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Purrfect Trap

Mysteries of Max 15

Life had been going swimmingly, as life usually does in Hampton Cove, when suddenly disaster struck. Odelia had scheduled a surprise visit to Vena Aleman. Vena is our local vet, and a master at inflicting pain and suffering. And as it happens she was about to have a field day, for I’d been troubled by a toothache, and this fact had not escaped Vena.

So when those awful abductions happened I should have seen them coming, but I was still under the influence of my pain meds. Is it any wonder, then, that Dooley and I were captured by those awful catnappers? I blame Vena, to be honest, though of course that fiendish woman would deny all responsibility, and blame everything on the bad guys.

Add to that Grandma Muffin stomping at the bit to pick a fight with Tex, Odelia chasing the story of a lifetime when the local sausage store ran out of sausages, and you can see why I felt compelled to share these harrowing events with you, dear reader. Will there be a happy end, you ask? Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it, and I’m not a spoilsport.

Prologue

Heavy rain lashed the windows of the homes that lined the road. A storm had blown in overnight and the wind had picked up speed. Lightning slashed the sky and the night was black as ink. Elon Pope, as he pushed down on the pedals of his bicycle, cursed his decision to take his bike and not the Lambo. He could have been home by now, warm and dry, heating himself by the family fireplace. But no, he had to play the hero again.

When his sister Marcie had accused him of being a climate denier and a grade-A polluter, he’d pointed out to her that he wasn’t merely the proud owner of a Maserati and a Lamborghini but also of a good old-fashioned bike, so when she’d challenged him to hit the pubs on his bike and leave his supercars at home, he’d foolishly taken her on.

And now here he was, riding along this deserted stretch of road in the middle of the night, while Hampton Covians were all safely tucked into their beds, pedaling away like a madman. His nice Moreschi shoes were ruined, his black Armani jeans spattered and caked with mud and muck, and his favorite Ralph Lauren polo shirt completely soaked.

His hair was plastered to his skull and he had trouble seeing which way he was going from the rain lashing his face and running into his eyes. Oh, damn you, Marcie.

Soon he’d left Hampton Cove behind, and was traveling along one of the smaller roads out of town. No posh residences here, though—only a bunch of old houses and rundown farms. One of those old houses was his family home, and the knowledge that he was close made him push down on those pedals with renewed fervor. One more mile.

And he’d just reached a fork in the road, and taken a left turn, when suddenly lightning flashed once again, only this time hitting much closer. It actually struck a willow tree close by and the sparks made Elon utter an inadvertent yelp of fear.

Yikes. This horrible storm was not only inconvenient but also seriously dangerous! Hadn’t he once read about a man being struck by lightning in just such a storm? And what had the advice been? To hide under a tree? Or not to hide under a tree? He couldn’t remember. One thing he shouldn’t do was stand still in the middle of the street. Or ride an iron bicycle on the open road… He looked around for a moment, wondering whether to go on or to take cover for a moment. Maybe let the worst of the storm blow over.

He wiped the rain from his eyes and glanced over to the old Buschmann house, just beyond the bend. Rumor had it that the place was haunted by the ghost of old Royce Buschmann. Nonsense, of course. Old man Buschmann had simply died and the house had fallen into disrepair, its owner having had no children or siblings to inherit the place.

Lightning struck once more, eerily illuminating the old structure. He shivered, and not just from being soaked through and through. It was almost as if the house had a soul. As if an evil entity possessed it. Even as a child he’d never been able to pass the house without a shiver, and to this day he preferred to take the other road into town, and avoid this part of the neighborhood.

He didn’t look away, though. For some reason he couldn’t, his gaze inexorably drawn to that hideous facade, those dormer windows like eyes, that gaping mouth for a door.

He suddenly realized that he’d stopped, and instead of bicycling away from the house as fast as his chilled legs could carry him, he was actually getting off his bike and approaching the house, as if some dark and mysterious force compelled him.

Thunder made the earth quake, and he snapped out of his strange reverie.

He’d simply had one too many to drink, and wasn’t thinking straight right now.

And that’s when he saw it: a pale face was staring right back at him from inside the house! A horrible face with eyes black as coal. It was old man Buschmann himself!

But before he could drag his eyes away from the hideous sight, something exploded across his skull. A sudden pain bloomed at the back of his head. And he knew no more.

Chapter One

“Well, you can’t have it.”

“Yes, I can!”

“Over my dead body!”

“That can be arranged!”

I sat watching the spectacle like a spectator at the US Open.

“Who are you rooting for, Max?” asked Dooley, who was sitting next to me and enjoying the same show.

“I’m not sure,” I confessed. “Normally I’d root for Tex, as he often seems to be the voice of reason in this crazy family, but I feel that Gran has a point, too.”

“I agree,” said Dooley, which wasn’t a big surprise. After all, Grandma Muffin is his human, and if only out of a sense of self-preservation cats often take the side of the humans that feed them. Hypocritical, I know, but there you go.

“I need one of those new-fangled smartphones and if you won’t buy me one I’m moving out!”

“Fine!” said Tex. “Move out if you want. See if I care!”

The two opponents stood at daggers drawn, both with their arms crossed in front of their chests, and their noses practically touching.

“I need that phone!” Gran tried again, clearly not as keen on moving out as her threat had promised.

“No, you don’t. You have a perfectly functioning smartphone and that’ll have to do!”

We were in Marge and Tex’s kitchen, where all good fights between Tex and his mother-in-law usually take place.

“My phone is old—I need a new one.”

“It’s not old—it’s practically brand-new!”

“It’s five years old! It’s an antique!”

“My phone is five years old, and you don’t hear me complaining.”

“That’s because you’re an antique yourself.”

“Sticks and stones, ma. Sticks and stones.”

“You probably got my phone at a frickin’ yard sale!”

In actual fact Tex had bought Gran’s phone on eBay, but he wasn’t going to let an insignificant little detail like that derail a perfectly good fight.

“It’s as good as new, and it’ll have to do.”

“It’s an iPhone five! They’re already up to ten or eleven!”

“So? If every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone I have to buy you one, I’d be broke!”

He had a point, and Dooley murmured his agreement, as did I. At the rate these smartphone manufacturers kept putting out new models you could spend a fortune, especially as they kept getting more and more expensive. The latest ones cost well over a thousand bucks. A thousand dollars for a silly little gadget! Nuts. It just goes to show that there’s no limit to the avarice of your latter-day capitalist when he hits on a guileless public willing to part with its hard-earned cash. Or, in this case, Tex’s hard-earned cash.

“Ma, you don’t need a new phone,” said Marge, also entering the argument, albeit reluctantly, as nothing good ever came from getting into a fight with her mother.

Grandma Muffin may look like a sweet old granny, with her little white curls and her angelic pink face, but underneath all that loveliness lurks a tough old baby.

“It folds!” Gran now yelled.

Both Tex and Marge stared at her. “It does what now?” asked Tex.

“The new phones! They fold right down the middle. And I want one.”

Tex rolled his eyes, and so did Marge. A collective eye roll. Not good.

“You don’t need a foldable smartphone, ma,” said Marge.

“Yeah, those things are fragile,” said Tex. “Plus they cost a fortune.”

“I need the bigger screen, so I can watch my shows on my phone.”

Gran is an avid consumer of soap operas. I think she watches all of them, if she has the chance. And the ones she can’t watch, on account of the fact that she works at Tex’s doctor’s office as a receptionist, she records on her DVR and watches later in the day.

“You can watch your shows on the TV like a normal person,” said Tex.

“I want to watch them live at the office. It’s different when you watch them live.”

“Someone should tell Gran that none of those shows are live,” I said.

Instead, Marge wagged her finger at her mother. “You shouldn’t watch shows when you’re working, ma.”

“Well, I want to, and I will,” Gran said stubbornly. “There’s never much to do at the office in the afternoon. Besides, Tex’s patients bore me, with all their yapping about their irritable bowel syndrome and their hemorrhoids. Who cares about some old idiot’s bowels! I don’t need that crap in my life. I want my shows and I want to watch them live.”

“She’s right,” said Dooley. “She always misses her favorite shows these days.”

“All working people miss their favorite shows,” I pointed out. “That’s what DVRs are for. Besides, she can watch them online. Most networks put shows online these days.”

Frankly the whole argument was starting to get a little tedious, not to mention repetitive, so I decided to leave them to it, and move into the living room, where a couch was waiting that had my name on it. Well, not literally, of course. But it is very comfy.

Dooley felt the same way, for he followed me out, the voices of three adults yelling at each other over a foldable smartphone following us into the living room. We hopped up onto the couch, turned around a couple of times to find ourselves the perfect spot, and finally lay down, neatly folding our tails around our faces, and promptly dozed off.

You’re probably wondering why I wasn’t over at Odelia’s, enjoying my perfectly good nap on my own perfectly good couch. Well, I will tell you why. Odelia and Chase are redecorating, and the house is a total mess right now. Not only that, but there’s a weirdly annoying smell of wallpaper glue and paint that pervades the entire house, and it fills me with such a sense of nausea I have trouble finding sleep. So for the time being Dooley and I have both decided to seek refuge at Tex and Marge’s. Fights are never pleasant, unless you love their entertainment value, like we do, but the stench of paint fumes is actually a lot worse, and even deleterious for one’s general health and well-being.

And I’d just dozed off and had started dreaming about the birds and bees—real birds and bees, mind you—when a loud booming voice practically had me tumbling down from my high perch. I was up and poised in a fight-or-flight position, ready for any contingency, when I saw that the booming voice didn’t actually belong to a human presence in the room, but to some loudmouth on the television, which Gran had just switched on and was watching intently, the volume cranked up to maximum capacity.

“Gran! Turn that down!” Tex bellowed from the kitchen.

But Gran decided to play deaf, and sat watching the TV with a mulish expression on her face. Obviously foldable smartphone negotiations hadn’t reached a breakthrough.

“Max?” said Dooley.

“Uh-huh?” I said, my heart rate slowly climbing down from its Himalayan heights.

“Isn’t that the guy?”

“What guy?” I said, wishing not for the first time that cats were able to put their fingers in their ears, the way humans can.

“The guy on the TV.”

I redirected my attention to the television for the first time. Apart from the noise, I hadn’t really paid any attention to the particular spectacle that was unfolding there.

The evening news was on, and newscaster Lauren Klepfisch, a lady we’d met in a recent adventure, was announcing that a person had gone missing, and asking the public to keep an eye out for him. I have to admit I didn’t recognize the youth in question. He was liberally pimpled and had a big zit on the tip of his nose. Not the picture of beauty.

“I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure…” I began.

“The lottery guy,” said Dooley. “The kid who won the lottery.”

I stared at the picture of the youth some more. According to the report his name was Elon Pope, and apart from the pimples he was also red-bearded and a little portly. In fact he looked like a younger, chunkier Ed Sheeran. He was grimacing awkwardly into the camera, a hunted expression in his eyes. It was one of those pictures paparazzi like to snap of unsuspecting celebrities. Paparazzi just love to make celebrities look like fools, and they must have had a field day with Elon Pope. His entire expression screamed deer in the headlights, and I wondered if they’d caught him exiting some local den of inequity or other house of disrepute. And then I recognized him. “Hey, isn’t that…”

“The youngest kid ever to win the lottery,” said Gran, who was following the story with rapt attention, her anger at being denied Tim Cook’s latest toy a distant memory.

“That’s right,” I said. “How much did he win again?”

“Three hundred million and change,” said Gran with a wistful look on her face. “You can buy a lot of foldable smartphones with three hundred million and change,” she added, indicating Tim Cook’s toy shop was still very much at the forefront of her mind.

According to the report Elon had vanished without a trace. He’d last been seen exiting the Café Baron, the hipster bar on Downey Street, but never made it home.

“Maybe he decided to disappear,” Dooley suggested.

“Could be,” Gran agreed.

Dooley might be on to something. The kid hadn’t expected to win the big pot and had been struggling in the aftermath of his big win. At eighteen, he’d immediately walked out of his job at the 7-Eleven where he’d made a career as a shelf stacker, and never looked back. But then stories had started to surface about the fancy house he bought, and the fleet of fancy cars he acquired, and the models he’d been dating, and the wild and crazy parties he’d been throwing, where a bunch of strangers he’d never met before but who’d suddenly become his best friends forever had enjoyed his lavish hospitality.

“He probably decided enough was enough,” said Gran. “Or else he ran out of money already, and decided to move to Mexico and start a new life as a shelf stacker over there.”

She then resolutely switched the channel to Jeopardy, and for the next half hour intently followed the exciting exploits of Alex Trebek as he guided us through another series of tough questions to guess. To Gran’s credit, she guessed every last one of them.

But Dooley and I had had enough. Gran’s habit of turning the volume up to the max was impeding with our natural predilection for peace and quiet, so we decided to leg it.

We hopped down from the couch and moved upstairs to Gran’s room, which was devoid of both noise and humans, curled up at the foot of her bed and were soon fast asleep once more.

Ah, blisssss…

It wasn’t long, though, before the world decided to intrude upon our slumber. This time not in the form of Lauren Klepfisch or Alex Trebek, but our fellow cats Harriet and Brutus.

“What are you guys doing in here?” asked Harriet, who looked annoyed by our presence, even though technically she was the one who was intruding.

“We’re trying to get some quality Z’s,” I said pointedly. “What are you doing here?”

“Haven’t you heard?” said Brutus. “Odelia has decided to take us all to Vena’s again, so we figured we’d hide in the last place she would look.”

I gulped, and so did Dooley. Vena Aleman is Hampton Cove’s number-one veterinarian, and Odelia always finds some excuse to take us there and have us turned inside out by Vena’s gloved hands. More often than not discomfort and pain is involved, not to mention needles and all manner of torture gear. Suffice it to say we don’t like Vena, and we don’t like this habit of Odelia of dragging us there, even when we’re not sick.

“Oh, my God,” I said, raising my paws. “Why can’t she just leave us alone?!”

“Right?” said Harriet. “All of us are the picture of health, but still she insists on having us checked out over and over and over again. And Vena never finds a thing!”

“Exactly!” I cried, indignation making me sound squeaky. Like a squirrel.

“You have been having trouble chewing lately, though, Max,” said Dooley.

“No, I haven’t,” I said quickly.

“Yeah, you have,” said Brutus. “You told me so yourself.”

“Yeah, and you keep favoring your left side, because of the pain on the right,” said Harriet.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said, my paws breaking out into a sweat. “It will pass.”

I should never have told Dooley, or Harriet, or Brutus! Of course they would go blabbing to Odelia and now she was taking me to Vena’s and I was for it! For it!

“You should have that tooth checked out, Max,” Dooley said now. “It’s not good for you to keep walking around with a bad tooth.”

“You guys, I keep telling you, I don’t have a bad tooth! It’s all good, I’m fine!” They gave me a look of pity that almost hurt as much as my tooth was hurting. “I swear!” I said. “It doesn’t hurt. Look!” I chewed down on the comforter. “Do you think I would do this if my tooth hurt? Huh?”

“It’s very soft, this comforter,” said Harriet skeptically. “Try biting down on this.”

She pointed to Gran’s wooden footboard. I flinched, then decided to accept the challenge, and bit down on the board, which was about half an inch of laminated chipboard. Immediately I regretted my initiative, as a sharp pain shot through my jaw, then blossomed into my head like a full-blown headache. Ouch! I let go of the board and had to grit my teeth to keep from uttering a yelp. Of course by gritting my teeth I only made matters worse, and when the faces of my friends contorted in a vicarious pain response, I cried, “Okay, so my tooth hurts a little bit! But so what? It will heal, right?”

“Wrong,” said Harriet, who was quickly becoming the voice of unreason. “Teeth don’t heal by themselves, Max. They should be looked at by a professional.”

“Like Vena,” said Dooley helpfully.

“So you’re going to the vet, buddy,” said Brutus. “Whether you like it or not.”

“In fact we’re all going,” said Harriet, patting my back.

“To give you the emotional support you need,” Dooley added.

I shook off Harriet’s paw. “I’m not going and that’s my final word,” I said. “In fact if I never set foot in Vena’s office ever again it will be too soon!”

Chapter Two

Vena was making a face, which told me things with my tooth weren’t as good as I’d imagined.

“This isn’t good,” she said, as if she’d read my mind. Then made a tsk-tsking sound.

“Oh, poor Maxie,” said Odelia. She still had a few splashes of paint on her face, and wallpaper glue in her hair. Also with us at the doctor’s office were, as promised, Dooley, Harriet and Brutus. For moral support, though judging from their faces and the rapt attention they now paid to the procedure, they were more there as rubberneckers and disaster tourists. You know. The kind of cats that enjoy train wrecks and car crashes.

“Is it bad?” I finally asked around Vena’s gloved fingers as they probed my gums and caused me no small degree of discomfort and pain.

“Oh, how sweet,” said Vena, who could only hear my meows.

Odelia, on the other hand, understands what cats are saying, and she translated my thoughts to the medical woman. “Is it bad, Vena?” she asked.

“You better believe it, baby,” said the large woman. Vena is cut from the same mold that produced the likes of John Cena and Arnold Schwarzenegger and could probably have been a pro wrestler if she hadn’t decided to become a professional pet torturer instead. She was shaking her head in abject dismay. “He must have been in a lot of pain for a long time. Three teeth are beyond salvage. Broken off, protruding roots, infected gum, pus dripping from an abscess. Here. I’ll show you,” she said, and probed my painful gum with obvious delight. “See? And here. See how swollen his gums are?”

I had half a mind to bite down on her fingers, but decided not to. Not out of the goodness of my own heart, mind you, but because I didn’t want to risk hurting my teeth even more. Vena was right. I had been suffering quite a bit of pain lately, but had simply favored the other side of my mouth until the pain went away all by itself. Unfortunately it looked as if Harriet might be right after all: toothaches don’t simply go away, the way other aches and pains often do. They need a professional’s touch to get better.

“So is she going to fix my teeth now?” I asked, speaking a little unclearly as one does when a veterinarian has her fingers jammed practically down one’s throat.

“You’re going to have to leave him with me,” said Vena, finally dragging her eyes away from the devastated area that apparently was my mouth.

“What?” I said, aghast.

“I need to pull all these,” she said, as she raked her finger along my painful teeth, in the process drawing a whimper from yours truly. “And to do that I need to sedate him, of course, and then when he wakes up I’d like to make sure he’s fine before I send him home.”

“But I don’t want to stay here!” I said.

“It’s necessary,” Vena said, as if she could actually understand my heartfelt lament.

“Of course,” said Odelia, immediately caving like a true wimp!

“I’m also going to draw some blood,” said Vena, and proceeded to bring out a huge lawnmower!

Well, not a lawnmower, maybe, but one of those contraptions Chase likes to use in the morning to remove the stubble from his chin and cheeks.

And before I knew what was happening, she’d planted the contraption against my arm and was using it to remove my precious fur!

“Oh, my God!” Brutus cried, holding his paws up to his head in consternation.

“I can’t watch this,” said Harriet, turning away from the horrid procedure.

“Does it hurt, Max?” asked Dooley, the third one in the peanut gallery to make a comment.

“No, it doesn’t hurt, but it’s not much fun either!” I said. “Any more stupid questions?”

They all winced as they watched how Vena, with practiced ease, removed a large swath of perfectly fine fur from my arm, then plucked away the remainder and threw the whole lot into the garbage!

“Hey, I need that fur!” I said, aghast. “That’s my fur! You can’t just go and—”

“Just a tiny little prick,” said Vena, and suddenly jabbed a needle into my arm!

“Owowow!” I cried. That wasn’t a tiny prick, you liar!

“Normally I sedate them at this point,” said Vena, “but since Max is always such a good boy…” She casually extracted about a pint of blood, then attached a second tube!

“Is that… blood?” asked Harriet, and promptly passed out.

“Oops,” said Vena. “Yeah, this is not very pleasant, is it, Maxie, darling?”

“No, it’s not!” I cried as I stared at my blood draining away into the tube.

“Harriet!” Brutus squealed. “Harriet! Say something! Doc! Harriet dropped dead! My snuggle bug just dropped dead on me! She’s dead, I’m telling you. Doooooc!”

“Harriet?” said Odelia as she rubbed Harriet’s back. “Are you all right, sweetie?”

In response, Harriet merely muttered something about blood.

Vena adroitly extracted the second tube, removed the needle from my arm, then checked Harriet. She smiled. “She’ll be fine. Maybe you shouldn’t have brought them, Odelia. Cats are sensitive creatures, and it looks a great deal worse than it feels.”

“No, it doesn’t!” I said. “In fact it feels a great deal worse than it looks!”

“Since they don’t know what’s happening, and don’t understand, all they see is me poking their friend with a needle, so they must all be pretty upset right now.”

“I’m not upset,” said Dooley. “I just wonder where all that red stuff is coming from?”

“That’s blood, Dooley,” I said tersely. “My blood!”

“Oh,” said Dooley, frowning. “You mean, Vena is a vampire?”

“Just give her a minute,” said Vena, placing Harriet on a chair. “Now let’s continue, shall we?” She had spilled a drop of blood on her metal operation table, and now pressed some sort of contraption against it. “Let’s check his blood sugar level…” she murmured. She keenly eyed the device and nodded. “Looks good. He doesn’t have diabetes.”

“Diabetes!” I said.

“Now let’s have a listen to his heart…” And she pressed some cold thingamabob into my chest! “Mh…” she said, listening intently at the other end of the weird-looking device, and proceeding to poke me all over my tender corpus! Finally she smiled. “No. No problems there. His heart is fine. Now let’s put him on the scale.”

And before I knew what was happening, she’d carried me over to a corner of her consulting room, and placed me on a big metal plate and held me in place with her gloved hand. I have to confess I wasn’t giving her friendly glances. But she paid me no mind.

“Mh,” she said after a moment. “He’s still a little heavier than I like to see.”

“I’m not heavy!” I said, indignant.

“How much do you feed him?”

“Well…” said Odelia, thinking.

Basically she feeds me however much I like to eat. As she should!

“Does he get a lot of exercise?”

“He does move around a lot,” Odelia confirmed.

“Where am I?” asked Harriet, emerging from her malaise. “Blood!” she cried when she saw me, and immediately became woozy again. Only this time, at least, she didn’t pass out on us.

“I would like him to lose at least three pounds,” said Vena now, the spoilsport. “We don’t want him to get diabetes, or heart disease.”

“And I would like to state, for the record, that I feel perfectly fine,” I said.

“You should limit his portions,” said Vena, “and perhaps switch back over to the diet kibble. That seems to have done the trick last time.”

“He doesn’t like the diet kibble, though,” said Odelia, and I gave her two paws up for coming to my defense!

“Yeah, well, that can’t be helped, I’m afraid,” said Vena with a truly wicked smile. “I’m going to run some more tests right now, and then later tonight I’ll do the procedure.”

“Thanks, Vena,” said Odelia, then turned to me, still sitting on that sneaky scale. “See you later, sweetie,” she said, grabbing my cheeks between her hands and pushing them together, like humans tend to do with babies and toddlers.

“Do I really have to stay here, Odelia?” I asked with a groan.

“Oh, yes, you do,” she said. “You need to have this operation, Max. But I promise, you’ll feel so much better afterward. No more pain. And you’ll be able to chew again.”

“Diet kibble,” I muttered darkly.

“He won’t be able to eat kibble for three weeks, though,” said Vena now. “Only soft food for a while.” And she proceeded to pick me up, and inject something into my back.

“Ouch!” I cried. “When is this torture ever going to stop?!”

“Just some antibiotics,” she explained. “Against the infection.”

What did I tell you? A visit to Vena is like a visit to a torture chamber, or the place where that guy from Saw lives. Needles, needles, more needles and diet kibble!

And to add insult to injury, Harriet, Brutus and Dooley filed out of the room, giving me waves with their paws, and when Odelia closed the door it was just me and Vena…

Copyright © 2019 by Nic Saint