Xander strolled into the kick-boxing arena, to scattered cheers for “Kamakazi!” and few derogatory meows from those who favored Seattle’s local favorite, Bruiser, a muscle-bound brute from the docks. A moment later, Bruiser, sauntered into the arena. The yowling doubled in volume, then doubled again, until it was impossible to hear anyone cheering “Kamakazi”. Soon, it sounded like the only thing cats could scream was, “Bruiser, Bruiser, Bruiser, Bruiser, Bruiser.”
Xander swallowed and tried to remain calm as he turned to meet his opponent.
The tom was a lot bigger than he’d expected and a lot furrier. Did the thick, long fur merely make him appear huge, or was he really double his own height and weight? Why had The Daily Mews referred to Bruiser as a feral cat? There was nothing about the tom that appeared common and everything to suggest a Maine Coon ancestry.
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” Monty said.
He glanced at his trainer and wondered if he was mouthing platitudes to encourage him or if there was truth in the words. “You sure about that?”
Monty nodded. “Seen toms like him, before. They move slower. At least slower than you do.”
Did it really matter how fast he moved, when the tom’s arms and legs were so much longer? Unless he moved like lightening, by the time he was close enough to make contact, Bruiser would have had several chances to connect. Xander sighed. This was either going to be a very short match or a long, painful one.
Monty gently head-butted him. “Think positive.”
“No, you’re not. You’re listening to all those howls for the big lug and looking at all that fur. You need to know in your heart that you are better than him.” Monty’s meow was barely perceivable with all the noise the crowd was making.
“I am thinking positive.”
“You’re thinking about his reach.” Monty’s breath fanned his ear. “Instead, think about how much wind resistance all that fur must cause. He couldn’t move like you if he had to. I figure they call him Bruiser because he needs to sit on opponents, so they can’t get away. You, my boy are fast. Why do you think they call you Kamakazi? You hit fast and hard.”
“Of course I do.”
“So don’t let the lug’s size stop you.”
“Actually, I was thinking he’s half the size of the Doberman I did the nose-ectomy on last week.”
Monty chucked. “That was a good fight. Keep that in mind, but also remember that he has a reputation for a lethal side kick.”
“So do I.” And his own front kicks and round kicks were excellent, too. Xander flexed his claws and waited for the referee’s signal. The moment it came, he launched himself at Bruiser and got two jabs plus a punch in before the tom could pivot out of the way, then he landed out of his reach. The crowd went wild, unfortunately, most seemed to be screaming for Bruiser to ‘get him’. Xander dodged four jabs, the closest one brushing his ear. Monty was right about the big guy, he moved just a little slower. And he looked a lot bigger than he actually was. The jabs that he’d centered had connected with solid chest, but the one off to the side, had only grazed his ribs. Still, three of his had connected, while Bruiser had barely touched an ear.
With an enraged reow, Bruiser lunged at him.
Xander easily moved out of the way and for good measure, smacked his passing tail.
With a reow, Bruiser turned, tripping over his own paws as he attacked.
It was over quickly.
A few cheers for “Kamakazi!” echoed through the otherwise quiet arena, as most stared in shock at the fallen favorite. Surprised by the ease of the win, Xander looked back at the crowd.
Slowly, the chant for “Kamakazi!” gained more voices., but it never equaled the thunderous sound that Bruiser’s entry had evoked. After an extended, awkward moment, the referee clipped the gold medal on his collar and Xander was finally able to seek the peace and quiet of the evening.
He stared over the Puget Sound’s gentle waves, glistening in the dim moonlight and breathed in the warm, humid air, as he told himself that he was one step closer to becoming a Purrtector, where he could help other cats.
“Good match,” a voice said, “Short, but good.”
Xander turned to see a big, fluffy white tom, who looked oddly familiar, though he knew he had never encountered him on Catamondo’s kick-boxing circuit. “Do I know you?”
The tom laughed. “I wouldn’t be doing my job, if you didn’t feel that way.” He flicked his lush tail. “Name is Merlin. Do I call you Kamakazi or Xander?”
“Whichever you prefer.”
“How about Pal?” Merlin tilted his head, so the starlight seemed to twinkle green in his eyes.
Xander studied the tom’s perfectly groomed coat, which suggested that he was pampered. Purrfect grooming was not typical for the toms, who attended the tournaments. Then, it clicked. “You’re that poster boy for Elegant Eats cat food.”
Since Elegant Eats had sponsored this tournament, it made sense for the well-groomed tom to be there.
Merlin hopped up on a nearby bench and struck a pose, which would have been excellent in stronger light, but still was good enough to make the girls in the shrubbery meow. What a phony! But Xander didn’t say anything aloud, since he knew better than to insult the poster boy of the hand that fed him.
Ignoring the giggling girls and the posing tom, he turned his attention back to the water and watched a containership dock at the distant shipyard.
“How long will you be in the area?” Merlin asked.
“A few more days.” Xander flicked his tail. “As long as I had to travel cross-country to get here, it only makes sense to see the area.”
“How do you like 47.6 so far?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Seattle is at latitude 47.6, Charleston is 32.8.” Merlin looked down at him as if he was an ignorant kitten and while Xander thought he was speaking gibberish, he hoped his expression didn’t reveal his thoughts. “You don’t understand nautical terms, do you?”
Ah, so a latitude was something called a nautical term. “Sorry, no.”
“How about water sports? If you like surfing, I can hook you up with a board.”
It took all Xander’s training not to shiver at the thought. “Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll have time.”
“Too bad.” Merlin carefully settled down on the bench. Why did everything the tom did look like he expected to be the center of attention in a photo shoot?
Just then, a dark, chubby kitten scampered up. “Oh, Mr. Kamakazi, sir, I’m so happy to find you.”
Xander perked his ears and watched the lad pant. “Is there something wrong?”
“Mr. Monty said that you were a good investigator.”
Xander gave a slight shrug, while Merlin looked down on them with a slight smirk.
“Well, Ms. Cha-Cha has gone missing.”
“And you discovered this, when?” Merlin demanded, as he lunged to his paws.
The lad visibly cringed, when he looked up and saw the big white tom looming over him. “She was supposed to give the medal, but wasn’t there, and we’ve been looking and looking for her.”
Merlin hopped down and went nose to nose with the poor kitten. “When was the last time you saw her.”
“And, did she say where she was going?”
The kid nodded so hard he had to sidestep. “She wanted to go down to the docks to have a nice sunbath.”
Merlin sat up and told the kitten, “Figures, tell Caruthers we’ll look for her.”
Xander glanced from the big white tom, whom he had assumed had the cattitude of a prissy puss, but who had taken charge and agreed to search the distant dock, without a second thought. Had he misjudged him? Furthermore, how could he sound so confident about finding Cha-Cha, when that dock looked like such a huge place?
Seeing where his attention was, Merlin laughed. “Don’t worry, that’s not where she’d go.”
“And you know this how?”
“She’s my littermate.” Merlin stood up and while he still looked perfectly groomed, somehow, he no longer looked like a lazy, preening sissy. Xander followed him down to the water. And a group of giggling girls followed both of them.
OR read the first chapter of The Red Claw for free by clicking on its cover: