay,” I said. “The very cat I wish to speak to.”

Cool Jay looked at me and I continued. “Tell me, Cool Jay — right when it seemed we would have to tangle with Max and Scratchmo, you said there was something you needed to say to me. What was it?”

“Oh, that. Well, Mr. Grendall, I — I’d rather not say.”

“I suspected you would feel that way, and I suppose I don’t blame you if what I think happens to be correct. Let me help you a little. Do you remember yesterday, when we went into Lucy’s room? You had an excuse for why your fur and scent was all over Susie Beans’ rocking chair, didn’t you?”

“Why, yes,” he said in a low voice. “I told you I liked to sleep in it.”

“Because you found it comfortable?”


“That statement begs two questions, Cool Jay. First, how could you be in the habit of napping in a chair that was nearly always occupied by a doll?”

“I suppose Susie Beans wasn’t there all the time and I found my opportunities.”

I decided to skip on to the next question. “And, second, the fact that you declared the chair ‘comfortable.’ You’re a full grown cat, Cool Jay, and that little chair is meant for a doll. You’re too big for it. How could it be comfortable?”

Cool Jay said nothing. Instead, he simply stared at the ground. It was obvious to anyone who could see that he really wanted to talk.

“Cool Jay, you are my very good friend. That will never change. Tell me now and make a clean breast of it. You were jealous of Susie Beans, weren’t you?”

Still he remained silent.

“The night of Lucy’s sleepover, you used that opportunity to hide Susie Beans away, didn’t you? Because Lucy seemed to care for Susie Beans more than you?”

Perhaps a minute or so passed while we three stood there, each as unwilling as the other to break the silence. Finally, Cool Jay spoke. “Yes, Mr. Grendall,” he said with a sigh. “Of course you figured it out. Believe me, sir, I never wanted to involve you — you, of all cats! How could I have known you’d take an interest in all this?

“Let me explain as best I can,” he went on, emotion tightening his features slightly, “although putting it into words will make everything seem so petty. You see, ever since I was a kitten, I was Lucy’s darling. We used to play games and be together all the time. Whenever she watched TV, Lucy always had to have me on her lap. Whenever she was sad or in a bad mood, I was the only one she allowed for company. She had this little toy bird, made out of feathers that was on a string, and the string was attached to a stick. She used to tease me with it, to make me jump and try to grab the toy bird. She’d lead me all through the house that way. It was such fun! Lucy never got tired of that game. When she came home from school, that was the first thing we’d do. And then of course there was Hide and Seek. We played that a lot. I was always careful to let her catch me in the end.

“Back then, she used to have lots of names for me. It was Lucy who thought of ‘Cool Jay,’ naturally, but there were also ‘Kits’ and ‘Fur Ball’ and ‘Sneaky.’ Oh, and ‘Orange Terror.’ That last one she’d say when she was mad at me, but it was a kind of compliment having these names made up for me, you know? Even ‘Orange Terror.’ But then it all ended a couple of months ago.”

“With Susie Beans,” I said.

“Susie Beans is just a doll, Mr. Grendall,” Cool Jay said, his voice perceptibly shaking. “What can a doll do? That’s what I can’t understand. Does a doll rub up against you? Or make a fuss about you when you come home? Dolls . . . dolls are only so much plastic! But Susie Beans was all Lucy seemed to care for. She talked to it, sang to it, did things with its hair. Her mother was part of all this too, making those clothes for Susie Beans. And all I could do was look on and wonder.

“Anyway, the morning of Lucy’s . . . discovery, I never expected her to go off quite like she did. And it was my wretched luck you happened to be there. I saw the pity you felt. I wasn’t surprised when you announced you would search for Susie Beans. Of course, as far as I was concerned, that was a catastrophe! Your respect for me is something I prize above almost everything else. And I knew, if left on your own, you would figure it all out and I would be exposed.”

“So that’s where the Red Sox ticket came in?” I asked.

“Right. I had a whole night to think of what to do before you searched Lucy’s room the next morning. So I went for a walk toward Hobo’s end of the street, just thinking, searching for an answer. Truth is, I believe that ticket did come from one of Hobo’s providers. I happened to find it on their porch.”

“Did Hobo have anything to do with this?” The wrong answer would have altered my new-found respect for the tabby eternally.

“Oh, no sir. Hobo was nowhere to be seen. This is all on me, no one else.” Then he continued. “I saw the ticket, noticed the date, and this story just popped into my head. I thought it would make the perfect blind, because, whatever theory you might come up with, I doubted you could act on it.”


“Well, for one, I knew very well cats aren’t allowed on buses — and how else could you expect to get to the ballpark? And — and here I feel most deeply ashamed — I did all I could to steer you in this wrong direction. I thought we’d give it a try, it wouldn’t work, and then that would be the end of that.”

“You didn’t count on Hobo.”

“No. And Hobo suspected something was up. You heard all those questions he asked me. He really made it his business to see us get on that bus.”

Everything Cool Jay said rang true. Then I said, “Here’s something that puzzles me: you actually helped me pursue this errant course every step of the way. Why was that?”

“Well, I’m sure it’s no good at this late hour trying to pass myself off as noble, but I made it my firm intention to stick with you, to help you get out of whatever scrap you got into. So I played along.”

“And we did get into some scraps, didn’t we?”

“Oh yes we did.”

I said my last remark with a smile and Cool Jay wasn’t slow to catch it. True, I had been deceived, and with this deception my pride suffered a blow. But sometimes you need to sacrifice pride a bit . . . for a friend. And there was no doubting that Cool Jay had remained just that throughout all this: my friend.

I asked him several more questions about our little adventure and received honest answers that satisfied me. Cool Jay, naturally, had no idea who we would find in that particular seat in Fenway Park, but felt relieved to see it unoccupied, because this person’s absence had, however temporarily, put a halt to things. He apologized again for biting me, and we laughed when recalling the sight of Scratchmo being soundly whipped by Hobo. Finally, Cleo spoke up:

“Cool Jay, you know that Lucy is still just a little girl. One of my providers was a little girl once, too. This sort of thing is a phase they all go through. Can you imagine what Lucy’s reaction would have been if you were lost instead of her doll? She would have been inconsolable. I’m sure she loves you, Cool Jay. You’ll find out.”

“And remember,” I added, “if it’s friendship and love you’re looking for, you have it right here with all of us. You always have.”

Here my orange friend was silent for a minute or so; it seemed several emotions contended within him for the moment and he couldn’t trust himself to speak. Then, before we changed the subject completely (as it was, after all, getting a bit “mushy”), I informed him that all would be well if he could restore Susie Beans to her former place without incriminating himself. To this he agreed, and we said no more about it.

Within a day or two, Susie Beans was miraculously found back in its little rocking chair. This latest incident inspired quite a buzz around our street about all the strange goings-on. Dolls disappearing and reappearing again. Neighborhood cats mysteriously showing up miles away in Kenmore Square. And there was even some talk about Mrs. Swift’s cat, the one who liked to drag books around with him. But eventually things quieted down when nothing else unusual happened for a month or so. Soon enough, the neighborhood settled down to how it was before.

And so I have once again reassumed my lofty perch upon that beloved armchair of mine, where I view and comment on the world through the literature of my contemporaries and the ancients. Lately, I’ve been perusing Plato’s Dialogues and hope, at some future date, to deliver my tightly reasoned opinions as I compare some of his ideas to those of Schopenhauer’s. My poetry recitals, naturally, have been resumed. The ladies just last Monday thrilled to my epic “Battle at Sea,” and sighed when hearing the tender “My Sunny Window Ledge.” Gildie, in fact, needed several minutes to recover from my performance, as I delivered both readings with great theatrical effect.

Yes, things are back to normal.

Although, only week ago, a new family moved into the house several doors down. And with them came a new cat…

…but perhaps we’ll touch on this some other time.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 7. Ex Deux Machina

The story thus far: we meet Oliver Grendall, voted MENSA’s Cat of the Year for the second straight time; little Lucy's dolly, Susie Beans, has mysteriously vanished; Oliver and Cool Jay find a clue that leads them to a seat Fenway Park; they meet up with two particularly nasty cats; they get chased onto the ball field and then they get chased off; they find the seat in question and it’s empty; to crown everything, the nasty cats are back!

As unwelcome a sight as it was, there they were: Max and Scratchmo, positioned perfectly to make escape nearly impossible. They seemed to have a genius for this tactic, because any time Cool Jay and I shuffled this way or that, Max and Scratchmo had an answer for it in how they placed themselves. Max’s expression I can only describe as grinning malevolence, accented by that terrible scar that ran down the side of his nose. Scratchmo’s face was, as usual, inscrutable, but I might have noticed a hint of evil amusement playing about those thick, undistinguished features of his. There could never be two creatures less receptive to reason than this pair. If, as many believe, we are all put on this earth for a reason, I would be very curious to hear what Max’s and Scratchmo’s purpose was. How their presence could be construed as something beneficial to this world needs a greater effort of insight than I can provide.

It was a remarkable thing that then, during our second encounter with these two miscreants, I felt relatively little fear. I think the same applied to Cool Jay. True, I had a healthy respect for what they could do to us (and a lively imagination as for the details), but fear, for the most part, had been replaced by impatience and irritation. The senselessness of this amusement they had picked out for themselves earned them only my disgust. They had a crude power over us: strength, fighting ability, and a ruthless will to use it on the innocent. It was shameful how they wasted their lives in this pursuit! There was Max, looking at me with great enjoyment, bent on playing this little game of theirs as if there weren’t other things infinitely more worthwhile. And his mute friend, Scratchmo, whose mental stature made Max’s appear a veritable Galileo’s, looked ahead to his five minutes of inflicting misery with an anticipation that sickened me.

“What happened back there, Gremmel?” asked Max. “What about all that kitty gold?”

“There is no ‘kitty gold,’ you cretin. Now what is it you want? What are you going to do now? Any thoughts on that, Scratchmo? Any thoughts on that or anything else?”

This seemed to take Max aback for a moment. “Now here’s a change of tune, Scratch. Should we take this from them? Cool Aid, your friend’s talking awful tough. You feel tough too?”

“I think Mr. Grendall and I can agree on one thing: whatever you two do to us, it won’t come cheaply,” said Cool Jay.

“Whoa, Scratch! We got us a couple a wildcats on our hands!” Then he addressed me: “Gremmel, Scratchmo made me promise to leave you to him. That OK? I mean, about him not sharing?”

Naturally I didn’t respond to that. In a low tone, I said to Cool Jay, “It’s only right I take Scratchmo: I’m bigger than you. Good luck, my friend. We’ll have to fight — there’s no other way. But I won’t forget it was I who caused all of this. Someday I hope to repay you.”

“You’re right, we will have to fight. But there is something I will need to tell you . . . later.”

Max and Scratchmo, for all their posturing, showed no hurry to get things going. I think some of their pleasure in all of this depended on dragging things out. I, for my part, decided we should skip the preliminaries. For whatever advantage we could gain from it, I thought it best we initiate this skirmish ourselves as our only hope of inflicting what damage we could on the two.

“Ready?” I asked Cool Jay in a whisper.

“Ready sir,” he replied, leveling his gaze directly on Max.

The command, “Now!” was on its way to my mouth, but it never came out, because our whole intention was preempted by an event neither of us could have ever foreseen. At the time, Max and Scratchmo had us pinned against a large trash barrel with a covered top. It was then, at the critical moment, that the container shook violently and a streaking gray object projected itself from the top of it directly onto Max! Max was taken completely off his feet and thrown some five feet away. Next, the gray tabby (for that streak of gray was, in fact, a cat) turned to Scratchmo. Without pause, he instantly went to work on Scratchmo’s face with quick, accurate strokes of his claws that elicited an agonized, earsplitting howl of pain from the giant cat. Scratchmo momentarily got free and drunkenly tried to right himself for retaliation, but this only seemed to open him up to a fresh attack, where the gray cat resumed his brutal, surgical efforts on a face which was already showing horrible wounds. The spectacle of this behemoth being whipped so soundly and with such dispatch amazed me! You could really see the art in it, how each assault on his face had a purpose, a purpose which yielded the desired result. Although a stupid cat, Scratchmo needed no further lessons on the futility of battling the tabby any longer. Each added second of standing his ground would only result in more harm to himself. The mammoth cat, nearly blinded from his injuries, turned and ran.

Max, by this time, had regained his feet and had seen what quick work the gray cat had made of his friend. His only decision was to make a stand or run, but he remained motionless, as if unable to commit to either course.

“Yeah?” said the gray tabby, advancing toward him. This made Max take a step backward. Then the gray cat made a small rush at him, and this sent Max back about ten feet. I could only guess that this was Max’s meek way of saving face, just hanging around near the perimeter of danger as if to prove he hadn’t been scared off. But finally the tabby had seen enough and broke into an earnest run at him. This decided Max. He turned and ran as if he never meant to stop. And that was the last Cool Jay and I saw of the pair.

In time, the gray tabby returned to us. I think by now the reader can guess who our deliverer was. It was Hobo.

“Hobo!” I cried. “I — I don’t know what to say.”

“Just so long as it’s not ‘thank you,’” he said, and then he started to laugh. “Grendy, you’re full of surprises. You were gonna fight that ox, weren’t you?”

“I was prepared to try, but I didn’t mind having my plans upset,” I replied.

“I bet you didn’t,” he said. And then: “Yeah, you boys got my interest up, so I decided to tag along for some fun. And I got some, so maybe it’s I who should thank you.”

“The gratitude is all on our side. You’ve done us a service we can’t hope to repay. But how did you get here?”

Hobo made a deprecating sound. “Once a cat has his mind made up, he can go anywhere.” And then, turning somewhat serious, he added: “Besides, someone asked me to come look after you two. Maybe you can guess who.”

The image of a pretty Siamese, with a soft gray and white face adorned with large, beautiful, shining, cerulean eyes, swam before my mind. Yes, I could guess very easily.

“I didn’t see everything, but I saw enough,” Hobo continued. “Quite a show you two put on out there.”

“You saw that?” asked Cool Jay.

“Sure,” he said. “What were you guys thinking? How did you wind up out there?” And then we told Hobo everything of our adventure, including our disappointment at finding the suspect’s seat empty.

“Empty, huh?” said Hobo, eyeing Cool Jay for a moment. “Imagine that.”

“We’ll have to try it again another day,” I said. “Discouraging to be sure, but at least we’ll know better about some things.”

“Yeah, well, speaking of another day, I’m guessing you boys are all finished here for now. So we head home? Unless there’s something else you need to do?”

“Oh no. I think we’re done for now. But how shall we get home? Do we try the same tactic for boarding the bus as we did last time?”

“We could. Or something else. It’s all about opportunities, Grendy. You sniff them out,” Hobo replied. Throughout all of this exchange, I felt a dawning awareness of two things: that I had begun to conceive a strong liking for Hobo, and that he, on his part, might have been feeling something neighboring respect for myself. Deep down, I never thought Hobo a bad cat. And I had never considered what a valuable ally he could be! This was indeed a day for learning.

We made our way through an exit and back out onto one of the streets that surrounded the ball park. Only an hour before this street was choked with people, but now there were mainly only the bull carts and temporary souvenir stands left to see. Litter was everywhere. At one point, the crowd inside the stadium let out a great roar. As I heard it, the thought struck me that I might, at some future time, try to understand baseball. People really seemed to love it.

It was only a few blocks to Kenmore Station and we retraced our path without incident. I wondered what scheme Hobo would concoct for our passage home. As the reader can imagine, Hobo’s late proofs of his cunning and ability had forged in me a near unshakable faith. I felt safe and protected in his company. In the present instance, I would do whatever he said.

But as we came nearer to the bus station, it was I who “sniffed” our way home. There was a cab stand nearby, and as we approached it I saw someone I recognized, someone who would surely take us all home.

It was Mrs. Swift.

I don’t believe I have taken the occasion to describe Mrs. Swift to the reader, so I will do it here. Mrs. Swift is what some might call an eccentric; and if they ever do call her that, they will certainly use the term more as an endearment than anything else. She is tall, thin, and in remarkably good health for a woman somewhere in her seventies. She wears her black-streaked, gray hair very short, and from her earlobes there usually depend exotic, African mask earrings. Her clothing that day was all purple; in truth, she only wears purple. There are many species of purple, such as red purples and blue purples, and she explores all of these purples with great freedom, but still she confines the color of her clothes to within this narrow spectrum. Her movements are always characteristically quick and assured, like a younger person’s, and she has a way of reminding one of an active bird. You can tell from her face that she must have been very pretty in her youth, and that prettiness has, over the many years, modulated or transposed itself into a striking handsomeness. As to personality, Mrs. Swift is the type of woman who always speaks to the purpose. She has very little small talk in her, but can speak volubly on subjects that interest her, and many subjects do. I think this is what attracts people to her, because she always means what she says and she does it in a well-informed way. If she likes you, you know it. If you interest her, you will have her full attention. Perhaps I am biased (because she is, after all, my provider), but I have always considered Mrs. Swift a remarkable woman and a superb example of the human race.

I saw her standing near a taxi talking with Mrs. Fletcher, her best friend. Mrs. Fletcher is about the same age, much shorter, and always has the jaunty air of having just gotten off a horse. One half expects to see a quirt in her hand. Mrs. Fletcher often speaks with an unlikely mixture of brusqueness and affection; I think maybe she is the only one in the world who can pull that off. The two formed their friendship years ago when they taught at the same university. Mrs. Swift was a professor of Economics, while Mrs. Fletcher’s specialty was Women’s Studies. They both have many common interests, which — it so happens — includes horseback riding. Among the others are golf, tennis, yoga, and practicing their marksmanship with pistols.

I told my two companions to follow me and we approached the pair. Mrs. Swift’s back was toward us, so it was Mrs. Fletcher who made the discovery.

“I beg your pardon for interrupting, Millicent, but doesn’t that look like your cat?” she said.

“What? Are you kidding? Oliver?” asked Mrs. Swift, and then she turned around and saw me. I can’t possibly begin to describe her surprise. “You’re right, Georgy, that is Oliver!” she said after gaping at us for several long moments. “But how on earth did he get here? And who are these other two cats?”

“Doesn’t that orange one live near you?”

“That’s true. He must be the Dill’s cat, from across the street. But Georgy, how can you explain they’re being here? And what’s this scruffy one with them? Does he belong to the neighborhood too?”

Mrs. Fletcher crouched down and made those signals providers use to draw cats over to them. I have always liked Mrs. Fletcher and, after the obligatory hesitation, I complied. She expertly massaged me behind the ears and said, “What story have you to tell, little man?”

“You don’t suppose they followed me here, do you?” asked Mrs. Swift.

“Millicent, I can think of no explanation right now. But there’s no doubting that this is Oliver. And Oliver,” she continued, changing to that special voice she likes to use for me, “what are you doing so far from your ratty old armchair? Yes. His ugly old armchair is so far away! And all his little books too! Isn’t that right?” . . . and on she went in this vein for some time.

I presently found out that Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Fletcher had met in the area for some shopping and now Mrs. Fletcher was seeing my provider off in a cab. After some ten minutes of confusion had passed, Mrs. Swift announced her intention of taking Cool Jay and myself back with her, leaving Hobo behind. This, naturally, wouldn’t do. So I showed a strong disinclination to enter the taxi while giving Mrs. Swift “the look.”

Maybe the reader knows what “the look” is. It’s an expression and an attitude we cats use to get our providers to do what we want. It’s meant to be used sparingly, and indeed I only use it on Mrs. Swift when I have to; to do otherwise would be tyranny. “The look” involves a pleading, beseeching countenance and a pitiful little “Mew!” in just the right place. It never fails to destroy all of Mrs. Swift’s defenses. By doing this, I was able communicate to her that I considered Hobo my bosom friend and my heart would break if she left him there. In the end, she understood and took all three of us with her back home.

When the taxi door opened upon our arrival, we all sprang out at once. Cool Jay thanked Hobo one last time, wished me a good day and headed to his house. Then I spoke to Hobo.

“I think I have misjudged you and I’m sorry. I hope in future we can be better friends.”

“I know I ain’t no day at the beach,” he replied. A bizarre expression, but I guessed its meaning. “But look Grendy, about this little mystery of yours . . . do you mind a suggestion?”

“Not at all.”

“OK, think for a minute. Do you remember how you and Cool Jay got on that bus?”

“Of course I do. You created a diversion for us.”

“A diversion. Exactly. Think about that.” And then turned and jogged home.

A diversion, I thought. What could he mean by that? Diverting one’s attention from the real object. A diversion, a diversion . . .

And then I knew all.


Final chapter: The Culprit Exposed, a Happy Ending