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Mysteries of Max 25

Lean Mean Cleaning Machine

Look, I’m not one to make a big fuss about nothing, but this last week has been too eventful to ignore. Not only was I kicked out of my own home, I was also attacked—yes, attacked, I tell you—on no less than two separate occasions. First there was the big vacuum cleaner scare, and then there was what I like to call ‘the Roomba incident,’ as it involved one of those terrible robotic vacuums. Of course we fought back, on both occasions, I might add, and for a moment we thought we’d snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. But that was before Odelia brought in the big guns, in the form of the Trainor sisters, Blanche and Bella. Cleaning ladies by profession, and cat haters by vocation. Their philosophy is that cats don’t belong in the home, and so they locked our respective pet flaps—and started the war.

And it wasn’t as if I didn’t have other things to worry about. There was Uncle Alec, being the center of some vile gossip campaign, and there was the spate of burglaries terrorizing our small and otherwise peaceful town. But it’s hard to focus on fighting crime when you’re dealing with a pair of cat-hating cleaning ladies, wouldn’t you agree? And did I mention that they locked our pet flaps? Of all the dastardly, horrible, monstrous… But let’s not dwell on the negatives. There are plenty of positives in this new chronicle of my adventures, too. So please do read on, for a furry good time!

Chapter One

“Max?”

I lazily opened one eye. “Mh?”

“I have a question for you,” said Dooley. “And I want you to think long and hard before you give me an answer.”

I found myself intrigued. “Okay,” I said therefore. “What is the question?”

“Who can run faster, a hare or a fox?”

I frowned at the questioner. It was a tough one, granted, but even more than that, I failed to see the significance. “I have absolutely no idea,” I said. “Why do you want to know?”

Dooley frowned before him in an idle fashion. “It’s for this quiz show I want to go on.”

“What quiz show?”

“Well, not Jeopardy, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a new show that Gran likes to watch. They ask you all these questions, and if you give the right answers you can win a car. Or even a house.”

“A house!” I said, properly impressed. “That must be some quiz show, if they’re giving away a whole house.” What with property prices the way they are, winning a house is not a small deal. But I still wasn’t fully satisfied with my friend’s answers. “So… why do you want to win a car? Or a house, for that matter?”

Dooley shrugged. “I just think it would be great if you and I could have our own place, you know. Far away from certain… pets.”

And there it was. And I understood all. Lately Harriet had been throwing her weight around to some extent. Used to be she more or less accepted that as a family of felines we were all equal under the sun. As of late, though, she’d started assuming the role of leader of the pack—telling us what to do, where to go, and, even more importantly, whom to associate with. I could see how this would create the kind of environment that would cause a sensitive cat like Dooley to bridle, and to look for a route of escape.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Dooley,” I said, as gently as I knew how, “but I don’t think they allow cats to participate in game shows. Not the ones I know of, anyway.”

“They don’t?” asked Dooley, with not a little bit of disappointment. “But that’s not fair.”

“Well, seeing as there aren’t a lot of humans out there that can understand what we say, it wouldn’t make for very interesting viewing,” I explained.

This gave my friend some food for thought, and as he mulled this over, I placed my chin on my paws again, and took up my refreshing morning nap where I had left off.

After a while, though, animation returned to Dooley’s form, and he said, “So why don’t we suggest to Gran that she organize a quiz show? She could be the show host and ask all the questions, and all the candidates would be cats. I’m sure it would be a big hit.”

“I’m not so sure,” I muttered. I’d just been dreaming about a fine feline who’d been giving me a look that said she liked what she saw, and I was reluctant to throw off the blanket of sleep just to listen to my friend’s ongoing ramblings about quiz shows.

“Of course!” he said, his excitement building as he thought more about his latest brainwave. “With all the cats in the world, it would be huge. How many cats are there?”

“Not sure,” I said, yawning. “A lot, I guess.”

“Millions, maybe even billions! And since there are no other shows for cats to watch, they’d all tune into our quiz show, wouldn’t they? It would be the biggest hit in history.”

“You’re forgetting one thing, Dooley,” I said, once again being forced to play the party pooper, a role I did not enjoy, I can tell you. “Cats don’t own televisions, and they don’t always control the remote controls. In fact I’d hazard a guess that in most cases they don’t have control over what they can and cannot watch at all. The humans are the gatekeepers to whatever is on offer on the television, and humans would be bored to tears within five seconds at having to watch a bunch of caterwauling cats on display.”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”

And once again he fell into a deep reverie as he contemplated ways and means of dealing with this new obstacle I’d put on his path to a successful career in television.

This time it took him a little while longer to work out the details of his new proposal, but when finally he woke me again from my slumber, I could tell from the tremor in his voice and the feverish gleam in his eye that he’d manage to come up with a real gem.

“I have one word for you, Max,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked, sighing a little, as that formidable female feline hadn’t returned in my latest dream. Instead I’d dreamt of a rabbit popping out of a hat and playing hide and seek. You’ll agree with me that rabbits aren’t as fascinating as formidable felines giving you that look. Rabbits simply don’t have that je ne sais quoi.

“The internet,” he said, thrusting out his chest with an air of accomplishment.

“That’s two words,” I pointed out.

“Oh, right,” he said, deflating only a smidgen before swelling again and practically caroling, “We’ll make it an internet quiz show. Cats can access their humans’ smartphones, can’t they? And sometimes they even have their own personal tablets they can use to watch whatever they like. So we’ll create a YouTube show with Gran as the host, and turn it into the best-watched program on the entire internet!”

I yawned. Not because his idea bored me, but because sometimes Dooley’s ramblings simply have that effect on me. “Mh,” I said noncommittally.

“Don’t you see what a great idea this is, Max?” he tooted. “Cats across the globe will tune in and all of those advertising dollars will start pouring in and soon Gran will be able to give away a house as the first prize and we’ll win it and then we’ll finally be free!”

“Mh,” I repeated. I recognize a pipe dream when I see one, and even though I didn’t want to rain on my friend’s parade—not too much, anyway—I still felt it incumbent upon me, as Dooley’s best friend, to point out another fatal flaw in his scheme. “I’m not sure advertisers are going to pay top dollar to advertise on a show aimed solely at cats,” I said. Once again it was the gatekeeper story. It’s not cats who spend the money on food and other cat paraphernalia but their owners, and since said owners wouldn’t tune into a show with a bunch of cats meowing all over the place, I didn’t see the potential, to be honest.

I explained all this to Dooley in great detail, but failed to put a dent in his excitement.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s just like with parents, you see. When they go shopping the supermarkets put the kinds of things kids love on the lower shelves so kids will see it and grab it and put it in mom and dad’s shopping cart. People will do the same with cats. When they see a commercial for a particular brand of cat food they’ll whine and beg until their humans will click and buy the stuff.” He spread his paws. “It’s a sure-fire blockbuster, Max. And all we need is Gran to say yes and we’re off and running.”

I gave him my trademark look of skepticism but this time his spirits wouldn’t be dampened even if I threw him all the skeptical looks in the universe. He was convinced he was onto something big and he was going to see it through no matter what.

“Let’s ask Gran,” I said therefore. “See what she has to say.”

“Oh, Max, thank you!” he cried, and threw his paws around my neck and moved in for a hug.

“Yeah, yeah, all right, all right,” I said. I’m not one of those cats who go in for all the hugging and other displays of affection, but I like to make an exception for Dooley because he simply is the cuddly kind of cat. And because he’s my friend, of course.

He clasped his paws together and sighed happily. “We’re going to win this quiz show and then we’re going to get a house and then we’re going to live happily ever after, Max. Just you wait and see.”

“Sure,” I said, and promptly dozed off again.

Chapter Two

“Max. Max!”

I think I could be forgiven for thinking ‘Now what?’ when this new intrusion upon my peace and quiet came upon me.

Of course I’d immediately recognized Harriet’s voice, and for a split second I wondered about Dooley’s plan to win a house so we could both get away from the slightly annoying feline. A plan borne of desperation, granted, but a plan nonetheless. But then I cast the silly notion aside and opened my eyes to address this new emergency.

“What?” I asked as I watched the prissy white Persian stalk in my general direction.

“This simply cannot go on any longer,” said Harriet with all the forcefulness of her personality.

I would have asked at this point what exactly could not go on any longer, but I had the distinct impression I would soon be placed in possession of all the facts pertaining to the case, whether I wanted to or not.

“Those mice have only just left the house or already a new plague is upon us,” she said, frowning darkly, her tail swishing annoyedly through the air. I followed it for a moment with my eyes, until I got slightly dizzy, then focused on Harriet’s clear green eyes again, something I immediately regretted when I was blasted with the full force of her irritation in a look that hit me amidships and rocked me to the core.

I swallowed a little. “What plague?” I managed to ask.

“Oh, Max,” she said, rolling her eyes and freeing me from their hypnotic influence. “Not you, too. I tell everyone who will listen and no one seems to care. I call it a sad state of affairs when the only one who cares about cleanliness and hygiene is yours truly.”

I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but I wisely refrained from voicing this thought. Instead, I asked, “Are the mice back? Is that what’s plaguing you?”

Until very recently the house had been infested with a family of no less than two hundred mice. They’d since skedaddled but clearly some new disaster had befallen us.

“Max! Will you please pay attention!” said Harriet.

Out of sheer habit, I sat upright, and would have saluted if I’d been a soldier in Harriet’s army and she the general. Instead, I blinked a couple of times, and wondered how long I’d slept that I’d completely missed this latest tragedy.

“Come,” said Harriet, so I came. “Look,” she said, so I looked.

Only where she was pointing there wasn’t all that much to see. We were in the living room, near the sliding glass door, and try as I might I couldn’t spot the harbinger of doom that apparently had infested our home and hearth. No mice, no black beetles, no cockroaches, not even a teeny tiny spider was in evidence where Harriet was glaring.

“Um… what am I looking at?” I finally asked.

“Dust!” she cried, and gave an innocent little dust bunny a nudge with her paw.

I stared at the dust bunny. The dust bunny stared back at me. Then I glanced up at Harriet, and I must have given her the wrong look, for she rolled her eyes once more.

“It’s a disgrace!” she said. “Once upon a time this house was the epitome of neatness and cleanliness and now it’s turning into a dump!”

“Hardly a dump,” I argued. After all, one dust bunny does not a dump make. Now if dust bunnies had been littering the place it would have been a different matter altogether. But before I could argue my case, Harriet was charging full steam ahead.

“Something needs to be done. This really cannot go on. What if I was allergic? I could have died!” she said, dramatically pointing at the harmless little pile of fluff with her tail.

“A little bit of dust won’t kill you, Harriet,” I said, but quickly shut up when she gave me a look that could, well, kill.

“It’s not just this pile of dust, Max,” she said. “There’s more.”

“More?” I asked, stifling a groan.

“A lot more,” she indicated, and stomped off in the direction of the couch, which is, I must confess, one of my favorite places in the entire house. “Look,” she instructed, and lifted the sheet Odelia likes to place on top of the couch to protect it from my tendency to dig my claws into its softness. And of course the shedding. Let’s not forget about the shedding. However you look at it, cats will shed, there’s simply no denying the fact.

I threw a quick glance underneath the couch in the direction Harriet was pointing, and once again I found myself stumped. “Um…” I said. “I really don’t see…”

“Oh, Max!” Harriet cried, and sighed in an exaggerated fashion, as if she were talking to a three-year-old with mental issues. And to demonstrate what I failed to grasp, she reached into the darkness with her paw and returned… with another dust bunny. “See!” she said, wagging the poor innocent bit of fluff in my face. “This place is falling apart.” She shook off the bunny with an expression of utter distaste, and then proceeded to lay it all out for me. “No cleaning is being done, or at least not in the way that it should be done. Health hazards are allowed to fester and pollute what should be a safe environment. And as a consequence death traps are allowed to spring up left, right and center.” She eyed me expectantly. “So what are you going to do about it, Max?”

I gave her a look of consternation. “Me? What do you want me to do?”

“Odelia is your human, Max. She is your responsibility. You have to tell her that this simply will not do. That her cats are in a situation of clear and present danger and measures must be taken to eradicate the menace to our health and wellbeing.”

“I really don’t think two innocent bits of dust present a danger to our health and safety,” I argued. I don’t mind talking to my human, and pointing out her responsibilities, but this was taking things too far, I felt.

“Do you know how many germs this innocent bit of dust, as you call it, harbors?” Her eyes had narrowed into tiny slits, spelling danger. “And do you know the kinds of diseases that are spread by these germs, not to mention the abundance of fungi?”

I shivered at the mention of the word fungi. I don’t mind the odd germ, but I dislike fungi with a vengeance. Probably because of a horror movie I once saw with Odelia and her boyfriend Chase. It centered around a fungoid growth crash-landing on earth as part of a meteor and proceeding to devour a small town before being stopped by a heroic brace of teenagers and their fearless dog. Why it’s always a fearless dog that accompanies teenage heroes in Hollywood movies and never a fearless cat is beyond me, but there you have it. Typical Hollywood anti-cat bias, I guess.

“Look, I’ll talk to Odelia, if that’s what you want,” I said, “but I don’t think you have to worry about the danger these dust bunnies offer. I’m sure they’re all pretty harmless.”

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” said Harriet decidedly. “And if you were a true leader of cats you would know this.”

I frowned. “A true what now?”

“A true leader knows when to take responsibility. He wouldn’t allow things to get as bad as this.”

“I’m not a leader of cats,” I pointed out. “I’m just me. Max. A common house cat.”

“Oh, Max,” said Harriet, shaking her head sadly. “You still don’t see it, do you?”

“Um, no,” I said. “I guess I don’t.” I wondered what she was on about this time.

“You are the cat everyone looks up to, Max, whether you like it or not.”

“No, they don’t,” I said, greatly surprised.

“Dooley looks up to you. And I know for a fact that Brutus does, too.”

I laughed what I hoped was a rollicking laugh. “Brutus, looking up to me? No way.”

“Oh, yes. In fact half the town’s cat population looks to you for leadership, Max, and frankly so do I. And all I can say is that you’ve failed us.” She nodded seriously. “You have failed us and you’ve put us all in mortal danger when you took your eye off the ball.”

I stared at the ball of fluff, and wondered if this was the ball she was referring to.

“You dropped the ball, Max, and I’m very, very disappointed in you.”

First I took my eye off the ball and then I dropped it. Or was it the other way around?

Suddenly the idea of moving into a different home, far away from Harriet and her strange theories and bossy ways sounded a lot more appealing than it had before.

Maybe I should participate in this quiz. But first I needed to find out who can run faster: a hare or a fox. Something told me it was one of those trick questions, though.

Chapter Three

“Max—Max, where are you—Max?!”

Oh, dear Lord in heaven! “What?!” I yelled from my position on the couch. Some days are like that: everyone and their grandmother seems to need to talk to you about something, and feels it incumbent upon them to disturb your peaceful slumber.

This time it was my very own human who’d come to bring me great tidings of joy—or sorrow, as the case may be.

“Hey, Max,” said Odelia, sounding and looking a little breathless. She was blushing, and looked as if she’d just run a marathon—or at least a 60-yard dash. “How are you, my precious little Maxie?” she said, and started nuzzling me in the most outrageous fashion: digging her nose into my neck and making the kind of nonsensical gibbering sounds humans usually reserve for the moment they encounter a newly born baby.

“I’m fine,” I said a little frostily. Being rudely dragged from those precious snatches of sleep will do that to a cat. This time I’d been dreaming of a nice piece of fish fillet that had my name on it.

Odelia was still fussing over me, and stroking my fur and even going so far as to tickle my fluffy cheeks, grabbing my face in both hands and rubbing me under my chin. And in spite of the fact that I’d had my imaginary fish filet rudely snatched away from me, I couldn’t resist to smile at the treatment my human was giving me, and then, of course, I was betrayed by my own body when I started purring. It’s an involuntary thing, I tell you.

“So what’s the emergency?” I asked finally, when Odelia’s fervor started dissipating.

“No emergency,” she said with a smile as she grabbed her phone from the table and made herself comfortable on the couch next to me. “Just happy to see my precious baby.”

I cleared my throat. Maybe this was the time to address the issue Harriet had brought to my attention. No time like the present, right? “There have been some complaints.”

“Oh?” she said distractedly, as she’d started reading something on her phone.

“Yeah, about cleanliness and a general lack of hygiene.”

“Mh,” she responded as she started tapping a message on her phone. Clearly I’d missed my window of opportunity and had lost her full attention.

Still I trudged on. “The thing is… Harriet feels that standards have been dropping precipitously as of late, and she doesn’t think this is necessarily a good thing.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah—it’s all the dust she seems to object to, mainly. Dust bunnies in particular. She doesn’t like them. She found one underneath this couch, and one over by the window.”

We have one of those nice hardwood floors, and with the sun bathing it in a warm glow right now, the dust bunny was clearly visible from where I was lying and looking.

Odelia didn’t even glance up, though, focused as she was on her digital gizmo.

“Odelia?” I said, gently giving her leg a tap.

“Mh…”

“So what do you think should be done about this dust bunny issue?”

“That’s great, Max,” she said, and then got up and moved away, her eyes still glued to her phone, and her fingers too, as she tapped out another message with lightning speed.

I let out a deep sigh and vowed to give it another shot at a later date. Tough to compete with a smartphone for your human’s attention, I mean to say.

But as luck would have it, just then Gran walked in, looking as spry and chipper as ever. Well, maybe not chipper. As a rule Grandma Muffin doesn’t do chipper.

“Gran,” I said, perking up. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Later,” she snapped, as she searched around for someone who wasn’t me. “Odelia,” she said as she located her granddaughter. “The neighborhood watch are organizing a meeting next week and I want you to come. Odelia, are you listening? Odelia!”

“What?” Odelia asked, looking up from her phone.

Gran had pressed her lips together and gave her granddaughter a look of reproach. “I swear to God, one of these days that thing is going to be the death of you.”

“What thing?” asked Odelia.

“So are you coming or not?”

“Coming to what?”

“See? I knew you weren’t listening. Here, let me have that.” And with these words, she unceremoniously grabbed my human’s phone and tucked it into the pocket of her green-and-purple tracksuit.

“Hey, that’s my phone!” Odelia cried, as if she’d just lost a limb or vital body part.

“I know, and now it’s mine. And if you do as I say I just might let you have it back. Now are you going to listen to me or not?”

Odelia frowned, and crossed her arms in front of her. She clearly wasn’t happy to be treated like a recalcitrant child. “I’m listening.”

“I’m organizing a meeting of the neighborhood watch next week. Big meeting. We hope to welcome plenty of new members. I want you to come. You and Chase.”

“I’m sorry, Gran,” Odelia began, shaking her head.

But Gran arched a menacing eyebrow. “No meeting, no phone,” she said.

“You can’t do that!”

“Watch me.” Then she softened. “Look, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. There’s been a spate of burglaries lately, and we need to get on top of it before it’s too late.”

“Burglaries? Have you told Uncle Alec?”

“He’s too busy buttering up Charlene Butterwick,” said Gran with a throwaway gesture of the hand. “No, it’s up to us to save this neighborhood from falling prey to this gang of burglars, and that means you, too. The neighborhood needs you, honey.”

“Okay, sure,” said Odelia with a shrug. “If you think I can help.”

“We can only pull this neighborhood away from the brink if we all work together,” said Gran, sounding so much like a motivational coach even Odelia looked impressed.

“No, of course,” she said. “Anything I can do to help.”

“That’s settled then,” said Gran, and turned to leave.

“Wait, my phone,” said Odelia.

Gran dangled the phone from her fingertips. “Are you sure you want it back? You know smartphones aren’t good for you. They’re like the crack cocaine of the digital age.”

“Please please please can I have it back?” Odelia begged, inadvertently proving her grandmother right.

The old lady sighed, then handed her granddaughter back her phone. “Sometimes I fear for your generation,” she said, then stalked off and slammed the door.

Odelia, a happy smile on her face, immediately was immersed in her phone again.

The dust bunny was swept up from the floor by the draft caused by Gran’s departure. It happily fluttered through the living room, then into the salon, and finally settled right on top of my nose. I squinted at the bunny, cross-eyed, then sneezed, dislodging it from its perch. It flittered down right next to me, and for a moment I watched it for signs of malevolence. When nothing happened, though, I slowly drifted off to sleep again, proving once and for all that dust bunnies and cats can live together in perfect harmony.

Copyright © 2020 by Nic Saint