The awaited continuation of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty.

Chapter Eight was written by my friend, the esteemed young adult novelist L.A. Kuehlke, who doubles as one of the most genuinely optimistic people on the planet. She is the author of the Pursuit series, a spiritual romance thriller, consisting of Pursuit, Redemption, and the forthcoming Ransomed. She also teaches English at a private middle school in New Jersey. Kuehlke is comprised of at least 35% chai latte.


She needed some time to think, clear her head, process through some... of the past almost-twenty-four hours.  She wandered through the backyard and settled on a bench by the water.  The sun was hanging low in the sky, filling it with shades of pink and gold and purple.  She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, soaking in the serenity of the moment.  Tequila jumped onto the bench, startling her.  She allowed the cat to crawl into her lap and stroked his fur....

Was any of this real?  Which of her lives was reality and which was fantasy?

Chapter Eight

Kitty stood on shaky legs.  She wasn’t sure what to do next, but her mind screamed that she had to get out, run, disappear.  Being in this house was too painful.  Everywhere she looked she saw reminders of all she’d lost. 

“Have to leave,” she mumbled. 

Tuna put a hand out to stop her.  “You gotta rest, Girl,” she said.  “Come with me.”

“No,” Kitty protested.  “I can’t -”  Her words caught in her throat.  An emptiness the likes of which she’d never experienced filled her.  What was the point anymore?  She had nothing, and there was no way to ever get beyond it.

She looked to Tuna for help, but before she could say another word, she crumpled to the floor and her eyes rolled back in her head.  The world around her went dark, and the last thing she heard was Tuna’s voice calling to her from the abyss.  Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, she felt herself being pulled to some other place. 

Anything is better than this, she thought. Anything.

“Mom, wake up!  You overslept again!”  David was shaking her. 

Kitty jumped and cried out.  David.  Her mind, her grief was playing tricks on her.  He was gone.   David

She backed against the wall, away from him.  “What?”  she asked, dazed.  Kitty looked around.  Where was Tuna? 

She squeezed her eyes shut tight.  “Wake up, Kitty.  Snap out of it.” 

The memory came rushing back.  She passed out in David’s room, and Tuna must have given her something to sleep.  She wondered if she was still dreaming.  It was also possible that this was the after-effects of the sleeping pills or some hallucination from the poison injected into her veins. 

She opened her eyes to see him standing over her.  “How are you here?”  she asked, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.

“The stairs?”  David shook his head. “Quit joking, Mom.  Raphael will be waiting, and like always, I’ll be late.”  He pulled the covers back.  “Time to get up.  You’re lucky you own your own business!”  He laughed and turned from the room. 

“My own what?”  she called out, but David was already gone.  Kitty sat up in bed, running her hands over the 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  She glanced down at the tank top and matching pajama bottoms she wore.  What the hell?  Whose clothes was she wearing?

She slowly rose from the bed, expecting the haze, expecting her head to hurt, expecting something.  But her head was clear, and she’d never felt better. 

When she entered the kitchen, she saw David seated at the kitchen table, a bowl of cereal in front of him.  The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air.  The paper was open, and he was so focused on reading the news that he didn’t notice Kitty enter the room.  She watched him for a moment, taking advantage of his distraction.  He wore dark jeans and a button-down.  The expression on his face was...happy, carefree.  When was the last time she’d seen him look so at peace? 

Never. 

The house was too quiet.  No TBN blaring on the television, no harping from her mother, no yelling.  No sound of any kind.  Just silence.

“David, where’s your grandmother?” Kitty asked.  That must be was why he was so happy; the bitch was nowhere to be seen. 

He looked at her quizzically.  “Uh, Mom, Grandma is at the nursing home.  Same place she’s been for the past year after her fall.”  His eyes narrowed, and he studied her.  “You feeling okay today?  Did you have one too many glasses of wine with Tina last night?”  He smiled.

Tina?  Who the hell is Tina?  “That must be it,” Kitty agreed slowly. 

She still had no idea what was going on, but she figured she’d let this hallucination play itself out.  At least it got her time with her son.  A tear fell as she remembered the accident, saw the van, heard the screeching, the crunching of bones against metal. 

Oh, my God, the blood.  Kitty gasped and put a hand to her mouth. 

“Drink this, you’ll feel better.”  David smirked and pushed a steaming mug of coffee across the table.  He laughed, and she jumped. 

Kitty lowered herself into one of the chairs and raised the mug, hands shaking, to her lips.  For the first time, she noticed the house.  Something wasn’t right; this wasn’t where she lived.  A plush couch, matching chair, and coffee table in the living room.  A wall-mounted flat screen t.v.  The walls painted in rich, deep earth tones.  The kitchen complete with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances and one of those French door refrigerators.   The entire place looked like the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog she’d seen once.  She blinked a few times.  Where was she?

“You’re acting stranger than normal today, you know,” David said, his head cocked to the side.  “You feeling okay? Maybe I should see if Raphael can just pick me up instead.  I’m sure his parents wouldn’t mind.”

“No, no, I’m fine.  Just a little groggy,” Kitty protested and smiled.  “I think I’ll take a quick shower. Don’t want you to be late for -”  she paused, her eyebrows pinched together.

“School, Mom.”  He set aside the paper and raised his eyebrows. 

“Right, school.” 

Kitty made her way to the second floor of the house, her feet sinking in the plush carpeting.  Waiting for her at the top of the stairs was a small tabby cat.  He seemed to be watching her, almost as if assessing her reactions.   His eyes were focused so intently on her that for a minute Kitty wondered if he was trying to tell her something.

Have you found the answers yet, Kitty?

She bent down to scratch between the cat’s ears.  “Hey, little guy.  Are you mine, too?”

In response, the cat purred and rubbed against her leg.  He remained near her as she walked down the hall toward the bathroom.  Kitty reached for a towel.

“You stay here,” she said to the cat.  Obediently, he sat outside the door.  She shook her head.  “Odd little guy.”

She stepped under the warm water and sighed; it felt like a hundred hands massaging her body.  What kind of business did she own?  She must be doing well, judging by the improvements to her home and the life it seemed she lived.  Kitty rinsed the shampoo - organic - from her hair and lathered herself with some expensive-sounding body wash.  The name on the label caught her eye.

Ga’Ta

Organic Soaps, Lotions, and Body Wash

There were products from the store all over the shower.  Her shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.  All from the same place.  Kitty turned off the water and stepped from the shower.  A lotion on the counter was from the same store.  She seemed slightly obsessed.  And since when would she spend that kind of money on organic body products? 

The cat was still waiting for her when she opened the bathroom door.  He meowed loudly and followed her to the bedroom.  He didn’t enter, just sat by the doorway waiting.  He acted more like a dog than a cat.  He was cute, but she found him to be really strange.

Kitty opened the closet and another gasp escaped her lips.  Row after row of sweaters, shirts, camis, jeans, dress pants, dresses, skirts, shoes, boots, sneakers...more clothing and footwear than she’d ever owned in her lifetime...lined the walls and filled the cubbies of her walk-in closet.  She chose a pair of black jeans, a gray cami, a sweater, and black riding boots.  She quickly pulled her hair up in a ponytail and did her make-up.  All organic, all from the same store.  She wondered if she was getting a bit eccentric, all of these products from a place with a cat-like name, owner of a cat, her own name being Kitty.  When she looked at herself in the mirror, she smiled.  The woman smiling back at her looked polished, professional, and gorgeous.  She hadn’t felt this good about herself since...ever.

“Mom, are you ready?  We should go,”  David called up the stairs. 

“On my way!” Kitty answered.  She looked for her purse, grabbed the Coach bag that hung on the back of a chair in the corner of the room, and almost skipped down the stairs, buoyed by a feeling of elation and a sense that life was finally working out for her.

She found her keys hanging on a rack in the kitchen.  David waited, laptop case slung over his shoulder, texting. 

“Tell Raphael that we’re on our way,” she said, smiling.  The cat had followed her downstairs, and she shooed him with her foot.  “This crazy cat keeps following me.”

“Tequila is all yours, Mom.  He doesn’t like anyone but you.”  He looked up from his phone.  “Wow, you look great.  Jeans, huh?  I guess you’re working in back today?”

I named the cat Tequila.  Tequila Kitty.  She cringed.

“I...am,” she said, hesitantly.  “Busy day ahead.”

David opened the door to the garage and stepped inside.  “So, what’s it going to be today?  Candles, soap, lotion?”

“I haven’t really decided yet,”  Kitty replied, hoping that more conversation would give her an answer to what he was talking about and why seeing her jeans would make him think of candles, soap, or lotion.

“Well, whatever you make, customers will love it.  I’m really proud of you, know that?  I mean, you put yourself through school and started Ga’Ta with Tina.  You guys built it from nothing, and the store is a huge success.  I know it was hard for you, raising me on your own, and I don’t say thank you enough,”  he paused.  “Thanks, Mom.  I love you.”

More tears slid down Kitty’s cheek.  “I love you, too.  Now, quit it before you make me wreck my make-up.”  She nudged him with one elbow. 

He grinned, looking young and beautiful and invincible.   “Can’t have that, now can we?  What would the customers think?” 

She owned the store.  No wonder she had the products all over the house.  And at least now she knew who Tina was - her business partner, and, apparently, a friend with whom she drank wine.

Realizing she had no idea where Raphael lived, in this life or her prior one, Kitty handed the keys to David.  “You know what?  You need the practice driving more than I do.  How about you drive to Raphael’s?”

David’s eyes sparkled.  “Really?  You’re letting me drive the Benz?”  he asked.  “You must not be feeling right today!”

The Benz?  Her world was getting weirder by the second.  A black GLK350 sat in her garage.  Her black GLK350.  Kitty grinned.  She could definitely get used to this life.  David cautiously backed out of the garage and proceeded towards Raphael’s house. 

“So, how are things with Raphael?”  Kitty asked once they were on their way. 

“Good.  Only one or two people know about us; a lot of people are still pretty closed-minded.  But, we’re good,” he answered, shrugging. 

“He treats you right?”  she asked.

“Yeah, he’s great,” David smiled.

“I’m so happy for you, Honey,” she said.  “You deserve nothing but the best.”

We’re going to make you better.  David’s voice, but sadder and sounding so much older than his seventeen years.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, blushing. 

“Just keep your eyes on the road.  No accidents.”  A chill swept through Kitty’s body.  No accidents. 

David turned onto a quiet, tree-lined side street with one enormous house after another.  The lawns were perfectly manicured, and he pulled into the driveway of a large stone-front mansion and hopped out. 

“I’ll be right back,”  he said.

Kitty watched him jog to the front door and ring the bell.  She scanned the property from the passenger seat.  Raphael came from a very affluent family, and she wondered who he was in the other life, the one she was trying to forget.  Had he been the same then, too, or was this another by-product of whatever she was experiencing?  The door opened and a blonde woman of around forty-five step out, give David a hug, and raise a hand, waving to Kitty.  No one like her ever would have given Kitty the time of day before.  She waved in return. 

A blonde-haired boy walked beside David to the car.  Just by looking at him, Kitty could tell that he was fantastic.  A genuine, compassionate energy seemed to surround him and shine through his eyes.  Tears welled up in hers; finally, her son had the life she’d wanted for him. 

She’d done it right this time around.

“Morning,” Raphael said, sliding into the backseat of the SUV. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Morning, Raphael,” Kitty replied, unable to stop herself from grinning.  “Anytime.” 

David caught her goofy grin and shook his head.  “You’re just being so weird today.”

Kitty listened as the boys talked about a test they had in third period, a movie they wanted to see...plans.  She was sitting beside her son listening to him make plans.  Her mind drifted to another life, one in which he was no longer able to make plans.  Their voices faded into the distance, as she stared out the window. 

“Uh, Mom?”  They were parked on the circle at the high school.

 She blinked and turned to look at him.  “Daydreaming,” she said.  “See you after school.”

“Have fun playing mad scientist today; try not to blow anything up,” David said, reaching for his laptop.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,”  Kitty remarked. 

He laughed and they all climbed out of the vehicle.  Kitty leaned forward on both arms, resting against the roof of the SUV.  She watched the boys walk toward the building, already caught up in another conversation.  As he opened the door to go inside, David turned back and waved.   Kitty raised her hand in response and smiled. 

She got back in and once again realized that she had no idea where she was supposed to go.  She pulled out her cell phone and Googled the address to her shop.  Once she had it in the GPS, she pulled away from the curb and headed in the direction of Ga’Ta.   Kitty had no idea how to do any of the things she supposedly did at work, but she figured she could spend the day wandering through the store, smelling things, selling products to customers.  It beat the way she used to spend her days.

Ga’Ta was beautiful.  Correction - exquisite.  And she’d done all this?  Really. Glass shelving held bottles, tubes, candles, boxes tied with natural raffia ribbon, and various earth-friendly displays.  Kitty shook her head in wonder.  She’d never thought of herself as having the potential to create something so amazing. 

“I should have tried harder,” she said out loud.  She’d allowed her past dictate her present and steal her future. 

She walked behind the counter, running her hand along its length.  Her world had become filled with beauty, success, and joy.  Kitty wondered how long she’d be allowed to stay here; she never wanted to leave. 

The bell on the door rang, and a slender woman with long, brown hair came in bearing two cups from Allegro.  Her smile was radiant, and Kitty guessed that she must be Tina. 

“Caffeine,”  she proclaimed.  She set a large cup on the counter in front of Kitty.  “You’re welcome.” 

“Thanks, Tina.  Just what I needed.”  Kitty began.  She took a sip of what turned out to be some kind of pumpkin latte.  “You ever have one of those days when it feels like you’re living someone else’s life?”

Tina waved a hand through the air.  “Your life is incredible.  The only thing we need to get you is a decent man.”

“Have to agree with you, and don’t get me wrong.  I love the life I woke up to.  Today has just been strange, I guess.”  Kitty sipped her latte.  Strange was a bit of an understatement.

Is everything okay?  It’s not something with David, is it?  He’s a good kid, Kitty.  You’re an awesome mom, and you’ve done a great job with him.”  Tina leaned on the counter. 

“It’s not David.  I’m just in a weird place, I guess.”  Kitty tapped the counter.  “I’ll figure it out.”  She smiled to confirm this to her friend.

Tina eyed her suspiciously.  “Okay, Hun, but if you want to talk, I’m here for you.”

“Thanks,”  Kitty said. 

Customers began coming through the door, and the day got busy fast.  David was right; she had made a success of her career, of herself.  Kitty felt pride surge within her spirit along with something else, something she hadn’t ever let herself feel before...hope. 

After picking up the boys and dropping them off, Kitty decided to go for a walk.  She needed some time to think, clear her head, process through some of the oddness of the past almost-twenty-four hours.  She wandered through the backyard and settled on a bench by the water.  The sun was hanging low in the sky, filling it with shades of pink and gold and purple.  She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, soaking in the serenity of the moment.  Tequila jumped onto the bench, startling her.  She allowed the cat to crawl into her lap and stroked his fur. 

“What do you think, Tequila?  Has today been nothing but me going insane?”  she asked.  The cat didn’t answer, just remained on her lap, purring contentedly.  “I mean, yesterday my life was one train wreck after another.  I lost everything that meant anything to me.  I couldn’t see a way out of the corner I’d backed myself into.  And today?  Everything is perfect.  Can I trust it?”

She pulled her legs up onto the bench.  Kitty sighed. 

Was any of this real?  Which of her lives was reality and which was fantasy?

Tequila looked into her eyes.  He stared at her for a long time then meowed. 

Still looking for answers, I see.  What is reality, Kitty?

 
 
Welcome to the resumption of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. I would first like to apologize for the break in action in our chronicles. Tequila Kitty was away for a family wedding and, on his way back to Vegas, he was sidetracked by a twice in a lifetime opportunity (this cat has been and seen places) to see Mount Rushmore.

This week's chapter is brought to you by y0urs truly. As the creator of the idea, I still wanted to participate, and I held myself to the same rules as the other writers involved: as such I did not know where the story was going until I saw the third chapter by Brian Lepire. For those new to the novel, Chapters One and Two by Christopher Chik and Aimee Hamel can be found by clicking on the links.


Without further ado, here's Chapter 4:



It was never supposed to be like this. I was raised in a normal household, just one in a litter of six. How I got to this point...how I became known as Tequila Kitty (Tequila is not the name my owners gave me); where I got the sombrero that seems to be stapled on my head like Fozzie’s hat...well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe it. But everything I’m about to tell you is the tequila-soaked truth.
-excerpt from Chapter 4: How I Started, by Darren Cormier

Tequila Kitty Ch. 4: How I Started

It was never supposed to be like this. I was raised in a normal household, just one in a litter of six. How I got to this point--the most unwanted cat in Vegas, scrambling to maintain my six remaining lives, with just 24 hours to somehow track down $5500 to prevent getting killed by a Zuckerberg wannabe, and former protégé who wanted to be oh so much more, with my ribs almost broken, bloody whiskers, and my tail between my legs...well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe it. But everything I’m about to tell you is the tequila-soaked truth.

Just like everything in this town, it’s all due to a dame. That plastic, feline version of Joan Rivers--Hello, to be specific. But that’s not where it began… and I haven’t started drinking enough today to tell you that story just yet.

Where to begin… How I got involved in the mixed-up criminal underworld? how I became known as Tequila Kitty (Tequila is not the name my owners gave me); where I got the sombrero that seems to be stapled on my head like Fozzie’s hat? Poor Fozzie: tried to make it on the strip as a comedian and when he couldn’t bring in the crowds like he used to—after a certain point “wokka wokka wokka” can only carry you so far—he just ran out of material…fast—the owners of the Palace kicked him to the curb. Got hooked on speed. When he couldn’t pay his debts, they reinforced the brim and stapled the hat to his head. He can never remove it. This town is a cruel, dysfunctional mistress. You might try to leave, it might be what’s best for you, in your best interests, best for your health, but you can’t. Once you’ve tasted it once, you’re here to stay. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. But with Vegas, once you’ve made it once, you don’t want to make it anywhere else. Everywhere else is just being a shnook, or in my case, a mangy alley cat.

Anyway…

As I said, I was one of a litter of six. Once ma had us, we lasted a few weeks before the owners tried to find us better homes. And before you try to pin all of this on the fact that my mother didn’t love us, all feline mothers are the same. After two weeks, you stay out of their way or you get whacked. Feline moms are a mafia of one.

Those first few months, though, were a kitten’s paradise: races up stairs, red laser lights, marbles and yarn, and ma carrying us around in her mouth. Unlike my brothers and sisters, I was born with opposable paws, so I had better grip, faster reflexes. Yeah, I was a prodigy cat. But I still hadn’t developed the ability to talk or walk on my hind legs yet so I was at this point just a very advanced feline. After three weeks all my brothers and sisters were gone, except me and Paulie: the runt. He had one folded over ear, a lopsided eye, and when he ran, he tripped over his back paws. He looked like Sasquatch sat on his head. One of our brothers once pinned him down, but after I took care of him… don’t ask what happened: I’m not proud of that day. But let me tell you this: if you ever messed with Paulie, you messed with me, too, I think the Newmarks realized Paulie wouldn’t survive without me there. Really, it was the other way around. And I don’t think they tried very hard to find a home for him. They felt bad for us. So there we stayed with the Newmarks.

The first few months were fun: exploring the house, exploring the giant barn at the far end of the yard. To us it seemed like it was a farm, but we’re cats: we’re one foot long, 18 inches tops. What perspective do we have on distance? Obviously now that I’ve been around the world and flown in the nicest private planes you can think of, hell, I jumped off the freakin’ top of the Eiffel Tower once (bad catnip experience, that’s all I can say, but I did land on my feet), since I’ve done all of that, I have a better idea of what the distance is, but at the time me and my nearsighted brother, we had no idea about size. But what he lacked in ability, he made up for in smarts. Smart as a fuckin’ tack, that Paulie. (Yeah, mixed metaphor. Who cares? I just had my ribs kicked to shit, okay? I’m sleeping under a dumpster at the far end of the strip. Far cry from the penthouse, okay? Give me a break.)

Paulie had the brains, I had the ability. We would chase down anything in that yard: mice, moles, squirrels, foxes, birds, deer. Yup, deer. One time. We had a system. I’d patrol the far area and swipe their faces with my claws, immobilizing and temporarily blinding them. I’d then corral them towards Paulie at the far side of the shed, who was waiting underneath the ramp for them to stagger by. Never underestimate how vicious a cat who can’t run well can be. Talk about somebody with something to prove. But, like I said, he had the brains. He’s the one who helped me figure out how to use my paws to my advantage, how to climb into the best possible places for food and jumping onto unsuspecting mice. If Paulie could have talked, there’s no doubt we’d be running the strip right now. He’s the one, who when I first got involved with the Dice Kids, taught me the best strategies for playing poker. And had Paulie not been there to teach me chess, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of that den in Chinatown. Chess roulette they called it, a combination of exactly what it sounds like. If you were checkmated, you held the gun to your temple. My paws, although I was able to hold the gun, were not strong enough to pull the trigger, but that’s a different story. I still wasn’t about to lose to Fingers Johansson. Dude was born with seven fingers on each hand. And after every move against him, he would just point and laugh. Yeah, yeah. I get it. I’m a talking cat. It’s a freaking novelty, I know. Get over it and play the game already, Fingers. The look on his face when I dragged him into an Accelerated Dragon…

Anyway… I’m getting off topic again.

That lasted a few years. We mostly stayed out of ma’s way, and she mostly didn’t try to rip our tails off. It was a mutual understanding. On a good day, she’d just give us the stink eye when we tried to eat a little too much of her food, and on other days, she’d let us get on the same couch as her. I can remember once, when ma was sitting on the youngest daughter’s lap, we each jumped up as well, sitting next to her and rubbing up against the sides of her legs. Now granted, the mom and older daughter were there so ma didn’t have to share the petting—we were each getting petted—but ma didn’t try to shew us off. Didn’t even hiss once. I think Aimee had a lot to do with this.

The Newmarks had three daughters: Erin, Michelle, and Aimee. Aimee was the youngest, and each daughter kind of warmed up to each of us: Erin had ma, Michelle had Paulie (Paulie would purr like a freight train when she picked him up); and Aimee chose me. What can I say? The girl had good taste.

This is how it was for a while, though: Paulie and me running around and killing anything in the yard and staying out of Ma’s way. Over time we’d get into more trouble, as he realized what my double paws and leaping ability made me capable of. We would start taking time in the barn and, instead of eating the dead mice or bringing them inside to Ma or Erin or Mr. Newmark, Paulie would hide them on the top of a landing that was just out of reach for me to jump to. He wanted to see how far I could stretch and see if I could start walking like Napoleon. He had heard Michelle talking about this book she was reading about a bunch of talking animals and one of them was a pig who by the end could walk on his hind legs. I don’t know how he knew what they were saying, but he did and he would scratch out things for me or, as he heard them say something, he would point to it in the house and told me to listen more. I owe everything to Paulie and if he were here now, I’m sure he could help me figure out a way to get that asshole Craig his $5500. Which isn’t even his debt. He stole that from the Dice Boys. It’s them that I owe the money to all because of that bitch Hello. (I know a cat can’t be a bitch, but you know how trustworthy dames can be. I’d say I trust her as far as I could throw her, but if I ever found her again, I could throw her a helluva far way, so that metaphor’s moot.)  I know the Dice Boys, I grew up with them, they and Paulie made me what I could have been, and I know that they wouldn’t care about the debt.

Anyway… back to Paulie. He’d have me hide the mice on these landings and wouldn’t let me jump. He couldn’t do anything to me, so he didn’t intimidate me with beatings or whacks and he was just as nervous about Ma as I was, but if Paulie asked me to do something or if he had an idea, I would run through a brick wall for him. He’s my brother and he’s so much smarter than a talking cat like me could ever hope to be, and vice versa. I know that if Paulie could trade with me he’d do it. Over time, Paulie would put the mouse in higher and higher places, and over time, in that barn, at least, I was able to balance on my hind legs and even to walk a little on it. The first time I was able to hold it without falling, I thought Paulie was going to mate with the wheelbarrow. That was where we’d nap in the barn. Mr. Newmark was a very neat and tidy guy: everything had its place. But one day after mowing the lawn, I think he was beat tired, more tired than an alcoholic cat sleeping under a dumpster, and didn’t feel like bringing the rest of the grass to the woods in the back of the yard. He wheeled the barrow into the shed, and left it there, instead of standing it on its end. Paulie and I saw the grass and jumped in, slept there until Michelle and Aimee came out looking for both of us, late at night, crying, clutching her doll to her side, the same doll whose hair she’d dangle over my head.

The Newmarks were a crazy card playing family, too. Every Saturday night, they’d have some friends over, and they’d all sit around the table, bottles of whatever being passed around, glasses clinking, ice spilling over the side, more and more alcohol staining the tablecloths as the night wore on. As the girls got older, they’d join at the table.

One night, Paulie had been in a particularly needy mood. One of the dad’s friends—Jonesy, loud, large, and stupid—commented on “what an ugly looking cat that is.” He usually would run and hide under Michelle’s bed on these nights. She had lots of furs and think white carpets in there. He’d sprint at full speed in there, stop on the carpet, and there he’d slide underneath the bed, curled up on whatever part of the carpet would slide under with him. Michelle had heard this, though, and since they were adolescents now, they were allowed at the card table. So she and Aimee grabbed each us (Erin was out with a boy, and ma didn’t want anything to do with them at this point) and brought us to the table. You know that moment when you finally do something that you’re destined to do, like how a chef feels the first time he’s in the kitchen; or that moment when you meet the love of your life. That’s how I felt when we sat at that poker table: the blur of the cards folding into each other after someone made a bridge shuffling them, the whirr of the colors, the secret code language; the lower sound a quarter makes when hitting a dime, the roar of the guys as someone decided to throw a five dollar bill on the table, chips slapping against each other. And it didn’t matter who you were: everyone was equal on the poker table. They all just wanted you to play, and play well, so they could take your money.

So Paulie and me became members of the Saturday night crew. But one night Jonesy said something particularly nasty. I was already on thin ice for the last time he said something. It had been a summer night and he was wearing shorts, so I treated his leg like it was a scratching post. He never came over in shorts again. But because of that night, I had to be on behavior or out in the barn I would go, no matter how much Aimee cried. So this one night after he talked about Paulie’s ear, I waited to strike. Jonesy liked his drink and nobody was going to get between him and his drink. One of the friends once tried to dump one of his beers when there was still an inch left in it. You would have thought someone had slapped Jonesy’s mama they way he reacted. Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, but he sure found a way. The color in the glass this night was deep amber, and the reflection of the ice made Jonesey even bigger, if that was even possible. So when he got up to pee, I jumped off Aimee’s lap, walked across the table and dipped my head into his glass, lapping up all of. Damn it tasted good. That’s the day I stopped being Mittens and started being Tequila.

***
           
On weekends and during the summer, Aimee would ride her bike to her friend Mitzi’s house. (Mitzi was the younger sister of The Dice Boys.)


“Aimee? What are you doing?” I heard Mrs. Newmark ask.

“Nothing.” Aimee was chasing me around the house with a cardboard box. She had cornered me onto the couch and was trying to put the box over my head. I was swatting at her, claws in mind you.

“Aren’t you going to Mitzi’s? You aren’t bringing Mittens with you on your bike.” Not everyone had taken to calling me Tequila yet, just Mr. Newmark and the Saturday night poker crew.

“That’s not what I was doing.” Aimee dropped the box on the couch and went to gather some other things to go to Mitzi’s. With everything relaxed, I pulled myself out from between the couch cushions. I had squeezed myself in there to make it harder for her to pull me out. If she did start pulling me out, I would have used my claws, or bitten her on the arm.

While I could hear Mrs. Newmark talking to Aimee in the other room, I climbed in the box and curled up. Can’t explain to you why I love boxes so much: the walls muffle the outside world, we can’t hear it as much, so it’s much easier to fall asleep. Okay, maybe I can explain why I like them.

Moments later I heard Mrs. Newmark’s keys rattling, and the box was picked up. We were going to the car! What the hell had I done to deserve such a fate as this? I just wanted to sleep, dammit! Apparently, Mitzi had a cat and she and Aimee wanted the two of us to play.

On the way over, Aimee kept trying to put me on her lap, thinking her petting would comfort me. You pulled me from my box sleep, kid. There’s no comforting me now.

I don’t know how long we were in the car (I’m a cat. I don’t tell time. I might be able to talk and walk and drink tequila like nobody’s business, but there’s a reason I don’t wear a watch) but when we got there, I still didn’t want to come out. So they pulled me out in the box. Mitzi was on the front steps, hair in braids, bow on the left side of her head, wearing a pink and black dress. She had a small cat in her arms that was dressed up the same way: a pink bow on the left side of her head, and wearing a pink and black dress. I don’t know if it was the car ride, my half-wakened state, or the fact that I had never seen a cat dressed up like a human before, but I was frozen.

Aimee held me in her lap. I inched my head closer to this new fine feline. I didn’t know what her name was, but I kept hearing Mitzi and Aimee, in high-pitched voices, as if speaking on behalf of us, saying, “Hello, Kitty. How are you?” Each would in turn grab our paws and gesture to the other one with them. People can be so stupid sometimes. Just let us cats do what we want.

I wanted to jump off and lick her face. I wanted to put my paw on top of the bow on her head and spin her like a ballerina in a music box. I wanted to run across country with her, she in her dress wooing people over to me to try to beat the cat at poker; and me taking all their money, a cat version of Bonnie and Clyde, but without the gunfire: Teqs and Hello, Hello and Teqs. We could be a vaudeville act, a mom and pop catnip shop,  traveling snake-oil salespeople, gypsy cats with patches over our eyes sailing on makeshift rats on the ocean, all the fish we could want. We sat like that for what must have been hours, staring at us each other, not moving, not saying a word to the other, just quietly assessing the other, wishing we were away from our human masters.

After some time, Mitzi’s mom came outside. “Aimee, your mother just called. She wants you to know she finished grocery shopping and is on her way to pick you up.” We left shortly after Mrs. Newmark pulled into the driveway.

Every time after that day when Aimee would go to Mitzi’s, I’d mewl and chirp and rub on her legs, trying to get her to take me over there. Never happened again. I don’t know what I did that day, either, but Hello clearly didn’t want to see me. She didn’t look like she does now. Her eyes were wide. Her legs were normal cat size. She could move; man, could she move. I don’t know how she made it over to Japan, but she did. Forgot all about us, about me, about her roots. Stepping stones for some dames wild dreams of fame, fortune, and the grand catnip in the sky.

Haven’t seen a cat like her since. Dames. Every dream we have, they manage to take our snow-globe world and trash it on the ground, porcupines in our world of bubbles. You end up sleeping under a dumpster with your ribs kicked in and owing some jackass $5500, lapping up leftover tequila from the broken bottle of someone else’s shattered dreams.

Dames.           

 
 
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.