Tomcat

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TOMCAT

When I saw Spike and Andrica standing in my kitchen looking at me like an intruder, I had plenty to say, but all that came out of my mouth were cat sounds.

Andrica turned to me, firm with resolve. “You seem like a nice cat, and your eyes remind me of Tom’s. But one man, one cat, and a couple of babies is more than enough.”

I wanted desperately to get back into the house. Spike could leap atop the picket fence which separated our yard from the next, bound through four feet of air, glide between the bars of the window gate, and land on the sill.

I looked from the fence to the window sill. The man in me trembled as he considered the consequences of falling.

I squeezed between the wooden planks of the fence, and made my way to the front of the house. We lived in a four story row house built just after the Civil War. A stoop led up to the front doors which were one story above the street. The risers between the steps were the same height as my body.

Spike was staring at me through the first story window. I cursed him, paced back and forth, and gave him mean looks, but when I crouched down to get a better look beneath the curtains, Spike went nuts. He smashed into the window pane. I fainted as though I was going to leap on him. Spike charged the window with reckless ferocity. The glass cracked.

Andrica grabbed Spike’s tail in her left hand while she whacked his hind quarters with a rolled up New York Times and turned her back on me.

As I made my way beneath a string of parked cars toward the subway stop on Dekalb and Flatbush, my head and eyes darted back and forth; I flinched at every noise. I watched for hot mufflers, and cursed Andrica every six seconds.

When I saw Spike and Andrica standing in my kitchen looking at me like a intruder, I had plenty to say, but all that came out of my mouth were cat sounds.

Andrica turned to me, firm with resolve. “You seem like a nice cat, and your eyes remind me of Tom’s. But one man, one cat, and a couple of babies is more than enough.”

I wanted desperately to get back into the house. Spike could leap atop the picket fence which separated our yard from the next, bound through four feet of air, glide between the bars of the window gate, and land on the sill.

I looked from the fence to the window sill. The man in me trembled as he considered the consequences of falling.

I imagined Andrica transporting me to the local veterinarian’s office where an attractive young women dressed in white, who stood behind a desk and beneath a lot of neon light, would give my mangled body the once over, and say, that will be one hundred dollars for the initial consultation, an additional three or four hundred for X-rays, plus the costs of repairs.

I could see Andrica adding figures in her head, weighing my life against our two week vacation. I could hear her stammer, that’s a lot of money to which the receptionist replied, with her eyes demurely pointed at the floor, it’s only fifty dollars to put him down.

I squeezed between the wooden planks of the fence, and made my way to the front of the house. We lived in a four story row house built just after the Civil War. A stoop led up to the front doors which were one story above the street. The risers between the steps were the same height as my body. Spike was staring at me through the first story window. I cursed him, paced back and forth, and gave him mean looks, but when I crouched down to get a better look beneath the curtains, Spike went nuts. He smashed into the window pane. I feinted as though I was going to leap on him. Spike charged at the window with reckless ferocity. The glass cracked.

Andrica grabbed Spike’s tail in her left hand while she whacked his hind quarters with a rolled up New York Times.

As I walked beneath a string of parked cars toward the subway stop at the corner of Dekalb and Flatbush Avenues, my head and eyes darted back and forth. I flinched at every noise. I watched for hot mufflers.

I crept down the subway stairs in an effort to keep out of the clerk’s field of vision. I waited patiently in the shadows until the policeman turned around before scurrying underneath the turnstile. The platform was empty except for a homeless man who restlessly slept on a bench. I walked to the darkest corner at the far end of the station, and hid behind a pillar.

As the train began its ascent up the Manhattan Bridge, I hopped onto the window ledge. The skyscrapers with their twinkling summits dazzled me. I felt like I was riding a roller coaster to wonderland.

*

I jumped onto the metal shelf at the phone’s base , knocked the receiver off its hook, found that my paw fit perfectly on the button, dialed in Roger’s home number, and then my own credit card.

It was late, but Roger could never ignore a ringing phone. He answered, “Hello, who is it?” Who’s there? What do you want?”

“Meow, Meow”

“Asshole it’s five a.m.”

Click! Roger hung up. I dialed his beeper number, entered the number of the phone booth knowing he would recognize it.

A drunk wearing a Brooks Brothers suit spotted me and said, “hey little kitty cat, what are you doing? Waiting for the call you can retire on? Retire into what, a god damn slug that is what. My kids never call except when they want money, and my wife, god damn wife, every time she sees me she grabs my belly and makes some kind of fat joke. Do you think I’m fat?”

As he began pulling up his shirt, the phone rang. I lifted my paw from the hook switch and meowed frantically. The drunk grabbed the receiver, and said, “What’s the deal? Options! You wanna buy an option sweetie pie? I got six inches of option right here between my legs you smelly cunt.” He almost knocked my head off as he slammed the receiver into its cradle. I lost my balance and fell the few feet to the pavement.

“Come on little kitty cat. You must be interested in a prime piece of Florida real estate, a quaint little place in Alligator Alley.”

I fled into the bushes. A hysterical laughter bordering on madness forced its way through his clenched teeth before the man belched and walked off.

I decided to call Andrica. She answered on the first ring. I made my most passionate, “Meow.”

“I’m sick of your antics. You can’t just walk out of here in the middle of the night. You didn’t leave a note. You didn’t call, nothing. I wanted to make love.” Click! She hung up.

Cars and trucks began filling the streets, and workers began trickling out of the subway. It was dawn. The sky was purple, and I hated Andrica. I hid in the bushes beside the phone booth and hoped Roger’s curiosity would bring him to me. The trickle of people soon grew into a flood, and the few cars became a traffic jam. It was as though the people, the cars, and all there gear were tied to the sun and the higher it rose, the more people and stuff it dragged out of bed and onto the streets.

A dozen times I thought I spotted Roger or his yellow car, and a dozen times I realized that I could not leave my hiding place without getting crushed or seized. I was stuck until all the people, cars, and trucks reversed their course. It was as though I’d been stranded by the incoming tide. I sought out the densest part of the bushes, dug a hole, covered my body up to my eyes and fell into a deep sleep.

The tolling of church bells woke me. It was dusk. All of my friends and relatives were gathering at the art gallery to celebrate the opening of my first solo exhibition.

It felt strange to have my private world on public walls. I’d painted for fifteen years before anyone besides my friends saw my work.

In midtown, there was not a covered road made of parked cars to travel under, only a few trucks making curbside deliveries. While I marched west along Forty-Second Street, a dozen people cooed at me, or bent down to pat me, and I flirted with them. I wanted food and a place to sleep. I wasn’t going to spend another night on the streets, for within a few days I’d become unacceptable, a vile stray that nobody would even consider taking home. Be cute or perish. It’s that simple.

The art gallery had no shrubbery or garbage cans to conceal myself within or behind, but it had a fresh air duct that I managed to crawl into.

“When did you discover he was missing?” said my father.

“Around three a.m., after this strange cat woke me”, answered Andrica.

"Spike?" said Phoebe, my kid sister.

"Who is Spike?" asked a stranger, one of the crowd.

"My cat. But the cat I’m speaking about was a stray Tom that attacked Spike."

"Andrica," my mother said, "I’m not interested in the cat story. I’m interested in my son."

"Elizabeth, you’re getting excited. We must pursue this in an orderly fashion," said my father to my mother.

"Was he nervous about the show?" asked my mother who was in her opinion pursuing the matter in an orderly fashion.

"He refused to wear the clothes I bought him,” answered Andrica.

"When was the last time you saw him?" interjected my father.

"When we went to bed," answered Andrica.

"Had Tom awoke during the night?" asked my mother while daring my father to interrupt. She was staring at him.

"I think so. That’s when he ate the fortune cookie. I found crumbs in the bed."

"How long after you saw Tom getting into bed did this stray wake you?" asked my Dad who had waited my mother out, but by no means capitulated.

"It seemed like a few seconds," answered Andrica.

"Were you quarreling?" asked my mother.

"No, but Tom said to me, I’m not ready for this."

“Meaning!”

“Babies, family, and responsibility.”

"Elizabeth, please! Andrica, if he’d gotten out of bed, I presume he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Therefore, if the stray awoke you only a few seconds after you’d seen Tom, you should have seen him dressing, heard the door closing, or the key turning in the lock."

"I found his keys and wallet on the top of the dresser."

"Did you find a note?" asked my mother.

"Sort of."

"Andrica, I insist that you be more precise. What did the note say? Where was it located?"

"It didn’t say anything."

"Oh Sweetie, I know that you’re upset, but a note must say something."

"It was a picture drawn on a slip of paper like you find inside a fortune cookie."

"Andrica, what was the picture of?"

"A cat mounting a human female."

"Andrica," said my mother who was close to tears. "Are you saying the old botch balm lady on Mott Street changed my son into a cat?”

"Let’s back up for a moment,” interjected my father who had no interest in supernatural explanations. “You said his keys are in the house."

"Yes, even his shoes. I found them by the front door."

"If I remember correctly your front door requires a key to lock it."

"I did check that. The door was locked."

"Damn it, how could he lock the door without keys and why would he leave without getting dressed?"

Andrica started sobbing.

"Nat, you’re really upsetting her," said Roger.

"I can see that, but my son is missing."

"I don’t believe that he has vanished," said Roger. "In fact, I think that he is trying to contact us."

"Roger, I expect more from you. I expect detail."

"Well, uh, all right. Andrica phoned me in the morning."

"What morning? Which day?"

"The morning after Tom’s disappearance. This morning."

"Go on."

"She wanted to know if I’d seen Tom. I told her no, but I thought that he was playing some kind of foolish game. She asked what I meant, and I told her that I’d received a call at 4:00 a.m. in which a cat meowed into the phone. I hung up. A few minutes later, my beeper went off. It was the number of the phone booth which Tom and others use to tell me that they are downstarirs. I called back and some idiot answered the phone. Then Andrica told me of the stray cat in her house and that a cat had called her. Nat, those are the facts."

"What do you mean those are the facts. Those are not the facts. I want to know how you make the leap from a few prank calls to the assumption that my son has gone mad, that he is imitating a cat."

"I didn’t say that," said Roger.

While sobbing my mother said, "What are you saying Roger?"

"Elizabeth stay out of this."

"Nat don’t push me around. I’m warning you. Roger, I want to know what you meant."

"I meant that Andrica said the eyes of the stray cat were identical to Tom’s."

"Are you saying that my son has become a cat?"

"He’s not a cat. He’s a coward.."

"Andrica, you never speak about my son like that. Never! Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

"Where is this cat?"

"I don’t know."

"Have you called the police?" queried a male voice.

"Police don’t look for cats," said another voice.

"Well what about the A.S.P.C.A.?"

"This is a scam by a lousy artist to get some publicity," added a stern voice as though he were going to have the final word.

"You’re too fat to talk about my uncle," said Phoebe.

"It’s some new type of chemical warfare. They call it vaporization. They’ve been doing experiments in the city."

My father shouted for silence. Everyone calmed down. My mother turned to Andrica and said, "If Tom were a cat, he would never leave home. Andrica, you’ve got thirty seconds to tell me where the cat is!"

Andrica was crying as she said, "I threw him out."

Andrica rushed out of the gallery followed by my mother, my father, and Phoebe.

I should have stayed put, but I wriggled out of my hiding spot intending to follow the crowd at a safe distance, but I stepped in front of a car that was pulling up to the curb, and my tail got stuck under the wheel. I heard the door open, looked up, and saw a man wearing a chauffeur’s uniform. He placed his shoulder against the bumper and pushed. The car rolled back an inch or two, and my tail came free. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, walked me along the length of a limousine, and held me up for the passenger to see.

The electric window descended. The woman inside said, "Philip, is that the cause of our little jolt?"

"Yes, Ms. Franklin."

"Has he sustained any damage?"

"No, none at all."

"Did you notice his eyes?"

"No."

"His pupils are oval like those of a human. I find it very becoming. Is he clean?"

"He has some earth in his fur."

"He looks frightened."

"Yes, he does."

"Philip, do you think he is tame?"

"Yes, I believe so."

"Good, I will view the paintings now. Meanwhile, I suggest that you get our new friend some food." Then she lifted me out of Philip’s hands and placed me on the rear seat of that big black Cadillac limousine.

With the push of a button, Philip adjusted the windows so that I would have sufficient air to breathe, but insufficient space for escape then he departed.

Car Phone!

"Roger Larde speaking."

"Meow, Meow"

"Who are you?"

"Meow, Meow"

"Did you call me last night?"

"Meow"

"Did you call Andrica?"

"Meow"

"Does one meow mean yes?"

"Meow"

"Does two meows mean yes?"

I remained silent.

"You do understand me."

"Meow"

"Do you know Tom?"

"Meow"

"Do you know that Tom is missing?"

"Meow"

"Do I know you?"

"Meow"

"If you cannot speak, meow once."

"Meow"

"Can you spell?"

"Meow"

"Look at the keypad. The numbers two through nine each have three letters above them. Press the number below the letter you want. Then the number one for the letter to the extreme left, two for the letter in the center, or three for the letter to the extreme right. If you understand me, press the number one."

As I firmly pressed the button in the upper left hand corner labeled one, I was jubilant.

"Spell your name."

Roger was the only person I knew who could distinguish phone tones. He could tell you the number dialed from the sound of the tones. I pressed the number eight and then the number one to signify the letter `T’ Roger muttered, "T". I pressed six and then the number three, and Roger said like he already knew what was coming next, "O". I pressed six again and then one. Roger shouted, "Tom," calmed himself and said, "Tom who?" I spelled out my last name. Roger grunted. He went on to obtain a positive identification. He asked the names of my parents, my previous phone number, Andrica’s place of birth, and his own. Then he got serious, "Your little stunt has gone too far. You had better get over here, now." I answered Roger with tones which indicated it was not possible for me to simply get over there.

"If it’s safe for me to come get you, then press the number one."

I pressed.

"Where are you?"

Nearby.

"I’m coming. Keep the line open."

Roger must have looked like a bloodhound as he moved through the gallery with his mobile phone locked onto an electronic scent.

I saw a shadow on the window, heard something creak, and disconnected as Philip opened the rear door for Ms. Franklin whose pupils dilated when she noticed the receiver dangling beneath the phone. She said to Philip in a bitter voice, "Must you use my things every time I turn my back."

"What things? What are you talking about?"

"I suppose the cat was using the car phone."

Philip stuck his head through the door. He saw the dangling receiver, and said, "Perhaps the cat bumped into it." Ms. Franklin removed a can of cat food from Philip’s hand, ordered him to drive her home, pulled the little metal ring on the aluminum top, and it popped open. She held the can up to her nose. "My god Philip, I’d never dream of feeding this rancid stuff to any living being. Please dispose of it."

I sat down a respectable distance from Ms. Franklin, and thought she doesn’t like it when people fool around with her things. Beware!

Ms. Franklin interrupted my thoughts by addressing the man I was certain she could not see, "I’ve been all over town looking for a contemporary oil painting , a conversation piece. I bought the largest canvas."

I purred affectionately and looked at Ms. Franklin. She smiled. I jumped into the lap of the first nonpartisan member of my buying public. My first owner.

I decided to use the toilet instead of a litter box, and believed Ms. F would find my desire for espresso charming.

Ms. Franklin began petting me. It felt so wonderful that I rolled over so she could scratch my belly, and found myself staring through a skylight in the limousine’s roof.

*

Philip opened Ms. Franklin’s door. She passed me to him. While he held me by the scruff of the neck with his left hand, he offered his right to her. She took it. He gave a gentle tug. The doorman opened the entrance door and greeted us. We traversed the marble lobby floor, paused at the teak concierge’s desk, collected Ms. Franklin’s mail, and were escorted into the elevator by its attendant who said, "Hello Ms. Franklin", nodded silently at Philip, turned toward the panel of brass buttons, and pushed number twenty-six.

The elevator opened onto a carpeted corridor full of identical grey doors with a crown embossed onto the brass doorknobs.

Philip unlocked the door to number 26 L. We paused in the foyer while Ms. Franklin removed her heels, and Philip cleaned my paws with his handkerchief prior to putting me down on a plush white living room rug.

I’ll arise slowly, I thought. Not rudely to ringing alarms or Andrica’s persistent warnings that I will be late for work.

I almost clawed Ms. Franklin’s leg off when an enormous Saint Bernard moved into sight. She said, while detaching me from her nylon stockings, "Woofer would never hurt a thing. His friend Tweeter is smaller than you."

A miniature poodle, small enough to fit inside a tea cup, strode over to greet her. She placed me on the carpet next to Tweeter who gave me a friendly lick.

Ms. Franklin turned to Philip and said, "Rudy has not walked the dogs."

"How do you know?"

"He never hangs their leashes. He tosses them into the corner. Philip, I know it’s not your chore, but won’t you, just this time?"

"Certainly, Ms. Franklin."

"Good, I have a few personal errands to run. Oh, Philip, while you’re at it, could you procure an appropriate container for our new friend’s daily duties."

Alone, finally free to wander, investigate, familiarize myself with my new dwelling, I thought as I walked into her living room and sat down on the white leather couch. On top of a coffee table, inlaid with mother of pearl, was a copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette.

I studied the chapter on table manners, for I believed that it would please Ms. Franklin if I dined like a well bred person.

While looking around, I saw the blank piece of wall on which undoubtedly my painting would hang as a final touch to Ms. Franklin’s interior.

I still have my secrets, my private thoughts which I don’t even tell Andrica. This is one of the big disappointments in our story, and my work.

A phone rang. I followed the sound into what turned out to be Ms. F’s office. I saw the light on her answering machine blinking. Her message began to play, "Hello, you have reached the residence of Ms. Francine Franklin. Please leave your message after the tone."

"Cleopatra, it’s me, Sir Galahad. I’ll call again, in awhile," said a husky male voice.

Well, I’ll just have to give Roger a jump start, let him know that I’m still out here. I placed the top of the pen in my mouth and held the barrel between my paws, and managed to scrawl,

May 7

Roger,

     S.W. Corner Central Park @ 2:00 A.M. May 8

Tom

I took the note between my teeth, walked backwards up the front of the fax machine in order to slide the paper into the proper slot,. dialed Roger’s fax number, and pressed the start/copy button. My note disappeared into the mouth of that device and reemerged out of its bowels just as I heard Philip in the foyer with the dogs.

I tried to crumple the piece of paper, but I couldn’t. It was too wide. I batted it off the desk, and slid it between the back leg of the desk and the wall.

Midway across the snow white living room carpet, I noticed a video camera discreetly mounted in a corner. I felt as though I’d just heard about a friend’s death.

A second later, Woofer leaned over, picked me up as though I were a kitten, carried me over to his bowl, placed me on the floor next to it, and started wagging his tail. While I wondered whether it was worse to eat dog food or risk offending Woofer who could probably swallow me without chewing, Ms. Franklin walked into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator, and removed a Diet Coke.

The phone rang. Ms. F told Philip to garage the car and return to his quarters. Then she disappeared down the corridor and entered a room which was still unknown to me.

I jumped onto the kitchen counter, placed one end of the maid’s apron in my mouth and dangled the other end over the edge of the counter. Woofer took the bait. I leapt onto his back, mounted him like a giant horse, and guided him toward the refrigerator. I pulled his ears back. Woofer came to a halt. The handle to the refrigerator door was even with his back. I managed to fasten my end to the door handle. I took his left ear between my teeth, and tugged. He followed my instructions without hesitation. The refrigerator door creaked and then opened. Without waiting for any further direction from me, Woofer dropped his end of the apron, began salivating, made a U-turn, and ended up with his enormous mouth locked around an entire leg of lamb. As Woofer withdrew with his prize, Tweeter jumped inside, knocked a tin of caviar onto the floor, and began licking sturgeon roe off the tile. I dismounted, dove head first into the fridge, and found the lox. During dinner, I heard Ms. Franklin gasping and moaning, as though she were making love.

Woofer and Tweeter fell asleep among the debris. I closed the refrigerator door, and went to do a little investigating. I followed those orgastic moans into the corridor, and through a partially ajar door which turned out to be the entrance to Ms. Franklin’s bedroom.

Andrica and I did it in front of Spike. So I walked in like I owned the place, jumped onto her bureau which was located at the foot of the bed, and turned around.

Ms. F was laying naked on her canopied bed that was big enough for five people. She attentively listened, breathed, and spoke into to the phone receiver which was in her right hand. She greeted me by pulling her fingers out of her vaginia and sucking on them like they were a penis. So I leapt onto the bed, and she steered her little pussy cat right into the wilderness. I felt the erection start. It began as a little sparkle and ended in disaster, for I became myself: a naked man.

Ms. F shrieked. We stared at one another until she pulled the covers from beneath me in an effort to conceal herself. I rolled over and found myself looking at myself in a mirror above her bed. I watched myself become a cat. It didn’t take long. I shrank all at once. The hair growing and the shrinking happened simultaneously. It didn’t hurt. But the strangest thing was that it was me. I was sealed in another body, looking out through the cat’s head.

Ms. F was so upset that she was vibrating. I curled up on the corner of the bed, dumbfounded. A man’s voice shouted through the open phone. "Hey, Cleopatra, what happened? Are you okay?" Ms. F hung up, put on her robe, and left the room.

I followed the sound of her feet down the corridor. She entered the kitchen, and screamed, "You ungrateful bastard," as she surveyed the remains of her delicatessen food. Woofer and Tweeter padded by me on their way to the terrace.

I peeked out of the bedroom door. She opened the door to the foyer closet which was full of winter overcoats, umbrellas, and galoshes. Then she got down on her knees, and began tossing ski boots, riding boots, rubber sailing boots, hiking boots, and other types of foot gear, whose function I was not certain of, onto the foyer floor.

I sensed trouble, but I didn’t react until Ms. F removed a cat cage from the closet. I dashed underneath the bed. My head smashed into a wooden trunk. She hurled me inside the cage, slid the bolt in place, put the cage by the front door, marched into her office, and left the following message, "Philip, that new cat is a beast. I want you to take him to the A.S.P.C.A. first thing in the morning. You must tell them he is a house wrecker, and that he should be gassed."

I pushed my paw between the mesh bars of the cage, and found that I could easily slide the bolt, but how was I to leave the apartment?

Ms. F remained in her office for quite awhile staring at a little piece of paper which I realized was her fax machines text report. Those fantastic devices spit out a little record to confirm accurate transmission of your document, the time of transmission, and the number of the party to whom you sent the facsimile.

Ms. F dragged a step stool out from behind the book shelves, unfolded it, climbed up, and removed the video cassette from the wall mounted camera. She placed the cassette in the VCR, and sat down on the living room floor. I watched her silently view and review me manipulating the pen, and climbing all over her fax machine.

She walked over to my cage, knelt down, looked me in the eye and said, with a frightening calm, "Talk to me. I am sure you can. Are you going to tell everyone what you saw?” Pause. “You’re that artist aren’t you?” Pause with less patience. “Everyone in the gallery was talking about it."

Ms. F went into her office. She pressed the speaker button on the phone. I heard the dial tone, the ringing, and then Roger’s recorded voice give the following message, "Tom got your fax. All others leave a message after the beep." She slammed the receiver down, strode into the kitchen, and began muttering, "Who’s he going to meet? Who’s he going to tell?"

I’m going to tell everybody. I wanted to shout. I’m going to get a megaphone, and wander up and down Fifth Avenue hollering, Ms. F is so lonely and desperate that she jerks off on the phone.

Her phone rang, but Ms. F didn’t answer.

"Hello, Ms. Franklin. I am Andrica Brown. My phone number is (718) 829-8720. I believe that you have my cat, Tom.”

Bullshit, I thought. I’m nobody’s cat. Andrica threw me out the door, and Ms. F wants me gassed. I’m telling you if you really want to know who somebody is give them a pet, something tiny, something they can toss around. Those were the heroic thoughts I had while escaping from the cage.

Ms. F caught sight of me on the vast expanse of her white carpet, and dashed out of the kitchen. I fled toward the couch, but an urgent cramp overcame me, my bowels were twitching. It had been almost forty-eight hours since I’d taken a shit. I’d been waiting to dump in the proper container, but it landed on her snow white carpet. Her face contorted with disgust. She gagged. Meanwhile, I laid a few more brown eggs. She marched toward me with her nose in the air and her eyes everywhere except on those turds. I stopped. She paused. I batted one of those brown balls at her. She gagged, ducked, and went pale as it skidded along the carpet leaving brown marks.

I had her at bay. She circled around and so did I. She advanced. I lifted my paw. She retreated. The intercom rang.

She entered the office and pressed the speaker button. The voice said, "Front desk. The dog walker has arrived."

"What time is it?"

"It’s one a.m."

"He is four hours late."

"Yes Ms. Franklin. In fact, he is looking a bit tipsy, but his humor is quite good, and he insists that the dogs must poop."

"Okay, send him up."

"Good night, Ms. Franklin."

"Thank you."

The front door had to open, but I didn’t know what to do until Woofer ambled over to sniff my shit. Then it came to me, boom. I leapt under Woofer’s belly and clung to his chest just like Odysseus did when he escaped from the Cyclopes.

The door bell rang. Woofer and Tweeter ambled into the foyer. Ms. F didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t look at my shit. She couldn’t let the dog walker in. She couldn’t find me. The dogs were barking. She finally opened the front door just a crack. The dog walker peered through, and said very humbly, "What’s wrong Ms. Franklin? You look pale."

"You are irresponsible, that is the problem. How dare you come up here four hours late."

Ms. F couldn’t tell her employee the truth. I was in the midst of phone sex when the cat turned into a man. I chased him and he took a dump on my floor. I’m going nuts. I’m alone. He pitched shit balls at me. Please help me.

Woofer bounded out the front door with me fastened to the fur of his underbelly.

Just as we got to the lobby, the concierge’s phone rang. I heard Ms. F scream. “My cat has escaped."

I dug my claws into Woofer’s chest. He charged through the revolving doors, plunged onto the sidewalk, gave a few barks to warn pedestrians, pulled up at the curb, looked both ways, galloped across Fifth Avenue, and leapt over the wall that surrounds Central Park.

As we landed, I heard the screech of brakes, and frenzied yelping. Woofer spun around and headed back toward the wall. I dropped to the ground. I heard the dog walker wail, "She will never forgive me. Will someone please help that poor creature."

I climbed a tree. Tweeter was writhing on the ground with her neck broken, and blood spurting out of her carotid artery. Ms. F, who was still wearing her bathrobe, pushed her way through the onlookers, the door man, and the concierge. In the center of the circle stood the dog walker, and the driver of the cab which had struck Tweeter. Ms. F lifted Tweeter’s blood soaked carcass, and pressed it to her bosom.

Meanwhile, a young man wearing a police academy uniform was working his way through the crowd yelling, "Break it up. Come on, get movin’." When he reached Ms. F, he said, "Lady, it’s time to move, you’re blockin’ traffic."

"No student officer is going to order me around," replied Ms. F.

The dog walker said, "Mr. Recruit, the lady is Ms. Franklin. Her family came over here on the Mayflower. She lives in that building behind us."

"And who are you?"

"Oh me, I’m bad luck, especially tonight."

"Did you run the dog over?"

"No, dear me, I don’t drive. I tried once, but I couldn’t keep my mind on the road."

"That’s it. That’s enough. Get on the sidewalk, and take your weirdo lady friend or whatever it is with you. Everybody else clear out, or I’m gonna start lockin’ people up."

The dog walker pushed Ms. F onto the sidewalk. A Chinese cab driver followed. The onlookers formed a circle around Ms. F, the cab driver, the dog walker, and the recruit.

The recruit pointed at the cab driver and said, "All right, what happened?"

"That dog, that foolish little dog, run right across big number five avenue. I try stop, but not possible. Dog run under wheel. Me only taxi man. Me get rid of dog. Me poor man, don’t want any trouble. Me pay for dog." He pulled out a roll of bills.

"You, hey you, what’s your name?" said the rookie to the dog-walker "Rudy."

"Not you, the lady from the Mayflower."

Ms. F who still had Tweeter’s bloody carcass pressed to her bosom said, "Ms. Francine Franklin is my name, and if you persist with your asinine questions, I’m going to have you thrown out of the academy."

"You gonna do what?"

"You heard me. You don’t have the authority to order people around. You’re just a student."

Rudy said, "Oh Ms. Franklin, student or not he is frightful. I wouldn’t speak to him like that. Just tell him what happened."

As what remained of Tweeter’s blood ran down Ms. F’s frilly house coat, she pointed at me. I moved behind the tree trunk. She said, "That cat did it. He is a house wrecker. He made this disaster, and I intend to capture him. Woofer find the cat. Come on Woofer. Look what he did to your friend Tweeter. Tom if you want to get paid for the big canvass, you’d better come over her now."

"Lady stop talkin’ to the dog about a cat that ain’t here. I got a lot to do."

Ms. F pulled a diamond ring off her finger, held it in the air, and said, "Whoever captures the cat will have this ring."

An onlooker said, "I saw the cat. He ducked behind the trunk of the tree when she pointed."

Someone else said, "Yeah, but I don’t see nuttin’ now."

Ms. F held up the ring and shouted, "Let’s go!"

The recruit grabbed her arm. Tweeter’s carcass fell to the ground, and Ms. F’s bathrobe opened. She screamed. The bounty hunters paused. Woofer growled, and a cruiser with two veteran cops pulled up.

The recruit ordered Rudy to leash Woofer. While Rudy was doing that Ms. F landed a left on his jaw. A burly veteran jumped out of the cruiser, applied a choke hold to Ms. Franklin while his partner handcuffed her.

As the two officers shoved Ms. F into the back of the cruiser, the concierge said, "Officers, she lives in this building, and those animals are all she has. Please don’t hurt her."

The concierge, the doorman, and Rudy stayed to chat, and the crowd dispersed.

Ms. F got a lot for her money. My painting, an unforgettable night with the artist, and the chance to sit for a portrait. Those weren’t grounds for withholding payments. They were reasons to buy additional paintings and become my patron.

I’d never been in Central Park or any other city park at two a.m. My terror dated back to the schoolyard legend of Buddy Bromo. He was the evil Tarzan of Bronx Park who came swinging out of the trees, grabbed you, dragged you off to his cave, chained you to a wall, and terrorized you with a big club. When he was certain of your unconditional submission, and your sincere belief that he would rape your sister if you failed to return, he freed you.

Your task was to sneak into your parent’s house, steal money, take the money to Cozy’s Hobby Shop where you had to purchase at least a dozen tubes of glue, and a bunch of small brown paper bags.

Needless to say, everyone preferred the concrete schoolyard with its tungsten lights to the soft earth and blackness of the park.

I heard the guttural moan of a female cat in heat, and was tugged in her direction, mesmerized by the dazzling perfume which wafted from her bottom. The white she-cat wasn’t being coy. She walked up to me, rolled over, and began writhing on her back.

I heard a hiss in the darkness and saw two glowing eyes. It was a real Tom. He moved very slowly toward me with his chest close to the ground. I knew from my experience with Spike that he would lunge at any second. I purred deferentially. He paused, and I performed the most courageous of all cowardly tasks: lowered my eyes to the ground and turned my back on him.

As I stepped off the tree lined trail and onto the grass, I noticed the moon. Sheep Meadow was one of the few places, besides rooftops, from which one can view the celestial bodies without tilting one’s head backwards and staring up. The North Star was not nearly as luminescent as the lights adorning the summits of the skyscrapers that surround the perimeter of the park, nor was it as useful an aid in navigation as the Gulf and Western building at Columbus Circle which I followed toward the south-west corner of the park.

Roger was sitting on the hood of his car, looking very serious, while he calibrated a tiny electronic device. I was certain he had his utility belt plus a carload of gadgets. He’d transformed himself into an exotic tool which enabled him to live somewhere between his terror of intimacy and his need for company.

He sprang into the air as though he’d been goosed when I landed on the hood of his car. I’d never seen him move so quickly. He pointed at me and said, "I don’t believe it." Then he walked backwards a few steps, reversed his course, came within an arms length of me and said, "You look like the cat Andrica described." He spun away, returned on a completely different course and said, "Did you call me?" I meowed and nodded my head, but he was already skipping away. From afar, he said, "Where is my buddy Tom?" I pointed at my chest. He unhooked his mobile phone from his utility belt, tossed it onto the hood of the car, and said, "Beep me." He danced back a few steps while staring at the beeper. I did as he instructed. I dialed in my home number. His pager started beeping. I jumped off the hood, bounded through the car window, landed on the driver’s seat, and began honking the horn.

Roger froze, and said, "If you can type, honk once." I honked. He entered the car through the passenger door, removed his laptop computer from his briefcase, and returned to the hood of the car. I joined him. He loaded up the word processing program, pushed the computer over to me. I typed, Phone Andrica, and pushed the laptop back to him. He smiled and said, while shaking his finger at me, "You’re late. You’re always late. I was about to leave."

Roger is perpetually late, I thought. I’m convinced that only a small percentage of people, or perhaps all people a small percentage of the time, actually speak to you about yourself. Most of the time they are speaking about themselves, but using your name.

He took the mobile phone in hand and dialed. I put my head next to the speaker. The answering machine picked up. "Roger," her announcement said, "Phone your machine. All others leave a message after the tone."

Roger called his machine, and remote accessed his messages.

Andrica’s message said, "It’s 2:30 a.m. I presume that you are still waiting for Tom. I spent all evening trying to get in touch with the Chinese herbalist, but no one answers the phone, and the outgoing message doesn’t mention the shop or hours or anything. I’m going to Ms. Franklin’s apartment. If you’re with Tom, meet me there. Otherwise, phone me at my parent’s house in the morning."

Roger started the car, and said, "I am going to find Andrica."

No way. Never! I thought as I imagined Ms. F and Andrica seated on her living room couch. Andrica’s head was full of thoughts about economic disaster while Ms. F showed Andrica the damage to her house, told her about Tweeter, and the police. I’d be unable to defend myself. I’d have to choose between losing the sale and being somebody’s cute little eunuch.

I took the ignition key between my teeth. The car stalled. Roger let it roll into a parking space. He was irate. I signaled for the computer. He wedged it between the dashboard and the windshield. I typed, I am not going to Ms. Franklin’s place.

"I will take you home."

I don’t have the keys.

"We’ll go to my place, and phone Andrica at her parent’s house. She can meet us later."

NO! Ms. Brown won’t let Andrica out at this hour unless her father drove.

"She’s thirty-five years old."

What are you going to tell her parents when they ask, where are you taking our daughter at 3:00 a.m.?

"I’ll take you there."

I can’t visit her parents at this hour, in this condition. They would probably send me to a surgeon to be reconfigured. They have never liked me. Her father thinks that I’m a Neanderthal Man.

"All right, I’ll call her at Ms. Franklin’s place and tell her to meet us at my place."

No. No. No.

"You are being very difficult. First, you tell me to contact Andrica. I do that and one better. I offer to deliver you to her. Then you don’t want to go. Did you make Ms. Franklin shriek? Did you mess up the sale?"

I took a few deep breaths and typed, How do you know I made Ms. Franklin shriek?

"I crashed her phone line. Her name and number were stamped on top of the fax you sent me. I called, but the line was busy. So I routed myself into a verification trunk without involving an operator."

What?

"Have you ever had an operator interrupt a conversation to tell you that some third party needs to speak with you."

I nodded my head.

"Well, I followed the same procedure as an operator making an emergency interruption, but I just listened."

While Roger looked at me, and waited for me to praise his wizardry, I typed, GO ON.

"I heard people moaning, a shriek, and one party disconnecting. It was the woman, Ms. Franklin. She hung up. But the guy held on. At first, he thought that I was on a house extension, that we were together. Then I explained the mysterious fax, the constant busy signal, the enormity of my curiosity, and the little game I played to have things my way.

"We spoke about the scream and concurred that it was one of surprise. Then his voice dropped. He asked me what I was doing. What room I was in and if I was wearing any clothes. I dumped the line. What did you do while Ms. Franklin was having phone sex?"

What would you have done? Imagine her stretched out on a big bed. Opening her legs. Offering you a lick.

"Yuck!"

Roger, being a cat is horrible. Human feet are big enough to crush me, I’ve been attacked by savage cats, and Ms. Franklin locked me in a cage. I’m beneath the moral radar.

"That’s why I should pity you, but not why Ms. Franklin screamed."

I found a way out of the cat suit. The last time I was aroused. I regained my human form.

"The fortune cookie. I should have guessed. The picture of the cat mounting a human female. Certainly. The cat becomes a man. Very interesting. You tried to seduce Ms. Franklin while she was having phone sex, and you became a man, that is why she shrieked. That’s it. That’s what happened. Wait till I tell Andrica."

Roger, I want this taken care of professionally, and I want it taken care of now!

"What?"

A moment longer, if it had gone on a moment longer, if I had gotten off, I’m sure that I would have returned to the world of men.

Roger gave me a quizzical look and said, "For once, just once, you could be right."

Of course I’m right.

"We can’t find a sex therapist at this hour."

I don’t want a therapist. I want a hooker.

"What about AIDS?"

They all carry condoms.

"You think it’s safe?"

We should go to a reputable place uptown.

"Don’t be foolish. Prostitutes are high risk."

I’ll wear two.

He was touching himself when he asked, "How much does a reputable place cost?"

A couple hundred dollars per hour.

"Forget it!"

Roger was saving all his money for some remote event in some remote future which he would never get to because he’d always be saving money in order to get there.

I’ll pay for both of us. I’ll give you some drawings. They’ll be worth a fortune.

"Sure. You’ve been saying that for years."

Okay, I’ll give you cash.

"Yeah, and how will you get it, doing tricks," snapped Roger as he started the car, put it into gear, and headed downtown.

Roger made a left onto Delancey Street. "Look at her."

In the headlights at one hundred yards, she looked great. I stood on the seat, while bracing myself on the edge of the keyboard. Roger locked onto her like a cruise missile. He squirmed around in his seat. He started the most passionate conversation which I’d ever heard about some new software. At fifty yards, her plastic purse, and bloated thighs turned me off. Roger almost drove over her. She leaned through the window, and asked him if he’d like a date. I typed, Go for it. But Roger couldn’t get his mouth to move. The hooker walked off and Roger drove on.

The next one was doing her makeup in a car mirror and wagging her butt at the oncoming traffic. It looked great in those orange lycra stretch pants. Roger pulled up alongside her. I typed, Take her from the back. He honked. She turned around. He was sweating. She stuck her head through Roger’s window. He cringed. I saw tracks, and typed, No Junkies,

Half a block later, a tall hooker without a blouse came into sight. Roger couldn’t stop staring at her tits. I bit his arm and typed, Too desperate.

Roger saw a police car, and drove on, like he wasn’t trying to buy some pussy.

Business resumed. A hooker in a miniskirt walked toward us. We were stopped at a light. I liked her legs. She was the first one to improve in appearance as the space between us diminished. I figured she would do until I noticed that her hips were no wider than her waist. Get going this one is a man. Roger, I don’t want to mess around on the street. Forget the money. Let’s go uptown.

Roger ignored me. He turned the corner, and standing all alone in the shadow of a building was a lady wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and white sneakers. Roger zoomed in. As she walked over to the car, I realized that unlike the other street walkers, she was not soliciting business. I grew alarmed. She stopped a yard from the window.

I gave Roger a push. He leaned out my window and said with a quivering voice, "It’s not for me. It’s for my friend."

Take her. She’s gorgeous. You’re dying for a piece.

"Bullshit. You want it."

Then why is your cock hard.

She watched our exchange in silence. I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking when she said, "Where is your friend? What’s his name?"

Roger pointed at me and said, "Tom."

She put her head through my window. I saw her eyes reflected on the computer screen. Without moving her head, she surveyed the contents of the car.

"Did you ever see a cat type? Watch the computer screen. Go ahead Tom, tell her what you want."

Get me off.

"You fools are goin’ to get me busted."

I turned. We were face to face. She smiled while laying her hand upon me as one would upon a child.

"You can’t tie me up or hit me. I’m not into that."

"He won’t hurt you. He thinks you can set him free. I mean, make him a man again. You must understand that a man is stuck inside that cat’s body."

"Weird stuff is expensive."

"Tom, we are talking money. What exactly do you want her to do. I couldn’t see what Ms. Franklin did. Phones don’t have eyes, just ears."

None of your business.

She turned to Roger, and said, "What are you going to do?"

He pulled a little camera out of his pocket, and said, "I want to photograph you and the cat."

I couldn’t believe it. I poked him and typed, Get your own girl.

"No way. I told you exactly what I’m going to do."

Roger, it’s going to be disgusting. A sticky mess.

He answered peevishly, "I don’t care."

The hooker looked as upset as I was. She said, "You want to photograph me messin’ around with your cat. Weird shit is a hundred bucks. And if you want to do anything besides take pictures, it’s going to be more."

"The other girls were cheaper."

"You’re not with the other girls, you’re with Jasmine, and I told you my price."

"Seventy-five. Not a penny more."

Jasmine started walking. I honked the horn. She stopped. "Ninety," said Roger.

"Quit messin around with me."

"Okay, okay, one hundred."

"Plus the room."

Jasmine waited in a doorway while Roger parked the car, put the laptop, the mobile phone, and me in a gym bag.

I wasn’t going to be Roger’s toy for long. The moment I got off, I’d make him eat that camera.

He clutched the bag to his chest, and began the following narration, "Tom, I think she hates us. She turns around every few seconds and impertinently examines me. She has entered the most wretched hotel on the entire island of Manhattan."

Roger placed me on the floor, and I heard a lot of mumbling. He lifted the bag and continued his narration. "The clerk wants ten dollars for the first fifteen minutes."

Roger halted. I heard Jasmine say, "Don’t be actin’ like no freak. Quit talkin’ into that damn bag."

"As long as you’re working for me, I’ll do as I please. Tom, he set an egg timer. The room costs sixty-seven cents a minute. I’ve got the key to number 311."

Roger’s hands were shaking as he unzipped the bag. I popped my head out. Roger and Jasmine were glaring at one another.

Roger perched himself on the bureau, and began loading his camera.

Jasmine sat down on the bed and lit a cigarette. Roger stiffened with indignation. He hates smokers. "Give me the hundred dollars."

Roger opened his wallet, and gave her a one hundred dollar bill, while also revealing that his wallet contained additional bills.

As Jasmine stuffed the bill into her pocket, she said to Roger, "Take off your clothes."

"I’m only watching."

"I don’t give a fuck what you be doin’. I’m not gettin’ nakid until you do." She fished the money out of her pocket and tossed it on the bed.

I batted Roger’s arm. He turned, and I made typing gestures in the air.

Roger pulled the laptop out of the bag, and put it on the dresser. I typed, Take your clothes off!

"We could go see the herbalist."

We are here now at your insistence. So just do as the lady says.

"My insistence. This was your idea. You led me on. Don’t lie. I know you’re triying to impicate me. I’m leaving my underwear on."

Jasmine nodded her head in approval while once again stuffing his hundred dollar bill into her pocket.

"Aren’t you going to give Tom a condom?"

She looked at him in utter disbelief, "How you expect me to bag a cat dick. It’ll fall off."

"Tom, we should go to my place. Andrica will be at work tomorrow. She can help, or we can find the herbalist. She is certain that the old woman is at the bottom of this."

Leave me alone!

"Jasmine, I’m sorry. We’ll have to stop. I can’t let my friend continue. I’ll bet you’re high risk. Do you use drugs?."

Jasmine reached into her pocket. I jumped onto the bed, and held my paw over it. Roger no longer mattered. I was horny, furious, and defenseless. Trapped! Andrica would never forgive me. A whore. You fucked a whore. Her response would be visceral. Permanent! I wanted to be a man. I wanted to pull Roger’s tongue out.

Jasmine stripped, but I couldn’t get to feeling sexy. She wasn’t even looking at me. Roger - who was adjusting the lamp shade to improve the lighting for his famous photograph of my condomless transformation - had her undivided attention.

We heard a knock on the door and then the gruff voice of the clerk, "Time’s up. That’ll be another ten."

Jasmine answered, "Don’t worry. We’ll settle up at the end."

"Not with you, honey. I want mine now."

Jasmine said to Roger, "You, Yo! Go downstairs, and give the man some money."

“Okay, alright, but don’t do anything until I get back.”

The minute Roger closed the door, Jasmine and I settled down. She patted my back and said, "Your friend is a real freak. He makes you do everything he wants to do." She lay down and began chuckling, "Last week some fool gave me two hundred dollars to dress him in diapers and spank him, and now this fool wants me to mess around with his cat, and I’m fool enough to be sittin’ here talkin’ to the cat about messin’ around with him."

Jasmine stretched out on the bed. She’s gorgeous, but chilly, I thought as forced I myself between her legs. She let her knees flop open and said, "Damn, the cat wants some." I proceeded. I desperately wanted to finish before Roger returned. Jasmine grabbed me, held me in the air, and said, "You fuck women?" I nodded my head. She put me down on her lap. "You understand him."

I nodded my head again.

"But you don’t speak."

I shook my head. Then I walked along her belly, sat down in front of her breast, took the nipple in my mouth, and I was a naked man astride her chest.

Jasmine grabbed her purse, and pulled out a revolver. I lost my erection. The door opened. Roger walked in. Jasmine held the gun on me. Put her finger to her lips, made the "shhh" sound, and said, "Close the door." Roger did as he was told.

She turned the gun on him, "Take off all your clothes, and put them in the bag. Now Tom get your ass in that bag, or I’m going to blow your friend away."

I peeked out of the bag, and saw Roger standing in his underwear, and Jasmine putting on her clothes.

Jasmine said, "Take off your drawers."

Roger dropped them at his feet.

"Now move into the corner."

Roger stepped out of his underwear, and into the corner.

"Face the wall," said Jasmine as she wound the bed sheet into a rope, and tied one end to the bed frame.

"I met your price. I have done everything you asked. This little job wouldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes. You were paid well for your time. The computer, the portable phone, and the beeper are worth a couple thousand dollars. But my buddy, the cat, is worthless. Please let him stay with me."

"Walk over here and lie face down on the bed."

She tied his hands behind his back with the sheet. Then said to Roger’s back, "All I’ve got is this hundred dollars. You got money in the bank, you got a car, you got a camera, and a nice house. When you get your butt out of here, you’ll put in for insurance and get your money back. After the cat makes me rich, we can talk about justice, because I’m gonna need some to keep ugly mother fuckers outta my house, offa my car, and outta my purse."

The clerk shook his head as we entered the vestibule from the stairway. "Hey where’s de uther guy, de one wit de cash?"

Jasmine placed Roger’s bag on the clerk’s desk. She held onto me with one hand while she extracted a fifty dollar bill from his wallet with the other. As she gave the bill to the clerk he said, "Girl, you are some piece of work, stealin’ a man’s cat."

"Don’t be talkin’ about me, Jingles. Cause I know you’ll probably stick it in his butt before you set him free."

Jasmine hurried down the street while fumbling through Roger’s bag. She removed his car keys, zipped the bag shut, opened the car door, started it, and drove off.

I was imprisoned in Roger’s bag. I felt around in the darkness until I found his flashlight. I turned it on and saw the cold metal object which I’d been stepping on. It was Jasmine’s pistol: a pocket size revolver. I noticed a ring of light on the wall of my container. I saw that it was shining through an empty chamber in the cylinder of Jasmine’s gun. I rolled the flashlight to get a better look at the cylinder and saw that an additional four chambers were empty. I pressed down on the thumb latch that releases the cylinder. The cylinder tumbled open, and a single shell rolled out. The cartridge was intact, but the bullet was missing. Jasmine was shooting blanks.

I scanned the contents of the bag until I found the camera. It took awhile, but I finally opened the compartment which seals the film from light. I caught one of my claws in those little holes which border the film, and slowly pulled the film out of the light proof canister. I exposed the pictures which Roger had taken of Jasmine and me with the beam of his flashlight.

Jasmine made a sharp turn. I slid onto the computer keyboard. The machine began making a dreadful chirping noise. Jasmine pulled over, unzipped the bag, and stared at me. I tried to jump out the window. She knocked me flat with her hand, grabbed hold of me, and said, "Turn it off. I hate that noise."

I sat still and stared out at the starless night sky.

She shook me and said, "Don’t play stupid. Fix it."

I pressed the reset button, and the word processor came back on line. I typed, What do you want from me?

Jasmine stared at the screen.

I’m not worth anything. I can’t make you rich.

She blushed, but remained silent.

Well, how do you expect me to make you rich?

Jasmine grabbed the computer, hurled it out the window, and said, "Don’t pretend that you can read and write." The computer made a few frantic chirps and died.

The ease with which Jasmine coupled her rage to outrageous suppositions terrified me.

"I’m not like your freaky friend. I don’t give a damn about playin’ foolish typin’ games with you. I’m just waitin’ for all those people in Washington Square Park to stuff bills into the hat after they see me change you into a man." Then she shoved me into the bag and zipped it shut.

Get yourself off. Pop out of the bag. Reclaim Roger’s possessions. Return home in triumph. I recalled my favorite jerk off fantasy. My all time miracle worker.

It didn’t work. I couldn’t relax. My dick should have been throbbing when I got to the part where she’s on her knees between my legs telling me I can do whatever I want.

I resolved to take care of the matter orally, and I manged to give myself a lick, but my tongue felt like sandpaper, and the little fellow ducked.

Escape! Escape!

The phone. Use the phone.

I illuminated Roger’s portable phone with his flashlight, buried myself and the phone beneath the clothing, pressed the `on’ switch, and realized that I couldn’t tell Andrica where I was, and Jasmine had decommissioned the only man I knew who could follow electronic scents.

Jasmine had left Roger naked and deviceless. He’d be forced to walk, to drag his slushy body into the night without the means to distinguish himself from the rabble, without a car to whiz by danger, without any cash. Roger was always seated, except for brief walks to and from his car.

A recorded message interrupted my thoughts. The mechanical voice said, "If you need help, then hang up and dial your operator."

The car halted. Jasmine said, "Hey, Tom." I remained motionless. Played dead. She poked the side of the bag. I didn’t move. I felt her hands nervously tugging at the zipper. I buried myself beneath the clothing. She lifted my head, put her hand over my nose and held it there. I started to suffocate. I squirmed out of her grasp, pulled a few lung loads of oxygen out of the atmosphere, and looked at Jasmine.

"Don’t mess around with me. I ain’t easy to fool. I was worried you didn’t have enough air."

We were on a dark side street full of abandoned apartment houses. Jasmine walked into the courtyard of one of the few inhabited buildings.

The mailboxes in the lobby looked as though a brute with a crowbar had attacked them. The doors had been twisted by something strong, something anxious and determined like a junkie.

Jasmine walked up three flights of stairs, opened an apartment door with a Marshall’s notice of eviction posted on it, and switched on an unshaded electric light which hung in the center of a large room.

The room was empty except for an ancient formica table and two mismatched wooden chairs in the kitchen area, a mattress in the corner, and a television set, atop a cardboard box, which one could view from either the kitchen chairs or the mattress.

Jasmine sat down on the mattress, placed Roger’s bag between her legs, and I hopped out. She caught me between her legs, held me there while she tied one end of a cord around my neck, and the other to the table leg. "I’m goin’ to sleep. Don’t move around and you won’t choke yourself."

I was out there with a savage owner. I was in over my head. Jasmine wasn’t interested in metaphors. She didn’t care about art or cats. I wanted out. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. She’d locked all the windows. I’m really cut off now. No more devices. I untied my tether and wandered through a partially ajar door, hopped onto the dresser, and batted the wall switch into the `on’ position.

Food!

I looked down and saw a box of crackers on a mattress, covered with immaculate white sheets, surrounded by a three inch high mound of white powder with little brown things all over it. I jumped off the dresser to get a better look. The brown things were cockroach carcasses. They had died while trying to cross that mound of what I assumed was boric acid. I bounded over the mound, and lunged at the box of crackers. They tumbled onto the sheets. I inspected them for roaches, found none, assumed they all died in transit, spent the next few minutes blissfully munching stale crackers, and then fell asleep.

The midday sun streaming through the windows woke me. I remained in bed while surveying the other things on the bed side of the cockroach wall. They included many textbooks on the Social Sciences and a number of three or four inch high piles of paper. Each bundle addressed a different topic: housing, drug abuse, life expectancy, single parent families, welfare, and so on. I pushed the title page off the packet entitled drug abuse, and found a syringe. I pushed it aside and was busy trying to decipher an illegible scrawl when Jasmine yelled in a panicked voice, "Tom." I continued leafing through the papers.

She entered the room, stepped over the cockroach barrier, sat down on the bed, and said, "Raymond was just like you. Always givin’ me things to read. Always shovin’ books and papers at me, and then gettin’ mad when I didn’t say nothin’."

She paused. Looked at me. I stepped back. "I’m not going to hurt you, relax. Come sit by me."

I held my ground. It wouldn’t be easy to catch me.

"Why you lookin’ at me with them scared eyes that’s about to pop outta your head?

"Raymond was nice. He paid the rent, and he never messed around with me. All he wanted was for me to show him around. He was always talkin’ about action-research, and how you had to get your butt onto the street, but I think he just wanted to mess around with drugs. He’d get high and spend all morning writin’. Then I’d get up around this time, and he’d come into the kitchen and say read this or look at that. Just like you did with that damn computer. I tried to read when I was little, but my mind always mixed up the letters, and the teacher would look at me like I was stupid, just like you did after you put things on that computer. Then Raymond would get mad and say, `You don’t give a damn about nothin’ except money. You’re like those fools on Wall Street.’ I never said nothin’, cause he took care of the money and didn’t try to mess around with me."

I pushed some of the boric acid off the mound, and spread it on the floor. I drew a stick figure of a man writing. Jasmine sat down on the floor next to me. I placed a question mark above the man’s head. She said, "I don’t know. He been gone for at least three months. Maybe he got hisself a hotshot." She paused then swiveled her head in my direction. "Enough of this foolishness, I’m takin’ a shower. We got things to do." She walked out of the room.

I knocked the cover sheet off a stack of paper entitled "Dear Mom". All of the letters were in that same illegible scrawl except one. It read:

Hi Mom,

     Rome is a city of Italians. Istanbul is a city of Turks. Tokyo is a Japanese city, but New York is a city of foreigners. We’re all strangers here.

     Mom, I hope you and Dad are well. I’ll be home in the early part of summer.

Love,
Raymond

Jasmine affectionately shouted, "Damn, you as bad as Raymond. Come on out here, I got somethin’ good for you to eat."

Food!

Those crackers hadn’t done the trick. I was famished. She looked scrumptious as I moved rapidly toward her outstretched palm. She sat down on the floor, held her closed hand with the goodies in it over her lap and said, "Come on Tom. Sit here." I jumped into her lap, and tried to open her palm with my paw. She flipped me onto my back and began rubbing my chest.

I tried to squirm away, but she placed her hand around my throat. "Don’t worry it ain’t goin’ to hurt. This is how we goin’ to make money. We go to Washington Square Park with a couple friends of mine. I’ll buy those big long hats like Lincoln used to wear ’cept they’ll have more colors. My homies will run around sayin’, Step right up. You gotta see the lady change that cat into a man. Everybody gonna watch. I’ll walk around with you until the crowd is big. Then my boys will hold a piece of fabric. One on either end. I’ll go behind the curtain. I’ll slip this little collar over your Johnson, give your thing a few strokes, and you’re a man. They’ll all scream. They won’t believe it. They ain’t ever seen nothin’ like it. And you won’t be a man long enough to holler or run away ’cause of that collar. My boys will go around with their big hats and people will stuff money into them. We gonna get onto the Oprah show. I’m gonna be rich. Now we gonna practice."

She still had her hand around my throat. I was not feeling in the least bit sexy. I was furious and frightened. This bitch was not to be trusted.

"I wanna see if this is goin’ to work." She began stroking my dick.

Would it happen? Is it that simple, just push the button and boing? I looked on with as much curiosity as she did. It was a big moment for both of us. To my utter disbelief, it started stiffening, but the collar was too tight. I was only half way through my transformation when it choked my erection. Jasmine was elated. "All I gotta do is loosen it, make it a little bigger and you’ll change over completely, but just for a second." She loosened her grip to adjust the collar.

I rolled over. She caught me by the hind leg, made a nasty face and said with a sexy smile, "Don’t you ever try and get away cause I’ll break your mother fuckin’ legs." Then she tied the cord around my neck, opened Roger’s bag, and said, "Come on get your butt inside."

She’d tied the leash around my neck with so much gentleness, with so much attention, with so much hatred, and so much passion that I realized that we were tuned into the same channel. She wanted me. It excited her to touch me, leash me, arouse me. It made her wet. I could tell by her concentration, her delight in my transformation, and the way she affectionately threatened to break my legs.

I leapt onto her shoulders, and wrapped myself around them as though I were a stole. She gave my paw an affectionate squeeze, and out the door we went.

A group of middle aged women were hovering around the mailboxes in the lobby. The mailperson opened the lobby door. The tenants parted like the sea before the prow of a boat. She removed a group of official looking envelopes from her bag. As Jasmine passed through the lobby door and onto the street she said, "Them ladies waitin’ for their welfare checks."

We walked past Roger’s car. Two guys were removing the tires, while a third unscrewed the license plates. I saw Roger stomping around his apartment screaming, she killed me. She took everything. Do you know how much that little escapade cost. Asshole. I was dead for two days. Jasmine rubbed her head against my torso, laughed, and said, "If they can’t get them checks, then they take somethin’ else."

I wanted to be among those well fed and misled people who believe they are doing something for the future, something monumental, something for culture. I wanted to go home.

We rounded a corner. The street signs read "Pennsylvania and Sutter". We were in a section of Brooklyn called "East New York". I’d passed through this neighborhood a few times while looking for short cuts to the airport. On the left were clusters of fifteen or twenty story projects, and on the right were three and four story brick buildings with shops on the ground level that had junk food, junk clothes, and junk furniture in the windows. On the near corner was a group of men seated on old couches, car seats, and plastic milk crates. They were hanging out and talking big. One of the younger guys called out, "Hey J."

"Belvin, you seen Tony?"

"He workin’ for J.T. What you doin’ with that cat?"

"He’s my token."

"They won’t let you ride no train with a cat."

"When I cash this one in, I won’t never, no mother fuckin’ more, ride the subway. This token be puttin’ my butt in a Benz."

Half a block later, Jasmine unlocked the entrance door to some apartments above a Korean fish store. As we walked up a flight of wooden stairs, I heard television prattle, the patter of a child’s feet, and the creak of a door. A little girl bounded into the hallway, entwined herself around Jasmine, and said, "Mommy, I saw you from the window." Jasmine undid the little girl’s grasp and entered the apartment.

The tired voice of an older woman said, "Jasmine, the food stamps is finished, and somebody stole the check. There’s nothing for the children to eat."

"Moms, I got no money now, but I’ll give you some after I sell these things."

The voice from the other room said, "You been messing around on the street again. You know, I don’t want no part of that nonsense."

Jasmine replied by stepping into the foyer and slamming the apartment door so hard that some plaster fell off the wall. A rotund brown woman with grey hair walked into the foyer with a broom and a dustpan. She swept up the plaster and walked out without saying a word. Jasmine squatted behind the door. She poured the contents of Roger’s bag on the floor. When the bullet rolled out, she grabbed my paw, which was draped over her neck, pulled me into her lap, and slapped me. As she reloaded the gun and stuck it in the waistband of her skirt, I was consumed by a bizarre combination of helplessness and indifference. I made no fuss as she led me into the kitchen and tied me to the leg of the table.

The sink ran without restraint. Almost all the plaster had fallen off the ceiling. The linoleum was crumbling, and not a single door remained on the cabinets. However, the floor was immaculate, the bare cupboard was spotless, and each corner had an armed mouse trap baited with a little piece of stale bread.

A boy with a shriveled left arm entered. He moved toward me, sat on the floor, stared at me, and then pulled the cord around my neck. I felt it stretch. He smiled. I saw myself reflected on his pupils. I was certain that the image on his retina had no connection to his smile which was not that of a sadist. He seemed to be recalling a pastoral spring walk. I gagged. The old woman called out, "Jack don’t fool around with Jasmine’s cat." He turned his head toward the sound of the voice, and brushed his ear as though he were chasing away a fly. Moms entered and grabbed Jack by his good arm. He stood up, and she steered him out the door. He stood at the threshold making gurgling noises while Moms untied me from the table leg and loosened my leash. I vomited on the floor. She filled a bucket with water, added some detergent, took a rag from beneath the sink, wiped up my vomit, and gave me a pat. Then she opened the refrigerator. It contained one quart bottle of Olde English Malt Liquor which she removed.

I was in pain and Moms had set me free. She didn’t think that I had nice eyes, or that I’d make her rich. She simply desired to eliminate my suffering.

I trotted after Moms dragging my tether behind me. She entered the living room, and stretched out on the couch. The little girl was seated on the floor trying to reattach her doll’s head with a piece of chewing gum. The young boy sat at Moms’ feet. He placed his hand on her ankle. They both turned toward the television. I jumped onto the couch. I wanted to watch the soap opera with them.

The apartment door swung open. Jasmine entered with a bag full of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and three quart bottles of Olde English. I continued staring at the TV while the six other eyes in the room devoted themselves unblinkingly to those red and white boxes. Jasmine seated herself cross legged on the floor. She gave a box of chicken to each of the family members, who without thanking her, returned their attention to the TV set.

Jasmine peeled the skin off a piece of chicken thigh and held it up for me and said, "Come on Tom. Come and get it."

"The cat got sick, cause that cord choked him," said Moms as she grabbed the chicken out of Jasmine’s hand. "How you ’spect that cat to catch mice if he ain’t hungry?"

"This cat don’t eat no mice. Tom, do you eat mice?"

I watch TV.

"Jasmine, don’t fool around cause I’m getting that eerie feeling. The one I get when the devil is nearby."

"He ain’t no devil. He can read."

"The devil can read, but cats can’t."

"Mama, this one can do more than that."

"J baby, stop it. That eerie feeling is getting worser."

"The devil don’t make nobody rich."

"How that cat make you rich?"

"If I jack him off, he become a man. Tom get your butt over here. So I can show Mama somethin’ she never seen."

Jasmine grabbed my head, twisted it, and said, "Don’t play dumb." I scratched her. She grabbed my throat. I went limp. She put her finger in my eye and said, "If you ever do that again, I’m gonna push this so hard it’ll come out the back of your head. Now roll over." I did as instructed.

Jasmine stroked my penis. Nothing happened except Moms said, "Lord help me. Look what my baby is doing."

Jasmine leaned over. She placed her mouth on my dick. Moms shrieked and with that same relentless stupidity as a skipping record, my dick twitched, swelled, and there I was.

Moms stood up, blessed herself, lifted the TV in the air, held it over Jasmine’s head and said, "That cat is possessed. I always knew you were evil. Now you done brought the devil hisself into my house. You run all over these streets taking other people’s things. I always said that someday, somebody was going to hurt you, but somebody done something worse, they unloaded the devil on you. Now you got some money, cause you just come back from the pawn man. I want you outta my house."

"Moms, I bring you food. I give you money for my baby, and for Ruthie’s idiot child."

"You can’t even say your baby’s name. The child comes running to the door when you come home, and you don’t even touch her. How many times I tole you to take that child to the kindergarten. She gonna end up street scum just like you and her father, that drug dealing fool, J.T."

Jasmine’s daughter stared fearlessly at her mother, and said, "The kindergarten has trees growing inside, blue and green toys, and music, but Mommy won’t take me, cause she’s afraid they might ask her to read something. Ain’t that right Grandma?"

"Sure enough is honey."

Jasmine glared at her mother, cradled me, and stood up. As she pushed open the door leading to the street, a guy tapped her on the arm.

"Hey, Gimp."

"You see those motley looking white boys in that blue van with the Jersey plates?"

"Yeah."

"Well they’s lookin’ for some girls and some drugs. I know you’d rob ’em sooner than fuck um, but there’s other girls and you’re tight with J.T., and he got the Knockout Powder."

"You know the girls and you know J.T. Why don’t you set it up? Cause they’re cops and you want to get a little somethin’ for puttin’ my ass away."

"No baby, they want to be inside and I know you got that little Pleasure Palace in the basement. Besides, those white boys lookin’ a little mean for sweet ole Gimp. You jus’ toss me a little powder and we’ll be straight."

"How you know they not the man?"

"Cause I shook the hand of the one at the wheel, the one calls hisself Bonus. His hand rough like sandpaper. You ever seen a cop with working man’s hands?"

"Gimp, you go get the money. I’m waitin’ here."

"The white dudes want to talk with you. They wanna be indoors before they give up any money. They can’t be the man cause they all sippin’ from a fifth of whiskey."

Jasmine placed me on her shoulders, wound my leash around her hand and walked toward the van. Bonus, an enormous man with a pockmarked face and a tee shirt smeared with grease, stuck his hand out of the window in an effort to shake Jasmine’s. She ignored his offer and said, "I’m gonna set this up. You gonna use my place, but you’re not gonna to get any pussy from me."

Bonus turned around in his seat and said to the other guys who were sitting in back of the van, "Toehead, Pudge, come on." The side door of the van slid open. Pudge rolled out without looking around. Toehead peeped out like a timid rodent, and then stepped onto the sidewalk. Pudge caught up with Bonus, who was a few steps ahead of him, and said loudly enough for Jasmine to hear, "What do ya think bout that bitch tellin’ you no?"

"Pudge, shut up. She’s settin’ everything straight."

Jasmine didn’t say a word, but she stiffened with indignation and separated herself from the men by a few steps.

Jasmine’s Pleasure Palace was in the basement of the building in which her mother lived. On the floor was a mattress, and on the walls hung posters featuring some of Italy’s most noteworthy tourist spots.

Toehead, the nervous one who hadn’t said a word, stepped out of the huddle, and stuck his hand through Jasmine’s legs as she was bending over to straighten the sheets. She clamped them shut, grabbed his index finger, and pulled it toward his thumb. Toehead pulled his hand free and slunk into a corner with the bottle of whiskey. Pudge laughed, and Bonus said, in an effort to ease the tension, "What’s wit the cat?"

"None of your mother fuckin’ business."

Pudge gave me the once over, then lifted me off Jasmine’s shoulders.

My leash tightened as he said, "Bonus, you remember Gabe’s punk test?"

Jasmine pulled on the end which was wound around her hand. Pudge pulled on his end. I was choking.

Toehead slunk out of the corner. I heard the click of a switch blade, and I was free.

Jasmine lunged at Pudge who was now in possession of me and half of my leash. He spun out of her grasp, and tossed me to Toehead who said, "Yeah, I remember, that was back when nobody, not even Gabe, fucked wit Bonus." Jasmine walked across the sheets, but as she reached out for me, Toehead tossed me back to Pudge who said, "We was all standin’ in fronta that big tree near the Wall. Gabe took a hammer, a ten penny nail, and a cat outta a pillowcase. Then he stood by the tree and said, Somebody, gotta put the nail through the thick part.” Pudge pinched the scruff of my neck as if to find the rest of the memory. "Everyone was scared except Bonus. You remember, Bonus?" While Jasmine was traipsing back across the mattress toward Pudge, Bonus said, "Stop fuckin’ around. Give her back the cat." Pudge looked at Bonus, Jasmine moved in the direction of his eyes. Pudge tossed me over her head. Toehead caught me. Pudge said, "Bonus turned to Gabe and said, What kinda punk test you talkin’ about?” While Jasmine, red with rage, recrossed the mattress Toehead, said, "Remember the way Gabe glared at Bonus before he said, You gotta smash the cat wit your head." Pudge continued, "Nobody moved. We was all imaginin’ that cat tryin to tear the flesh offa our faces." Jasmine lunged at Toehead. He moved into the corner, and made whimpering noises. Then he tossed me through her legs. Pudge caught me, and Toehead continued the story, "Everyone except Bonus, he grabbed the cat from Gabe, and drove the nail through its neck without even flinchin’. Then he looked at Gabe and said, You man enough to butt that wit your head? The cat was screamin’ and clawin’ the air wit its paws, and blood was spurtin’ outta the hole. Gabe just stared at the cat, and started sweatin’." Jasmine was on the verge of tears as she recrossed the mattress. Pudge hoisted me into the air, and tossed me, but Bonus intercepted. As he handed me back to Jasmine, he said, "Gabe wouldn’t do it. He waited until the cat was exhausted. Then he tied some fireworks to its hind legs. The guts flew all over everyone. Toehead chucked up his lunch."

Jasmine turned to Bonus and said, "How many girls and what kind of drugs?"

While he thoughtfully knotted the two ends of my leash together he said, "Six dime bags of smack."

"Okay, give me sixty dollars for the drugs, and another twenty-five for usin’ my place, gettin’ the girl, and coppin’ the drugs."

"How much is the girl gonna be?” Asked Pudge.

"You work it out with her."

Toehead said, "Hey Bonus, don’t give her the twenty-five until she comes back with the dope."

When we rounded the corner Jasmine confirmed my worst fears as she caressed my paws, "We’re gonna take those boys. They’s so drunk, they couldn’t feel the effects of no dope."

I started shivering as I realized that Jasmine seemed eager to exacerbate the situation. It wasn’t enough for her to be wretched alone, within herself. She felt compelled to hurt me or have the guys hurt her. All of her actions were aimed at having someone else hit her, arrest her, murder her. She wanted someone to do her in, and I believed these guys were ugly enough to accommodate her. It was as though the most abhorrent idea in the world to Jasmine was pleasure. She refused to follow a sexual whim to a blissful conclusion or to simply make a few dollars. Something bad was going to happen.

The spot was only two blocks from Jasmine’s mother’s house. She walked briskly past the lookouts posted on the corners. She slowed down in the middle of the block to listen to the hawkers. A brand called Toilet was being sold in a vacant lot. Poison was in the Bodega. 357 was in the cellar of an abandoned building, but nobody mentioned the Knockout Powder.

After passing once through the market, Jasmine walked up to a group of junkies and said, "What’s happenin’?"

"One thing and one thing only: the Knockout Powder. So you just stay right here with us ’til J.T.’s boys finish bagging another load, ’cause we be in and out before all these mother fuckers out here even know that the good shit is back."

"But she ain’t gettin’ any," said one of the group while pointing at Jasmine’s arms. "You know they’s only sellin’ it to people who got tracks, and they ain’t never sellin’ to a cat."

"Cops, Cops," shouted one of the lookouts. It was as though someone had dropped a bomb into the center of the group. They all took off in separate directions as the police appeared from both ends of the street.

Jasmine reversed her course. She asked a guy on the next block for some mannitol. He handed her a bag full of some white powder. Then she bought a roll of scotch tape from a bodega on the next corner.

Jasmine peeked around the corner. The street was vacant except for the two police cars. Jasmine returned to the bodega and dialed 911. When the operator answered, she said in a hysterical voice, "My name is Melissa Martinez. I live at 421 Pennsylvania Avenue. An officer has just been shot right below my window. Please help."

Seconds later, the police cleared out and the market reopened. Buyers were entering the abandoned building from which the Knockout Powder was sold. We followed. People were everywhere. The stairs groaned under the weight of the traffic. Each stair had two people on it, one going up and one coming down. On the second floor was a steel door with a slot cut into it. "Jasmine," a voice behind the slot said.

"Hey Tony, how you."

"I’m good. How’s Moms?"

"She’s good, but you better bring her some food and beer cause the checks finished, and I’m goin’ away for a couple of days."

"J.T. says he gonna blow your ass away for using his label to sell beat shit."

"Seven bags, Tony give me seven, and don’t tell me about J.T., cause you know that nigger is dumb with love for me."

Jasmine’s excitement made her gait awkward. Her shoulders, upon which I was perched, rolled like a boat in swells.

I looked around for the cops. I was ready to leap through the window of the first squad car which passed by. The drugs were in the same hand that my leash was wound around.

We entered a bar called Dirty Bud’s. A few old guys were seated on the bar stools. Otherwise, the place was empty. Jasmine ordered a beer, and entered the ladies room. But before she had time to arrange herself on the closed toilet, someone knocked on the door. "What you want?"

A male voice answered, "Don’t be getting high in my place. Last week some fool overdosed in there, and the cops closed me down until they got the meat wagon over here to cart her away."

"Don’t worry. I don’t do that shit."

Jasmine opened one of the glassine envelopes by cutting the scotch tape with her fingernail. She placed the opened bag on the floor, opened another one in the same manner, and poured its contents into the bag which she had placed on the floor. She repeated this six times. The result was one full bag, and six empties. Jasmine took the mannitol from her pocket, poured some into the six empty bags, and then poured a little heroin from the seventh into the other six. Next she tried to remove the scotch tape, but the bag began to tear. She gave her shoulders a fatalistic shrug, and placed the new tape over the old.

Jasmine stood up on the toilet seat. She lifted her skirt, pulled the crotch of her panties into the crack of her ass, and said, "That’s how you do it. Isn’t that a fine butt? Don’t I have a perfect body? Wouldn’t you like to touch my tits?"

All of my reservations, hesitations, and the memory of all the cruel things which she had done to me vanished. My groin tingled. My legs began growing. Jasmine stopped dancing. My transformations fascinated her. I was standing. Jasmine was wonder struck, in awe of her powers. I stumbled into the heroin as I moved toward her. It spread out over the tile floor. Jasmine grabbed the cord dangling from my neck and pulled. It tightened and the next thing I knew I was a cat dangling in the air. I was certain that she would smash me against the wall. But instead she gently placed me on the floor, loosened my leash, began scooping the drugs off the bathroom floor with the match book cover and affectionately said, "You mess everthin’ up. I thought we’d have a few sniffs and mess around. We’re both kinda tense. I just wanted to tell you not to worry. They’s drunken fools. You saw them."

After we each had a couple of snorts, Jasmine hid the money which she had gotten from Roger, the pawning of Roger’s possessions, and the seventh bag with all the drugs underneath a loose floor tile behind the toilet.

Pudge, Bonus, and Toehead had started drinking a second fifth of whiskey by the time we returned. Pudge was propped up in a corner. Bonus was seated on the dresser. Toehead, who was sprawled on the mattress, seemed to be the only one that remembered either us or our mission. He jumped up and reached out for the drugs the moment Jasmine closed the door behind her. He began inspecting them as would a jeweler a fine stone, and, unfortunately, with as much expertise. He opened the first bag, held it up to the light, and said, "The weight’s wrong." He took a book of matches from his pocket, tore the cover off, folded it so as to make a triangular scoop, dipped it into the glassine envelope, fetched out some of the white powder that Jasmine had replaced the heroin with, put it on his finger which he licked, and then announced, "This ain’t that famed Knockout Powder Gimp was talkin’ about."

"I’m going to check on the girl," said Jasmine. "She should be back by now." Bonus tackled her before she completed her first step. I flew over her head, and scampered underneath the dresser.

"Throw your arms over your head," shouted Bonus.

Jasmine did as commanded, and Bonus flipped her onto her back. Pudge grabbed Jasmine’s arms which were sprawled in front of her. Bonus fastened his mammoth hands around her ankles, and Toehead continued investigating the drugs.

He moved a little bedside table underneath a bare bulb which hung from the ceiling. He placed the other five bags on the table, and snapped open his switch blade. He centered one of the bags underneath the circle of light cast by the bulb, carefully cut the scotch tape sealing it, poured out the contents onto the table, tasted it and said, "Nobody, no way, no how, is ever gettin’ high on this shit. We come all the way out here to boogie land for this famed shit, and all we got is beat."

"Don’t mean she beat us," said Bonus.

Toehead held the bag up to the light, ran the blade between the two layers of tape, pulled them apart, and said, "She beat us. Them bags been cracked."

Bonus squeezed Jasmine’s ankles, and said, "Did you open them?"

"Bonus, you think she bought ’em like that?" said Pudge.

"Toehead, open the others."

Toehead did as Bonus instructed, and found the result he expected. "I’ll bet she’s got the shit on her."

Jasmine had lain still until Pudge took a handful of her hair. My dick began to tingle. Toehead knelt down beside her, and placed the cutting edge of the knife on Jasmine’s cheek. She lay motionless.

"Just tell us where the dope is so as to avoid us goin’ to look for it," said Bonus.

Jasmine stared defiantly at the ceiling. "I gave you what I got."

"You ain’t treatin’ us right. Nobody sells beat shit outta brand name bags."

"I’ll take you to the place. You can straighten it out with them."

"Bonus, she’s yankin’ your chain," said Toehead. "We didn’t go in the first place cause three white boys is either gettin’ busted, or robbed out here. Whatta you gonna do? Walk up to the spot, and say excuse me, but we been beat. I’m tellin’ you she got the shit stashed. It’s right here, right now."

Jasmine lifted her head, looked at Bonus, and said, "He’s wrong. I swear."

Toehead slit Jasmine’s Disney World tee shirt from the collar to the waist. He pulled the rented fabric open and saw the butt of her pistol sticking out from the waist band of her skirt. He placed it on the floor and said, "That’s a nice piece."

She’d sold her body. Roger had paid for it; and therefore, it was my right to take it.

"Well she can’t be hidin’ the smack in her bra," said Toehead. He slit her skirt, pulled the fabric open, then grabbed the crotch of her panties, cut it, and began fishing around for the drugs. "She ain’t got them. Bitch, I want my drugs." He grabbed her nipple with his left hand, held the knife to it, and said, "If you don’t tell me where you put the dope, I’m takin’ this home."

Pudge grabbed Toehead’s hand and said, "Don’t worry, he ain’t gonna hurt you, cause you better looking than any girl that you’d have brought us, and we woulda paid more than sixty dollars for some of that pass around pussy. So you just stay calm and we’re gonna even things up." Bonus pushed her legs apart. Jasmine didn’t resist, but she said, "You all ready got my gun, that’s worth more then sixty dollars. You give me back my piece, and I’ll give you all blow jobs."

"Bullshit," said Pudge. "She’s gotta pay us for the trouble. We keep the pistol and we get blow jobs."

"No," said Pudge. "It’s twenty bucks for a blow job. She needs the gun. It’s fair."

"We can get blow jobs on Fourth Avenue, over by the Mazda dealer, for ten dollars," said Toehead.

"But ain’t nobody ever done you like me," said Jasmine.

The dresser, beneath which I was hiding, began moving from side to side, and flew into the air as I resumed my human form. Bonus grabbed the pistol. He shouted just like a cop, "Stop or I’m gonna shoot."

I did not. I knew Jasmine was shooting blanks. Bonus fired. I charged through the smoke, out the door and onto the street.

I saw the license plate. It read Wisconsin. The lights dazzled me. I saw a tire. It had four all-weather treads. I swerved to the left. Something smacked me on the hind quarters. I flew into the air. My head hit the pavement, and there was silence.

When I came to, I was in a lap. A hand was thoughtfully inspecting my body. I looked up and saw a twenty year old girl with an exquisitely shaped head, horse like, who was staring at me with tearful eyes. A large woman with close cropped hair was watching the street.

"Give me my cat," Jasmine said as she pushed her way between the girls and reached out for me.

The large girl with the close cropped hair stepped in front of her and said, "What happened to you?"

Jasmine took a few steps back and said, "I been raped."

The third girl Loren opened the rear door of the car, and said, "Get in."

Jasmine did as instructed.

Beebe turned to Jasmine and repeated, "What happened?"

"I can’t tell you while I’m sittin’ here with my clothes all tore up."

Michelle passed an elegant leather bag to Loren who rummaged through it for a second, scowled and said, "Michelle, what right have you got to be generous with my things?"

"It’s true," said Beebe. "Give her your clothing."

Michelle reached reluctantly into her bag, and handed Jasmine a cotton tee shirt which read, Bennington College School of Dance.

"Where’s the nearest hospital? You should see a doctor," said Loren.

"I don’t need no hospital, but I would be grateful for some pants."

She can’t maneuver without clothing. She’s preparing a strike, I thought.

"You’ll feel better if you tell us what happened," said Beebe.

"I told you. I can’t talk while I’m sittin’ here bare assed."

"Loren give her your jeans," snapped Beebe.

"She won’t be able to button them. Michelle’s would fit better."

"Michelle already gave up a tee shirt, and unbuttoned jeans are better than no jeans, and you couldn’t find her in mine."

"I never would have thought you two could be so selfish, and so petty," said Loren while looking lovingly upon the objects in her bag.

Meanwhile, Jasmine was taking inventory, making decisions.

Loren gingerly extracted a pair of torn jeans, handed them to Jasmine, then said as though she were collecting on a debt. "All right, now tell us what happened."

Jasmine raised her price while wriggling into Loren’s jeans. "I’ll tell you what happened soon as you give me back my cat."

Michelle gave Jasmine a quizzical look. "Why do you keep him on a leash? He could choke."

"Because he’s mines. I want him. Give him back," said Jasmine in a threatening voice.

"We’re not going to take your cat," said Loren, "but I agree with Michelle. You shouldn’t keep him on a leash."

"Bitch, mind your own business. They don’t like you givin’ away their things, and I don’t like you tellin’ me how to keep my cat."

I gripped the material of Michelle’s pants between my teeth, wound my paws around her thigh. She glanced down at me. I placed my paws together as though I were praying and shook my head.

"He doesn’t want to leave. He must be frightened. I’ll give him back as soon as he calms down," said Michelle as she reassuringly stroked my back.

Beebe said, "We won’t take your cat. Tell us what happened so we can find appropriate help."

"I had a place, but it caught fire. I lost everythin’ `cept my cat. So I was stayin’ with my moms and her man. Moms went off to play a number and get some beer, the old man was watchin’ the game, and I was sleeping until that nigger came through the door. I expected to see Moms, but her man was standin’ there naked, with muscles like steel, and a hard-on. That’s when the cat jumped on his back."

"Let’s take her to the police," shouted Loren.

"No please, not that," said Jasmine. "I don’t want Moms to know. Besides, I ain’t never goin’ back."

"I wouldn’t go to the police with a story like that," said Beebe.

"Why?" asked Michelle while watching me.

"I’ll give you four reasons. First of all, it’s almost midnight which means there is no game on TV."

I vigorously nodded my head.

"Secondly, there was no penetration."

I once again nodded my head.

"Three, when did he tear her clothes?”

I nodded again.

"Four, I’m not about to believe that a cat rescued her."

I shook my head.

"Perhaps she can’t tell us the truth," said Loren. "Can you imagine how painful it would be to tell the story of a violation."

"There’s a White Castle on Atlantic Avenue. Just leave me there. I don’t need no help. I take care of myself."

Michelle turned to Jasmine and said, "Do you know how to get to Atlantic Avenue?"

"Jus’ go straight on Sutter, and make a left on Pennsylvania."

"Beebe, we’re out of the woods. I can get to the Marina from Atlantic Avenue," said Michelle while she picked something out of my fur.

Beebe put the car in gear. She drove very slowly and moved her mouth from side to side like she was thinking hard. As she made the left onto Pennsylvania Avenue she said, without looking at Jasmine, "We could bring you to a women’s crisis center or a shelter."

"You jus’ give me my cat. People like you are always lookin’ around for someone to help, someone to toss into some place you’d never even go inside of."

Beebe drove the car into the White Castle parking lot. The help was behind bulletproof plexiglass. At the tables sat a few young black men with bloodshot eyes.

Michelle bit her lip, opened and closed her hands a few times, found her courage, and said. "I’m not really sure that you’re fit to keep the cat. You can barely take care of yourself. Perhaps, I should keep him until you get a place."

"You know what I did to the last bitch that tried takin’ what was mines?"

Michelle held me firmly as she said in a trembling voice, "I’m not trying to take him. I’m just suggesting I keep him for awhile. I’ll give you my address and as soon as you get a place you can phone me, and I’ll ship him back to you. I promise."

I squirmed out of Michelle’s hands, but Jasmine saw me preparing to spring and said, "Grab him." Michelle clamped her hand down on my back. I heard the creak of springs. I squirmed out of Michelle’s hands, dove onto the floor, and crawled under the seat.

Jasmine grabbed a handful of Michelle’s hair and said, "Bitch, you fish my cat out from under the seat, or I’m gonna tear this shit loose." Loren screamed. Michelle was dumbfounded. Beebe grabbed Jasmine’s throat and said, "You reprobate creep." I’m not certain that Jasmine understood what Beebe meant, but she definitely didn’t like the way Beebe said it. She spat in Beebe’s face, grabbed the thumb and index finger of the hand which Beebe had wrapped around her throat, and pulled them in separate directions. Beebe pulled back so hard, in an effort to stop Jasmine from breaking her fingers, that her head smashed into the rearview mirror. Jasmine grabbed Loren’s bag, opened the car door, and exited. I jumped onto the dashboard. Michelle rolled up the window, locked the doors, hugged me, and cried. Beebe pushed her door open and took off after Jasmine who wasn’t moving very fast because she was holding up her pants with one hand and carrying Loren’s bag in the other. Beebe caught hold of Jasmine, spun her around, and smashed her forehead on the bridge of Jasmine’s nose. Something cracked, blood flowed, and Jasmine fell to her knees.

The staff and patrons who had been watching through the glass poured out the door. Beebe entered the car, and sped away.

Twenty minutes later, Beebe drove into the parking lot of the Barren Island Marina. Michelle cradled me in her arms and walked toward the rear of the car. Beebe opened the trunk, passed a box of provisions to Loren and then gave Michelle a dissatisfied look and said, "Mommy will have to put her wussy pussy down so she can carry supplies to the boat."

I squirmed inside Michelle’s backpack. She slipped her arms through the shoulder straps and removed a cardboard box from the trunk.

"Loren did you see that? The cat climbed into Michelle’s bag," said Beebe.

"Oh, I’m sure that he is very intelligent," said Loren offhandedly.

"He told me not to trust that woman," said Michelle.

"Get off it," said Beebe.

"I’m telling you. He nodded and shook his head at the appropriate times. When I asked her about the leash, he reached up and put his paws together and prayed for me to rescue him."

"Just like Prince Charming," said Loren.

"Both of you are daft," said Beebe. "Prince Charming didn’t beg. Cowards beg. He cut a deal. The maiden promised to marry him before he dove into the well and retrieved her golden ball."

I placed my paws on Michelle’s shoulders to get a look around. I saw a marina with an assortment of boats. On my left was Rockaway, on my right Coney Island, and between them the channel that leads to New York Harbor, the door to the Atlantic Ocean!

"I’ll show you as soon as we get this stuff stowed just how remarkable he is," said Michelle.

"That’s a good idea. We’ll test him. We’ll see how much he’s really capable of," said Beebe.

Loren reached out her hand to pat me. "Don’t test him. He’s not a thing to be experimented with."

"This is the first time we each get our own cabin," said Beebe as she stepped off the wooden finger docks and into the cockpit of the biggest sailboat in the marina.

"Um", said Loren. "Let me see. Bebee gets the big berth because she’s the skipper. Michelle gets the one next to all the navigational gear, and I get the little one."

"All right Michelle," said Beebe after she had stowed the gear in the cabin. "Let’s see what your remarkable doat can do."

"What’s a doat?" asked Michelle as I crawled out of her bag. "A cat with a dog’s intelligence, a rare hybrid, an exotic creature."

Michelle said, "Oh, Princey, come here."

I walked up to her.

"Wow, he is a doat. He came when you called. He’s like a dog. Let’s call him Rex," said Beebe. "I always wanted a dog."

Michelle started scratching my head. All it took was two little pats and a couple of cooing sounds to transform her into the most important human being on the entire planet. I didn’t care were the boat was going.

Michelle leaned over. Her long blonde hair covered me. We were alone.

"Is their really a prince inside that adorable little pussy cat?" she whispered.

My heart started pounding. I winked. She swooned. "Bee, he is a prince. He really is."

"Michelle stop it," said Beebe. "I swear your feet are never on the ground. The cat didn’t do a thing. Hey Rex. Come here. Roll over."

I ignored Beebe, made sleepy movements, faked a few yawns, climbed down the ladder which lead to the cabins, found the cabin next to the navigation gear, Michelle’s cabin, crawled underneath the covers, and waited.

Sometime later, a door closed, a light went on, and I peeked out from beneath the covers.

Michelle slipped out of her tee shirt, undid her bra, wriggled out of her jeans, dropped her panties on the floor, pulled a pink fuzzy creature out of her bag, and said, "Come here, Princey. I see you. Come on. I want you to meet Dwarfo. He’s a fairy who has come to save the Earth."

Michelle put her ear next to Dwarfo’s mouth, and listened attentively to him for a few seconds. "Dwarfo said, if you’re really a prince then all I need to do is give you a little kiss and you’ll become a man. You see I’m really just a child. Beebe is right. So please be very kind to me, and I’ll do whatever you want. I swear."

She wound her arms around me, gave me a kiss on the forehead. I leapt onto the floor. I didn’t want to crush her or bang my head on the ceiling as I resumed my human form. I stood perfectly still. I didn’t know what to expect.

Michelle looked into my face with her loving eyes. I felt very vulnerable.

"You’re filthy. Your hands are black."

"When I’m a cat, I walk on them."

MIchelle removed a hand towel and some lotion from her bag. She wet the towel, took my hand, told me to sit down, and began cleansing it.

I wanted to paint her. I marvelled at the primitive way in which she was taking the first step toward possessing me. It was an important moment. She cleansed my hands as though I were her child.

"Did an evil witch put you inside that cat body? Did you do something wrong?"

"I asked an old woman if I could paint her portrait."

"Are you an artist?"

"I could see beneath her smile exactly how she looked when she was joyous or serious. All those feelings were present all at onece. She was the ocean that contained them.”

"What happened to that woman you were with? How did her clothes get torn? Did someone rape her?"

"She’d sold three thugs some bad drugs. They thought she had the real stuff hidden on her person. They slit her clothing."

"Do you always hang around with people like that?"

"No, she, Jasmine, that’s her name, captured me. I thought she was a prostitute."

"You go to prostitutes?"

"I didn’t want to be a cat."

"A prostitute could transform you."

"Any woman could. I mean any woman that I was attracted to. It doesn’t matter. If I have an orgasm, then I permanently regain my human form."

"Any woman will do, and you’ll do it with any woman. Is that the story?"

Michelle removed my head from her lap, bent over, opened her bag, pulled out a big white tee shirt, put it on, and sat down on the far end of the bunk. "You’re too much. I can’t believe it. You’re still aroused. Why don’t you cover yourself? I don’t find any of this attractive."

"Hey, Michelle are you okay?" It was Beebe.

"We heard the whole thing," said Loren. "I want to come in and look at Tom."

"Sure, you can both come."

Michelle pushed the door open. The cat burst out of the cabin, ran up the steps, into the cockpit, over the side, onto the docks, and into the parking lot where I heard the whine of a female cat in heat. Nearby. Behind me. She dashed out from beneath a parked car. Over by the street lamp. The cat I’d seen in Central Park. She moved menacingly toward me like she was daring me to fuck her. We came face to face. Stared at each other. She took a swipe at my nose and I caught the back of her neck between my teeth. She released a dose of sex perfume and I speared her.