Purrfect Gran (Max 85) Preview

Purrfect Gran (Max 85) Preview

A grandmother is like a grand-angel

Lately things had been going swimmingly for us, so I should have known that it wouldn’t last. It all started when Dooley decided to feed a bird, and that bird decided it was a good idea to bring along all of his friends and family. Odelia wasn’t happy about it, but Gran immediately saw an opportunity to make some money. And then there was the brain surgeon who came to stay with us. Before long, the man was running for his life and accusing Gran of trying to murder him. I could have told him this was par for the course with Vesta Muffin: kind, sweet-natured and loving. Until the gloves come off.

Chapter One

Dooley had been idly watching a butterfly ascend into the blue cloudless sky when he thought he noticed something that was a little out of the ordinary. Up there, in the tree that provided him and his best friend Max with some much-appreciated shade, a bird was sitting and looking at him intently. Most birds, when they notice a cat nearby, either flee or make sure the cat can’t get at them in any way, but this bird just sat there, and if Dooley wasn’t mistaken, there was a certain arrogance in the bird’s attitude. A certain ‘come and get me if you can’ kind of thing going on.

“Look at that bird, Max,” he said therefore, giving his friend a nudge in the pudgy midsection.

“Mh,” said Max, reluctant to open his eyes as he had been resting happily and even snoring a little.

“That bird. You have to see this, Max.”

Max opened one eye and regarded him blearily. “I was sleeping,” he announced, as if Dooley hadn’t been able to ascertain that for himself.

“Look at that bird, Max,” he said, and pointed at the creature in question.

Finally, Max decided that adhering to his friend’s request might be the best way to shut him up and looked where Dooley was pointing.

“It’s a bird,” he said finally.

“I know it’s a bird, but will you look at his face.”

“I’ve looked at his face,” said Max. “Now can I go back to sleep, please?”

“I think he wants something,” said Dooley. “As if he’s angry with us or something and he wants to duke it out. I’ve never seen a bird look at a cat like that before, Max. Do you think we should engage?”

“Do not engage,” was Max’s advice. “Just lie back and close your eyes. You’ll see that when you wake up again, the bird will be gone.”

“Imagine if he were looking at Brutus like that,” said Dooley. “He’s spoiling for a fight, Max. Actually spoiling for it.”

“It’s just a bird, Dooley,” said Max. “Let it go.”

Dooley certainly thought that Max’s words made perfect sense. But try as he might, the way that bird just kept staring at him—without blinking no less!—was getting on his nerves. Usually a very placid sort of cat, he didn’t like it. It unnerved him. It got under his skin. Which quite possibly was exactly what that bird was looking for. In other words: psychological bird warfare!

“I’m going up there to talk to him,” he said now.

“Don’t go up there, Dooley.”

“I’m going up there.”

“Don’t— And he’s gone.”

Too right he was gone. He couldn’t let this pass. If this bird wanted something from him, let him come right out and say it. All these psychological games he was playing didn’t sit well with Dooley at all.

And so he was up and climbing that tree before Max could stop him. Even if Max had wanted to stop him, he couldn’t have, since Dooley had always been the more nimble of the duo, with Max easily twice or even three times his size, and gravity works very hard on those who don’t monitor their food intake—though Max would argue that it was his big bones that were to blame.

He had fully expected the bird to take flight the moment he placed his paw on that tree, but instead, it just kept sitting there, looking at him in a sort of curious way, as if he didn’t understand that when a cat climbs a tree and approaches a bird, it usually spells bad news for the bird.

Maybe he isn’t very clever, Dooley now thought. Maybe his parents haven’t told him that he should be careful around cats—the natural hunters of the animal kingdom. Or maybe he’s one of those birds that have grown up in an environment free of threat. Kept safe and out of harm’s way. Coddled and spoiled rotten. And this was the end result: a bird who put himself at unnecessary risk because he simply didn’t know any better.

“Dooley, what do you think you’re doing?” asked Max, who had finally decided to get up from his resting place and now stood underneath the tree, watching Dooley’s progress with a look of concern on his face.

“I’m going to talk to this bird,” said Dooley. “He’s clearly spoiling for a fight, and I’m going to bring the fight to him.”

“But Dooley, you’re not a fighter,” said Max.

He knew that. Of course he knew that. But this bird had gone too far. And so he should be taught a lesson in humility and appropriate behavior.

He had finally reached the limb where the bird was seated and approached the winged creature in a slow and what he hoped was an unthreatening fashion. It wouldn’t do for that bird to fly off now and leave Dooley sitting high up in that tree with no way to get down again without the assistance of a firefighter or Chase Kingsley, his human’s husband.

“Okay, so what do you want, bird?” he asked, deciding to go for the tough-cat approach. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?!”

The bird just kept right on staring at him.

“Am I wearing something of yours?” He had heard this line in a movie and thought it sounded pretty neat. And since cats don’t wear clothes, and neither do birds, it was also ironic. Though it could have been sarcastic or cynical. He never knew the difference between these three forms of humor.

“Who are you?” asked the bird, and contrary to what Dooley had surmised, he didn’t actually look all that arrogant or belligerent now that he saw him up close and personal. Quite the contrary. He looked… curious.

“Oh, I’m Dooley,” he said, feeling as if the bird had taken the wind right out of his sails. He wasn’t angry with the bird anymore, and now wondered why he had ever thought that it was challenging him to a duel. “I live here,” he added. “And that’s my friend Max down there. He also lives here. In fact, we both live here,” he said, in case he hadn’t made his meaning clear.

“I’m Stewart,” said the bird. “And I’m looking for a place to stay.”

“You don’t have a home to go to?” asked Dooley, who hated when that happened.

“I’m lost,” said the bird, and gave a very good impression of a sad bird all of a sudden, going so far as to slump a little and cocking its little head to one side and regarding Dooley in a piteous way that touched his heart.

“Where are your mom and dad?” he asked, figuring this must be one of those birds that had fallen out of the nest and couldn’t find their way back home.

“I don’t have a mom and dad,” said the bird, and Dooley actually placed a paw on his chest at this.

“Aw, but that’s so sad,” he said. And so he yelled out to his friend, who was still on the ground and looking up at him with a look of concern on his face. “The bird doesn’t have a mom or dad, Max. And he doesn’t have a home to go to.”

“Be that as it may,” said Max, “I think you better get down from that tree now, Dooley.”

“In a minute,” he said. “What did you say your name was, little buddy?”

“Stewart,” said the bird. “Could I…” He cocked his head to the other side now, a cute gesture. “Could I stay with you for a while, Dooley? You seem to have a nice home, and you and Max seem to be good people. Otherwise, I wouldn’t ask.”

“But of course!” he said, glad that he could help. “Of course you can stay with us. We have very nice humans, and I’m sure they’ll only be too happy to put you up for the night—or fortnight—or longer if that’s what you need.”

He now glanced down and wondered how he was ever going to get out of that tree. Stewart didn’t have such qualms. He simply flew down, and as he took position on the top of Max’s head, he said, “Hi, Max. My name is Stewart, and your friend Dooley has been so kind to invite me to stay with you guys from now on. I’m sure we’ll all be great friends. Now, can you please show me my new home? I would like to get acquainted. And could you also show me where I can have a bite to eat and some water to drink?”

“Well…” said Max, and darted a look at Dooley that the latter interpreted as not all that happy with the invitation that he had offered to the tiny bird. But since Max was essentially a kind-hearted cat, he decided to show Stewart where he could stay and where he might find something to fill that tiny tummy of his. And as Dooley watched with a smile as his friend walked into the house with the bird still perched on top of that large head of his, it suddenly dawned on him that he was stuck in a tree—and not for the first time!

Chapter Two

It was a pitiful sight to see such a tiny creature, and an orphan, no less, without a home to go to, sitting alone in that tree. And so I fully understood now why Dooley had found it necessary to offer it a place in our home. I wasn’t sure whether Odelia would agree with the judgment call my friend had made. But then Odelia is nothing if not a lover of all creatures great and small, and so I was fairly confident that she would rise to the occasion and be happy that she could do her little all to bring some happiness into a life that must have been very lonely and sad indeed.

“Stewart, this is your new home from now on,” I said therefore, and spread my paw to encompass the entirety of the living room, the kitchen, and the television nook. “There’s also a basement,” I further explained, “a second floor with a master bedroom and a spare room and a bathroom and also an attic. All in all a nice home and I’m sure you’ll feel very happy here.”

“Where is the food?” asked Stewart as he turned his little head this way and that in a highly-strung sort of way. “Dooley said there would be food. So where is it? I don’t see any food, Max. Where is the food?”

I smiled an indulgent smile. “Where are my manners?” I asked. Obviously this little bird was starving. “Right now, all there is to eat is what’s left in our bowls, but as soon as Odelia—”

The words hadn’t been fully spoken, before Stewart was already flitting to my bowl and landing right on top of the remnants of kibble that were in there. Before I could say more, he was gobbling pellet after pellet in a way I hadn’t seen before with any living creature, whether bird or other pet. How he did it, I didn’t know, but he managed to stow away at least ten of those little nuggets. For such a tiny creature, that was unheard of—at least by me.

“I see you like that, don’t you?” I said. “And the moment Odelia and Chase arrive home from work, I’ll tell them that they have to stock up on bird food.” Since I knew that birds adhere to a different diet than cats, I figured he probably was yearning for some seeds and nuts and suchlike, not the meat-heavy diet that cats like to follow.

“This is fine for now,” he said. “Thanks, Max. Where is Dooley?”

It was then that I realized that Dooley was probably having a hard time getting down from that tree all by himself, and so I hurried out of the pet flap to lend a helping paw to my friend. When I looked up at the tree, I saw he was still where I had left him: stuck on the third branch from the right.

“Can you get down from there of your own accord?” I asked.

“No, Max,” he said. “I cannot!” There was a hint of panic in his voice, and that was only to be understood as it’s never a fun experience to be stuck in a tree. Even though after having been on the planet for a couple of million years, by now us cats should be able to come up with a solution to address this particular contingency, but apparently whatever that guy Darwin was going on about, cats haven’t developed as a species. Then again, we lead pretty busy lives, and so developing a method of getting down from a tree is the least of our concerns. Also: in my experience there’s usually a friendly firefighter at hand who loves nothing more than to save us from our predicament.

Brutus and Harriet now also came walking up. They had been enjoying a bite to eat next door, where they live, and as they took in the scene, Brutus had to laugh. “How many times, Dooley!” he cried.

“Yes, Dooley,” said Harriet. “When will you ever learn?”

“I was only trying to help Stewart,” said Dooley.

“You were trying to engage Stewart in a fight,” I corrected him. Pure adrenaline had driven my friend up that tree, and that wasn’t like the Dooley I knew and loved. “Maybe we’ll wait for Chase to arrive home,” I suggested. “He’ll get you out of there in a jiffy.”

“But that’s going to take hours!” he lamented.

“Maybe we can ask one of the other neighbors,” Harriet now proposed, taking pity on our friend. “Kurt, for instance, or Ted Trapper.”

“But how are we going to get them to understand that we’re dealing with a cat in a tree situation here?” Brutus asked.

“Easy,” said Harriet. “We tell Fifi and she’ll start barking up a storm and lead Kurt right to this tree.”

“Is that how it works?” asked Brutus.

“That’s exactly how it works, and why dogs always get anything done from their humans. So let’s go and find Fifi, shall we?”

And without awaiting our response, she was already moving in the direction of the hole in the fence that divides our backyard from that of Kurt Mayfield, our next-door neighbor. Harriet was in luck, for both Fifi, Kurt’s Yorkshire Terrier, and the man himself were sunning themselves in the backyard, along with Gilda, who lives next door to Kurt and is also the man’s girlfriend.

“Fifi,” said Harriet. “We need your help. Dooley is stuck in a tree.”

“Oh, but of course,” said the tiny Yorkie as she immediately got up from her perch in the shade of a large umbrella. “What can I do to help?”

“You can make Kurt get Dooley out of that tree,” Harriet explained her grand plan.

Brutus and I had also snuck through the hole in the fence and now stood looking at our canine friend and wondering how she would go about this. One of the big mysteries of dogs that has always fascinated me is how they get their humans to do almost anything for them, and so I really wanted to see how she would get Kurt to climb a tree in his neighbor’s backyard.

“Kurt,” said Fifi curtly as she walked up to her human. “Dooley is stuck in a tree and you need to get him out of there.”

Immediately Kurt’s attention was drawn, and before our very eyes, he directed a look of concern at his doggie. “What’s wrong, girl?” he said, placing his hands on both sides of her face and giving her a gentle caress. “Why are you barking like mad?”

As far as I was aware, Fifi hadn’t barked like mad at all, but then I guess the canine language is interpreted differently by humans than it is by cats. To us, it had sounded merely like a simple stating of the facts, but to Kurt, there was a sense of urgency involved that spurred him into action.

“What’s wrong with Fifi?” asked Gilda, who was sipping from a large cooling drink and had put on a bathing suit that was very colorful indeed. And now that I paid attention, Kurt was also wearing a similar bathing suit, only his consisted of a pair of purple Speedos that were entirely too small for him and made him look like a sausage whose casing is shrink-wrapped. Not exactly a sight for a discerning cat’s sensitive eyes.

“Will you look at Kurt,” said Brutus, who had noticed the same thing. “Something is about to go pop down there.”

“Don’t make fun of him,” I advised. “He’s the man who will have to save Dooley, remember?”

“I’m not making fun of the man,” said Brutus. “Just pointing out an aspect of his wardrobe that is too peculiar not to comment on.”

“I think she wants something,” said Kurt.

“She can’t be hungry,” said Gilda. “She just ate.”

“Maybe she’s in pain? She looks very nervous all of a sudden.”

Fifi now ran to the hole in the fence and then back to Kurt, and he instantly got the message. “I think she wants to show me something,” he said, and hurried to the fence to see what was going on.

Fifi hadn’t waited for his response but was already streaking through that hole in the fence and straight up to the tree where Dooley still sat patiently awaiting his heroic savior to come to his rescue.

Fifi now barked up a storm while standing underneath that tree and looking up at Dooley.

“Oh, it’s Dooley,” said Kurt. “I think he’s stuck in a tree.”

Gilda had also joined her partner, and the both of them stood gaping across that fence in the direction of the location where Dooley was now mewling piteously to add some urgency to his predicament.

“Will you look at that poor darling,” said Gilda, whose heart bled as she took in the scene. She gave her boyfriend a gentle nudge. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go and get him out of that tree, Kurt.”

“I’m sure Odelia will do it,” said Kurt, who was as reluctant as anyone to risk breaking his neck for the privilege of saving a neighbor’s cat from a tree. “Or Chase.”

“Clearly, there’s nobody home,” said Gilda, whose heart is big for all of petdom, not just dogs, the species Kurt seems to favor. “Go on then. Help him!”

Kurt grumbled something, but since he didn’t like to disappoint his girlfriend, he opened the little gate that allows passage from one backyard to the next, and walked up to the tree. He scratched his scalp as he looked up at Dooley.

“Now how did you go and get stuck up there, huh, little buddy?” he said.

“See?” said Fifi as she gave us a look of triumph. “What did I tell you? Kurt is like putty in my paws.”

It certainly had been a master class in learning how to get your human to do your bidding, I had to admit. Even Kurt, who normally doesn’t care one hoot about cats, was about to do something he would normally never do: save a cat from a tree.

“I’m going to need a ladder,” he announced, and darted a hopeful look at Gilda.

“Tex has a big ladder,” said Gilda. “Better go and get his.”

Kurt grunted something unintelligible and stomped off in the direction of the opening in the hedge between our backyard and that belonging to Odelia’s mom and dad. Moments later he returned with the ladder on his shoulder and was putting it up against the tree. Climbing it was but the work of a moment, and as we watched on with bated breath and a sense of awe, he grabbed Dooley from the tree and was carrying him back to safety within minutes.

“I thought Kurt was a retired music teacher?” said Harriet. “He looks like a retired fireman instead.”

“Music teachers know all about ladders,” Brutus pointed out. When we gave him a curious look, he shrugged. “Tone ladders. It’s the same thing, really.”

“Very funny, Brutus,” I said, earning myself a grin from my friend.

“Thank you, Mr. Mayfield,” said Dooley, ecstatic to be standing on terra firma once again. “Thank you so much!” and in his desire to express his gratitude not just with words but also with gestures, he actually tried to give Kurt a token of his appreciation by rubbing himself against the man’s leg. Kurt didn’t seem to like this one bit, but since Gilda was looking on, he tolerated it as much as he could and even gave Dooley a tentative sort of pat on the head.

“That’s all right, little buddy,” he said. “You’re fine now. You’re all right.”

“Well done, Kurt,” said Gilda. “You did a wonderful thing here today. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?”

“Absolutely,” Kurt confirmed. “I feel very warm and very fuzzy…” He lifted his leg in an exaggerated fashion to step over Dooley, and then hurried off to return the ladder from where it came. The man had done his duty, made his girlfriend happy, and that, as far as he was concerned, was that.

He returned without giving us the benefit of his attention but simply hurried past us and disappeared behind his fence, locking it in the process just to make sure.

“That was very nice of Kurt, wasn’t it?” said Dooley. Clearly, Kurt had found a new fan in Dooley, even if the retired music teacher wouldn’t have enjoyed the notion if he had been aware of it. Then again: no good deed goes unpunished.

“Maybe we should sing him a song, you guys,” Harriet suggested. “Just to show him how much we appreciate what he did for us.” And without awaiting our input, she opened her mouth and started belting out one of her favorites: I Am a Woman in Love by Barbra Streisand. Whether Kurt understood the lyrics or not, the fact was that his head suddenly appeared over the parapet, and as he took in the scene, I had the impression the music teacher in him didn’t enjoy Harriet’s version of that perennial Barbara classic. At least if the agonized expression on his face was anything to go by.

“I think he likes it,” said Dooley. “He really likes it, Harriet.” And since he wanted to add his own contribution, he also opened his mouth to sing along, and so did Brutus. The only one who wasn’t singing was me, but then I was watching Kurt closely, and judging from the vein that was pulsating in his right temple, I didn’t want to risk being beaned by a size-fourteen shoe. And so instead of joining this impromptu choir recital, I hurried indoors to be safe from any incoming projectiles emanating from our neighbor.

When I entered through the pet flap, I was surprised to find that all of our bowls were empty. And since I couldn’t imagine that one tiny bird could possibly be responsible for this, I glanced around to find the intruder. It was only when I heard a tweet that I looked up and saw that the kitchen cabinets were full of birds. And as my jaw dropped, Stewart disassociated himself from the pack and said in a proud sort of voice, “Max, meet my brothers and sisters. Guys, this is Max, the one who has kindly offered us a new home!”

Chapter Three

Jeff Morrison opened the hood of his rental car and stared blankly at the engine. Even though he vaguely knew that cars have engines, he had to admit that he didn’t know the first thing about remedying any sort of problem with the contraption. He was a surgeon, after all, used to rummaging around in people’s insides, not analyzing the innards of his own vehicle and making sure it worked as it should. And so after only a few moments, he had to declare defeat and closed the hood again with a clang.

He glanced around. He had absolutely no idea where he was, and cursed himself for not bringing along his phone charger. At least he would have had GPS and could have found his way to the nearest gas station where hopefully they could lead him to a garage that could tow his car and get it fixed. He had an important conference to attend, and since he was one of the speakers, the last thing he wanted was to get lost.

But since this car didn’t seem to be able to get him to where he was going, he saw there was only one thing he could do: hitchhike. But since the area where his car had broken down didn’t seem all that inhabitable, as very few cars passed by, he decided he’d better start walking in the direction he had been going and hope for the best.

He had been walking for ten minutes when the sound of a car made itself known, and so he held up his thumb and assumed the hitchhiking position. The car didn’t even slow down, but instead seemed to speed up when its driver caught sight of him. And as it passed him by with a roar of its powerful engine, he wondered what it was about him that had given this person pause. He didn’t think he looked all that threatening. Then again, you never know how one is perceived by other people. Maybe they took one look at him and thought he was a serial killer or some kind of dangerous drug kingpin.

He took up his walk again and had only been putting one step in front of the other for five minutes when he heard another car approaching. This time he decided to add a smile to his thumb gesture, since smiles do suggest that one doesn’t pose a threat, and maybe it would make the driver reconsider the notion that here walked public enemy number one. His smile said, ‘I’m just your friendly neighborhood brain surgeon, and if you give me a lift, I might even give you a free checkup.’

Unfortunately, this driver, too, had the instant reflex to stomp down on the gas pedal as soon as he took one look at Jeff.

“What’s wrong with these people?” he murmured as he returned to his long walk. Soon he realized the error in his thought process. The question wasn’t what was wrong with these drivers but what was wrong with him. And since self-criticism wasn’t something he was familiar with, it took him a while to come up with something about himself that might make these people refuse to even contemplate giving him a lift.

He glanced down at himself and thought he looked fine enough. He wasn’t wearing his suit, of course, since he had packed that for the conference. He was dressed in his casual clothes: jeans, a leather jacket, sunglasses perched on his nose, and a pair of tennis shoes. So maybe he should have worn his doctor’s coat instead. People love a doctor. When they see one, they can’t resist dropping their pants and pointing out the clump of hairy warts on their buttocks and ask him if he thinks it might be cancer.

“It must be the leather jacket,” he determined, and immediately shrugged out of it and draped it over his arm. Now he looked like any civil servant: jeans, white shirt, and a head that was fully devoid of even a single hair. Maybe that was it. Maybe people don’t trust bald men. They want to see that full head of lustrous hair, shiny and glorious. Unfortunately, this was what he had to work with, and it was probably a little late now to contemplate getting the hair transplant a colleague had been advertising. Ben Harper, who was a urologist, had had one, and he said he was getting plenty of looks from younger women again, eager to run their hands through that mighty mane. Maybe Jeff should have gone for it. Then he would have been picked up by now.

Another car came zooming past, and dutifully he stuck his hand up again. This time the driver seemed willing to give him a chance. And as he hurried to the car, which had parked on the shoulder, he bent down to take in the driver. He was surprised to see an elderly woman who gave him a curious look.

“You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” she said, surprising him even more.

“How… how did you know?”

“I work for a doctor,” she explained. “I can smell you guys a mile away. Hop in, doc.”

And even though he thought she might be an eccentric, he decided that she looked harmless enough, and so he accepted her invitation and got into the vehicle. It was a little cramped, as it was one of those mini cars that are all the rage with city folk.

“So what kind of doctor are you?” asked the woman once she had put the car in gear and they were zooming along, too fast for his liking, he had to admit.

“Um, brain surgeon,” he said.

“Oh, fancy,” she said. “My son-in-law is a family doctor.”

“Where are we, by the way? My phone battery died, so I have no idea.”

“Next town is Hampton Cove. And the last town you must have passed through is Hampton Keys. Where are you headed?”

“Hampton Cove,” he said. “I’m due to speak at a conference there tomorrow.”

“I live in Hampton Cove,” she said. Then she gave him a sideways glance. “You wouldn’t happen to have a moment to spare, would you, doc?”

“It depends how long the moment is,” he said with a smile. He was feeling more and more relaxed, figuring this woman was nice enough and would get him where he needed to be.

“It’s just that my son-in-law has been acting real strange lately. I think it might be his head.”

“Your son-in-law the doctor?”

“That’s the one. I think he may be going bananas, but that’s just my layperson’s opinion, of course.”

He frowned. “What are the symptoms that make you think he’s losing his mind?”

“Oh, for one thing, he said I can’t have a new car. And you can tell that I need a new car, can’t you?” She patted the dashboard. “This baby still runs fine enough, but one of these days she’s going to break down, and then where are we?”

“I have to admit that I’m not an expert on cars, Mrs…”

“Muffin. Vesta Muffin. Oh, I’m no expert either, but judging from the sound she makes I don’t think she has a lot of miles l