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The Mysteries of Max 64

Ezra finds himself in the impossible situation that he must be married with kids within a year. So when his roommate suggests he rent a wife and borrow a baby the plan doesn’t seem as crazy to him as it sounds. But what woman in her right mind is going to marry a guy like him?

Sylvie hates her boss, which is funny, since her boss hates her too. And then there’s Julie, the fortunate result of an unfortunate marriage. Sylvie wants to turn her life around, but doesn’t even know where to begin. Until she gets an unusual offer.

Sarah’s kleptomania lands her in hot water when she is caught stealing an expensive diamond ring. Within a week she loses her job, her apartment and her boyfriend. With nowhere else to turn, she asks Odelia Kingsley to help her get her life back on track.

Barnaby runs a successful flower shop in the heart of Hampton Cove. His only regret is that he never found love. What he does have is a belligerent mother who likes to run his life. Barnaby knows he should probably make some changes, but how?

Before long the paths of these four people will cross, leading to some unexpected situations. But one thing is for sure: their lives will never be the same again.

Chapter 1

Ezra Burns had always found it hard to deal with the curveballs life threw at him, but as he got older it was getting worse. So when he stepped out of the elevator and found himself face to face with a young woman he had never seen before, it took him a little while to realize that instead of staring at the woman, what he should be doing was nod a friendly greeting and go on his merry way.

More than he, the girl was distinctly aware of the social niceties required in this type of situation and so she produced a polite smile and waited for him to move so she could proceed. When he simply stood there like an idiot, the smile slowly morphed into an expression of confusion, which finally gave way to her first utterance.

“Can I…” She gestured to the elevator, and a wave of mortification washed over him when understanding penetrated the inertia that had momentarily taken possession of both his brain and his limbs.

“Oh, of course!” he said, stepping aside.

He watched as she sailed past him, flicking a confused glance at him as she did—a glance that gave him the impression she was trying to decide whether he was mentally challenged or simply the usual stalker type.

It took a moment for the elevator doors to close, and in that brief moment their eyes met and they shared another awkward exchange. He, transfixed as before. She, seriously considering calling the police and having him escorted from the premises and shipped off to prison post-haste.

Finally the doors closed and the spell was broken. Ezra shook himself, blinked a few times, and wondered what was wrong with him. He normally wasn’t in the habit of cornering young persons of the opposite sex in elevators and staring at them like some aspiring sex offender. And as he replayed the cringeworthy scene in his mind, he groaned.

But since life in the big city never stops, not even to give a young man who’s come under the spell of a young woman he just met a moment’s respite to reflect, a throng of people displaced him, eager to ride the next elevator car up to their respective floors.

It was a sad-looking Ezra who could be seen five minutes later exiting the office building, reminiscing about the conversation that had just taken place and that had decided his future—such as it was.

His aunt Emily, who had the forethought of writing up a will before she passed away a week ago, had also instructed her lawyer to invite the respective parties involved to the reading of that last will and testament in his office located in the heart of New York City. Ezra, who lived on the other side of town in a modest walkup in the Bronx, had wondered if he should wear black at the meeting, or his usual outfit. Not being intimately familiar with the protocol when attending a post-funeral meeting in a lawyer’s office, he had decided to opt for the happy medium: he’d worn his trusty black jeans, a black button-down shirt and had even managed to dig out a pair of black trainers from the back of his roommate’s closet, who just happened to share his shoe size. The only thing he hadn’t changed was his wild mop of blue-colored hair, though he had managed to tame it down with a substantial amount of hair gel, making him look like a junior executive of a Silicon Valley tech startup. In actual fact he was a waiter by profession—not by design but by happenstance, since his best friend since high school was the nephew of a diner owner who had been so kind to take a young Ezra under his wing and teach him the ropes of the business. Not that it mattered all that much, since Ezra was still being paid the minimum wage for a job he didn’t even like.

As it was, Ezra didn’t even remember his aunt Emily, and he certainly couldn’t remember ever having met the woman. So when the letter came announcing her departure from this mortal coil, it took him a while to figure out how she fit into the grand scheme of things. It took a call to his mom to stir the recollection of a rich aunt who’d severed all ties with the less well-off side of the family a long time ago. He had mourned the death of his aged relative for all of five seconds before wondering how much she had left him and what he was going to do with all of that money.

He would quit his job, of course, since being a waiter never held all that much appeal to him. And then he could finally make his dreams come true: buy as many comics as he had space to store. Apart from that he might also buy his own NFL team and spend the rest of his life enjoying the highs and lows of life as a team owner and rubbing shoulders with the sports greats of this world.

Unfortunately his aunt Emily, even though she probably was as rich as Croesus, had other plans for her distant nephew. What plans, Ezra did not know. What he did know was that he wasn’t going to buy any NFL teams in the near future. And he wasn’t going to quit his job any time soon either. Not if he wanted to keep making rent on his miserable little apartment at the end of the next month.

All in all there had been no less than four nephews in that meeting with the high-powered lawyer, all of them around Ezra’s age, and all of them complete unknowns to him. As it turned out, none of them left the office with their bank balance having received a welcome injection of dough. Instead, they all looked as punch-drunk as Ezra had been feeling after the lawyer’s announcement that there were certain stipulations in Aunt Emily’s will they would have to adhere to if they wished to see one damn cent of the woman’s money. The main stipulation was that they had to be legally married with kids before the year was out. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they also had to lead the clean and wholesome life of the upstanding citizen, a fact that would be scrupulously checked by the private detectives the lawyer had hired in accordance with his late client’s wishes. When Ezra had cleared his throat and asked what Aunt Emily meant with clean and wholesome, the profusely whiskered specimen behind the mahogany desk had cut him a look from under a pair of bushy brows of such vehemence and disapproval Ezra had immediately retreated back into his shell like a particularly timid turtle.

“The third stipulation,” the lawyer had thundered to his browbeaten audience, “is also the easiest one.” He forced himself to smile—which on his weather-beaten face looked more like a rictus grin. “You must hold down a job and prove yourselves worthy members of society. So no slackers!” he had growled, the sunny smile vanishing behind a dark cloud as he slammed the desk with his fist.

On the whole, Ezra thought as he staggered down the stairs that marked the entrance to the subway, for his peace of mind he should probably write the meeting off as largely a waste of time, except perhaps as a study of human character, and forget all about it. He might currently hold down a job, though he had the impression waiting tables wasn’t on Aunt Emily’s list of respectable professions, but since he didn’t even have a girlfriend, and probably wasn’t ever going to find one even if he tried, he didn’t see how he would ever qualify for the pot of gold that awaited the recipients of Aunt Emily’s largesse at the end of the rainbow. And then of course there was the clean and wholesome aspect of the whole affair. The lawyer had been a little vague on what exactly constituted this coveted state, but Ezra couldn’t escape the notion it involved a marked lack of the type of daily stimulants in which he enjoyed partaking, such as weed, cigarettes and lots of booze.

A remark one of his cousins had made upon leaving the lawyer’s office confirmed this point of view. The fellow, who was both pale and extremely skinny, had told the others in a sort of strangled voice that he had once read an article about Aunt Emily that stated she was one of the main benefactors of the Anti-Alcohol League and the temperance movement in general, which told the nephews of the dearly departed all they needed to know.

If they were ever going to see any money from that inheritance, not only would they have to get married, have kids and hold down a regular job in a respectable profession, but they would have to become teetotalers!

It wasn’t too much to say that it was a downcast and despondent Ezra Burns who took his seat on the subway. Any fellow subway rider would have agreed that he looked more like a dead man walking than the upstanding citizen Aunt Emily was looking for when she drew up that will.

Chapter 2

I’m particularly proud to state that my sense of vigilance was at an all-time high as I staked out the molehill located on my property. Okay, so technically the backyard belongs to Odelia and Chase, but as I like to embrace the notion of ownership, as celebrated in the corporate world, in a not-so-strict sense of the word it also belongs to me. Or I should probably say to us, since our little band of felines comprises four: myself, Dooley, Harriet and Brutus. And when you tell me that four cats is far too much to be owned by a single family, let me remind you that Odelia’s parents live right next door, and also her grandmother. So as cuddles go, and flicks of the tail against unsuspecting legs, there’s plenty of humans to go around for the four of us. And as a pleasant side effect, plenty of kibble being distributed.

The molehill had suddenly and quite unexpectedly returned to these shores, after having gone out of style for a little while. You see, the original owner of that molehill had become a dear friend of ours, assisting us in one of our inquiries. Since then she and her family had migrated to the field behind the house, but now it looked as if they had decided to take up residence in our backyard once more.

“What are you doing, Max?” asked Dooley as he came ambling up to me. He had used this lull in the proceedings to pay a visit to his litter box and had only now returned.

“I think Jackie and Dave are back,” I said, gesturing to the sizable molehill. “So I’m waiting for Jackie to pop her head out so I can say hi.”

“Oh, that’s so great! I love Jackie and Dave! They’re so nice.”

“They are nice,” I concurred. Now if only they wouldn’t act so much like moles and decide to show their faces…

“I just saw Harriet,” Dooley confided, stretching himself out on the lawn and making himself comfortable.

“Yes?” I said, not seeing much that was newsworthy in this particular statement since we saw Harriet all the time.

He leaned in and lowered his voice in a conspiratorial manner. “She told me she’s thinking about changing her appearance.”

“Is that a fact?” I said, not all that interested in the vagaries of Harriet’s life. Our white Persian friend is particularly prone to mood swings, you see, and tends to think that whatever mood has presently gripped her is so important the whole world should sit up and take notice.

“She says she wants to have an operation to change her appearance,” Dooley continued as he sniffed at a blade of grass. When said blade of grass proved to have been selected by a ladybug to carry the burden of its existence, he studied the ladybug with distinct interest.

“An operation?” I asked, never allowing my eye to leave that molehill lest Jackie or her husband Dave put in an appearance. As everyone knows it’s hard to catch a mole unawares. Blink and you miss them.

“Yeah, a big operation by a big surgeon,” Dooley continued his selection of the highlights from Harriet’s mental regurgitations. “A surgeon who knows what they’re doing is how she explained it to me,” he said, quite unhelpfully, I might add.

“So what does this operation entail?” I asked, interested in spite of myself.

Dooley shrugged. “Something about wanting to become a male,” he said, which had me look up in surprise.

“Harriet wants to become a male?”

“That’s what she said. She says males get all the opportunities in the world of show business, and females get ignored, especially when they’re not as young as they used to be. So she figures she’s tried to make a career as an international diva as a girl, now she’s going to try the same as a boy.”

I goggled at my friend, and it wasn’t too much to say I was startled, and even flabbergasted and dumbfounded. “You’re kidding,” was all I managed to say in response.

Dooley thought about this for a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t think so. Harriet said she’s going to have the operation soon, at least if Odelia is prepared to pay for it, and she wasn’t laughing when she said it.” A sort of vacant look crossed his face, and I could tell that he was throwing his mind back to the moment Harriet had shared this momentous news. “And neither, for that matter, was Brutus,” he finally revealed. “Laughing, I mean.”

“No, I can imagine Brutus wouldn’t find it particularly funny that his partner has decided to change her gender.”

“But why, Max?” asked Dooley. “What does it matter to Brutus if his girlfriend is suddenly his boyfriend now?”

I stared at my friend for a moment, then shook my head. It’s at moments like these that I admit to feeling unequal to the task of mentoring my mentee, as Dooley sometimes likes to describe our relationship. “Um,” I said therefore, very eloquently, too, I might add. “Well…” I cleared my throat once or twice. “The thing is…”

All the while Dooley’s gaze was steadily and unwaveringly fixed on me. It was a mellow gaze, with a certain measure of expectation, as if I was going to say something truly intelligent and momentous. It added to my not-inconsiderable level of anxiety of not knowing exactly how to respond to his question. Why does it matter that one’s girlfriend suddenly decides to become a boyfriend? I guess it’s one of those aspects of life that’s hard to fathom if you haven’t experienced it for yourself.

“The thing is, Dooley,” I said, after having given the matter some more thought, “that it all comes down to something that is known as buyer’s remorse. Imagine for a moment that Odelia decides to buy a new type of litter.”


“Because it’s on sale.”

“Okay. Proceed, please.”

“Let’s say she buys lavender-scented litter but when you arrive home and you proceed into your litter box you find you thoroughly dislike the scent. In fact it totally puts you off.”

“Puts you off?”

“From doing your business.”

“Doing a poo or doing a pee?” asked Dooley. He had closed his eyes and screwed up his face and was trying to imagine this particular scenario I was outlining for him.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.

“Well, it does matter,” said my friend. “Think about it, Max. When you take a poo you spend a lot more time inside your litter box, so you’ll be exposed to the scene and the scent for a much longer time. Whereas if you take a pee—”

“Yes, all right,” I interrupted him before his musings led us astray. “Let’s suppose it’s a poo,” I said.

“Okay, so a poo on lavender-scented litter,” he said, nodding seriously. “What happens next, Max?”

“So you dislike the litter to such an extent that it puts you off your poo.”

“That’s not good,” he said. “That can lead to constipation, Max, and we all know what constipation does to your insides. It blows them up and that can lead to some serious damage to your gut.”

“Exactly!” I said. “So you tell Odelia that you don’t like the lavender litter, and ask her why she didn’t get you the usual stuff, which you’ve used and enjoyed for many years.”

He opened his eyes. “I hope she doesn’t buy us the lavender litter, Max. I don’t want to get constipated, you know. Before you know it, Odelia will take us to the vet and that’s never a fun prospect.”

“It’s just a hypothetical situation, Dooley,” I assured him. “Nobody is buying us lavender-scented litter.”

“Oh, phew!” he said, looking much relieved.

“But you see what I mean? You go and buy what you think is a fine type of litter, a type of litter you will enjoy, but instead what you get is something completely different. Something that makes it almost impossible to do your business. And the same thing goes for Brutus and Harriet.”

He nodded pensively. “Okay, so in this scenario, who’s the poo and who’s the pee? Or better yet, who’s the lavender and who’s the litter?” But then his face cleared. “Oh, I know. Harriet is the lavender and Brutus is the litter, right?”

“What’s all this about litter?” asked a familiar voice. It belonged to Brutus, and as usual the butch black cat had stealthily snuck up on us like a panther.

“Oh, Brutus,” said Dooley, well pleased. “We were just talking about you. You’re the litter and Harriet is the lavender, and if you don’t like it, you have to tell Odelia and she will return it to the store and get you the regular kind.” He leaned in. “I don’t like lavender either,” he confessed. “Though I know some cats swear by it.”

Brutus looked confused, and I didn’t blame him. I would have been confused if I was being compared to a bag of litter. “What are you talking about?” he demanded.

“We were discussing Harriet’s operation,” I told him.

Immediately his face sagged, and so did the rest of him. It was interesting to watch: almost as if his spine suddenly turned to jelly and so did the rest of his bones. He dropped to the ground and just lay there, looking quite forlorn. “It’s terrible,” he lamented. “Of all the horrible tricks life has ever pulled, this one takes the cake. Can you imagine me dating a guy? Me?!”

“But you’re not dating a guy,” Dooley pointed out. “You’re dating Harriet.”

“Who is soon going to turn herself into a guy!” Brutus cried in dismay. Big tears were now rolling down his cheeks. “I’ve been trying to talk her out of it, but she says it has to be done. In fact it’s the only way to make a career.”

Dooley patted him on the back. “It’s all right, Brutus. I don’t like lavender, either. Not for a poo and not for a pee.”

This only served to make him cry even harder. Finally, when his grief was spent, he turned a teary face to me. “Max,” he said in a croaky voice. “Max, my dear, dear friend. Can’t you talk sense into her? Tell her she can’t just go and change…” He quickly glanced at Dooley. “Well, it?”

Dooley smiled. “What’s ‘it,’ Brutus?”

Brutus swallowed. “Well, the operation, of course.”

Dooley must have sensed there were deeper mysteries that needed to be plumbed, for he followed up with, “What exactly is going to happen when Harriet has the operation?”

Brutus and I shared a look of concern. “Um…” I said, returning to my favorite old standby. Then I thought I saw movement at the molehill and said, “Oh, look! It’s Jackie!”

Dooley’s attention immediately turned to the object under observation, and when he failed to locate Jackie, he approached the molehill in question to study it from up close. It was then that a creature did burst out of the ground, almost hitting Dooley on the nose and causing the three of us to scream out in surprise.

It wasn’t a mole, though, and it definitely wasn’t Jackie. It was a rat. And a very large, hairy rat at that!

Chapter 3

The rat stared at me and I stared right back, even though every instinct I had told me to run to the hills! Unfortunately there aren’t any hills in the immediate vicinity of our home, so that wasn’t the solution I was looking for either. So instead I just sat there, and wondered if this was one of those life-defining moments you always hear so much about. You know, when the rubber meets the road, and a tectonic shift takes place in one’s life. Would I be able to define a ‘before the rat’ and an ‘after the rat’ moment in my life? As all these thoughts and a lot more flashed through my mind, I didn’t think I had any hope left, and that in fact my last moment had come. In other words, it was one of those ‘see your life flash before you eyes’ type of situations. At least until the rat finally opened its mouth and spoke.

“Hey there, fellas,” he said, and I could see that his nostrils quivered a little. Whether in happy anticipation of having a little chat with us or from an urgent desire to gobble us up whole I did not know. “My name is Footsie. What’s yours?”

“Max,” I said after swallowing once or twice. Could it be? Could it be that this rat—this massive rodent—didn’t have as its primary desire to hunt us down and slay us and have us for lunch? It was hard to believe.

“Dooley,” said Dooley with a noticeable quiver in his voice. “My name is Dooley and I hope you’re not going to eat me, Mr. Rat. I’m not very tasty, you see. And I have a lot of hair. And we all know that hair is very hard to digest.”

The rat merely grinned at this, showing two sets of razor-sharp teeth that didn’t give me any faith in the happy ending.

“And who might you be?” asked the rat, addressing Brutus.

“B-b-brutus,” said Brutus, and he looked as pale and drawn as any black cat can look. “My name is B-b-brutus.”

“So nice to finally make your acquaintance,” said Footsie. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you guys, you see. Ever since I arrived here in this very nice backyard of yours, I’ve been wondering what makes you people tick, you know. I mean, what’s the situation? There’s this woman, and then there’s a guy, but there’s also all of these other people. And even an infant. And so when I saw you guys parading past on a regular basis, I told myself: Footsie, I said, you really have to work up the courage to address these nice folks. And so when I heard you talking just now, I knew the time had to come to put my money where my mouth was and just venture out and do it!” He swung a tiny fist as he spoke these words, and I have to say I was quite surprised by this do-or-die speech.

“You were… nervous about meeting us?” I asked.

“Oh, sure. You may not know this, but rats are a very timid species. And since I never knew my father, I’m even more timid than most. It’s a Freudian thing. And then there’s the fact that my mom was very protective, you know. She always kept me close and never let me go off on my own. And that kind of stuff has an impact on a young rat.” He shrugged. “I can tell I’m boring you with my life story. So what’s your story? Have you lived here long? Are you three brothers? And what’s with all the humans that keep coming and going all the time? The old lady—”

“That’s Gran,” said Dooley. “She’s Odelia’s grandmother.” And so in short order he gave the rat a brief overview of the family we lived with. But even as he rattled off the family connections, Brutus kept giving him nonverbal hints, which Dooley blithely ignored.

I guess Brutus had a point. There was no sense in giving this rat the ins and outs of the family we lived with, the lay of the land, so to speak. After all, maybe his good-natured bonhomie was simply a ruse, and Footsie was the mere vanguard of a veritable rat army, waiting to strike.

I hoped that wasn’t the case, of course, but sometimes you have to be careful. And as Odelia’s cats, we do have an obligation toward our family. We may not be guard dogs, per se, but in a sense they do rely on us to act as their protectors.

“Okay, I think that’s enough, Dooley,” I said therefore, when our friend had been going on for a while and was getting into the nitty gritty of what made our family tick. “I’m sure Footsie isn’t interested in all of that stuff.”

“Oh, but I most certainly am,” said Footsie. “In fact I absolutely love it. You see, I never had a human family of my own to take care of me, so in a way I’m a little envious of the bonds you have obviously managed to create here.”

“They are a nice bunch,” Brutus admitted, though he continued to look skeptical, I have to say.

“They are great people,” said Dooley, enthusiastically endorsing our humans. “The absolute best, in fact.”

Suddenly a sort of wistful look came over the big rat. “Oh, I wish I could move in with you. Wouldn’t that be nice? To wake up every morning at the foot of your very own human’s bed, seeing your little bowl of food ready and filled to the brim with the good stuff? Getting cuddles and caresses at all hours of the day and night. Someone to take care of you and love you and treat you like one of their own…”

Dooley smiled. And before we could stop him, he said, “So why don’t you move in with us, Footsie? There’s plenty of room for you in the house. And plenty of love in Odelia’s heart to accommodate a nice upstanding rat like you.”

“Dooley!” Brutus hissed, looking quite shocked now.

“What?” said Dooley innocently. “It’s true, though, isn’t it? Odelia has plenty of space in her heart since she has a very big heart. And the house is big enough to accommodate another pet. And Footsie is such a nice, well-behaved rat I think he will be a great addition to the family. So what do you say, Footsie? Do you want to join us?”

Footsie was positively beaming at us now. “Are you kidding me? I would love to join your family. Absolutely.”

“Consider it done,” said Dooley. He held out his paw. “Welcome to the family, Footsie!”

Oh, boy.

Copyright © 2023 by Nic Saint