Purrfect Cancel (Max 78) Preview

Purrfect Cancel (Max 78) Preview

Canceled Anonymous

An epidemic swept through Hampton Cove, and even though I wasn’t one of those infected, it still filled me with dread, since several of our nearest and dearest were amongst those taking a hit. The name of the disease was cancelation, and the symptoms were being fired from one’s job, banned from one’s social circles and generally being turned into an outcast. The victims were many, and the solution hard to come by, especially when our very own human Chase was suspended. Tough to investigate a crime when you’re the victim!

I have to admit at first I was a little hesitant to take this whole business seriously, but when Kingman was canceled, and then Shanille, cat choir’s conductor, and eventually the entire cat choir, it became obvious that if we didn’t take a stand, our entire way of life would be a thing of the past. But who was behind this pernicious campaign, and what could possibly be its objective? Suffice it to say we had our work cut out for us! 

 

Chapter One

 

Garret Root had been walking his dog with a spring in his step when he thought he heard a voice addressing him. He glanced around to determine the origin of the sound, which is when he saw that a woman of particularly attractive aspect was looking at him intently from a nearby window.

He retraced his steps and plastered his most ingratiating smile onto his face, thrust out his chest as far as it would go without making him look like a duck, sucked in his belly, and said, “Hi there,” in his most sonorous tone of voice.

The woman wasn’t smiling, though. On the contrary. If his eyes weren’t deceiving him, she was actually projecting an active hostility that made him reel. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Garret Root,” she said.

He blinked several times in abject astonishment. “Have we met?”

“I should hope not!”

“But… why ashamed? What do you mean?”

“Oh, you know,” she said emphatically, giving him the kind of hard stare that was designed to take the wind out of his sails and alert him to trouble ahead.

“But I don’t,” he said. “I really don’t.”

She shook her head, causing her blond tresses, which framed a very lovely face, he couldn’t help but notice, to dance around in pleasant abandon. But all the while her eyes remained hard and cold, boring into him like twin gimlets. “I hate it when you do that,” she announced.

“Do what?” he asked, still proceeding absolutely mystified.

“Pretend like nothing’s happening, when all the while you know perfectly well what you’ve been up to.” She now added an upheld index finger to the mix, wagging it in a reproachful fashion. “Fair warning, Mr. Root. If you don’t go to the police right this instance and turn yourself in, I swear to God…”

He gaped at her. “Police?” he said, his voice going a little squeaky at the mention of the constabulary. “What does the police have to do with this?”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” she said, and promptly retreated from the window where she had been resting her arm and looking out onto a world that had hitherto seemed hospitable and pleasant but now was quickly becoming less so. She closed the window with a slam, and Garret, already stunned by the accusations leveled against him, felt his heart make a sudden little jump in his chest, which wasn’t part of the service that faithful organ had been designed for. Staggering back, he almost bumped into an elderly lady, who had snuck up behind him unseen.

“I’ve heard every single word, Garret Root!” said the old lady as he whirled around to face her. “And I’ll add my two cents by telling you that if you don’t turn yourself in, the good citizens of this town will! And that’s a promise!”

“But… what did I do?!” he cried, as bewildered as before.

“Don’t play dumb with me, young man. You know perfectly well what you did!”

“But I don’t, I swear!”

She made a soft tsk-tsking sound while shaking her head in abject condemnation at such stubbornness. “There’s a word for people like you, but since I’m a God-fearing person, I won’t say it out loud. But if you’ve got one ounce of decency left in you, you will do the right thing. And you will do it now!”

And with these words, she took off at a vigorous pace that belied her age.

He stared after her, wondering if the world had suddenly gone mad as a hatter. The only thing he could think was that this was all a case of mistaken identity, and both the pretty lady and the old woman were mistaking him for someone else entirely. But whoever this other person was, he must have been up to something really terrible to merit being subjected to such a harsh verbal barrage.

But since his conscience was clear, and as far as he could tell he had done nothing wrong since being put into this world thirty-six years, three months and two days ago, he continued his walk into town, his beloved beagle right at his heel. It didn’t take the pair long to arrive at their destination, which was the General Store, where Garret intended to buy some necessary items for dinner tonight. But when he walked into the store, he became aware of the same gimlet stare the pretty lady had subjected him to, only this time coming from the store owner, Wilbur Vickery, a man who, even though not the sunniest of personalities, had never been anything but kind to him, a loyal and frequent customer.

“I don’t think I want you coming to this store anymore,” said Wilbur now.

“But why?” he said.

“You know,” said Wilbur darkly. He gestured with an outstretched arm at the entrance to the store. “Out! Right now!”

“But what did I do?” he said plaintively.

“Just leave, before I make you,” said Wilbur, inserting a certain measure of menace into his voice, which brooked no contest whatsoever.

And so he exited the store, meek as a lamb, wondering what could possibly be going on here.

For a moment he just stood there, unsure how to proceed, when a loud hissing sound reached his ears. It came from underneath the outside display of veggies and fruits, and as he glanced down in that direction, he saw that Kingman, Wilbur’s large cat, was actually hissing at him!

“Sweet kitty,” he said quickly, not wanting to be subjected to the cat’s claws of steel. “There’s a sweet kitty.”

And since the whole world seemed to have suddenly turned against him, he hurried away, glancing left and right in a furtive fashion. Before long, he had reached the post office, and as he took a seat on the bench placed in front of the establishment, determined to get his racing heart and mind back under control, a little girl took a seat next to him. She was licking a lollipop and staring at him with the kind of natural curiosity kids possess at that age.

“Are you the man who showed his dingeling to those kids?” she asked.

“What?! No! Of course not!” he said.

“You look like him. His picture was in the paper, you see.”

“What picture? What paper? What dingeling!”

“My mom said you showed your dingeling to the kids in your school, and she said that’s a very bad thing to do, especially since you’re a teacher, and teachers are not supposed to show their dingelings to anyone, and if MY teacher ever showed HIS dingeling to me, I should tell her so she could report him.”

“But I never showed my dingeling to anyone!” he cried.

But then suddenly, the little girl’s mother emerged from the post office, took one look at him, and grabbed her daughter by the arm, snatching her off the bench. “You, sir, should be ashamed of yourself,” she snapped. “Let’s go, Carly.” And as they walked away, she said in an admonishing fashion, “How many times have I told you never to talk to strangers?”

“But he’s not a stranger, Mommy,” said the little girl. “He’s the dingeling man.”

Garret now noticed how his mouth was slightly agape and made the effort to close it. He was the dingeling man? His picture was in the paper? But how? And when? And since the newsstand was right across the street, he was off that bench and crossing the street in a heartbeat. It was with trembling fingers that he picked up a paper from the stand. Plastered across the front page was his face! And above it, the headline screamed, ‘SICK PERVERT CAUGHT IN THE ACT!’ Underneath it, in smaller print, it specified, ‘Garret Root—Most Hated Man In America?’

Chapter Two

I’d been playing with a mouse as a form of entertainment when all of a sudden the mouse scooted underneath the couch, and try as I might, I couldn’t catch it.

Before you judge me, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear: the mouse wasn’t an actual living, breathing creature but one of those mechanical gizmos that are self-propelled and available from any fine online store. And the entertainment aspect wasn’t for my own benefit but for that of Grace, our human’s little human, who seemed to enjoy that kind of thing. Or at least that’s what Odelia had told us. And so the four of us—myself, Dooley, Harriet, and Brutus—had been taking turns to provide this entertainment Grace seemed to crave so much.

“Max, what are you doing?” asked Harriet.

“I’m trying to find that mouse,” I said, reaching underneath the couch to retrieve the little gizmo.

“It popped out the other side,” Brutus informed me, “and is going hell for leather in the direction of the kitchen.”

“Look at it go,” said Dooley. “I think it’s going to make the great escape.”

The four of us lined up to stare at the thing as it raced across the floor.

“It’s going for the pet flap,” said Brutus, surprise in his voice.

“That’s impossible,” I said. “It’s a mechanical mouse, not an animal.”

“I’m telling you, it’s going to try and escape,” said our friend.

As we watched on, I saw that he was correct in his estimation of the gizmo’s intentions. For some odd reason it was making a beeline for the pet flap. A couple more feet and it would be out the door and out in the great outdoors, and who knows where it might go next. New York? Florida? Albuquerque? The world was its oyster. But just then, Gran entered the kitchen via that same kitchen door, and even as we shouted, “Gran, watch out!” she stepped right on top of the mouse.

There was a sort of crunching sound, and as Gran lifted her foot to look at the thing, it was clear that whatever grand designs it had made would have to be put on hold for the nonce. Clearly the pep had gone out of its step.

“Oh, that poor thing,” said Dooley, who has probably the biggest heart of the four of us. “We have to take it to Vena to get it fixed.”

“It’s just a gizmo, Dooley,” I said. “Not a real mouse.”

“Max is right,” said Brutus. “What it needs is a toymaker, not a vet.”

“Maybe Chase can fix it?” Dooley suggested. “Odelia never stops saying how handy he is with his hands.”

This statement elicited a smile from the three of us. “Chase might be handy,” said Harriet. “But I have a feeling this thing is permanently out of commission.”

“What are you trying to pull?” said Gran, who didn’t look entirely pleased at the state of affairs. “Are you trying to get me killed?” She then directed her ire at her great-granddaughter. “Please keep your toys in your toy box,” she said. “Unless you want me to trip and fall.”

But Grace wasn’t impressed. Lately, she had taken to her tablet and studying stuff on there. “Did you know that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared?” she now asked.

We all turned to take her in. “No, I did not know that,” I said, having no idea what she was talking about. “But I do know that your mouse is out of commission.”

She made a throwaway gesture with her hand. “Oh, who cares about some silly mouse. I only did that to keep you guys entertained.”

“Odd,” said Harriet. “We thought we were keeping you entertained.”

She planted a hand on her hip and made a comical face. “Now why would I find such a terrible pastime entertaining? In my personal opinion, these blood sports should be outlawed.”

We shared a look of surprise. “What blood sports? What do you mean?” asked Harriet.

“Cats chasing mice, of course. It’s so cruel there should be a law against it. Now take a seat and I’ll tell you all about quantum mechanics. Now that is what I call entertainment.”

Frankly, I had a feeling quantum mechanics was just about as entertaining as watching paint dry, and after Grace had started educating us on the basic tenets of this science, I discovered that my hunch had been correct. The upshot was that the four of us were fast asleep by the time she reached the quantum part of quantum mechanics, which I guess is at least something positive about it. When Gran joined us on the couch, I was dreaming about a mean army of mechanical mice declaring war on all cats and attacking us with their weapons of mouse destruction.

I woke up with a shiver, and realized that Gran had been talking to us.

“I said, ‘There should be a law against people like that,’” she repeated.

“People like what?” I asked as I yawned.

“Like this guy Garret Root, of course. First he exposes himself to a bunch of kids in the playground, and then my son simply allows him to walk free!” She slammed the palm of her hand with her fist. “I know what we’ll do. We’ll keep an eye on that guy from now on. This is exactly what the neighborhood watch was designed for. Who’s with me for the first watch?”

“Who’s Garret Root?” asked Dooley.

“Only the most hated man in America,” said Gran. “And he just happens to live in Hampton Cove. So as I see it, it’s our sacred duty to keep an eye on the guy and make sure he isn’t up to his horrible old tricks again. So who’s with me?”

When none of us responded—mainly due to the fact that we had just enjoyed a pleasant nap and weren’t ready to engage with the world at the drop of a hat—her expression turned sour.

“Okay, I get the message.” She got up with an alacrity that belied her age. “But next time you need something, don’t come crying to me, you hear!” And with these words, she was off, gently simmering with barely suppressed resentment.

“Did Gran say something?” asked Harriet.

“Where did she go off to?” asked Brutus.

“She mentioned something about the watch,” said Dooley.

Which just goes to show that quantum mechanics may be all right for some, but it can lead to an unexpected outcome for others. Which just might be one of its basic tenets. I’d ask Grace, but she had fallen asleep herself.

And so we followed her example and picked up our naptus interruptus by returning to the land of Nod. At least this time there wasn’t an army of mechanical mice trying to murder me in my sleep!

Chapter Three

Jim Root studied his appearance in the full-length mirror. The suit the salesgirl had foisted on him didn’t look too shabby, he had to admit. It wasn’t entirely his style, but it was certainly the kind of classic and understated look his sister and the rest of his family would appreciate. His first inclination when Cristy had invited him to the wedding had been to rent a tux, as he had done for all the other weddings—and funerals—he had been invited to in recent years. But then simple economics had told him that buying one was probably the more common-sense solution. And so he had set out to his local fashion emporium to acquire for himself such an item of clothing.

He would have preferred to get a snazzy suit in checkered black-and-yellow or a loud pink or purple, of course. Or something along the lines of what Ryan Gosling would wear to the premiere of one of his hit movies. But since he was neither suicidal nor Ryan Gosling, he had settled for the charcoal specimen he was modeling now. His sister would kill him if he showed up looking like something out of a fashion magazine. A very classic girl in every sense of the word, she wouldn’t appreciate if her big brother upset the apple cart in such a way and dragged the attention away from herself and her new husband, who was something big in insurance if Jim’s recollection wasn’t deceiving him. He had to admit he wasn’t all that interested in his sister’s latest catch, since chances were that he wouldn’t be around long enough to get to know the guy. It was Cristy’s third marriage in the last ten years, and already she and her betrothed were fighting like cats and dogs, if their mother’s words were to be believed.

“I like it,” he told the salesgirl. “I’ll take it.”

He had glanced at the price label and even though it was a little above what he had budgeted for such an expense, if Cristy kept up her streak of failed marriages, he would get some good mileage out of the suit for her next three weddings over the course of the next ten years. And if she did keep divorcing her husbands at the standard rate, there might even be a couple of funerals amongst their relatives, who got upset each time Cristy threw another one of her husbands under the bus.

It wasn’t that Cristy was a difficult woman to get along with—anything but. It was that she had such an awful taste in men that she kept picking losers. Even when she was still dating, she had come home with the kinds of boyfriends no parent could possibly approve of, and even though all of her friends told her not to go for the same type, Cristy persisted, convinced as she was that if you simply keep plugging away, at some point you will magically hit upon Mr. Right. In other words, she was a firm believer in the law of numbers as applied to dating.

The salesgirl wrapped up the suit, and he paid for the item with his company credit card, which hadn’t seen this much action for quite a while. Then he tucked the package under his arm and walked out of the store, happy that he could tick off this item on his extensive to-do list. Cristy had been so wise not to tap her brother as her best man this time, opting to go with one of her dubious friends instead. During one of her previous marriages, the groom had been completely wasted, and instead of making sure the man stood in front of the altar all sobered up and ready to go, Jim had been so busy arranging some last-minute deal that he had neglected this crucial part of his best-man duties and had allowed the guy to sleep off his bender in the confessional before becoming aware of the distinct dearth of grooms of any description when his sister had cried buckets, convinced that she had been stood up. In due course, the groom had been retrieved, positioned on his marker, and prompted to deliver his lines at the right time.

The wedding had lasted twenty-four hours before Cristy had thrown a giant temper tantrum and had demanded a divorce. Turned out the guy had slept with one of her bridesmaids on the eve of the wedding—an unforgivable offense.

He walked with rapid steps in the direction of his car, threw the suit onto the passenger seat before taking up position behind the wheel. Today was a big day. His business had been struggling for months, but finally he had managed to turn it around by finding a new niche in the market. One of his early clients had seen an opportunity and now they were meeting to talk turkey and a potential massive injection of capital. And as nervousness started to take hold of him, he made a conscious effort to slow down his breathing, stop his heart from beating a hundred-and-twenty beats per minute, and make sure he was calm and collected for the upcoming meeting, which was due to take place in half an hour at the Star Hotel.

This was it. If he pulled this off, he might be able to save his company from ruin. And since he had so much riding on this deal, he knew he had to present the best version of himself. Be the best he could be. So he gripped the steering wheel tightly, popped the CD in the CD player with the motivational message from the number-one motivational business coach, and as he listened to the man drone on about thinking positive thoughts and working through a list of motivational exercises, he pulled his car away from the curb and into traffic. And as he did, a call came in. He quickly checked the display and saw that it was his sister Cristy.

He closed his eyes. Oh, dear. Not now!

But he couldn’t very well ignore his little sister, especially on the eve of her wedding.

“Hey, sis,” he said after he tapped a button on his steering wheel. “What’s up?”

Immediately, he could sense that something was terribly wrong. “It’s Clint,” Cristy said in a weepy voice, referring to her future husband. “I’ve just discovered that he’s part of a very nasty group of people.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. “What group of people?”

“Pet torturers!”

He frowned. “Pet torturers? What do you mean?”

“Clint is part of a group of people who share images of pets being tortured, Jim. The man is a monster! A psycho! A freak!”

“I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation,” he said.

“No, there isn’t. It’s all right there in horrific detail! He’s part of a group called Masters of the Universe, and torturing pets is part of their initiation ritual.”

“So what does this initiation consist of, exactly?” he asked, though he really didn’t want to know.

She took a deep breath. “They have to pick a pet, and then they have to torture that pet, and then they have to take pictures and post them in their group as evidence.”

“That is sick,” he said, his stomach turning as he listened.

“It’s all part of their philosophy. That only weak people would ever think there’s anything wrong with establishing your mastery over an inferior species!”

“You should go to the police, Cris. The man is obviously some kind of psycho.”

“Oh, I’m going,” she assured him. “And I’m exposing him to the whole world.”

A tingle of alarm shot up his spine. “Cris…”

“I’ve screenshotted everything and sent emails to all of Clint’s contacts and posted all of his conversations online. Let’s see how he likes that!”

“I take it the wedding is off?” he asked, giving a rueful look at the package containing the nice tux he just bought for a substantial amount of money.

“Of course the wedding is off! You don’t think I’d marry a man like that?”

“You should be careful,” he said. “Screenshotting private conversations and then sending them to a person’s contacts is probably a crime. He could sue. Better to leave it to the police to go after these people and determine if they’ve committed a crime.”

“I don’t care,” she said bravely as she sniffed some more. “Monsters like that don’t belong in civilized society, Jim. They belong behind bars. And I will not rest until they’re all locked up and made to pay for what they did to those poor pets.”

Talk about a match made in hell. For a self-professed pet torturer to get engaged to Cristy, who was probably the woman with the biggest heart for pets on the planet must have been one of those tricks fate plays on us, Jim thought. “Just be careful,” he told his sister. “And whatever you do, don’t go anywhere near the guy. If he finds out what you did, he and his friends might come after you, sis.”

“I’m staying with Mom and Dad,” she told him.

He smiled. “Of course you are.”

No wonder Mom and Dad had never moved Cristy’s stuff out of her room. After every failed marriage she moved back home and into her old room.

“I’ll drop by later tonight,” he promised. “Then you can tell me all about it.”

She rang off, and he wondered if he shouldn’t go to the police himself. Clearly, Cristy was in such a state that she wouldn’t make a lot of sense if she went. They might even think that she was simply a vengeful fiancée who had caught her betrothed in the arms of another woman and was making up stories out of revenge. But then he was reminded of his all-important business meeting and put his sister and her serial bad luck finding a decent husband out of his mind and focused on his presentation. In his line of business, first impressions were everything. And as his success guru didn’t mind repeating over and over again, you only had one chance to make a first impression, so better make it count!

And so he went over his sales pitch in his head until he had it nailed down to the last detail, and it was a thing of beauty.

Chapter Four

Odelia had been working diligently on her series of articles about the schoolteacher who had been accused of exposing himself indecently to his pupils when her editor knocked on the door of her office and walked in. “Excellent stuff on that Garret Root guy, Odelia,” he said as he took a seat in front of her desk. “We need to keep this story hot and on the front page for as long as we can.”

“It is a terrible story,” she said as she leaned back. “And I don’t understand why he hasn’t been arrested yet and interrogated.” She had called her uncle, but he said that Garret Root had vanished from the face of the earth. The moment the accusations had started circulating, he had personally sent a unit to arrest the guy, but they had failed to find him at his home address.

“It’s men like Root who give this town a bad name,” said the aged editor as he stroked his white beard. “So he’s lying low, huh? Maybe hiding out at his parents’ place?”

“I don’t think so. My uncle dispatched two of his officers to pick the guy up, and I’m sure they thought of paying a visit to his parents and all of his known haunts.” She shrugged. “Looks like he knew something was coming and decided to leave town.”

“Skipped out altogether,” said Dan. “Cunning. Very cunning.” He gave her a keen look. “Now if we could track down the guy, that would be quite the scoop, wouldn’t you say? Exclusive interview with a wanted man in his lair?”

She smiled. “Are you telling me to go out there and track down the guy, Dan?”

“I’m sure I don’t even have to tell you. My star reporter will have thought of this all by herself.” He got up. “So find me the most wanted man in America and I promise you a nice bonus when you land that exclusive scoop.” He tapped his nose. “I’ve got a hunch that you’ll succeed where others have failed.”

She watched as he returned to his own office and wondered how to go about finding the guy. Her uncle’s officers would have been diligent. They would have paid a visit to all of his relatives, his friends, the school… And if they hadn’t found him, where else to look? And it was as she gave herself up to thought that she got a bright idea. From her deep dive into the man’s life, she had ascertained that he wasn’t married, had no kids of his own, but what he did have was a much-beloved beagle who accompanied him wherever he went—except when he had to work, of course. Though Odelia had talked to one of the guy’s colleagues and she had told her that sometimes Garret would bring his dog to school, and the kids loved it. And as she tried to remember the dog’s name, she picked up the phone and called her grandmother, who she knew was home babysitting Grace.

 

***

 

Vesta was not exactly in a good mood, so when she picked up the phone, it was with a growl. “What do you want!” she practically shouted into the device.

“Someone is feeling grouchy,” said her granddaughter.

“Oh, it’s just that I never seem to get the cooperation I need.”

“As a matter of fact, I need your cooperation,” said Odelia.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but a teacher is being wanted in connection to a crime, and he seems to have gone missing.”

“Garret Root,” she said, nodding. “I know all about him.”

“I’ve been trying to track him down, but he’s disappeared. But then I remembered that he has a dog he takes everywhere with him—even to school.”

“So?”

“So if we manage to find the dog, we’ll be able to find Garret.”

“What good would that do? Your uncle will simply let him get away with it again, just like he did before.”

“My uncle has been looking everywhere for Garret, but the fact of the matter is that he gave him the slip. So what do you say, Gran? Ask the cats to find the dog?”

She thought for a moment. It’s never an easy feat when you’ve slammed the door on a person to have to come crawling back and ask for their assistance. And since she had just told her cats that she didn’t need them, it was tough on her ego to have to admit that she did. But she was nothing if not resourceful, so she knew she’d be able to come up with some excuse. “Consider it d