Purrfect Spider (Max 90) Preview

Purrfect Spider (Max 90) Preview

Kill The Cat!

It isn’t every day that your home is transformed into a movie set, so when it happened to us, we weren’t prepared, to say the least. Gone were all of our favorite spots and so we had to find sojourn elsewhere. To top it off, the four of us were cast in the movie, to be mangled and murdered by a monstrous ghoul. Good thing it wasn’t real! The rest of the family was also in the movie. Even Gran, who played the role of the virgin, and was pretty happy with her part.

In the meantime an office building had been bombed in the business district, and a body found that had been buried there for the past fifteen years. But if we thought we’d be allowed to run the investigation, we had another thing coming. FBI agents Smith & Jones quickly took over and we were all sidelined. But that wasn’t how Chase saw it, and so he and Odelia continued their inquiries into the mysterious death, only this time as reporters for the Gazette and butting heads with the feds. The investigation soon put us on the trail of a ruthless killer and a determined bomber.

Chapter One

I had been eyeing Dooley for a while and thought that he didn’t look as good as he should. It made me wonder if he could be ill. But since I didn’t want to cause concern, and I knew how much my friend hates those visits to the vet, I didn’t think it was prudent to clothe my thoughts in words, and so I figured I might simply observe him for a couple of days to see if his condition improved. If not, I saw no other recourse but to tell Odelia. But since essentially I’m an optimistic type of kitty, I was hopeful Dooley would soon rally.

Cats do sometimes get these off-days, just like humans. We go off our feed, or catch some bug, and it immediately shows in the state of our fur. Humans go pale and look as if they’re at death’s door, we look as if we’ve stopped grooming ourselves, which we have.

It’s a natural process and I knew I shouldn’t read too much into it. And as I closed my eyes again, I thought that maybe I should talk to Harriet, who is very sensitive about such things as personal appearance. Maybe she would have a few tips to make Dooley look right as rain again. After all, it could be a simple case of not getting enough sleep, or some personal issue he was struggling with. Dooley might be my best friend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he confides in me about everything that’s going on with him.

“Max?” he asked suddenly.

“Mh?” I said, my eyes immediately flashing open again.

“That spider…”

“What spider?”

We were lying on the deck, and as far as I could tell there were no spiders anywhere in the vicinity, nor should there be, as Odelia hates spiders and has made a deal with her husband that he will always evict them from the premises the moment he spots one.

“I met a spider the other day,” he confessed. “It was in Tex’s garden shed. We got to talking, and he told me a few things that I thought were interesting but also concerning.”

“What did he tell you?” I asked, relaxing again.

If Odelia spots a spider that has escaped her husband’s scrutiny, she has a habit of screaming the house down, especially when it’s one of those big and hairy specimens. And I have to confess I’m not a big fan of the species either.

“Well, he told me that very soon now, there’s going to be some very big changes.”

“What changes?”

“I’m not sure,” said Dooley, making a face. “Though I got the impression that he knew exactly what was going to happen, but didn’t want to alarm me.”

“He was probably talking through his hat. Trying to be the big man on campus.”

“But he wasn’t wearing a hat, Max,” said Dooley, giving me a look of confusion. “And he wasn’t very big either. And I met him in the shed, not a campus.”

“It’s just an expression, Dooley,” I said. “It means he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Just making conversation, you know, and trying to get your attention.”

“Well, he got my attention, all right,” said Dooley. “I don’t think I would like things to change. In fact, I like things just the way they are.”

“Me too,” I said as I closed my eyes again. “I like everything exactly the way it is right now. So let’s not jinx things by talking about any possible changes, shall we?”

“No, let’s not,” said Dooley.

Harriet and Brutus, who had been traipsing around in the field behind the house, came walking up. “You guys,” said Brutus, sounding out of breath. “Did you see those spiders?”

“What spiders?” I asked, my eyes flashing open again. This was too much of a coincidence. “Where?”

“By the old shack,” said Brutus. “It’s full of spiders back there. They’re all over the place, and spread out across the field. Everywhere you go, you can see their webs. It’s freaky.”

I shivered. I don’t enjoy walking through the field and getting those spiderwebs on me. It’s uncomfortable, and frankly a little rude, I always find, for spiders to leave their webs hanging around like that. “They should be more careful where they put those things,” I said.

“There’s even a place in the field where it’s almost impossible to go now,” said Brutus. “It’s one giant thick spiderweb, with thousands of little spiders crawling all over it. I don’t even like to venture there, and I’m not even afraid of spiders.”

“You should be,” said Harriet. “Some spiders can bite you pretty bad, and others are poisonous, did you know?”

“I’m sure there are no poisonous spiders here in Hampton Cove,” said Brutus with a laugh. “That’s more the Amazon or Australia or any of those places. Our climate is too cold for poisonous species of spiders to thrive here.”

“And I’m telling you that they’re here,” said Harriet. “Even Shanille told me last night that Father Reilly had a parishioner who was bitten by a spider and he developed the most gruesome rash on his neck. It was as big as a bird’s egg and was all red and swollen. In the end, he had to go to the hospital, and they said that if he hadn’t gone, he might have died.”

“That sounds like an urban legend,” said Brutus. “No spider can cause that kind of rash. Not here in Hampton Cove anyway.”

“Suit yourself. If you don’t want to believe me, that’s up to you. I’m just telling you what Shanille told me, and as we all know, Shanille wouldn’t make up a story like that. It’s against her faith.”

That was true enough. As a staunch Catholic, Shanille doesn’t believe in making up stories simply to impress people. She believes in telling it like it is, which might get awkward if the person she’s talking about is also the person she’s talking to.

“Look, I’m sure it’s just a phase,” I said. “A seasonal thing, you know. Pretty soon they will all be gone again.”

“Yeah, as soon as the weather turns and the temperatures drop, this spider business will be a thing of the past,” said Brutus.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” said Harriet, who was starting to sound more and more like an alarmist, I thought. “These spiders are here to stay, and if that’s true, we’ll simply have to start being a lot more careful, and also our humans. And I’m thinking specifically about Grace and Gran, who are both very vulnerable to this sort of threat.”

“Would you call it a threat?” I asked.

“I most certainly would,” said Harriet, causing Dooley to give me a look of concern.

“Maybe this is the big change my friend the spider was talking about,” he said.

“You are friends with a spider?” asked Harriet.

“I met him a couple of days ago. He hangs out in Tex’s garden shed, and he told me that big changes are coming. He wouldn’t tell me what those changes were, though.”

“Probably this spider invasion,” said Harriet, nodding. “Better ask your friend to be more specific, Dooley,” she advised. “We need to make sure that we are not attacked by these monsters. If there are thousands and thousands of them out there, and only four of us, you can see how that’s going to pose a major problem, don’t you?”

I gulped a little. All this talk about thousands of spiders was affecting my capacity to enjoy a nice and peaceful nap, but when I told Harriet, she didn’t agree.

“It isn’t alarmist to prepare yourself for a contingency you know is coming, Max,” she said. “It’s simply common sense.”

Common sense or not, if those spiders started spreading to the backyard and then to the house, I would advise our humans to stock up on spider repellant—and plenty of it!

Chapter Two

Clark Timberlake looked through his viewfinder and shook his head. It still wasn’t what he was looking for. He’d been scouting for a great location for his next project for weeks, and even though he had a feeling he was close, being the perfectionist that he was, he knew he could do better. And so he studied the list of possible locations his assistants had jotted down and saw that the next possibility was just around the corner. He needed a house that looked normal enough from the outside but at the same time had a sort of spooky vibe. It was subtle, but it was what he needed and he was going to get it, however long it took him.

He walked the distance to the street that was next on the list, and when he arrived there, he had to admit that he liked what he saw. In fact, he liked it a lot. It was an ordinary house like you could find on any street, on any block, in any suburb, but there was something about it that was… off. He couldn’t really put his finger on it, but this house had a history. It had suffered. It had gone through the wringer. And since that was exactly what he needed to convey, he put the viewfinder to his eye and studied the house intently.

As he did, he got a chill. A vibe that told him that he had found what he was looking for. As he stared at the place, a cat walked out from behind the house and settled on the small stone wall that had been erected in front of the house and started licking itself. Just then, the cat, a big fat orange specimen, glanced up in his direction and their eyes locked.

Another shiver, more pronounced this time. Goosebumps up and down his arms.

“You,” he said, pointing to the fat cat. “I want you in my movie!”

He walked up to the house, and since he didn’t believe in wasting time, pressed his finger on the buzzer. Moments later, the door was opened by a beautiful young blonde.

“Hi there,” he said. “My name is Clark Timberlake and I’m a movie director. How much for the house?”

She stared at him. “Excuse me?”

“Not to buy, mind you,” he clarified, realizing that he probably should have let an assistant handle this part of the process. He was a little brusque in his ways of handling the delicate negotiations that were involved in dealing with people. “I want to use your house for my next movie,” he explained. He then pointed to the fat cat. “Is that your cat?”

“Um, yes, as a matter of fact, it is,” she said.

“I want him in my movie,” he declared.

Her jaw had dropped, which he saw as a good sign.

“How much?” he asked therefore.

“How much for what?”

He frowned. He didn’t like people that were a little thick. It complicated things. “How much to use your house for my movie? And the cat, of course. Just name your price, miss.”

“My house is not for sale, sir,” she said. “And neither is my cat.” She made to close the door, but since he had been in this position before, he hastened to place a well-shod foot in the door. He probably shouldn’t have done that, for she got a sort of set look about her that he didn’t think was a good sign. Then she bellowed, “Chase! Can you come here a minute!”

Moments later, a beefy giant appeared. Clark had to strain his neck to look up at the guy.

“What seems to be the problem?” the beefcake asked.

“This man here wants to buy our house, and also Max. Can you please explain to him that neither are for sale?”

“I don’t want to buy anything,” he said. He realized he hadn’t expressed himself well. His assistants often said he was a brilliant director, but a lousy communicator. “I’m a movie director, you see. And I want to film my next movie in your house. It’s not going to take long. One month at the most, maybe a little less. So all I want is to rent your house for the time of the shoot. And also that fat cat over there. I just have to have it in my movie.”

The guy seemed more interested in his proposal than the dame. “You want to rent the house for a month so you can film a movie here, and also put Max in your movie?”

He nodded, happy that finally someone understood what he was trying to get across. “I told this lady to name her price.”

“How about… a thousand bucks a week?” the guy said.

“Done,” he said, happy at such a lowball offer. He held out his hand. “I’ll have my assistant draw up the contract.”

The woman gave him a look of surprise. “You’re willing to pay us a thousand bucks a week so you can use our home in your movie?”

“Absolutely. I’ve been looking for the right house for weeks now, and have traveled up and down Long Island. Your home is exactly what I need. It’s got that special vibe I want.”

The woman turned to the beefy fellow. “But what about us, Chase? Where are we going to live in the meantime?”

“We could stay with your mom and dad,” he suggested. “If it’s only for a month, we’ll manage.”

“And what about our furniture?”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” said Clark. “We’ll put all of that in storage if you like. We have professional crews who deal with this kind of thing all the time. We’ll remove all of your furniture, all of your furnishings and personal stuff, and put it in storage, but before we do that, we take pictures of everything. And then when the shoot is over, we put everything back exactly the way it was, down to the last detail. Wallpaper, curtains, carpeting—everything. You will get your house back exactly the way it was.”

“See?” said the beefcake. “Easy money, babe. Plus bragging rights for being in a movie.”

“I guess,” she said, not fully convinced. She turned to Clark. “And what was that you said about Max? You want him in your movie?”

“I need a cat,” he explained. “But not just any cat. I need… Max, you said his name was?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, I need Max in my movie,” he said. “He’s exactly what I had in mind.”

“Will he have to… act?”

“Oh, no. No acting required whatsoever. He will simply have to walk from point A to point B, and he will also have to jump around when we tell him to. But we have professional animal trainers who will work with him.”

“Max doesn’t need a trainer,” said the beefcake. “He’ll do exactly what you tell him to. Okay, so maybe that’s not entirely true,” he amended. “He will do what Odelia tells him to.”

“Odelia?” asked the director.

“I’m Odelia,” said the blond babe. “Odelia Kingsley. And this is my husband Chase.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, even though he wasn’t really interested in the couple. He didn’t think he could use them in his movie, and as a consequence, they were of no importance. But then he caught on to what the big fellow said. “Max will do as you say?”

“Absolutely,” said the guy. “He listens to her, you see.”

“He does,” said this Odelia person.

“Prove it,” said Clark. “Tell him to come here.”

“Max!” she bellowed, causing his ears to hurt. “Come here a moment, will you?”

Without delay, the cat jumped off the low wall and came trotting up. Now it was Clark’s jaw that dropped. In all of his years working with kids and animals, he had never seen a cat respond so astutely to a command. “Can you… can you tell him to stand on his hind legs?”

“Stand on his hind legs?”

“Yeah, or make him do something? Doesn’t matter what.”

“Max, can you give me a paw?” asked Odelia.

And much to his astonishment, the cat did exactly that!

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said, scratching his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” His excitement was growing by leaps and bounds. “How much for the cat?”

“Max is not for sale,” said the woman, turning sour on him again.

“I didn’t mean it like that. How much to put him in my movie?”

“Well, just pay him the usual fee,” said Kingsley.

“Ten thousand,” he suggested off the top of his head. It was steep for a pet actor, but he had a good feeling about Max. If the cat could pull this off, he’d be the star of the movie.

“So what does he have to do, exactly?” asked Odelia carefully.

Unlike her husband, she wasn’t so easy to impress. “Well, like I said, walk from point A to point B and jump around. Things like that.”

“And you’re willing to pay ten thousand dollars for that?”

“It’s very rare to get a cat that does what the director wants,” he explained. “In fact, it’s almost impossible to make them do what you want. That gag about never working with pets or kids is true for a reason. But if you can make him follow my instructions, then yeah, he’s worth his weight in gold, pretty much.”

She exchanged a look with her husband, and he nodded. Then she did the strangest thing. She crouched down and asked the cat! “Max, what do you say? Do you want to be in a movie?” The cat meowed up a storm for a moment, and the ditzy blonde smiled a radiant smile. “Okay,” she said finally. “We’ll do it. We’ll be in your movie.”

Chapter Three

Lily Heckley looked out of the window of her office and wondered again about the man standing across the street. He had been there for the past hour or so. Mostly he was checking his phone, an innocent enough pastime, but she had noticed that from time to time he looked up at the office, as if he was waiting for someone—or something. She shrugged and decided that she probably should get on with her job and not waste time gazing idly out of windows. That way she would never get through her workload.

The problem was that the job she had been assigned seemed so utterly and completely pointless she had a hard time focusing on the task at hand. As a junior graphic designer of an ad agency, she had to edit the new campaign for one of their bigger clients. The problem was that she wasn’t fully on board with the concept. The company, a perfume brand that had been in business for decades and had a solid reputation, had asked Ophelae to design a campaign around their new fragrance, aimed at a younger segment of the market. They had recently attracted a new CEO, who wanted to shake things up, and had asked them to design a campaign that was more daring, more appealing to the younger demographic. And so Patsy Fletcher, Ophelae’s creative director, had come up with an edgy campaign that was going to shock some of the older clients but hopefully attract a lot of new ones.

Lily didn’t like it, and she hadn’t minced words when she had voiced this opinion in their most recent creative team meeting. But Patsy had immediately shut her down and had basically told her that her opinion didn’t matter and that she should just do as she was told. She hadn’t said the ‘or else’ part of her statement out loud, but it was implied.

And so now Lily had to spend her time working on a campaign she thought was going to alienate Fleur’s existing client base, and reflect badly on Ophelae. If the new fragrance tanked, other brands might think twice before hiring Ophelae. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that, but it might. The new campaign was dark and grungy and was a major gamble.

She sighed and got busy removing some blemishes from the face of one of the models they had hired for the shoot. The model suffered from acne, and she had a lot of work getting rid of all the pimples. The girl looked very heroine chic, the look Patsy was going for. As Lily also removed a scar from the model’s leg, she felt someone standing behind her. She looked up and saw that Patsy was eyeing her with a critical expression on her face.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded heatedly.

“Um… cleaning up the images?” she said.

“Didn’t I tell you to leave all of that in?”

“But… we always remove blemishes like these.”

“Not this time. I want them all in. The scars, the acne, the tattoos, the imperfections. The more the merrier. It’s all part of the campaign the client wants. He wants real people, not perfectly airbrushed models. Just make it darker.”


“A lot darker. We want to shock the viewer. Really make this an image that will stop the scroll,” she added. “And when you’re ready with this, I want you to look at the static TikTok images too. They’re too clean. Too… pretty.”

“Yes, Patsy,” she said dutifully, knowing better than to offer her personal opinion.

“Make it more rough, more edgy, more gritty. We want images that are in your face.”

She nodded and reversed a couple of the changes she had made. As if by magic, all of the model’s facial imperfections reappeared. The acne, the moles, the scars…

“That’s better,” said Patsy, well pleased. “Much better.”

Lily wondered how the model would feel about this. Not everyone wanted to appear in a major nationwide campaign looking the way they did when they got out of bed in the morning. Then again, if that’s what the client wanted, that’s what the client would get.

She had been working for another half hour when she happened to glance out of the window again, to give her eyes a break. Great was her surprise when that same man was still standing there. As she looked down, he looked up, and their eyes met. Immediately he looked away again, obviously feeling caught. He even walked away from the lamppost he had been leaning against and crossed the street so he would be out of sight.

How odd, she felt. But since there was no law against standing on the corner of the street looking at buildings, she put it out of her mind and returned to her work. She had just finished exporting the finished image and saving it in the cloud when suddenly there was a major explosion that rocked the building. She jumped up from her chair and reeled back. At the entrance to the office, she could see flames and a thick cloud of smoke.

Her coworkers all stared at the conflagration in horror and shock, and suddenly a loud voice rang out. “Fire exit! Now!”

It was Patsy, and the next moment they were all running to the exit on the other side of the office. Since there were at least fifty people, there was a hold-up when they reached the fire exit door, but as they had done regular fire drills in the past, nobody panicked, and the evacuation proceeded smoothly. Which is when a second explosion reverberated through the building, and when she looked behind her, she saw to her shock that the floor collapsed and that where she had been sitting before, working at her computer, a crater now gaped.

Looked like the entire building was about to collapse where they stood.

The next moment, panic did break out, and as people hustled and pushed and shoved to get out of there before the rest of the building crumbled into a mass of debris and twisted metal and broken glass, she just let herself be hustled along by the throng of bodies squeezing through the door. As she hurried down the metal fire escape, she saw that a woman had fallen and threatened to be trampled by the panicking thronging mass. So she quickly yanked the woman back to her feet and assisted her in hurrying to safety.

The woman had lost her shoes, but that couldn’t be helped. Better to lose one’s shoes than one’s life, after all. The moment they arrived at street level, they ran away from the building, putting as much distance between themselves and the disaster area as possible. She could already hear the sound of fire engines approaching. And that’s when a third explosion rocked the building, this one even bigger than before. As they all watched in stupefaction, the entire structure came crashing down in a deafening roar, as if leveled by a giant monster. A gust of smoke and dust pummeled them and blew them off their feet. As she and her other colleagues struggled to get up, she saw that the office building where she had been so hard at work only half an hour before, was gone, replaced by dust and debris.

She hoped they had all made it out alive, and as she stared at the devastation, couldn’t help but wonder if the man who had been staring at them from across the street had something to do with this. She searched the crowd, but there was no trace of him.

It could have been a coincidence, of course, but somehow she doubted it.

Which could only mean… that Ophelae had been the victim of an attack. A bombing. But then she shook off the silly notion. A gas explosion, that was probably what had happened. There was no other explanation. Or was there?

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