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Purrfect Saint

Mysteries of Max 21

When Grandma Muffin announced she’d found religion, and started recruiting followers for her new church, I just figured it was par for the course. After all, Gran has always had an eccentric streak. But when Harriet decided to follow in Gran’s footsteps and teach us all about the meaning of life, it got my attention. And so it happened that the whole family headed downtown one night to attend their first Soul Science gathering, meeting Masters Omar and Sharif, the church’s charismatic leaders.

Tex, meanwhile, was facing some problems of his own. A handsome young doctor had moved in across the street and had set up his office, and Tex’s patients were changing doctors in droves, leaving Odelia’s dad close to despair. There was something very peculiar about this new doctor, though, and it wasn’t just that everyone was so crazy about him.

Soon we were all searching for the meaning of life and happiness, the location of our souls, and how to make this world a better place. And so when tragedy struck, it’s safe to say we were ill-prepared. I like to think that the events that unfolded made us all more spiritual, though. They certainly forced us to dig deep and look for our inner sleuths!

Chapter One

I was leisurely lounging on the freshly mowed lawn behind the house I like to call my home, allowing the sun to play about my noble visage, and letting my paws dangle where they might. Birds were twittering in a nearby tree, lawnmowers were humming in the distance, and it was fair to say that this was a particularly wonderful time to be alive.

Next to me, Dooley was positioned in the same idle stance, lying on his back with his eyes closed, producing soft snores and generally enjoying a peaceful slumber.

No doubt you will tell me that a beatific scene like this is rare in a town as infested with crime and mayhem as Hampton Cove but you would be wrong. Generally speaking ours is a peaceable community, and if in the past I’ve given you the impression of the opposite I do offer my sincere apologies. It’s probably because when I regale you with my adventures and the happenings in my little nook of the world, like any storyteller worth his or her salt, I like to skip the boring parts and jump straight to the hot stuff. In between gruesome murders and spine-tingling crime, not much actually happens in Hampton Cove, which is why I tend to leave those interludes out of my chronicles.

And I’d just closed my eyes and was about to pay a visit to the land of dreams where no dogs exist and food is always aplenty, when a strange phenomenon attracted my attention.

“Pshhht!” said the rhododendron bush located to my immediate left.

I glanced over, intrigued. Rhododendrons are known in the close-knit community of shrubs and plants as the strong, silent type, in that they rarely, if ever, raise their voice.

“Pshhhht, Max!” the bush said, and I frowned. I may not be a stickler for formality but I like to have established relations with a bush before being placed on a first-name basis.

But then it occurred to me I had probably fallen asleep already and this entire scene was only playing in my head. A dream, so to speak, if a pretty mundane one.

So I simply closed my eyes again and decided to ignore these attempts to snag my attention. If next a rabbit jumped out from under the shrub and invited me to join him down his rabbit hole for a nice little visit to Wonderland, that was all right by me.

“Max! Over here!” said the bush, and once again I was compelled to glance over.

“Max, that bush is talking to you,” said Dooley, who’d apparently joined my dream.

“It’s all right,” I said. “We’re sharing a dream. Rhododendrons don’t speak. At least not in real life.”

“I know,” said Dooley. “But its voice sounds surprisingly a lot like Brutus’s.”

“Max! Dooley! It’s me—Brutus!” said the bush now, and I had to concede that Dooley had a point.

So it was with some reluctance that I heaved my lazy form from the smooth lawn and decided to see what was going on with my fellow cat. Dooley and I traipsed over to the bush in question and ducked behind it. Brutus, when we finally joined him, seemed both relieved and anxious.

“I’m in big trouble here, you guys,” he said. “Big, big trouble!”

Brutus is often in big trouble. He’s one of those butch cats, whose forceful personality tends to clash with other, more laid-back ones inhabiting our cozy hamlet. Brutus was born and raised in the big city, you see, and New York City cats, when they are repotted to the suburbs, sometimes have trouble adjusting to a more leisurely pace of life.

“Did you get into a fight again?” I asked, not attempting to hide a hint of disapproval.

“A fight?!” the big, black cat cried. “I never get into fights! I’m the most peace-loving cat around! And if anyone tells you different I’ll knock his block off!”

I noticed he’d balled his paws into fists and was eyeing me with distinct menace in his eyes. As I indicated: once a big-city scrapper, always a big-city scrapper.

“Are you on the run from the police, Brutus?” asked Dooley, curious. “Or the Mafia?”

Odelia and Chase, our humans, had watched an action movie last night, where a man was on the run from the police—or the Mafia—and Dooley and I had been forced to watch along, as is usually the case. Only very rarely do we get control over the remote.

“Lower your voices, will you?” said Brutus, and led by example by lowering his. “If she catches us it’s all over!”

“Who? The Black Mamba?” asked Dooley, his eyes widening excitedly. In the movie a woman named the Black Mamba had been behind all the trouble our heroes faced.

“Who?” asked Brutus, who had missed the movie.

“The Black Mamba. She can kill with one look!” said Dooley. “And if that doesn’t do the trick she can squeeze you so hard between her thighs you simply choke and die!”

Brutus frowned, and was clearly thinking the same thing I was: why would anyone want to kill a person by squeezing them between her thighs? Then again, that’s Hollywood for you. They think up the strangest and most convoluted plots.

“It’s Harriet,” he finally revealed. “She’s been hounding me about this guru she found.”

Dooley laughed, and Brutus gave him a dirty look.

“I’m sorry,” said Dooley. “But you said ‘hounded.’”

“So?”

“Harriet is a cat, Brutus, so how can she hound you? Cats don’t hound cats. Only hounds hound cats. When they’re not hounding other hounds, of course.”

Brutus grunted something that made Dooley wipe the smile from face, and said, “Trust me, once she starts in on you, you’ll know what I mean.”

“Harriet found a guru?” I asked. “You mean, by the side of the road?”

“Not exactly. He’s set himself up in a big house in town, and more and more people have started to flock to. When we visited him last night the place was swarming with people—and cats.”

Dooley and I shared a look of confusion. “Now when you say ‘guru,’” I said. “What do you mean, exactly?”

“What do you think I mean? Harriet found a guru and now she wants to convert me to this guru’s church or cult, and hopefully every other cat she meets. But I don’t want to join a church or cult, Max. I’m fine the way I am, cult-free.”

“I think you better tell Odelia,” I said. “If Harriet has joined a new cult, Odelia will want to know about it. What’s the name of this guru?”

“Master Sharif,” said Brutus, looking distinctly unhappy now, and I didn’t wonder. When one’s girlfriend starts dragging one to gurus in the middle of the night, one objects. One argues. And one hides in bushes and consults with one’s friends.

“You have to watch out, Brutus,” said Dooley. “Especially if this Master Sharif invites you to take position between her thighs. That’s how it all started for Indiana Smith, the hero in last night’s movie. Before he knew what was going on, he was flat as a pancake.”

“Master Sharif is not a she but a he,” said Brutus, “and his thighs don’t look all that lethal to me. His tongue is a different story. That cat can talk your ear off.”

“That cat?” I said. “You mean…”

Brutus nodded sadly. “Yes. Master Sharif is a feline, just like us.”

Chapter Two

Tex was glancing out the window of his office with unseeing eyes. A nice little garden the size of a postage stamp stretched out before him. It was his wife Marge’s pride and joy, and normally he loved the sight of it. He often liked to sit on the small bench, to read a book when business was slow, or during his lunch hour. Lately, though, he hadn’t felt any inclination to sit outside any more than he’d felt like relaxing with a good book.

Dark thoughts had been preying on his mind, and when that happens, any book, however well written, fails to grip.

Vesta had already gone home, and his last patient had been handed a prescription to treat the gumboil he was suffering from, but still there he was, staring out of windows and wallowing in misery.

Finally, he heaved a deep sigh, picked up his leather briefcase, and strode from his office. Pulling the front door closed with a satisfying click, he turned to assume his daily walk home when a loud yell of “Tex! Doctor Tex!” made him halt in his tracks.

A shiver ran down his spine, for he knew whom that voice belonged to, and he had no desire to converse with this person whatsoever, for it was he who was the cause of his recent troubles.

But Tex Poole was essentially a kindly man, and not prone to rudeness, so he paused and watched Jaqlyn Jones look left and right, cross the street and make a beeline for him.

With some effort, Tex creased his face into a smile sufficiently polite to satisfy the most critical acquaintance, and pushed away the sudden hope a nice big bus would hit Jaqlyn as he crossed the street, or even a ten-ton truck.

Unfortunately buses or ten-ton trucks are rarely there when you need them, and Jaqlyn reached the other side of the street unscathed.

He was a suave and handsome man in his early thirties, with perfectly coiffed hair, immaculately cut polo shirt, and sporting those boyish good looks that make women swoon and men suppress a sudden urge to smack them on the head with a blunt object.

“Tex, am I glad to see you!” said Jaqlyn, showing no indication of harboring the kind of rancor and resentment that Tex was harboring towards him. “I wanted to invite you to our garden party next Saturday. You and Marge simply have to join us.”

“Garden party?” asked Tex, that same stilted smile still plastered across his features. Normally he was a garrulous and jovial man who smiled easily and often, but lately a careworn expression had supplanted his customary happy demeanor.

“Yeah, we actually wanted to do it the week we arrived, but you know how it is. Getting the house ready, setting up my office, soliciting patients, we kept postponing, and it was only last week that Francine reminded me three months have gone by since we came to Hampton Cove and we haven’t even invited our new friends and neighbors yet!”

“Three months,” said Tex, nodding. “Has it really only been that long?”

“Yeah, it seems much longer, doesn’t it?”

“Much, much longer,” said Tex. More like three years. Or thirty.

“Say, I just saw Mrs. Baumgartner. Didn’t she use to be one of your patients?”

“She was.” One of his most faithful patients, in fact. Once upon a time Ida Baumgartner couldn’t be dislodged from his office with a wrecking ball.

“She’s been having trouble walking lately. Pain in her left ankle. She told me you attributed it to a slight sprain—nothing to worry about. But just to be on the safe side I sent her to a radiologist. Turns out she had a hairline fracture of the tibia. So I had to put her in a cast.” He grinned. “She wasn’t happy about it, let me tell you, Tex. Ha ha ha.”

“A fracture?” asked Tex, taken aback.

Jaqlyn shrugged. “Anyone could have missed it, Tex, so don’t beat yourself up about it.” He gave the older doctor a light slap on the back. “Francine mailed the invitations yesterday. So talk to your wife and RSVP us as soon as possible, will you?”

“Will do,” said Tex automatically, his mind filled with thoughts of Ida Baumgartner’s tibia and how he could have possibly missed that fracture.

“See you, buddy,” said Jaqlyn chummily, and darted across the street again.

“Yeah,” said Tex quietly. “See you.”

And as he resumed his short trek home, he wondered if ten-ton truck drivers advertised their services in the Hampton Cove Gazette.

***

In her office at the Gazette, Odelia Poole was just finishing up an article on the capture by the Mexican police of well-known criminals Johnny Carew and Jerry Vale. If at that moment her father would have asked her to contract a ten-ton truck driver for the direct purpose of committing vehicular manslaughter on his colleague Jaqlyn Jones, she would have strongly advised him against this particular scheme. But since her father had merely entertained the thought and not actually acted upon it, she continued putting fingers to keyboard until her article had reached its happy conclusion.

Happy for Capital First Bank, the bank Johnny Carew and Jerry Vale had robbed, though perhaps not all that happy for the two bank robbers in question. The criminal element rarely enjoys being collared and thrown into the slammer.

A tap on the doorjamb made Odelia look up, and she perceived she’d been joined by her editor Dan Goory. The white-bearded man who to many looked like a contemporary of Methuselah, was smiling. “Hard at work as usual. Really, Odelia, you are a marvel.”

“Just earning my weekly stipend,” she said, and leaned back. “They finally caught Johnny Carew and Jerry Vale.”

“The crooks who worked for your mother?”

She grimaced, as if a thumbtack had suddenly been introduced to her buttocks. She was a caring and loving young woman, and the thought that her mother had been duped by the two gangsters she’d so unselfishly taken under her wing still stung.

Marge Poole ran the local library, and in that capacity had accepted a request from Johnny and Jerry’s parole officer to allow the two men to spend their community service in the library’s employ. Instead of giving of their best to serve the community, though, they’d dug a tunnel to the neighboring Capital First Bank, and had burgled a number of safe-deposit boxes. Not exactly a nice way to repay their debt to society.

“I have a new job for you,” said Dan now. “What do you know about Soul Science?”

“The name sounds familiar. I’m going to say… Silicon Valley startup?”

“Soul Science is not a startup but a new church. They’ve just set up shop in the old Excelsior building on Tavern Street. So I think it behooves us to pay them a visit and find out more. And when I say us of course I mean you. I tried to make an appointment, but they told me they’re not talking to the media, so…”

“You want me to go in undercover and find out all there is to know about them?”

“Bingo,” he said. “Oh, and you better bring your cats.”

“My cats? Why?”

“The main man, the guru, if you will, apparently has a thing for cats. In fact he’s crazy about the creatures. Which makes you the perfect man for the job. Or woman.”

“Gotcha. My cats and I are happy to accept your mission, dear sir.”

Dan rubbed his face. “Oh, and try to snap a couple of good shots of the leader, will you? On the Soul Science website is an old picture, and his face kinda looks familiar.”

“Mysterious.”

“All good cults are.”

“Would you call them a cult?”

“I would—unless you can convince me otherwise.” He tapped the doorframe again. “I know you’ll knock it out of the park, Odelia.”

“We aim to please, sir,” said Odelia and was rewarded with a cheerful beard waggle.

Chapter Three

“A cat guru? Really?” I asked.

I’d frankly never heard of such a thing, and in the course of my lifetime I’d encountered and experienced many a strange phenomenon.

“Well, Master Sharif is more of a co-guru,” said Brutus. “In that he shares guruing duties with his human, who goes by the name of Master Omar. Omar takes care of the humans, while Sharif takes care of their cats.”

“Sounds like a solid business venture.”

“Oh, sure. You should have seen the place last night. Plenty of folks coming to see Omar, and cats to see Sharif. Except for me, since I was just along for the ride. Like a tourist.”

Dooley, who seemed disappointed that no thigh-squeezing was going on at Casa Omar/Sharif, now said, “So what does Harriet see in this guru? Is he very handsome?”

Brutus gave him a reproachful look. “Of course not. Master Sharif only handles cats’ spiritual needs—no hanky-panky involved. If he’d have made so much as a pass at Harriet, I’d have knocked his block off, guru or no guru.”

I would have told him he probably should stop knocking people’s blocks off, as it often gives the wrong impression, but he clearly wasn’t in the right frame of mind for a stern rebuke. So I merely said, “You still haven’t told us why you’re hiding in bushes pshhht’ing at innocent passersby.” Or lyersby, as in our case.

He heaved a deep sigh, and his face sagged a little. “Like I said, Harriet wants to convert me. She wants me to become a member of Sharif’s flock and she’ll stop at nothing until I’ve declared my allegiance and become a Soul Science follower, too.”

“Soul Science?”

“It’s the name of Sharif’s outfit.”

“Has a nice ring to it,” I said. “But they shouldn’t try and push you to join up.” I’m a big believer in allowing every cat to join any creed, religion or other aspiration they choose, as long as no coercion is involved. “Why don’t I tell her to lay off?” I suggested now.

“Wouldn’t do no good,” said Brutus. “She’ll probably try to convert you, too.”

I smiled a complacent little smile. “Let her try.”

“Oh, there you are,” suddenly a voice spoke in our immediate rear, and the cat of the hour suddenly appeared in our midst. Harriet is a gorgeous white Persian, who has been making heads spin and hearts race in our feline community ever since she made her debut.

“Harriet!” said Brutus, suddenly nervous. “We were just—I was just—I was going—”

“Have you ever considered that you’re more than a body with basic needs, Max?” Harriet asked, ignoring Brutus’s inane babbling and directing a stern look at me.

I smiled my coolest smile. This was it. A first attempt to break down my defenses.

“I have not,” I said. “In fact I like my body and my basic needs just the way they are and I see no reason to change a single thing about them. Not one little thing.”

She blinked, but was not deterred. “Eating, sleeping, the occasional bathroom visit… Is that really all you want out of life, Max? Surely there must be more?”

“I like to sleep,” I said, “and eat and take the occasional bathroom break. So what?”

“Have you never felt a deep inner yearning for more? A deep-seated feeling that there’s another dimension out there—a dimension you have yet to fully explore?”

“There is Dyno-Kat,” I conceded.

“Dyno-what?”

“Dyno-Kat is a new brand of kibble, designed to blow your faithful furry friend’s mind,” I explained. “I asked Odelia to buy it for me but she hasn’t gotten round to it yet.”

She tsk-tsked and shook her head like a school teacher when a pupil gives the wrong answer. “Now, now, Max. I know for a fact that you have a soul.”

“I have a soul?” I asked, surprised.

“I’ve seen glimpses of it over the years. Beneath that soft and pudgy exterior there lurks a spiritual heart.”

“I very much doubt it.”

“We all have a soul, only we rarely use it.”

“I have soul,” said Dooley, and broke into a boogie-woogie, shaking his hips and swishing his tail and generally dancing to a snatch of music only he could hear.

Harriet stared at him for a moment, then dismissed him with a flick of her paw. “You have to join me tonight for a meeting that will change your life, Max. I promise you that all the answers to all the questions you’ve ever asked yourself over the course of a lifetime will finally be revealed. You’ll leave Master Sharif’s presence a new cat.”

“I don’t want to be a new cat,” I announced, and thought that should fix her.

“Oh, Max,” she said with a smile. “That’s what you think now, but wait till you’ve heard Master Sharif address you personally. You’ll never be the same again.”

“What if I want to be the same again?”

“Well, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t. Shanille is also coming, and so is Kingman. In fact I’ve invited the entire cat choir. So if you don’t come you’ll be the odd one out, and you don’t want to be left behind while all of your friends are joining the movement, do you, Max?”

I hesitated. This was a pretty powerful argument. “Shanille and Kingman are going?”

“And so are you. And Dooley, of course,” she said, giving our boogie-woogieing friend a quick sideways glance, as if he was nothing but a mere afterthought.

“Where am I going?” asked Dooley, interested.

“Tavern Street 56 at eight o’clock on the dot. Be there or be square,” she said, and then swept out from under the rhododendron, displaying all the hallmarks of a busy cult recruiter about to spread her message of hope and eternal peace to other beneficiaries.

“See?!” cried Brutus. “This is exactly what I was trying to avoid! Now we’re all for it. Master Sharif is going to recruit our friends, and if we refuse to sign up we’ll be left out!”

“Impossible,” I said. “Shanille, for one, is a staunch Catholic and will never allow herself to become a member of some sketchy cult. And Kingman is too down-to-earth and pragmatic to get involved in anything wishy-washy.” I gave Brutus a comforting pat on the back. “Don’t you worry about a thing, my friend. I have the situation well in paw. Tonight we’re going to expose Master Sharif for exactly what he is: a fraud and a shill. And we’re going to free Harriet from his spiritual clutches.”

For some reason Brutus didn’t seem entirely convinced. I, on the other hand, was absolutely sanguine about my scheme. No cult was going to recruit me. And definitely not a cult led by a man named Omar and a cat named Sharif. Or my name wasn’t Max.

Copyright © 2020 by Nic Saint