Title: The Orange Kitten
Disclaimer: Haven is not my property, nor are its characters. They are the property of the Syfy Channel and Stephen King.
Series: Not Yet Named – Prequel to "Christmas in (Haven) Maine"
Setting: Between Haven episodes "Consumed" and "As You Were" in season one. Now Officially AU because I didn't get it done before Season two started.
Summary: Nathan and Duke have a bet. Duke needs to keep a cat for one week. Shouldn't be any problem, right? Duke POV
Author's Notes: This was written at the request of Neoxphile, who understands about orange cats.
This is not the "Christmas in (Haven) Maine" sequel Neoxphile mentions at the end of our Haven/X-Files story. This is instead a prequel. I'm still working on the other one.
To the memory of Halfie and Mattie, and all cats that have wormed their ways into our hearts over the years, be they orange or not.
I can never really decide if I like Audrey and Nathan coming to the Gull for lunch.
Certainly, I appreciate the chance to flirt with Audrey, but I wish she'd leave Nathan back at the station. It's inconvenient trying to chat up Audrey with Nate glaring at me, silently accusing me of using Audrey to further my own aims. The awful thing is that he's right and my conscience knows it. All the previous night I had awful dreams I could barely remember, mostly around losing Audrey to some malignant force I had inadvertently invoked, and Nathan killing me as a result was a recurring theme. Because the nightmares had kept me awake most of the night, I was tired.
It was Nora's day off and I was tending bar. Tips and troubles were about keeping even. I don't think I'll ever understand why people fell compelled to talk to the bartender, but I now have enough dirt on my fellow Havenites to do some serious blackmail. Too bad I don't sell information, just items. I'd been listening to Bob Cider's long-winded rant about his wife's supposed infidelity. Betty was planning a party for Bob with Bob's boss. Bob thought it was an affair, which, in a way, I suppose it was. It just wasn't the kind Bob thought about.
Audrey was laughing as she pulled open the door, her profile a thing of causal grace and beauty as she held the door for my ex-best friend. He caught the door and she proceeded to step over the threshold and into the restaurant. She and Nathan made their way past the scattered patrons and up to the bar, where I was cleaning glasses. Someone really, really needed to develop a dishwashing detergent that didn't leave spots. Maybe I could smuggle some from another country, assuming, of course, I could find one that could overcome Maine's mineral water that was more mineral than water. Audrey sat down on the bar stool in front of me, and after a moment of staring, Nathan took one next to her.
"Haven's Finest. What can I not do for you today?" I asked, wondering whether I was about to be asked for my boat, my sources, or just arrested on general principle.
Audrey smiled, "We're just here for lunch, Duke. No strings attached today."
Nathan returned my glance, but didn't offer any further information, neither confirming nor denying the intention to eat.
"Well, today's special is …" I paused for dramatic effect, and wondered briefly what Nathan would do if I said Lobster Pups. Probably boil me. Nathan really didn't like lobster, but then, neither of us cared for it after watching One Crazy Summer. The thoughts of lobsters screaming gave us both nightmares. "Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup."
"That seems a little lackluster there, Duke," Audrey commented as she sipped the water I had just given her.
"You've never had our Grilled Cheese, have you? It's made with three types of cheddar, Swiss, and has bacon and ham in it. The tomato soup is real tomato soup."
"As opposed to what, fake tomato soup?" Audrey asked.
"You'll just have to order it and find out. I refund it to you if you don't like it." I knew Audrey would like it. I had yet to run into anyone that hadn't liked Margie's recipe for tomato soup. It used whole tomatoes and tasted divine. Perfect for dunking grilled cheese into.
"I'll take you up on that, Duke," Audrey replied.
"Pancakes. Short stack," Nathan, succinct as ever, placed his order.
I left the bar and gave the orders to the cook. I decided that I would join them and requested the grilled cheese and soup, but without the meat. I made my way from the kitchen to the bar, only to see Nathan and Audrey conspiring together. The looked happy and I quickly killed the pang of jealousy.
"Your orders have been placed. Would you like anything else?" I asked them.
"For you to stop smuggling whatever it is that you are smuggling this week?" Nathan looked faintly wolfish as he replied to the obvious opening I'd given him. I must have been more tired than I thought. Normally I don't leave him openings like that. My reply was to glare at him as he was obviously in top form and I wasn't. I was mildly gratified to see Audrey elbow him in the ribs.
"No idea what your talking about, Detective," I eventually spat out. I got frustrated with Nathan's inability to recognize that I didn't always engage in criminal activity. Just because I usually had something going on didn't mean I always did. For once I was between deliveries and commissions.
Ever the peacemaker, Audrey decided to divert us before she had to arrest us in my bar. "Duke, I have to go into Boston for the weekend. I want to clean up some of the stuff from my old apartment and put it into storage."
I turned my attention to her. "Do you want my help moving, Audrey?" I kept my expression neutral. It wasn't so much that I would mind helping her move, but I did have plans for the weekend, and some of the people those plans were with wouldn't be to happy with me if they knew I was helping a cop. Still, it would be time with Audrey. I knew Nathan had pulled at least one shift over the weekend. There was potential there.
"Thanks but no, I never really moved in so there isn't much to move out. However, I promised Eleanor I would watch her cats while she was at that medical conference. Could you watch them for me? You just need to stop in and feed them. No litter box cleaning or anything." She gave me the big blue-eyed stare, and I was about to agree when the sound of a granite earthquake came from my left.
"That's not a good idea, Audrey. Duke doesn't do well caring for other living things," Nathan chuckled.
I looked down and scratched my neck. "Nathan, I'm not to blame for that plant. It was drunk and fell overboard. I had nothing to do with it. I wasn't even there when it happened. Ask anyone."
"The plant got drunk and fell overboard? What?!" Audrey looked completely mystified by this turn of conversation.
Nathan said nothing. He was daring me to tell the tale of the Drunk Spider Plant. I was about to when Tina came out of the kitchen carrying our food. She must have overheard Audrey as she was grinning. She set our food down in front of us and explained, "Nathan asked Duke to watch his spider plant. Duke brought it to the Gull, figuring that the more eyes on it, the better. We all left, and everyone, even Duke, has an alibi for what happened. We came in the next morning and the plant, which had been here at the bar, wasn't here anymore. There was beer all over the floor and it went out to the deck. On the deck there were three empty containers of Bud Light. The pot the plant was in was found at low tide, but the plant was gone."
"See, I told you I wasn't responsible," I said, proud to have someone who was there for that particular episode of oddity confirm I didn't kill, maim or maul the plant. I wondered if plants could be Troubled.
"If you were responsible, I might still have my spider plant," Nathan pointed out calmly.
I had to stop feeding him straight lines. This was getting embarrassing.
"I can be responsible for a plant, just not suicidal drunk plants. You probably drove it to kill itself. I mean, it did live with you for years. It probably thought you abandoned it. And did you forget I had a dog when I was a kid, Nathan?"
"Duke. You didn't have a dog. Old Man Thorogood had a dog he paid you to walk. And you paid Meg to walk it." I shrugged, remembering Finch, Old Man Thorogood's hound dog. Finch liked me because I gave him vanilla cookies. I liked Finch because he gave me an excuse to have Meg over.
"Wait, Meg like Bill McShaw's wife Meg?" Audrey asked.
"Yes, Meg, as in Bill's wife. It was close enough to owning a dog. I mean, I had to feed Finch and walk him, or ask Meg to do it. I practically owned that dog," I defended my poor example of pet ownership.
Nathan snorted, clearly not believing my assertions. Audrey had the question in her eyes and I knew what she was going to ask. "Why did you ask Meg to walk the dog you didn't own?"
Yep, there it was. I gave the answer I gave Bill that got me the black eye and left him with a sprained wrist. "Audrey, you may have noticed, I admire the female form. Hate to see the ladies go, love to see them leave. And Meg used to jog when she took the dog." I let my grin say the rest. Audrey just rolled her eyes. "Hey, I was like 12. Certain things are very important at 12. Like studying the effects of gravity on the female form."
"You couldn't even care for a dog alone, Duke. I doubt you could even care for a cat," Nathan stated.
"I could care for a cat, I just don't want a cat," I replied.
"I bet you couldn't care for a cat for an entire week, Duke." Nathan speared me with the steely eye.
"What are you willing to put up, Wournos?" I asked.
Nathan thought about it for a while. "Loser has to pay for date night with the winner. And Jess has expensive taste." Nathan grinned.
"You're on." I finished my sandwich.
"Hey, you shouldn't get a cat to win a bet. What happens after the week's up?" Audrey was clearly more concerned for the cat's welfare than mine.
"Audrey, I promise I won't hurt the cat. I return it from where I got it. I mean, it's not like there aren't a bunch of warf cats down at the harbor. I'll just feed one of them for a week."
"Nope, has to live with you in the boat and the boat must have at least one litter box. You must clean the litter box at least once." Nathan actually showed teeth when he smiled this time.
"Fine, I'll just borrow someone's cat. Someone has got to be willing to loan me a cat for a week," I answered. "And I will feed Eleanor's evil beasts, Audrey."
The three of us finished our lunches, and Audrey did indeed love the soup. The officers left, with Audrey passing one concerned glance back at me. Sadly, I thought it was more for my rent-a-cat than for me.
That night I began the epic search for a cat I could live with and get rid of after a week. Nathan must have warned all the cat owners in town because no one would loan me a cat, not even Michelle, the Crazy Cat Lady. She wouldn't entrust one of her precious babies to a man that got a spider plant drunk and then let it fall into the sea.
A day and a half later, I found myself at an inland pet shelter, talking to a frizzy-haired woman about adopting a kitten. The shelter was a quiet, run down affair with vinyl-sided trailers scattered on some public land. The land had once been a wastewater treatment facility and several signs proclaimed the smell was from the contaminated land, and not the shelter activities. I tended to believe it. Though the trailers were worn, they'd been cared for and were in decent repair, much like the frizzy-haired woman.
"Pet ownership is a lifetime commitment, Mr. Crocker. You shouldn't take on owning a pet lightly. Your application indicated that you've never owned a cat before. Do you really know what you are getting into?"
"No ma'am. But I know your shelter allows for 'trial' adoptions. If it doesn't work out." Privately I mused it won't, but she didn't need to know that. "I can always return the cat here until it can find its forever home, right?" This shelter was perfect for my needs. It allowed a one week trial adoption for people that wanted to ensure that the animals could be taken care of and fit with their new owners. If it didn't work out, the animal was returned, and no questions were asked. It would cost me a bit, but that was worth it to have Nathan pay for a date with Audrey and me.
"Well, you've looked over our adoption agreement, and you did come with references. Let me show you around the shelter and see if we can't find you a new friend." The frizzy haired woman picked up the paperwork, including the two references I forged and then had to answer the phone for (it never occurred to me that they would actually call to see if I was a responsible human being). We left the office and moved into the larger "living room / kitchen" area of the shelter. The walls were lined with cages with adult cats looking bored stiff. Well, actually, bored supple. I've never seen a cat actually be all that stiff.
There were all kinds of cats in that room, as well as another younger woman who was attempting to mop the floor. Her efforts were being hampered by an energetic black and orange cat that chased after the mop. "Looks like it's black tie season again, we're full of tuxes this month," the younger woman called to the frizzy haired woman.
Frizzy just nodded. "Yes, last month they were all tabbies, this month tuxes. Next month I predict a crop of solid blacks."
I looked at her quizzically. She shrugged and told me "It seems like the cats come in color waves. Currently we have a lot of black and white cats, last month we had a lot of gray and brown tiger tabbies. I've never figured out why. But we cycle through the different coat colors regularly. I hate black and white waves, though, because no one ever seems to want to adopt a black and white cat."
I looked around the room again and did notice that about every third cat was a black and white cat of some sort. The cats ignored me, regardless of their color. I thought it would be cruel to take one of them home, and then turn it back in to this life behind bars. Still, they might enjoy the vacation.
As I was musing on this, Frizzy came up behind me. "If you don't see any of them here that are calling to you, we can always take a look at the kitten room."
"Sure, I'd love to see the kittens."
Together we walked down a short hallway to what must have been a room easily ¼ the size of the whole trailer. It was painted with a landscape with butterflies and trees to the ceiling. In the room itself was a small bank of cages, all of which had the doors open, and several cat trees along the back wall. There was also ramps and shelving along the walls and small colorful dust motes zooming around the room.
"Watch your feet and make sure the kittens don't get out. I'll leave you alone in here. Knock on the door when you're ready." Frizzy opened the door and motioned me to go through quickly to prevent kittens from escaping.
As I stood in the center of what was chaos cubed, I noticed the surfeit of black and white kittens. Some mostly black, some mostly white, all moving at high velocity as though they were training to become Olympic sprinters. A few of the older ones were sitting on the shelving batting at ribbons or small furry mice. Others were lounging in the cat trees.
I knelt down as a kitten bounced off my shin and skittered away. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." Not a single kitten wandered over to inspect me. In the corner a melee had broken out by a food dish, and someone ended up in the water bowl. I walked over and plucked the kitten out of the water dish. Water was all over the floor from the kitten's accidental immersion.
I placed it on a cat tree, away from the water and found a roll of paper towels to wipe up the water with. As I bent down to clean up the water, I felt three kittens use me as a springboard into the cages. One of them had their claws out.
So far in less than two minutes in a room full of ten kittens I'd been assaulted twice. Four times if you count that three kittens ran across my back. I was beginning to wonder if the bet was worth it, and then I remembered Audrey walking into the Gull that day for lunch. Oh yeah, it was worth it.
I thought about it a while longer. The kittens had their own room, and were apparently free to run around. I doubted I would emotionally scar a kitten that was living the free range lifestyle, although if another one tore up my arm, I might physically scar it. Assault Kitten #3 or #5, depending on the count, decided I was an on-ramp on the cat highway to hell and ran up my arm with claws out. I could definitely borrow a kitten for a week and return it without feeling guilty when I was putting it back into a cage. We had a workable plan here.
Now to select said furball. I decided assault team alpha was out, and that any kitten that could be identified as clawing me would not be going on a week's vacation. I thought about taking in one of the black and whites, and then thought how disappointed Frizzy would be that the black and white hadn't gotten adopted. She'd guilt me about it and I didn't need any more guilt. Audrey was already in my head guilting me about this whole situation. The other thing was that assault team alpha seemed to be members of the black and white contingent.
That left four choices. One was a gray and white, one was pure white with gold eyes, one was orange, and one was a brown and white tiger kitten. I studied my four potential roommates. The gray and white was zooming around and paid no attention to me. It was chasing a rolling ball with a bell that was jingling merrily. One of the other cats tried to steal it away and she growled and picked up her ball and ran off. I thought about it and decided that if she was an avid jingle bell chaser it just wasn't going to work between us. I slept as lightly as, well, a cat, and didn't want to be woken up by a cat toy in the middle of the night.
White and gold looked at me and hissed when I went to pet it. It promptly scampered off into some cat cube on the floor. I guess I didn't meet that one's specifications. That left me with Orange and Tabby. Tabby was wrapped around one of the black and white kittens. Everywhere the black and white one went, the tabby went with it, as though it was connected at the tail. I couldn't separate friends like that. I guess that meant that the orange kitten would be my new roommate. The orange one was still damp from it's dunking in the water dish earlier. I walked over and picked it up. It purred happily at me, dripping water on my hand.
Having chosen my temporary roommate, I knocked on the door. Frizzy came out, saw the kitten in my hand, and raised her eyebrows. "Put him down and we'll discuss the final paperwork." I deposited the kitten back on a cat tree and made my way out of the room. Three kittens slammed into the door as I closed it, their attempt at the great escape thwarted. It didn't seem to bother them. They just continued making laps around the room.
Frizzy looked at them affectionately and muttered something that sounded like NASCAT. I could see the similarity - nearly identical racing machines going around in circles. I sat down at the table and Frizzy and Mop Girl pulled up chairs. There was no paperwork in sight.
"Mr. Crocker, are you sure you want Butternut? He's not really … a first time cat owner kitten." Frizzy looked concerned.
"Why, is he sick or something? Special needs kitty?" I asked. I'd heard of cats having diabetes and other diseases. If the cat required insulin twice a day, that could have been a problem.
Mop Girl chewed her lip. "No, nothing like that." She paused and looked at Frizzy. I wondered if she wanted this "Butternut" for herself. "You see, well," She paused a moment before continuing. "He's orange."
"I'm sorry, I'm confused." I didn't see what coat color had to do with anything.
Frizzy and Mop Girl exchanged knowing glances. "Orange cats are different. They aren't like your typical cat. I mean, your basic tabby cat is a normal cat. White cats can be a little psycho, Torties and calicos are very independent, but orange cats? Well, orange cats… they are just," Mop Girl shrugged, at a loss for words, then said finally, "orange."
Frizzy tried to explain. "Mr. Crocker, have you ever noticed how frequently that orange cats are used in TV? Morris, the cat from Alien, The Cat from Outer Space, Milo and Otis, even in cartoons, you have Garfield, Heathcliff and Puss-In-Boots, all of them orange. I don't think it's because they show up well. I think it's because some how being orange makes them different. Orange cats are just...more. They are like cats, but extra concentrated. All the best and worst traits magnified."
Mop Girl added, "Orange isn't just a color for cats. Orange is a lifestyle."
Ooooooooooookay. Crazy table for two. No wonder they called them Crazy Cat Ladies.
I turned on my best charming voice and assured the ladies that Butternut and I would be OK. I failed to mention even if we weren't, the end would be the same. The cat had a one-week vacation from cat jail and I had dinner with Audrey on Nathan's dime. Within the hour, Butternut was packaged up in a cardboard box, I was handed a supply of kitten food and toys, as well as a cat bed, and we were beginning the hour long drive back into the coast and Haven.
We arrived back at Gerty at roughly 7PM. On the way home I had stopped at one of the local pet stores to grab a cat box and litter. This damn bet was getting expensive. I was beginning to think that Audrey and I would have to go down the Boston and in addition to dinner, Nathan was going to have to pay for Gerty's diesel fuel.
I made a quick call to Audrey and Nathan to come over and confirm the presence Butternut in my life. They showed up about an hour later, while Butternut was inspecting his new realm. He'd wandered around my stateroom and found his cat box in the bathroom and used it appropriately after attempting to dig to China first. Eventually he made his home on my couch, and curled up to nap.
I stood over my new roommate and contemplated him. Butternut really wasn't that great a name. I mean, really, who names a cat after squash? It seemed like bad luck. And being a sailor, I felt the need to avoid bad luck whenever I could. I didn't want Butternut squashed on my watch. I'd already realized that the cat would have to be contained inside my living quarters on ship. He was small enough he could slip through the scuppers and fall overboard. The death of a plant I could live with. I was honor-bound to protect my temporary roommate to the best of my ability. I didn't even want to consider what would happen if the kitten got into the engine room.
I was in the middle of trying out new names for Butternut when Audrey arrived. She let herself in as she always did. "So Duke, this is your hostage?"
"He's not a hostage, he's my guest for the next week. His name, today, is Butternut. And we were just discussing if he would like to keep that or change it to something more suitable."
"Like what, Aslan? Simba?" She took another look at the kitten, who was ignoring all of us. "Clarence?"
"The cat's not cross-eyed." I glared at her, annoyed. "And he hasn't responded to Oranye, Sunkist, Crush, or Sol."
"Soul? Why would you name a cat Soul?" Audrey looked at me quizzically.
"S-O-L. As in the Sun. He also doesn't respond to Apollo."
A dry male voice let me know Nathan had arrived. "It's a cat. Cat's don't respond to anything if they don't feel like it."
Nathan the cat expert wandered around my couch to see Gerty's newest passenger. He reached down one long finger and traced from the kitten's nose to its tail. The kitten woke up, stretched luxuriously, first the front end and then the back end. Having completed his warm up, the kitten currently still known as Butternut sat primly and licked down ruffled fur on his chest.
Nathan reached out his finger again, and the kitten snaked around his head and bit Nathan firmly. Nathan, somewhat shocked by having a kitten firmly affix itself to his finger, tried to retract his digit only to find that the kitten came with it. I knew I liked this kitten for a reason. I reached out and held on to my roommate while Nathan extracted his finger from the kitten.
Audrey laughed. "Have you considered renaming it Jaws?"
"Nah, that didn't end well for the shark. Or for the Bond Villain." I shrugged. "He can be Butternut, but it seems like such a goofy name for the kitten. But at the end of the week he goes back to his shelter." The object of our discussion decided to leap off the couch and retreat to my bed, disdaining all of our company.
Nathan did his irritating eyebrow raising maneuver he knows I hate, thus proceeds to do whenever I am around. "How did you manage to rent a cat for a week?"
I gave Nathan my best shit eating grin, the one I know drives him as crazy as the eyebrow thing does to me. "Well, turns out this animal shelter down south will allow you a one week trial period to determine if you and your new animal companion are a suitable match. I'm merely availing myself of their policy to settle our bet."
Nathan glared at me, and I returned the glare in kind. Audrey, using her amazing FBI observational skills, sensed the imminent fight and chimed in. "Remember that I need you to feed and water Eleanor's cats on Saturday and Sunday."
I broke off the glaring competition with Nathan to turn and look at her. The rules said that no one lost or won if the competition was interrupted by an outside party. "I remember, Audrey. I promised I'd feel the evil twins, and I will. Just leave me Eleanor's key so I can get in the door." I shot a quick glare at Nathan. "I wouldn't want to be arrested for breaking and entering. It wouldn't look good on my resume."
"Hmmm... I can see it now. 'Haven's Pirate King Caught! Cat's instrumental in capture!' Vince and Dave would love it." Nathan quirked his lips into his smarmy grin.
The pair eventually took their leave. I checked to ensure the kitten was still in the living quarters and retired for the evening.
Kitten Day One
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Something was tapping at my nose. I tried to wave it off. It stopped tapping briefly, and then the tapping resumed about three minutes later. For the life of me I couldn't place what I had drunk the previous night that would have caused me to bring home a woman that would have fixated on my nose.
The tapping abruptly stopped, and then something ran across my face. That was enough to garner my complete attention. I sat bolt upright in bed. This apparently was a challenge that could not be ignored. Suddenly an orange blur came flying back over my bed and up my arm to land on my head. I reached up and disentangled Butternut from my hair.
"What is wrong with you, cat. It's four in the MORNING!"
Butternut chirped at me unrepentantly. He squirmed to get out of my hands, and hopped onto my legs. I moved my left foot, and suddenly the kitten attacked it. It was a good thing there was a thick blanket between my foot and his teeth. I picked the orange kitten up off my foot. Deciding my hand was much more dangerous to him than my foot, he reached around my wrist and rabbit kicked my palm while biting my wrist. Oddly enough, for all his ferocity, he was playing nicely. Claws were sheathed, and the rabbit kicks weren't actually drawing any blood. The bites were indenting my skin, but not breaking it.
"Velcro?" The kitten still ignored me. I tried to unlatch the kitten from my right hand to have it latch on to my left hand. I picked my hand up, expecting the kitten to drop onto the mattress when it was no longer supported. Instead it just clung tighter and purred furiously. I got out of bed, being careful of my furry wrist guard, and looked around for something to distract it so that I could go back to bed. I remembered the bag of kitten supplies by the couch. I carefully cradled my attacker and walked over by the couch. After a few moments I found a catnip mouse. I dangled it in front of the kitten, and it ignored it completely.
I dug some more. There was a spider with bells at the ends of the legs. The jingling bells cast a spell on the kitten and it immediately zoomed over to the spider. It was love at first jingle. There was a merry symphony of bells and as they sounded farther away then my initial toss, I decided it was safe to go back to bed.
I slid between the covers and prepared to go back to sleep. Just as I was slipping back into a pleasant dream that featured the US gymnastic team and trapezes, something very wet and furry was dropped on my face. It sang a song of cheap brass bells. I opened my eyes to a purple fuzzy spider with multicolored legs that had literally arrived with bells on. When I removed the arachnid from hell, I saw an orange face and heard Gerty's engine roaring. After a moment I realized that it it was Butternut purring. Immediately after I came to this realization, Butternut got up and butted my nose with the top of his head.
This cat was not normal.
I flung the spider and Butternut peeled out after it. There was a few moments of fierce jingling, and then it went silent. The silence stretched out and then there was a soft whisper of noise as the purple spider was returned to me. I tossed the spider to the foot of the bed and the kitten seemingly levitated to the foot of the bed and landed on it. After a few moments, the spider was killed for the third time and placed gently on my lap.
I groaned and flopped back into the bed. The stupid cat was playing FETCH at four in the FREAKING MORNING! I resigned myself to getting no more sleep this day and got out of bed for real. Getting dressed was interesting when I pulled up my pants and found a kitten dangling from my hip. I plucked it off and went into the kitchen and found bread to toast.
After I buttered the toast, the kitten decided to make itself useful by cleaning the knife with its tongue. After picking the kitten off my table three times, I surrendered the territory. At 7AM the kitten fell asleep. Unfortunately, I had a long day at the Gull scheduled, and a few deliveries to make. It could sleep for the rest of the day, but I couldn't. Despite all appearances to the contrary and whatever Audrey and Nathan might think, I actually worked.
Yesterday I had called Michelle to ask about 4AM wake up calls. I was not reassured when she laughed and told me "Wow, he let you sleep late!" Thus it was no surprise that here I was at 3:30 in the morning with Satan incarnate bouncing around on my bed. Michelle had told me yesterday that kittens love to be up at the predawn hours and generally raced around like mad. They stopped at about six months, she assured me.
I gave up any pretense at sleeping and decided to get up. I was nearly killed before I made it more than three feet from my bed.
Last night in an attempt to prevent the feline alarm clock from going off, I had played with a feathered wand toy that Butternut had chased back and forth and back and forth with mindless intensity. At one point I was whipping the toy around in circles and the kitten was growling at it and leaping. It was kind of cute, but he was definitely the exception that proved the rule. He would leap in the air flying several times his height. However, he could not land on his feet to save his soul. His hips, his head, his chest, anywhere but his feet. He didn't seem to mind at all. He also liked to skitter across the floor for no reason whatsoever that I could tell. I guess he just liked sliding on the floor.
Butter-nutcase must have decided to play fetch this morning before I even woke up. He had left his feather toy near the bed and I nearly broke an ankle when I stepped on it and it tripped on the string. As I recovered I was thinking that it was once again 4AM, and I was living on Kitten Time as I was becoming to call it. I kept reminding myself that I only had five more days of this before I returned the Chaos Kitten to the shelter.
Butternut burped and bounced around. Thankfully I had bought a laser pointer at one of the shops in town. The orange menace chased after the pointer dot and left me in peace. Except that I had to keep the button pressed and run it along the floor. After several minutes of this, the kitten collapsed, panting, on the bed. I took the opportunity to get in a 30 minute nap before he decided it was time to get me up again. It was kind of like having a snooze alarm that fought back.
I got up and went about my day. It was already a very long week because of my furry alarm clock and the odd dreams that had been plaguing me the whole time. Audrey and Nathan stopped by briefly, but ended up being called away to deal with two fishwives fighting in the street. Stoney had wanted to meet about a delivery and that had taken up too much of my time, and nearly caused me to miss a pickup. I got there just in time and we got out just in time to miss the cops. It was not one of my better days. Audrey then called me to remind me again about caring for Eleanor's cats because she was leaving to head down to Boston tomorrow.
As I walked up to the dock I saw an orange face looking out a porthole at me. He was getting nose prints on the glass. I opened the door and the kitten slipped out and ran over the deck. It then tried to skid to a halt but failed. He went right out the scupper. There was a splash.
I ran over to the side and dove into the water. The salt stung my eyes as I looked frantically for a little limp body. I wondered how one does CPR on a cat. I wondered if Nathan would notice if I got a different orange kitten and played it off as Butternut.
I ran out of air and surfaced. I was about to dive again when I saw a little sopping wet body on the waves. I swam over to it and as I got closer, I could see that the kitten wasn't dead. It was swimming. A giant knot untied itself from around my heart. I grabbed my brined kitten and climbed up on the dock. I placed it down, and it got up, shook itself off, and then sharpened his claws on the wood. After he straightened himself out, he walked over to the edge and put his forepaws down on the pylon. The idiot was about to jump back into the water!
I quickly grabbed my kitten and brought him inside. "Listen you crazy furball, don't do that again. I don't want to go swimming. You don't want to go swimming. You are a cat. You don't like water."
Butternut completely ignored me. I grabbed a hand towel and dried him off. It left him with spiky hair and a punk look. I set the kitten down on the table in a nest of blankets on the table he took possession of the previous day and went to fix my dinner and his. His was easier - a cup of kitten food in a bowl. I had a salad.
I put the stopper in the sink and filled it with water, preparing to do the dishes from dinner and a few nights previous. While I had my back turned to grab another towel to dry the dishes, Butternut jumped from the table to the counter. The cat-astrophe then jumped into the sink full of water and attempted to drink from the running faucet. He purred madly all the while, and when I turned off the water, the stupid thing paddled around in circles in my sink. I pulled him out. He jumped back in. I pulled him out again and again he jumped back in. And that is how the kitten conquered my sink. I was losing territory quickly.
I was ok with the kitten waking me up again on the third day of our arrangement. I wondered what was causing the repeated dreams that featured Lucy, Nathan, and my mother all trying to do me in, in various ways. The winner for the day was the one where Nathan tried to choke me to death. I woke up with an orange glob on my mouth. This put a whole new spin on having a furry tongue. To bad there hadn't been alcohol to go with it.
I got out of bed and got into the shower. The kitten got into the shower with me. I began to suspect that my aquanaut put himself into that water bowl on the day I picked him up. He continued to seek out water. I had a cat that thought he was a Labrador. And he was more active and demanding than Finch had been.
This morning I had awoken to every toy the kitten had placed around me in the bed. I felt like a shrine. The previous night he had demanded I play fetch with him and his spider until well past midnight.
I wanted to see Audrey but I didn't want to see Nathan. I weighed the options and eventually decided to bring some of Rosemary's pastries over to Audrey and not share them with Nathan. I bought some bear claws and arrived at the station at around 11AM. I wandered into the office the two shared and handed the bag to Audrey. I tried very hard to ignore Nathan. Nathan tried very hard to ignore me.
"Hey Audrey, these are to remind you that nothing in Boston has anything on Rosemary's. I know, I'll look in on Eleanor's beasts over the weekend. You don't need to remind me." I smiled at her.
"Thanks, Duke!" She smiled at me and eagerly opened up the wrapping to reveal the pastries. She bit into one and smiled. For a moment she chewed rapidly and then swallowed. "I may be able to take care of it. I think I may have to put going to Boston off."
"Why?" I asked, she seemed very intent on closing out her affairs in Boston while she was living in Haven. "World need saving, Officer Agent Parker?"
"Just our little piece of it. We've had three people die in their sleep this week. All between 18 and 45. No medical history of heart problems. Way too old for SIDS. No links between any of them." She got that cute puzzled look on her face as she considered the case.
Nathan sighed. "Some times people just die, Audrey."
"Not in this town, they don't," she replied.
"Audrey, there's no reason not to go down to Boston this weekend. I'm sure that it's an unfortunate coincidence." Nathan leaned up against the edge of his desk.
I thought that she would continue to protest her need to be present but the Chief walked in. "Audrey, get the hell out of Haven and let my son do his job for once. I'm tired of him sitting there making moon eyes at you. And when he's not making moon eyes he's talking to you. Yap, yap, yap. That's all I hear. I want peace and quiet. If I have to run you out on a rail, I will." Garland paused. "I'm not kidding either. The Downeaster train runs right through the next town over. I'll put you on that train so fast your head would spin."
"Chief..." Audrey started but got no further.
"I don't want to hear it, Audrey. You're going one way or the other. You need to take care of your business. There's nothing here that can't keep for a couple days." Garland face told me he would not be moved on this. I wondered how long Audrey would continue to bash herself against the rock that was Garland being stubborn. Garland could out stubborn a continent when he put his mind to it. It was a foregone conclusion that Audrey would go. She just hadn't gotten there yet. I decided to bow out of the scheduled fight.
"I will check on the cats, Audrey. I will see you on Monday." I waved at the happy trio and left before the decibels could get high enough to damage my hearing.
Two deliveries and a shift as a bar tender at the Gull later I finally made it back home to my kitten. This time I came prepared. I had a piece of plywood that I used to barricade the short hall caused by the windbreak that kept the sea out of my home when it got rough. I opened the door and stuck my foot through. When I felt Butterbrains bounce off my shin, I used the kitten's temporary setback to open the door wider and slip through and shut the door before he could run out and repeat yesterday's performance. This time he was successfully contained.
"Got you this time, Cheezey-Pouf!" I crowed. The kitten continued to ignore me.
That night I was feeling pretty good about my pet ownership abilities. That was until I stepped into the puddle of vomit on the kitchen floor with my bare foot.
The kitten lived through the night and showed no other signs of illness. But he slept all the way to 5AM. I was worried, and I thought it wise to take him to the vet. I didn't want to return my rent-a-cat in a condition worse than what I got it. I packaged my kitten up into his carrier and took him to Doc Cyrus.
By the time we got to Cyrus' office the kitten had chewed through the side of the carrier and was running freely around the dash board. "Toonces, get down!"
That cat continued to ignore me while it stared out the windshield. When we pulled into the parking lot, I grabbed the kitten in both hands and took it into the office area.
When I got to the reception desk, I was promptly yelled at for transporting my pet without adequate safety equipment. I returned that the damned kitten had eaten its carrier. I didn't get any sympathy from the woman behind the counter. She told me that she couldn't let me leave with the cat unsecured. I then had to pay for a new carrier. Nathan would definitely be paying for fuel to get down to Boston for my date with Audrey.
As she expertly stuffed my cat into a carrier that would hopefully last longer than 39 minutes, she began asking me questions about me and the cat. When she asked for his name I paused. I didn't want his official vet name to be Butternut. Not when he might be sick. It would be a shame to die a Butternut squash. An alternative presented itself and my mouth supplied the answer before my brain could engage. "The cat's PITA."
"You named your cat after an acronym for Pain In The..."
"No. I am just offering a description of what he is. We haven't agreed on a name yet."
The receptionist looked up at me and it was quite clear she felt I shouldn't have a cat. "The doctor will be with you in a few moments Mr. Crocker." She turned away and spoke to one of the vet techs as I took a seat in the waiting area. As I heard portions of the whispered conversation the words plant, drunk, and careless could be discerned. Was there any one that didn't know that story?
I only had to sit with my source of embarrassment for a few moments before the doctor called me into the small waiting room. I opened the cat carrier and the orange wonder popped out of the carrier much more easily than he went in. This time the vet caught him before he could leap off the table and try to escape.
"Genetic memory. All cats hate the vet." Cyrus was an older man with black hair and a grizzled look. He handled Butternut gently but firmly, quelling the squirming long enough to examine the cat and ensure it had all of his vital parts, although a few parts the kitten probably considered vital had already been removed. There would be no Children of Butternut.
I handed him the paperwork from the shelter. The vet read the gibberish and then said "He's been neutered, and had all his shots. Seems like he's healthy."
I sighed and ran my hand through his hair. "He vomited last night. Didn't seem to act any differently, but he slept late. But still, I thought it would be safer to have him seen."
"What does he eat?" the doctor asked me.
"Uh, kitten food?"
"What kind of kitten food. Wet food? Dry food? Friskies? Science Diet?"
"He gets served a bowl of dry kitten food, uh," I took a moment to try and see the label on the bag I got from the shelter. "Science Diet, I think. The shelter supplied it."
"He have any problem with the litter box?"
"He hasn't gone out side the litter box, if that's what you mean," I answered.
The doctor shook his head and I was left feeling like he thought I was a complete idiot. He began to speak slowly.
"Has the kitten had any loose stools? Any other vomiting episodes?"
I didn't want to admit I hadn't looked at the cat box. "No, I don't think so."
"When he eats, does he do it really fast?"
"Yeah, he gulps food like he doesn't expect to see it again." It had astounded me how fast this cat could eat. I assumed it was because he had to share with so many others in the shelter. Made me feel a little bad about turning him back in.
"You need to get him a golf ball," Cyrus delivered this line with finality.
"I'm sorry?' I failed to see how a golf ball would help my cat. It's not like he could eat it. The cat would not be able to even open his mouth wide enough to eat a golf ball. I wondered if the vet was a quack.
"You put the golf ball in a small dish and put the food around the golf ball. The kitten has to slow down to eat around the golf ball, so that he doesn't gulp food so fast. He doesn't swallow so much air, and doesn't vomit."
"So he's OK?" I asked.
"He's OK," the vet replied.
The kitten kept trying to dive headlong off the examination table, and the vet hefted up the kitten and whistled. "He's going to be a big boy when he's grown. He'll be a right proper Maine Coon."
There was no way to word the question I wanted to ask without being rude. However the question (and embarrassment) must have been clear on my face. The doctor laughed. "I'm not being racist. Maine's state cat is the Maine Coon Cat. They are big cats that can reach 20 pounds or more, and this boy shows a lot of promise for size. His feet are gigantic. You can tell he's a real Maine coon too... Look, his back end is higher than his front end, and he's got the tufted ears and paws. Nice square head too. Lots of people label long haired kittens Maine coons. Most of them aren't."
"Why are they called coons?"
"Look at his tail. It's striped like a raccoon. Originally people thought the cats interbred with raccoons because they are big and have ring tails."
I looked, and sure enough the tail was ringed. Butternut squirmed away from both of us and finally dove off the table. He started doing laps and I caught him on the third round. Rather he caught me when he decided to climb up my legs and alight on my shoulder. Doc Cyrus caught the kitten and stuffed him in the box, then bid me a good day.
I was in and out of the vet's office in less than 15 minutes. The orange one's problems had an odd solution, but I was willing to work with it. I made a quick stop in town to grab a pack of golf balls and resolved to try to see if that helped. At dinner that night he certainly was forced to slow down as he rolled the ball around in his dish. We finished our meal together.
After dinner I broke a beer out of the fridge and sat down on the couch after filling the sink for the cat to swim in. I balanced the beer on the arm of the couch while I read. Before too long a moist hairball jumped on the arm, and knocked my beer over. I missed the bottle by inches and it clattered to the floor. Fortunately there wasn't much fluid left. What little there was had formed a puddle. When I got up to get a towel to clean it up, I came back to find Butternut drinking my beer. I could now confidently state that the kitten was a beer swilling, water-loving, fetch playing member of the feline race. I didn't know cats drank beer. At least he had good taste. He wasn't too drunk to chase laser lights that night, and after a while we both eventually collapsed into bed.
Of course, that was when I realized I forgot to feed and water Eleanor's cats. I suppose the fact that I got it done before midnight meant that I technically did feed and water them that day.
I came out of Eleanor's house to the very bright lights of a police cruiser in her drive way. Nathan only said he heard there was a prowler in the area. I didn't think he was talking about Eleanor's cats...
On the fifth day of nightmares it was the yakuza that was trying to beat me to a bloody pulp. Oddly enough, one of the tigers on the leader's arm tattoos detached itself and started to claw off my assailants' faces. I wondered what all these odd dreams meant. Maybe I was subconsciously feeling guilty about adopting the cat only to return it. He was kind of cute. Still, my life didn't loan itself to pet ownership. Butternut was better off with out me.
This morning His High Orange-ness went off at 4AM like normal. Yesterday must have been a fluke. At 8 in the morning I found myself at Eleanor's door again, even though I left less than 8 hours before. I went over and freshened up the food dish and refilled the water dish.
Eleanor's cats tried to kill me when I went down the stairs to bring up a new bag of cat food to refill the empty feeders. It never failed. Every time I went up the stairs in Eleanor's house, one of her cats tried to trip me on the stairs. I think they were upset at me for some reason. However, they'd been planning my murder for most of their lives, and hadn't succeeded today anymore than any of their other assassination attempts.
Still, when I bent down to pet Peacemaker, he bit me hard enough to draw blood. This set off Ghandi who ran to defend his brother and subsequently knocked over the food dish and sprayed food everywhere. I then had to sweep Eleanor's floor. Whatever Butternut's new name would be, it would not named after a wish for peace. That seemed to offend a cat's soul, if these two were any examples.
It was with a pang that I realized that Butternut was running out of time for a new name. Soon he would be Butternut at the shelter. I pushed the thought aside. I returned home and went to search for the squashling. I couldn't find him anywhere. I tore through Gerty looking high and low. I ripped apart my bedroom, my galley, my bathroom. I turned on the water in the sink to see if that would entice the kitten out from wherever he was hiding. He didn't come.
Having exhaustively searched my state room, I expanded into the other areas of the ship. I found a catnip mouse in the chart room, but not my kitten. I went into the engine room and called, but there was now growling purr from the kitten or Gerty's engines. From the engine room I advanced to the holds but there was no cheerful chirps to great me anywhere. At last I came to the deck and could find no trace of my cat. I hoped he hadn't gotten out when I left to feel Eleanor's cats. Swimming in the sink was nothing compared to the sea.
As I was running my hands through my hair after ascertaining that Butternut had not snuck into my truck and was not hiding in the truck's bed, Nathan rolled up in his ancient bronco. He got out and smirked at me. "I don't think Audrey intended you to feed the cats twice in less than 8 hours."
"Yeah, well, I had to take the cat to the vet. He threw up the night before yesterday morning. Then I had to work, and then I went to bed and remembered I needed to feed Eleanor's cats, so went over to feed them. I wanted to get it out of the way this morning." I really wished Nathan would leave so I could continue to look for Butternut.
"Have you remembered that you need to clean the cat box yet?" Nathan asked me.
"What? No. Now go away and go torment someone with a parking ticket or something." I looked at Nathan, confused and still was trying to catalog where my cat may have gone. Please let it not be into the sea.
Nathan obligingly brought out a little pad and wrote me a ticket. I have no idea what for, and I really didn't care. I wanted my cat. I wanted Nathan gone. Ten bucks and five minutes of harassment were a small price to pay if he would leave me alone to find my furball.
"You aren't in the parking lines. Here, have a ticket, on the house. Now I want to actively see you clean the cat box." He grinned.
I realized that it would be faster overall to just clean the damn box in front of him so that he would leave and I could go back looking for my cat. We boarded Gerty and I surreptitiously looked around for my missing roommate. Nathan noticed.
"Where is the cat, Duke?" he asked.
"Sleeping somewhere." I turned my back to him and headed to my bathroom. The box was there. It was tucked under the sink. There was a small pile of cat litter around it, proof that cats do not wipe their feet before exiting. I'd stepped on enough cat litter in the past few days to find out it was surprisingly sharp.
I picked up the box and was almost gagging. I put it back down again and stepped away. I wondered if I could throw it out and just by a new one.
"No, you must clean the cat box, not replace the cat box." Nathan could clearly read my mind on this matter. This is why he came over. I don't hate him, but I do really, really, really dislike him sometimes.
I paused and realized that perhaps it would be better to bring a trash bag to the box rather than pick up the box carry it (and its stench) through my living quarters, and then dump it into the bag. I walked out the galley and grabbed a couple of trash bags. I came back and the bags opened with a satisfying SWACK as I waved them through the air. I took the open bag and put the litter box in it. Nathan made a disapproving noise.
"I'm not done yet, Wournos."
I picked up a second bag, and opened it, and scooped up the other bag with the litter box in it, creating a pill like shape. I flipped the whole mess over and banged on the back of the box. Then gripping the box with the second plastic bag, I lifted the contents up and did my best to keep everything in the bags. Then I removed the box and slid it back under the sink. I used the second bag to wrap up the first bag. Tossing the bag in the corner, I grabbed the litter bag and added more litter into the box.
"Tah-Dah!" I stood back with a flourish only to hear a scream that chilled my blood. I quickly danced around, and saw an orange streak head straight for Nathan. Butternut ran straight up Nathan and landed on his head. He gave a war scream and began slapping Nathan in the face.
I was so happy to see my kitten. He was home and safe. He was also beating up Nathan. Some part of me thought that I should really stop him, but the rest of me was laughing hysterically. I must have stepped on him when I stepped back, and Butternut must have decided that Nathan made me do it. Which in a way, he did. I had been intending to hold off on cleaning the cat box as long as possible and I'd already hung three car air fresheners off my sink just to try to cover the smell.
Nathan was trying to remove his impromptu hat, but it was actively fighting back. I calmed down when I realized that there were scratch marks distressingly near Nathan's eyes.
I pulled Butternut off of Nathan's head and cradled him to my chest, telling him he was a good cat. I felt down his limbs and tail and everything seemed to be attached and it was still straight or bendy as nature dictated, and there were no extra bends or straight bits. He was ok, I reassured myself and Butternut.
By the time I was done convincing myself that my kitten was in one piece and really in my arms, Nathan had grabbed my towel and wiped the blood off of his face. He stomped out of my bathroom.
I followed him out, still holding Butternut. "Sorry Nathan, I had no idea he was there. He's been missing a good chunk of the day. I thought he was gone." I looked down at yellow green eyes and ran my fingers through his soft fur.
Nathan stopped and looked at me. We'd reached the galley where the stairs went up and out to the deck. He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it. He stared at the wall as if to sear the paint off of it for a moment. "Next time you lose your cat, don't expect me to find it for you."
His shoe rustled a trash bag that I had dropped earlier. Butternut jumped out of my arms and dashed to beat on the plastic bag. However, when he realized it was Nathan that had rustled the bag he arched his back and began to spit and hiss at our arch rival. Nathan rolled his eyes and gingerly stepped over the orange dust mote, then took his leave.
I walked over to Butternut. He stopped attacking innocent trash bags and ran over to me. He purred. "Good boy, Hell-Raiser." My kitten ran off to kill his spider.
I got a half-hour's grace on the 6th day of my cat ownership. Butternut waited until 4:30 to wake me up. I considered my soon to be former roommate who this morning had brought me his spider, freshly killed for the 400th time. We played fetch for a while and then when he settled down to sleep the day away, I got up to start mine. I took a shower and Butternut only stopped in briefly this morning, barely getting his fur misted. He then took his damp body off to my pillow, which he was in the process of claiming by surrounding it with a protective coating of orange hair.
After I got dressed, I walked over and petted my cat. As I was petting him, he started up his engine and purred mightily. I took a quick video of him with my phone. Pretty soon it would be all that I would have of him. I was going to miss the little bugger, but still, he deserved a better life that living on Gerty with me.
I got up and looked at his paperwork to see if they had hours. Sure enough I could drop him back off tomorrow evening during open hours. He opened an eye lazily at me when he heard the paper rustle, but the returned to his pursuit of kitten dreams. His purr eventually stuttered out as he fell deeply asleep.
The day was long and I resented having to go to the Gull. It seemed as if the restaurant was slowly eating all my time. I was there almost every day, and it was wearing thin on my nerves. There was always something to fix, something that demanded my attention. I'd found an office manager a couple of weeks ago when it became obvious that I was getting in over my head. I could fix things up fine, but do bookkeeping in such a way as to be comprehensible to auditors? Good lord, it was hard to remember to write every thing down. Really, why did the government really need to know about the take for the week? Still, I had to do it right. Bill had given me the restaurant, saying it was the closest he could come to keeping it in the family. I couldn't let him down. Having friends, unfortunately, meant having responsibilities to them. Friends could be such a pain in the ass.
Much like pets.
Margie, my new office manager, yelled at me from the second floor balcony that someone wanted to see me. The woman could do my books, but she really needed to work on her people skills. She threw me out of my own office after her second day on the job. Still, she'd given me some freedom from the Gull and I tried to be gracious with her other idiosyncrasies. She seemed to believe I was some sort of wayward child she had to keep track of while keeping me out of her skirts. It didn't help that she was old enough to be my mother, or that I'd never wanted to be in her skirts in the first place. We now had firmly divided the Gull between us. I handled deliveries, basic maintenance, and the occasional event, and she did the books, ordering, and anything that might have to be tracked for legal reasons. We were ok so long as I kept out of her office and she kept out of my way.
I went into the bar and was surprised to see Eleanor there. She had something wrapped up with a bow on it. Basing on the size and shape, it was a thin book. Eleanor smiled at me with a Cheshire cat grin. "Hello, Duke. I hear you've taken on a passenger. I brought you a housewarming present."
I tried to hide my cringe. I loved Eleanor like an aunt, really I did. Maybe the crazy aunt that embarrassed you each time you saw her, but I did care for her. The woman had seen me through rough times and was, in some part, responsible for my being here now. But her gifts? For one of my birthdays she gave me handcuffs, figuring I should have my own pair to cuff myself since by that time I'd already had several run-ins with the law. For another one she gave me the key to the handcuffs. The two birthdays were three years apart. She'd also given me a jellyfish flashlight when she found out I was going to sea. I don't know where she found this stuff, but I wish this store would close.
I smiled at Eleanor. "I'm glad to see you made it back from the conference. Did you have a good time?"
"Well, you know how it is, everyone's sober on the first day and then by the 4th the doctors are drunk and studying more about reproduction then gastrointestinal issues. Granted, no one really likes to study the gastrointestinal system, not even doctors. But still, it's a nice break." Eleanor smiled wryly back at me. "But to be honest, Duke, it was kinda boring. No quirky deaths to explain, no odd illnesses to diagnose. I'm glad to be home."
That was Eleanor for you. I don't think she wished anyone ill. But if there wasn't a mystery, she was a bit bored. Still, I could let her know that Nathan and Audrey had some unusual deaths on their hands. "Well, Audrey should be back from Boston today. I'm sure she and Nathan would be interested in what you think about a couple of deaths since you left. People have been dying in their sleep. However, I don't know who, just that they seemed young to die that way. Nathan and Audrey weren't particularly willing to share the details with me."
"Hmmm... I'll have to stop by the station and see what the reports say. Sounds interesting." She took a sip of iced tea and stared at me with the patented Doctor Stare. "You Ok there, Duke? You are looking a little peaked." Any minute now she was going to try to talk me into going to the clinic. I decided to head her off at the pass.
"I'm fine, Eleanor. The cat is getting me up at 4AM. I go to bed after midnight. This is Day six." I had to pause to do the math. "I've gotten something like 24 hours of sleep since the damn thing came on board. He's claimed my table, my sink and my pillow. He will not be staying long. Just long enough to win a bet with Nathan."
"Yes, Nathan mentioned that. None the less I thought that this was appropriate." Eleanor handed me the wrapped package and motioned for me to open it.
The bow had a small rabbit fur mouse on the end of it. As I unwrapped it I was expecting something odd. What greeted me was an orange book with smiling cats seemingly floating in air and dripping down a fountain. It was a copy of T. S. Elliot's Book of Practical Cats. I laughed. "Sorry, Eleanor, there is NOTHING practical about this cat." I then went on to describe the antics of the previous few days. She laughed and enjoyed the tales of His Furriness.
We talked for the next two hours, some about the cat, some about Haven's mysteries, and some plain old gossip about our lives and the lives of our friends. I found trouble in the form of learning that Julia Carr was coming back to town, and Eleanor wanted to plan a Welcome to Haven/Thank You/Birthday party for Audrey and was looking for ideas. It was a pleasant way to pass the time, and made me forget I was starting to resent the restaurant.
Two shifts later, I remembered that I did not like Haven or, indeed, many of its residents. I wondered what I would have to do to get away from all of these people and spend my last evening with Butternut. By the time I got home it was already into the 7th day. Our last one together. He didn't choose to answer to Cheshire, Freak, or Catzilla.
It was four in the morning and I woke up before something could be dropped on me. Three seconds later the favored spider was presented to me. I tossed it to the foot of the bed and it was solemnly brought to me. I deliberately scrunched my fingers under the cover and the war growl issued forth and my fingers were soundly trounced under the blankets. We played for maybe fifteen minutes before Butternut settled down by my pillow and started purring.
Being awake, I turned on the light and grabbed Eleanor's book to read. The poems were silly, and I tried a tentative "MacCavity?" Butternut opened and eye and shut it promptly. Growl-Tiger was also refused, though I thought it fitting. Sadly it didn't work out well for Growl-Tiger. Eventually I returned to sleep.
I knew I was dreaming again. I was on the docks watching the sun rise over the water. A sun dog was in the sky. The dock was wet with the rain that had fallen the previous night. It was a peaceful scene, ruined only by the corpse leaning on a old pylon. Usually I saw the Kid's body where it was found, not on my dock. I was mildly curious, but not so much that I needed to go look at the body I'd found when I was a boy.
Unfortunately that body decided it needed to come visit me. I backed down the dock as it twitched and rose to it's feet. The Kid cam closer to me. I backed up. This went on until I reached the end of the dock. Somehow it had lost the landmass that supported it. I was hanging with my heels over the open water and a corpse advancing rapidly at me. It gripped me by the throat and started to choke me. A low, threatening growl vibrated the docks.
A liger walked off Gerty and bounded down the dock towards me. It took me a moment to identify the cat. I'd only seen one once at a Ren Faire in Massachusetts. It was 700 pounds of pissed cat. He was tawny and stripped and about 11 feet long. It didn't take the cat long to reach us. He gave a war scream and then bit into the corpse. The corpse didn't let go. All three of us went into the water.
The corpse kept its death grip on my throat, and things were getting dim. I remembered being told that if you died in a dream you would die in the real world. The liger dove under the waves and bit off the arm. It kept its grip, but without the horror of the rest of the corpse, the arm was a little easier to handle. I grab at the wrist tendons and forced the hand to open. I gasped as I cleared the surface. A few moments behind me, the liger surfaced too. Then the parts of the corpse the liger had dismembered also floated to the surface. I awoke before I saw the ruined face of the Kid again.
Beside me Butternut breathed softly and quietly, with a soft purr once in awhile. Guess he wasn't why I was getting throttled this time. I shrugged of the dream, deciding that it must have been artifacts of reading the poems and reminding Eleanor about the people dying in their sleep. I got up and called Nathan now that it was the much more reasonable hour of nine. When he refused to answer the phone, I called Audrey. She answered on the second ring.
"Are you going to come down here to see that Butternut has survived a whole week with me so that I can take him back to his shelter?" I heard the edge in my voice, and regretted it.
"Yeah, Duke, because Nathan and I have nothing else to do today, but stare at you and your cat. We'll be right over." She wasn't too happy with me either, it seemed.
Within half an hour they were aboard Gerty and had confirmed my kitten's vitality. "Are you keeping him, Duke?" Nathan seemed to be honestly curious about if I would keep my little friend.
"Nah, he has to go find a good home. Things are too strange in Haven for him. He wants to leave. He told me so." The cat had to make a liar out of me by twining around my ankles and purring loudly.
"I don't know, Duke, I think he likes you." Audrey reached down and petted the orange menace.
"Likes me or not, he's going. It's for the best," I answered. I turned around and got the cat carrier out of the closet.
"The best for who, you or him?" Audrey asked. She had an unreadable expression on her face. I wondered what answer she would prefer. I wondered how exactly I entered into the equation. Certainly he'd been good for getting me out of bed in the morning, but that was about it.
"The best for him. The ocean is a mysterious and dangerous place, Audrey. It's better that he get a nice home inland and away from the craziness that is Haven." I smiled at Audrey and scratched the side of my neck.
Audrey snorted. Nathan remained grimly silent. It was wearing on me. "So, Audrey, what are you doing tomorrow night? I have a boat, and Boston is just a little south of here. Nathan has a date to pay for now..."
Nathan made a strangled noise that I assumed would be his disagreement until he realized that I had, in fact, won the bet. It was day seven with the kitten. The kitten and I were still alive. And I had cleaned the litter box, which I probably would have avoided but he had to see my degradation in person.
"Gee, thanks Duke, but I was just in Boston. Sorry." Audrey canted her head, knowing that I would not be put off this easily, and that I would come up with a counter offer.
"Well, I can take you up the coast to a lovely little town in Canada. There's a band I know playing up there that you may like. I can pretty much guarantee that they will not play 'Love Will Keep Us Together.'"
"What he's not telling you is that it will take five to six hours to get there and that much again to get back. I'm thinking he means to take you to Yarmouth or St. John's." Nathan was such a kill joy.
Audrey shook her head no. Bested from the south and north, I decided to try Northeast. "There's always Portland."
That got me the raised eyebrows of almost acceptance. She looked over at Nathan, who glowered at me. Audrey must have taken that as being with in an acceptable distance by boat.
"Why take on the highways and byways when you have the open sea? What do you say, Audrey. I know you haven't been able to get up to Portland. It is Maine's largest city." I gave her my best smile.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Fine, if only to stop you from begging me to go to the Gull with you."
I quietly beamed my success at Nathan, who deflected my beam of happiness with his shield of disapproval. They took their leave shortly thereafter.
I suppose it was a good thing that I had absolutely nothing to do the last day I had with my kitten. I took a couple of pictures of him and a video of his playing, and noticed he'd eaten the corners off the Book of Practical Cats. I guess I would have a way to remember him. Eventually the time came and I had to put him in his box, and drove what seemed like days to get to Butternut's former home, the animal shelter.
Mop Girl was there, and took Butternut back to the kitten room. She seemed sad that it hadn't worked out. I closed my eyes when I heard Butternut crying at the door of the kitten room, and left before I could see him throw himself at the door. It didn't stop me from hearing it though.
That night I was flipping through the book that Butternut so thoughtfully autographed. I found the perfect name for him in that book. I'd never get a chance to see if he'd answer if I called him it. That night I didn't dream, but I didn't sleep past 4AM either.
Day One Without Butternut
The day was slow. I cleaned up the litter box, changed the linens and picked up the cat toys and stuffed them in a closet. I'd forgotten to drop them off at the shelter. By the time that was done, I'd had to leave to make another delivery, and declined to smuggle a person into Canada. I figured that Canada had done nothing so evil as to deserve that piece of filth. I don't deal with rapists.
I did a shift at the Gull, and then stuck around for awhile to see if anyone interesting came in. Bob Cider had finally figured out that his wife's affair was for him, and he felt the need to tell me about the grand time they had the previous evening. Steve came in and asked me if I could get him a couple of real Cuban cigars. Upon hearing my fees, he decided that the regular ones he could get at The Smoke Signal were good enough. Eleanor accused me of sulking, as if I ever sulked.
Audrey got off work at 5, and at 6:30 I went to Over The Way to pick her up. The night was the best kind. It was the height of summer and it was nearly 85 outside, but despite being on the ocean, the humidity was low. I pointed down at the water between the Gerty and the pier. It took Audrey a moment to see them, but when she did she let out an exclamation of surprise. "I didn't know there were jellyfish in New England!"
I laughed and replied "Didn't spend much time down at the wharves in Boston, did you? They are fairly common there. These guys are Moon Jellies and they make wicked snowballs in the middle of summer."
"What?" Audrey looked completely confused at the idea of using a jellyfish as a snowball.
"First, you declare war on someone, particularly someone like Nathan. Then you go find some preferably dead jellyfish. You collect as many moon jellies as you can and then huck them at your enemies. Victory goes to the one with the most ammunition. The thing to be careful about is to grab the moon jellies. There are some stinging jellyfish around here. They are usually bigger though, and have long tendrils."
"Why do I think that there were a lot of dead jellyfish flying through Haven when you were younger?" Audrey chuckled at the question.
"Probably because you know Nathan and me, met Bill and Jeff, and there were a lot of UFOs," I replied, helping her up over the railing.
"Wait, now, UFOs?" She paused, turning slightly to look me in the eyes.
"Object," we both finished.
"Maybe the Troubles are caused by the ghosts of angry moon jellies," Audrey proposed. I just grinned and shrugged.
I unwound the lines and carefully maneuvered Gerty away from the dock. When we got out of the harbor and past the shipping lanes, I opened up the engines. Audrey was a little worried about me not being at the helm but I reminded her there was little chance of me getting lost at sea so close to Haven. If I did, all I had to do was head east and I'd find the shore quickly enough.
Audrey came with me up to the pilot house and I briefly gave her a rundown of how the ship functions, how to call the shore on the radio. She, of course, decided to use the ship-to-shore radio to call Nathan. I just rolled my eyes. She asked how to navigate and I pointed out the GPS, and offered to teach her dead reckoning, but it had to be at a later date.
We got to Portland and I secured Gerty to the slip I had been assigned. We had no set plans, for which I was roundly teased, but instead wandered the waterfront and pedestrian areas of the city. Eventually we found a likely looking restaurant and ordered our meals. Audrey got some shrimp dish, and I got a pasta with white sauce.
"You've been rather quiet this evening, Duke. I was expecting more..." She paused searching for a word for flirting without using flirting itself. I decided to make use of her pause.
"Your own private cruise up the coast of Maine with a private tour guide is not enough? Man you are a tough audience." I rolled my eyes, and sat back in my chair.
Audrey just shook her head. "I didn't mean that, Duke. That has been absolutely lovely. You are just usually much more talkative than you've been tonight. You OK?" Audrey lent forward, and looked closely at me.
"I'm Ok. It's been a rough week. I'm just tired, that's all." I tried to wave off her concern.
"Oh, that reminds me, there was another death yesterday. This one was really odd though. You ever meet Enoch Gertwood? He appeared to be mauled by something. There were no animals in his house, though, and no signs that any had broken in. The Chief though that maybe it was a mountain lion, but said that there hadn't been one in Haven since the 1800s." Audrey obviously thought Old Enoch was connected to the deaths she had been trying to solve when the chief chased her out of town.
"Enoch was a miserable old man, mostly because he lived with nearly chronic insomnia after his wife and kids died. He seemed to resent most of the people in Haven for some reason or other. Most of us stayed out of his way. His was the house where if you ball went into his lawn, you left it there and were grateful to get away with your life." I thought for a moment about Enoch. He'd been about fifty then, and hadn't been a nice guy for more years than I'd been alive. "Come to think of it, the wife and kids died in their sleep. I want to say they thought it was carbon monoxide poisoning at the time. They suffocated."
"Do you think he was troubled?" Audrey asked.
I didn't answer immediately. "It would have made sense, if he was. I mean, he had a history of not sleeping. When he did sleep he'd be found all over town because he'd sleepwalk. He used to streak through town. The selectman eventually asked that he wear at least underwear to bed because he was scaring off the tourists wandering around in the buff. The kids in the houses he went by always complained of nightmares when he was around. The parents just thought it was the kids not liking Enoch."
"I wondered what killed him."
"Bad dreams, I would guess," was my reply.
We enjoyed each other's company as friends, neither of us up to the more serious flirting. I was too tired, and she to caught up in the mysterious deaths that had happened. Oddly enough, she didn't ask me about Lucy, even though I would have told her whatever I could. We spent a little more time in town but eventually retired to Gerty, and we started back to Haven.
Alone in the pilot's house, I wondered what Butternut was doing.
"Probably missing you. Nathan said that you two got quite close," said Audrey, which startled me. I hadn't realized I'd spoken aloud, nor had I realized that she'd come up as the summer night was turning brisk.
"He only says that because Butternut attacked him. Twice. He's a good cat. He deserves a good home." I smiled, but it felt more like a grimace.
I brought out my phone and showed Audrey the pictures of our week together. She thought I threw the cat into the sink, and refused to believe that a cat got willingly into water. I had to show her the video of Butternut swimming in the sink before she believed me.
"Did you ever come up with a new name for him?" she asked, curious.
"Yeah, but he was gone before I got to try it out and see if he liked it," I answered. I looked down and away.
We made our way back to Haven and I docked in my normal slip. I drove Audrey home, and at her door, we did the obligatory I had a really good time exchange. I drove back home to Gerty and listened to the sound of the sea and her hull. I dreamed of an orange kitten racing across the floor.
Day Two Without Butternut
It had been another long day. Something had gone wrong with the plumbing at the Gull, and straightening it out had been an exercise in misery. I could rebuild engines, fix wiring, and weld with the best of them but PVC plumbing was beyond my abilities. Everyone got the day off while I got to wait for the plumber to come and exorcize the demon in the drains. It did allow me to fix up the deck's lighting, and examine Margie's books. Everything seemed in order. I polished silverware, cursing Maine's water supply while the plumber did things and investigated areas I'd no interest in knowing about. Word had gotten out that I was not exactly happy, and people gave me a wide berth. Sometimes it's good to have a reputation for a bad temper and carrying firearms.
I returned to Gerty late that night and was surprised to see Audrey's gray sedan in the marina parking lot. Maybe Nathan had talked her into arresting me for Enoch's death. I rather hoped not.
I boarded Gerty and didn't see Audrey anywhere. Thinking she must have been here for someone else, I opened the door. There was a shout as an orange streak burst from my stateroom and flew across the deck. Before it could slide through the scupper again there was a course correction and an orange fluff ball bounded up my pants to my shirt and alighted on my shoulder. Furious purring, familiar after seven days of listening to it, filled my right ear.
"Hey little guy! What are you doing here?" Butternut smashed me in the nose with the top of his head. Moving carefully to avoid dislodging him, I brought him back inside to see Audrey grinning at use both. In the corner Nathan looked faintly amused.
"We tracked down your cat. Some woman with frizzy hair said she remembered you and was sorry you turned in Butternut. She said he had gone on a hunger strike and was refusing to eat." Audrey walked over and petted the orange gremlin. "I told her of the pictures you took of him, and how much you missed him."
"I didn't miss him," I insisted, scratching my cat's chin.
"Much," Nathan added.
"I've got to side with Nathan, there, Duke. You look like you just met your first love," Audrey said.
"Audrey, he's never had that expression on his face when he been dating anyone. I think this officially a first for him," Nathan added.
"I do not have any unusual expression on my face," I answered, knowing as I did I was grinning like an idiot.
"Anyway, the fizzy haired woman gave us a hard time, but we got your cat out of hock. He is here to keep you out of trouble," Nathan rumbled.
I had my cat back. Audrey and Nathan had brought back my cat.
"Thanks guys." I plucked my cat off my shoulder and left him on the counter while I filled up his sink with water. He jumped in and swam in circles.
"That cat is troubled," Nathan observed.
I looked up sharply. "My cat is not afflicted. People are afflicted, not my kitten. Besides, he's not even from Haven, are you, Morgan?" The kitten chirped at his new name, and wandered out of the sink to me. I grabbed a towel and wrapped him up in it.
Audrey looked at me. "Actually, Duke, Butternut is from Haven. He was dropped off a couple of weeks before you picked him up. One of the folks moving inland found him under their house, abandoned. Their daughter was allergic, so they arranged to drop the kitten off at the shelter in the town when they moved too. The frizzy haired woman had thought it funny that here was this cat that was from Haven was going back to Haven."
I shrugged. I hadn't known my cat's back story. I didn't really care if he was Troubled. I'd tried not to remember the liger dream, or that Enoch had teased me about being scared of corpses when I was a kid. My boy was back home. I couldn't turn him away again. I'd missed him far more than I thought I would.
"So," I said, "What do you think, Morgan?" The kitten chirped at me again and snuggled into the towel and my chest.
"You're naming the cat Morgan?" Audrey asked.
I nodded. "Morgan Butternut Spider-killer." Morgan purred his approval. I went to a cupboard and pulled out Morgan's favorite spider. When I tossed it Morgan took off after it, and growled loudly to warn anyone else that this was his spider. After he killed it, which involved much jiggling of legs, he dropped it at my feet.
Nathan considered the cat. "Why Morgan?"
I pointed at the book with chewed corners that Eleanor had given me. Nathan picked it up, found the poem Cat Morgan Introduces Himself and read it. He snorted in suppressed amusement before handing the book to Audrey, who openly grinned.
Cat Morgan had introduced himself properly and had come home. I had my beer-swilling, water-loving, fetch-playing maniac back where he belonged. Life was good.
Now go read "Christmas in (Haven) Maine" =)