“I don’t know about this,” Mistoffelees called uneasily, running to catch up with his friends Pixelpat and Tang Tao. “Are you sure Victoria will even want to come? I mean, she’s mad at me, after all.”
“She’s gotten over it by now, Misto,” Tang said comfortingly. “You don’t know her like I do. She’s probably forgotten about the whole thing.” He placed a paw on the bottom step and leaned forward, putting his weight on it, only to withdraw tentatively as the step issued a loud creak. He narrowed his almond-shaped eyes and peered up the winding metal staircase into the dark shadows that had gathered there. He wrinkled his nose. The staircase smelled strange, like cobwebs and mildew. “You know,” he remarked, turning back to Pix and Misto, who sat patiently at the foot of the stairs, “she might not even be up there. We ought to split up.”
“Exactly,” said Pix. “How about if I look in the kitchen...”
“And I’ll search the lobby. Misto, be a pal and look upstairs, all right?” Tang said with a sweet smile. Misto’s jaw dropped and he stared at his comrades, unsure of what to say. “There’s a good fellow,” Tang stated cheerfully. “Come on, Pix.” He bounded down the steps and through the lobby door, followed close behind by Pix.
“Conned again,” Misto sighed, dropping his paws to his sides with an anguished sigh.
The lobby was deserted. Tang could hardly believe his good fortune; usually the lobby was filled with people milling about in their evening wear, or there were at least a few drunkards scattered about at the tables sipping martinis, but tonight the room was strangely empty, like a wasteland or a ghost town. Tang shivered. He scolded himself for being afraid of his imagination and trotted around the room, calling merrily for Victoria. “Veeky!” he screeched, chuckling to himself and peering under the tablecloths. “Veeky! Oh, Victoria-san! Come out, come out, wherever you...”
Caught mid-sentence as he peered under the cloth of the table farthest from the exit, Tang found himself nose to nose with a gigantic Pollicle dog. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” the dog growled, pulling back his upper lip to reveal rows of dangerously pointed teeth in a mouth that was easily as big as Tang Tao himself. Tang grinned back and fainted dead away.
“Maybe she’s in here,” Pix giggled, opening one of the cabinet doors. There were a few cooks and waitresses milling about in the kitchen, but they were all too busy to notice the little Abyssinian who gleefully was plundering food from every cabinet he could reach. He held a large chunk of ham tightly under one arm, and draped around his neck was a string of sausages. In his other arm he cradled a pastry danish, a bunch of grapes, and part of a loaf of fresh bread. Disappointed at finding neither any more food nor Victoria, he shrugged and headed towards the kitchen door.
He leaned with his weight against the door, but it refused to budge. Pix tried again, pushing his shoulder against it and leaning with all his might. He sighed with frustration and took a running start headlong into the door. It flew open, sending him rolling feet over nose right into a Pollicle.
Pix had landed with his tail up where his head should be and vice versa. At first he tried frantically to retrieve his grapes, which had scattered all over the floor as he rolled, from his prone position. Eventually he was aware of a presence at his backside. Since his backside was up and his head was down, he had merely to look up to catch a glimpse of the Pollicle. He screamed. The Pollicle looked startled, but immediately reached out a massive paw and grabbed Pix by the tail. Still screaming and trying to reach his grapes, Pix was dragged out of the room.
The hallway was dark and smelled musty. Misto sneezed a few times after walking into a cobweb, but he was only glad to be done with the task of going upstairs. Every time he put his weight down, the steps would creak and groan as if in pain, and the shadows had seemed to follow him as he went up; they still seemed to linger behind him, closing in on both sides of the hallway and choking him with their darkness. He reached a paw to his throat uneasily and walked a little faster.
“Misto? Is that you?” called a voice. He screamed and whirled around. “My goodness,” said the voice, laughing a little, “you’d think I was Macavity! It’s only me.” Through the dim light he could discern the figure of Victoria at the end of the hallway.
“Heaviside,” Misto breathed, clutching his chest. “Stay there, I’m coming.” The hallway seemed to become yet darker as he walked towards its end, so much so that he had to put his paws out and feel in front of him. Suddenly he touched another wall and felt a tap on his shoulder.
“I’m right here,” Victoria giggled next to his ear.
“I knew that,” Misto retorted. “How can you see anything through here?”
“You must not have very good night vision,” she said pityingly. “It’s lighter in the room. The sun has gone down, but the moon is out.”
“I can’t stay. I came to find you and see if you wanted to explore the hotel with me and Pix and Tang,” he told her, scratching absentmindedly behind his ear.
“Oh, what fun,” said another voice sarcastically. Misto raised his eyebrows and peered down the hallway, trying to somehow penetrate the darkness. “Mind if I join?”
“Nimbycreep,” Victoria gasped. “What...?”
“I have your friends right here with me, but I thought I’d better ask permission from everyone first. Ah, Victoria! Now that you’re here, my dear, we can really have a good time.” Nimbycreep’s voice cracked in surprise. A pair of bright blue eyes had suddenly appeared in the darkness next to Victoria, glowing much brighter than hers.
“Whoa! That’s better,” Misto remarked, pleased with himself.
Nimbycreep sneered and clapped his paws together shortly. Two huge Pollicles, mongrels with brown spots and big teeth, appeared in the hallway next to him, holding Pix and Tang between their teeth by the scruffs of their necks. “Eeeeeew, Pollicle slobber! C’mon, you mutt, lemme go!” Pix yowled, swinging his paws wildly but making no contact. Tang just hung lifelessly from the other Pollicle’s mouth.
“What did you do to Tang?” Victoria moaned, bringing her paws to her mouth in horror.
“I don’t think it matters,” Nimbycreep said matter-of-factly. “You’ll all look like that when I’m finished with you.”
Misto stepped in front of Victoria and spread out his arms like he had seen Munkustrap do in times of crisis. He only hoped he looked as strong and demanding as Munkustrap, and suddenly wished he was back at the junkyard. “I-I don’t think y-y-you’ll be doing anything,” Misto said, silently cursing himself for stuttering. “I th-th-think you’re all bark and no b-bite.”
Nimbycreep laughed. “Me? Oh, I’ve got plenty of bite.” He laughed again. “All right, Hagar, get ‘em.”
The Pollicle that had been holding Tang opened his mouth and let the Siamese slump to the ground. He then advanced on Misto and Victoria, drool dripping from his grinning mouth.
“On three,” Misto whispered, looking straight ahead at the lumbering dog. “One. Two. Three!” He and Victoria took off like a shot, using their feet to propel themselves forward off the wall. Misto dodged around the Pollicle’s legs, making him trip and fall to the floor with a thud that echoed around the hotel.
“Run, Vickie! I’m right behind you!” he yelled, leaping over the dog’s body and speeding down the hall. Victoria had already made it to the steps and was about to go down them when she slammed into Lentil, who had been standing just at the top of the staircase. Immediately he shot out a paw and grabbed Victoria by the scruff of the neck.
“Please forgive me, Miss Victoria,” he said sadly. She squirmed and wriggled, but to no avail. Lentil handed her with an expression of pain to the waiting Pollicle.
“Good job, Lentil,” Nimbycreep said with a smile. Lentil glared hatefully at him and turned his face away, retreating to the shadows. “Now there’s just one more we have to deal with.”
Misto had run right past the steps and was headed towards the back wall of the hallway, in a confused and frightened state. When he reached the back wall, he looked around in panic for the staircase. He turned around. Nimbycreep and the two Pollicles had formed a barrier across the hallway, and the sight of the grinning Pollicles with his defeated friends in tow made him shudder. “Ready to surrender, Shorty?” Nimbycreep asked with a smile.
Misto felt his body begin to tingle. No, not now! his mind screamed. Disappearing won’t do them any good! He counted slowly to ten and narrowed his gaze at Nimbycreep. “Not without a fight,” he growled.
“A fight?” Nimbycreep was surprised and made no attempt to hide it. “You mean you against me? Good Heaviside! Do you actually think you can win?”
“I won’t know until I’ve tried,” Misto replied, still growling. The fur on his back had risen and he looked truly fearsome, with his tiny pointed teeth bared and his sapphire eyes ablaze. Nimbycreep backed up a step.
“This is about my cheating,” he said. “You know, Mistoffelees, it isn’t good for a cat to have morals. They can get you in all sorts of trouble. Why, if you hadn’t had morals and decided to tell everyone about my simple little ploy to clench the title, you and your friends wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Misto looked confused. “But it would have been wrong,” he protested. “Unfair to everyone else! Do you cheat every year?”
Nimbycreep smiled complacently and put his paws together. “Not every year,” he admitted. “But this year I had big plans. And I wouldn’t want a bunch of kittens ruining them.” He spat the word out, as if it tasted bad. Misto winced.
“I’m not a kitten,” he said slowly, closing his eyes. It took all of his mentality to keep from disappearing; he knew that it would be a lot harder to restrain himself if he was angered any more. He only hoped Nimbycreep didn’t know that.
“Then let’s see if you can fight like a cat.” Nimbycreep took off his bowler hat and handed it cerimoniously to Lentil, who snatched it from him and glared at him. Misto tensed his muscles and readied himself.
Victoria covered her eyes. “I can’t watch,” she moaned. Pix, who was dangling next to her, patted her on the arm and looked uncertainly at Misto.
Nimbycreep began to circle the smaller black cat, who hissed and arched his back. With lightning speed he whipped out his paw and dealt Misto a blow across the face. Stung but not intimidated, Misto retaliated. Nimbycreep yowled and tackled Misto. The two of them rolled across the floor, hissing, clawing, and biting. It was hard to tell who was ahead because the ever-present shadows covered up most of the fight, but an occasional cry could be heard or a paw could be seen above the mess and its owner identified.
As Nimbycreep launched himself towards Misto, the black cat ducked so that Nimbycreep went sailing over his head and into the wall. Immediately Misto pounced on top of Nimbycreep and held the struggling feline down, pushing with all of his might against Nimbycreep’s shoulders. Nimbycreep stopped struggling and looked into Misto’s eyes, sensing the fear that was hidden behind his brave exterior. He grinned. “You’re terrified, aren’t you,” he remarked coolly. Surprised, Misto let up a little. This was the outlet Nimbycreep needed. Pulling his feet up to his stomach, he kicked and sent Misto flying across the hallway with a long red gash across his stomach.
Misto slumped to the floor, covering the bleeding spot with his paw and glaring weakly at his adversary. He tried to get to his feet, but in an instant Nimbycreep was at his side and clawing madly at whatever part of Misto was in reach. He barely felt the blows. As Misto blacked out for the third time in his life, his thoughts went to a similar situation, months and months ago. “Macavity...” he murmured as his eyes stopped glowing and all was dark again.
It was the beginning of round eight. All of the cats participating were sitting on the bench and watching unhappily as Lentil marked their scores on the brick wall with the piece of chalk. No one was faring well; Botherleggy, poor soul, was in the rear with a score of 37. General Thatchpaw and Janglejazz were tied for fourth place at 19. Chipperchintz had pulled ahead a bit with 17. Bustopher Jones, who had been concentrating fiercely hard, had managed to keep a score of 9. But it was Nimbycreep who conceitedly led the race with a perfect 6.
“Oh well, fellows. That’s the way the ball rolls, don’t you know,” he remarked, baring his teeth in a nasty grin. He cocked the bowler hat over one ear and plopped down at the end of the bench. “I’ll go last,” he said. “It’s only fair that I give the rest of you a fighting chance.”
Bustopher glared at him but managed to keep his cool. “Has anyone seen Mistoffelees? He’s been gone since last night, and frankly I’m worried about him.”
“Pixelpat and Tang Tao have been missing too,” Janglejazz piped up, studying the design on one of his bracelets.
“Yes, and I don’t want to alarm anyone,” said Gen. Thatchpaw with a stiff salute, “but Victoria hasn’t shown up in quite some time.”
“Gentlecats, gentlecats!” Nimbycreep called above the murmur of conversation that had suddenly began. “You are forgetting that they are young and irresponsible. They’ll return soon enough, and drunk as lords, no doubt.”
Nimbycreep led Lentil inconspicuously behind a trash can. “You know what to do. It’s the last round. You’ve done a splendid job so far.”
“Don’t say that,” Lentil mumbled, averting his gaze. “It’s not right. It’s just not.” “Yes, but don’t you want me to win?” Nimbycreep asked, pouting. Lentil looked thoughtful and nodded slowly. “Good. Then you’ll help me.” Lentil nodded again. “You’re a good fellow. Go to it.”
Lentil plodded congenially over to the course and began setting up the obstacles for the last round. The obstacles were pieces of trash that had been specially formaulated by Nimbycreep so that when they were hit in the right manner the ball rolled perfectly, a great advantage to him since he was the only one who knew exactly how to hit them, but if they were hit in the wrong way, the ball rolled helter skelter and usually even in the wrong direction. Nimbycreep had been surprised to find that, despite these deceptive obstacles, his rival Bustopher Jones was doing quite well indeed. He cursed himself for not having planned on injuring the old coot somehow.
When the course was finally set up, Nimbycreep sat himself down once more at the end of the bench. “Well, gentlecats,” he remarked amiably, leaning back and crossing his legs, “let the last round begin.”
The light hurt Misto’s eyes as it filtered through his eyelids and sharply penetrated the thick blackness he had grown accustomed to. He opened one eye and was surprised to find that it was light outside; not the light of day, but the quickly fading light of late evening. His ears picked up the sounds of sniffling to his left and quiet breathing to his right. His other eye was swollen shut, but with his good eye he glanced at his surroundings and felt a queer sense of deja vu.
He was in an alley a few buildings away from the golf course, and his paws were tied tightly behind his back by a length of yarn. The two Pollicles stood guarding the alley exit. Victoria sat to his left, her head bowed. Tang Tao was next to her, snoring with his head on his shoulder. Misto turned his head and saw Pix, staring straight ahead and humming to himself.
At the sight of Misto’s head moving, Victoria let out a little cry and whispered fiercely, “Pix!” Pix stopped humming and raised his eyebrows at her. She motioned with her head towards Misto.
“Hey!” Pix whispered, grinning. “You’re just in time. After round eight, we’re going off the bridge on Hudson Street.”
Misto moaned. “Thanks for telling me,” he replied. “Is Tang all right?”
“He came out of it a while ago,” Victoria said, sniffling. The fur on her face was wet and Misto knew she had been crying. “He went hysterical, screaming about how he hated water, and then he fell asleep.”
Misto smiled and tried to comfort her. “I’ll get us out of this, Vickie,” he promised. “If I can just...” He struggled against the yarn for a while, breathing hard and twisting his paws so that they clasped each other. “I’ve got it,” he panted, leaning back against the cool brick of the alley wall. “I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do anything about it, though.”
“How?” Pix asked.
“Well,” Misto said, turning to him, “look at me! If I show up looking like death warmed over and convince them that Nimbycreep did this to me, they’ll ask for a reason, and I’ll give ‘em their reason!” His pupils slitted and he began to dematerialize. It was like looking at a fireworks show. Pix watched in awe as the light faded and Misto groaned. “It’s not working!” he muttered, frustrated. “But why...?” Suddenly he raised his eyebrows and looked at Pix. “Make me mad,” he said.
“What?” Pix asked incredulously.
“No, no, that won’t work,” Misto protested. “You’re my friend. It’s too hard to be mad at you. Talk about... oh, I don’t know... about Nimbycreep. And Macavity. And remember I told you about being tricked into coming with Bustopher by Munkustrap? Oh, and the time Rum Tum Tugger said I couldn’t go home with him and the rest of the guys because his owner might think I was a rat and throw me on the ashpile.”
As Pixelpat talked to Misto, he watched in interest as his friend’s pupils expanded and contracted rapidly over and over. Slowly Misto began to phase out, and it was like looking at something through a balloon. Then he simply faded out entirely, and Pix was alone with Victoria and Tang. Victoria glanced wearily at Pix. “Think he’ll make it?” she asked dubiously.
“Of course,” Pix replied indignantly. “He has to.”
General Thatchpaw watched in frustration as, after his eighth swing, the ball finally clattered into the cup. The soft applause sounded tired. The final scores at the end of round eight were terrible, except for Bustopher’s, which was a 10 (he’d made a hole in one, much to the outrage of Nimbycreep), and Nimbycreep’s himself, a perfect 6 as of yet. It was his turn last, and he swaggered up to the ball with his broomstick swinging. He put the end of the stick next to the ball and drew the club back to swing. Before the stick made contact, however, the shout of a familiar voice took everyone’s attention away from the game.
“He’s cheating!” Misto yelled. He stood at the alley entrance, leaning against the wall to support his weak body. “I can prove it!”
“Ah, here he is. What did I tell you, Bustopher? He’s obviously been into the kitchen again. What did you drink this time, boy? Look, he’s been in a fight,” Nimbycreep remarked, leaning on his broomstick and giving Misto a look full of daggers.
“What? No! I...” Misto looked around helplessly. “Nimbycreep! H-he did this to me to keep me from telling you all that he cheated! He’s still cheating!”
“Oh, good Heaviside, you imbecile,” Nimbycreep spat. “I wouldn’t cheat. Don’t be such a liar.”
“I’m not lying,” Misto sighed, coughing. He rested his head against his forearm on the wall and spoke in a muffled voice. “It’s the truth. He’s got Victoria and Tang Tao and Pixelpat all tied up in an alley with dogs guarding the exit. At the end of the round they’ll be thrown off a bridge!”
“Come now, Misto,” Bustopher growled, immensely angry. “I’m very disappointed in you. First you shirk your responsibility as a caddy to go off and get intoxicated, then you lie about it, and then you make up horrible stories! I won’t have any more of this. Go back to the room immediately!”
“It’s true,” a soft voice wailed from the back of the alley. Immediately everyone’s gaze shifted from Misto and Nimbycreep to Lentil, who sat with his back against the wall and his knees drawn up to his body. “He said it was all right, that he had to win and no one else.”
“Lentil,” Chipperchintz murmured. He thumped down next to the blue cat and put his arm around his shoulders. “Are you telling the truth?”
“Of course not,” Nimbycreep snapped, pushing his way through the group of cats to get to Lentil. “You ungrateful beast,” he growled. “Is this how you repay me for all I’ve done for you? By lying about me? You’re both liars!” he exclaimed, flinging an arm towards Misto.
“No,” Lentil said quietly, looking at his paws. “You’re the liar. You said that what I was doing.... That it wouldn’t hurt anyone. But it did, it hurt everyone.”
Nimbycreep sneered. Suddenly he turned to run away, but General Thatchpaw and Janglejazz each grabbed his arm. “Let me go!” he screeched. “You can’t prove anything!”
“I’m afraid we can,” Misto said with a smirk. He had noticed something uncanny about the way the obstacles had been set up. “Watch.” He grabbed a broomstick and hit the ball towards one of the obstacles. It bounced off and rolled back in a completely different direction. “They’re made that way on purpose. If you don’t hit them just right, the ball rolls funny. And I bet the manufacturer is the cat with all the secrets,” he added, glancing at Nimbycreep, whose jaw had fallen open.
“No!” Nimbycreep yowled. “You weren’t supposed to find out! It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way! I have to win!”
“Well, my good fellow,” Bustopher said wryly, “I suggest you get used to disappointment.”
Instead of attending Bustopher’s celebration supper in the lobby the next day, Mistoffelees spent the evening resting in the upstairs room. He had quite a ways to travel that night, and because of his wounds he dreaded the trip. Pixelpat, Tang Tao, and Victoria had assembled to keep him company.
“I don’t want to be down there anyway,” Pix said. “All that golf talk is really boring.”
“Yeah,” Tang agreed. “You guys are more fun than a bunch of stuffed shirts.”
“How’d you get away from the Pollicles?” Misto wanted to know. He had been expertly bandaged by Chipperchintz and instructed to rest on a pillow, which he did with no complaints.
“It was hilarious!” Victoria said, starting to laugh herself. “You should have been there! When those Pollicles saw such a big crowd of angry looking cats headed straight for ‘em, they ran off whimpering!”
Pix snorted. “Yeah, and ol’ Nimbycreep is probably mortified right now! As punishment they made him sit at the head of the table, right next to Bustopher, and they’re gonna make him present the trophy!”
“I can just picture it,” Tang said. He cleared his throat and stretched out his neck. “I hereby present this trophy to Bustopher Jones on account of ‘cause I’m such a dirty rotten rat and he’s such a great guy.” He sniffed and pretended to wipe a tear from his eye. Misto and Pix hooted with laughter. Victoria hid her smile behind a dainty paw.
“And Lentil’s all right now too. He’s going to work for Chipperchintz now,” Pix said happily.
“I’m just glad it’s all over. I can’t wait to get back to the junkyard. Boy, what a story I’ll have to tell everybody!” Misto said, smiling brightly. His face fell suddenly and he looked forlorn. “Acourse, I’ll miss you guys a lot.” He reached up his paws and Tang clapped one between his own and Pix shook the other solemnly.
“You’re a great guy, Misto,” Pix said, starting to tear up. “C-come back n-n-next year.”
“Yeah,” Tang added, his humor sucked away.
“Every year. I promise,” Misto said warmly. His eyes were a little moist too all of a sudden. Pix began to bawl uncontrollably, and Tang put an arm around his shoulders.
“There, there, Pix ‘ol pal. Ya still got me,” he punched him in the arm and grinned, winking at Victoria over Pix’s head. “Come on, let’s go get some cake.” Pix nodded, still bawling, and allowed himself to be led out of the room. The sound of his sniffles echoed down the hall.
Misto closed his eyes and Victoria cleared her throat. “Well,” she said. “This was an exciting week. I don’t think I ever said thank you.”
Misto waved a paw. “Forget it,” he murmured, smiling.
“You know,” Victoria said, looking at her paws, “I talked to Uncle about... things. He said he didn’t think it was very safe for me here in the big city.”
Misto opened one eye. “Really?”
“Yes. So I’m moving to the junkyard.”
He sat up. “My junkyard?”
Victoria smiled and giggled. “Yeah, your junkyard. You look horrible.”
He frowned and fell back against the pillow. “Thanks. Great.” He rolled over, away from her, and closed his eyes again. He smiled to himself. “When?”
“Good. You’ll like the junkyard,” he told her with a yawn. Victoria sat next to him for a while until his breathing became slow and regular, a sure sign that he was asleep. She stood up and leaned over to get a look at his eyes and make sure. They were both closed.
“Mission accomplished,” she said softly. “G’night, Misto.” She left and went downstairs.
Misto’s eyes shot open. “What mission?”