Brian Lepire is a man of many hats: editor and contributing writer to the online pop culture zine Junkyard Arts; poet; lyricist and lead singer of a rockabilly band; playwright and actor; sous chef; student for a degree in publishing; and an aficionado of all cool storyteller music: think Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Sex Pistols, etc.
He also hates cats and tequila. Which is why his authoring of the third chapter of Tequila Kitty (found here) seemed so appropriate. And, lastly and definitely not least importantly, he's also a friend. I sat down with him recently over a glass of his hated tequila to discuss books, writing, and his own process. 
Picture
Brian Lepire, looking mighty skeptical about his tequila.
Q & A with Brian Lepire

Q: Tell me about what your writing. You write in a lot of different genres: poetry, prose, songs, drama, film criticism. Do you think they all feed each other, or do you have one particular genre that you consider your calling more than the others?

I view writing as a form of expression. It allows me to tap into my various thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. But there’s not just one genre that lets me expose all those elements. Some things I feel are better said through a poem than through a story, a three act play rather than a three verse song.

Then there are the articles and music reviews and film critiques. That’s my thirst for knowledge and new experiences coming out, as well as the desire to share that information with people. I would say my background is definitely in creative non-fiction and I derive a great amount of joy from writing a well-research, well-executed article.

Q: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?

I’d like to think I turn a good phrase here and there and pull together a coherent storyline with relatable characters. When I write, I spend a good amount of time making sure my characters are familiar enough so the reader doesn’t have to work excessively hard to see things from the character’s perspective. Another strength, and perhaps my greatest weakness, is I’m known for writing too tight sometimes – my sentences and paragraphs flow in such a way that editing can be a long and tumultuous project.

Q: What are you working on now?

I’m currently piecing together a collection of short stories, tentatively called THE PEOPLE WE MEET. I’ve spent a good portion of the past decade focused on my poetry and journalism, so writing short stories has been an exciting challenge. It’s forced me to dive deeper into the themes that surround my writing and my life.

Q: What publications has your work appeared in?

I’ve spent the past three years as a contributing writer and editor for Junkyard Arts, an online magazine aimed at exposing the masses to what’s happening in the art world and what’s worth paying attention to. You can also find my work at SalemFilmFest.com, where I am Online Media Editor.

My work has also been featured in Thirsty Magazine and several newspapers.

Q: Who are your primary influences, or inspirations, as a writer?

My influences are as varied as the genres I write in, but at the core they all seem to share a knack for packing great description and wit into crisp, memorable lines. Writers like Gay Talese, Leonard Cohen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Neil Simon, and Hunter S. Thompson have masterful styles that I keep returning to for guidance.

Q: What inspires you the most (e.g. music, landscape/nature, written word, life, etc.)?

More often than not I pull inspiration from real life experiences, especially when writing poetry.

Q: Do you find there’s a difference in writing poetry or prose? Which comes easier to you? Which do you enjoy writing more?

There’s a definite difference for me between writing poetry and prose. Poetry has always been easier for me to write. My best poems usually come from brief moments of inspiration that turn into a feverish writing session that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours. Prose takes more time and development, which is fun, but is more of a commitment for me than poetry.

Q: What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m catching up on Jack Kerouac’s THE DHARMA BUMS because I should have read it a while ago. I’m also reading BOOK BUSINESS: PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE to prepare for my summer at the Denver Publishing Institute.

Q: What authors, when you read them, make you think, “I’m giving up writing because I will never be as good as them?”

Breece D’J Pancake. He was able to capture so much emotion without having to become overly verbose. His writing at times is very stark and completely captivating.

Q: I know this is the hated and borderline unanswerable question, but it has to be asked. Why do you write?

Because when I don’t write, food is tasteless and my blood is quick to boil. Writing gives me purpose, fuels my ambition, and allows me to express the world that I see. But most of all, writing is what I’m meant to do. I get very frustrated when I can’t write for long periods at a time.

Q: If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing?

Publishing. Managing an independent press/independent bookstore. I want to provide an outlet to great writers who might be intimidated or feel burned by the big publishing houses. There are too many poems and stories and books that have never reached the public because the writers have been turned off by the whole process, and I think that’s a shame.

Q: Name your top five favorite books and/or top five favorite authors?

Oh man…why did you have to ask? My five favorite books, in no particular order: The Rum Diary (Hunter S. Thompson); On the Road (Jack Kerouac); Stranger Music (Leonard Cohen); The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran); and CASH: An Autobiography (Johnny Cash w/ Patrick Carr).

Q: What is your non-writing claim to fame?

Officiated the wedding of Sarah Murray and Liam Walker. A pretty big accomplishment in my book.  

And now we get into the non-writerly, more silly-ish questions of the interview, as paraphrased from James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio:

Q: What is your favorite drink?

Coffee

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

Fuck…it is such a versatile curse. Good for any fucking occasion.

Q: Favorite food?

Hot Dogs from Coney Island in Worcester, MA. And cheese. Man, I love cheese.

Q: What is your most vivid memory?

The night I met “The Man with the Bomb”. You’ll have to pick up the book when it comes out to find out more.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

The excited greetings of friends when I arrive to the party.

Q: What is your least favorite sound?

An unattended, screeching fire alarm.

Q: If heaven exists, what do you think god will say upon meeting you at the pearly gates? What would you want it to say?

I would want God to say “I hear you have some questions. Want to talk?” But It will probably say “How did you get in here?!”


 
 
I’d made it to the motel parking lot when I heard the footsteps. A sombrero may make me look good, but it does shit for my hearing, so the bastards were able to scoop me up real quick. The first one gave me a hard slap on the top of the head with an opened palm. The bottle crashed to the ground, shattering like so many dreams do in this city.  While I was still reeling, another one came up from behind with a burlap sack. The last thing I saw before they cinched the sack closed was an oversized neon cowboy wink at me.
- excerpt of Chapter 3 by Brian Lepire

Welcome to Chapter 3 of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. (Chapters 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.) When we last saw Teqs he was getting kicked out of the house of a kind-hearted, lovelorn woman who had fallen for him and taken him in. But, just like you can't teach an old dog new tricks, you can't domesticate a wild cat. Chapter 3 was written by my friend Brian Lepire, who has written for Junkyard Arts, the Salem Film Festival, plays, and songs for his previous incarnation as the lead singer of a rockabilly band.

So, without further ado, (and because Teqs getting rather restless and we want to tell this story before he bolts the country...again), we bring you Chapter Three of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty.


Chapter 3

I promised myself I would never come back to this city.

After my last trip to Vegas, I knew the only thing this city had to offer me was trouble and bad credit. I told myself it was time for a fresh start. I’d put down the tequila and put away the sombrero.

But here I was again, with a bottle in my paws and women by my side, making more bad decisions.

I had come back to town to wish an old friend good luck. She was a good woman who didn’t deserve the hell I put her through when we knew each other, so when I heard she had run away to find a better life, I wanted her to know I wished her only the best. The fact she ran away to the place I was running from was an irony that tasted like a bad omen, but I went anyway.

She was giving everything she had to be a comedienne and had managed to get a show at the Venetian lounge room. After her set, I decided to bolt out before she had a chance to corner me. Awkward moments smell like rotten mice – I can smell them for miles. I was also hoping that no one recognized my tail. The last time I was at this particular casino, I hadn’t left the best impression. Probably because I didn’t leave as much money as I owed.

The place was crowded. There was a convention of seniors in town playing the slot machines and a poker tournament that was getting some national air time, so I thought the staff was busy enough that a cat wearing a sombrero minding his own business could go unnoticed. The girls and I walked quickly, careful not to make eye contact with anyone who might give a damn that I was back in town for a one time occasion.

There’s a trick to walking fast across the casino floor. The joint is set up so that you can’t get ten feet without stopping to spend more money, but you just have to keep the slots to your right at all times and keep your eyes out for old timers. They’re the ones who usually get blinded by the whirring cherries and sounds of emptying machines and might accidentally step on your tail, then keel over from the unexpected sound of a cat screeching and clawing their ankles. Blind fools have it coming though.

We were almost to the doors when I thought I saw someone swing their heads around for a second glimpse. I was hoping it was just someone getting a better view of the beauties I had picked up earlier that night at the bar down the strip. Or did I meet them at the bar this morning? I think their names were Tina and Emily.

The fresh air tasted cool and sweet. I took a fresh swig of my tequila.

“Where to now, Teqs?” asked Emily, the brunette in a perfect blue dress.

“Oh, oh, oh, let’s go to the Palace! I haven’t been there yet,” Tina exclaimed. She was obviously new to town.

“I think this might be where we go our separate ways, girls. I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

“What? It’s still early though. There’s still so much trouble we could get into,” Emily said in a way I’d heard so many times before, like a lady who expected me to keep her warm tonight. Damn if she didn’t look good in that dress though.

“Yeah. I wanna go to all the nice places,” Tina said.

“First off, the Palace ain’t as nice as you might think. Be careful over there. That place can shed your fur.  They especially like to ruin blondes, Tina. And Emily, I’ve had my share of trouble in this town. I’m ready to call it a night on Vegas. Give me a call tomorrow.”

They pouted a bit, but when they realized I’d made up my mind, they headed off towards Caesar’s.

I didn’t want them around when trouble came.

I was holed up under a dumpster outside a cheap motel at the end of the strip; a far cry from the penthouse apartments and ritz’d up houses I usually worked my way into when I was in town. Lonely ladies had a thing for taking me in, and I didn’t mind taking advantage of their desperation every now and then. But this time I chose a place further off the radar, away from the lights that might give me away to any of a number of people who I didn’t have time for.

I’d made it to the motel parking lot when I heard the footsteps. A sombrero may make me look good, but it does shit for my hearing, so the bastards were able to scoop me up real quick. The first one gave me a hard slap on the top of the head with an opened palm. The bottle crashed to the ground, shattering like so many dreams do in this city.  While I was still reeling, another one came up from behind with a burlap sack. The last thing I saw before they cinched the sack closed was an oversized neon cowboy wink at me.

***

Dried blood on burlap has a weird smell to it.

Whoever had sent these goons to pick me up had forgotten to mention I didn’t have all my nine lives anymore. They’d gingerly tossed me into the back of their van and laughed as the sack bounced off the interior walls. By that time I was so groggy I didn’t know how long we drove for. I assumed we were just going out to the desert to dig a well, so it didn’t really matter how long it took.

At some point I had finally passed out and didn’t wake up until the van door slammed open. One of the bastards stepped in to grab the sack. I let my claws peek through just enough to give him a nasty surprise when he wrapped his hand around the knot.

“Sonofabitch!” the unlucky one said.

“What’s your problem, Joe?”  

“Bastard clawed me!”

“Haha. Pussy.”

“Shut up, Brad!”

I chuckled a bit too, until Joe’s boot met my ribs. I passed out again.

The next time I woke up the bag had been opened and I was surprised to find I wasn’t in the desert next to a fresh grave. Instead, I was in a large room without windows. It was covered in blood red wallpaper, which did nothing for the lack of light in the place. Shadows danced around the room from hanging incandescent lights.

There were two men standing behind me making sure I didn’t try anything stupid like bolt for the door. Joe was a bit shorter than most guys in his line of work, but had shoulders to make up for it. I could tell it was him from the fresh blood still speckled on his hand. Brad was a bit taller and better off in the looks department. It’d looked like someone had busted his nose at one point, but the damn thing gave his prep boy face even more character.

At the other end of the room was a glass desk that reflected the weird blue glow of twelve computer screens mounted to the back wall. There was a chair facing the screens, but I already knew who had picked me up.

I coughed up a hairball and some blood.

“Is that the infamous Tequila Kitty I hear? It can’t be. I thought he was long gone by now, especially after the shit he pulled last time he was here.”

The chair spun around to reveal a young guy who still dressed like he was in college, even if he did have more money than most actors in their prime. Craig Irvin had a specific look: zipped-up hoodies, jeans, and sandals. Didn’t matter where he was or who he was meeting with, whether it was the Prime Minister of Russia or the founder of the world’s largest tech company - he always wore sandals. He also had a nickname to match his curly red hair, but I refused to call him “Big Red”.

“It’s nice to see you again, Craig,” I said, trying to hide any signs of pain.

“Oh, it’s nice to see you too, Tequila. I assume you have my money.”

“Your friends there picked me up in the parking lot of a motel I couldn’t afford a room in, so, no. I don’t have your money at this moment.”

Craig wanted to kick me himself, but couldn’t because of his sandals, so he looked at Joe. A familiar boot met my sore ribs and I let out a loud yelp.

“Who the hell do you think you are, you mangy alley cat?!” Craig was on his hands and knees, pushing his beat red face against mine. Spit sprayed my eyes as he spoke. “Do you think the rules don’t apply to you? I want my money!”

I felt as good as I could in a situation like that. He wanted his money, which meant I might be able to walk out of this room if I could promise I could give back everything  he’d lent me during my last bender in Vegas.

“Or maybe I’ll just make myself a new pair of fur-lined sandals. What do you think, Teqs? Those sound nice.”

I didn’t feel so sure about this anymore.

“Craig, I think I can-“

Joe stepped on my tail, twisting his foot as if he was crushing out a cigarette. I hissed and took a swipe at his ankle which caused him to jump back. He started to wind up for another kick.

“Not yet!” Craig said. “Little runt was about to say something. Hopefully he was about to tell us the code to his bank account, which conveniently has the $5500 he owes me, plus interest.”

“Craig, if you don’t mind me saying, what’s $5500 to a guy like you? Don’t you make $5 million a day from your websites alone? Is it really worth killing me over?” Probably not the best thing I could’ve said at that moment, but I had three broken ribs and a concussion. I was doing the best I could to figure out how to give him what he wanted.

“Vegas is an interesting place when it comes to debt,” Craig said, letting the anger on his face transform into malice. “Did you know they found a body in the desert last week of an old gangster killed over $50?”

Craig sat back down at the wall of computer screens and began pulling up files.

“Tequila, let’s summarize what’s going on here so you and I are on the same page. You came to town a few months ago driving a nice looking Corvette and swigging straight from the bottle. You and your loser buddies start playing the tables and you’re having some luck. You hit a couple places around town, running tables until they get cold.

Things taste real sweet as you rake it all in. Then, like pretty much everyone in Las Vegas, you overstay your welcome and lose it all. You think you can still win, so your friends hook you up with a pretty well-off guy: me. We hang out for a bit. I think your hat is weird, but like you enough anyway to front you some money; exactly $5500. 

You head back to the tables and lose it all over Vegas. Then, instead of doing what you agreed to do and hand over the keys to the car, you jump in the Corvette you probably stole from someone and drive back to whatever dirty litter box you came from.

Does that sound about right to you?”

“You’ve got a good memory.”

“And you have a lousy memory. I want my money back. How are you going to get me my money, Tequila?”

When your universe starts to collapse around you, time stands still. The imminent sense that there is no way to avoid a death you are unprepared for makes the world’s axis grind to a halt and all you’re able to do is remember the most random moments of your life. As I listened to Craig layout my dilemma, all I could do was remember the most obscure things: my first sombrero, the first time I caught a mouse in Tijuana, the smell of a woman as we laid under the covers on a cold morning.  Craig and the others must have seen a drooling cat, because Craig slammed his fist on the desk.

“Tequila! How are you going to get my money?! Better yet, I don’t want to know. I just want it back. And I want it back in the next twenty-four hour.” Craig swung his chair back to the screens. “And  now for some added incentive. You know you weren’t the first one we picked up last night, right?”

Craig pulled up a live camera feed of a small empty room, save for two chairs back to back. There were two beautiful women handcuffed to the chairs. Luckily, it looked like Joe had been kinder to Emily and Tina. But their faces were etched in fear.

“You bastards! What have you done to them?!” I spun around and made a quick dash towards Joe. He must have been expecting it though, because as I jumped up to claw his eyes, he reached out and swatted me down. I fell on my back, which took the wind out of me and reminded me I should be in a body cast.

“Calm down. They’re fine,” Craig said. “You’re the one we want, not them. I only had Joe and Brad ask the ladies to join us so that you don’t get the idea to run off again without paying back what is mine.”

Craig walked over to the spot of floor I was sprawled over. Another bloody hairball came up as he looked down at me.

“Tequila, you don’t know me very well, but you should realize by now that I’m a man of certain principles. Kind of like how computers and science have unbreakable rules, I believe that there is no debt too small worth forgetting. And not only do I value my money, but I value my time. I took the time to help you out of a bad situation, and now I’m taking the time to address this little problem we have. So, basically what I’m saying, if you don’t get me my money, and if I feel like you’ve wasted my time, I am going to be very angry. And Joe likes it when I’m angry, because that means he gets to be angry too, and Joe really likes being angry.”

Joe took a step forward, but Craig raised a hand.

“Tequila, here’s the deal: you get me my money in the next twenty-four hours, or else the young ladies are not going to win big in Vegas. And please, for their sake, and yours, don’t try to leave town. I’ll know if you will, and I’ll still come after you. Is any of the unclear?”

I gave Craig a big smile, wide enough to show all the pointed teeth I still had, and nodded.

“Be back here tomorrow at 10 am with my $5500. Joe, Brad, get him out of my sight.”

I thought I was going to end up back in the sack and was prepared for an extra kick from Joe for good luck, but instead Brad came over and ran his hand across my back.

“Alright. Grab your sombrero and let’s go.”

I dragged myself onto all fours and tossed my sombrero on. Joe and Brad escorted me to the elevator. Brad hit the button for the first floor, and the three of us rode down twenty floors in a weird silence normally saved for funerals or in-laws.

“I’m guessing that hat ain’t your lucky one,” Brad said.  

“Ha! Nope. I guess not. Hopefully I can change that though,” I replied.

“I doubt it,” Joe said with a smirk.

The elevator doors open and sunlight burst through the glass-paneled walls of the reception hall. Brad pointed to the door and gently pushed me towards the exit with one foot.

“We’ll see you in the morning, Tequila Kitten,” Joe said. He waved as the elevator doors closed.

I stepped out the door and realized we’d never left the Vegas strip. I felt lost.

 
 
Last week a new literary project (phenomenon?) was launched: The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. Thirteen writers were recruited to write one chapter each, only being allowed to see the chapter written before them. There were no limits on scope, style, or plot line. The only mandate was that one of the main characters of their chapter had to be a tequila swilling, alcoholic, sombrero wearing cat: Tequila Kitty, or Teqs. Chapter One: The Tequila-Mockingbird Incident can be found here

As part of this project, an interview will be posted within days of each author's chapter.

Chapter Two: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady was written by my good friend, the bartender poet, Aimee Hamel, who recently received her Bachelor's in Creative Writing-Poetry from Emerson College in Boston.

Picture
Aiimee and me moments before our mandatory Tequila shot.
Q & A with Aimee Hamel

Q: Tell me about what your poetry collection. When did you originally start it? How did it evolve? Was there a theme in your work you intended, or is it more just a collection of your works?

I actually started it a couple weeks before freshman year of college when I was talking to a future peer and he asked to see my work. I didn’t have anything to show so I wrote a poem in like 5 minutes to show him. An edited version of that poem did end up in my final poetry Thesis.

There was no intended theme, but as I went along it was pretty clear there was a theme forming. Each poem sort of had something to do with the trials and tribulations of being in love, and I ended up titling the collection after one of the poems: This Is Why I Choose to Be Alone.

Q: Give me a brief bio of your life:

I’ve been a New England girl all my life: grew up 40 minutes south of Boston, went to school at Emerson in Boston, and bartend in downtown Boston now. I’ve always been active in dance and sports, and in my older years am now heavily into fitness. I have always had a California state of mind and am currently saving up to move out there in a year or two.

Q: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?

I think my stuff is pretty easy to read, and I like that. I like that my poetry is complex but still understandable to most people, I think. I typically am drawn to write dramatic, depressing stuff, so once in a while when I attempt to write comedy (like this chapter in TK), and it’s actually funny to people, I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment.

Q: What are you working on now?

After taking almost a year off from writing after I was burnt out from writing my Thesis, Tequila Kitty got the ball rolling and I’m excited to start writing again. I’m going to try to publish some or all of my poetry collection, and I’m thinking about writing a short story.

Q: How has your upbringing influenced your work, if at all?

I don’t know if my upbringing really influenced it at all... I just remember as a 9 or 10 year old kid, always coming up with make-believe scenarios in the back yard with my neighbors. I also acted in middle school. I love a good story I guess.

Q: What inspires you the most (e.g. music, landscape/nature, written word, life, etc.)?

I’d say life. Weird stuff. Every time I see weird or creepy person, I want to write about him/her. A lot of times the weird stuff is the depressing stuff, so that’s why I think a lot of my writing is depressing, but I love it. This world is so strange and I just want to talk about it.

Q: Do you find there’s a difference in writing poetry or prose? Which comes easier to you? Which do you enjoy writing more?

I really do like them both. Lately i just love that you can tell a whole story in a couple of lines, with poetry.

Q: What are you reading right now?

As weird as it is, I managed to go all of high school and college not having read The Great Gatsby, so now that the movie is out I feel like I finally have to read the book. I literally don’t even know the story line, haha, so I’m interested to check it out.

Q: What authors, when you read them, make you think, “I’m giving up writing because I will never be as good as them?”

Q: I know this is the hated and borderline unanswerable question, but it has to be asked. Why do you write?

Unlike what I think a lot of people would say-- some nonsense along the lines of “I get the urge and I just HAVE to do it,”-- I don’t really feel any urge to do it. Half the time I convince myself I’m not that great of a writer. But then I eventually write something and at the end I find myself liking it and it’s always a pleasant surprise, like WAIT I actually am good at this, cool!

Q: If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing?

Well over the past year that I wasn’t writing, I have been bartending and working out. Both of those things make me happy, and I’ll be continuing them even as I get back into writing.

Q: Name your top five favorite books and/or top five favorite authors?

Books: We Were the Mulvaneys, The Lovely Bones, Oryx and Crake, The Virgin Suicides........ Fifty Shades of Gray! I had to...

And now we get into the non-writerly, more silly-ish questions of the interview, as paraphrased from James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio:

Q: What is your favorite drink?

Alcoholic: I don’t drink sugary drinks anymore since my diet, and I miss them!!! But technically my favorite would be Tequila Sunrise.

Non-Alcoholic: Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m obsessed with milk. Room temperature and drunk straight from the jug.

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

Cock sock

Q: Favorite food.

Clam chowder. I have to moderate my intake.

Q: What is your most vivid memory?

I’ve suppressed most memories before the age of like 14.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

Cat’s purring.

Q: What is your least favorite sound?

People chewing loud crunchy things. Like that one person in class who would bring carrots or a bag of Fritos during a lecture. Close your damn mouth or go away from me.

Q: If heaven exists, what do you think god will say upon meeting you at the pearly gates? What would you want it to say?

I hope that I will get enough done before this life is over so that he says “well done.” I hope he does not say, “#fail.”


 
 
He took off his sombrero and playfully placed it on my head. “And really, don’t be upset. You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with loving your cat.”

He was right, there is nothing wrong with loving your cat. But there is something wrong with owning a different cat-print sweater for each day of the week, and there’s definitely something wrong with your kitchen floor being completely hidden beneath enough cat bowls and litter boxes to feed an army of cats, which I basically had. I had a problem, and that problem was all thanks to Tequila.
- excerpt from Chapter Two: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady, by Aimee Hamel

Welcome to the second installment of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. The first chapter, written by Christopher Chik, introduced us to the hard-living, heavy-drinking, womanizing lifestyle of Tequila Kitty, or Teqs as he likes to be called, meow. (Chapter One: The Tequila Mockingbird Incident can be found here or here.)

Chapter Two: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady was written by my friend, the bartender poet, Aimee Hamel. And now for the continuation of the exquisite-corpse novel, The Adventures of Tequila Kitty...
Chapter 2: Confessions Of A Crazy Cat Lady

It’s always the dumbest, most obscure and unexpected little things that spark the long-awaited realization your life has become completely unreasonable. And it never happens early on, at opportune times when your dignity is still very much salvageable-- it just doesn’t work like that. You only receive that unforgiving jolt to your ass bone courtesy of the first jagged stone to greet you at Rock Bottom when you’re already way too far gone. I had that same jolt handed to me personally tonight by, of all things, vegetables.

I was sitting at my dining room table. Alone. Again.

Because, as usual, Teqs was three hours late for dinner and I’d resolved that I wouldn’t wait any more than an hour and a half for him this time.

I stared at his full bowl of Fancy Feast beside me as I pushed cold food around aimlessly on my own plate. I was thinking how I wasn’t going to put in the effort of getting him the good stuff anymore-- back to dry food he would go. I jerked my hand back from the table when my eyes settled over the edible art I’d created: Three slices of steamed carrots made for two eyes and a nose, with six string beans lined up on either side marking long green whiskers.

Just then Teqs crawled in through the front door cat flap with a guilty look etched on his muzzle.

I immediately got up and ran toward him like a mad woman, yanking my shoe off and chucking it at him.

“Tequila Kitty, what the hell have you done to me! Look at me! Waiting around for you like.. like I’m some pathetic little pet of yours! Whose owner clearly doesn’t give a shit about her! You’re the pet, goddamnit. You should be the one waiting on me! Oh my god, listen to me. What the hell am I saying?” I dropped to my knees and tears began to fall.

Teqs walked cautiously over to me, his claws defensively exposed.

“Don’t cry, meow. I’m sorry I’m late. Boss had a couple of mice at his house he needed me to take care of before I came home, ” he said.

He took off his sombrero and playfully placed it on my head. “And really, don’t be upset. You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with loving your cat.”

He was right, there is nothing wrong with loving your cat. But there is something wrong with owning a different cat-print sweater for each day of the week, and there’s definitely something wrong with your kitchen floor being completely hidden beneath enough cat bowls and litter boxes to feed an army of cats, which I basically had. I had a problem, and that problem was all thanks to Tequila.

          
                                                                    ***
                                       
I wasn’t always this way. It feels like just yesterday that I was on top of the world, one of the most smoking hot blonde knockouts California had produced, and not afraid to let you know I knew it. I was living in Barstow and working in L.A. as a model when I met Tequila. I had been invited to a punk show in Corona by a friend of my agent who claimed he wanted to meet up and discuss a potential “business” deal. After he made a pass at me within the first fifteen minutes of my arrival, I had him swiftly removed from my vicinity and I decided to stay and enjoy the show by myself.

That was until I saw the most adorable little striped cat in a sombrero curled up in a seat at the bar. Cute animals were my kryptonite-- the only thing to make a no-bullshit independent woman go soft. I waited for him and his friend to leave the crowded bar and head for the door when I stopped him and suggestively asked him to come home with me, knowing I always get what I want. But I do love a challenge, and he declined, saying he and his friend had to leave for Vegas. He asked for a ride and I couldn’t say no. I ended up having him drop me off at home, and I let him take my Corvette the rest of the way. I wanted a reason to see him again, and I had such an expendable income then, it wasn’t much of a loss either way.

He did come back, about two weeks later. I had just gotten home from a photo shoot and was about to take a shower when my doorbell rang. I opened it to find Teqs, by himself, swaying drunkenly from side to side.

“Meow, I managed to keep the ‘Vette in one piece. You’re welcome,” he purred, tossing the keys into my hand. He started hiccuping and I took the bottle of Cuervo from his paws before it smashed all over the front porch.

“Tequila, are you okay? Where’s your friend?” I asked.

He brushed me off with a wave of his claw. “He’s got a thing. Look, meow, I’ll be honest with you. Vegas didn’t go so well for me. I was up about $5,500 for a good while, but I lost it all on a bad hand. I’ve got nowhere else to go. Do you think...?”

I cut him off, finishing his sentence for him. “Would you like to stay with me for a while? I could use some company around here, honestly.”

“You sure, meow? I wouldn’t want to impose.” Just as the last words left his little lips he started dry heaving and I ushered him inside.

“C’mon, Teqs, the bathroom is this way,” I said.

“I’m fine-- meow. It’s just-- a hairball.” he managed to choke out.

                                                                                   ***           

That night we went out and purchased the “bare” necessities-- Teqs insisted he needed nothing more than these: litter box, food and water bowls, and a big jar of catnip. Toy mice and laser pointers were of no use to Teqs. As long as he had his ‘nip and a handle of tequila handy at all times, he was stimulated and happy.

I had come up with what I thought was a suitable arrangement for us: he didn’t owe me any money for the room and board. It was on me. In exchange, he would sleep in my bed at night, playing up his cutesy-cuddly-kitty side to my satisfaction. He was still allowed to drink and smoke; he wouldn’t be Tequila if he didn’t. But he would have to stop the gambling and partying, starting immediately. I was going to do my best to make Teqs a good house cat. My house cat.

He agreed without any objections, and the first few weeks were great. I continued modeling, and Teqs scored a job promoting some brand of tequila, going around to different liquor stores in the area as a spokesperson and giving out samples. It was the perfect job for him; people got a kick out of taking free shots from a cute little cat in a sombrero. The stuff went fast. And Teqs was always home at night to greet me when I walked in the door, nuzzling my leg then jumping into his chair at the set table, ears perked waiting for dinner time. I poured some turkey gravy cat chow into his bowl while he rambled about his day.

“I’m tellin’ you, they love me over there, meow. Boss is telling me I’m in line for a promotion within the next couple weeks, whatever that means.” He dove into his bowl face first, going on when he came up for air. “Yeah, he says it’s time the rest of Cali, maybe the world, got a taste of the animal promoter craze we started. I don’t know if that means I’ll be traveling? We’ll see I guess.”

“That’s awesome, Teqs,” I said.

I was genuinely happy for him, at first. But three weeks later, when his boss did offer him the promotion, things started going straight downhill.

The first problem was all the cats.

Now that Teqs’ job required him to travel to bigger liquor stores around the state, and sometimes to other states, he started being inconsistent and coming home later and later. Some nights he wouldn’t come home at all, and the next day I’d see him in pictures online, out partying and drinking.

When I asked him what that was about, he went on the defense. “Meow. It was for one of the promotions I was doing. Boss needed me to work the crowd a little at a club. Do you want me to succeed at my job or not? I thought you supported me getting my life back on track.”

“I do,” I said. “But I’m not sure that partying and drinking all night long is helping you get your life on track...”

Before the conversation could go any further, he changed the subject. “You know what I think we need? For both of us?”

“What,” I said.

“Another cat. Maybe a kitten. As much as I care about you, and as great of a roommate as you’ve been, I’ve been craving more feline interaction. I think it’s instinctual. And it would be great for you when I’m out working late nights. You’d have another little buddy to keep you company--keep my spot on the bed warm for me,” he said.

“I don’t know about that, Teqs. The upkeep and everything... I still have a job too you know,” I said.

“I know you do,” he said, “but I promise there’s no more upkeep involved than there is having just one cat. Trust me.”

So that weekend, I went to the shelter, and I got myself another cat. In keeping with the liquor theme, I named her Ginny, Gin for short. She had a beautiful white and black coat with a brown belly. Teqs continued on his late night work grind, making it home in time for dinner maybe four nights out of the week. And for a while, Ginny filled that void just as he said she would. For me, that is. Him needing another cat for his own personal reasons was bullshit; he was never home and he never paid attention to her when he was.

After a another couple weeks, Ginny just wasn’t doing it for me like she was at first; I missed Tequila. I called him on a break at work and told him how depressed I was feeling. He seemed to know just the fix.

“Meow, I know you might think this sounds crazy, but I think you need another cat. Everyone I know who has three has never been happier.” It did sound crazy, but so was I. So I took his advice.

From that point on, it became a cycle. The more Teqs stayed out partying and doing God knows what, the more cats I brought home. One night Teqs came home with a diamond encrusted collar, I assume given to him by another woman, and the next morning I went out and bought three more cats. I truly believed that when I reached a certain number, the pain would go away. But it didn’t. And before I knew it I was a former model turned shelter volunteer. After so many visits to the shelter, I couldn’t stand by and watch so many neglected cats with no home. I figured if I worked there, I could take home a majority of them and no one would try and stop me.

That was the first way in which Tequila made me crazy. The second, and maybe even worse than the first, was Tequila’s jealousy issue.

For such an outgoing and flirty animal, he was extremely overprotective and jealous when it came to me and guys. My reassurances only angered him more.

“Tequila,” I said one night after I’d told him a customer at the shelter had given me his phone number, “you know no man--or woman-- could ever replace you. You’re my baby. But a woman has... needs. Which I’m sure you’d like to fulfill but it just doesn’t work that way. You understand what I’m saying right?”

Teqs was already popping the lid of his second straight bottle of tequila; liquor could either calm or worsen his nerves--we’d see which one it was this time.

“Frankly, meow, I don’t think I do. I protect you, I love you, I keep you warm at night. If some shmuck wants to take my place, he’s gonna have to do it over my dead carcass,” he said. “I’ve had enough of these guys trying to steal you away from me; it’s time I put a stop to it.”

“What guys?” I interjected. “Teqs, you are aware I used to be a model right? There were guys back then. Now... I haven’t been on a date in almost a year! No guy wants to date a girl who wears cat sweaters!”

“Hold on,” he said. “You don’t like the sweaters...?”

Teqs was referring to the sweaters he’d had printed for me for every holiday since he’d been living with me. Each one was an obnoxiously bright knit with a silk screen of him in his trusty sombrero. When he first starting gifting them to me I tried not to wear them, but he caught right on and got upset with me. Since then I’d worn them at least once a week. At least.

I knew that was just one more of his ploys to keep me from dating. As if the other issues of me having a house full of cat condos and a repertoire of conversational skills that started and ended with my cats names and respective quirks weren’t already achieving that goal.

It wasn’t until I actually landed a date, and endured the humiliation of Tequila showing up in the middle of said date and ruining everything, that I officially decided the jealousy thing had to stop.

I met a guy by the water cooler at my gym, as cliche as that sounds, and we got to talking. I ended up asking him over to dinner at my house--I don’t know why I ever thought that would be a good idea-- and he accepted. I didn’t tell Teqs for obvious reasons, and I planned it for a night I knew Teqs would probably be staying over his friend’s house after a post-promo party.

The guy--Adam, his name was-- showed up right on time, flowers in hand, and I was swooning. I couldn’t help it; it’d been too long. Everything went perfectly all night; I’d managed to hide all the cat paraphernalia in the garage so he wasn’t freaked out. He had just finally put his arm around me during a movie when Teqs strolled in through the flap, pupils growing as soon as he saw a male was present. It was quick, what he did, but the impact of it was lasting. He didn’t even say a word when he saw us-- just continued his stroll over to where Adam’s shoes were beside the couch, squatted over one, and did his business. When he finished, he looked straight at Adam and said, “Come back any time, dude. Love to have you.”

If looks could kill, every one of that cat’s nine lives would be used up when I was done with him. I threw him out that night. I couldn’t stand to even look at him and his smug little face. Even when he was being an asshole he was cute, and that pissed me off the most.

I don’t know where he went after I kicked him out-- maybe to another girl’s house, maybe he walked the streets like a stray for a while to see how much he could milk out of people. All I know is I didn’t see him for a while, and he dodged all my efforts to contact him. It wasn’t until I ran into him at--where else-- a liquor store when I was buying wine for a work holiday party. I had been bumped up to management at the shelter, and I was in charge of the beverages.

Tequila was in line with a handful of nips of assorted types of liquor. I knew he couldn’t be doing well financially if he was going for the mixture method. He tried to pretend like he didn’t see me, but I chased him down in the parking lot.

“Tequila, stop. Talk to me. Where have you been? Why won’t you talk to me?” I demanded.

“Meow, I don’t have time for this... I gotta be somewhere,” he said.

“Where. You don’t look like you’re dressed to ‘be somewhere,’” I said.

“Just leave me alone. Look. You’re better off without me. I deserved what I got for treating you that way after all you’ve done for me. Look at me, roaming around like a stray, I probably have fleas I don’t even know about yet. This is the life I should be stuck with.”

I couldn’t stand to see him like this. I didn’t even respond. I simply walked over to the dumpster behind the store and picked up an empty beer box, tipping it sideways and gesturing for Tequila to climb in.

“C’mon Teqs. Get in, we’re going home,” I said.

“No... I don’t think so. I can’t,” he mumbled.

“You know you can’t resist a nice empty box,” I waved the box around a bit more and he hopped in, our feud resolved at least for now.

 
                                                              ***           

He continued to stay with me, but not much more than a week later I was already regretting it. He came home even less often than he used to, and he never gave me any information on where he was. Every night I was back to moping around in my deep depression, right up until that moment at the dinner table when I had the vegetable-induced revelation that I had reached a frightening level of crazy.

As I sat there kneeling in my foyer being consoled by my cat, I realized I couldn’t fix my problems by sending him away. I was the one that had to get away. From all of it.

I packed my bags that night and left for Vegas. I had no idea at the time what I would do out there, but things fell into place quickly. I started waitressing at a club on the strip, slowly breaking back into the modeling industry since underneath all those sweaters, I still had my looks. I also started doing a stand-up comedy side show, which I named “Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady,” because if I couldn’t laugh at myself and all the ridiculous shit I’d gotten myself into, then I was seriously in trouble.

One night, in the middle of one of my shows, I noticed a small sombrero floating somewhere in the middle of the crowd. It moved to the front row to take a seat and I realized Tequila was beneath it, with a pretty girl on each paw. He winked at me, and I was genuinely glad to see him happy, doing the things he did best.

If pressed to deduce a moral of the story from all of this, I’d probably advise anyone who spots a furry little cat in human garb sitting at a bar to look away, and never look back. But at the same time, should you really be taking advice from me? I mean, I shared milkshakes with my cats for god’s sake.

 
 
Picture
As part of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty, an interview with each writer will appear within a few days of their chapter being posted. Christopher Chik, an emerging and very talented author, is currently working on his Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. His work has previously appeared in One Forty Fiction and also at his blogs Chasing Dimaggio and Occupy Mars.

Q: Tell me about the novel you’re working on. When did you originally start the story? How did it evolve? What was the original kernel or acorn that became the story?

It’s the story of a baseball pitcher’s struggle with autism from childhood to the major leagues. I started the story around 2007 as a collection of my own autistic thoughts and tendencies fleshed out in awful scene snippets which would make even a bad experimental novel cry. The story was really born when I started the low-residency MFA at Southern New Hampshire University and my mentor, Wiley Cash, showed interest in the idea and pushed me to try other narrative approaches. I suppose the kernel was own experience growing up in an era when autism spectrum disorders were a relative unknown combined with my family’s history in baseball, particularly pitching.

Q: Give me a brief bio of your life:

I grew up and still live just south of Los Angeles and remember writing little stories of my daydreams since about second or third grade. As a child I loved sports, especially hockey and baseball and going to games with my Dad and Uncle David. I did a lot of camping and hiking with the Boy Scouts on my way to Eagle Scout. When I got older I took interest in philosophy which took my writing in a different direction for a while before I found my way back home to fiction again.

Q: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?

Most importantly, I take criticism well. I also read everything as a writer and editor, trying to dissect it and see what makes the heart beat and see how that applies to my own work, my own projects; to that end, I take a lot of notes while reading any book. I’m never satisfied and always try to learn and keep honing my craft.

Q: What are you working on now?

The novel for the most part, but I’m also working on some short stories, in particular a satire of the recent rash of American gun violence. My big project for the year, though it’s likely to take more than one, is a non-fiction effort about my favorite musician, Chuck Schuldiner, who was the front man for and creative force behind the band Death.

Q: What publications has your work appeared in?

OneFortyFiction

Q: Who are your primary influences, or inspirations, as a writer?

One of my best friends from high school has pushed me to write since I’ve known her, but I first got the idea of writing in my head at my local branch library. My parents left me there to read while they attended to something, and I found Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and saw how a man put his daydreams, his fantasies, to paper. I was sold; I started dreaming of typewriters and, some years later, laptops. I’d have to sit around my parents’ offices a lot after school as well, so I’d find an unused typewriter and plot out my daydreams—at least, when I wasn’t making colossal paperclip chains. My mom has an English degree and got me to loving books real young. Seeing her write, even to little or no acclaim, gave me the affirmation I needed. Kids are so often short on confidence and long on doubts, it was nice having that as a beacon growing up.

Q: How has your upbringing influenced your work, if at all?

Being autistic obviously affects my WIP, the baseball novel, but having a physical disability probably had more influence. It hardened me, made me stronger, and gave me a more adult perspective to weigh my writing against. In elementary school, instead of stories about GI Joe and ninja fantasies, I’d write detective stories about serial killers and horror stories about things that go bump in the night.

Q: What inspires you the most (e.g. music, landscape/nature, written word, life, etc.)?

I’d have to say life, because I don’t really know otherwise. Sometimes you can’t sleep and are in bed watching Demolition Man for the five thousandth time, when epiphany strikes and the what-ifs start rolling around; sometimes a conversation sparks an idea for a story; sometimes the loathing of some existing aspect of human culture does it, especially when I get to writing satire.

Q: What are you reading right now?

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris and What We Saw at Night by my current and rocking mentor, Jackie Mitchard. The latter is really cool because the main characters have a genetic flaw that they don’t see as this big setback. I can really empathize with the way they think, that no holding back mentality. I’ve never had characters be so close to home for me.

Q: What authors, when you read them, make you think, “I’m giving up writing because I will never be as good as them?”

Raymond Carver comes pretty close. My writing mantra is “WWRCD?” Less is more, lean is mean, and all that jazz. Sometimes, though, a little poetry-spiced prose really lets that daydream form, and Toni Morrison weaves that into narrative with beauty and tension in the same breath. I try to strike a balance between the two.

Q: I know this is the hated and borderline unanswerable question, but it has to be asked. Why do you write?

I daydreamed a lot as a kid. Writing them down as stories was a way to share the process of make-believe outside of the playground. More than anything else, writing is a way to give the daydreams a reason to be, like an action figure is a reason to be talking to yourself, belly-down on the carpet.

Q: If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing?

Playing and teaching guitar probably. I used to be on track for a career in law, but I wouldn’t trade writing for that ever.

Q: Name your top five favorite books and/or top five favorite authors?

In no particular order: Brave New World, Aldous Huxley; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; What We Talk About when We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver; anything by Ray Bradbury; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig.

Q: What is your non-writing claim to fame?

I got my picture in the paper as a kid for being a wicked awesome Push-Cart Derby driver who could make the Kessel run on a wooden palette in under twelve Parsecs.

And now we get into the non-writerly, more silly-ish questions of the interview, as paraphrased from James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio:

Q: What is your favorite drink?

Rum and Coke with a lime twist.

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

Asshat, though my favorite cursing of all-time is the chained diatribes of the dad in Christmas Story. That guy could out-swear two sailors and a pirate with mere gibberish.

Q: Favorite food.

Pepperoni, black olive, and roma tomato pizza with Newcastle or Longboard beer, and I’m a big fan of Señor Fish’s fish tacos.

Q: What is your most vivid memory?

I’m not sure I have a most vivid memory, but I can remember almost everything since age three. My second earliest memory is dancing around in my parents’ living room to Michael Jackson’s Bad playing on a little Fisher-Price tape recorder.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

Ocean waves lapping on the beach, that steady rhythm of the Earth’s pulse.

Q: What is your least favorite sound?

Dog alarms, like people mount on their fences. Any real high frequencies like most people don’t hear really. Forget ADT, I can be stopped dead in my tracks by a dog alarm.

Q: If heaven exists, what do you think god will say upon meeting you at the pearly gates? What would you want it to say?

Probably, “I told you so, jackass.”

I’d want a god to tell me the journey isn’t over yet, that I was interesting enough to merit a sequel. Truth be told, I’d like to make the Singularity and live forever. Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Sun eat the Earth from the safe distance of some colony on one of those Kepler planets? What happens when the universe ends or does it?


 
 

That’s how I’d met him really: drinking games. We’d both been at the local watering hole, challenging the other patrons to drunken games of chance and making a clean sweep of it. A few guys, figuring themselves for alpha dogs, had Teqs cornered after he’d taken them for about a grand combined. I grabbed up a bottle and got ready for some smashing action, when a few ladies diffused the situation with their, “Aw, but he’s so cute,” and, “look at his little sombrero.” Before the petting turned heavy, he bolted out the door with his winnings.
I followed him down to a dive bar just outside Hollywood. Inside, I spotted him paying his tab with the misfortunes of others.

-excerpt of Chapter One of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty.


Today marks the first installment of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty, an exquisite-corpse collaborative novel. A much longer explanation and introduction will be given in the near future, but here is the Cliffsnotes version.
Thirteen writers were recruited to write one chapter.  The rules were simple: one week, 3000 words (more or less), any style. There were two conditions. The chapter had to involve the cat in the above photo (since named Tequila Kitty, or "Teqs" for short) as one of the characters; and each writer could only see the chapter written before them.

For the next few months, the next chapter will be released the following Sunday on this website and many others. An interview with the author of each will be posted the following day.

The first chapter was written by my good friend Christopher Chik.
As always, thank you. And enjoy.



Picture
Chris Chik (left) and I moments before our obligatory tequila shot.
Chapter One: The Tequila-Mockingbird Incident

We were in a Geo Metro convertible somewhere outside the Barstow freeway when the catnip started to hit.

“Birds, birds everywhere.” My companion was pawing at the sky in fits, claws extended.

I had told him not to open the bag with the top down. The stash had blown across the freeway into the setting sun, a puffy trail of green leaves and stems spattering the trailing cars with the mess. He was relegated to huffing what he could out of a stitched up tie-dyed mouse.

“Caught the bastard trying to steal my sand.” He had the mouse between his paws, back legs kicking and pushing, trying anything to get at the catnip.

Poor bastard, I thought, but I had my own problems. He’d put all my weed in the trunk with my bong and suitcase. In his haste to get at the catnip, my companion only thought to throw my rolling papers in the glove box. Not sure how he planned to roll joints with those paws of his—at least not without shredding the papers to bits. Without my grinder, all he was good for was dicing up the nugs anyway. We would need to pull over; I needed my weed, and if I didn’t get to a pet store before they closed, this hip cat would start clawing at more than a stuffed mouse. Say what you want about a Geo Metro, but it was mine and got fifty miles to the gallon at a time before they’d invented hybrids.

I took the next exit into a little patch of concrete, just outside the true desert of Joshua Tree.

“Coronas, they’ve got Coronas!” he said.

“Corona’s the town you idiot,” I said.

“Well, every town’s got Coronas.” He was huffing at the stuffed mouse and reeking of desperation.

I pulled into a gas station to ask where the nearest pet store was. The sun was nearly gone and with it had to be most of the store clerks around town as well. Inside the station’s little convenience store, the lone attendant fussed with dispensing cigarettes and one person who still paid cash for gas. He didn’t seem too interested in my questions at first.

 “We don’t need your kind around here.”

“Just trying to find a pet shop, man,” I said.

“Everyone comes through here on the way to Vegas; stuck in traffic; just want to use the bathroom or get directions.”

“Relax, meow.” My companion tipped his sombrero forward on his furry head with his free paw, the other clutched to a case of Coronas; I hadn’t even heard him come in.

“No pets,” the cashier said.

“Name’s Tequila, but you can call me Teqs,” he said, flashing his fangs.

“There’s a pet shop two blocks over.” The cashier rang him up.

“Told you they had Coronas.” Teqs winked at me and smoothed his whiskers.

He slinked through the doors and left me to settle the tab. When I got outside the crazy feline was already six beers deep into the case. Since I’d met him, he’d been into something: booze, catnip, empty boxes. More than anything, he loved getting waist deep in people’s dirty laundry. Spend your days in the desert scratching in the sand, and you’ll dig up all kinds of dirt.

The pet store was just as run down as the rest of town. Before I could even pull into a space, he’d leapt over the side. I managed to make half a loop around the aisle when he burst through the door with cans and bags of catnip clutched to his chest, a bird between his teeth. I wished so hard for a string to be attached to the feathered mass, but when he loosed his fanged grip from it, I could see the blood trickle out. I gunned the engine when I saw the store clerk running through the door behind Teqs.

“Get back here you furry little drunk,” he said.

Teqs leapt up toward the car as I sped past. His front paws tumbled his swag into the passenger’s seat, but his legs weren’t strong enough to get him over the edge. He latched onto the top of the door with his claws, and with him hanging from the Geo we escaped into the night.

“What’d you go and do that for?” I asked.

“He was mocking me, dude.”

“The clerk? I mean, you are wearing a sombrero, man.”

“The bird.” He sat there batting at it.

I looked down to see a gray-white bird with soft orange and baby blue patches.

“We’ve got to make a run for it, ditch the body somewhere. I can’t take another murder rap.”

“Petty theft. Birds aren’t people.”

“Next you’ll tell me cats aren’t people.” He hissed and arched his back.

“I’ve probably got the only yellow Geo in Corona, you know.”

“Maybe we should ditch the car, too.”

“You buying me a new one?” I asked.

“Suggestions?”

“Lay low for a while, then book it to the Nevada border.”

I drove until I found a quiet, dark neighborhood and packed a bowl. Excitement was well and good, but if you weren’t paying for it up front, with cash, you’d get billed for it in the end. Nothing calmed me quite like smoking a fat one. Why he couldn’t just wait for me to park and go in with him is beyond me. Maybe he’d thought every second counted, that they’d close before I could park and get in. He never did have much sense of time; maybe that’s why I understood him better stoned—that total imperceptibility of the passing minutes. In the seat next to me he’d shredded open a pilfered bag of catnip and dumped it all over the seat.

“This is enough to last me a lifetime.” Teqs was writhing around in the seat, purring and rubbing his cheeks into the folds of the cushioned surface.

“Oh yeah, you’re really rolling in it now,” I said.

When we got back on the road, the sun was completely gone and my sense of direction failed. We drove around for blocks and blocks looking for the freeway. Teqs seemed more docile by then, just batting at the bird and muttering about getting locked up. He had a bad experience with a cage once and some folks in the Deep South who didn’t take well to his kind, but it wasn’t something he made a habit of talking about. The thought of answering for his crime of haste had him stuck back in that place, like a hairball he just couldn’t cough up. I’d have done anything to drag him out of that funk.

We passed a parking lot I’d seen a few times before. How long had we been dancing circles in the Corona concrete? The lot had been empty the first couple times we passed, but this time was filled with cars and a smattering of people; a number of them had mohawks and looked to be rather crusty—our sort of folk. Teqs was coming out of his comatose state by then and was burying his face in a fresh can of the ‘nip.

“Think you ought to slow down there, Teqs?” I asked.

He was oblivious.

“Wouldn’t want you so out of it you couldn’t run the hustle with me.”

His ears perked up and he quit wriggling in the passenger’s seat.

That’s how I’d met him really: drinking games. We’d both been at the local watering hole, challenging the other patrons to drunken games of chance and making a clean sweep of it. A few guys figured themselves for alpha dogs had Teqs cornered after he’d taken them for about a grand combined. I grabbed up a bottle and got ready for some smashing action, when a few ladies diffused the situation with their, “Aw, but he’s so cute,” and, “look at his little sombrero.” Before the petting turned heavy, he bolted out the door with his winnings.

I followed him down to a dive bar just outside Hollywood. Inside, I spotted him paying his tab with the misfortunes of others. He was so skilled he’d almost never taken a sip, while his opponents grew wearier with each slug. After I’d watched for a while, I made my challenge.

“Bet you can’t even hold your liquor,” I said.

“How’s that, meow?”

“Haven’t even seen you take but two drinks, man.”

“How’s about a drinking match, straight up?” Teqs asked.

“Name your poison.”

“Patrón.” He smoothed his whiskers. “Stakes?”



“Everything you’ve won tonight.”

Teqs slid his pile of cash across the bar.

“From before, too.”

“Meow, that’s my kind of scalawag.”

Saying Tequila was half my size would be generous, and still he had me beat. I’d had to stop somewhere after the first bottle, but he kept going. He’d spent my money on three more bottles before he finally passed out. Part of me wanted to take my money back, like there was no way anyone could drink that much and not pull a John Bonham. I’d thought about it for a few minutes, standing over him laying there on his back, all four appendages up in the air and kicking at dreams. He awoke with a fit, though. Seeing me standing over him, I expected Teqs to tear me a new one.

“How’d you do it?” he asked.

In his celebration, he’d drunken himself clean of the memory of his victory. I thought about claiming otherwise, telling him the truth of the situation, but before I had time to weigh on it, he made me an offer.

“Meow, I tell you what, we could clean up on a drinking game hustle; never met a man could outlast me.”

After we’d cleaned up from the Patrón binge, we went to a little coffee shop down the street. It was a lot like a first date, learning what my new shill was like. As partners go, this guy had a puss could squeeze a dime out of a miser and get him to smile while he did it.

“Name’s Tequila,” he said.

“How’s a guy come upon that name?”

“I guess since we’re partners, meow, I can tell you.”

I wondered if he thought I was a fink; I mean, he’d caught me standing over him at the bar and all.

“Tequila’s the only drink gets me fuzzy anymore.”

“So you’re a ringer?” I’d wanted to tell him he’d beaten me at the bar, but that early on, our partnership hinged on my established mythos.

“My kind is everywhere on the internet; I made my fortune there; CERN, DARPAnet, videos of me in different hats, that sort of thing.”

“Guess the sombrero stuck.”

“Blew it all on catnip, the good stuff, imported straight from Colombia, dude,” he said.

I started to think about all the greens I could buy with that kind of Silicon Valley dough.

“When I snapped out of the haze—”

“When you went broke,” I said.

“I tried to drown myself in bottle after bottle of booze, but nothing got me drunk anymore, except tequila.”

“Tequila—”

“Call me Teqs.”

By the time we’d hit Corona, our game was on point. Teqs was like a walking Konami code for the drinking hustle. Corona was just a detour along our path to Vegas drinking glory. We wouldn’t have been stuck there waiting out the heat if Teqs could go an hour without a sniff or wait two minutes for me to put the top back up. He was a cool cat, but I’m almost certain he had an attention disorder. He thought the world owed him something, too.

The kids in mohawks were starting to line up around a small brick building at the end of the shopping center. Some had wild liberty spikes; a number had patches sewn into denim jackets or jeans; a few had leather jackets; a couple even looked more like greasers. The music pouring out the double door entrance had an edge to it, the kind of rock that wouldn’t just cut the powder, but the mirror underneath it, too. A punk club with a live band was just what we needed.

I pulled into a space and started rolling some joints for the show. Teqs managed to stop rubbing his face around inside the catnip jar long enough to stash some in a baggie for inside. No one seemed to mind when we played a game of puff-puff pass with a few crusty kids ahead of us in line outside the club.

“We been squatting this trailer in the desert,” one of the kids said.

“Yeah, I came down from Fresno; met this guy at a show, he said he was squatting this place, and I could stay there too,” the other said.

“I love a good squat out in the sand,” Teqs said.

“Where you guys from?”

“L.A.,” I said.

“Come out here for shows a lot?”

I looked down and realized I’d worn my Leftover Crack t-shirt.

Teqs tugged at the stash he’d tucked away in his sombrero, but didn’t take a sniff just yet.

“Well, hey, thanks for the rips,” one of them said.

“Say meow, you fellows happen to have some extra space out there, I could do some scratching maybe?” Teqs asked.

I elbowed him a little.

If Teqs would keep his cool, we could make some real scratch and be on our way to Vegas without any guff over the pet store mockingbird. Inside the club, a mosh pit was raging in front of the stage and the bar was stacked three people deep. Somehow, Teqs always managed to wriggle his way up to the bar and set up shop. Once I’d even seen him hang onto the bar top with one paw while dropping shot after shot with the other. He got us in at the bar next to a shapely blonde in a studded jacket and ripped jeans. He had a way with the ladies I never did. The guy could just rub up against a girl and she’d just nuzzle him right back. That sort of thing would get me slapped for sure.

After a few drinks we’d found our mark. Some fish with short spiky hair, the kind has those frosted blonde tips—Zach Morris of the punk scene. Teqs put him away with a game of one-man relay flip cup. They threw the kid out when he puked along the side of the bar somewhere after beer eleven, but not before Teqs relieved him of his cash.

“Nine hundred bucks will get us a great start in Vegas.” Teqs slapped a stack of bills into my hand.

Before I could say anything, he was on top of the railing between the bar and the dance floor mosh pit with one paw in the air. He did a back-flip into the pit and floated around on top of the crowd, once in a while getting tossed up into the air some. At one point, he was pushed onto the stage. Security tried to grab him and throw him back in, but he darted every which way across. When they had him cornered, he leapt atop one of their heads and back into the pit. Through it all, he managed to keep the sombrero on his head.

When the band was called back for an encore, we decided to make our run for it. Cops would be lurking everywhere when the club let out after the show. Getting pinched now was the last thing we needed. I’d just gotten Teqs back in a more stable frame of mind—a scary enough proposition itself. At the door, the blonde in the studded jacket stopped us.

“I like your style,” she said.

“That a fact, meow?” Teqs asked.

“I got an empty box just for you.” She smoothed Teqs’ ruffled fur with an outstretched hand.

As I leaned against the brick wall watching them, I sparked up my last joint.

“Like to come back to my place?” she asked.

Women always wanted to take care of him. I could be eating soup with the broth dribbling down my chin and a waitress wouldn’t bother to say a word to me. They’d brush the burrs out of his fur, bathe him, or even pick up his tabs, though. For a guy who’d blown his bankroll on Colombian green, he lived pretty well between his hustle and the love of women. Could be that meal ticket puss of his kept me from coming clean that day at the bar.

“We’re headed to Vegas,” Teqs said.

“Oh, that’s too bad.” She leaned on a black Corvette.

“Nice ‘vette. Yours?” Teqs smoothed his whiskers.

The blonde beeped the alarm; the doors popped open and the engine started.

“How’s about a ride to the strip?” Teqs asked.

She got in the car but only closed her door.

I grabbed the suitcase, bong, and what was left of the Coronas, while I let Teqs handle the rest of our gear. It was a gamble, but the encore was tapering off and the cops would show up any minute. A safe getaway trumped ensuring that daffy tabby remembered everything I didn’t. I stowed what I was carrying in the trunk, except for the bong, and told Teqs to make sure he had both our stashes up front this time. With me sitting shotgun, Teqs circled around himself in indecision. The blonde noticed and tapped her thigh.

“You can ride in my lap,” she said.

I decided to take a little nap since I didn’t have to drive. When I woke up, I saw the approaching sign for Vegas zip by. I looked around, but the blonde wasn’t in the car. Teqs was behind the wheel, doing something like one-thirty, though.

“Where’s the blonde?” I asked.

“Got off in Barstow.”

“The car, though.”

I still don’t know how he did it, but he talked that blonde right out of her car. My bong was behind my seat, so I hoped this time the silly bastard remembered to pack my weed in the glove box like I’d asked. When I opened it, my stash was there and right next to it that damn bird.

“The hell is this here for?” I asked.

“Lot of sand out here, dude.” With one paw on the wheel, Teqs flashed a set of claws.