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Purrfect Show Preview

The Taming of the Shrews

When our beloved town of Hampton Cove found itself the target of a pair of unscrupulous drug dealers selling drugs to school kids, a task force was set up to bring these criminals to justice. The task force consisted of myself, Max, my best friend Dooley, and of course our humans Odelia and Chase. And since this all happened against the backdrop of the upcoming cat show, for which we had all been signed up, you can probably imagine the strain we were under.

As if that wasn’t enough, we had also been tasked with no less than two seperate investigations: one to find a man’s fiancée who had mysteriously gone missing, and a second one dealing with a cat owner suspected of gross neglect. As it was, Odelia decided to temporarily adopt the man’s cat, so our band of four suddenly became five.

All in all it was an interesting week, especially when I came face to face with my doppelganger at the cat show. So did I win ‘Best in Show’ or not? Find out in Purrfect Show, the latest installment in this blorange feline’s chronicles.

Chapter 1

Mike Harper looked down. On the sidewalk directly in front of him was a twenty-dollar note. Glancing left and right, then up and down the street, he discovered that he was all alone at this late hour. So he shrugged and bent down and picked up the note and put it in his pocket. Twenty bucks might not be a lot of money, but it was nothing to sniff at either. He walked on and this time found that he was eyeing the sidewalk with a lot more attention than was usually his habit. And lo and behold, he had only traveled another sixty feet before another note found itself in his path. A fifty-pound note, if you please. Frowning, he stooped down and picked it up. He took his time to look up at the houses he was passing, but when he saw nothing out of the ordinary, and nobody looking down at him—kids, maybe, eager to pull a prank and film the scene on their phones—he walked on.

Vigilance was key, he knew, for if you have found a twenty-dollar note and then a fifty-dollar note, chances were that you were going to find a hundred-dollar note next. And so with his eyes practically glued to the sidewalk, he didn’t notice the van that had been tracking him from a distance and had now quietly rolled up next to him. And as his eye landed on a hundred-dollar note and he was about to bend over to pick it up so he could add it to the neat little collection gathering in his pocket, the door of the van slid open, and a pair of powerful hands snuck out and grabbed him. The door closed on his muffled scream—muffled because of the hood that was being pulled over his head—and then the van rolled off again.

The entire procedure had lasted about sixty seconds from the moment Mike found that first note to his subsequent abduction. A lone cat who happened to be cruising the street at that time of night and had watched the scene, shook her head at the way humans conducted their business. At one time they used to snatch innocent cats and dogs from the streets, but now they were also snatching up their own. It was nice work if you could get it, of course, but indicative of a vicious aspect in the human personality structure that didn’t appeal to this cat at all. But since she didn’t know Mike, and therefore had no dog in this fight, so to speak, she went on her way and had soon forgotten all about this peculiar way of humans to pass an enjoyable evening. In other words: to each their own.

She passed along the street and soon found herself in Hampton Cove Park, where she was attending a meeting of cat choir, that pleasant pastime that provides fun and games for the whole family, or at least for the collected cat community in the small town that she had recently begun to call her own.

Cat choir had been founded by Shanille, Father Reilly’s cat, as a way to provide structure to felines’ nocturnal habit of meeting in parks, on street corners, atop rooftops and such to sing their hearts out and generally give vent to their emotions at the tops of their lungs. And as luck would have it, this particular cat had a particularly fine pair of pipes on her, so much so that Shanille, cat choir’s conductor, had offered her a spot in the front row, right next to Harriet, the famous soprano whose tenure on cat choir was the stuff of legend.

Rumor had it that Harriet had once turned down a gig in Carnegie Hall because she felt it important to attend cat choir in her own home town and didn’t want to endure the hassle of having to travel to New York to showcase her outsized talent. Talents scouts from Japan, India and Brazil had badgered her with requests to tour their respective countries and delight her millions of international fans, but Harriet had turned them all down. She truly was the most amazing cat that had ever lived, and it was nothing short of an honor for anyone to bask in her presence, let alone be allowed to occupy the spot next to her and learn at the feet of the mistress, so to speak.

Freya, as the cat’s name was, now arrived at the playground that Shanille had selected a long time ago as the rehearsal space for cat choir, and discovered that she was running late. Cats of all variety and plumage were already gathered there and were shooting the breeze and generally chatting up a storm. Freya’s eyes searched around for the presence of Harriet, and she soon found her. The strikingly gorgeous Persian was chatting amiably with her housemates Max, Dooley and her boyfriend Brutus. Freya’s features morphed into a smile. These four were such a riot to hang out with. Even though Max wasn’t as talkative as Harriet, Freya knew that he was the hero of many adventures and had solved many a mystery in his time. So much so that his reputation had spread far and wide and from time to time pets came from other towns and counties to consult with the famous detective.

You wouldn’t say it when you saw him, though, for he looked just like any other tubby ginger tabby, but according to his best friend Dooley Max had quite the brain in that big head of his, possibly the reason he had spread to the size of a beach ball. To keep a brain that size firing on all cylinders at all times, Dooley had once told her in confidence, you need the real estate to accommodate it. And also, a brain like that needs a constant supply of high-protein nourishment to keep it ticking over, which is why Max was so fond of eating. Not that he was a gourmet, per se, but when you’re as smart as he was it was simply a necessity to eat a lot. In that sense he took after Nero Wolfe to some extent, though as far as Freya had been able to determine, Max wasn’t as fond of orchids as that famous detective. Also it had to be said that Dooley, Max’s wing-cat, wasn’t exactly Archie Goodwin.

She glanced around and finally her eyes landed on Shanille herself, and as she tripped up to the choir leader, she had to suppress a sudden surge of the jitters. She had only arrived in town a couple of days ago, when her owner had moved to Hampton Cove, and she was still learning the ropes. It was such good fortune, therefore, that she had discovered cat choir, and she thanked her lucky stars that Shanille had made her feel as welcome as she had, giving her all kinds of tips and pointers about life in their small town and how to make it more agreeable in every way.

“Shanille!” she said as she approached cat choir’s conductor. “I had a question for you, if that’s okay.”

“Shoot,” said Shanille curtly. As usual the gray tabby was the epitome of focus and concentration. She took her job as conductor very seriously indeed, and liked to construct a mental bubble that guaranteed a perfect outcome for all involved.

“Is it true that Harriet used to sing backing vocals for Céline Dion herself?”

Shanille gave her an odd look. “Who told you that?”

“Why, Harriet herself, of course. She also told me that Mariah personally asked her to perform a duet with her on New Year’s Eve for her Times Square concert, but that she turned her down because she felt she needed to be with her family on that important day. So is it true?” She eyed the conductor with wide-eyed anticipation. Céline and Mariah were personal idols of hers, and she could hardly imagine what an honor it must be for Harriet to rub elbows with them.

“Um…” Shanille glanced over to Harriet, who was still talking animatedly with her friends and housemates. “Well, far be it from me discount the value of Harriet’s performance, Freya, but I think you will find that you should probably take whatever she says with a grain of salt. Harriet is an artist, and you know what artists are like: they tend to allow their imagination to run away with them.”

Freya stared at Shanille. “You mean… she lied?”

Shanille grimaced. “I wouldn’t say she lied, per se. Let’s just say she didn’t tell you the truth. There’s a subtle difference.”

Freya frowned. It was hard to believe that Harriet, perfect Harriet, Freya’s role model, would tell a lie. The white Persian had told her the story with such conviction that she didn’t think it could possibly have been anything but the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But still, if Shanille said it wasn’t true…

“So… when she told me that she and Adele went shopping last month in Vegas, was that also a lie?”

“Like I said, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a lie. It’s just that Harriet has a, um, flexible relationship with the truth. And so I shouldn’t wonder if the story of her shopping trip with Adele wasn’t necessarily based in reality either.” She gave Freya an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, honey. I guess you need to read between the lines where Harriet is concerned.”

“Okay, so what about that time that she flew on Cher’s private plane and Cher told her she was the best friend she ever had?”

Shanille actually laughed out loud this time, then shook her head as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t put you next to Harriet anymore. You seem to bring out the worst in her.”

All in all it wasn’t the wholehearted endorsement of Harriet’s genius and the awesomeness of her life and personality that she had expected, and it irked Freya to some extent that Shanille, who was supposed to be one of Harriet’s dear friends, would disparage her behind her back like that. So she simply thanked the conductor and moved to her usual spot, awaiting further events. Before long she had given herself up to thought, and wondered if there was some deep-seated sense of jealousy that made Shanille say these things about Harriet. Was it possible that Shanille begrudged Harriet the amazing life she led? Since Freya herself didn’t have a jealous bone in her body she found it hard to credit that such a thing could possibly be true, but the evidence was all there. Clearly Shanille didn’t like that Harriet had developed such a close relationship with the likes of Céline, Mariah, Adele or Cher. So Freya decided to forget the conversation she just had and to focus on what she felt in her gut to be true: that Harriet was the most amazing cat she had ever met, and to get in her good graces and become her very best friend would from now on and until her dying day occupy her every waking moment and would be her life’s most fervent goal.

Shanille cleared her throat and called the meeting of cat choir to order and all cats took their positions in the lineup. And as Harriet joined their ranks and took up position next to Freya, the latter whispered, “So who did you meet this time, Harriet? Adele, Céline, Mariah or Cher?”

Harriet gave her an odd look, then seemed to realize what she was saying, and smirked a little. “None of the above. I spent all day with Taylor Swift and it was absolutely glorious.”

Freya actually vibrated with pure joy as she heard these words. “Oh, I’m one of Tay Tay’s biggest fans. Could you…” She breathed a few nervous breaths. “Could you please…” She breathed some more, trying to tamp down on the extreme emotion that had assailed her. “Could you possibly introduce us?”

Harriet gave her a supercilious smile. “I’m sorry, but Tay Tay is a very busy woman. She actually flew in especially to meet me, and then she flew off again because she had a concert tonight. But next time she’s in town I’ll be sure to ask.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” said Freya, and almost passed out from sheer excitement. Her tail vibrated and shivers ran up and down her spine, and as Shanille told them that today they were going to rehearse a new song, she almost missed the opening bars.

Oh, how blessed she was. How wonderfully blessed to be Harriet’s good friend!

Chapter 2

Maurice Parker had no idea when he woke up that morning that when evening would come he wouldn’t feel as briskly happy as he had for the past couple of months. Ever since he had met Suzanna his life had been like a bed of roses. Having been a widower for the past ten years he hadn’t actually imagined he would ever find love again. So when Suzanna entered his life, through a happy coincidence, and their initial light banter on social media had gradually turned into something more profound, it wasn’t too much to say that he was over the moon and soaring. Suzanna was the kind of woman who made this fifty-two-year-old feel like a spring chicken again, and every day that he got to spend with her—albeit virtually and not in real life—yet—was another step on a staircase that he strongly suspected would lead them both straight into seventh heaven.

When he mentioned all this to his best friend and bar buddy Dave, the latter had expressed a certain resentment that had hit Maurice out of left field to some extent. He ascribed it to Dave having recently switched from Miller Light to Heineken, a profound change that is always apt to cause extreme mood swings even in one as mellow and essentially kindhearted as Dave. And so when Dave told him that he was being hoodwinked and that Suzanna was probably some scammer dude from Romania who was trying to steal his money, he had merely shaken his head at such idiocy and had bought Dave another Heineken.

And now, exactly one month after he and Suzanna had ‘met’ online, he was eagerly awaiting her arrival at JFK Airport, a bouquet of roses in his hand and a smile of happy anticipation on his lips. Even though he had never actually talked face to face with Suzanna, he had studied the many pictures she had posted and so he knew he would recognize her instantly when she walked into the airport, straight off the plane that was flying her in from Ukraine, that war-torn country in Europe. Suzanna was possibly the prettiest girl he had ever laid eyes on. And even though she was only thirty-four, she possessed a wisdom that was beyond her years and made him feel like the luckiest man in the world to have met her.

He checked if his fly wasn’t undone and if his shoes were still laced and his shirt tucked in. For the occasion he had put on his Sunday best. He had even combed his hair, something he hadn’t done in ten years. Not since his wife Trudy had passed away after she had accidentally swallowed a bee that had stung her in the throat and had caused her to go into anaphylactic shock and promptly expire. He still missed her to this day.

Even though the hour was late, the flight from Ukraine was right on time, and as he had already checked on his phone, it had landed and divested itself of its passengers twenty minutes ago, which meant that Suzanna would be walking through those doors any moment now. Around him, plenty of people were awaiting the plane’s arrival, in spite of the late hour. Many of them speaking a language he knew was either Ukrainian or Russian, indicating they were relatives of the new arrivals, as eager as he was to see their loved ones and press them to their bosoms.

Suzanna had often expressed a fervent wish over the course of their online correspondence to come and live with Maurice in the United States, and as their friendship deepened and had moved into the realm of a passionate romance, at one point he had suggested that they get married and then they could be together always. That night, as he awaited her response, he’d felt butterflies in the pit of his stomach for the first time since he was a teenager, and when finally her response came in the form of an enthusiastic acceptance of his impromptu proposal, he had felt so happy he had actually burst into song. But when he told Dave, the latter had merely grunted something about him being a fool and had ordered himself another Heineken, even though he had hitherto always asserted that he hated Heineken with a vengeance and that the only beverage in the world that had any right to call itself beer was Miller Light. It just goes to show how people can change. Maurice had certainly changed over the course of his crash love affair with the ravishing Suzanna.

He grinned at the man standing next to him, who also was carrying a bouquet of flowers. “Waiting for your wife?” he tried, but the man didn’t seem to understand him and answered in Suzanna’s native language, a language he knew he would have to learn now that she was here and they would be getting married soon and live together as husband and wife. But they had time. First they needed to get to know each other a little better in real life, as opposed to merely knowing each other online. Even though he had a feeling they had known each all their lives, of course. Especially since Suzanna had shared long stories with him about her family, her mom and dad, her life in Ukraine and even what she liked to eat and who her friends were and everything. In turn Maurice had told her all about himself, his life as a young boy, then a young man, then a not-so-young man until the present day. He had often wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t have been so open and shared so many personal details about himself. Dave especially had warned him about sending Suzanna the money for her mother’s eye operation and then her dad’s back operation, and also the money to pay off the judge so he wouldn’t convict Suzanna’s brother for the crime she had assured Maurice he didn’t commit. But when you love someone you gladly pay for anything that will put a smile on their faces, and judging from the pictures Suzanna had sent him of her mom on her hospital bed, and her dad on his hospital bed and her brother after he’d been released from prison, it was obvious how much the money he had sent her meant to her family and how happy they all were because of it.

The arrival gates finally opened and a throng of people stormed out and pressed into the arrival hall. Greetings were exchanged and people all around him were hugging and kissing and some even crying of happiness at seeing their relatives or loved ones. He smiled and enjoyed the happiness the others felt, for he knew very soon now he would be the happiest man in the whole airport. The moment he would finally press Suzanna in his arms would be the culmination of a process that had begun three months ago when he had responded to her friend request and she had immediately instigated a conversation asking him where he lived and what he did for a living and how much money he made doing what he did. It just showed her kind disposition and how interested she was in others.

The throng finally reduced to a trickle as the final few passengers of the flight from Ukraine passed into the airport arrivals room, and as he craned his neck to see if he could spot Suzanna, he wondered what was taking her so long. Possibly she had so much luggage that she had to ask someone to give her a hand. Or possibly she had been waylaid at customs, having to go through the tedious process of proving who she was and what she was doing there and whether she was in the country for business or pleasure. He had sent her all the documents she said she required, like bank statements and copies of his birth certificate, his contract, and even the deed of the house. But he knew what these bureaucrats were like. They liked to make things difficult for people to the extent they lost the will to live. He just hoped they wouldn’t put Suzanna on a flight back to her native country and thwart their romance before it had even gotten started for real.

Finally the last person strode into the arrivals room and Maurice frowned. Around him all the other people had disappeared and he was the only one left, with his bouquet of flowers in his right hand and his card that read ‘Suzanna’ and a big heart in his left. What could possibly be taking her so long?

And since he wasn’t the kind of man who took things lying down, he decided to head down there to go look for his beloved Ukrainian fiancée himself. But as he tried to push his way into the airport proper, a burly security guard blocked his passage, claiming only correctly credentialed folk like he could pass, which obviously he was not. So he took out his phone and showed the burly guard a picture of Suzanna and explained his predicament. For some reason the beefy man gave him a look of abject pity and clapped him amicably on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, sir, but I don’t think your fiancée will be joining you tonight.”

“But why? Have you seen her? Did something happen?”

The man raised a quizzical eyebrow. “How much did you pay for her ticket?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

The man whistled through his teeth. “And how much did you say you paid for her dad’s funeral?”

“His operation, not his funeral,” he corrected the guard. “Ten thousand, and ten for her mother’s operation, and twenty thousand to get her brother sprung from jail. But what does that have to do with anything? I just want to see Suzanna. She texted me a copy of her boarding pass, so I know she was on that flight.”

“Let me see,” said the guard, and used his fingers in a pinching motion to zoom in on the picture. He then frowned. “That’s odd,” he grunted. “This looks like an actual boarding pass to me.”

“Well, that’s because it is a boarding pass,” he explained, starting to suspect that the man wasn’t as clever as he probably thought he was.

“The things they can do with Photoshop these days,” the guard muttered as he smiled to himself. He handed him back his phone, gave him another kind look, filled with compassion and what could only be interpreted as pity, and said, “What I would suggest, Mr…”

“Parker. Maurice Parker.”

“What I would suggest, Mr. Parker, is for you to go home and to forget all about this so-called fiancée of yours.”

“There’s nothing so-called about it. I proposed to Suzanna and she said yes. We’re getting married after she’s settled in. And then we’ll bring her mom and her dad over. I’ve got plenty of space at the house so they can all live with us.”

The guard sighed deeply. “You know what, Mr. Parker? You’re entirely too good for this world. Did anyone ever tell you that?”

“Plenty of people,” he said. Especially Dave, but then that was probably the lack of Miller Light talking. “So can you go see what’s taking Suzanna so long? Maybe she got held up at customs.”

But the guard shook his head. “Nobody got held up at customs, Maurice. Can I call you Maurice?”

“Sure. What do you mean? Have you checked?”

“I don’t have to. I’ve seen this type of situation a million times before, so I don’t have to check.”

“What type of situation? What are you talking about?”

“This!” said the guard, tapping Maurice’s phone. “This exact situation. You meet some hot-looking girl online, she sends you some amazing pictures that make you go all googly-eyed, and then she asks you to send her a lot of money, for operations and the like, and of course for her seriously overpriced ticket.”

“She explained that,” said Maurice. “With the war it’s become very difficult to travel. So first she had to get a bus to get her out of the country and into Romania, and then a plane from Bucharest to Brussels and then on to New York.”

“Trust me, I’ve heard it all before,” said the guard as he nodded along with Maurice’s explanation. “And trust me when I tell you that she’s not going to show up. In fact I think you better prepare yourself for a big shock, sir.”

“What shock? What are you talking about?”

“This so-called fiancée of yours? She doesn’t exist.”

“But she does exist. She’s sent me pictures. We’ve chatted.” Not to mention exchanged very spicy messages and pictures. But that certainly wasn’t this very rude guard’s business.

“But have you actually seen her? Talked to her on Zoom or Skyped?”

“No, we haven’t. Her internet connection wouldn’t allow it.”

“Her internet connection would not allow it,” said the guard, as if proving a point. He sighed deeply once again, and placed a kindly hand on Maurice’s shoulder. “Go home, Maurice. And if ‘Suzanna’ sends you a message that she couldn’t make it, and asks you to send her another three thousand for a second flight, use your head this time and say no. And then simply block her on all your social media.”

“But… I can’t block her. She might be in trouble.” The fact that she could have missed her flight hadn’t occurred to him, but now that the guard mentioned it, it was a distinct possibility, which meant Suzanna was stuck in limbo somewhere, and needed him now more than ever.

“Block her,” the guard repeated seriously. “And next time when you meet some hot girl online, ask if you can Skype with her.”

“But her connection—”

“Wouldn’t allow it. Yeah, I got you the first time.” He eyed Maurice closely for a moment, then said, “I didn’t want to say it, buddy, but you’ve been scammed.”


“Scammed! This Suzanna of yours doesn’t exist. Her mom or dad? Don’t exist? Her cousin—”


“Doesn’t exist! It’s probably some gang of crooks laughing their asses off right now and celebrating with the money you sent them. So go home, Maurice, and tomorrow morning get your ass over to the police station and report this ‘Suzanna’ of yours. Not that I expect that you will be able to get your money back, but at least they might add these people to their long list of cybercriminals, possibly preventing them from making any more victims.”

As Maurice walked away from the guard, his head was spinning a little. And as he took up his position behind the railing again, waiting for Suzanna to put in an appearance, he wondered if the man could possibly be right. If Suzanna was a gang of scammers who were simply after his money. But then his phone beeped with a message, and as he checked it he saw that it was from Suzanna.

‘Missed my flight in Bucharest. Problem with corrupt customs agent. Please send thousand for bribe. Xoxoxoxo.’

It was a short message but it told him everything he needed to know. The guard was wrong and he was right. Suzanna was in trouble and she needed him!

And so he immediately transferred one thousand so she could bribe this Romanian customs agent and they could finally be together. It was a small price to pay for the love of his life and a modest deposit for a lifetime of happiness.

Chapter 3

Dooley had been napping on the couch right next to me when I suddenly awoke from a noise that seemed to come from somewhere in the vicinity. When I opened my eyes I saw that my friend was no longer there, his spot vacated. I wondered how he could have snuck off without waking me up, but most of all I wondered why he would have snuck off and where to. Usually Dooley and I like to sleep in each other’s vicinity. I’m not sure why, but I guess part of it is that I sleep more easily when I know that Dooley has my back, and I know he sleeps more easily knowing that I have his. Call it a habit or some age-old instinct.

Now I know that this erroneous notion floats around that cats are solitary creatures and hate the company of other cats, but I can tell you straight from the horse’s mouth—or in this case a cat’s mouth—that this rumor is entirely untrue and simply a misconception born no doubt from some vicious gossip spread by dogs. As everyone knows dogs will go out of their way to cause harm to the reputation of cats as a breed. But I digress. As I glanced around, my eyes scanning the four corners of the living room where I was currently sojourned, I wondered what could possibly have awakened me, as well as what could have gotten into Dooley to skedaddle and leave me to fight off real or imaginary nocturnal marauders all by my lonesome.

We’d had a lovely evening at cat choir, and had returned home after having sung our hearts out as usual, with Harriet and Brutus deciding to go into town for a nightcap, or in other words to pop down to the Hungry Pipe, that excellent seafood restaurant by the marina, to see what food items its waitstaff had discarded that they could dig their teeth into.

And that’s when I suddenly noticed that a tiny creature was traversing the distance from the living room door to the kitchen. I recognized its physiognomy as that belonging to a shrew, that mole-like creature with the pointy nose and the beady eyes that closely resembles a mouse. And as an expression of annoyance crept up my furry face, since we’d had dealings with these pests before, and not always the most pleasant ones, I wondered whether to engage this nocturnal intruder in conversation or not, or simply to allow it to go about its business. After all, Odelia’s pantry is commonly filled to the brim with the good stuff, and isn’t it the Christian thing to share one’s wealth with those lesser placed in life?

But as I contemplated my next course of action, suddenly my attention was drawn to the window, where a piteous sight awaited my keen eyes. It was Dooley, and he stood, with his paws up against the window pane, mewling sadly and trying to attract my attention.

And so I hopped down from my pleasant perch on the couch and trotted over to the window to see what was going on, Dooley, clearly happy to see me, intensified his mewling, and as I listened, I thought I could discern the message of SOS he was trying to convey to me.

“I’ve been shut out, Max!” he was saying. “Please let me in!”

And since he was most probably referring to the pet flap that connects the limited indoors with the wide outdoors, or in other words the kitchen with the backyard, I ventured thither to ascertain the veracity of my best friend’s statement. As it was, he was absolutely correct: someone had flipped the latch on the pet flap, causing it to halt proceedings and stop being of use as a means of ingress or egress. So with a flick of the paw I unflipped the latch and moments later snuck out of the house to check on my friend.

Dooley awaited me with joyful jubilation. “I thought for sure I’d have to spend the night out here,” he told me.

“What about next door?” I asked, referring to our human’s mother’s house, which is located just next to Odelia’s.

“Also locked!” he cried. “It’s the darnedest thing, Max”

And it was. As far as I could tell, our humans never lock those pet flaps, knowing full well it’s the only way we can come and go. “But why?” I asked, even though it was obvious that Dooley probably had no answer to this most baffling mystery. “Why would they lock you out?”

He shrugged. “Beats me, Max. But it’s not very nice.”

That was quite the understatement. To lock us out was downright cruel.

“Let’s go back in,” I suggested therefore. It was a cool night, and I was already getting a little chilled. And judging from the way he was shivering, Dooley felt the same way. So we headed in the direction of the kitchen door, but as we tried to sneak in, I discovered that the pet flap that had hitherto been perfectly yielding and accommodating, had suddenly turned into a solid object once more!

“It’s locked,” I said. “Locked from the inside!”

“But… how did you get out through a locked flap?”

“I unlocked it,” I explained. “But now it’s locked again.” It summed up the state of affairs pretty succinctly, I thought, but since Dooley’s faculties weren’t tracking on all cylinders, he asked me several follow-up questions before realizing the predicament we were in.

“I did see a shrew just before I ventured out,” I said, musingly. “Do you think…”

“Remember how Olivia once locked Harriet and Brutus into the house?” asked Dooley, referring to a mouse we had met during a recent adventure.

I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a mouse but a shrew. It was tiny.”

“Not tiny enough that it couldn’t lift the latch,” said Dooley.

And since I was getting chillier by the second, I pounded my paw on the pet flap and called out, “Hey, whoever it is that locked this thing, open up now, you hear me! Open this pet flap right this minute!”

But of course the culprit wasn’t responding.

“Open the pet flap!” Dooley added for good measure, and also knocked his paw against the darn thing. It didn’t budge, since these flaps are made of pretty stern stuff, to better withstand the concerted effort of an invading pet force.

“Tough luck,” I murmured as I sadly gazed at the recalcitrant flap. And since I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, I moved over to the sliding glass door to look in, just as Dooley had done before. But try as I might, I didn’t see any creature stirring within, whether of the soricine variety or otherwise.

“Why did you go out in the first place?” I asked my friend, who had joined me.

“I had to tinkle,” he said.

“Tinkle? So why didn’t you use your litter box?”

He gave me a shamefaced sort of look. “Lately I’ve been experimenting with tinkling in the bushes, Max. It’s supposed to be so much more enjoyable to go al fresco, you know. To feel the wind against your tush as you—”

“Yes, yes, I get the picture,” I told him. And I had to admit that maybe he had a point. There is something about leaving a trace of your presence underneath an unsuspecting rose bush or squatting on a nice flower bed, but since Odelia doesn’t seem to like the prospect of her four cats urinating or defecating in her flower beds or her precious rose bushes, I have refrained from doing so and have strictly confined my bathroom breaks to the litter box she has conveniently placed at our disposal. And besides, I like my litter box. It’s very private and very efficient.

“It’s actually Harriet who started the movement,” Dooley now confessed. “But she told us not to tell you, so I hope you won’t tell her, Max, or she won’t be happy with me.”

I frowned. “Why did Harriet ask you not to tell me that you’re doing your business in the rose bushes?”

“Because she knows how strongly you feel about preserving the sanctity of Odelia’s rose bushes and her flower beds.”

“Well, I do feel we probably should respect her wish not to use them as a receptacle for the products of our bowel and bladder movements,” I conceded. “So you and Harriet have been going outside?”

“Me, Harriet and Brutus,” said Dooley. “I’m… I’m sorry, Max!” he suddenly cried. “It’s been so hard for me not to tell you. But Harriet made me promise, and I didn’t want to break my promise, but I also didn’t want to betray our friendship, which means everything to me.” He placed a pleading paw on my person and gave me a penetrating sort of look. “Can you please forgive me? Please, Max, please?”

“There’s nothing to forgive, Dooley,” I said. “You made a promise to Harriet, and it gave you issues with your conscience, and so now you told me and I’m grateful for that.” I wasn’t grateful that Harriet would have tried to make my friend keep a secret from me, though, but that was something I needed to take up with her as soon as she returned from her dinner date at the Hungry Pipe.

It still didn’t tell us who had locked us out, of course, and why. But since there wasn’t a lot we could do about it, we decided to head next door, jump up on the porch swing and tuck in for the remainder of the night, hoping a kindly soul would unlock the pet flap in the morning and let us in to warm our frozen bones. As we arrived at the scene, we saw to our consternation that Brutus and Harriet had already made themselves comfortable on the swing, and as we approached, gave vent to their dismay.

“Someone’s gone and locked the pet flap,” Brutus grumbled.

“I know, they locked ours, too!” said Dooley.

“Now who could have gone and done a thing like that?” said Harriet, voicing the question that was vexing us all.

“I snuck out of the house to have a tinkle in the bushes, and when I came back the pet flap was locked,” Dooley explained as he jumped up onto the porch swing. “And so I tried to attract Max’s attention and when he finally woke up he unlocked the pet flap and came out, but just as we were turning back, we found that whoever had locked it before, had locked it again!”

“I did see a shrew,” I reiterated my earlier statement. “And we all know that shrews are tricky creatures.”

“I hate shrews,” said Harriet darkly. “They’re smelly.”

It is true that shrews can be smelly. They do it on purpose, of course, by secreting a powerful and unpleasant scent from their glands to dissuade predators from gobbling them up. And I have to say it’s a winning strategy because I wouldn’t touch a shrew with a ten-foot pole even if I was the last cat on earth and the shrew was the last shrew, if you see what I mean.

“I told Max about our new habit of using the rose bushes and the flower beds to pee and poo,” said Dooley.

“Dooley, but you promised!” said Harriet, aghast at this betrayal of her confidence.

“Okay, so why did you ask Dooley to keep this new habit of yours a secret?” I asked. “And why aren’t you using your litter boxes in the first place?”

Harriet and Brutus exchanged a look, then Brutus said, “Because Harriet read that litter is toxic, that’s why. I didn’t want to believe it at first, of course, but as I did some more research, I quickly discovered that she was right. Litter causes paw cancer, and so frankly the moment I found out, I stopped going.”

“Litter doesn’t cause paw cancer,” I said with a laugh. “Who told you that?”

“There’s all kinds of scientific evidence out there,” said Brutus. “Plenty of scientists are tweeting about it and it’s all over YouTube if you know where to look.”

“I’ll bet those scientists aren’t actually scientists,” I told my friend, “but alarmists trying to spread fear and panic.”

“Litter is toxic,” Harriet said determinedly. “And if you know what’s good for you, Max, you will stop using it.” She gestured in my direction. “This is exactly why I told Dooley not to tell you. Because I just knew you’d start this whole argument and try to dissuade us from instigating a litter boycott.”

“Litter consists of clay, Harriet,” I pointed out. “And clay is earth. So how can it possibly be toxic?”

“Because it’s not actually clay they’re using, is it, Max?” said Brutus. “They have substituted clay for something a lot more pernicious and it’s all part of their plan to—”

But Harriet had given him a gentle shove, causing him to abruptly shut up.

“Their plan to what?” I insisted.

But Brutus shook his head, and Harriet was also keeping mum. So it was up to Dooley to explain to me what this nefarious plan of the litter producers could possibly be. “They’re trying to wipe out the earth’s cat population,” he explained. “That’s why they’ve poisoned our litter, Max. They’re trying to get rid of us!”

“It’s called depopulation through litter,” Harriet added reluctantly. “But since we all know that you’re a ‘skeptic’ we decided not to tell you.”

“The powers that be want to wipe out the world’s cat population,” Brutus explained.

“And who are these ‘powers that be?’” I asked, trying not to laugh.

“Dog owners,” Harriet said darkly. “We all know that dog owners hate cats, and so they finally came up with a plan to get rid of cats once and for all.”

“They’re in bed with the litter producers,” Brutus said, nodding.

“Okay, so if the dog owners of the world are all conspiring to wipe us out,” I said, “then wouldn’t it be a lot easier if they ‘got in bed’ with the cat food producers instead? Slip a little poison into our food and presto: no more cats.”

Harriet and Brutus exchanged a look of alarm. Clearly they hadn’t thought of that particular contingency.

“Max!” Dooley cried. “We have to stop eating!”

“No, you don’t,” I told my friend. “Because this is all just a bunch of rubbish. Just like ninety percent of what you read on the internet these days is rubbish. Our litter isn’t poisoned, you guys, and neither is our food, or our water, or the medicine Vena gives us on a regular basis. Even our Cat Snax aren’t poisoned.”

“Cat Snax,” Brutus muttered. “I do love Cat Snax. I would hate to have to stop eating that delicious stuff.” He cut a sideways glance at his beloved.

“I don’t want to stop eating Cat Snax either,” Harriet confessed. “Even if dog owners have managed to poison them.”

“Aren’t you listening?” I said. “Nobody is trying to poison you! And besides, dog owners don’t all hate cats. Some dog owners are also cat owners and they love both species.”

“Mh,” said Brutus, but he clearly wasn’t buying it. “Then why doesn’t Ted Trapper own a cat? Or Kurt Mayfield?”

He was referring to our neighbors, both of whom are proud dog owners. And since the conversation had turned to the topic of dogs, it wasn’t entirely surprising that just then a dog would actually join us in the form of Rufus, Ted Trapper’s sheepdog. A soft woofle in our vicinity told us that our yapping had prevented him from enjoying a pleasant sleep, and so he had decided to nudge the little door in the fence between both backyards open with his nose and had snuck up, causing Harriet and Brutus to jump up in alarm.

“Rufus!” said Harriet, giving our friend canine friend an anxious look. “I didn’t hear you.”

“That’s because I’m a creature of extreme stealth,” said Rufus, and gave us a grin to indicate that his comment was made in jest.

But Harriet wasn’t laughing. Clearly she was still laboring under the impression that all dogs and their owners are out to murder us in cold blood by using this litter conspiracy. And since Rufus, who is just about the sweetest dog on the face of the earth, seemed confused by the frosty reception Harriet and Brutus were awarding him, I decided to elucidate their position. “They’ve read online that you are trying to poison our litter,” I explained. “And also our food.”

“I’m not convinced about the food,” said Brutus, who loves to eat. “But I am one hundred percent sure about the litter.”

“How could I possibly poison your litter, Brutus?” asked Rufus. A perfectly reasonable question, I thought. But Brutus had his answer ready.

“You’re part of the anti-cat coalition, Rufus, even if you don’t know it.”

“But… if I were part of a conspiracy to poison your litter don’t you think I would know it?”

This had Brutus stumped for a moment, but not for long. “Ted and Marcie are part of the conspiracy, and they’re using you as an unwitting spy so you can relay crucial information that they will then pass on to the leaders of the cabal.”

Rufus goggled at our friend, who had clearly taken a leap off the deep end. But since he’s essentially a peaceable dog, and didn’t want to cause trouble, he finally said, “If you say so, Brutus.”

“In other news,” I said, “we have all been locked out of our homes, and we have no idea who or what is behind it.”

Which is when Harriet and Brutus’s eyes suddenly went wide. “It’s the conspiracy!” Brutus cried. “It’s finally begun!”

Copyright © 2023 by Nic Saint