Purrfect Watch (Max 83) Preview

Purrfect Watch (Max 83) Preview

Burn baby! Burn!

A new craze hit the town of Hampton Cove hard. It was a smartwatch that promised to do all the things that other smartwatches couldn’t. Unfortunately what they did wasn’t what people actually wanted them to do. Add to that a sort of rash of exploding electric cars, a gang of pickpockets on the loose and the four of us had our work cut out for us again.

Chapter One

Carmelo Hinsley had been walking along the road when he crossed paths with an elephant. As he wasn’t expecting to see an elephant in downtown Hampton Cove, for a moment he was surprised and paused to see if he was actually seeing the elephant or perhaps the animal was merely a figment of his imagination. He hadn’t been drinking, and the elephant wasn’t pink, so chances were that wasn’t the case. And as he stared up at the majestic creature, a loud voice suggested he step aside unless he wanted to be stepped on. Since it seemed like good advice, coming from an unsuspected source—a cop—he did as he was asked and hurried out of the way to let the animal pass.

He now noticed that the elephant was part of a larger procession of animals, and behind it, a lion walked, being led by a man only dressed in a G-string and with an exotic-looking headdress that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a warmer climate. More animals were on parade, and that’s when he understood: the circus was back in town, and to announce the fact, they had decided to organize a parade through the downtown area of his town. He saw clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and a giraffe and thought it was pretty cool to watch. He’d been enjoying a hamburger in his favorite burger place at the conclusion of a business meeting with one of his company’s investors, and this was definitely a nice change of pace. In fact, he couldn’t remember having been to the circus since he was a little boy, with his mom and dad and his sister, so this brought back all kinds of long-forgotten memories, all of them pleasant.

“Step aside, sir,” the cop told another member of the public who ventured too close to the animals to his liking. “Let the parade pass.”

He now wondered how long it had been since the circus had been in town. Quite a long time, he imagined, as circuses weren’t as omnipresent as they had been when he was a little boy. Nowadays, there were other forms of entertainment that seemed more popular. Which perhaps was a pity, as there’s nothing like a nice circus. He saw that a lot of kids stood gaping at the parade, as probably they had never seen anything like it before. And as he wondered if he shouldn’t take his girlfriend to the first show, he thought he felt something near his chest, and when he looked, saw that a man was stealing his wallet!

“Hey!” he said, much dismayed. The man seemed startled that he’d been caught, but instead of giving up his endeavor, doubled down and not only tucked Carmelo’s wallet into his own pocket but also grabbed his phone and absconded with it. And all of it under the watchful eye of the constabulary!

“Hey, that man is a thief!” he yelled, pointing to the other man as he made his getaway. “He just took my wallet and my phone!”

And since nobody seemed prepared to do anything about it, he decided to go in pursuit of the brazen fellow himself. He hated it when people touched his personal stuff and thought to treat it as their own. He had been racing after the fellow for about twenty yards when a woman suddenly stepped right in front of him and gave him a hard shove that sent him flying straight into the approaching path of that big elephant! And as the elephant lifted one tree trunk of a leg preparatory to planting it down right on top of Carmelo, he cried out in dismay. In the very last moment, though, someone yanked him up, and as the elephant put down his foot, right where Carmelo had been, he saw that his savior was the very same woman who had given him that fateful shove in the first place.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“What did you go and do that for?” he asked plaintively, referring to the shove, not saving his life.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I didn’t see you.”

A very questionable presentation of the facts, as she had been looking straight at him at the time. But since she had saved his life, he decided not to make too big of a fuss of it. The problem was that this intrusion had given the thief the opportunity to escape with Carmelo’s personal possessions, and as he gazed in the direction the man had been running, all he could see was the crowd, standing five rows thick, obscuring the thief from view.

“He’s gone,” he said, but when he looked back at the woman, he saw that he was speaking to thin air, since she, too, was gone. Which suddenly gave him the idea that maybe she had been the thief’s accomplice and seeing as how he had been close to catching the culprit, had decided to step in and waylay him, almost sending him to face certain death by being trampled by an elephant.

And since there wasn’t anything he could do, he returned to where he had been watching the parade and reported to that cop what had happened.

“I was robbed,” he told the officer of the law. “My wallet and my phone—someone just lifted them off my person.”

“Better file a complaint at the station,” the man advised.

“Can’t I file a complaint with you?” he asked.

“I’m just a traffic warden, sir,” said the man, even though he looked like a cop to Carmelo. “Best to head down to the station and file a complaint.”

Which is how he found himself seated in front of a very friendly and nice-looking young lady at the police station, explaining to her what had just happened.

“You’re not the only one,” she told him after he had finished telling his tale. “We already had at least half a dozen reports from people being mugged. Looks like there’s a gang of pickpockets active in the downtown area.”

She didn’t give him a lot of hope that his personal possessions would be returned to him forthwith, but at least it was nice to know that he wasn’t alone, and that the police were fully cognizant of the fact that pickpockets were targeting people and were eager to catch the gang.

“You wouldn’t happen to have the Find My Phone app installed, would you, sir?” asked the young cop.

“I’m not sure,” he said, since he wasn’t all that technologically minded. “Um, maybe?”

“Do you have a smartwatch with the Find My Phone function activated?”

He showed the woman his watch, and she smiled. “That’s not a smartwatch, sir.”

“It’s smart enough for me,” he said.

“Even if you did have the app installed, they probably removed the SIM card by now and the battery, to make sure they won’t be found. Most of the other thefts that we have registered reported that their phone simply disappeared off the grid the moment it was stolen.”

“Sounds like they’re pretty well-organized,” he said.

She sighed. “That, they are,” she said. Then a crisp and businesslike look came over her. “Don’t worry, Mr. Hinsley. When we find your phone and your wallet, we’ll let you know.”

Once again, he had the distinct impression that she didn’t think there was a big chance of that. But since his phone wasn’t an expensive one, and his wallet hadn’t contained any cash, all he would have to do was replace his cards.

As he got up and shook her hand, she said, “Don’t forget to block your cards, Mr. Hinsley.”

“Oh, darn it,” he said. “I totally forgot about that.”

“Better do it now,” she advised.

As he left the station, he wondered if he shouldn’t have given the police a description of the woman who had almost been instrumental in causing him to die by elephant, but then decided he had already lost enough time. And so instead he headed straight for the bank to get his cards blocked and new ones issued. Before he could get there, though, four cats passed in front of him, and as he wondered why four cats would be wandering along the sidewalk all by themselves, he figured there was no law against it that he could think of. The biggest of the four, a red bruiser with a thick head who looked vaguely familiar, gave him a curious look, and for a moment he wondered if it was going to say something. Then he shook himself. Of course it wasn’t going to say something. Cats don’t talk. They’re barely intelligent, so what would it say? Got milk?

And so they passed, like ships in the night, he entering the bank and the cats going about their way.

Chapter Two

“That guy was staring at us, Max,” said Dooley.

“I know,” I said. “Maybe we have met him before?”

“Isn’t he the guy who works at the bank?” Brutus suggested.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him at the pet parlor,” Harriet said.

“Isn’t he one of the caddies at the golf course?” asked Dooley.

The four of us were walking along the sidewalk, as is our habit of a morning, when this man almost stepped on us. Then again, cats probably shouldn’t walk side by side but rather slink along in single file, making sure they don’t get in the way. But seeing as we have become accustomed to treating Main Street as our personal catwalk, sometimes this golden rule of cat conduct escapes us.

The man seemed to have recognized us also, judging from the way he stared at us. But the moment passed, and before long we had reached the General Store, where we had arranged to meet our good friend Kingman. Through the proper channels, he had made it known that his human, Wilbur Vickery, who runs the store, had just received a fresh batch of some delicious new type of pet food, and he wanted to give us first dibs on the stuff so we could give Wilbur our much-valued opinion.

“I like this,” said Harriet as we sat tasting the new stuff. “I like being a taster.”

“I like it when the stuff I get to taste is great,” Brutus grunted unhappily. He pushed away his bowl. “This stuff is horrible, though. Yuck.”

“I don’t like it very much either,” said Dooley. He gave Kingman a nervous look. “Do I have to eat everything, Kingman? Or can I stop eating now? Because I really don’t like it, you know.”

“You can stop eating now, Dooley,” said our friend with a laugh. “That’s exactly how Wilbur knows it’s no good. When I eat everything, he knows it’s been approved. When I only take a sniff and don’t touch the stuff, he doesn’t stock it. It’s our personal arrangement, and so far it’s worked well for us.”

“And for the store’s clientele,” I added, since no pet owner likes to buy stuff for their precious darlings that they’re not going to like. Then again, tastes differ, of course, and I had to say that I actually liked this new addition to the store’s product range. “I like it,” I said, therefore. “Can I eat it all, Kingman?”

Kingman rolled his eyes. “Sure, go ahead,” he said. “Though this is going to send a mixed message to Wilbur, and if there’s anything that man hates, it’s mixed messages. It makes him feel terribly insecure.”

We all glanced up at our friend’s human, who sat shaking with mirth behind his checkout counter while he watched an old episode of the Laurel and Hardy Show. I didn’t think there was anything that could make that man feel insecure, especially not mixed messages from his cat. Then again, perhaps he had hidden depths that we weren’t aware of.

“Okay, so let’s put it to a vote,” said Kingman. “All those in favor of stocking the new brand, raise your paws.”

One paw went up: mine. Then instantly Dooley also stuck up his paw.

“Dooley, I thought you said you didn’t like it?” said Kingman.

“I don’t,” he said. “But I don’t want Max to feel alone.”

“Oh, Dooley,” Kingman said with a shake of his head. “Okay, so all those not in favor of stocking the stuff?” This time four paws went up, Kingman’s included.

“Dooley, you can’t be both in favor and not in favor,” Kingman explained patiently. “It’s an either-or proposition. No wiggle room possible.”

“Maybe I like it a little bit?” he said, giving me an uncertain look.

I gave him a pat on the back. “You don’t have to like it for my sake, buddy,” I said. “Just be honest. Do you like it or not?”

“I don’t?” he said hesitantly.

“Great, so we’ve got our vote,” said Kingman. “One in favor and four against. Looks like Wilbur won’t be calling that supplier to deliver more of his goods. Now how to convey the message?”

“Just tell Gran,” Brutus suggested, gesturing to our human, who now came walking along the road, accompanied by Scarlett. The two ladies were en route to the Star Hotel, where they usually enjoyed a coffee and a chat at this time of the day.

“Gran!” said Kingman. “Can you tell Wilbur that he shouldn’t buy more of this stuff? Max is the only one who likes it.”

Gran gave him a nod, then entered the store and passed the message on to her friend Wilbur. If Wilbur was surprised that Gran would be conveying messages from her cats, he didn’t show it. But then I guess long association with Gran as members of the same neighborhood watch had acquainted him with the notion that Gran’s relationship with her cats wasn’t the usual kind.

“Thanks,” said the shopkeeper. “Oh, before I forget,” he said, and handed her a small package.

“What’s this?” asked Gran as she turned the package this way and that. “You’re not trying to make a pass at me again, are you, Wilbur? You know I like you, but not that way.”

Wilbur gave her an amused look. “Me, making a pass at you? I wouldn’t dare. No, this is the watch you asked me to get for you. For the swimming thing, remember? Fully waterproof?”

“Oh, right!” she said. “Why, thanks Wilbur. I didn’t think it would get here so fast.”

“What’s this?” asked Scarlett, having joined the shopkeeper and Gran.

“The watch I told you about,” said Gran. “The clever watch?”

“Smartwatch,” Wilbur corrected her.

“What’s so smart about it?” asked Scarlett.

“Oh, this baby can do anything,” Wilbur assured her. “In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s smarter than most people. It’s definitely managed to surprise me a couple of times since I got one.”

“Where did you buy it?” asked Scarlett as Gran unwrapped the box and showed her the watch, which didn’t look all that smart to me, I have to say. But then of course I’m not exactly a watch expert.

“I got it from a guy I know,” said Wilbur. “He works for the company that makes them. It’s a prototype. You won’t find these in any store for at least the next six months or so.”

“Does it come with an instruction manual?” asked Gran as she put it on her wrist.

“Not that I know of,” said Wilbur. “Though there is a website. I’ll send you the link.”

“It’s got all this medical information,” Gran explained. “Can tell you if you’re sick or something. Isn’t that right, Wilbur?”

“Absolutely,” said Wilbur. “Heart rate, blood pressure, sleep tracker, the works. This watch is your own personal physician.” He gave Gran a wink. “Pretty soon you won’t need a doctor anymore.”

“Tex won’t like that,” said Scarlett. “He won’t like being replaced by a watch.”

“Nobody is going to replace Tex,” Gran assured her. “And definitely not some silly watch.” She eyed the fashion accessory with a satisfied eye. “It looks pretty cute, doesn’t it?”

“Do they have it in different colors?” asked Scarlett. “In pink, for instance?”

“Pink!” said Wilbur. “What’s wrong with black?”

“Well, black is so… well, black, I guess.”

Wilbur shook his head. “A pink watch. Just the idea.”

The two women took off, and left us wondering if we shouldn’t get our own watches as well. “I mean, it’s pretty neat, you have to admit, Max,” said Brutus. “A watch that will tell you all about your heart rate, your blood pressure, and who knows what else?”

“I’ve heard that it can count your steps,” said Dooley. “How many steps you take in a day?”

“What’s the point of that?” asked Kingman. “Who cares how many steps you take?”

I could have reminded him of the ten-thousand-step craze that was still ravaging parts of humanity, but decided the contentious topic wasn’t one I wanted to broach at that moment, so I satisfied myself by saying, “I think a smartwatch has definite advantages, but the point is moot, Brutus. I mean, where would we put that watch?”

“Well, on our paws, of course,” said Brutus. “Where else?”

I lifted a paw and wondered how I was ever going to fasten a watch to it, let alone a smartwatch. It didn’t seem feasible unless they designed a special model for cats, of course. And since the topic seemed to be closed, we decided to take our leave and head on home.

Chapter Three

Dara Cookland had been waiting for the bus for what seemed like an eternity when finally she thought she saw the vehicle appear in the distance, turning a corner and slowly huffing and puffing its way in her direction. Her boss had ordered her to run an errand in town, but unfortunately was too cheap to give her the benefit of a car she could use, so she had to make use of public transport to get to and from the house. Working for a famous influencer might sound like the best job in the world, but after having worked for Karen McKirdy for going on three years now, she knew it was anything but. Long hours and the extremely demanding and highly volatile emotional state of Miss McKirdy contributed to the fact that Dara’s own nervous state wasn’t anything to write home about. If anything, she felt she could probably use a break before she actually broke down. But since the money was good, and she didn’t have any other qualifications, she didn’t think it was prudent for her to quit.

She held up her arm when the bus approached, making sure to make eye contact with the driver, and as it rolled to a stop right next to her, got on the vehicle. Securing her place at the front of the bus, she sighed with relief. It wouldn’t be long now before she was at the house, and would be able to give Karen what she had asked her to pick up at the Hermès flagship store at the mall: the newest and very exclusive ‘Karen’ edition of the well-known Hermès handbag, of which only a handful were being made.

It was an honor that the well-known French luxury goods company had decided to create a special edition of their handbag, dedicated to Karen, possibly the most successful influencer alive today. The company, headquartered in Paris, France, had the handbag shipped to their local store for Karen to pick up, and Dara hoped her boss would be pleased. It certainly wasn’t like anything she’d ever seen before, and since she had started working for Karen she had seen a lot. A lot of extreme wealth, which still came as something of a shock to her, even now. The extravagance, the glitz, the ostentatiousness. The dresses, the shoes, the accessories. And to think that these brands simply gifted everything to Karen, for the privilege of being featured on her socials, beggared belief. Then again, Karen did have over four hundred million followers on her Insta, so that translated into a lot of exposure for those brands.

She held the bag against her chest, making sure it wouldn’t be snatched by some happy-go-lucky bag snatcher. If they snatched this particular handbag they’d think they’d gone and arrived in heaven, for even on eBay it would fetch a pretty penny.

She checked her watch, which was a present from Karen, and of which she was still proud. It was a smartwatch, one of the latest designs, and not a lot of people had one. Karen had several, of course, and had been doling them out like candy.

A man now got on the bus and glanced around, looking for a place to sit. Behind him, a woman also got on. For a moment, Dara feared that the man would sit next to her, but fortunately, he moved to the back of the bus while the woman took the empty seat next to her. She didn’t have anything against men, but it was true that most muggers were male, and the last thing she needed was to be mugged right now.

She gave the woman a smile and continued to gaze out of the window at the landscape that zoomed by. They had left Hampton Cove behind and were heading along the coastal road, and then beyond that to the so-called billionaire mile, where a lot of the fancier beachfront properties were located, owned by well-known actors, business moguls, and other wealthy folks, one of whom was Karen McKirdy.

The bus made one more stop, and was just pulling up to her bus stop when all of a sudden the woman next to her made a grab for the handbag Dara was clasping in her hands. Lucky for her, she was prepared for just such a contingency, and as she held on fast to the priceless item, the woman gave it a hard yank, which almost dislocated Dara’s shoulder. And since she had opened her throat and was screaming at the top of her lungs, the wanna-be thief became alarmed and finally let go and hurriedly stepped off the bus!

And as the bus driver came from behind the wheel to see what was going on, she pointed to the mugger who was running from the scene as fast as her legs could carry her, and yelled, “She tried to steal my bag!”

The driver cursed and stepped off the bus, but of course it was too late. Stepping on again, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got her on film.” And he pointed to a camera that was located at the front of the bus and covered the entire vehicle. “I’ll call the police,” he announced, but Dara quickly shook her head.

“No need,” she said. The last thing she needed was to be waylaid and arrive home late. Karen hated it when her personnel arrived late, and she would hate it even more if Dara got involved with the police somehow.

“What do you mean, ‘No need?’” asked the bus driver with a touch of annoyance. “You have to report this, ma’am. This person needs to be caught.”

“I was mugged the same way last week,” another woman announced. “I never even saw them until it was too late.”

“Was it the same person?” asked a third passenger, a man.

“I’m not sure,” said the woman. “I didn’t get a good look at her.”

Dara noticed that the woman was also wearing a smartwatch that looked very similar to the one she was wearing. Which was impossible, of course, since hers was a prototype.

“Look, there’s no two ways about it,” said the driver, who was a thickset man with an impressive Super Mario mustache. “I’m calling the police, and you’re going to give them a full statement.”

And since he was so forceful about it, Dara meekly nodded. She might be afraid of Karen’s reaction, but this driver scared her even more. He was, after all, an authority figure, and as her mom and dad had always taught her, authority figures were to be respected and obeyed. And so as the driver called the cops and the other passengers all flocked around to comfort Dara and give their versions of the events, one man stayed out of the fray. He was the last man who had stepped on the bus, directly in front of the woman, and Dara noticed how he didn’t join the conversation. Instead, he sat playing with his own smartwatch, then placed his phone to his ear and proceeded to softly speak into the device, occasionally darting a glance in Dara’s direction. She reckoned he was probably unhappy at the delay, like she was.

It wasn’t long before the police arrived, and as she gave them her version of the events that had transpired, and then the other passengers chimed in to corroborate her story, and also the driver, she hoped Karen wouldn’t be too upset. But as the very kind officer explained to her, her employer shouldn’t be upset. If anything, she should be very pleased that she had managed to save her handbag from being stolen. And it was as she sat talking to the officer, that she suddenly noticed something.

“My handbag!” she said, looking around. “It’s gone! I put it down for a moment and it’s gone!”

And as she looked around, she saw that the man who had been fiddling with his watch was also gone.

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