Purrfect Chicken (Max 87) Preview

Purrfect Chicken (Max 87) Preview

Playing Chicken

When Dooley decided that he wasn’t going to eat chicken anymore, because chickens are our friends, and we shouldn’t eat our friends, it gave us all some food for thought. Mostly Odelia, since she had to figure out what to feed Dooley instead of his usual diet. The solution Dooley himself came up with was both original but also worrying: he was going to live off air and light alone from now on and he wanted the rest of us to do the same. He called it the prana diet and it didn’t seem like a great idea. Especially since I was in the middle of a murder investigation so I needed my strength.

Donald Weaver had gone out to ‘fix’ his neighbor Miranda Gobbs, who he accused of harassment, but instead got stabbed with his own knife. Miranda had accused Donald of stalking her, an accusation he vehemently denied. The investigation immediately focused on Miranda, since she had gone missing. Had she taken the law into her own hands? Unfortunately for me, the truth was a lot more complicated than I anticipated. But then it often is.

Chapter One

Dooley had been staring deeply into the small pond of the garden they were visiting and wondering if the fishies that inhabited the pond were happy there or not. It wasn’t as if he could ask them, since fishes are a notoriously aloof type of species and not all that prone to conversation. Nevertheless, he wished them well and hoped they would be treated correctly by the people this pond belonged to—whoever they were.

He glanced up at the house and wondered when Odelia and Chase would be finished in there. They had announced they had an important mission to tackle and had invited Dooley and his best friend Max to tag along, just in case… Dooley had immediately asked the pertinent question: what case? But to his disappointment, no answer had been forthcoming, and so he was left feeling like the third wheel, with Max wandering to and fro and glancing here and there in the hopes of encountering someone to talk to, just like Dooley himself.

It had to be said that both he and his friend were cats of a sociable nature and enjoyed shooting the breeze with any pet or creature whose acquaintance they happened to make. It was exactly the reason Odelia liked to drag them along when she was out on a case or chasing a story. But mostly she made sure they were briefed well in advance so they knew in what direction they needed to steer their socializing. But today there had been none of that.

They had been awakened by the buzzing of Chase’s mobile phone located on the nightstand. The cop had picked up and exchanged a few terse words with the person on the other end. The upshot had been that he and Odelia had hit the shower and had practically run out of the house, but not before roping both Max and Dooley into this new mission of theirs and dropping their daughter Grace off at the little girl’s grandparents next door.

Having enjoyed the company of these colorful fishes for as long as he could stand, Dooley decided to rejoin his friend, who was sniffing at a rose bush that offered a visually pleasing and colorful palette. “Still no sign?” he asked hopefully.

Max shook his head. “Nothing yet,” he said and pressed his nose into a particularly gorgeous flower. When he retracted the organ, it was sprinkled with pollen and Dooley laughed.

“Max, your nose!” he said.

Max crossed his eyes to look at his own nose, which is always a tough proposition, unless you’re cross-eyed, of course. “What is it?” asked his blorange friend. “Is it a bug? A bee?”

“It’s only pollen,” Dooley reassured him. “I’ll get rid of it for you, shall I?” And so he wiped the pollen off Max’s nose with his paw, smearing some of it across the big cat’s whiskers in the process, giving Max a pretty funky look.

“I hope everything is all right,” said Max, indicating that he, too, was concerned about the lack of information from their human.

“I’m sure it is,” Dooley said. “Otherwise, she would have invited us in.”

It’s a rare household where cats aren’t welcome, but then it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round. The moment the door had opened and the woman standing at the door had seen Max and Dooley, she had made a face and made it clear in no uncertain terms that as far as she was concerned, cats had no place in the general constellation of things and definitely had no place in her nice little home. And so it was to their surprise that Odelia had told them to stay put.

“I think she did it,” said Dooley now.

“Who did what?” asked Max, giving one of the flowers a gentle poke. It danced back and forth for a moment, before welcoming the two cats to take another whiff of that same pollen that it had freely shared with Max a moment before. Unlike the owner of the house, flowers aren’t very discerning and are open for anyone to partake in their gorgeousness.

“Well, the lady who didn’t want to invite us in, of course,” said Dooley. “It’s usually a clear sign of psychopathy, Max.”

“What is?” asked his friend, unusually slow on the uptake today.

“Being anti-cat, of course. People who don’t like cats… it’s a bad sign, Max. A very bad sign indeed.” Which was why he was so worried that Odelia and Chase were locked up in there with the cat-hating person. For all they knew she might have murdered them by now.

“She won’t harm Odelia,” Max assured him. He might be slow on the uptake, but he had correctly assumed that his friend was worried not so much about their lack of access to the house but Odelia’s safety. “And besides, Chase is in there with her, and he won’t let anything happen to his wife.”

That was true enough. Chase was as protective as they came, and not only that, but he was also a deft hand at self-defense techniques. When it came down to it, he could protect both himself and Odelia against any crazy person’s bad intentions.

Dooley returned to his former spot near the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside, but unfortunately for them, the woman had drawn the curtains, which was an odd thing to do since night hadn’t yet fallen.

Just then, the pet flap located in the kitchen door flapped once, and a small doggie came prancing out, looking happy and relaxed. The moment it spotted the two cats trespassing on its domain, though, it immediately started barking up a storm.

“It’s fine,” Dooley hastened to assure the tiny canine. “We’re here because we’ve been invited by your human.”

The doggie didn’t seem to accept this explanation, though, for it kept yapping up a storm, moving back and forth with jerky movements as some of those tiny dogs do. Its entire body was shaking with indignation at the sight of Max and Dooley.

“Our humans our inside,” Max explained. “With your human. And since she didn’t want us to set paw in the house, she asked us to wait outside.”

“A likely story!” the doggie cried as it regarded them with unwavering hostility. “If my human had asked you to wait outside, she would have told me. I am the official guard dog, after all,” it added, puffing out its chest for a moment, to show that it took its job very seriously.

“Look, if you want, we’ll take up position in the front yard,” Max suggested. “Or on the sidewalk, even. But before we do that, can you tell us one thing?”

“What?” asked the doggie suspiciously.

“What’s your name? My name is Max,” he hastened to add. “And this is my friend Dooley.”

“We live just around the corner,” Dooley added. “On Harrington Street.”

The doggie wavered. Clearly, it didn’t want to get overly familiar with them, but on the other hand, it didn’t want to come across as uncivilized either. So finally, it relented and declared, “My name is Huey. And you’d do well to get lost, Max and Dooley. This is my backyard, and you have no business here.”

“Of course,” said Max. “We’re leaving already, Huey.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know Fifi, would you?” asked Dooley. “It’s just that she’s our neighbor, you see, and she knows a lot of dogs on the block.”

The doggie stared at him, still with that same suspicion etched on his furry features. He was pretty much the same size as Fifi, who was a Yorkshire Terrier, though if Dooley had to guess, he would have pegged Huey as a miniature poodle.

“Yes, I know Fifi,” she said. “And you’re telling me that she’s your neighbor?”

“We live right next door,” said Max.

“Oh,” said Huey, and for a moment didn’t seem to know how to respond to this. If the saying that a friend of a friend is my friend also is applicable, he probably should have changed his attitude towards them. But instead, he decided to double down on his lack of neighborliness by spitting, “I don’t believe you! Fifi would never be friends with a pair of cats!”

“And yet she is,” said Max in those same kind tones he had used since Huey had burst onto the scene—quite literally. “Our very good friend. And so is Rufus, who is our other neighbor.”

“We hang out all the time,” Dooley added.

“Oh,” said Huey, and once again was forced to take this information and process it. And since he had a very small head, Dooley figured it might take some time before his synapses worked their magic. Finally, he shook her head. “I still don’t believe you. I know Rufus very well, and he’s never mentioned either of you before. So if you can please leave now?”

“Of course,” said Max, and gestured for Dooley to follow him. But before they had taken the path that led from the backyard to the front of the house, another canine popped out of the pet flap. It was the spitting image of the first one, but this one sported a goofy expression that the first one sorely lacked.

“Ooh, kitties!” the second poodle cried as it gamboled up to them. “Pretty kitties! Wanna play?”

“We don’t play with cats, Dewey,” said Huey haughtily. “And now you better return inside before mistress finds you missing and gets very upset.”

“But I want to play with the kitties!” Dewey cried with dismay. He darted a yearning look in Dooley’s direction, and even though the latter felt that here was their chance to fraternize with the locals, Max insisted that they make themselves scarce before Huey took umbrage.

“Let’s go, Dooley,” he said, and they continued their trek up the garden path.

“Don’t go!” Dewey yelled. “We never meet any friends! Let’s play a game!”

“We do not play games with cats,” said Huey. “Get back inside, Dewey!”

“I don’t wanna,” said the poodle unhappily. “I wanna stay here and play with my new friends.”

“They’re not our friends,” Huey specified. “They’re strangers—not to mention they’re cats, and we both know what mistress thinks of cats.”

“She don’t like them,” Dewey said.

“Exactly. So let’s both return inside before she finds out we’ve been talking to these two and gets very upset.”

“We don’t want mistress to get upset,” Dewey admitted.

And after darting a final longing glance in their direction, the doggie entered the house again through the pet flap and was soon gone, followed by Huey.

The flap flapped once, and then all was quiet again in the backyard.

“That was weird,” said Dooley as he followed his friend to the front of the house.

“You can say that again,” said Max. The moment they were standing next to Odelia’s car, he lowered his voice and said, “Don’t look now, but we’re being watched.”

Immediately, Dooley turned his head.

“I said, ‘Don’t look now!’” said Max.

But Dooley had already spotted the doggies staring at them from behind the plate glass window. They were Huey and Dewey, and they weren’t alone. He counted no less than three miniature poodles in total, and all of them were staring at them. Some with abject hostility, like Huey, others with a sort of strange yearning, like Dewey.

“They don’t look happy,” said Dooley, and suddenly felt for the canines.

“No, they don’t look happy at all,” Max concurred.

Just then, the front door opened and Odelia and Chase came walking out. The relief Dooley felt to see their humans alive and well was so great that he momentarily forgot all about those poodles and their curious behavior.

Moments later, they were back in the car and driving in the direction of town. Mission accomplished? Oddly enough, both of their humans were strangely quiet. And even though Dooley was itching to ask them what they had discovered, he knew better than to ask. For Max had placed his paw against his lips in a bid to make sure he kept quiet.

And so it was that they arrived at the offices of the Hampton Cove Gazette, with Dooley burning with curiosity and Max just sitting there in the backseat of the car looking like a sphinx. Odelia opened the car door to let them out, and they both jumped down to the sidewalk. But if they had expected that Odelia would park the car and accompany them inside, they were in for a surprise. The moment they had stepped out, the door closed again, and their humans drove off!

They watched them go, and it was a testament to Max’s perturbation that even he made a noise of utter confusion. “Well, I never!” he cried.

Chapter Two

Donald Weaver glanced from behind the curtain and fixed his clear blue eyes on the house across the street. When he didn’t see a sign of his neighbor Miranda Gobbs, he grunted with satisfaction. Suddenly, a voice rang out behind him.

“Donald, are you ogling Miranda again?”

Immediately, he let the curtain slip from his grasp and jerked his head back, feeling caught. “Of course not. I was just looking out for the mailman. It wouldn’t be the first time he forgot to ring the bell.”

“Well, just make sure Miranda doesn’t see you. She’s liable to file another complaint.”

“She won’t,” he assured his wife. “Since I’m not spying on her, and I have never spied on her. The woman is simply mad, that’s all there is to it.”

“Mh,” said Darlene but didn’t look convinced. She had brought a tray into the living room. It contained two cups filled to the brim with piping hot coffee, accompanied by a liberal assortment of home-baked cookies. He took the tray from her and there was some rattling as he put it down. He grimaced. “What is it?” his wife asked, concern in her voice.

He rubbed his elbow. “That darn arthritis is acting up again. When are we finally going to follow Doctor Poole’s advice and move to a warmer climate? He said that if we’d just go and live in Florida all of my pain would disappear. And so would yours, by the way.”

Donald’s joints had been giving him a lot of trouble lately, and the thought of moving to a warmer climate appealed to him a great deal.

“You know we can’t,” Darlene said softly as she took a seat at the table.

“We could if we sold this place.”

“Well, I don’t want to sell this place,” she said adamantly. “There’s Ruth to consider.”

Darlene’s sister was living in a facility for people with a disability and wouldn’t be able to survive without her loving sister to be there for her.

Donald glanced up at the big clock over the television and wondered where the time had gone. He still had plenty of errands to run in town and already it was past eleven.

“I wonder what the Kingsleys were doing across the street,” said his wife thoughtfully.

“I was wondering the same thing,” he said.

She smiled. “So you were spying on Miranda.”

“I wasn’t!”

They were both quiet for a moment, and as he dug his teeth into a crispy cookie, Jim came hurrying up and put his paws on his knees, begging for a bite.

“You know that chocolate isn’t good for you, sweetie,” he said.

“Give him a biscuit,” said Darlene. “From the tin.” She handed him the tin filled with dog biscuits, and he dug one out for the tiny doggie and held it up. Jim’s ears were wiggling excitedly, and he released a happy yip, his body vibrating with anticipatory delight. As Donald handed their sweet pet the biscuit, Jim deftly took it between his tiny teeth and hurried off with it, darting a glance across his shoulder as if afraid they might change their minds and take the delicious treat away from him again.

Both Donald and Darlene chuckled at the sight of their canine companion’s behavior. With dogs in the house, you didn’t need a television. They provided free entertainment.

Darlene turned serious again. “I just hope she hasn’t filed another complaint.”

He gave her a thoughtful look. The last time Miranda had called the police to her home, it had been to launch a complaint against her neighbor for spying on her. Now it was certainly true that Donald glanced in on the woman from time to time, but what neighbor doesn’t? He had eyes in his head, and he wasn’t afraid to use them. But actually spy on her? Using binoculars or even filming her? That was just a load of nonsense. So when the police had paid them a visit and had searched the house for those self-same binoculars or the camera that Miranda said he had been using to spy on her, they had found absolutely nothing.

No camera, no footage on his computer, nothing out of the ordinary. It had certainly soured the relationship between the Weavers and Miranda Gobbs to some extent, and ever since the incident, as he and Darlene still referred to it, Donald’s desire to put as much distance between themselves and Hampton Cove had grown substantially.

If only he could find a way to get away. And convince Darlene of the same.

“If she had filed another complaint,” he said as he took another nibble from his cookie, “the Kingsleys would have been on our doorstep already.”

“Unless they’ve decided to call in the cavalry like last time,” countered Darlene. “It took a couple of days before they showed up at the house, remember?”

Of course, he remembered. It had been possibly the darkest day of his life. Being accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and to suffer the humiliation of having police vans parked in front of the house and officers crawling all over the place. The whole neighborhood had stepped out, to take up position outside, wondering what was going on. One of their neighbors had even asked if they were Russian spies, or maybe burying dead bodies in the basement. And ever since that fateful day, people had started looking at them strangely. Crossing the street when they passed, or looking away when they met in the shop. Almost as if Donald had been tainted with suspicion, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.

And it was all because of that crazy woman across the street. Miranda Dobbs. From the moment she had moved in, they hadn’t gotten along. And now, of course, it was full-out war. A war he was determined to win, even though he hadn’t told Darlene yet.

He had a plan. A plan to make sure that Miranda never bothered them again.

Chapter Three

Dooley and I had returned to the heart of town after being dropped off by Odelia, and I had to admit we both felt a little discombobulated. First, Odelia dragged us along on one of her investigations, literally picking us up from the bed and putting us in the car so we could assist her and Chase. Then, when we arrived on the scene, we weren’t even allowed in the house, which was inhabited by one of the worst cat haters I’ve ever met. To top it all off, we were chased out of the backyard by a dog, and when all was said and done, Odelia didn’t even give us the benefit of the details of her case. No blow-by-blow account of her interview with the woman—she didn’t even tell us what was going on and what the case was about!

“That wasn’t very nice of Odelia, Max,” said Dooley as we watched our human drive off.

“You can say that again,” I said.

“That wasn’t very nice of Odelia, Max.”

I stared at him.

“You told me to say it again,” he explained.

I smiled and patted him on the back. The world may have gone crazy, but at least Dooley was still his old self. “I say we go and pour out our lament into a listening ear,” I suggested.

“Pour what into what ear?” he asked.

“Let’s tell Kingman what just happened,” I said. “A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.”

We found Kingman in front of the General Store, where he likes to sit and watch the world go by. And talk to any and all cats who are willing to lend him a listening ear. When he saw us toddle up, a wide smile stretched his cheeks from ear to ear. “Now there is a sight for sore eyes,” he said. “I was just asking Harriet and Brutus where you guys had gone off to.”

“Harriet and Brutus are here?” asked Dooley, looking around.

“Inside,” said Kingman, with a nod in the direction of the store entrance. “Wilbur has put some chicken nuggets on display and put out some tasters.”

“I love a good taster,” I said, glancing eagerly in the direction of the store.

“Go on, Max,” said Kingman with an amused look at me. “You know you want to.”

“It’s been a strange morning,” I told our friend, “and I feel like I could use a pick-me-up.”

And so Dooley and I both entered the store, looking for that taster Kingman had described in tantalizing detail. We found Harriet and Brutus at the end of the store, where the meat section is located. The little dish with the tasters was too high for them to reach, and they were mewling piteously to anyone who would listen and might be induced to drop a chicken nugget to the floor. And so it was that the four of us sat underneath that tasting dish, looking up with anticipatory relish. The person who finally showed up wasn’t a helpful customer, though, but Wilbur Vickery himself. And if he was inclined to give us a taste of those chicken nuggets, he didn’t give any indication. Quite the contrary. “Out,” he said in a voice that brooked no contest. “These tasters are for my customers, not a couple of freeloading cats. Do you understand? Out!” He was pointing to the exit, and since I got the impression we wouldn’t be able to change his mind, we slunk off in the direction indicated.

“I didn’t know Wilbur to be this stingy,” Brutus grumbled.

“He’s a grinch,” Harriet chimed in. “A regular grinch!”

“One little piece of chicken,” said Dooley. “That’s all I ask. Just one little piece.”

“I’m hungry,” I grunted unhappily. After our fruitless trip with Odelia, the only thing that could buck me up was food, but clearly food was not to be had—at least not right now.

“He’s very protective of his chicken,” said Kingman with a nod. “Hasn’t even given me a taste, can you believe it? Usually, I’m the first one he thinks of when he has something to offer his clients, but today he won’t even let me come near that chicken of his.”

“Maybe it’s special chicken?” Dooley suggested.

We all laughed. “Chicken is chicken, buddy,” said Brutus. “It all tastes the same.”

Harriet groaned. “Don’t talk about the taste of chicken, snuggle pooh. I can’t stand it.”

“Talking about chicken,” said Brutus, as he put his nose in the air and sniffed. “That smells mighty delicious, you guys.” We all followed his example and inhaled the delicious smell of grilled chicken.

“That’s Wilbur,” said Kingman. “He’s gone and bought himself one of those grills. Apparently, the smell of grilled chicken doubled one of his competitors’ turnover, so now he’s determined to try the same thing.”

“It’s like the smell of baked bread in a supermarket,” Brutus knew. “Drives up the profits twenty percent, or so I’ve been told.”

“I certainly could be induced to fill up my shopping cart with chicken-related items right now,” said Harriet as she eagerly licked her lips.

“This is torture,” Brutus groaned. “He can’t do this to us, can he? Aren’t there laws against this sort of thing? Animal protection laws?”

“I don’t think there’s a law against grilling chicken,” I told our friend.

“There should be!” he cried unhappily.

“And to think he doesn’t even give you first dibs,” Harriet told Kingman.

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s gotten into him all of a sudden,” said Kingman. “He’s become unusually stingy lately. Doesn’t even give me first dibs at any new kibble he gets. Says he doesn’t need my services anymore.”

“Or our services,” said Brutus gloomily.

For the longest time, we had been Wilbur’s unofficial tasters. He would put out bowls with the good stuff, and if he saw that we imbibed it with relish, he would order more for his customers. If we didn’t touch the stuff, he knew that it was junk and would send the supplier packing. It was a foolproof system and a win-win for all concerned, except maybe the suppliers whose wares he returned… until now.

“I’ve been feeling the fallout,” Kingman lamented. “Used to be that every cat in Hampton Cove dropped by the General Store to shoot the breeze and partake in my little haul, and now they avoid me like the plague.” He gave me a pleading look. “I hope you won’t start avoiding me also? I have so much more to offer than just the best kibble in town, you know. My scintillating conversation, for one thing, and my fascinating personality for another.”

“We won’t avoid you,” I told the big cat as I placed a reassuring paw on his shoulder. “I promise.”

But judging from the look on Brutus and Harriet’s faces, selecting a different venue from now on sounded like a good idea. And Harriet’s next words confirmed this. “We haven’t seen Buster in a long time, have we, scrumptious?” she told Brutus.

Brutus gave her a keen look. “No, we have not, starshine!”

And without another word, they both hurried off in the direction of the hair salon, leaving us to stare after them.

“See?” Kingman cried. “One by one, they all desert me!”

“We won’t desert you, Kingman,” said Dooley. “Will we, Max?”

“No, we won’t,” I promised.

“Even if you don’t offer free food anymore,” Dooley added, “we will still keep visiting you. Because we enjoy your silly conversation and your painful personality.”

“God give me strength,” Kingman groaned.

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