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respect for what they could do to us (and a lively imagination as for the details), but fear, for the most part, had been replaced by impatience and irritation.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


Blogger NYPinTA said...

I think my favorite part about your story is that you get how cats move down pat, and have an explination that makes total sense in the head of the cat why they do whatever it is they do that makes us humans scrath our heads when we witness it!
Does that make any sense?

8:43 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Yes, it does. It helps to live with a cat (I actually have a Siamese named Cleo). Thanks for the comment.

9:42 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home