(So – this is one of the story elements in Book 8. And – the rest will be revealed at a later date. Yes – I live to tantalize.)

Tip Top Ice House Gas & Grocery

Tip Top Ice House Gas & Grocery

Custody Dispute

 

Another day of rewarding work at the Café – Richard set his bike homeward, towards the Age, and what he had begun to think of as home, the little polished-aluminum caravan parked there. It was mid-afternoon on a Thursday. His Kate, his Dear Lady Tongue, had reported by a cellphone conversation earlier in the day. Her research on a story would take her from Beeville to Karnesville in the late afternoon – might she come by the Age for a supper, and possibly a cuddle?

Even though the cuddle would most likely be with Ozzie, King of Kings and Captain Kitten in his internet guise, rather than himself, Richard assented with happy anticipation. Yes – another splendid supper and sparkling conversation with Kate, his Kate of Kate Hall, his comfortable and affectionate friend, the woman who knew him for all his many faults and appeared to love him anyway. He headed away from the Café, leaving preparations for the next day in the mostly-capable hands of Luc, sometime drummer for a local band most famed for a name which gravitated in many directions from their initials – OPM – and his trained and trusty apprentices… planning in his mind a private, haute-cuisine classical French menu for his Kate, from what he knew to be on hand in the miniscule refrigerator in the Airstream, combined with snippings of herbs and salad greens from the bounty of the raised beds so lovingly-cultivated out in back of the Café. As he pedaled through the tree-shaded outskirts of Luna City towards Route 123, Richard realized that there was no cream in the little caravan refrigerator – bugger! So much for a simple dessert, and for a touch of crème fraiche … hang on, perhaps the Tip Top might have … yes, indeed. Under the management of Chris Mayall, the crowded and battered old shelves of the Tip Top Ice House, Gas and Grocery contained an unexpectedly broad variety of grocery items: mostly canned and refrigerated, bottled water and sodas, candy bars and dried beef jerky, crackers … indeed, everything but fresh green vegetables and fruits. A half-pint of cream – Richard veered into the crumbling apron of broken macadam paving which merged almost imperceptibly with the shoulder of Route 123, just before it narrowed again to cross the river on a newly-renovated four-lane bridge.

There was a single car parked in front of the Tip Top’s sagging verandah; not that there was ever much of a crowd in the Tip Top on weekdays, and certainly not in the parking lot, unless there was a big do at the VFW post – that pink former classroom, in the grove of trees behind the Tip Top.

“Behave yourself, Ozzie,” Richard ordered his feline familiar, who was quite accustomed to the familiar routine: a day of hunting small vermin along the backside of the block of buildings which formed the northern side of Town Square, and a short ride in the plastic crate (which had originally been used for gallon jugs of milk) strapped to the rear of Richard’s bicycle. A return to the small caravan at the Age, home-sweet-home, a home of comfy soft surfaces, shelter from the dark and cold, and hungry predators who might make a nocturnal meal of a small, brindle one-eyed cat. “Back in a tick – your favorite of the female of our species is coming for a brief visit…”

“Mrrow!” Ozzie replied, butting the top of his brindle head against Richard’s careless caress. Richard went in through the swinging door of the Tip Top, utterly confident that Ozzie would be still in the basket strapped to the back of his mountain bike – like Richard himself, Ozzie was a creature of rigid habit.

There were two other customers in the Tip Top – paying for gasoline at the cash register. Richard hardly spared them a glance. A couple, about the age of his parents; Chris was ringing up their purchase. He went to the rank of battered refrigerated cases which displayed soft drinks, water, beer and two shelves of dairy products. Yes; a pint of plain cream, the last remaining. Richard snagged it, thinking himself most fortunate and continued mentally planning his supper menu, waiting impatiently for the male half of the couple to finish scrawling a signature on the charge receipt.

“Find everything you were looking for, Ricardo?” Chris grinned in recognition.

“No, alas – your selection of fine burgundies, foie gras, and Perigord truffles is lamentably short,” Richard answered. “Be a good chap and speak to your manager about this.”

“Smart-ass,” Chris returned equably and rang up the cream. Richard paid in cash, declined the offer of a plastic bag, citing his concern for over-harvesting of those mighty stands of plastic trees in South America. He could still hear Chris chuckling, as the door swung closed behind him.

To his vague surprise, the couple who had been ahead of him at the Tip Top still lingered, their attention wholly focused on Richard’s bicycle – that trusty fat-tire mountain bike which had been his preferred means of transport, now that hire-cars and chauffeur-driven limousines were out of the question. No – not the bike, he realized as he put the cream in the plastic utility basket bungee-corded to the rear rack – the basket which Ozzie shared uncomplaining with a covered bucket of choice fruit and vegetable scraps intended for the resident chickens at the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat farm. The man and woman both were staring fixedly at Ozzie, who waited with un-catlike patience and total indifference to the audience for Richard to complete whatever silly human errand had interrupted the commute home.

“I beg your pardon,” Richard ventured, and both heads swiveled towards him – the woman was the first to speak.

“What are you doing with my daughter’s cat?” she demanded, while the man – obviously her husband half-groaned.

“Marta – there must be a hundred ….”

“No!” Marta exclaimed in indignation, “That’s Marlene’s Mr. Whiskers! I’m certain of it, Fred!”

“Ummm,” Richard hated to intervene in what appeared to be a domestic dispute over mistaken cat-identity between Fred and Marta. “I beg to differ, madam – this is my cat. Has been for … nearly two, almost three years now, ever since I found him as a stray after the big flood over Memorial Day, behind my place of work. His name is Ozymandias-King of Kings. Ozzie for short. If he is anyone’s cat – he is mine, and everyone around here knows it.”

“He’s Mr. Whiskers!” Marta insisted, a thin edge of hysteria informing the words, like the gold trim on an expensive wedding invitation. “With one blind eye, brindle – and three white whiskers on the left side! That’s Marlene’s Mr. Whiskers – she nursed him on a bottle, since he was so sickly the PALS office asked her to foster him! There was a litter of three, and they thought he wouldn’t survive without care – but he did! Marlene slept with him in her arms that first week, because he needed care around the clock! She sent me the pictures of him!” and Marta fumbled in her handbag for a cellphone, brandishing it under Richard’s nose. “See – that’s my daughter’s cat…”

“Careless of her to have misplaced him,” Richard remarked, in his most arctic, cut-glass superior British tones, and was interiorly chilled to the bone when Marta burst into incoherent tears, right there on the rickety weathered gray verandah of the Tip Top.

Ozzie regarded the spectacle with serene feline indifference. Meanwhile, Fred embraced his other domestic half. Over her heaving shoulder, he addressed Richard.

“See … our daughter passed away. Two years ago, it was. Auto accident, coming home from her job at Christus Spohn in Corpus, on the late shift. We live in New Braunfels, see. A drunk driver t-boned her car and ran away because he had no insurance and no license. She was three days on life support before they told her husband it was no use to go on with it all. I don’t think they ever managed to arrest the driver,” Fred added, with slight bitterness in his voice. “Greg had to take a job on the oil rigs – he couldn’t take on Marlene’s pets, you see. The two dogs, and Mr. Whiskers. We were passing this way between Corpus Christi and home, with Marlene’s dogs and Mr. Whiskers, in a travel carrier, and a bunch of stuff in a trailer we rented – stuff from Marlene and Greg’s place that we were gonna store for him. We stopped – right here, in this very place because we needed to gas up, and the dogs needed a whiz break … and somehow in all the fuss, Mr. Whiskers got out of the carrier. We called for him … we looked and looked and called for him, but we had the dogs and the trailer, and everyone was afraid that the flood would close the bridge. We had to move on. We …” and Fred swallowed with somewhat of an effort. “We didn’t … we hated that we had to go and leave Mr. Whiskers. Came back a couple of times when the flood was past. We thought …”

“We thought that someone must have taken him in,” Marta recovered herself. “Someone nice and responsible, who would take care of him the way that Marlene did – and we could find him and get him back. He’s chipped …”

“Chipped?” Richard looked between Marta, and Ozzie – now regarding the persons who had interrupted his routine with lordly indifference. Richard’s hand went, almost involuntarily toward Ozzie’s brindled ears, and Ozzie’s head rose to meet his caress.

“Mroow!” he demanded, imperiously, as was his habit. Obviously, Ozzie believed that his audience with his worshippers was done. A dish of finest fish-flavored kibble, a cuddle with his favorite human, and an evening of restful slumber at the foot of the bed occupied by his second favorite human were on his personal feline schedule – a schedule far more urgent than the mewlings of these impotent humans.

“He’s our daughters’ cat,” Marta stated obdurately. “And how he’s ours – we can prove it! And we want him returned to us.”

2 Comments

  1. Oh no! I can’t wait to find out what happens with Ozzy.