Purrfect Kibble (Max 82) Preview

Purrfect Kibble (Max 82) Preview

Caddicts of the World, Unite!

It had been one of those unseasonably hot days that makes me want to dig a hole in the ground and disappear when Dooley discovered treasure in the pantry: three bags of original Franklin Cooper kibble. The factory had gone bust three years ago, so this could very well be the last of the legendary kibble maker’s delicious goodies. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t the only ones who were after the treat. Odelia wanted to dump it in the trash, ants wanted to steal it and a gang of drug dealers had designs on it for their own nefarious reasons. Along the way we were faced with murder, mayhem and even a car chase. But in spite of all this, we were steadfast in our goal of preserving the Franklin Cooper legacy.



Chapter One

Dooley had been rooting around in the pantry when his nostrils suddenly were filled with a familiar scent. It smelled very much like… kibble! And not just any type of kibble but his favorite kind. The one Odelia used to buy but for some reason that he couldn’t fathom had stopped getting for them. And here, buried underneath a pile of old clothes that were destined to be thrown out, several bags had been hiding all along! For a moment, he struggled to contain the powerful emotion this momentous discovery elicited. But then only one thought stood out: he had to tell someone. And not just someone. He had to tell Max. And so he quickly tiptoed out of the pantry, hoping Odelia hadn’t noticed his snooping around, and went in search of his friend. He found him stretched out on the lawn, lying spread-eagle as was his latest habit, in a bid to cool his voluminous body by soaking up the coolness of the lawn. Those grass blades had their work cut out for them!

“Max!” he whispered as he lay down next to his friend. “Max, I just made the most amazing discovery!”

“You found a fan?” asked Max, who didn’t like the heat and was suffering something terrible every time the sun decided to turn the world below into a furnace. “Or did Chase finally get us that portable air conditioner he’s been promising he would buy?”

“None of the above,” he said. “I found Franklin Cooper kibble.” For a moment, Max didn’t respond, and he wondered if his friend hadn’t heard him. “I said I found—”

“I heard you,” Max said. Then he looked up at Dooley with a wild surmise. “You actually found Franklin Cooper kibble? But I thought the business went belly-up? At least that’s what I heard.”

“I didn’t know that,” Dooley admitted. It saddened him to know that Franklin Cooper had gone out of business. “I found three whole bags in the pantry, hidden underneath a pile of old clothes. I had a quick sniff, and they smell just fine. In fact, they smell as glorious as I remember.”

A beatific look had stolen over the large blorange cat’s face. “I remember that smell. They were the best kibble we’d ever tasted in our lives, weren’t they?”

“They sure were,” said Dooley. “And now we can taste them again. But we have to be smart about this, Max. I don’t know why Odelia decided to hide them from us—or maybe she simply forgot she still had them. But I have a feeling that when she finds out that we found out, they’ll disappear. Just a hunch.”

“You’re absolutely right, Dooley,” said Max. Then he frowned. “Have you told anyone else about this?”

“I have not,” he assured his best companion.

“Brutus?” he asked, referring to their housemate.

He shook his head. “The moment I found them, I came straight here to tell you about it, since I figured you’d know what to do.”

“I think you made a wise decision not to let Odelia know that you have discovered that kibble,” said Max. For a moment, he thought deeply, exercising that large brain of his, then finally he nodded. “I think it’s probably safe to assume that Odelia simply forgot that she still had them. Which means…”

Dooley’s face lit up with a look of excitement. “Which means…”

“Which means that we may very well be in possession of the very last bags of Franklin Cooper kibble available anywhere on the planet!”

Dooley’s face sagged. “But that also means…”

“It also means we probably shouldn’t eat it,” said Max as his face displayed the same sense of disappointment. “Which is exactly why those bags will go missing again the moment Odelia finds out. She doesn’t like to offer us food whose expiration date has elapsed.”

“I won’t tell her if you won’t,” Dooley suggested. Then another thought struck him. “But if these bags are the last Franklin Cooper bags on the planet, that means they’re extremely rare, Max.”

His friend nodded seriously. “Exactly. That kibble has become a rare commodity, Dooley. In fact it isn’t too much to say it’s probably priceless by now. Some people might even want to put it in a museum or maybe a wealthy collector might be willing to pay a ginormous price for these very same bags.”

“Like a Van Gogh, you mean?” asked Dooley.

“Exactly like a Van Gogh,” said Max. “After an artist dies, you know the price of their work suddenly increases exponentially. So the same might be true for the Franklin Cooper kibble.”

“Do you think Franklin Cooper died, and that’s why he stopped making his very fine kibble?”

“I think that’s a safe assumption,” said Max. “Franklin Cooper died, and since he was possibly the best pet food maker in the history of the world—a real master in the art of pet food making: one of those rare geniuses that only come around every couple of generations—we should honor him and not eat his kibble but save it for posterity.”

“Maybe others can study his kibble and discover his secret recipe?” Dooley suggested.

“That may very well be true,” Max agreed. “Reverse-engineering is a thing, Dooley.”

Just then, Harriet and Brutus came toddling up. They, too, looked a little overheated and could have used a cool environment to rest their weary heads. The moment they joined them, the conversation halted, and Dooley exchanged a knowing glance with his friend. ‘We’ll talk about this later,’ Dooley’s glance said. ‘Once the coast is clear,’ was Max’s non-verbal response. Franklin Cooper kibble was a topic too sensitive and important to become the subject of idle speculation and conversation.


* * *


“Are you guys also hot?” asked Harriet. “My brain is melting.”

“My brain is also melting,” said Brutus. He glanced over to Max. “You look extremely hot, Max. But then that’s probably to be expected as you’ve got possibly the largest brain of any cat I know.”

“How do you combat the heat?” asked Harriet.

“Well, I lay on the grass, for one thing,” said Max. “In the shade, of course. And I’ve asked Dooley to go look for that old fan that Odelia once bought. Remember that fan?”

“Oh, do I remember that fan?” said Harriet fervently as a yearning look came into her eyes. “We used to lie in front of that fan, remember? The only thing that possibly provided some coolness on a hot day like today.”

“And did you find it?” asked Brutus.

“I didn’t,” said Dooley. “I looked for it everywhere but couldn’t find it.”

“Maybe Odelia got rid of it,” said Brutus. “Or maybe it broke. These things always break down, you know.” He remembered from the olden days when he still lived with Chase’s mom and aunt in New York that their fans would always break down through some faulty design or disabuse at the hands of his humans. Couldn’t they understand that pets suffered even more from the heat than humans did? Then he got a bright idea. “Maybe we should go and spend a couple of hours in the basement. It’s mostly cooler there.”

“There’s probably mice in the basement,” said Harriet. “Or worse: rats!”

“I don’t care,” said Brutus valiantly. “As long as it’s cool, I don’t mind at all.”

And so it was decided. In the absence of their human to locate that fan, or even buy them a new one, they’d temporarily relocate to the basement and wait until this crazy day was over. Then when night had fallen, they could emerge and enjoy the coolness of the night.

“I envy humans,” said Harriet as they made their way through the pet flap and into the house. “When it’s hot like this, they simply take a cold shower, or a cold bath, or use that paddling pool that Chase hauled out for Grace.”

She was right, Brutus thought. Humans were to be envied for their appreciation of the cold splash on their faces or the capacity to be submerged in a body of cooling water and have no qualms about it whatsoever. If they submerged him in a paddling pool, he’d scream bloody murder and not show his face around the premises for days—until the danger had passed. As it was, Grace had gotten into the habit of splashing water all over them, whether by design or by accident. He didn’t like it, and so they had vowed not to come anywhere near the little girl if they could help it. Not as long as this heatwave persisted and Grace spent most of her leisure time splashing around in her little plastic pool.

And as they descended into the basement, taking those stone steps that led into the underbelly of the house, he could feel the temperature drop to a more tolerable degree. And as they hunkered down on the concrete floor, his body relaxed. He hadn’t known how stressful this heat could be on his corporeal being. And he wasn’t even the most hefty specimen in their troupe, with Max tipping the scales much higher. He couldn’t imagine how much the big cat must be suffering right now. And as they inspected their new hidey-hole, he didn’t think there were any mice on the premises. Not like before, when an entire colony took up position down there and treated it as their own home.

“No mice,” he reassured his mate. “And no rats either.”

There were a few bugs, and some spiders dangling from their webs in the corners of the ceiling, but that couldn’t be helped. And anyway, they posed no threat to them whatsoever. He stretched himself out on the concrete floor and closed his eyes with relish. The concrete was cool on his tummy and exactly what he needed right now.

“I love it,” he murmured happily. “I love it so much.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good down here,” Harriet agreed. “Though a little dark, wouldn’t you say? Not to mention not very cozy.”

“I don’t care,” he said as he seemed to melt into the floor. “I don’t care at all.” Who needs cozy when your body is about to expire from the heat?

For a moment, none of them spoke as the four cats made themselves comfortable and vowed to stay there until the weather turned. Then suddenly Dooley piped up, “I’m sorry, Max, but I can’t stay quiet.”

“Dooley!” said Max. “No!”

“Harriet and Brutus are our friends, Max!”

“But you promised!”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t keep quiet any longer.”

“What’s going on?” asked Brutus, curious about this sudden outburst.

Dooley still seemed to be struggling with himself, and as he locked eyes with Max, finally the latter sighed. “Okay, fine. I guess it’s not very nice to keep this momentous discovery to ourselves. Not to mention selfish.” And so he directed a serious look at Brutus. “Dooley was looking for that fan.”

“And he didn’t find it, right?” said Harriet. “If only he had, then we wouldn’t have to spend time down here, in this dank old cellar.” She made a face. “I’m sure this floor hasn’t been washed in years. It’s dirty, you guys, and I can feel its grime staining my precious fur. Now I’ll have to groom myself and get all of that dirt into my—”

“I found three bags of Franklin Cooper kibble!” suddenly Dooley blurted.

For a moment, none of them spoke, then Brutus overcame his surprise and said, “You found three bags of the best kibble in the world?”

Dooley nodded fervently. “Only now we don’t know what to do with it. Maybe we could sell it to the highest bidder, like a Van Gogh painting. Or we could send it to the lab and have it reverse-engineered so they can make more of it. Or we could simply eat it. What do you think?”

Brutus gave Max a look of surprise, and when he saw the expression of guilt on the big cat’s face, he thought he saw it all. “You weren’t going to tell us, were you? You were going to keep this a secret and eat that delicious kibble all by yourself!”

“I wasn’t going to eat it!” said Max defensively. “I was going to figure out what to do about those bags. Like Dooley said, those may very well be the last bags of Franklin Cooper kibble in the whole wide world, and so we have a responsibility to make the right choice.”

His blorange friend had a point. If these were indeed the final remaining bags of Franklin Cooper, they couldn’t simply eat it. That would border on sacrilege. “I like the idea of taking them to the lab and having them cloned,” he said. “That way we could create as much of that kibble as we like.” The thought of snacking on that most delicious and nutritious kibble made his mouth water and his eyes glaze over. As they hadn’t had any of the stuff for years, it had taken on an almost mythical reputation in cat circles. Even Kingman, whose owner Wilbur Vickery mostly got him the best kibble that money could buy, hadn’t been able to lay his hands on real Franklin Cooper kibble in many years.

“Or we could sell it,” he suggested. “I’ll bet there are people willing to pay through the nose for the last bags of Franklin Cooper. I’m talking hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars per bag.”

“It is a collector’s item,” Harriet agreed. “Though considering it’s also a perishable product, maybe it won’t fetch as much as you think, sugar cookie.”

“And I think it will. People keep old chocolate bars from fifty years ago if it contains some football card or something. True collectors are weird in that sense, you know. Or they’ll keep some old Coca-Cola can if it was a special edition,” he added. “Even though that soda must have turned by now.”

Harriet made a face. “Imagine having to drink that.”

“That’s the whole point,” said Brutus. “They’ll never drink it. Just put it in a glass display case and stare at it from time to time and show it off to other collectors.”

Looks like they were faced with a very important decision that had possible ramifications far beyond the simple fact that they were the proud owners of a unique and rare type of kibble.

And as the four of them gave themselves up to thought, all of a sudden a small voice sounded right next to him. “Are you guys planning on staying long?”

He looked in the direction of the voice and saw a small black ant staring up at him, its antennae moving anxiously. Then as he glanced beyond the ant, he saw a conga line of thousands more ants, all waiting to move along. Looked like he was lying right on top of a busy ant highway!

Chapter Two

I watched the progress, or rather the lack of progress, of that column of ants with a doleful eye. It has been said that when you get ants in the home, the homeowner despairs, and even though I’m not the actual owner of the home I have graced with my presence all of these past years, I still feel a sense of ownership about the place, exactly because of my long association with the premises. It might not be too much to say I feel a sense of fondness. And so to see an army of ants traipsing about the place filled me with a sensation of dread.

Brutus must have felt the same way, for as he slowly got up to allow those ants free passage, he did so more out of fear that they would walk all over him than out of some notion that he should let these ants pass.

“Do you guys live here?” he asked.

“Where are you going?” asked Dooley.

“Have you been here long?” asked Harriet with a look of horror on her fine features.

“Shouldn’t you be out there instead of down here?” I asked, clearly showing my negative bias.

The leader of the ants—or at least the one leading the troop—now turned to us, and I could see its antennae twitch in response to our barrage of questions. “Okay, one question at a time,” he said. “Yes, home, yes and no. Does that answer all of your questions?”

“Well, no,” I said. “I mean, do you have permission to be here, Mr…”

“Lucian,” he said. “The name is Lucian. And you are?”

“Max,” I said. “And these are my friends Dooley, Harriet, and Brutus.”

“That’s fine,” said Lucian, and traipsed on in the direction of the corner of the room. And as we watched, his army of ants approached the wall, but instead of disappearing into a hole or crevice, they simply started walking up the wall. It’s not something that cats are capable of doing, for obvious reasons: our paws don’t have that stickiness that allows us to walk on walls and ceilings and defy gravity in that way.

“Um… could you tell us where you are going?” I asked. The answer he had given us wasn’t entirely to my satisfaction. Home? But this was our home. He couldn’t possibly mean that he was going to infest it with the presence of his entire flock? Or is it a gathering? Or maybe even a collection?

“Like I said, we’re going home,” said the ant in charge of this particular troop.

“And where is home for you, Lucian?” asked Harriet, overcoming her aversion and trying to engage the ant leader in conversation.

“Up there,” said Lucian, and gestured with his tiny head in the direction of the ceiling, which was fast approaching for him and his followers.

“But… you’re not actually going to live in our living room, are you?” asked Brutus. “I mean, that wouldn’t be very nice of you.”

“And I’m sure Odelia and Chase wouldn’t appreciate it if an army of ants moved into their living room,” I said.

“It’s a colony,” said Lucian coldly.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“I prefer the word colony over army,” he explained. The army—or colony—had almost reached the ceiling—they were pretty fast, I had to admit—and as we watched on, suddenly Lucian simply disappeared into a tiny crack in the ceiling and was gone, to be followed in short order by the other members of his flock.

“I don’t like this, Max,” said Dooley. “They’re going to eat all of our Franklin Cooper kibble!”

And as I gave him a startled look, I remembered that the pantry where he had made this wonderful discovery was located directly above us!

“Oh, no,” said Brutus. “Don’t tell me the Franklin Cooper is in the pantry?”

Dooley nodded sadly.

“But that means…”

He nodded again.

“We have to save that kibble, you guys,” said Harriet. “We can’t allow an army—”

“Or colony,” I ventured.

“Whatever—to eat the last remaining Franklin Cooper on the planet. It won’t do!”

She was right, and so in spite of the fact that we had vowed not to leave that basement until the weather turned, we hurried back up those stone steps and made our way into the pantry where Dooley had made his startling discovery. The odd thing was that of the ants, there wasn’t a single trace. It was almost as if they had simply disappeared.

“Where are they?” asked Brutus, rooting around the pantry in search of these tiny creatures.

“No idea,” I said, but the sense of relief I felt was certainly palpable, I have to say.

“Where is that kibble, Dooley?” asked Harriet, wasting no time to get down to business.

Our friend showed us the location of the Franklin Cooper, and much to our relief, the bags hadn’t been compromised. The seals were still closed, and it was obvious that the kibble was still as it had been on the day that Odelia had made the purchase.

“Those ants will not be able to get through this plastic, will they?” asked Brutus as he gave the bags a loving nudge with the top of his head.

“Of course they can bite their way through that plastic,” I said, finding myself forced to rain on my friend’s parade. “They can probably chew through anything.”

“Not concrete, though, right?” said Dooley. “Right?”

I didn’t have an answer for him, but it was my distinct impression that ants can also chew their way through stone and concrete and the like, which didn’t bode well for our future.

It was at that moment that the door to the pantry opened, and Odelia walked in. As she turned on the light, she was startled to find four cats looking up at her. And as her eyes traveled to the bags of Franklin Cooper, we knew that our secret was out.

“Oh, my God!” she said, bringing a hand to her face. “I’d totally forgotten about those. Where did you find them?”

“They were hidden underneath a pile of old clothes,” Dooley said. “Odelia, are these the last remaining Franklin Cooper bags on the face of the earth?”

“If that’s the case, we should preserve them for posterity,” said Harriet.

“And send them to the lab to have the recipe reverse-engineered,” I added.

Odelia laughed. “I’m sure there must be more Franklin Cooper bags in the world apart from these. It’s just that I’d totally forgotten I got these. I’ve actually been looking for them.”

She clearly hadn’t looked very good, or otherwise she would have found them. But since I was in a mellow sort of mood, owing to the fact that I was entirely too hot, I was prepared to forgive her for this oversight, which is why it pained me to have to break the bad news to her.

“We have ants,” I said. “An entire army of them.”

“Or colony,” Brutus corrected me.

“We have ants?” asked Odelia, and the way she said it gave me the impression that she wasn’t a big fan of the species either. “Where are they?”

“Well, they were in the basement just now,” said Brutus. “And they came straight up here, but for some reason they’ve gone missing, so we have no idea where they are now.”

“A lot of ants?” she said in a strangled sort of voice as she bit her lip.

The four of us nodded seriously. “An entire army,” said Brutus.

“Or colony,” I muttered.

“Maybe you should put those bags in a different place,” Harriet suggested. “Just in case they are the last remaining bags of Franklin Cooper on the planet, we don’t want those ants to get at them, do we?”

“Maybe that’s why we have them,” said Odelia. “Food attracts ants, after all.” She glanced around, and when she didn’t see any other source of nourishment, she picked up the three bags and took them from the pantry. And since I felt very much attached to those bags, I tripped after her and so did my three friends.

“Are you going to send them to the lab to have them reverse-engineered?” I asked.

“Or to Sotheby’s to have them auctioned off to the highest bidder?” asked Brutus.

“Or saved for posterity?” asked Dooley.

“Or maybe we can have a nibble now,” I suggested. “Just to make sure they’re still fine?”

“I will do nothing of the kind,” said Odelia. “You can have a nibble when your other kibble is finished. Opened bags lose their freshness, as you well know.” And she opened one of the kitchen cupboards and stored the bags in there, where we couldn’t get at them, and hopefully the ants couldn’t either. I could have told her this was wishful thinking, since ants can walk on walls, on the ceiling, and most certainly can get into any storage space without batting an eyelid—if they have eyelids, that is. I may be thinking of a different kind of bug.

“She’s going to feed it to us, Max,” said Dooley, his voice hushed in awe. “She’s going to feed us actual Franklin Cooper kibble!”

“Too bad,” said Harriet. “If this really is the last remaining Franklin Cooper on the planet, we shouldn’t eat it, you guys. It’s sacrilege. And I, for one, wouldn’t feel easy in my mind if we simply ate it all—no matter how good it is,” she hastened to add when Brutus opened his mouth to protest such a narrow-minded point of view.

Though I had to agree there was probably something in what she said. Would you drink the last bottle of Coca-Cola on the planet? Or eat the last Big Mac? Or would you save it for posterity? Or to put in a museum? To be honest, I had to admit that a battle raged inside of my bosom. On the one paw, I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into that delicious kibble and enjoy that great taste. On the other paw, we had to think of the future—a future without Franklin Cooper wasn’t much of a future, now was it?

And so we all decided that a decision needed to be made on this—a decision that wasn’t borne of our own selfish needs but had the wellbeing of the entire global community of cats at heart. A heavy responsibility had been placed on our narrow shoulders, but we wouldn’t be the cats that we were if we weren’t prepared to face it head-on.

Chapter Three

Dooley had been thinking hard about what to do about the predicament they faced. In his young life, he had never been disobedient to Odelia, but now, for the first time, he wondered if maybe he shouldn’t follow his instincts instead of his sense of loyalty to their human. If asked, he would have said that the ants had caused this rupture in his mindset. If they reached that prime kibble and set about to devour it and feed it to their colony, that would be the end of the Franklin Cooper legacy—that fine, fine kibble maker. Perhaps the finest one that had ever lived. And then where would they be? They couldn’t allow that to happen. Much like the vandals that had ransacked Rome, these ants simply had to be stopped. And since it’s very hard to stop an army of ants—or even a colony—once it gets going, the only solution he saw was to make sure their prize was gone. In other words: no loot - no thief.

He had vowed to take this important matter up with Max, but much to his surprise, Max didn’t seem all that worried about the dilemma they faced. When he looked, he actually saw that his friend had mysteriously disappeared and was nowhere to be found. Dooley looked everywhere: upstairs, in the backyard, even next door, but the end result was the same: no Max!

Finally, it dawned on him that his friend was the one suffering the most from this heatwave they were experiencing and had perhaps simply returned to the safe haven of the basement, the only place in the house where it was more or less reasonably cool. And so he hurried down the stairs once more to locate his friend. He found him stretched out on the concrete floor looking miserable.

“Max, what’s wrong!” he asked as he joined the large cat.

“Too… hot…” Max groaned without opening his eyes.

“I know, I know,” he said soothingly. “Maybe I could ask Odelia to buy another fan and to put it down here?”

Max nodded. “That would be nice,” he sighed desperately.

And so Dooley went in search of their human and found her in the kitchen engaged in dinner prep. “Odelia, could you possibly buy a fan?” he asked. “Max is expiring,” he explained. “He can’t stand this terrible heat.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Dooley,” said Odelia absentmindedly. “Where is he?”

“In the basement,” he said. “Trying to lower his body temperature but failing.”

“I thought we had one,” said Odelia. “Did you look in the storeroom?”

“I did, and it’s nowhere to be found,” he said, appreciating her helpful approach.

“I’ll ask Chase to pick one up on his way home from work,” she said as she grabbed something from the cupboard. As she did, she accidentally must have struck her hand against one of the bags of kibble she had stored there, for it fell down from there and dropped on the floor. As it did, the bag burst, and a small avalanche of kibble spread across the kitchen floor.

“Noooooooo!!!!!” Dooley cried as he watched all of that precious kibble going to waste.

“Oh, God,” Odelia muttered as she bent down to pick up the bag. Horrified, Dooley watched as she grabbed a duster and dustpan and proceeded to scoop up the spilled kibble… and dump it in the trash!

“Odelia, what are you doing!” he yelled.

“It’s spoiled,” she explained.

“It’s Franklin Cooper!”

“You can’t expect me to give this kibble to you after it’s been on the floor,” she said as she deposited it into the trash can and closed the lid with a decisive gesture.

“Is there at least something left in the bag?” he asked with a pained heart.

“Some,” she said as she rattled the bag. Judging from the sound, there wasn’t a whole lot left in there, most of it having ended up in the trash.

This was simply terrible—such a waste!

He glanced up at the cupboard and saw that there were only two bags left now. If those also dropped to the floor, gone would be Franklin Cooper’s rare and precious gift to the world.

Which is when he decided that in spite of his reservations, his plan had to be carried out. And the only one smart enough to think up a way to accomplish it was Max. Now if only they could cool down his brain enough to return it to working order…


* * *


I have to say that being in a position where your body heat is elevated isn’t a nice one to be in. Oddly enough, it seemed to affect my mental capacity mostly, but also my general mood, which was lethargic and downcast, as if the weight of the world was bearing down on me. I didn’t like to feel this way, and sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be long before things returned to normal. And so when Dooley came hurrying down the stairs again and told me that our favorite kibble was in danger of going extinct, it certainly didn’t help matters. What it did do was instill in me a desire to live through this terrible ordeal and turn things around.

“We have to save our kibble,” said Dooley. “Before Odelia puts it all in the trash.”

“You’re right,” I muttered. Even though the concrete floor I had picked as my new favorite place was a little cooler than the rest of the house, it wasn’t exactly cool enough to my liking.

“Chase is going to buy a fan,” my friend told me as he gave me a look of concern.


“It’ll help cool you off.”

“Thanks, Dooley.” I had closed my eyes for a moment, but I could sense that he was looking at me intently, so I opened them again. “What is it?”

“We need to come up with a plan. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean ‘you.’ So what can we do to save our kibble, Max? We need to act fast, you see. The callousness with which Odelia treats our kibble doesn’t bode well for the future. Add to that the ant menace, and something needs to be done.”

“Ask Harriet,” I said feebly. Clearly, she wasn’t suffering from the heat as much as I was, and she had a vested interest in making sure that the kibble was saved from destruction.

“‘Ask Harriet,’” he repeated, making a mental note. “Good plan. Excellent plan.” He gave me an uncertain look. “But do you think it’ll be enough? We both know Harriet is a lot of things but she’s not exactly a mastermind.”

“Ask Brutus,” I tried.

“I will,” he said, nodding. “I’ll ask Harriet and Brutus. But even though Brutus is a real action cat, he’s not, shall we say, the smartest cat on the block. That’s you, Max. And right now, what we need is not brawn but brain, if you see what I mean.”

“Ask… Fifi,” I finally managed with what felt like my final breath. “She’s… smart.”

If he said anything else, I didn’t catch it, for my brain pretty much shut down after that. One can only take so much, and even though I wanted to help in any way I could, my body, for reasons entirely of its own, decided otherwise.

Chapter Four

‘Ask Harriet,’ Dooley thought. ‘Ask Brutus. Ask Fifi.’ He cheered up considerably. Of all the pets they knew, Fifi was quite possibly the smartest one. There was also Rufus, of course, their neighbors’ sheepdog, but he was just a lovable big floofball. Not exactly a major threat in the brain department. And so as he mounted the stairs back to the ground floor and hurried out of the house through the pet flap, he decided to follow Max’s advice—possibly the final advice the big cat would give before expiring and moving to the feline Valhalla—and went in search of Fifi, their neighbor Kurt Mayfield’s Yorkshire Terrier.

He found the doggie in the backyard of her home, half submerged in a small paddling pool her owner had installed for her there. It wasn’t in the same league as the paddling pool Chase had installed for Grace, but it was definitely a thing of beauty. And most importantly, it was filled with cool water. Dogs may be a lot of things, but they’re not afraid of water, that much was evidenced by the sight that met his eyes.

“You’re not suffering from the heat, are you?” he asked.

“No, not really,” said Fifi. “This paddling pool is absolutely great.” She gestured to the spot next to her. “Dive in, Dooley. The water is great.”

He respectfully declined. He might be suffering from the heat to some extent, but his aversion to getting wet was even stronger than the tortures he was facing. “I have a very important mission for you, Fifi,” he said. “It may very well be the most important mission of your life.”

“A matter of life or death, huh?” said Fifi.

“Exactly!” he said. “Max isn’t feeling so good, you see.”

“My God,” said Fifi. “Max is dying—is that it?”

“Not exactly dying,” said Dooley. “Though he may not have long to live if this heat doesn’t subside.”

“I’m in,” said Fifi immediately.

“But I haven’t even told you what the mission is,” said Dooley.

“I don’t care. If I can be instrumental in saving Max’s life, I’m definitely in. That cat has done so much for this community and for me personally that anything I can do to help him, I’ll do gladly.”

“Well, it’s all about the kibble,” he said, and proceeded to explain to her about the important mission he had in mind. A mission for which they needed a mastermind to think up a plan of campaign. The kind of mind that Max possessed but which was out of commission at that moment.

“You want me to save some kibble from destruction?” asked Fifi. She seemed a little less than impressed with his request.

“Not just any kibble,” he said. “The kibble. The only kibble in the world.”

“I don’t know, Dooley,” said Fifi. “Are you sure this is worth getting into trouble with your human over?”

He had thought about this very deeply, and so his response was both abrupt and forceful. “Absolutely. We have to save this kibble. These are the only two bags remaining in the whole wide world and we have to make sure they’re saved for posterity.”

“Okay, fine. If you think it’s necessary…”

She wasn’t as excited about the mission as he would have hoped, so he decided to use his ace. “Max has sanctioned the mission,” he said. “Before he collapsed from heat exposure, he said, with his final breath, ‘Ask Fifi,’ and mentioned that if there’s any pet that can do this, it’s you.”

Her smile was something to behold. “He said that, did he?”

“He did. You’re the only one who can save the legendary Franklin Cooper’s legacy, Fifi.”

His words had touched a chord, for her sense that he was asking her to roll a large boulder up a particularly steep hill was replaced with a happy smile and a hint of that can-do attitude that was typical of the tiny but resourceful, brave, and clever Yorkie. “Okay, let’s do it,” she said. “Where did you say this kibble is right now?”

And so he explained to her where the kibble could be found. He also added that she had no less than three cats at her disposal to do any heavy lifting that needed to be done: himself, Brutus, and Harriet.

“Okay, just let me think for a moment,” said Fifi and closed her eyes. Soaking in that paddling pool must have done her a world of good, Dooley thought, and for a brief moment wondered if he shouldn’t try the same thing. But then he took one look at that water and decided against it. A lifelong aversion to getting wet can’t be overcome in a second—not even when the fate of Franklin Cooper is at stake.

And so he waited patiently for Fifi to come up with a plan of campaign. He knew it would be a pippin, maybe not as good as any plan Max would have come up with, but a close second.

As he lay there, he sincerely hoped that Chase would deliver the goods in the form of a nice big fan so they could cool down Max’s corpus. He now understood why a computer always has a built-in fan. All of that computing power needs to be cooled down at all times, and the same clearly applied to their beloved friend.

“I’ve got it!” suddenly Fifi yelled, and when Dooley glanced in her direction, he saw that she wasn’t kidding, for he would have recognized that light in her eyes anywhere.

It was the same light he had seen so often in Max’s eyes.

It was the light of intelligence when it hit upon a great idea!

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