By James Hold
[Copyright 2017 James Roy Hold
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The cat of many colors was curled up in her favorite chair, her ever inquisitive mind absorbed in Legendre’s Conjecture, when her servant, Joseph, walked in on her. There had always existed a difference of opinion between them as to his privileges and duties so she was understandably upset when Joseph lifted her from the cushion and set her on the floor, taking the seat for himself. It is true Joseph treated her kindly, fed her well, and provided her with other comfortable places in which to do her thinking—as was her due considering her ancestors had once been worshipped as gods. Still this was her favorite chair for pondering mathematical proofs and Joseph’s interruption came just as she had detected a flaw in Baker’s proof concerning prime intervals, so it was only natural she voice her objection.
“What’s that?” Joseph looked down from his newspaper. “Do you want to go out again?” He was always misinterpreting her language to the point where she wondered how he managed to communicate with his own kind. “Okay, girl,” he picked her up and carried her to the door. “Only don’t stay out too late. And do keep out of trouble. I got quite an earful today over what you did to Mrs Preston’s flowerbed.”
The cat of many colors padded softly down the sidewalk, her tail held high, resisting the temptation to visit the next-door neighbor’s flower bed. She could not understand why, if Mrs Preston didn’t want it fertilizing her plants, she spent so much time sifting and combing the soil until it was just the right texture to allow for easy digging. The way she saw it, she was contributing to the ecosystem by recycling her waste where it would do the most good. Still, she did not want her servant, Joseph, to get into trouble over it so she continued toward the easement. Perhaps there she might find something of interest. Despite the late hour the sidewalk was still warm with the afternoon sun. This started her thinking about conservation of energy as it related to heat convection formulas, only her calculations were interrupted when a car pulled to the curb and two young people, a man and woman, got out.
“You don’t like it.” Christina Preston turned her back to her boyfriend and pouted. “In fact, you hate it. Go on. Admit it. You can’t stand it.” She put her hands to her eyes and started crying.”
“Good grief, Tina,” Ron flapped his hands helplessly. “I never said I didn’t like it. It’s just a bit sudden is all.”
“It” was her new buzzcut. Acting on impulse she had gone out that afternoon and had her shoulder-length locks shorn. It wasn’t a severe buzzcut. It was more a Caesar. Still it didn’t keep her friends from calling her “GI Jane” that evening at the club.
“You always said you liked my face,” Christina sniffed. “I figured this would let you see more of it.”
She had gone so far as to have a makeover, getting mascara and make-up to accentuate her large eyes and finely-chiseled cheekbones. Now that make-up was running down her face. Ron gave her his handkerchief so she could wipe it off.
“Of course I like your face,” Ron assured her. “I think it’s beautiful. I just wasn’t expecting anything like this, is all. Although I suppose I should be used to this sort of thing, considering last summer when you—”
“We agreed never to talk about that,” Christina reminded him, referring to her previous experience in “Will It Go Round In Circles.”
“Sorry,” Ron apologized. “Only you keep doing things so impulsively—”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Christina swung around to face him, all 5-feet-4 of her getting in his face. “Haven’t I the right to act impulsively if I want? After all, I’m light, free, and 23.” She was paraphrasing a catchphrase from dozens of Hollywood movies. Ron started to correct her but thought better of it. Besides it was nearly 3 AM and he needed to report for work in four hours.
“Look, Tina,” he placed his hands gently on her shoulders, “anything you want to do is fine with me. I love you, all right? I love the colorful clothes you wear and the way the sunlight plays upon your— Okay, scratch that; wrong song. What I’m trying to say is I’m a very lucky guy to have you and you can’t imagine how many other guys are jealous of me. Why you’re own cousin even… Well, let’s not talk about him.”
Christina had no desire to talk about her cousin either. The guy was a creep, and a sorehead, and he was into a lot of illegal activities. He’d made more than a few unwanted passes at Christina, enough to where one day Ron beat him up. She remembered how dashing Ron looked that day at the beach, the way his muscles stood out as he as tossed Cousin Louie around and told him to get lost. Louie had threatened revenge (his family was rich, after all), but nothing ever came of it. Still, Ron had been so gallant that day.
“I’m sorry.” She kissed him on the lips; only a short one because it was late and she didn’t want him to be late for work. “Not just for getting mad, but everything. I’ll try not to spring things on you next time.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Ron tried to kiss her again but she laid a finger against his lips. “It’s kind of exciting, really, never knowing what to expect.” Then, fearing she might take that the wrong way, he quickly (and sincerely) added: “And you really do have a beautiful face.”
Christina did not head into her house after Ron drove off. It was hot outside, but even hotter indoors, what with the AC on the fritz, so she lingered a while. Her folks and her sister were off visiting a relative and her grandfather was “babysitting,” although he was certain to be asleep by now. Instead she hung out by the tall old elm tree that fronted her bedroom. Many were the times she’d climbed that tree, sneaking out of her room to explore the easement between her house and the next. It was a wondrous place full of trees and powerlines where she could let her imagination soar. After which she’d climb the tree back to her room with no one the wiser.
The impulse hit her to climb the tree once more, only given her good shoes and short skirt, and recalling her mother’s many lectures on ladylike behavior, she conquered the urge and instead took off on a stroll down the sidewalk, stopping to look from afar at the easement where so many childhood adventures had occurred. She closed her eyes, fingering the necklace at her throat. It was an expensive necklace belonging to her late grandmother and she had often seen her creepazoid cousin gaze on it with envy. At least she assumed it was the necklace he was staring at. While the Good Lord blessed her with big round eyes, fine cheekbones, and a cute slender body, Christina had, in her estimation, been severely short-changed in the boob department.
Really, she told herself, gazing Heavenward, 23 years old and still an A cup? Then an abrupt pang of guilt hit her and, reminding herself of her other blessings, she repented her ingratitude and closed her eyes, offering a prayer of thankfulness for all the things she had been given.
It was while she was doing this that one of the scrub bushes within the easement moved. The open field was terribly overgrown and Mrs Preston had called the city to complain but so far nothing had been done about it. Christina did not see these movements since her eyes were closed. There was no need for the bush to move since there was no wind (which contributed to the night heat), and even had there been a wind, this was the only bush moving.
Christina stood there, her lips moving in softly-spoken prayer, as something stepped out from behind the bush, a human form, thin and bony, with bright red eyes that pierced the darkness. Even as Christina mouthed a final, “Amen,” the figure was upon her, throwing her to the sidewalk and pawing at her throat, clutching at her necklace in an effort to rip it from its fastening.
Christina attempted to cry out but a filthy hand pressed itself over her mouth. Just as Christina was thinking her “Amen” had been premature, her struggles were interrupted by a loud primitive shriek, drawn from the primeval depths of animaldom, as a ball of multi-colored fur launched itself at the attacker and sank teeth and claws into his outstretched wrist. With such precision did the cat of many colors tear into the fiend that Christina, in spite of her proximity, went untouched by the razor-sharp incisors and extended talons which found their mark deep in the bony flesh of the creep who tried to snatch her necklace.
With howls of pain louder than those of the animal, the man released his hold on Christina and shook his arm, batting frantically at the feline until it finally let go, after which the attacker fled back into the easement and was soon lost from sight.
The attack must not have been as loud as Christina thought it’d been, since no lights came on and nobody came out to investigate. At least Christina hoped that was the case, the idea of being another Kitty Genovese not appealing to her. With nothing else to do, she collected herself as best she could and went into her house where she found her grandfather still awake, fanning himself with a newspaper while watching TV.
“You’re up late,” she told him, trying to keep herself from shaking.
“Said the pot to the kettle,” was his gentle retort.
She smiled weakly and sat beside him on the armrest. “What are you watching?”
“Who watches wrestling at this time of night?”
“I do. It was the only time slot they could afford.”
“Makes sense,” she conceded. The comforting presence of her grandfather, who had always been there for her as a child, was working its magic. In short order she calmed herself enough to ask, “Who’s the little boy in board shorts?”
“The ‘little boy’ in the white mask and fight shorts,” Grandpa explained, “is El 7. And he is a pro despite his size. The fat fellow in the brown mask is Patata Gordo.”
The fat fellow was about three times the size of the smaller guy. Christina guesstimated herself taller than him by three inches.
“You probably outweigh him by 10 pounds also,” said Grandfather, sensing her thoughts.
“I weighed myself this morning and I was 112,” she protested.
“Five pounds then,” Grandfather smiled back, and Christina gave him an affectionate pinch on his arm.
“So why are they fighting?”
“It’s a stipulation match. Whichever guy loses has to unmask and reveal his true identity.”
“Losers usually do,” Christina remarked reflectively, thinking back to earlier that evening in the nightclub. Could some creep have followed her home from there? Maybe caught sight of her necklace and guessed its value?
Meanwhile, on TV, the little guy, El 7, was riding Gordo’s back, applying a nerve hold.
“What’s he doing now?”
“He’s trying to paralyze Gordo by digging his thumb and fingers into the sides of his neck. It isn’t working because Gordo’s has too much fat tissue around his neck.”
Like some other fatheads I know, Christina told herself, now thinking of the so-called friends who’d ridiculed her hairdo. Grandfather had said nothing about her new style. Whatever she did was all right with him so long as it wasn’t illegal. His only comment had been that she looked “exceptionally pretty” earlier that evening before going out. Maybe he was thinking back to her grandmother’s chemo treatments. Or, maybe, he was just that nice of a guy.
“Only I don’t think he’s getting much pressure since his hand is bandaged from some earlier injury,” Grandpa continued.
Grandpa was right as Gordo got out of the nerve hold, laid 7’s hand on the mat, and stomped it. The little guy rolled from the ring to the floor, writhing in pain.
“That wasn’t nice,” Christina commented.
“No,” Grandpa admitted, “but all’s fair in love and—”
“Right,” she cut him off.
Patata Gordo now had El 7 back inside the ring. He picked the little fellow up and placed him on the top turnbuckle, rearing back to hit a palm strike. 7 though caught him with a knee to the jaw and Gordo fell backward. 7 jumped down and grabbed Gordo’s arm, putting him in a double wristlock.
“Go! Go!” Christina bounced on the armrest, the adrenaline rush from a few minutes earlier not having subsided. “What’s he doing?”
“Torquing the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, hoping Gordo will give up.”
Gordo hung on though so 7 transitioned this into a straight wristlock with his knee pressing Gordo’s elbow. Finally 7 folded Gordo’s wrist back and put all his weight on it until at last the bigger man capitulated.
“You see,” Grandpa explained, “it doesn’t take size to down an opponent. You just have to know your enemy’s weakness.”
“What’s he saying now?” Christina asked.
Gordo had removed his mask and given it to El 7, all the while talking Spanish into the ring announcer’s microphone. Christina didn’t understand Spanish so Grandpa translated.
“He’s telling El 7 that even though he won this battle the fight isn’t over and he has two sons who will avenge him.”
“Avenge him?” Christina scrunched her face at this. “The little guy beat him fair. Why should anyone ‘avenge’ him?” She answered her own question, saying, “Some people are just sore losers.”
“You’re being very philosophical over a wrestling match,” remarked her Grandpa, sensing something was the matter. “Did something happen tonight that you want to tell me about?”
Christina considered this a moment, then decided not to say anything. She was safe at home now, thanks to the neighbor’s cat, and her grandfather would only worry if he felt she was in any danger.
“No, Grandpa.” She got up and kissed him on his bald spot. “Everything’s fine.” Then she raced up to her room before she fell apart completely.
“Dear Abby,” Christina joked to her reflection in the mirror upon completing her shower. “What does it mean when a man looks deep into your eyes? Answer: it means that you are flat chested.” The shower had done her good and the vigorous towel-down raised her spirits to something near their normal levels.
“Really,” she said again, “23 years old and still an A cup?” Although it wasn’t that bad of an A cup. “Perky,” she told herself, sitting before her dresser mirror. “Perky’s what you call them. And Ron once said he liked me because I’m perky. Although now that I think about it, he could have been looking down my blouse at the time.”
Dismissing the thought she reached into a drawer and out of habit pulled out her hair brush. “Hmm,” she told it, “won’t be needing you for a while,” and stuck it back into the drawer next to her harmonica; something else that brought back memories. The time was shortly after 4 and still the house was hot. Whether this was yesterday’s residue or a sign of the day ahead she couldn’t know. The only thing she did know was it was too hot for bedclothes so she threw open her window, gazed for a moment on the big tree next to her room, then dropped into bed wearing nothing but her panties.
Before dozing off she heard a scratching noise from outside and looked up to see the cat of many colors enter from the limb closest to her window.
“My hero,” she cried, taking the furry creature in her arms and hugging it to her breast. “And Mama’s little garden helper. You know, I like your hair. Maybe I should put some streaks in mine. Oh, but I promised Ron not to do anything impulsive.” Then exhaustion overcame her and she drifted to a blossom world of music and carnivals, mist-shrouded rivers, and never ending drum solos. The cat, working itself free of her arms, crawled down to nestle at her feet.
A half hour passed during which the cat of many colors, unable to sleep, worked out a variation on the Riemann hypothesis. Just as she was about to conclude that the Mobius inversion formula might not be correct after all, she became aware of the presence of some other person in the room.
Presently a figure emerged from the shadows. Very stealthily the figure crept toward the bed as a snake might slink, and bent down to examine the girl. The cat caught sight of the wasted, half-crazed face of the man who’d attacked Christina earlier at the easement. The man though did not see the cat, for he was too busy gazing at the girl’s exposed breasts as she lay there uncovered due to the excessive heat. Slowly he reached forth a hand as if to touch them.
The cat gathered itself for a spring. Only then the man seemed to get control of himself and, shaking off the magic of the girl’s charms, he turned about and went to the dresser where her jewelry case sat before the mirror. This, the cat surmised, was what he’d really come for; the jewelry box and the girl’s valuable necklace inside.
The cat relaxed, thinking if that was all he wanted then he could have it. The cat’s only care was that no harm came to the girl.
Slowly the man reached for the box. His hand touched upon the lid, then with almost infinite patience he lifted the lid and—
De de, de de, de-de-de-di-de-deedy-de.
The tones from the music box flooded the room, causing Christina to awaken.
“No!” she cried, springing to her feet upon seeing the man with the necklace in his hand. “That was my grandmother’s. It’s all I have of her and you can’t have it!”
Like a crazed fiend, the man clamped a hand over her mouth, pushing her down to the bed. He shifted his grip to her throat, squeezing off her cries. Then another look came into his blood-red eyes, not of murder but of lust, as once more taking in the sight of her perky breasts, he reached down and placed his hand on the waistband of her panties.
The cat had seen enough. For the necklace she could care less, but for the girl next door who gave her a treat now and then and petted her as she walked by—
The intruder found himself with a 9-pound cat for a hat, one that sank its claws deep into his skull. He screamed in pain as he fought his way to the window, the cat finally letting go as the man fell to the ground and ran once more to the safety of the easement.
This time the noise did attract the neighbors. Lights went on, people came out, and police were called. Shortly after, Christina Preston, wearing a cotton nightshirt, was downstairs with her grandfather at her side, telling her story to the police lieutenant answering the call. The lieutenant wasn’t all that inclined to believe her story about the cat, but there was enough evidence to show her room had been broken into and her necklace stolen.
“Probably some crack head saw your necklace at the dance club and followed you home, figuring he could trade it for dope,” was the detective’s opinion. “We’ll put out an alert to all the pawn shops. Still I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
“Oh, Grandpa,” Christina cried on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I should have told you earlier. What if he’d decided to search the rest of the house and found you? You could have been hurt as well.”
“There, there,” Grandpa patted her shoulder. “The important thing is you’re all right.” He glanced up at the lieutenant. “Although, if you should be so fortunate as to catch the guy who did this, I’d appreciate your giving me 5 minutes alone with him.”
The police lieutenant, rather than answering, noted, “It’s funny how he knew exactly where you keep your jewelry box. The room was too dark for him to have seen it from outside before entering.”
What the lieutenant’s next conjecture might have been will never be known for at that moment an officer came in, dragging a disheveled figure with him.
“Yo, Lieutenant, found this skinhead hanging around outside.”
“Oh?” The lieutenant eyed the newcomer crossly. “And just what are you doing—?”
“Ron!” Christina jumped up from the couch. “What are you doing here?” She halted, suddenly shocked at his appearance. “And what happened to your hair!”
The bald fellow was Christina’s boyfriend, Ron, who lived only a few blocks over and had come out to investigate. Upon learning it was the Preston house that was the source of the commotion he’d thrown on some clothes and raced over. As for his hair…
“I just sort of thought, well, if you can be impulsive then why can’t I? So when I got back home from our date I took out my safety razor and—”
“But, Ron!” Christina couldn’t get over it. “Your beautiful hair! What am I supposed to do now? Run my fingers through your nubs?”
This was broken up when a second officer dragged in yet another suspicious character he’d found lurking about. This time, Christina, Grandpa, and Ron all cried out in unison:
Cousin Louie, the family member who made all other black sheep look respectable, maintained a sullen silence as the police lieutenant questioned him as to what he was doing there this early in the morning.
If a person could be said to have a record “as long as your arm,” then Cousin Louie’s rap sheet would have done justice to an octopus. Not that justice ever figured in any of Louie’s cases. Despite his numerous arrests, the family lawyer (hired solely to protect the family name) had seen to it that he never went to trial, always pointing out too many extenuating circumstances for the District Attorney to feel comfortable about prosecuting him.
Take tonight for instance. While Christina could give a general description of her attacker, she could not positively identify him as Cousin Louie because it had been too dark in her room to see his face clearly.
That he had countless scratches on his head, arms, and hands was undeniable, but a clever lawyer could argue those came from crawling around in the bushes within the easement. The noticeable limp as he favored his left side might also be explained by his falling against or from something—not necessarily a second-story window however.
That Louie was a coke head, and that he had been in and around the Preston house on occasion, and could have snooped about Christina’s room—again given his unsavory and lustful attitude toward her—all that didn’t necessarily mean it was him who’d committed the burglary and attempted rape.
“What!” Ron, hearing this bit of news for the first time, bounded off the sofa and landed several solid wallops on Louie’s kisser.
“Get him, Ron!” Christina rooted him on. “Slap him in a nerve lock! Torque him with an elbow! Kick him in the—“
Which is exactly what Ron did, planting a solid boot to Louie’s lower parts before the other officers could intervene. Not that they tried all that hard, to be honest.
“Oh, Ron,” Christina eyed him dreamily.
“Good work, boy,” Grandpa patted his shoulder approvingly. “Someone should have done that years ago.”
“Are you going to let him get away with that?” A whiny Cousin Louie finally broke his silence. “He can’t just beat me up like that.”
The police lieutenant favored Louie with the most unsympathetic glare he could muster. “If you can differentiate where your new bruises begin and your preexisting ones end,” he told him, “then I’ll consider doing something. Otherwise, sit down and shut up.”
Louie did as he was told, gingerly settling into a chair near a front porch window. Ron continued to regard him with hatred; his unvoiced words let him know that no matter what the outcome of this might be, the creep would still have to settle with Christina’s boyfriend someday.
For the moment however, all this was moot.
“I really can’t hold him,” the lieutenant told the others. He sighed, adding, “It’s too bad that cat friend of yours isn’t here. There’s an old expression about ‘look what the cat dragged in.’ In this case I’d love to see what the cat could drag out.”
“You mean he’s going to get away with—” Christina cried.
“Don’t worry, Tina,” Ron assured her. “He won’t.”
“Now just a minute, young man,” the detective warned. “I may have let you get away with something the first time, but if you go after him again, now or later, I won’t be able to look the other way.”
“Oh, where is that cat when we need her?” Christina moaned.
As if in answer to a prayer, the cat of many colors appeared, hopping atop the window sill where Louie sat in his chair. The smug look on the culprit’s face vanished as the cat landed in his lap and went after his torn wrist. Screaming for help, Louie turned in the chair, placing his knees on the seat cushion as he tried to crawl out the window.
That was when everyone saw it.
The extra-long shirt tail that covered his bony frame and hid his waist from view was stretched by Louie’s action in reaching for the window. With the shirt no longer covering his waist, everyone could now see, wrapped around the back of his studded belt, Christina’s grandmother’s necklace.
Somewhere in a moment of cleverness the creep had realized the pattern of his studded leather belt blended with Christina’s necklace, and by intertwining the two he could effect a successful camouflage. And he might have gotten away with it had not the cat of many colors decided to paw at it like some shiny toy. Cats after all find value only in things that can be eaten, slept on, or played with.
Later, with Louie in custody, the police gone, and Grandpa asleep, rosy dawn peeked through the windows of the Preston house, dancing across the floor until it filled all corners. The day promised to be a scorcher, and with the AC still on the fritz, it did not bode well for anyone wanting to remain indoors.
Ron and Christina sat on the sofa, holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes; although their gazes did stray now and then to the top of their heads, after which they’d smile, laugh, and stare some more.
“Don’t you have to go to work soon?” Christina asked.
“I’ll call in sick,” Ron shrugged. “I’ve got a day or two coming.” After a pause, he asked, “So, what would you like to do today? Maybe go shopping for hats?”
Christina shook her head, a reckless look coming to the fore in her perky eyes.
“I sat up with Grandfather watching wrestling last night. Gosh, Ron, wouldn’t it be neat if—?”
Ron got up with a sigh and walked over to the telephone stand. “I’ll see if I can find a good gym in the area,” he told her, thumbing through the pages of the phonebook. “I wouldn’t want you to wind up with a bad trainer.”
“Hello, Little Girl,” Joseph greeted the cat of many colors that morning as she entered through the patio door. “I hope you stayed out of trouble last night. I saw police cars at the Preston house and would hate the thought of you getting mixed up in anything.”
The cat ignored him, heading straight for her favorite chair. She planned on spending the rest of the day reviewing Bertrand’s postulate, something sure to give her hours of satisfaction while Joseph was out on his day job.
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