The story thus far: We meet Oliver Grendall, a true Renaissance cat; little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, is missing; Oliver, with characteristic resolve, pledges to find it; the trail leads to Fenway Park and there we find our two heroes, Oliver and Cool Jay.
As we came closer to the two cats (who had, by this time, become aware of our presence), I could make out their features more distinctly. They both were unclean; I doubted whether either of their fur had felt a tongue for at least a week. The smaller one had grey-brown fur with irregular black streaks in it. In many areas his coat looked knotted and greasy. His left ear had a large nick in it, and there was an ugly scar that ran like a cruel rivulet down the side of his nose. His companion, who was gigantic by cat standards, was hardly more genteel in aspect. He was piebald, with uneven white spots that stood in clusters in some places and were quite sparse in others against a field of dirty tawny-yellow. It looked as if someone had tried to throw a bucket of bleach at him but just missed a direct hit. His eyes, which were his most striking feature, had a red tinge to them. His left fang was missing.
“Good day, gentlemen,” I said as Cool Jay and I drew near. “I am Oliver Grendall and this is my friend, Cool Jay. We’re new to these parts and beg your assistance. To whom might I have the pleasure of addressing?”
The small cat looked at me, gave his friend a quick glance and then, returning his look to me, answered, “I’m Max. How are you?”
“Ah, Max, very well, thank you. Glad to meet you. And you, sir?” I said, turning my gaze to the big cat.
“He don’t talk much,” said Max. “He’s called Scratchmo.”
“Ha!” I said, trying my best to be amiable. “Was he christened that or did he earn this appellation?”
Max’s mouth opened but he did not speak. Here Cool Jay quickly interposed. “What Mr. Grendall means is, we’re pleased to make your acquaintance but we must move on.”
“Hardly so,” I argued. “Cool Jay, you forget that we are here to ask these two fellows a favor.” And then I turned to Max, whom I accepted as the pair’s spokesman. “We aim to go inside this stadium in quest of a particular seat. Are you, by any chance, knowledgeable of the layout in there?”
Max shot another glance at his companion and then answered, “Why, yeah, Scratch and me know this place like the backs of our paws, ain’t that so, Scratch?” There was but the slightest alteration on the impassive countenance of Max’s towering friend that gave evidence of his agreement. This whole time Scratchmo had looked at me steadily, and his unceasing stare began to make me feel a bit uncomfortable.
“Well,” I said, “do you hear that, Cool Jay? I think maybe our labor has been cut in half. Tell me, Max, if we were to give you the exact location of the seat as it’s described on the ticket, could you and Scratchmo conduct us to it?”
“Why not?” he said. “We ain’t got nothing to do at the moment, do we Scratch?”
Scratchmo apparently thought they could accommodate us. What luck! I hadn’t dared to think this thing could go so easily.
“Wonderful!” I said. “Cool Jay, please recite to Max and Scratchmo where the seat is.”
“I’ve forgotten, sir,” said Cool Jay.
This took me by surprise. I turned and stared at him. “What? Forgotten? Cool Jay, collect yourself! You couldn’t have forgotten it in so short a space of time.”
“I regret to say I have, sir.” He had a stony expression on his face that puzzled me. What had gotten in to him?
“Cool Jay! I am very disappointed. I placed great faith in you. But I suppose these things happen.” I patted him on the shoulder. “No harm, though. I have a photographic memory and I can give the information to these two gentlemen myself.” And that I directly did.
“Scratch and me was there just the other day,” said Max. “We can get you to it no problem. C’mon, Scratch. Let’s take these two gentlemen to their seat.” And at this, Max and Scratchmo moved toward the nearest gate with Cool Jay and myself in tow.
There were exclamations heard from the customers and ticket-takers as we four slipped through the turnstile area. “Look at them!” I heard a woman shout. “They want to see the game!” “They’re getting through without paying!” said someone else. “Uh oh! Breach in security!” said a third, apparently as a joke, because others laughed when he said it.
“OK, keep close, gents,” called Max. “It gets busy in here!”
How true that was! Max and Scratchmo led us down a ramp that dumped us right into the midst of the milling, ever-shifting multitude. Once into the throng, we felt carried along by it, as if in a strong stream, and like a stream this active mass of people had its currents and unexpected eddies, its obstructions, and a vague sense of risk. Our guides showed wonderful facility in finding routes through the moving forest of legs. Naturally, we caught the eye of more than a few people as we wended our way, and I could hear comments as we passed them about how determined we looked and how it seemed we had a real purpose in mind.
On the left hand side of the concourse there were, at frequent intervals, stalls offering refreshments, and each one had at least four lines of people queued up in front of them some ten or fifteen deep. On our right, we saw mainly rest rooms, occasional souvenir shops and more entrances into the stadium. Above us were signs that showed the sections of seats we were nearest to. I found the sense of them a bit hard to grasp and thanked heaven we had the good fortune to meet up with Max and Scratchmo, because, if left on my own, I think I would have gone in the opposite direction!
Our two new friends exhibited every sign of knowing exactly where they were going. And yet, after several minutes, we seemed to have reached the end. Max and Scratchmo headed toward an obscure corner off to the right that had a small opening low in its wall. It was, perhaps, the only deserted place in the entire facility. They paused before it and waited for us to catch up.
“We’ve got to go through here,” Max explained.
“I don’t mean to question you,” I said, “but it’s plain to me that the ball field is over there, directly opposite of this place.”
“Oh, yeah. But that’s all right. You’ll see.”
“I think Mr. Grendall makes a good point,” said Cool Jay. “How will going that way help us to get over there?” and he gestured toward the last ramp leading up toward the field of play. The weather had cleared by now and it was all sunlight and blue sky in that direction, while here it was uncertain and dark.
“Well, see, this is the . . . cat tunnel. For our use. Special for us.”
There was a longish pause while Cool Jay and I digested this. “Let me get this straight,” I said at last. “You’re saying that the architects of this ball park — years ago — included in their plans a network of tunnels in this structure meant exclusively for cats?”
Max and Scratchmo exchanged glances.
“Right,” said Max.
“No doubt causing them grievous extra complications and additional expense?”
builders mind you, whose sole aim was to construct a commercial facility for the very purpose of making a profit, would so deviate from their proper goal of the efficient use of their funds and materials and manpower and time as to build tunnels for non-paying cats? Do I state all this correctly?”
“They was big cat lovers, those builders,” Max said rather weakly.
“Cat lovers?” I cried. “Cat lovers? Surely you understate it! They are to be venerated! Can you believe,” I asked Cool Jay, “that people possessing such altruistic goodness can exist? And you wanted us to try this alone! Why, with these tunnels, I dare say we can get to that seat virtually unobserved! Cool Jay, my friend, the goddess Fortuna has been our constant ally today.” Here Cool Jay let out a low groan. “Tut, tut! It’s no sin to be wrong. ‘Mistakes are our teachers,’ as I say. Lead on, Max. We are entirely in your hands. I am sorry to have doubted you”
“Mind your step then,” cautioned Max, and he directed us in through the tight opening. He lead, Cool Jay and I followed, and Scratchmo took up the rear.
We found ourselves in a small chamber, very dark and not very clean. I could dimly make out some loose bits of wood and discarded building materials. “Where is the tunnel?” I asked.
Then I heard Max laugh. It sent a chill up me when I heard it. He laughed as if he had just gotten the punch line to a dirty joke, the type of dirty joke only a certain class of cat would ever think was funny. It was a snorting, derisive kind of laugh. I didn’t like the sound of it.
“Scratch!” he said at length. “He wants to know where the tunnel is!”
And for the first time I actually heard sound come from Scratchmo’s mouth. It was laughter too, or maybe an idiot second cousin to laughter. Call it an approximation of laughter. It was breathy and strangely mirthless. I could hear Scratchmo shift behind me and I instantly became sensible of the cat’s massive bulk and what he could do with that bulk.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
More laughter. “Fatso wants to know what’s going on!”
“Fatso!” I exclaimed.
“That’s right, Gremmel, I’m talking to you — Fatso.” My eyes had adjusted to the dimness now and I clearly saw Max approach me and put his face an inch in front of mine. His breath stank. “You don’t like that, do you Gremmel? Did I hurt your feelings? Scratch, Mr. Gremmel over here don’t like being called Fatso.”
Two things sprang to my mind: the sheer inanity of his taunts and habit I have observed of some cats who take great delight in tormenting their victims (such as small birds or mice) before finishing them off without the slightest scruple or the merest ounce of mercy. The reader must be assured that not all cats are like that. I will never understand how pleasure of any sort can be derived from either witnessing or causing the suffering of another fellow creature. It makes one believe that evil truly exists.
“Are you gonna cry?” he asked.
Of course I wasn’t going to cry, but I could clearly see where this was leading.
“C’mon. One little tear. Just one little tear and I’ll let you and your buddy go.”
And then Cool Jay said, “Don’t tell them, sir, no matter what they do.”
This shut Max up for the moment.
“Tell them what?” I asked. I hadn’t the slightest idea what he meant.
“Right. ‘Tell them what?’ Very good, sir.”
“What’s he talking about?” Max demanded.
“Don’t say it!” said Cool Jay.
Here my keen mind grasped it all at once: Cool Jay, my blessed protege, had a subterfuge of some sort planned. I had to play along.
Now Max stepped over toward Cool Jay. “Listen here, Cool Aid, don’t say what? What’s Gremmel not supposed to say?”
“Not another word!” I said to Cool Jay.
“All right you two. What are you both playing at, huh? Look it, if you got something to say, we’ll make you say it. Scratchmo here ain’t no nursemaid. He’s good at getting his way.” Our backs had been toward Scratchmo this entire time, but we were ever conscious his ominous presence.
“Come on Gremmel, out with it,” Max continued, malice polluting his every word. “Say it! Say it or Scratchmo starts making Cool Aid look like road kill.”
“Well, he and I . . . it . . . it . . .”
“Don’t tell them what it is!” warned Cool Jay.
“What’s what?” said Max. “What’s ‘it’?”
“Well, it’s . . . it’s . . .”
“Let’s go, Gremmel. You wanna see Cool Aid all bent up like a pretzel?”
“. . . it’s . . . it’s . . . “
“It’s what? What is it, Gremmel? Spill it!”
“. . . it’s . . . it’s . . . kitty gold!”
The words just hung there in the air. No one spoke. I looked over at Cool Jay in time to see his shocked expression dissolve to undisguised despair. For all the world he had the look of someone who had played his last card and lost. Kitty gold! Couldn’t I have thought of anything better than that?
I returned my gaze to Max who stared evenly back at me. The silence lengthened. I could have recited an epic poem in the time we all stood there. Then he asked in a low voice, “What’s kitty gold?”
I swallowed and replied, “It’s a sort of currency. For cats.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, with kitty gold, a cat can walk into any store — say any store around here — and in exchange for kitty gold he can walk out with any item of his liking.”
“And you got this kitty gold?”
I turned to Cool Jay. “I’m sorry. They were bound to find out.” Then I addressed Max. “We’ve got a whole bag of it.”
“We’ve hidden it in Kenmore Square. Only we can locate it.”
“Are you getting this, Scratch?”
Scratchmo evidently made a motion as if he wished to speak.
“All right, Cool Aid, stand over here so Scratchmo can tell me something. Don’t try nothing funny.”
Cool Jay moved toward the far corner while Scratchmo stepped over next to Max and spoke into his ear.
“OK Gremmel, listen. Let’s say Scratchmo here walks into the 7-11 and takes two cans of Fancy Feast, any flavor he likes, and then he walks out. Can he do that?”
“Yes, but he must give the cashier its value in kitty gold.”
“And say if I want one of them little red balls they sell in the kiddie section. I can have that?”
“With kitty gold, yes.”
“OK, you and Cool Aid just chill while me and Scratchmo talk. But don’t move, or Scratchmo here makes a bowl of Gremmy Bits out of you. Got that?”
The two conferred for about a minute. Then Max announced: “OK, this is how it is. Gremmel, me and you will go get the kitty gold while Cool Aid stays here with Scratchmo. Once I get the kitty gold, we come back and we let you and Cool Aid go.”
“That can’t work,” I said.
“What do you mean it can’t?”
“We’ve used a special lock on the bag to prevent its theft. It takes both of us to unlock it.”
“What? Oh, come on. You need to come up with something better than that.”
“It’s true. Our lock has a device called a ‘retinal scan.’” Max looked at me blankly. “See, the retina is a part of the eye. Each cat’s retina is different, just like each of our scents is different. This device ‘reads’ our retinas. If it doesn’t register both my and Cool Jay’s retinas, the lock won’t release the bag from where we have it secured.”
“A rettle scan? How come I ain’t never heard a that?”
“I could ask why you had never heard of kitty gold until just now,” I replied coolly. That was pushing my luck a bit too far — as if it hadn’t already been pushed far enough!
But this seemed to satisfy Max. “All right, look it, Scratch,” he said to his overgrown accomplice. “You and me’s gotta go with them, one big happy group. But, Gremmel,” he continued, now addressing me, “if you and Cool Aid try one thing, one little thing, you’ll be coughing up gravel for a month. I’ve seen Scratchmo do stuff you ain’t never dreamed of. There’s no worser cat than him in the city.”
“I believe you,” I said, the first word of truth I had uttered in a while.
“All right,” said Max, “I’ll go out first, the rest of you guys follow. Scratch, keep a close eye on Cool Aid over there. I don’t trust him.”
We squeezed out of the hole in the wall and found ourselves back into Fenway Park. Max instructed Cool Jay and myself to keep very close together.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Cool Jay under my breath. “I’m the cause of all of this.”
“You never have to apologize to me, sir,” returned Cool Jay. “I was in this thing right with you from the start.” We walked a few more steps and then he said, “Fact is, Mr. Grendall, it’s I who will have to beg your pardon.”
“Beg my pardon? For what, Cool Jay?”
“For this!” And then, quicker than a chipmunk with his tail on fire, Cool Jay planted a sharp, stinging bite directly on my right flank!
Was it the pain? Or was it the suddenness, the shock, the surprise? I will never know for sure, because right afterward, I, Oliver Grendall, a cat of rare erudition and capable of the finest, subtlest, most poetical of feelings, master of so many subjects both common and obscure, universally recognized among cats as the creme de la creme, the very cat against whom all other cats must be compared, went completely, totally, utterly, most profoundly and quite fundamentally berserk! I “lost it,” as they say. I yowled and broke away from my captors at a tearing run. I scampered here and there, between legs, over this and under that. Things like popcorn and nacho chips and plastic cups of beer and soda went flying. Curses were heard all around, many hands tried to grab me. Shouts, screams, warnings, imprecations, they went on and on, and I, I went on and on. Dear reader, let me assure you that even the greatest philosophers and sages of this age or any age could not have been unaffected by such an assault! I completely lost my head!
Finally, after some minutes (as nearly as I could judge the time) I calmed and slowed down. Near an entranceway leading to the ball field I stopped and tried to catch my breath. I had no idea where I was. I was still very, very agitated.
Then I heard Cool Jay’s voice. “Good work, sir! But we must keep going! They’re right behind us!”
I turned and saw Cool Jay. Then, framed between Cool Jay’s two orange ears, I saw Max and Scratchmo bearing up to us.
“Which way?” I asked.
“Up there!” Cool Jay replied, indicating the entrance ramp. Now Max and Scratchmo were nearly upon us.
I thought my energy was spent — how wrong I was! Cool Jay and I sped up the ramp, spurred on by Max’s shouts. There was a section of seats right in front of us, but we didn’t miss a stride. Up we went onto people’s shoulders and laps, hopping madly from row to row. What a ruckus we caused! And then we heard, “Scratch, head down the first row, they’re running out of room!” Yet on we went, stepping onto hot dogs and pizza, tearing programs with our claws. Drinks spilled everywhere. Forward, forward we went, ever impelled forward, our momentum carrying us, momentum that admitted no pause or delay. We saw the top of a low wall, we were on it in a second, and we sprang!
And then we landed in the greenest, plushest grass I had ever seen in my life, greener than Mr. Strunk’s grass, Mrs. Swift’s fastidious neighbor who always wore overalls when he worked in his yard. Cool Jay and I looked at each other and then we looked around us. Great Heavens! We were on the field of play!
Next chapter: Disappointment!