“That’s perfect!” Ginny told Mischief, who was balancing on the bogie board. “Hold it right there.” Ginny began snapping pictures, which would undoubtedly appear on Whispurring Winds’ blog. In the two months since they had adopted the little calico, everyone’s life had been turned upside down.
And Ginny’s blog had gained an unexpected model for the boating life of a water-loving kitten.
Xander peered over Ginny’s shoulder and studied Mischief’s posture. She had easily adapted to living aboard Whispurring Winds and had the potential to become an excellent Sea Purrtector, but she needed to learn to keep a lower profile. His tail smacked the cockpit’s royal blue cushion in frustration. When he had recommended adopting her, he’d assumed he would obtain an apprentice, not a tadpole. His ears flattened. Most days, she hurried through her lessons, so she could get outside and get wet; he suspected her water obsession was real and not an act for Ginny’s camera. Why else did she leap overboard to swim ashore, instead of ride in the dingy? Moreover, why did she scurry out onto the deck when it rained? The very thought of being out in a tropical thunderstorm without a valid reason made his pristine seal-point fur threaten to stand on end. A low growl startled him, but when Ginny glanced at him, he realized the sound had come from him.
Xander gulped. How had the kitten undermined his self-control?
Ginny looked past him, her gaze searching the anchorage for the source of the growl, then, with a shrug, her attention returned to Mischief posing on the gently rocking bogie board. Xander hopped down and headed to the salon, his thoughts centered on how he could continue the kick-boxing portion of Mischief’s training without convincing Mike and Ginny that they needed to purrtect her from what they seemed to think was a jealousy attack.
Watching Mischief waste time, which she should be using to study, was also wasting his time and undermining his control. Xander went below to catch up on his correspondence, but after several minutes of being unable to concentrate on his email, he Skyped Merlin. Seconds later, his best buddy’s emerald eyes were studying him. “Hey Pal, what’s wrong?”
“The water nymph is wasting everyone’s time with a bogie board lesson.”
Merlin’s ears perked with interest. “Sounds fun.”
Of course the white Norwegian Forest Cat would think so; he loved getting wet, too. “Want to come down here and get her to learn kickboxing, spelling, math and history?”
Merlin’s whiskers stiffened. “Nope. No thanks, though I wouldn’t mind helping her with swimming lessons.”
Merlin asked, “Did you ever get that Vi-Purr situation resolved? The Daily Mews keeps reporting about chupacabra sightings and attacks, and we know those misfits are actually doing the dirty deeds.”
“Between trying to get Mischief to study and do her homework, I haven’t had time to keep up with anything other than you, Fluffy and the Catamondo alerts.”
“All you’ve written about in the last month is Mischief and how having an apprentice isn’t what you expected. Dude, she’s a kitten, and she’s acting like a kitten. Eventually, she’ll grow up, but in the meantime, you might as well enjoy the consequences of your choices.”
Enjoy? His best friend’s emerald green eyes sparkled with amusement and much as he hated to admit it, Merlin was probably correct about Mischief. For certain, having her here was his choice and he certainly could not let others know that he was having doubts about that decision. Had Merlin recognized that Mischief shared his fondness for water sports and being in front of a camera? Not that Merlin ever admitted that he liked being photographed, but no cat could spend years being the poster boy for the top brand of cat food and not like their job.
When he didn’t say anything, Merlin said, “Did you ever find all those loony Haitian cats? I’m talking about the ones the forensic team couldn’t account for.”
“Haven’t had time.”
“All work and no play…” Merlin leaned close to the camera and whispurred, “Been to any more voodoo ceremonies? How about that Damon-demon-dude? Did you ever figure out if he was actually a zombie priest or something demonic?” Merlin’s expression became serious. “He’s one I’d like to know, for certain, what happened, too.“
“I’m sure he was one of the ones that died in the fire, when the lab burned.”
Merlin raised a brow. “But his remains were never positively identified, were they?”
Xander shook his head.
“Also, did you ever figure out how Lucy Fur was involved?“
Again, Xander shook his head.
“Did you hear that the Counsel is being cautious about the information they share with her?” Merlin settled back to his original position. “And how come they had so much catnip? What was going on with that?”
Despite his growing worry that the Moreau situation might not be totally resolved, Xander smiled at his best friend’s phrasing. Merlin liked to pretend he was a brainless beach bum, but was actually very well-read and smart as a whip. Merlin was also infatuated with Purrsident Mitzi Montgomery’s purrsonal assistant, Cheyenne, so his sudden interest in finding out details about the Haitian mission could be because Merlin wanted an excuse to contact her. Of course, there was also the possibility that Cheyenne was using Merlin to give him a message because she knew someone higher up in Catamondo’s ruling cats wanted to know why a case that should be closed still showed enough odd activity to make an ocassional headline.
Xander swished his tail as he realized that despite Merlin’s obsession with Cheyenne, he also had valid questions that needed solid answers. And figuring out those answers would be good training for little Ms. Photogenic, which was probably what Merlin had already figured out. “You’re right, I need to focus on answers to your questions.”
In the distance, he heard the familiar drone of the dinghy’s outboard motor approaching, which meant that Mike was back from fishing. What would they have for lunch? Lobster or fish? Tail swishing in anticipation, Xander quickly told Merlin he’d keep in touch, then logged off and left the computer exactly as he’d found it. Then, he went back into the cockpit, sprawled on the sun-warmed cushion he’d recently left, closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. Shortly after the dinghy docked, his nose declared that the fish-du-jour was on the grill.
When Ginny went below to make the rest of the meal, Mischief pranced up to him. “I know you’re not asleep.”
Opening an eye, he saw that her white, charcoal and gold fur was soaking wet. “Fall in?” She shrugged. “On purpose?”
She giggled. “Would I do that?”
“You know that fish use the ocean for a bathroom, right?” Her pretty little pink nose wrinkled. He sat up and stretched. “Think about all that fish pee, next time you groom your coat.”
“I’m telling you facts you should already know.” Mischief shook her body, but only three small drops fell to the deck. “You’d be wise to roll on a towel to get as much water off as possible.” He tipped an ear to the beach towel Ginny had left on the captain’s seat.
“But that’s not my towel.”
“Then dry off whatever way you want.”
She hopped onto the captain’s seat and began to roll on Ginny’s favorite pink-hibiscus towel.
“Have you talked to your mother or Garfield recently?” Xander prodded.
“You know we skyped, yesterday. Why?”
“Just wondered if they said anything about your Aunt Lucy.”
Mischief stopped rolling and stared at him. “Yes, as a matter of fact, they said that they haven’t heard a word about her in the past six weeks, and that is really, really strange because she loves being in the headlines… but you know that, don’t you?”
“About the headlines?” She nodded. Xander inclined his head and said, “You have mentioned it, previously.”
Mischief sat up and stared across the cockpit at him. “Have you been spying on me?”
“Why would I do that?” he asked, startled.
“I don’t know, but it is what you do.”
“I watch, I do not spy.”
She snorted. “Poe-tay-toe – Po-tah-toe.”
Though he was tempted to box her ears, he knew he was older, smarter and more skilled, so he refused to allow her to distract him. “My interest is in your aunt, who – as you just pointed out – is not behaving in her typical pattern and since she is the Dominican Republic Purrtector, I need to find out why.”
“Seriously?” Mischief wiggled with excitement. “How do we do that?”
“If you know anyone in her Purrtectorate, who we can contact, that would be good, but mainly I think we need to motivate our crew to relocate.”
“You realize August is the hottest month, right?”
“Why?” While it was warm, Whispurring Winds was pleasant, as it rode its anchor, nose pointed into the breeze.
“Well, if I understand the science that you’ve been trying to teach me, here, on the boat, it’s cooler because the water is cooler than the ground.”
“Well, won’t it be hotter on land? And didn’t you say that cities are hotter and nastier than here?”
“All true, but we can’t solve every problem from here.”
“I heard Santo Domingo was as stinky and icky as Port-au-Prince.” She gave a dramatic shiver. “I don’t wanna go there.”
“Why do you assume that is our destination?”
“Well because I thought you wanted to investigate Tante Lucy.” He nodded. “And The Daily Mews always writes about what she’s doing in Santo Domingo.” She gave him a look that suggested that he might be getting a tad senile.
He smiled. “Exactly, The Mews hasn’t been writing about her – in fact, it has not had a single article about her since we sighted her at Étang Saumâtre.” Xander raised a brow. “Think about that. Then, think about the fact that her file states that her actual home is Jimaní, which is in Independencia Province, not far from where we observed that meeting. I suspect she is still there.”
“Don’t know, but do know that Jimaní is a main thoroughfare between Haiti and The Dominican Republic.”
“But why would she be there when she loves being in the news so much?”
“That is an excellent question and one I want answered.” Xander stood up. “Now, are you ready for lunch? Smells like the fish is done.”
She hopped off the seat and scampered into the lounge, hopped onto the built-in settee, then quickly curled up in the corner, where she promptly gave every impression of being asleep. Ginny glanced at the lounge from the galley, where she was making two salads and some pasta, noticed Mischief with her tiny paw over one eye, smiled, then turned back to cutting an avocado.
Good Hathor, did his sous chef actually believe any cat could fall asleep with damp fur?
How intelligent were humans?
Xander hopped to the left, landing on the seat under the radio and settled down a moment before Mike ceremoniously placed a platter of perfectly grilled fillets on the table. Almost simultaneously, Ginny leaned over the settee back and put two place settings on the table, then turned back for the two bowls of salad and a basket of bread.
Both of Xander’s brows raised, as he noted that she had not served him, first. Then, as if reading his mind, she handed Mike his special dish. Mike put the biggest filet on it, then placed it in front of him.
That was more like it!
As Mike and Ginny sat down to eat, Mischief pretended to wake. Of course, they then had to fuss over her and hand feed her tiny bits of fish by hand. Xander didn’t know who was more to blame, Mischief for playing them or his humans for being suckers. What was even worse, he realized that this was all his fault because he was the one who had made the decision to take on an apprentice. “Enjoy the attention while you can,” he said, with his mouth full.
“Are you jealous?” she asked.
“Of course not. But you’ll probably wish you actually had been taking a nap when you think about the fact that you spent all afternoon posing on that silly bogie board, then you are taking ten times as long to eat because they think they need to feed you like a helpless baby.”
“You are jealous!”
He swallowed. “No, just thinking about all the research you skipped and the training you avoided, which still needs to get done if you expect to advance to the next level.”
“You know I’m capable and smart. What does it matter?”
“If you assume that I will forge test scores to send to Training Council, think again. My reputation means a lot to me.”
“But I read the assignment.”
“Which one? And when?”
“A couple days ago.”
“Have you logged into your home-study course since then?”
“It’s not like that is real school.”
She shook her head. “Real school is when we go to a special place and there’s a real teacher, like Professor Meowingtons.”
“Ah, the esteemed professor.” He should have figured out why she was shirking her lessons. “Would it surprise you to learn that the home-study course you’re enrolled in is the same one most diplomates‘ kittens attend and that real teachers, like your beloved Professor Meowingtons, grade the homework? That they are the ones who decide if you pass or not?”
Her leaf-green eyes got big as saucers. “Seriously?”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“No.” Matted fur and dinner forgotten, she jumped down and scurried to the aft cabin, where her notepad was. Ginny and Mike looked from her to him, brows furrowed. Pleased with his small success, Xander returned to eating the purrfectly prepared fillet and began planning the best way to find answers for Merlin’s questions.
“Well,” said Mike, “I guess she was full.”
“Maybe she had too much sun and doesn’t feel well,” Ginny said. “Did you notice that she didn’t even groom herself properly?”
“She did look silly with her fur in tufts,” Mike said.
Ginny nodded. “Do you think she’s sick?”
“If she isn’t herself by tomorrow, perhaps we should find a vet….” Mike frowned. “It’s probably not healthy for her to drink sea water, and you know she must be getting that in her system when she cleans her fur.”
“True, but it won’t be easy keeping her away from the water… Have you ever seen a kitten who loved water and swimming quite so much?”
Mike shook his head.
Xander had never understood Merlin’s fascination with the wet stuff, either, but over the years had learned to accept it and even learned basic swimming and surfing skills from his pal. After he had been named the first Sea Purrtector, he had wondered if meeting Merlin was kismet. In truth, Merlin would have been the ideal Sea Purrtector, but he had made sure that everyone just thought he was a gorgeous white Norwegian, who was the ideal representative for gourmet food. Only a select few knew about the skills, which made him an excellent Purrtector. Now, Xander wondered if Mischief and her water obsession was another example of fate, since water skills were something Sea Purrtectors should have.
But with the sorry state of her grades, would she ever graduate from her bright red flea collar to wear the high-tech, sapphire collar of Sea Purrtector?
He swished his tail at the honor of training his successor. Perhaps she was correct in pursuing bogie board skills, but that didn’t mean he could allow her to shirk her normal lessons.
After dinner, Xander sat down with his computer to learn as much as possible about Lucy Fur, then he began researching Jimaní in the Dominican Republic’s Independencia Province, where she had last been seen. What he found were several references to supposed chupacabra attacks in that area. Could those relate to Lucy Fur and the Moreau problems he’d discovered on the shores of Étang Saumâtre? Xander frowned and wondered if Jimaní being a main thoroughfare between Haiti and The Dominican Republic could be significant. And if so, why?
Also, why had Doctor Moreau been creating freaks and clones of important cats in her lab? And why had she been drying tons of catnip? Even though that case was supposedly closed, Merlin was correct about there being too many unanswered questions. The worst being, confirming what had happened to the Damon. Plan made, he quickly composed an email to Merlin:
Did you ever find a birth record for a tom answering the Damon’s description? I haven’t had any luck.
I am planning a trip back to Étang Saumâtre, where I hope to discover if there is a connection between it and Jimaní, D.R. Obviously, I’m looking for the link between Lucy Fur, the D.R. Purrtector and Damon and/or the Moreau operation. I think you’re correct about there being potential loose ends and too many questions left unanswered. One being how the Vi-Purrs escaped. I mean they must have, because it’s the only way to explain why there have been so many ‘chupacabra’ sightings.
To answer the questions you posed, before Mike’s return cut our chat short:
No, I was never able to figure out exactly what Damon is or was because his body was never identified, but I am almost positive that he was a product of the Moreau operation. And, before you ask, no, I never confirmed what their ultimate goal was, but the only thing that makes sense is that they were after power and control. I suspect they were using the catnip to cloud the senses of as many cats as possible – it is a lot easier to get away with stuff if the catarazzi are watching fools howling at the moon, instead of asking why there is so much herb around. Sadly, cats like Jacques, love the stuff and will even work for it.
Xander studied what he’d written and wrinkled his nose at the idea of any cat allowing their honor to be compromised over an herb. While he liked the way catnip repelled mosquitoes and other biting bugs, he had never understood why so many made such a fuss over it. For that matter, he had never understood those silly fake mice, either. Had whatever human designed the things ever seen an actual mouse? Surely not, since those things had nothing in common with any mouse, living or dead. And yet, humans kept making the things and kittens kept playing with them. Had Dr. Moreau planned to use the herb in some diabolical plot?
If not, why had there been so much herb drying?
Had he totally thwarted her, as he had initially believed, or were there loose ends?
Who would know?
Rufus came to mind and with that thought, came the glimmer of a plan.
______________ The end of Chapter One _________________
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