Purrfect Party (Max 81) Preview

Purrfect Party (Max 81) Preview

First Cats vs. First Dogs

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Harriet sang one of her famous solos, though whether this was an expression of enjoyment or because people’s ears were bleeding has yet to be ascertained. It was the culmination of a story that began when Marge won an exclusive invitation to the president’s birthday party and ended with all of us gathered at this party and fending for ourselves when being confronted with the First Dogs, who didn’t take kindly to the presence of a clowder of cats on the premises. Somewhere along the way, I was the target of a catnapping attempt, a man was murdered in our local park, with another man being kidnapped, and as if all this wasn’t enough to contend with, Harriet expressed a fervent wish to become the First Cat. Whether she succeeded in securing this much-coveted position, you can find out in Purrfect Potus.

 

 

Chapter One

“How much longer, Max?”

“I have no idea, Dooley,” I replied honestly.

“This is just ridiculous,” said Brutus with a groan.

“It’s par for the course with these humans of ours,” said Harriet. “Or maybe with humans in general.”

We had been more or less patiently waiting for Odelia to bundle up Grace and get the little girl ready for the daycare center, but our patience was frankly wearing a little thin.

“I don’t get it,” said Brutus. “Why is it that humans always take so long to get ready?”

“It’s because they have a lot of moving parts,” Dooley answered. When we all eyed him with astonishment, he elucidated, “Their hair needs to be just so, their faces too, and don’t even get me started on the rest of their bodies.”

He had a point, of course. Before humans are ready to leave the house, there’s an awful lot of work involved. They need to take a shower, shampoo their hair and then try to make it look nice by combing and brushing it, applying a contraption called a blow-dryer in the process. Their faces need to be creamed, and their eyelashes and eyebrows accentuated with the right amount of eyeliner. There’s a certain type of deodorant that needs to be applied to mask their natural body odor, and that’s only the first part of the process. Add in clothes and shoes, and you can see why it takes them so long to get ready for anything.

“I don’t understand this obsession with personal appearance,” said Harriet, even though her own personal appearance has long been a point of personal pride. “I mean, we don’t use deodorant and yet we always manage to smell nice, don’t we? So why can’t humans be the same?”

“Because humans have this obsession about smelling bad,” Brutus pointed out. He shrugged. “I don’t know why it is, but it’s true. I happen to like smelly pits, but they don’t. The moment their pits smell funny, they go berserk. It’s as if it’s the end of the world.”

“Their pits smell funny when they engage in a lot of physical activity,” said Dooley knowingly. “Physical activity makes them sweat, and humans don’t like it when they sweat. They think it makes them smell bad. That’s why they have to spray themselves with a lot of perfume to mask the smell.”

“It’s a disgrace,” said Harriet, making a face. “They should embrace their natural scent, just like we do. There’s no point in faking it—it just makes you look like a weirdo, always sniffing at your pits.”

“I happen to like the smell of deodorant,” I said, offering the contrarian view for once. When they all offered me a look of surprise, I added, “Not all deodorant, mind you. But I like Odelia’s smell when she’s all deodoranted up.”

“It’s true that she smells sweet,” Dooley agreed. “Sweet with a hint of citrus.”

“Do babies use deodorant, Max?” asked Brutus, looking at me as if I was the world’s foremost authority on babies. “I mean, humans are always going on about how delicious babies smell, so they must use deodorant, right?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Babies seem to smell good on their own.”

“Strange,” said Harriet with a frown. “So why is it that babies smell good, and adults don’t? Maybe they lose the ability to smell good as they age?”

“I guess so,” I said, glancing in the direction of the house. Odelia had told us half an hour ago she was almost ready, but there was still no sign of her or Grace. Chase had left ages ago, but then it’s been said that the male of the species doesn’t need as much grooming as the female, and I have to say that our personal experience bears this out.

“It’s true that Grace smells very nice,” said Dooley.

“They should bottle her scent,” Harriet said. “Odelia could make a fortune if she did. People would line up to get a sample of that particular product.”

“It’s very hard to bottle the scent of a baby,” said Dooley. “I once saw a documentary about perfume, and it’s not easy to create one, you guys.”

Frankly, the topic had outstayed its welcome, as far as I was concerned, and I sort of tuned out the rest of the conversation. I mean, bottling baby scent? That was definitely taking things too far in my personal opinion. Even though it was true that Grace smelled particularly nice—even to a couple of undiscerning cats like us.

I happened to glance up at the tree we were lying under and saw that a small bird with colorful plumage had been attentively following our conversation. As a rule, I don’t pay a lot of attention to birds, but this one struck me with the way its beady little eyes seemed to exude a certain intelligence. It must have noticed that I was keeping an eye on it, for it suddenly cocked its tiny little head and looked me straight in the eyes.

“Max, is it?” it asked.

I nodded, astonished that the bird would know me. “That’s right. Have we met?”

The bird displayed a sad sort of smile. “No, we haven’t, but you must be aware by now that your reputation has spread far and wide, Max. Greatest cat detective that has ever lived and all that?”

I gave it a modest sort of smile in return. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“Well, it’s true. I’ve heard stories about your exploits, and that’s the reason I decided that maybe…” It hesitated, and trained its eyes on the horizon for a brief moment before fixing them once more on me.

“Maybe what?” I asked.

“Maybe I have a case for you,” the bird finished its statement.

“A case? What do you mean?”

“Well, a man has been murdered, and since no one seems to be doing anything about it, I was wondering if maybe you would be willing to accept the case?”

“Nobody is doing anything about a murder?” I asked. “That can’t be right.”

“And yet that’s what happened. A man was murdered last night and nobody cares. But I do. And that’s because this was a very nice man. A kind man. A man who fed me and my friends every day, which I don’t have to tell you is especially important in wintertime, when a thick blanket of snow covers the world and food is very hard to come by. So believe it or not, but I’d grown attached to this particular person and didn’t want to see him come to any harm.”

“And then he did?” I asked, starting to get the gist. “Come to harm, I mean?”

The bird nodded and gave me that sad smile again. “My name is Warren, by the way.”

“Max,” I said, “but then you already knew that.”

“I did, yeah. So how about it, Max? Will you take the case?”

I thought about it for a moment. It was true that I hadn’t hung up my shingle yet, and that I wasn’t in the habit of accepting cases. For one thing, cats are not in a position to advertise in the paper or run Facebook ads to find customers. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been instrumental in solving the odd case from time to time, but always in conjunction with our human Odelia. Which is why I wasn’t sure I would be a big help to Warren.

He must have noticed my hesitation, for he quickly went on, “Look, I know this is all highly unusual, but you’re my last hope, Max. Like I said, our benefactor died, and nobody seems to care one bit. So if you don’t take this case, his death will go unnoticed and unavenged, and that can’t be right.”

“No, I guess you’re right,” I said. “It’s just that…” I glanced up at the house. “Mostly Odelia is the one who takes on a case, and we act as her sidekicks.”

“Well, this time you’ll have to take on a case all by yourself,” said Warren. “Because I’m not sure Odelia will be able to help you.”

“And why is that?”

“Because this man’s death hasn’t been registered. Nobody seems to have seen a thing, and so the murderer is very much at ease, knowing that he got away with it. In other words: the perfect crime.”

I had to say that the whole thing intrigued me to no end, though I wasn’t so sure that Odelia wouldn’t want to go anywhere near the case. She loves a challenge. “Okay, give me the details, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Warren seemed to buck up considerably. “You won’t regret it, Max. Though before we begin and you take me on as your client, I have to warn you that I won’t be able to pay you your usual fee. Birds don’t carry wallets, you see, nor are we in a position to open bank accounts. We can’t even hold down a paying job, apart from waking people up in the morning with our pleasant twittering. But we do that pro bono.”

“That’s all right,” I said. “You don’t have to pay me anything.”

“I could offer you nuts,” Warren suggested. “Or a juicy worm?”

“I’m fine,” I said, holding up my paw.

“Is this bird bothering you, Max?” asked Brutus, who had become aware of the conversation that had gone on between myself and the little tweety bird.

“Warren here has got a case for us,” I said. “The perfect murder.”

“Is that a fact?” said Brutus, immediately intrigued, as I was.

“Who’s the victim?” asked Harriet, getting down to business.

“And does he or she use deodorant?” asked Dooley.

“I’m not sure,” said the bird. “Though if I were to hazard a guess, I wouldn’t think so, no. He never looked as if he was too concerned about his personal appearance. He presented himself as nature intended him to, with a long beard and unkempt hair. The man was a bum, you see. A homeless person.”

“Even homeless people use deodorant,” said Dooley. “All people do.”

“What was this person’s name?” I asked, trying to get the conversation back on track and away from the whole deodorant issue.

“Karl Heyns,” said Warren. “And you could mostly find him at the park, where he seemed to have made himself a home. Second bench from the right when you entered the park. And like I said, he always shared his food with us.”

“Breadcrumbs,” said Dooley knowingly. “Birds like breadcrumbs, don’t they?”

“Well, as rule we like pretty much anything,” said Warren with an indulgent smile. “Though I’m particularly partial to a nice fat grub myself. A maggot,” he clarified when we gave him a look of confusion. “Excellent source of protein.”

“Okay, so can you tell us some more about the circumstances of Karl’s death?” I asked, trying to eradicate the image of a ‘nice fat grub’ from my mind.

“I could, but that would be overstepping the line,” said Warren, much to my surprise. “You see, I feel it’s not up to me to give you any particulars on the case. Question of privacy and all of that. But if you ask Karl’s husband, he will tell you everything you need to know.”

“Karl’s… husband?” I asked.

Warren nodded. “They shared that bench and were never apart. Until Karl died, of course. The odd thing is that the man hasn’t been seen since.”

“Do you have a name for this husband?”

“Everyone called him Butcher, since that’s what he had been in a previous life, but his real name was Martin. But like I said, he hasn’t been seen since Karl died, and that worries me.”

“And what makes you think he knows more about Karl’s death?”

“Because he was there when it happened. In fact, he may very well be the only witness to his husband’s murder.” He made a face. “Which makes his disappearance all the more suspicious.”

“Do you…” Dooley gulped. “Do you think the murderer knows that Martin witnessed his husband’s murder and decided to get rid of him also?”

Warren nodded slowly. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

“So how did you find out about this murder?” asked Harriet.

Warren took a deep breath. “Because Karl told me.”

“Karl told you?” I asked.

“A couple of days before he died, he told anyone who would listen that he thought his life was in danger, and that he might not have long to live. So when he disappeared, I knew he must have been murdered.”

“He disappeared?” I asked. “But I thought you said he died?”

“Of course he died,” said Warren. “He wouldn’t simply disappear on us. He cared for us birds.”

“So… maybe he isn’t dead?” Harriet suggested. “Maybe he simply moved to a different bench?”

“Or maybe he went shopping,” Dooley said helpfully. “To find himself a different kind of deodorant.”

“He was murdered,” said Warren stubbornly. “And the fact that Martin also disappeared proves it.”

“In fact, it doesn’t prove anything,” Harriet pointed out.

“And I’m saying it does,” said Warren, giving our friend an unfriendly look.

But Harriet persisted. “Look, a man disappeared. It happens. And the fact that his friend has also disappeared—”

“Husband.”

“—doesn’t prove a thing. So if you really want us to take on this case, you’ll have to give us more, Warren. Some evidence, maybe? A dead body? Witness statements? The murder weapon?”

For a moment, the bird and Harriet were engaged in a staring contest, then finally Warren shrugged. “I wasn’t there when it happened, so I can’t give you any guarantees that it happened the way I think it did, but birds have an intuition about these things, so I think you’ll find that the man was murdered.” He now pointed a wing at the prissy Persian. “And if you refuse to take on this case, you’re no better than the police who don’t seem to care, or the general public who have ignored the death of our benefactor altogether.”

“I’m just saying,” said Harriet as she studied her nails. “No body—no crime.”

I could tell that Warren was getting a little worked up, so I hastened to defuse the situation. “We’ll definitely look into Karl’s disappearance, Warren,” I assured the bird. “And we’ll let you know what we find, all right?”

He seemed mollified by this, and accepted my promise in good faith, even if all he could offer me in terms of payment was a nice fat grub.

“Keep me posted,” he said as he spread his wings. “Will you, Max?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Have a safe flight,” said Dooley as the bird took off. When Brutus grinned, he added, “Just being polite.”

“Of course,” said Brutus. He then turned to me. “So how do you suggest we go about this? A man went missing, and a bird has a hunch he may have been murdered? Not a lot to go on here.”

“I’m not sure Odelia will accept this case,” said Harriet. “And without her, there isn’t a lot we can do.”

She was right. Without Odelia, we were sunk. And as we watched our human finally step out of the house, juggling a purse, a backpack, Grace, and a bag filled with Grace’s paraphernalia, a harried look on her face, I wasn’t even sure if we should mention the whole thing to her. I got the impression she already had enough on her plate. And so I decided that maybe it behooved us to go out investigating by ourselves first. Then if—and only if—we discovered any evidence of foul play, we could always tell her about it.

And so it was decided. We’d look into this perfect murder without Odelia’s assistance. After all, Warren hadn’t offered us any actual evidence of foul play—or even that there had actually been a murder last night.

Just a hunch. And I wasn’t going to bother Odelia about a bird’s hunch.

Chapter Two

Frank Knapp was seated in his usual place: the first bench on the left when you enter Hampton Cove park, enjoying a quiet and relaxing smoke and engaging in his favorite activity of people-watching, when a butterfly went and landed on the tip of his nose. Contrary to his usual policy of swiping the offending insect away with an irritable move of his hand, he allowed it to remain seated as he tried to take a closer look at the bug. Seeing as this involved him going all cross-eyed—and even then he still didn’t see a single thing—it took him a moment to catch on to the fact that a woman of attractive aspect had suddenly appeared in front of him. She stood eyeing him with a lopsided grin on her freckled face and an insolent expression in her clear blue eyes. “Nice fashion accouterment,” she said finally, possibly referring to the butterfly, which still refused to take flight.

He finally made the bug move on to greener pastures different from his schnozz and said, “Thanks.”

“Just kidding,” said the woman, who he now recognized as the person working the counter at his sister Liv’s coffee shop. Immediately his mood turned sour and he eyed her with disgust. She held out her hand. “Friends?”

He stared at the hand, wondering if he should accept the peace offering or not. Finally, he decided that his pride had taken such a big hit he should stand firm and crossed his arms in front of his chest and raised his square chin defiantly. “Not unless you apologize to me first,” he said.

Maddy rolled her very expressive eyes. “We’ve been over this already, Frank.”

“So let’s go over it again. And this time you can offer me an apology for the way you treated me. Which was pretty lousy, if you remember.”

“You seem to have a different recollection than I do,” she said, as she also folded her arms across her chest. “If I remember correctly, it’s you who should apologize to me.”

He made a scoffing sound. “That’s rich. If you hadn’t poured that milkshake all over me, I wouldn’t have had to go home and change and miss that appointment, and I would have gotten that job for sure.”

“Liv seems to think differently.”

“Of course she does,” he said, looking the other way. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” he asked after an awkward silence had descended upon the conversation. “Like the coffee shop or something? Spilling more drinks on customers’ pants and causing them to miss the opportunity of a lifetime?”

“If you hadn’t stuck out your elbow, I wouldn’t have stumbled, and nothing would have happened,” she pointed out. “So in a way, you could say you brought this all on yourself. And besides, according to your sister, you didn’t even want that job in the first place, so I probably did you a favor.”

“A favor!” he said. But when he saw she was smiling, he realized she was simply playing with him, drawing him out on a topic he didn’t really feel all that eager to discuss. Namely his unsuccessful attempts to land himself a new job after he’d been unceremoniously let go from the last one. “Look,” he said, getting a grip on himself. “So maybe I was partly to blame for the mishap, but you still owe me an apology, since I was the customer and you were the waitress, and as is customary in these situations, the customer is always right.” He quirked an expectant eyebrow in her direction, but she wasn’t taking it.

She shook her head with a defiant look on her pretty face. “You first.”

“Okay, I apologize if I made you spill my drink on my lap instead of putting it on the table in front of me. I’ll never do it again. How about that?”

She smiled. “And I apologize for spilling that drink.” She stuck her hand out again. “So can we be friends now?”

He reluctantly shook her hand, then immediately dropped it again. “Just don’t make a habit of it, will you? My sister may be more lenient in these matters than I am, but most customers would agree with me.”

She abruptly took a seat next to him on the bench. “So what have you been up to, Frank? Liv tells me that this was your sixth failed job interview this month?”

“No thanks to you,” he grumbled, but had to admit that it was true that he hadn’t exactly been looking forward to this particular interview anyway. The last thing he wanted was to work at a lawyer’s office as a lowly filing clerk, even if the pay wasn’t all that shabby.

“So why don’t you accept Liv’s offer and start working for her? You know you’d love to,” she added as she wiggled her eyebrows at him.

“I most certainly would not,” he assured her. It was pride that stopped him from accepting his sister’s offer to take up the vacant position of barista at her coffee shop.

“Look, come and work with us,” said Maddy. “It’ll be fun, I promise. And if you don’t like it, you can keep on applying at other places. Liv won’t mind.”

“Are you sure about that?” The offer was a tempting one, of course. It would allow him to get back on his feet after being fired from his last job after arriving five minutes late for work one morning, putting a big dent in both his savings and his ego. “The applying for other jobs part, I mean?”

“Absolutely. Hey, that’s what family is for.”

He wasn’t all that sure his sister would have shared those sentiments, but then beggars can’t be choosers. And since he didn’t have any more interviews set up at the moment, he figured he might as well accept Liv’s offer. “But on one condition.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I get to be behind the counter.”

“Deal,” said Maddy, and held up her hand once more.

They shook on it, and he briefly wondered if he hadn’t made a deal with the devil by accepting this offer. But since he was all out of options, what choice did he have? And as he gazed into Maddy’s smiling and triumphant face, he could tell this was probably all Liv’s doing—and by extension their parents, who had been worried sick after he’d joined the army of the unemployed six months ago.

Chapter Three

Aaron Burke looked around himself, scanning his surroundings, and when he was absolutely convinced that he wasn’t being followed, knocked on the metal door three times, then another two times, before finishing with a loud thump—the secret signal they had arranged. He didn’t have to wait long before there was a metal clanking sound as the bolt was being shoved back and the door was yanked open. For a moment, the two men sized each other up, then the hulking figure on the other side of the door gave him a curt nod, and he entered the premises. The corridor was dark, and the smell musty, but after having been there many times before, he didn’t even notice anymore. And after he had descended the metal staircase and arrived in the basement, his contact was already impatiently waiting for him to report for duty.

“And?” said the man they all simply called the Captain. “What news?”

“He’s disappeared,” he said. “Gone to ground, no doubt.”

The Captain grunted something in irritation that wasn’t fit to be repeated, then started pacing the concrete floor, his hands clasped behind his back, head ramrod straight as always, his brows knitted in utter concentration. “I’m very disappointed, Burke,” he said. He then whirled on him and fixed him with those icy blue eyes of his. “Extremely disappointed, in fact.”

Burke knew immediately what this meant. If he didn’t deliver the goods soon, he was mincemeat. “Yes, Cap,” he said. “So what do you want me to do?”

“Your orders haven’t changed. Find our man and bring him to me ASAP. Before he goes around and spreads a lot of stories that are nobody’s business.”

“The thing is, I’ve looked everywhere, and no one has seen him.”

“Soup kitchen? Homeless shelter?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Is it possible they’re lying?”

“I don’t think so, Cap.”

“Mh.” The man rubbed his chin, then touched the nasty scar on his cheek for a moment, a habit that gave Burke the creeps since he knew exactly how the Captain had acquired it. The story had been doing the rounds for years, whether it was true or not. It always ended the same way: ‘You should have seen the other guy.’ “Okay, so here’s what I want you to do. There’s a reporter who’s usually very well informed. Her name is Odelia Kingsley. She’s married to a cop, but don’