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Purrfectly Slim

Mysteries of Max 58

The Better Cat®

It was one of those days. First Brutus asked my help when Harriet put him on a diet. Then Chase arrived home with something called The Better Bib®, a gizmo designed for parents with messy toddlers. And finally a woman asked Odelia to look into the disappearance of her husband Slim Perkins… who was running a weight loss clinic!

The upshot was that we were all put on a diet.

Like I said. It was one of those days. Sigh.

Chapter One

I was lying on my back, paws in the air, when I became aware of strange goings-on in the kitchen of the lovely little home we share with our humans. Dooley and I were in the backyard, taking advantage of a sunny day, and making the most of the fine weather we’d been having these past couple of days. Summer is a great time to be out and about, and you don’t even have to wear a raincoat or take an umbrella. Not that I’ve ever been in the habit of taking an umbrella anywhere, or wearing a raincoat. I’m a cat, after all, and as everyone knows cats like to roam wild and free, unencumbered by such silly accoutrements. That’s a human aberration. And a canine one, of course.

“What’s that noise?” asked my friend, who was lying next to me.

“I have no idea, Dooley,” I said. “I just noticed it myself.”

“It seems to come from inside the house,” he said, pricking up his ears to such an extent that they resembled miniature antennae, which in effect they were.

“Yeah, I got that same impression,” I said, quickly adjusting my own ears so they were pointing in the same direction.

It almost sounded as if our humans were engaged in a quarrel or a brawl. Which would have greatly surprised me, since Odelia and Chase never fight. They’re one of those harmonious couples, you see. The kind that lives happily ever after—and then some.

“I think they’re having an argument,” Dooley said with a frown. Like me, he abhors violence or disharmony of any kind.

“Let’s take a look inside,” I suggested. Dooley wasn’t convinced, though, judging from the way he darted nervous glances in my direction. “Just to find out what’s going on,” I clarified. “Not to get mixed up in whatever those two are up to.”

“Oh, all right,” he said, and followed me in through the pet flap.

It was exactly as we’d surmised: Odelia and Chase were having an argument, and even though the topic was as yet unknown to us, it seemed to center around a small object that lay on the table, right next to the box it had arrived in. Now I remembered I’d heard the doorbell. And already I could see what must have happened: one or the other had ordered something online, which had arrived in due course, and which for some reason proceeded to irk their partner.

“It’s too much, babe,” Odelia was saying. “I mean, I know your intentions are good, but it’s simply too much money.”

“It was on sale,” Chase argued. “And I got free shipping, too.”

“I don’t care. It’s still too expensive.” She picked up the strange object from the table and turned it around in her hands. “What is it, anyway?”

Chase’s face morphed into a big smile. “It’s a bib. And not just any bib. This is the one and only Better Bib®.”

“It doesn’t look like a bib,” said Odelia skeptically. “It looks more like some electronic gizmo.”

“Well it is and it isn’t,” said her husband. “It’s an intelligent bib.”

“You mean it can read and write?” Odelia didn’t hide her skepticism.

“Oh, it can do so much more,” said Chase, and took the thing from his wife’s hands. “See, this is how you turn it on, and this is how you tie it around Grace’s neck.” He held out two pink strings.

“Oh, no,” said Odelia. “No way is that thing coming anywhere near our little girl. I won’t have it.”

“But you haven’t even seen what it can do!”

“Okay, so show me. Give us a demonstration.”

Chase smiled. It hadn’t escaped his attention that his audience had expanded with the presence of two feline members of his household. “Okay, so you tie it around your neck like so,” he said, and tied the strange bib around his own neck, accepting a little assistance from his wife to tie a nice little bow. “And then you press this little button right here, like so,” he said, and pressed a big finger on a small hidden button. “Et voila! We’re in business!”

“Okay,” said Odelia, who was standing a little ways away, just to be on the safe side. “And now what?”

“Now watch carefully,” said Chase, and picked up a cup from the dish rack, filled it with water from the tap, and proceeded to chuck it down his front!

Only the water never reached the floor. Instead it sort of vanished into thin air.

“What happened to the water, Max?” asked Dooley.

“I don’t know,” I said, blinking a few times in astonishment.

“See?” said Chase, even though we hadn’t seen a thing. He was holding up his hands in a gesture of triumph. “You can throw anything at this thing, and it will simply disappear. No more dirty floors, or dirty clothes, no more food smeared all over the place. Whatever hits this bib is neatly and expediently disposed of.”

“But where does it go?” asked Odelia as she took a step closer again, to examine the bib. “It’s dry,” she told us. “As if that water never even touched it.”

“The water—or anything else that comes into contact with this bib—is automatically broken down into its composing atoms and molecules and whatnot and simply compacted into nothingness,” Chase explained. “It’s the latest breakthrough in molecular science, only this time used for a very practical purpose.”

“Huh,” said Odelia, much impressed, as we all were. “So that water?”

“Gone!” said Chase. “Demolecularized! Or dematerialized, however you want to call it.”

Odelia now opened the fridge and took out a plastic bowl of apple sauce and smeared a few spoons across the bib. And right before our eyes, the apple sauce vanished, just like that water!

“Oh, my goodness, this is amazing,” said Odelia as she touched the bib. “It’s gone, Chase—simply gone!”

“I told you,” said Chase triumphantly. “So from now on we can tie this wonder bib to our little girl, and it will take care of all of that food ending up down her front instead of in her mouth.”

“I think it’s great,” said Odelia with a wide grin.

“And for a bargain price,” said Chase. “And free shipping.”

“So what happens when you rub your hand across that bib?” asked Dooley. “Does it get demateriomolecularized too?”

Immediately Odelia retracted her hand and checked to see if it was still attached to her arm. She gave Chase a look of concern. “Dooley just asked what happens when you touch the bib? Does it make your hand disappear?”

Chase laughed an indulgent laugh, going so far as to throw his head back and giving it some oomph. “Oh, don’t be silly, woman,” he said when his mirth had expended itself. “This bib has been extensively tested and deemed perfectly safe. In fact it says right here on the label that only food items get processed, nothing else.”

“So no forks, spoons or human body parts?” asked Odelia, giving the thing a careful little prod with a dainty little pinkie.

“Nope. Only items of food.”

“Water isn’t food, though,” said Dooley. “And since the average human body is sixty percent water, I wouldn’t be so quick to tie that thing around my neck if I were you.”

We watched Chase nervously, half expecting him to get demolecularized right in front of us any moment now.

“Relax,” said Chase, placing a large hand on his wife’s shoulder. “It’s perfectly safe. Otherwise the people who make these things wouldn’t be allowed to sell them now would they?”

“So what’s it called again?” asked Odelia, slightly mollified.

“The Better Bib®,” said Chase proudly. “And I can tell you right now, babe—this little gizmo is going to change our lives!”

Chapter Two

I have to say that this whole Better Bib business was probably overkill, since Grace, Odelia and Chase’s little girl, had evolved from being a very messy eater to being able to put an item of food into her mouth and actually keep it there and even subject it to the customary process of mastication and ingestion. In other words, less stuff ended up on her bib and more in her mouth and tummy.

“It’s all those television commercials,” said Dooley.

We had wandered back into the backyard, our minds at ease now that the big row turned out not to be such a big row after all, but simply one of those arguments married couples seem to have.

“What commercials?” I asked once we were back in our old spot: on the patio, in the shade the big table provides.

“Well, you know. Television commercials. They put them on all the time, before a show, and in the middle of a show, and at the end of a show. And if you see them often enough, and you will, your average human will suddenly feel powerfully compelled to pick up the phone and order whatever it is they’re trying to sell them.”

“So what are you saying? That some commercial for this Better Bib came on and Chase fell for it hook, line and sinker?”

“Of course! Why else would he buy a thing like that? I mean, I’m sure it has its uses, but did you see the price tag, Max? Chase paid over a hundred bucks for that silly bib.”

I gulped. “One hundred dollars!”

Dooley nodded solemnly.

“No wonder Odelia was upset. That’s a lot of money for a gadget.”

“If I were Odelia I’d send it right back,” said my friend as he began the intricate process of licking himself all over. “By this time tomorrow Chase will have forgotten it even exists, and at least one hundred dollars will find their way back into the household kitty.”

It was true, of course, that our humans were not as well-off as Chase’s expense might indicate. Chase is a cop, you see, and Odelia a reporter, and neither profession is known for its lavish remuneration package. And since the arrival of Grace they have one more mouth to feed, day care to pay, and the little girl’s academic future to think of.

“At least they’re not stinting on the good stuff for us,” I said. Taking everything into consideration, I was very lucky in that I always got what my little heart desired—or my stomach, to be precise.

And we’d both resumed our nap when a sudden hissing sound caused us to interrupt said slumber once more. This time it didn’t come from inside the house but from the rose bushes at the bottom of the garden—the spot where our friends Brutus and Harriet like to spend their time.

“Is that you, Brutus?” I asked therefore.

“Come over here a minute, will you, Max?” the big black cat said, indicating that it was indeed him.

I got up with a silent groan. I was starting to get the impression it was going to be one of those days again. “Yes, Brutus?” I asked once I’d waddled my way over there. “What is it? And why, may I ask, are you hiding in there?”

“I’m not hiding,” said the cat with a touch of defensiveness. “I just don’t want to be seen.”

“By Harriet?” I said. He was glancing this way and that, looking very anxious and not a little bit on edge.

“Who told you?” he asked. “Did she tell you to look for me? You won’t tell her where I am, will you?”

“What’s going on?” I asked, hoping to get to the bottom of this mystery as soon as possible, so I could return to that nice shady spot underneath the table, and resume my peaceful nap.

“Harriet says I’m too fat,” said Brutus with a little catch in his voice. “And now she wants me to go on a diet. A diet, Max! Me!”

I cast an appraising glance at the butch cat. “You’re not fat,” I finally determined. “You’re simply very muscular.”

“That’s what I keep telling her! But she insists it’s all flab, and I have to get rid of it—or else!”

“Or else what?”

He hung his head. “She didn’t say. But she said it in a nasty sort of way. Well, you know what she’s like, Max. She’s got something planned for me, in case I don’t do as she says.”

“Oh, yes, I know exactly what you mean,” I said. Harriet is one of those bossy felines, you see, and used to getting her way. And if she feels that Brutus is too fat and needs to go on a diet, he will go on a diet, no matter what he says. I felt for the cat. I really did. People have called me fat from time to time, and Odelia has even put me on a diet in the not-so-distant past. Mostly due to Vena Aleman, who is a veterinarian, and likes nothing better than to torture pets like me. The big-boned variety, if you see what I mean.

“She wants me to eat lean meat only from now on,” Brutus lamented. “And only once a day, if you can believe it. I can’t survive on one meal a day, Max—I simply can’t!”

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ve got the solution all worked out already.”

“You have?” he said, giving me a look of intense admiration.

“Absolutely. It’s simple. You enjoy your single meal a day with Harriet, and then when she’s asleep, you enjoy your other five or six meals. Easy peasy. And the best part is that she doesn’t even have to know.”

“You don’t understand, Max,” said Brutus. “Harriet has vowed not to leave me out of her sight. Not for one second! As long as I’m on this diet, she’s going to be at my side morning, noon and night—and she’s not kidding!”

“I see,” I said, and I did see. It was a tricky situation, and one that was going to require careful handling. Harriet has a volcanic temper, and whoever she aims it at may well live in fear of his or her life. So if I was going to be cast in the role of Brutus’s secret supplier of food, and Harriet were to find out I was thwarting her plans, she might well come down on me like a ton of bricks!

“I was thinking that maybe you could organize a rescue mission,” said Brutus, his eyes shifting this way and that, anticipating his partner’s imminent arrival on the scene. “You and the rest of our friends. Spread the risk of being captured, you know. So you supply me some little sustenance on Monday, Dooley takes care of Tuesdays, Shanille Wednesdays and so on and so forth.”

“But you just told me Harriet has vowed never to leave you out of her sight.”

“She has to go to the bathroom sometime, Max,” Brutus argued. “And also, she has to sleep. She’s only feline, after all.”

“True, true,” I agreed. “Which means we have to watch her like a hawk, while she’s watching you like a hawk.”

“Would you do that for me, Maxie baby?” he asked, almost pleading now. “Pretty please? I won’t survive if you don’t,” he added, laying on a little guilt trip for good measure. “I might collapse and die, you know, if I don’t get enough food in me.”

“Yes, all right,” I said, not very happy with this whole set-up, since not only would it put me on a collision course with Harriet, but I had the impression it would seriously cut into my nap time.

“Oh, thank you,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You’re a true pal, Max. A real friend. A buddy. A brother!”

I merely muttered something, trying to figure out how I was to go about this. From a practical point of view this was going to be a major undertaking, not unlike the Normandy landings, and it would require a lot of planning, not to mention stealth and cunning.

In other words: a big pain in my patootie!

Chapter Three

“What was all that about?” asked Dooley once I’d returned to the patio.

“Harriet has put Brutus on a diet, and now he wants us to feed him when Harriet is not looking,” I said as I stretched out next to him.

“Harriet won’t like that,” said Dooley. “When she catches us she will not be happy.”

“I know, but we can’t let Brutus down, can we?” Especially since I know how tough on the morale these diets can be.

“You know what we should do?” said my friend. “We should take Grace’s bib and somehow put it in reverse.”

I stared at him. “What do you mean, put it in reverse?”

“Well, you know how it dematerializes any food items that come into contact with it? So how about making it materialize them again? Like a vacuum cleaner, you know. It can either suck in the dust, but it can also spit it out again when you reverse the process.”

“Dooley, but that’s brilliant!” I said. “Absolutely genius! First we feed the Better Bib a ton of food, then hand it to Brutus, and somehow make it regurgitate the food when Harriet isn’t looking! That way she can’t accuse us of going behind her back to break Brutus’s diet!”

“Only problem is: does the Better Bib have such a reverse switch? We’d have to ask Odelia or Chase to read the manual.”

But his idea was so good that I wasn’t discouraged for even a second by this minor hurdle. If vacuum cleaners can be induced to work in reverse and spit out dust, why not Chase’s snazzy new gizmo?

And so we headed inside to have a quiet little chat with Odelia. This was a matter of life and death, after all, so it was all paws on deck—and all hands, too!

We found Odelia sitting at the table and staring at the Better Bib, twisting the gadget this way and that. When she heard the pet flap flap she didn’t even look up, but said, “What do you think, Max? Should I take a chance on this thing?”

“I would give it some careful consideration first,” I said. “Put it through its paces. And as luck would have it, a brave volunteer has stepped forward to take the Better Bib for a test run. Work out any possible kinks.”

She glanced up. “Don’t tell me you want to wear this bib?”

“Me! Not a chance! Brutus will. And he’s extremely eager, too.”

“Brutus is on a diet,” Dooley explained. “Only he doesn’t want to be on a diet, but Harriet is making him go on a diet. And so now we were thinking—”

“You were thinking,” I corrected him. “This is all your brilliant idea, Dooley.”

“I was thinking,” Dooley amended, “that maybe we could feed food to the bib and then hand it to Brutus and somehow make it regurgitate the food so he can eat it.”

Odelia frowned. “I’m not following. Can you repeat that?”

And so Dooley repeated it, and then I added my own interpretation of the plan, and finally Odelia’s face lit up. “Oh, I see! You want to use the bib to secretly feed Brutus.”

“Exactly,” I said. “So if you could read the instructions, maybe you could tell us where the switch is? The reverse thingy?”

“If this thing has a reverse thingy,” she said, and took out an instruction manual the size of a phone book that stated in all the languages of the world how to use the Better Bib to our satisfaction. Unfortunately no reference was made to a switch that could be used to reverse the unique process the bib employed to work its magic. “To be honest I don’t feel at ease putting this around Grace’s neck,” said Odelia. “I mean, it all seems a little experimental to me. And I don’t want to use my child as a guinea pig for some untested… Oh, here it is,” she said, squinting. “This fine print is really, really fine!” She squinted some more. “Um… Okay, so it says where the switch is, and where the batteries go, but it doesn’t mention anything about reversing the process.”

“Maybe we need someone to take a look at it?” I said. “Someone who knows about this kind of stuff? A gifted engineer or a brilliant scientist or a genius nerd who can—”

“What’s all this about a bib that eats food!” suddenly a voice rang out. Gran had entered the house through the sliding glass door and joined us. “Is this it?” she asked, taking the bib from the table and holding it close to her face. “And Marge tells me that your husband paid a hundred bucks for this thing? I hate to be the one to tell you this, honey, but I think he’s been hoodwinked. This looks like an ordinary bib to me—nothing revolutionary about it.”

“You have to turn it on first,” said Dooley. “There’s a switch, and when you turn it on, it will start making stuff disappear.”

“Where’s this switch?” asked Gran, frowning at the gizmo. Then, after Odelia had pointed out the switch to her, she pressed it. The bib made a slight humming sound as it powered up, and we all took a step back!

“Okay, so I’m putting it down here,” said Gran, and carefully placed the bib on the table. “And now I’m going to feed it food.” She looked around, and her eye fell on the fruit bowl. She picked up a banana, and unceremoniously dropped it on top of the bib.

And right before our eyes, the banana disappeared!

“Hey, what do you know, it works!” said Gran, who looked very much surprised.

“It’s a little creepy, though, isn’t it?” said Odelia quietly.

“So where is this banana?” asked Gran, lifting the bib to look underneath. “What’s the trick?”

“It’s been demolecularized,” Odelia explained as she read from the manual. “Broken down into its basic atomic elements. And since there is a lot of space between the atoms that make up a molecule, it’s this space that’s now left, and only this space.”

“I don’t get it. Can you run that by me again, please?”

And so Odelia ran that by us again. It all boiled down to the fact that a banana consists of molecules, and molecules consist of atoms, and there is a lot of space between these atoms. Take away the space, and apparently there’s not a lot left. Which was how the banana had been made to disappear. It all sounded a little like science fiction, but then Dooley assured us that the Discovery Channel had done plenty of documentaries about molecules and atoms and suchlike, so it must be true!

“So how do I get my banana back?” asked Gran.

“I’m happy you ask,” said Odelia with a smile. “You wouldn’t happen to know a brilliant scientist or engineer, would you?” And she proceeded to explain to her grandmother the predicament Brutus found himself in, and the solution Dooley had dreamed up.

Gran shrugged. “Who needs an engineer?” she said, and grabbed the Better Bib from the table. “How hard can it be, right?” And she thumped her bony chest. “I’ll figure it out for you, hon. I’ll crack that code, or my name isn’t Vesta Muffin!”

Copyright © 2022 by Nic Saint