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
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.
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.