This Suzan Lovett story was originally published in the S/H zine Code 7 #4 in 1987, published by BOUND IN LEATHER PRESS. The story is reproduced with the permission of the author and editor.
We would like to thank Suzan Lovett for her generosity in making this terrific story so easily available. We would also like to thank BOUND IN LEATHER PRESS who graciously encouraged us to include the story in the Archive.
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
(Dedicated to Fanny Adams for CAT TALES (while reading and enjoying it, I couldn't help wishing it involved two other characters dearer to my heart than B&D), and to all 'cat' people.)
It was inevitable, and I had nobody to blame bit myself. I mean, I took enough Psychology courses to know about 'the healthy rebellion against parents/establishment,' but I was no longer a teenager. So why had I saddled myself with this sorry excuse for a car? Just because my father had always put Fords down. The man's owned a garage all his life, for crying out loud; he ought to know, right? Just because I resented him advising me, I had bought this miserable hunk of junk.
Okay, that's one dumb move.
The second was to try a shortcut through unknown alleys in a strange city. And I blame that on the car. An impressive storm had descended on LA. It had been raining in sheets for hours, and the traffic jam was un-believable, even for this city. The car started over-heating; I knew it was going to stall any minute. I didn't care to face the wrath of irate LA drivers--they're certifiable anyway. So I thought I'd duck through some alleys and hopefully bypass the worst bottleneck. Not the smartest move in your native city; downright idiotic for a visitor.
Of course, the heap promptly found a deep ditch full of water, got flooded out, and died on me. Terrific. Some vacation. Call for a tow and take a cab while it gets fixed, you say? Well, a graduate student has only so much money. The damn thing would dry out on its own, I knew from experience, if the weather gave it half a chance. However, that left me stuck in a dark alley in a sleazy part of downtown LA. I didn't want to while away the hours sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, and I figured even the weirdoes would have more sense than to lurk in alleys this night. More sense than yours truly, that's for sure.
I braved the rain, hoping to find shelter for a few hours, and was soaking wet by the time I got myself under an overhang. It was no place to linger, so I skirted the buildings, looking for an exit out of the alley, cursing Mister Ford for his creation, hoping he was spinning in his grave at the atrocities now committed under his name.
Oh, my God, they were everywhere!
Right there, snuggled together next to a rundown building, in a spot marked 'Reserved/Private Parking,' were two more Fords. A battered, dirt-colored LTD, and a flashy Torino, sporting a white stripe like a jaunty smile across its top and sides. They were probably also out of commission, although the red number looked pampered. The other was way past ready for the mercy billet. I felt a kinship with their owners, my companions in vehicular misery. From the look of the trash bins and the back exit of the building, the place was a bar. Okay, I'd go around and find the entrance--hey, in this neighborhood, you can't he fussy about what recommends a place.
Of course, once I glimpsed its name through a curtain of water, I almost changed my mind. Then I couldn't decide which to despair of: the proprietor's name or the establishment's. Aw, what the heck. One of them fit my mood, didn't it?
Classy, it wasn't. Just as well. The way I looked at the moment, I'd have been chucked out of a classy place. It was noisy, crowded, and smoky, bit living in a campus dormitory for years, I know what's 'legal' smoke and what's not. This haze wouldn't have set a cop's nose twitching. A small miracle in this neighborhood.
I did the best I could for myself once I found the restroom, and then sidled to the bar. I wasn't foolish enough to take a dark booth even though there were no empty seats at the bar. Squeezing between stools, I tried to get some attention.
"Find 'nother perch 'n show the lady chivalry ain't dead, Roscoe," said a voice from one side of the bar. I realized that it was on my behalf when a seat next to me emptied. I took it and thanked the black man behind the bar.
Then he introduced himself as the proprietor. Okay, it's not polite to giggle into someone's face, especially when he's just been nice to you, but my nerves weren't steady to start with, and--I mean, what do you envision when you hear a name like Huggy Bear? Something round, plump, and cuddly, right? Not this tall, skeletal man with spindly arms and legs, and a face that looked like a skull. He looked more like Charlotte's close cousin. The Charlotte who has a web, that is.
He didn't seem to mind, and the strangely angled eyes stayed amiable. He asked for my order. I'd have preferred something hot, but in a strange bar, it's not wise to drink things that don't come from a sealed bottle or can. I asked for a beer, unopened, please. Besides, it's cheap. Then I sat and nursed it, feeling wet and miserable, despairing of the weather, and in my best self-pity funk.
What startled me out of it was a commotion at one end of the bar. There was a shrill yowl--an un-human sound I'd recognize anywhere--a human yelp, crashing of glass, a string of curses, hisses, and then Huggy Bear in a diving tackle toward the site of the altercation, shouting, "Hey, man, leave the cat alone!" I saw the black man arrest a customer's hand in a grip I wouldn't have suspected of his slight frame.
I was almost out of my seat myself. You see, it's instinctive. A cat broadcasts distress, my siren goes on. But Huggy Bear seemed in charge of the situation. Besides, I could see that the hand the customer had raised against the cat--blasphemously, in my opinion--was already bleeding in thin strips. Just desserts, that. I tilted my beer in silent salute toward the unseen cat and relaxed.
The argument ended with Huggy Bear reading the man the riot act and sending him packing. I was beginning to like this man. He had his heart in the right places. I leaned forward, looking for the furry creature past elbows and glasses, and found him.
Oh, it was a he, all right. A great big one, all gold and white, his hair now bristling righteously, ears laid back, needle-sharp teeth bared in the direction of the departed assailant, thick tail held up like a banner of war. He had the largest paws I'd ever seen on a feline short of a tiger, claws unsheathed, flexing. The sight almost made me pity the foolish human who had taken on this spit-fire. He could've been torn to shreds.
The black man was cleaning the bar top and trying to calm the cat. When he reached to stroke the ruffled fur, he got spat at for his pains, and almost earned a swipe from the wicked claws. Aha, a grouch. One of those cats you can only apply the 'live and let live' maxim to. Obviously, Huggy Bear did. He left the creature alone.
Shortly, the cat was restoring his own dignity, smoothing his fur in a most orderly and precise fashion. He glared at a paw, licked it studiously clean, then hunched down, throwing around nasty looks in case there might be more violators of his space. That's when I saw he had the most beautiful blue eyes. Almost glacial, but arresting.
I rested my chin on my hands and studied him; the best view of a cat is from his own eye level. The ice-blue-eyes didn't miss my scrutiny, bit obviously I was found unworthy of notice. Somewhere in his ancestry, I could see, was a registered bloodline, but he still struck me as a rogue, an untamed one that preferred to walk on the wild side. He was really gorgeous, but his disposition, I'd bet, wouldn't match his looks. Still, cats don't come made to order. You take them as is, or you leave them alone.
Not wishing to be too rude, I stopped staring. The bar was no longer so packed. The rain must've stopped, but my contraption would need a longer recovery period. I ordered another beer and this time asked for it in a glass. I was beginning to relax in this place.
Huggy Bear was wiping the bar top. I guess he encroached on what the cat considered his territory, or heaven forbid, brushed against him. "Sssss--ptui, ptui, ptui," went the gold creature. One hiss and three spits. No, no respect for his owner at all.
"Man, you were always a moody mother, but this is gettin' ridiculous," the black man grumbled, then began a long discourse with the cat who glared steadily at him out of slitted eyes. Well, the truth is, I listened. Didn't understand much, though.
"Turn you out into the streets, I oughtta," he said, but at a respectable distance from the reach of the claws. "The hand that feeds you, m'man, y'dig? It ain't my fault 'n you know it. Ain't gonna help to lose that famous temper. Tell you the truth, feels like Papa Theodore laid the curse on me. You two should've hot-footed it before he disappeared outta prison. You don't mess with voodoo, man. So, okay, it ain't fun, bit Aunt Minnie's workin' on it, too--next full moon, she says, 'n it'll be all over. None too soon, for me, lemme tell you. I'm doin' the best I can. If you prefer, I'd gladly pass you onto Dobey, let him worry 'bout it."
"Grrrr..." Low, ominous.
"Didn't think so. So you just gotta hang in there. Why can't you be like your partner, a little adaptable?"
"GRRRRRRR..." Louder, positively ominous.
"Oh, so that's what's sourin' you. Well, I don't know where he's run off to, unless he's met that foxy tabby that hangs 'round the back and they're havin' a--"
"All right, all right! Take it up with your partner. At least he's not sittin' here sulkin' like some pissed-off Buddha, makin' life mise--ah, speak o' the devil."
The swinging door to the kitchen parted slightly.
Huggy spoke to the floor in that direction. "Man, will ya quit wanderin' off 'n leavin' me with Mister Sunshine here? It isn't enough he's pickin' fights with my customers, now he's tryin' to pick 'em with me."
A "Meowwww" came from around Huggy Bear's feet, then a dark and agile streak leapt up onto a shelf over the counter and disappeared behind some hanging dish towels, too fast for mere human eyes. "Well, you two sort it out 'n leave me outta it," Huggy said sternly and went back to his customers.
If, as the black man had claimed, the gold cat had been worried about the whereabouts of his partner, he now gave no evidence of it. Paying not the slightest attention to the cat scratching around on the shelf over him, he closed his eyes, tucked his two front paws under him, laid down his head and looked imperiously detached.
A few minutes later, something furry, black and tipped with white peeked out from between the towels. The end of a tail. Slowly, ever so slowly, it descended until it hung directly in front of the gold cat's face. Then it lazily curled to one side. Flick. It swished against the pink nose. Curled to the other side, flick, swept into the opposite direction. Then faster: flick, flick, flick. As soon as a rhythm was established came a pause, then flick, pause, flickflickflickflick--uneven pauses and an unpredictable number of flicks.
Swipe! From the suddenly freed and unsheathed paw of the gold cat.
"Meeeek!" Shrill complaint from above. The tail curled defensively on itself, out of the reach of the great paw. Satisfied, the large cat went back to his contemplation of feline mysteries.
But I could see it coming, that mischievous, disembodied tail uncurling again. WHAP! Right on the nose. Then up like a shot out of harm's way. Again. And again. By then, I was fascinated. This was better than an Ali/Frazier bout on TV any day. By that time there were few customers left around the bar, and I had a clear view.
The luxurious gold tail was now also twitching on the counter, irritably. The blue eyes opened and fixed themselves uncompromisingly on the teasing tail hanging from above. Down flipped the tail for another hit-and-run attack. CHOMP! It was between the jaws of the blond cat.
"!!??" I can't describe the sound from above. It was a combination of exclamations and questions, like "Oh, shit!" and "What now?"
"Chomp, chomp, chomp," went the gold cat vengefully on the captured tail, with obvious relish.
"!...!...!" Then, "Rrrrr?" A tiny plea.
The tail was released. But it wasn't snatched away to safety as I had expected. It hung there, limp, looking chewed around the edges and dejected, right in front of the victor's face. I don't know how a mere tail could look so pitifully in need of sympathy, but this one managed.
I swear, the gold cat had a guilt complex. Oh, he tried to ignore the abused appendage, but he finally broke down and snared it with a paw to lick it as if in apology. He looked put-upon as he did it, but he did it. The tail finally pulled out of his hold, curled itself around the gold head a couple of times affectionately, then up it went and disappeared. Considering the matter ended, the blond creature shut out the world again as only cats can.
One, two, three beats.
A black paw extended from under the towels, inched its way down, and took a lazy swipe at an ear. By that time I was dying to see this audacious critter. The paw merrily went on batting, until the large cat heaved a great sigh and took up the gauntlet. He rolled onto his back and a flurry of paw-swatting commenced, which ended with a dark ball of fur tumbling ungracefully out of safety and onto the blond one sprawled on the counter. Next instant, both back legs of the gold cat coiled and snapped out in a powerful kick, sending his pesky comrade tumbling and sliding all over the bar top.
"EeeeeeEEEEEEEK!" An indignant cry, followed by scraping claws frantically scrambling for purchase when counter space ran out, and down went the dark cat, ass over kitty-kettle.
I damn near choked but managed not to laugh. I've been trained by cats, and I know better. I wouldn't have even looked, except I wanted to make sure that the precocious little thing hadn't hurt anything but its dignity. I was also curious to see which cover-up it would opt for: "That didn't happen," or "I meant to do that."
The latter, I saw, and realized: a ruffian. A brief shake, and hop, hop, onto a stool and back onto the counter. It hadn't even smoothed its fur; so, not terribly concerned with appearances. The first thing it did once on the counter was to rudely shake a back leg at the other cat. I can translate that, but it wouldn't be fit for polite company.
Whereas the gold cat's looks spoke of a pedigree, this one was strictly proletarian. It was another male--hey, I was in a position to see. Smaller than his mate, but solid and compact, dark with a hint of tiger stripes thrown in, a little patch of white on his tummy, and two white back paws that made him look like he was wearing tennies. He would've been sleek if some-one had taken a brush to his lovely fur, which seemed to have a mind of its own at the moment. But it gave him a rakish look that, somehow, fit.
As if aware of my scrutiny, he glanced around at me. Jesus. Did I say the other cat had beautiful blue eyes? I hadn't seen anything yet, I realized, as the impossibly dark blue orbs--charmingly slanted and a little asymmetrical in size--studied me.
"Aren't you gorgeous!" I couldn't help exclaiming. I held out my hand. "Want to meet?"
He trotted up jauntily and sniffed my hand. Then, much to my delight, said a very friendly, unstinting hello. For those ignorant of protocol, it goes like this: the cat puts the very tip of his nose somewhere in the middle of your face, and slooowly passes his whole body across, all the way to the tip of his tail, which then goes straight up like a tollgate. Well, yes, the procedure tends to leave you with your nose and mouth full of cat hair, but if you're the kind to mind incidentals when so honored, you wouldn't be worth the greeting anyway.
"Hello to you, too. I'm Elizabeth." I don't talk baby-talk to adult cats. I believe they resent it.
"Glad to meet you, but I'm afraid I have to have that translated." I looked around for Huggy Bear. Didn't have far to look. He'd been watching us already.
"You're safe, he's friendly," he said, ambling over, then pointed at the other cat and added succinctly, "He's not."
My new friend was getting acquainted with my long nails and liking it. He was also a nibbler, I was finding out. "What are their names?"
"Goldilocks," Huggy said in his strangely punctuated speech.
That had to be the one keeping an uncompromising distance. Okay, his fur was the right color and luxuriant enough, but why anybody would saddle a self-respecting tom with a name like that, I wouldn't know. "What do you call this one?"
"That's it: Goldi-locks. Goldi," he indicated the blond cat, then pointed at the charmer, "Locks. I can't decide if it's spelled el-oh-see-kay-es, or el-oh-ex, but since he won't he signin' any reports for a while, it don't matter."
The man was a bit strange, I admit. "One name for two? Well, economical, I guess."
"Fittin', believe me. They're a team. Goldi-Locks, it is. And I'm the Bear, you see?"
Oh. I suppose I did. In a way.
My new acquaintance was investigating more of me; he was on my lap, rubbing up against me familiarly. I put my feet on a higher rung of the stool to give him a comfortable perch. I stroked and scratched. Instantly, enthusiastically, a loud, continuous purr issued, and he sprawled to present his tummy, rather shamelessly.
"Don't believe in long engagements, do you?" I obliged happily, and his motor went on overdrive. A real hedonist, this one. Most cats are, but to varying degrees. Obviously, this one didn't have much restraint. "What a lovely purr you've got. Aw, bet you say that to all the girls."
"Yeah," Huggy Bear told me, leaning over the counter to grimace at the boneless undulations of pleasure taking place on my lap, "he'll purr on a dime, with the right company." He tilted his head toward the grouch. "He's not known to, in any company."
Well, some cats are sociable, some just aren't. Talking of sociable...a flirtatious paw had snared my skirt, and now it was riding indecently high on my thighs. I pulled it back down. "Quit that."
The dark head rolled on my lap, then disappeared under my blouse, and now I had a cat leisurely investigating his way up my chest. I pulled the loose neck of the blouse out a bit and looked down at the triangular face with those adorable eyes, peeking up at me from between my breasts. I could've sworn he was grinning. "Not on the first date, Lothario, come on out of there, now."
Huggy Bear grabbed him by the hindquarters and pulled him out. "Got your number, buddy, hasn't she? Behave yourself. No accostin' the customers, or I'm gonna have you fixed."
I admit, I believe cats can understand human speech, at least when it suits them. But the surprising thing was that the menacing growl hadn't come from the threatened creature. He was settling for my nails and still purring. It had come from his comrade.
Sympathetic reaction, I suppose.
Now that we had started talking--cats are better than babies to spark a friendly conversation between total strangers--I found myself telling Huggy Bear my troubles. He was instantly helpful, offering to drive me to my hotel, keep an eye on my heap and bring it around once it revived. The advantages of being a cat-lover.
Locks--or Lox, if you prefer--had left my lap to investigate my drink. He stuck his head into the tall glass, then literally got stuck. I grabbed it before he started shaking it around and held it firm until the little head popped back out. "That's dangerous," I told him. "You might cut yourself or suffocate. There's nothing you'll like in there."
"Oh, he likes beer a lot. He's used to it." Figuring the owner ought to know, I dipped one finger into the beer and offered it. Curling a delicate paw around my finger, he proceeded to lick it with slurping swipes of his rough tongue. He looked up at me with those lovely eyes; I looked down at him and knew I was fast losing my heart. Thoughts of breaking in and catnapping were crossing my mind, for heaven's sake. I offered him some more beer which he accepted, then he sat back and licked his mouth.
"I think you're the handsomest thing I ever laid eyes on," I informed him, in all honesty.
I swear, he preened.
"And you know it, too, don't you?"
"Purrrrrr," from the dark scamp, and simultaneously a loud snort from the gold cat, "Humph!"
"I wish you could come home with me. I already have two ladies there." The black ears pricked in my direction. "Interested, huh? They're called Batsheba and Scheherazade. You'd make a great, oh, Solomon, or Arabian prince--take your pick." The whiskers trembled in something like anticipation.
"Rrrrrr-rrroowww," issued from the blond cat. "Come back here, you ass," it sounded like.
Damned if he wasn't obeyed. However, as soon as my charmer scrambled willingly to his companion's side, and playfully nudged him with his nose, all he got for his pains was another bad-natured growl. This wasn't an easy relationship, I could see. But although studiously ignored, the smaller cat stayed by his mate, occupying himself by batting about a crumpled cigarette pack left on the bar, and he paid no attention to my efforts to entice him.
Huggy Bear had disappeared. He returned, carrying a plate piled high with cooked hamburger. The dark cat s reaction was instantaneous. The plate hit the bar top, and he went into the "FOOOOOD-CHAAAARGE!" mode.
The gold creature, on the other hand, could give Morris a run for his money in the Finicky Department. One eye cracked open, and a long contemplation of the notion of food ensued. At length he bestirred himself, stretched, and reluctantly approached, looking like he was performing an odious task. Once over the plate and his busily devouring companion, he loftily contemplated some more. But I knew he was going to give in; his nose was twitching. At last, he deigned to crouch and daintily nibble at the meat as if it were an imposition.
Now, I've always had a few cats around. While I've seen them share anything from toys to litter-boxes, I haven't met a cat--especially a tom--who cares to share his food bowl, let alone his food. But not even the slightest objection from the smaller cat who'd had the food all to himself so far. He just shifted to make room for his mate, didn't even seem to mind that the gold cat kept picking through the choice bits and leaving him the rest.
I pointed at the dark cat who had started looking a little pregnant with the food he was packing in. "I suppose you wouldn't part with him, would you?" I asked Huggy Bear, with little hope.
"Nah, he's all right. It's blondie I can do without."
They were doing it again. The objection had come from the smaller cat.
"Just kiddin', man," Huggy assured quickly. "Can't separate 'em," he told me. "So I guess I'm stuck with the whole package deal."
The plate polished off, both cats set to cleaning themselves. The gold one did it fastidiously. The other was haphazard. A lick here, few licks there, a flick of a paw to dislodge a bit of food clinging to a whisker, and he considered himself done. His companion was still at it. He was right in front of me, and really, testy or not, he was undeniably a beauty. Looked like he belonged in a show somewhere, with a blue ribbon adorning the proud neck. Figuring he might have mellowed out a bit over a full tummy, I held out my hand. He didn't see fit to sniff it, but neither did he hiss. Gently, I stroked the shiny head. God, he was soft. He let me, but promptly shook his head afterwards. For those unversed in cat-language, that means, "I tolerated that, but I'd appreciate it if you'll refrain from further such intimacies." Another stroke, and I knew he'd lick the area. And that would mean, roughly translated, "Yuck, yuck, yuck--uncouth human!" Having no desire to earn disapproval, I refrained.
Ablutions over, he sauntered off, reclaimed his spot, laid down and closed his eyes again.
I thought I could renew relations with the dark cat, and reached for him. With a soft purr, he rubbed against my hand, but he was saying goodbye. Without a backwards glance, he joined his friend and unceremoniously plopped himself right on top of the larger cat.
"Guess I've been dismissed," I told Huggy.
"Don't feel slighted," he said. "They've always had their own priorities. You want that ride now?"
I realized I was the only customer left in the place and quickly took the man up on his offer. He went off to lock up.
I watched the dark cat launch a determined attack against being ignored. He licked, prodded, gently swatted, nudged, poked his nose under his mate's tummy, into his ear, under his chin. It was seduction, and it worked. The gold cat turned, got a firm grip on the little flirt with two paws around his neck, and proceeded to lick him with generous swabs of his tongue. If you insist on sleeping with me, he seemed to say, then by golly, you're going to get squeaky clean first. A serious, mutual cleaning session commenced, slowed down, became a lazy, leisurely pleasure, then both cats were peacefully asleep in a complete, impossible tangle.
Well, maybe the relationship wasn't as uneasy as I had assumed.
Huggy came back. "Ready?"
I got off the stool and decided to say a last good-bye to the cats, while the black man shrugged into a neon-orange windbreaker, and stuck a purple beret on his head at a jaunty angle. Mind you, he was in grass-green pants and a yellow satin shirt already. Only in LA.
Leaning close to the tightly curled cats, I softly stroked both since it was impossible to differentiate anymore. They stayed fast asleep, and content with their lot; not even a twitch of an ear or a whisker in reaction. The rest of the world had been locked out.
"Sweet dreams," I told both of them, took a step back, then something struck me as odd, and I returned to check. Contrary to Huggy Bear's claim, the gold cat wasn't that stingy with himself when snuggled up with his dark companion.
He was purring to beat the band.