Misto The Caddy

Misto The Caddy

By: Sadie

Author’s Note: I realize that everyone has different ideas about Mistoffelees and his origin as a Jellicle, and also different ideas about the way he interacts with the other cats. The ideas in this story go along with those in my other stories, the one I have already written entitled “Misto’s Story” and those that have not been written yet. I have my own interpretations of the relationships between the cats and of their backgrounds, and if you disagree with them, I fully understand and have no problems whatsoever. I happen to be very opinionated, and I disgree with lots of other people’s ideas, but out of respect I keep my opinions to myself and hope that others do the same. Oh, and a note about Tang (the character, not the drink): his character was not meant to offend anyone at all. He is based on the actions of my Siamese cat, Cecilia, and I simply tried to make him as comical as possible. Thank you!

The moon sat in the corner of the sky like a great yellow marble forgotten by a child at play. The bright moonlight filled the junkyard, illuminating the place and casting eerie shadows on the ground. Bustopher Jones was not frightened by the shadows. He was much too busy thinking important thoughts to himself to be concerned with such petty emotions as fright.

The stout feline waddled quickly between the piles of junk stacked up on either side of the narrow walkway, grumbling to himself and clutching the handle of a large silver spoon. He entered a clearing and let out a satisfied sigh, for there was Munkustrap, conversing with Demeter and Alonzo and leaning nonchalantly against the side of a large cinder block. When he saw Bustopher, he looked agitated and excused himself politely, hurrying to intercept him.

“Er, what can I do for you, Bustopher?” Munkustrap asked, shifting his gaze nervously away from the larger cat’s glaring eyes and glancing back at his friends, who had gone back to their conversation.

“My dear lad, you know all too well what you can do for me,” he replied, frowning and supporting his standing weight on the spoon’s handle. “The tournament is tomorrow. I really must have a caddy.”

Munkustrap growled softly and rolled his eyes. “Yes, but I’ve already asked everyone in the junkyard, and no one is interested! Can’t you be your own caddy?”

“Never!” Bustopher looked shocked. “Why, I would be the laughing stock of every cat in the city!” He crossed his arms over his chest indignantly.

“Well,” Munkustrap pointed out, “there will be other tournaments. Perhaps you might...”

“My dear lad!” exclaimed Bustopher. “This is not just any tournament! Why, this is the champion-ship! The title! The coup de grace!”

His voice was dangerously loud, and Demeter and Alonzo were craning their necks to see what all the commotion was about. Munkustrap tried frantically to get Bustopher to hush, but in the end he, too, had to raise his voice. “Please!” he yelled. Bustopher fell silent. “Please,” he repeated, softer this time. “I understand that this is very important to you, but I have asked everyone and there’s just nothing more I can...”

“Why, here’s a lad that would be glad to help an old aristocat, I’ll wager!” Bustopher cut the flustered tabby off, reaching out with his spoon to tap the shoulder of Mistoffelees as he crept quietly by.

Misto’s heart caught in his throat. “M-me, sir?” he stammered, seeming to shrink even smaller. It had been a terribly uneventful two months since Misto’s arrival at the junkyard, and in the meantime he had reached adolescece virtually unnoticed by the other cats. He had grown quite a bit, though still a head or two shorter than Munkustrap, and his thin kittenish coat had grown thicker and even blacker than it had been. There were still the telltale splotches of white on his face, paws, and chest, though, and in nearly every other way he was still a scrawny, bashful kitten.

“Yes, of course!” Bustopher exclaimed. Munkustrap rolled his eyes. “What did you say to Munkustrap here when he asked you?”

“Asked me what?” Misto said, looking confusedly from one cat to the other and cringing as Bustopher put his arm around his thin shoulders. He had been making his way towards his favorite spot, a large cardboard box on the other side of the junkyard, and he debated making a break for it.

Munkustrap groaned. “Here it comes...”

“I thought you said you asked everyone!” Bustopher thundered, squeezing Misto’s shoulders involuntarily. Misto sucked in his breath.

“But Misto... sir, you don’t understand. He’s... well, he’s...” Munkustrap looked helplessly at the suffocating cat and shrugged. “He’s so small.”

“I see what you mean,” Bustopher replied, releasing Misto’s shoulders and stepping back a little ways to scrutinize the cat. Misto raised his eyebrows, unsure whether to burst into tears or start screaming in anger. “No matter. One mustn’t be strong to be a good caddy. Only obedient. Are you obedient?”

“Oh, you couldn’t ask for a more obedient cat,” Munkustrap answered. “He’ll do anything you tell him, sir.”

“Good. We set forth first thing in the morning for Inner City. See you then!” Bustopher saluted Munkustrap and marched off, waving his spoon and humming happily. Misto rolled his eyes from Bustopher’s retreating bulk to Munkustrap’s smiling face, his own expression stricken.

“What just happened?” he asked in a croaky voice. Munkustrap grinned.

“You just got me out of a pickle, that’s what!” he exclaimed merrily. Seeing Misto’s ashen face, his tone became sober. “I really hated to do that to you, but he’s such a nuisance! Every day for weeks now he’s been pestering me about getting him a caddy for that silly tournament...”

“A what?” Misto interrupted.

“A caddy. You know, someone to retrieve his golf balls and hand him his clubs and wait on him hand and foot. No wonder I couldn’t find anybody to do the job!” He laughed, forgetting about Misto.

The small black cat suddenly became very warm. His paws fizzled with electricity, and he clenched them together at his sides to prevent anything happening that he couldn’t control. “So what you’re saying,” he stated, as slowly and calmly as he could, “is that I’ve just been had? I’m going to go with a cat I don’t even know to a place I’ve never even been to do something I’ve never even attempted?” His voice was dangerously low, almost a growl, and Munkustrap sensed it. Instead of trying to calm him down, however, he took a superior tone and only made things worse.

“I don’t see why you’re so upset, Misto. You’re not going to have to swim the English Channel or go around the world in a balloon or anything like that, for the Heaviside’s sake! And the least you could do is be grateful. I’m doing you a favor, after all, giving you something to do and keeping you out from underfoot.”

The pupils in Misto’s startling blue eyes suddenly contracted to narrow slits. He shook all over, like a firework with its fuse lit, and then exploded into a myriad of tiny specks of light. From his seat on an overturned flowerpot a few feet away, Alonzo laughed. “If I were you I’d flog ‘im fer impertinence when he gets back,” he called. Demeter smacked him between the ears with the flat of her paw.

One of the specks of light floated to the ground, increased in size, and fizzled out, leaving a frightened Mistoffelees standing speechless in front of Munkustrap. “I... I... I...” he stuttered.

“Never mind,” Munkustrap replied, annoyed. “Just go away. But be here first thing in the morning, or you’ll have me to answer to.” He stalked off. Misto followed him with his eyes, too stricken to move.

“I don’t want to go,” Misto confided to Skimbleshanks. The railway cat was sprawled out comfortably on the hood of the old car, made warm from the heat of his body. Misto was curled up beside him, in danger of sliding right off the auto’s hood, but only interested in warmth and condolence. “What do you think Munkustrap will do to me if I don’t show up?”

Skimble yawned thoughtfully and twitched his tail. “Oh, I don’t think he’ll do anythin’. I believe he was just tired when he said that. He might give you a stern talkin’-to, though.”

“What’s Inner City?” Misto asked. He had tried to sleep, but the thought of rest seemed impossible to him now. Skimble, on the other hand, kept dozing off.

“Ay, there’s nary a place like it in all the world,” Skimble replied dreamily. “Everything a young cat like ye’self could want is there. Bright lights, loud music, hundreds of cats...”

Misto shuddered. “I don’t think I’d like it at all.”

“You’re not a kitten anymore, Misto. It’s high time you start seeing the world, or at least part of it,” Skimble advised, yawning again. “I was lucky. I’ve been seeing the world since I was a kitten, first at sea and then at the station.”

Misto rolled over to face the orange tom. “You never told me you went to sea,” he said.

Skimbleshanks looked pensive and a little surprised. “I’ve never told anyone,” he remarked. “But when I was but a wee kitten I owned a sailor. An Irishman, he was, and the best ever.”

“What happened to him?”

“He drowned,” came the sorrowful reply. “It was a fitting death. As far as I know he never set foot on land more than once in his entire life. But he saw the shores of the world from the deck of his ship, and there weren’t a place on earth he’d-a rather been.” Misto was quiet for a while, and soon Skimble began to snore rather loudly.

Annoyed, Misto slid down the nose of the car and landed on his feet, shaking himself. Glancing up, he saw a faint light and a thin slice of the sun peeping up over the junkyard fence. “It can’t be morning,” he breathed, but as if to refute his disbelieving statement the sun stretched so that a little more of it shone over the fence, casting a shadow on the ground. Misto backed away from the shasdow, terrified, and broke into a run. He scampered blindly faster and faster, passing pieces of junk and other cats who stared at him in mild amusement, wondering to themselves why he was in such a hurry to get someplace when they were in a hurry just to go back to sleep until the next nightfall.

“Oof!” Munkustrap cried as Misto slammed into him at full speed, knocking himself as well as the tabby down. They rolled along the ground, in a tangle of tails and legs, until they reached the feet of Bustopher Jones, who had been waiting impatiently for a number of minutes and now glared down at the two disapprovingly.

“Harumph,” he stated. Munkustrap pushed the black cat away and jumped to his feet, saluting Bustopher shakily. “You’re late,” he said to Misto, who sprawled stunned on the ground.

“I-I-I’m s-sorry,” Misto whispered, struggling to his feet. “I-I didn’t r-realize it was m-m-morning.”

“I shall forgive you. But you simply can’t be tardy from now on. In the week to come you must be exactly on time. There is my bag,” Bustopher replied, waving his hand at a human’s carpet bag that he had found in the back room of a gentleman’s sports store.

“Week?” Misto said, grasping the handle of the bag with both of his paws and straining to lift it.

“Yes, of course,” the stout feline said, tapping his foot impatiently. “The tournament takes place over four days. It takes one day to arrive, one day to return, and...” He held up his paws, spread his claws, and counted. “Oh my, that’s only 6 days. Of course! I’m forgetting the supper. Every year there is a splendid supper to congratulate the winner.”

“Have you ever won?” Misto asked. He had finally lifted the bag and managed to swing it onto his back, threading his arms through the handles like a hiker with a backpack. He was literally bowing over backwards with the weight, and it was a strain on his lungs to talk.

Bustopher narrowed his eyes. “No,” he remarked. “Not yet. But this year I’ll have the trophy if I have to give the buttons off me coat for it.”

“There’s a cat there who’s won nearly every tournament in the city, at least those that Bustopher hasn’t already won. Be sure not to mention his name. You’ll hear it soon enough,” Munkustrap whispered to Misto, who nodded and shrugged the bag higher up on his shoulders. “Well, I’ll see you off,” he told Bustopher cheerfully, walking alongside him to the loose board in the fence. Misto followed, staggering under the immense weight of the carpet bag.

The day passed quickly and without occurence, except once when Misto was nearly run over by a speeding automobile. Bustopher hardly ever spoke to Misto except to see if he was still behind him. After a while, Misto’s back became so numb from pressure that he could no longer feel the bag or his legs as they moved automatically under him. He was hot and tired and looked pitiful, with his fur matted down, his eyes bloodshot, and his tongue lolling out of his mouth like a common Pollicle, but he was not asked to rest and he didn’t ask himself.

Misto suddenly glanced up from the ground and realized that it was dark. He hadn’t noticed the sunset, or the fact that the air was cooler now, or the sounds of the crickets as they serenaded each other. His ears picked up a new sound.... Music? It was soft, and seemed to be coming from a distance, but it was unmistakably music, jazz or perhaps ragtime. He smiled as the night breeze ruffled his fur. This was Inner City!

The lights on all the buildings shone bright as stars, neon stars of green and pink and blue. Some of the signs read CASINO; yet others read RESTAURANT and HOTEL. They said other things, too, but the lights were blinding and every time Misto looked at them his tired eyes began to water so that he could not read them. His pace quickened a little.

“Ah. Here we are at last,” Bustopher Jones said, stopping before the front door of a very large building. The building was ornately decorated, with overhangings and balconies and various other architectural wonders, what the Rum Tum Tugger would refer to as “a real swanky place.” A sign outside the building blinked on and off, giving Misto such a headache that he could not bear to look at it, let alone read it, yet he knew the place was a hotel. A tall, very stiff man stood at the open door from which light and music poured profusely, wearing a starched red uniform and epaulets of yellow fringe on his shoulders. The bright golden buttons of his shirt caught and reflected the light from the sign. Misto realized that he and Bustopher were standing in the middle of a long red carpet, directly in the way of a couple who was about to enter the hotel. The man wore a gray suit and a monocle and had a pointed white beard and a curly white mustache, and his wife, who was attached to him at the arm (or so it seemed to Misto, who had never had much contact with blue-blooded humans before), had her graying blonde hair twirled atop her head in a loose bun and wore draped around her bony shoulders a piece of fur so long that it trailed a few feet behind her on the ground.

“There’s our mode of entrance,” Bustopher said, leaping with timed grace under the piece of fur. Startled, Misto dove for the fur but missed and wound up under the woman’s dress. He tried to walk in synch with her, but stumbled from the weight of the carpet bag. The woman felt his fur brush against her leg and tumbled backwards, letting out a bloodcurdling screech. Misto returned the noise and fled into the hotel, followed by a loudly cursing Bustopher Jones and the bewildered doorman.

“Ninny!” Bustopher yelled, tearing across the lobby of the hotel after Misto and dodging the feet and grasping hands of management and guests alike. “Nincompoop! Imbecile! Idiot! Dolt! Buffoon!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Misto yelled back, repeating the phrase as a counterattack for every insult launched his way. His eyes darted around the lobby for a way of escape; he could hear the doorman’s footsteps and wondered how close he was to Bustopher. The carpet bag jostled up and down on his back and he was quite sure that it would eventually pound him to death.

“Never mind the apologies,” Bustopher replied. “Head for the elevator!”

“The what?” Misto cried. It didn’t take him very long to figure out what an elevator was. A tiny room with buttons next to the door was straight ahead, and as Misto watched, its door slowly began to slide shut. Panicked, he ran as fast as he could and managed to make it into the room before the door closed entirely. Unable to slow down in time, he slammed into the back wall of the room and slumped to the floor, gasping for breath and looking around for Bustopher. He hadn’t made it! Misto shuddered to think what might happen to Bustopher if the doorman had gotten him; he hoped he’d escaped.

Suddenly the room gave a lurch and Misto was flattened against the floor, sickened by the jolt. The room stopped as abruptly as it had started and the door slid open with a whoosh and a ding. A little boy with an orange lollipop stood in front of the door, pulling on the hand of his agitated mother and humming loudly. When he caught sight of Misto, he gave a squeal and lunged for the black cat. He missed, but his lollipop stuck to Misto’s fur and pulled out a small patch of it as he retreated hastily from the moving room.

Misto found himself in a long corridor with doors on either side. He wandered up and down the hallway, frightened and confused and unsure of what to do or where to go, until he heard a loud “Pssst!” from one of the doors. He whirled around, trying to determine from which door the sound had come. “Pssst! Over here!”

“H-hello?” Misto called, stopping in front of a door that was open a tiny crack. Inside was darkness, but after a few seconds a pink nose and a set of graying whiskers appeared in the crack. The whiskers were rather far up, a full three heads above Misto’s own, and for a moment he was afraid he had come upon a Pollicle. But then the door swung open and he was ushered inside by the owner of the whiskers, a hugely tall feline with sleek, dark brown fur and distant yellow eyes. Misto blinked at the cat in awe; he had never seen a cat as big as this one. An expression of delight crossed the cat’s face as he bent over and pressed his face to Misto’s, narrowing his eyes.

“Well, I’ll be a dog’s uncle,” the cat said. “Dear old Bustopher Jones! My, my, Buster, you’ve lost weight!” he exclaimed, pumping Misto’s paw enthusiastically and relieving him of the weight of the carpet bag.

“That’s not Bustopher,” a nasal voice intoned from somewhere in the shadows. “Where’re your specs, old cat?”

The brown cat looked flustered. He leaned over and peered down his nose at Misto for what seemed like a very long time before speaking. “Well, I’ll be a dog’s uncle,” he repeated weakly.

Another cat entered the small shaft of light that wafted through the space under the door from the hallway. He was taller than Misto but considerably shorter than the giant, brown with black stripes and a stump of a tail. He grinned at Misto, flashing his green eyes from beneath the rim of a bowler hat that was cocked over one ear. “Whadda ya want, kid?” he asked.

Misto was suddenly aware of many pairs of glowing eyes in the darkness, many of them high up, indicating that they belonged to giants like the cat who’d been at the door. Frightened, he backed towards the door. At that moment, Bustopher Jones burst into the room, knocking Misto over with the door and sending him rolling into the midst of a group of cats and stunning him momentarily. “I say!” Bustopher exclaimed, raising his spoon in salute. “Hello, everyone! Jolly good to see you again, what? Might I inquire as to the whereabouts of a small chap, about so, with black fur and blue eyes?”

“This who yer talkin’ about, Buster?” yelled a shrill voice. Misto, much to his embarrassment, was lifted from the ground and held aloft by his hind foot. He dangled miserably.

“The very chap!” Bustopher cried, annoyed. Misto was released and fell to the ground with a thud. He immediately leapt to his feet and scrambled to safety behind the friendly-looking brown cat, who appeared surprised. Bustopher stormed towards the brown cat and, reaching between his legs, grabbed Misto by the tail and dragged him out from his hiding place. “Now see here,” he said, speaking down into Misto’s face, “you nearly got both of us killed! You should really be much more careful next time. I had to go around and come in the back way to get in, and even then I had to dodge one of the guests.”

“Buster!” exclaimed the brown cat, ignoring the awkward scene. Appreciative of the diversion, Misto slunk away to sit in the corner. “How’s life been treating you? That is you, isn’t it? I was quite mistaken a while ago.”

“Chipper!” Bustopher cried, forgetting about Misto and running to embrace his friend. Upon doing so, he found that his stout arms would not quite go all the way around the brown cat, so they settled for a handshake and stood back to beam at each other. “Good old Chipperchintz! It’s been ages!”

“Uncle!” cried a soft voice from the clustering of cats. Misto looked up and swallowed hard. A young female cat had broken away from the group and was running towards Bustopher. Her fur, pure white, was shorter on her body than on her tail, and her whiskers spread neatly and evenly on either side of her small pink nose and curled slightly at the tips. Misto caught a glimpse of her eyes as the dim light reflected from them; they were a deep green. She was very beautiful. Misto inadvertently began to groom himself.

“Darling Victoria!” Bustopher exclaimed, lifting the cat and twirling her around. He set her down again and held her at arm’s length with his paws on her small shoulders. “Let me get a good look at you, Goodness, how you’ve grown.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Uncle,” she groaned, stifling a smile.

Bustopher’s smile faded and he became grave. “How is your dear father?”

Her smile vanished too, and it was as though a cloud had passed overhead and blocked out the sun. “Haven’t you heard, Uncle? He passed away just last Spring. Gone to the Heaviside.”

“And you’ve gotten along without him?”

“I can take care of myself, Uncle,” she replied sternly. “I’m not a kitten anymore. I’ve been a cat for nearly two months.” Misto’s ears pricked up.

“Awright, girlie, you’ve had your time. Let the rest of us greet the old cat,” complained a sour voice, whose owner was indiscernable in the shadows.

“It’s all clear. Hit the lights, Lentil,” the brown cat, Chipper, called from the doorway. He was standing with his whiskers twinging and his head barely outside the door when suddenly the lights came on and Misto was able to get a good look at the rest of the cats. There weren’t as many as he’d first suspected, only about eight or perhaps nine, but a more motley crew of felines you couldn’t ask to find. He scanned the room quickly and turned back to face the corner while Bustopher conversed briefly with the others.

“And we thought we’d never get here,” Bustopher was saying loudly. He didn’t have to talk loud, for immediately after his arrival the other cats fell silent and made a circle around him to listen; but it was his habit to raise his voice unnecessarily, and since the other cats had known him for so long they didn’t seem to mind. “Of course, my caddy was a great help. Misto! Would you come over here please?”

Dreading confrontation, Misto trudged over to where Bustopher sat, his head down and his cheeks burning. Bustopher chucked him under the chin and managed to invoke a smile from the silent tom, who sat down beside him and curled his tail tightly around his small body. He acknowledged the other cats with a nod and a shy smile. “This is Mistoffelees,” Bustopher exclaimed. “He came highly recommended by none other than Munkustrap himself. He’s a splendid fellow; a bit dense, but we all have our weak points.” He clapped Misto on the back and resumed his talk of the junkyard and its inhabitants. Misto stared across the circle at the white cat, who slowly lowered her eyelashes at him and then turned her head towards Bustopher.

Misto barely heard a word of the conversation. He was too tired, not to mention too engrossed in the lovely white cat, to pay much attention to anything. When the circle of cats disbanded and the lights went off for the night, he wasn’t sure what to do; he would have curled up next to Bustopher for warmth if he hadn’t been afraid of offending the old cat, so his only choice was to return to the safety of his corner and collapse in exhaustion.

In his dreams, Misto was chasing the white cat through a field of dandelions. She would duck down out of sight beneath the tall grass and then jump out at him, only to laugh musically and dart in the other direction. He smiled in his sleep and stretched. Then he felt someone tapping him on the shoulder, shattering the dream and bringing him back to reality.

“Misto,” someone whispered. “I say, Misto.” The black cat opened his eyes and found himself nose to nose with Bustopher. He shrieked in surprise and backed away a bit, clutching his chest and breathing hard. “My goodness! Didn’t mean to frighten you, young fellow. You’ve slept late and forgotten to wake me, and what did I tell you about tardiness?”

“I’m sorry,” Misto replied, rubbing his eyes. Sunlight streamed in through the window of the room, and he could see there was a human bed, nightstand, and washbasin at one end and an armchair at the other. That must have been why the eyes were so far up, he decided; because the cats were standing on the furniture. He breathed a little easier knowing that not all the cats were giants like Chipper. “I didn’t know I was supposed to...”

“Never mind. The others have already gone. We’ll have to hurry to catch up with them. Bring my bag,” he told Misto, heading for the door. With a groan Misto hoisted the bag onto his back and followed Bustopher into the empty hallway and down three flights of stairs to the lobby.

After descending the stairs, Misto was breathing heavily and seeing spots, but Bustopher didn’t seem at all bothered by the exercise. For such a large cat, Misto thought, he’s awfully fit. Suddenly he was proud to be seen with the fat feline, the very model of success, and tried to hold his chin up as he followed, though doing so was difficult because it intensified the spots. Instead of going right out the front door, Bustopher turned and went around the bottom of the steps to a tiny door at the end of a short corridor. It was evidently a service door, for the corridor was dusty and dark and the door itself looked as though it had seen a hard time. Bustopher threw his weight against it and, with a mighty creak that terrified Misto lest one of the hotel workers heard it, the door swung open to reveal a grimy alleyway.

The alley wasn’t exactly dirty; just dusty and cobwebbed. A board that had been set up on two cinderblocks at the side of the alley served as a bench on which most of the cats sat, awaiting the start of the tournament with silent fascination. A tall, stiff-looking cat with blue fur was briskly setting up for the tournament, dusting off the middle of the alleyway with his tail and then placing a small plastic cup against the brick wall at the end of the alley. When he had finished, he nodded satisfacorily and took his seat on the bench.

Misto followed Bustopher to the end of the bench and sat down uncomfortably beside him. “It’s Chipperchintz’s turn first. He’s the oldest,” Bustopher explained. Misto nodded and watched as Chipper took his place at the opposite end of the alley. His club was an old human’s cane, with the crooked end down so he wouldn’t miss the ball. The balls were real golf balls, ‘borrowed’ from the back rooms of local sporting goods stores, and since golf clubs were too difficult to take without being noticed the cats made do with whatever they could find. “Poor old Chipper,” Bustopher whispered, so as not to disturb the old cat’s concentration, “his eyesight’s been failing him for quite a while now. It’s a wonder he isn’t already blind! He’s resorted to wearing human spectacles, bless his whiskers.” Misto nodded sympathetically and watched as the little white ball rolled down the alleyway. It stopped just short of the cylinder. The cats clapped carefully, using the pads of their paws. Chipper took a bow and tried again. The ball went in, and the blue cat wrote his score with a piece of chalk on the brick wall.

“That’s Lentil. He’s Nimbycreep’s assistant, the old devil,” Bustopher grumbled, nodding towards the stiff blue cat. “Nimbycreep, I mean. Lentil’s really rather a fine chap. Russian, you know.” Again Misto nodded. “Every year that old coot’s snatched the title from my paws. But not this year.... Oh, I say! Splendid shot!” Bustopher raised his paws and clapped. “That was Pixelpat, the newest member of the elite. A bit wet behind the ears, but a wonderful golfer. He won the tournament over in District 4, I believe. He comes from a rural junkyard.”

Pixelpat smiled and sat down next to Misto as Lentil chalked up his score. “’Allo,” he remarked amiably to Misto, grinning from ear to ear. Misto smiled back. “I’m Pixelpat. Call me Pix. I don’t believe we’ve met-- which tournament did you win?”

Misto stared for a moment. Pix was a short Abyssinian cat, only a bit taller than he, with a tail almost as long as Skimbleshanks’s. His ears were very large and inclined to turn in all directions when he was being spoken to, as if they could hear things in the distance that they would much rather listen to. “Oh!” Misto exclaimed, shaking his head. “I’m not here to gulf. I’m a caddy. I’m Mistoffelees, but everyone calls me Misto.”

Pix laughed. “Gulf,” he repeated. “What an interesting dialect. You’re very lucky to caddy the great Bustopher Jones. Why, he’s famous even in my part of the country.” Bustopher, whose sensitive ears had picked up his name, smiled to himself and nudged Misto with his elbow.

Misto motioned towards a gray cat with wild fur and glaring green eyes. “Who’s he?”

“Botherleggy,” Pix replied, stifling a giggle. He seemed to find humor in everything. “He’s a terrible golfer, but he manages to win enough tournaments every year to compete here. He looks like a demon, but he’s really quite a softie. His wife is home with kittens, her seventh litter! I think he’s up next,” he added, propping his club, a broom handle, agaist the bench. Most of the cats seemed to have broom handles; the only exceptions Misto saw were Bustopher Jones and Chipperchintz.

Botherleggy stepped up to the ball and drew back his club. With a mighty thwack the ball went sailing over the brick wall and into the great beyond. He stood for a moment with his paw shielding his eyes, watching its descent until it could no longer be seen. “Drat,” he muttered, then broke into a grin that showed his pointed white teeth and made him look even more demonic. “What say we call it a five?”

“Lentil will let him,” Pix told Misto. “See if he doesn’t.” Misto glanced at Lentil, who bowed at the waist to the gray cat and chalked up a five on the scoreboard.

“That’s cheating,” Misto pointed out.

“Maybe so,” Pix replied, “but it’s better than waiting around all day while Leggy hits the ball over the wall again and again, don’t you agree?” Misto had to admit that this was capital logic.

“Is Bustopher last?” he inquired, worried.

“No, but he’s near the end. I memorized the lineup, and it’s Janglejazz’s turn now.” He groaned. “Janglejazz is an absolute beast. He’s got a reputation that stretches from your junkyard to mine, no doubt.”

“I’ve never heard of him.”

Pix looked surprised. “Well,” he remarked, “you should have. You can’t get a word in edgewise once he starts talking about himself. He thinks he’s the Sphinx or something, just because he’s an exotic shorthair breed.” He laughed again.

Janglejazz was a sight. His fur was as short as Pix’s and covered in light brown tabby stripes, unlike any other cat Misto had ever seen. For one thing, he’d never seen a truly shorthaired tabby before; for another, he’d never seen a cat so fully adorned in jewelry. Janglejazz’s arms were covered up to the shoulder in glittering bracelets and tasseled braids. His tail, too, sported a jeweled ring, and around his neck hung a small silver medal. “That must be his tournament medal,” Misto said.

“Oh yes,” Pix replied, rolling his eyes. “I’m surprised he doesn’t have the rest of them on all at once.” Janglejazz steadied his club carefully and brought it back to swing. If you have ever tried to hit a golf ball with a broom handle, you know that it’s no easy task, and it took Janglejazz several tries and a few minutes of muttered curses before his club made contact and the ball rolled steadily but waywardly down the alley.

“It wasn’t fair,” he whined, watching miserably as the ball stopped against the brick wall on the left side of the alley. “There’s a curve in the pavement.”

“He’d complain about the way the moon hung in the sky if he thought it was doing him any harm. No matter now, he’s gotten things straightened out,” Pix said, as Lentil wrote a 3 in the space next to Janglejazz’s initials. “Goodness, duck, everyone!” he cried. A human’s footsteps could be heard outside the alleyway, becoming louder and louder as the human got closer. Lentil looked around helplessly and, with an agitated sigh, erased the scoreboard with his arm before darting behind a trashcan. Misto and Pix dove for cover beneath the bench. The rest of the cats scattered and hid in various places in the alley, behind the trashcans and, when it became too crowded, flattening themselves up against the walls so the shadows would cover them.

The human walked by the alley and flicked a small white cylinder inside as he passed. It landed on the ground and was immediately snatched up by the stub-tailed tabby, who put it to his lips and inhaled. He exhaled at Misto and grinned, showing rows of chipped teeth. Misto coughed and waved the smoke away with his paw, backing up against Pix. Pix pushed him away and clambered back onto the bench. “Don’t be afraid o’ him,” Pix advised, smiling at Misto. “He can’t hurt you. He just likes to think he can. Ol’ Nimbycreep lost his tail in a run-in with a Volkswagen. He’s not much of a villain, just a cat whose priorities are a little twisted; if he lost this tournament it would either kill him or do him some good.”

Lentil took a few minutes to reconstruct the scoreboard; he’d erased it so the human wouldn’t suspect anything if he had decided to come into the alley. With the cigarette still dangling from between his teeth and the bowler hat cocked jauntily over his ear, Nimbycreep stepped up to the ball and hit it right into the cup on the first try. He gave a bow and sneered at Bustopher, who continued clapping softly and ignored the gesture.

Misto swallowed. “He’s good.”

“You better believe it,” Pix laughed. “He wins every year. The other cats don’t come to compete anymore; the event’s become more like a reunion. An outing.”

Bustopher Jones stood up and stretched. As his weight was lifted from the bench, the board popped back up and sent Misto flying a few feet. He landed on his chest and pushed himself up with a grimace. “Splendid shot, Nimby,” Bustopher said with a happy smile. “I dare say I can do better. Come, caddy.”

Misto grabbed the silver spoon and followed Bustopher readily, grinning like an idiot at everybody. “Here ya go, Bustopher, sir,” he remarked proudly, handing his benefactor the spoon. He stood by for a minute, waiting to see if anything more was needed, but Bustopher waved him away with a gloved paw and set to work concentrating on the position of the ball. Misto returned to the bench. “Think he’ll get it in?” he asked Pix.

Pix looked shocked. “Of course he’ll get it in!” he laughed. “Haven’t you ever seen him golf? The cat’s amazing! His only superior is Nimbycreep.” True to Pix’s words, Bustopher brought back the spoon and tapped the ball with the convex side of it. The ball clattered down the alley and landed with a plunk inside the overturned cup. Everyone applauded. Misto tried not to clap too loud.

A gray and white splotched cat stepped up next, his broomstick slung over his shoulder like an artillary weapon. In fact, he didn’t exactly step; it was more like a march. When he reached the ball, he snapped to attention and hit it immediately, without stopping to measure or anything. The ball travelled to the right of the cup.

“That’s General Thatchpaw. He earned his rank in a war his junkyard led against a gang of Pollicles. A Pollicle ripped his ear.” As Pix said this, Misto noticed the cat’s ear had been torn. He looked up at Pix and shuddered. “He’s a nice fellow. Just a bit- er, military, if you know what I mean.”

The General took two more swings and succeeded in getting the ball in the cup. He saluted to the crowd and returned to his seat as Lentil chalked up a 3 on the board. “Well, I suppose that’s it for this round,” Lentil said. “We will...”

“Wait! Wait! Wait! I am heeya! I am heeya!” a loud, high pitched voice cried. Everyone craned their necks to see who had just burst through the door that led into the alley. Standing there was the most comical creature Misto had ever seen. It was an emaciated Siamese, with almond shaped eyes that almost exceeded his own in brilliance, and tremendously huge ears. He was grinning from ear to ear and waving a jeweled sceptre in the air. Misto noticed that Janglejazz’s eyes bugged out at the sight of it.

“Oh, no,” Pix said, collapsing to the ground in a fit of laughter. “It’s Tang Tao!”

“Peex! Peex!” the Siamese yelled again, running towards the Abasyinian and tripping over Misto’s foot. Misto gasped and reached down to help the fallen cat. “I’m fine! I’m fine! Tang Tao is fine!” he shrieked, pulling himself up by clutching Misto’s fur. “Peex!” he screamed again, throwing his arms around the hysterical feline.

“T-T-Tang!” Pix replied, helplessly trying to control his laughter. “Y-Y-You said you w-weren’t c-c-c-coming!”

“I lied,” Tang said, slyly and softly. “Tang wanted to surprise you. I think Tang did!” He clapped his paws together and did a little dance, chuckling gleefully. His laughter was definitely strange- “Ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki!”

Misto couldn’t help but smile at the odd arrival. Tang looked around at the other cats, each of whom wore a shocked expression, and flung out his arms as if embracing them all. “I am heeya!” he repeated, doing the bizarre chuckle dance again. “Tang is heeya to golf!” He whacked his sceptre down on the ground a few times as if preparing to hit a baseball and then held it steady, shaking his tail from side to side. “I come all the way from Madagascar,” he explained quietly, focusing his attention on the ball. “I visit the queen. She give me golf club.” He hit the ball; it rolled haphazardly down the alleyway. He ran after it, laughing. “Ki-ki-ki! Ball get away, I chase it! Ki-ki-ki-ki-ki!” When it came to a stop, he hit it again, and everyone (except Pix, who was still in hysterics) watched with tired anticipation until he finally hit it in after the 6th try.

“Why, he’s terrible,” Misto said, giggling.

“I-I-I-I-I-I know!” Pix stuttered, falling backwards with a tremendous laugh.

“Very good, sir,” Lentil said, smiling genially at Tang, who did another of his chuckle dances. “The first round of play is over. We will now break for lunch and meet afterwards.”

Everyone got up and ran excitedly into the building, darting upstairs as fast as they could go. Misto had to help Pix up because his chest was sore from laughing so hard, and Tang bounded over and draped Pix’s arms over his own to help him walk. They took so long getting inside that Bustopher sent his neice to check on them.

“Are you all right?” she asked Pix, shocked to see that he was being helped up the stairs. She was standing at the top of the flight and looking down at them. “Oh, never mind, I see the problem. Hello, Tang.”

“Hello! Hello, Veectoria! Tang is heeya!” he cried enthusiastically, flinging out his arms and letting go of Pix’s. Pix slid down the steps, shrieking with hysterical laughter. Misto managed to grab his

“Drop the act, Tang. You’re hurting poor Pix,” she said scoldingly, coming down the steps. She took Pix’s arm and pulled him up, ignoring Misto, who stood and stared as if struck by lightning.

“Nah, he’ll be fine,” Tang said in a perfectly normal voice. Misto’s shocked stare travelled slowly from Victoria to Tang. “Was I good? Did you see me?”

“I watched from the window,” Victoria said, glaring at him out of the corner of her eye. With one hand she propped Pix up and with the other she busily dusted him off. “You’re positively awful, Tang. You know you’re not endearing yourself to anyone by acting like... like a common Peke!”

Tang looked stung. “Well, he liked it anyway,” he pouted, pointing to Pix, who was clutching his chest and gasping for air.

“It only hurts when I laugh,” groaned the Abassynian, tears streaming down his cheeks and a grin still on his face.

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Victoria told him. “I simply said I don’t think anyone else did. And Tang, where did you get that stick?”

“This?” He held up the sceptre. “Found it in a second-hand shop. Or rather in the dumpster of a second-hand shop.” He was obviuosly still bothered by Victoria’s remarks. “What do you mean, no one else liked my splendid performance?”

“I did,” Misto piped up, tired of being in the background. The other three turned to face him. He stepped back shyly and nearly tumbled off the step he had been standing on.

“Oh!” Pix exclaimed, wiping his eyes with the back of his paws. “I suppose I should introduce you. Vickie, Tang, this is Mistoffelees.”

“Misto,” he protested, smiling weakly.

Victoria smiled at him. “Hello,” she said, her voice rising musically. Misto melted.

Think Tugger, he chanted mentally. Think Tugger. What would he do now? Misto took her paw and kissed it, raising his eyebrows handsomely. “I’m... very pleased to meet you,” he said, satisfied with the way the words came out. Victoria’s eyes twinkled. Misto released her paw and turned around, finding himself nose to nose with the skinny Siamese.

“Howdayadoo, Misto,” Tang said enthusiastically, pumping Misto’s paw up and down so that the black cat’s head lolled around on his shoulders. “M’name’s Tang Tao, golfer and funny cat extraordinare. As if you didn’t already know,” he added amiably, adjusting an imaginary bow tie. “Now what say we all go upstairs and have a rest before round two?” He bounded up the stairs to offer Victoria his arm, and the two of them ascended the stairwell.

Misto looked at Pix, crestfallen. “Are they...?” he began, afraid to finish the question. Pix’s ears twitched and he looked aghast.

“Who, Tang and Victoria? Good Heaviside, no! They get along all right for a while, but put ‘em in a room for a while and one of ‘em’ll end up out the window!” He chuckled, then stopped abruptly and raised an eyebrow at Misto. “Why? Do you like her?”

“I never said that,” Misto said defensively.

“Hey, that’s great!” Pix exclaimed. “I can fix you two up! Just eave it all to me, I’ll...”

“Oh please don’t mention it to her Pix!” Misto exhaled, clapping a paw over Pix’s mouth and looking at him pleadingly. “I’d just die if she found out! I mean, come on, Pix, I’m not exactly high-class material, and if she knew I’d never show my face in my junkyard or any other ever again!”

Pix pulled Misto’s paw away and glanced at him pityingly. It was true; Misto was quite a handsome fellow, especially because of his blue eyes and the jaunty way he carried himself, but there was no changing the fact that he was an alley cat of low descent and nonexistent pedigree. He sighed. “All right,” he relented. “But I still think you two would make a cute couple.”

Misto rolled his eyes. “I’ll tell you what you can do for me, though,” he said. “Explain gulf to me. I don’t quite get it.”

The two of them walked slowly up the steps. “Well,” Pix began patiently, “first of all it’s golf, not gulf. It takes place over 4 days in a tournament like this, and there are 8 rounds, 2 each day. Each player takes one turn per round and tries to hit the little ball into the cup in as few swings as they can. Seems simple, right?” Misto nodded. Pix shook his head. “It is, until you get to about the third or fourth round. Then they start setting up obstacles and things like that, things you have to hit around or aim for. At the end you count up all the scores and see whose score is lowest.”

They reached the door at the end of the hallway and Pix pushed it open for Misto, who started to walk in. He stopped suddenly and looked struck. “Oh no,” he moaned. “I left Bustopher’s bag! I’ll have to go back and get it,” he said apologetically. He ran back down the steps, paused at the bottom to catch his breath and make sure no humans were coming, and leaned against the alley door.

Once outside the building, Misto glanced around the alley for the bag. A cloud had passed temporarily over the sun, enveloping the alleyway in darkness. Misto could hear his heart thumping and nothing else. He felt a lump of fear rise in his throat, but fought it down, telling himself it was silly to be afraid of nothing. He spotted the bag out of the corner of his eye, leaning against the bench, and started towards it when he heard a low voice.

“I don’t want to, boss,” it said. “I don’t think it’s right.”

“Of course it’s not right,” snapped another, this one somehow familiar. “If it was right I wouldn’t be doin’ it. Now, come on, Lentil, be a good chap and set the course up like I toldja.”

Misto heard a heavy sigh and a sort of dragging footstep, as though the person it belonged to had injured themself in some way. He was seized with panic, and in the heat of the moment grabbed the bag and fled back into the building. He tore up the steps, taking them two by two, and exploded into the hotel room, whamming the door against the wall. Everyone looked up, startled. Misto could see they had been resting, curled up on the bed or in the armchair, but now they glared at him with glowing eyes. “Misto,” Bustopher demanded in a growl. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“Sorry,” Misto panted, falling to his knees with his paws still clamped tightly around the handle of the bag. “Your bag. Went back... Lentil... Course...” He glanced over his shoulder, terrified. Lentil and Nimbycreep were standing side by side in the doorway behind him, looking with feigned bewilderment at the rest of the cats. Misto scrambled to his feet and jumped away from them, falling down again. Victoria ran to him and took his paw. “Cheat...” he mumbled, rolling his eyes towards Nimbycreep.

“Explain this, please, Nimby,” Chipperchintz said. He leapt down from his perch atop the back of the armchair and ambled calmly to where Nimbycreep stood. The latter smiled helplessly at Chipper, but his gaze (or rather, glare) was on Misto.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” he said. “As I told you before we left, Lentil and I stepped out for a breath of fresh air. Suddenly this poor chap,” he nodded towards the prone Mistoffelees, “stumbled into the alley like a drunkard, babbling something about cheating and changing the course. I suspect he came across an open bottle of champagne in the kitchen and had a bit too much of it,” he added pityingly.

“Is this true, Misto?” Chipper turned to face the black cat, whose watery eyes and dilated pupils certainly proved it. Misto’s pupils dilated when he was angry, but how could he tell them that? He couldn’t just say “I’m fine, really. This always happens right before I burst into tiny specks of light.” He laughed out loud, further sealing his fate.

“Of course it’s not true!” he exclaimed, struggling to sit up. “I wouldn’t know champagne if you hit me over the head with it. I went back to get Bustopher’s bag when I overheard Nimbycreep plotting to...”

“I wasn’t plotting anything except what Lentil should bring for dinner tonight,” Nimbycreep interrupted. “There, there, dear cat, we won’t hold it against you. Not for long, anyway. Each of us here has made a similar mistake; it’s just a shame you made yours so young.”

Bustopher got up, waddled over to Misto, and pulled the angry young cat to his feet. “I’m disappointed in you, Misto,” he said with a frown and a sigh. “Getting drunk is one thing, but lying about it is another. Nimbycreep may be a scoundrel, but I’m certain he’s no cheat.

” “But...”

“Now, I want you to apologize to him and Lentil and then go lay down in the corner. I’ll have to tell Munkustrap about this when we get back.”


“Now, Misto!”

Misto sighed dejectedly and trudged over to where Nimbycreep was standing with a look of mixed pride, superiority, and mock pity on his face. Misto realized he was being watched by every cat in the room, including Victoria, and when he opened his mouth to apologize all that came out was an exasperated meow. He clenched his fists, squeezed his eyes shut, and burst into a cloud of smoke which dissipated and left the room in an uproar.

When Misto returned nearly two hours later, the sun was poised in the lower half of the sky and the world outside the darkened hotel room was saturated with the sound of crickets chirping. Victoria sat at the windowsill, looking gloomily out the grimy window, when a small spurt of flame appeared to her right. It grew steadily, and as she watched with fear and fascination it tapered away until nothing was left but Misto. “Hi,” he said sheepishly. “Has it blown over yet?”

“Well,” she remarked, “Pix and Tang tried to explain to them that they were with you right before you went down, but now they think they’re drunk too. But everyone was very impressed by that, er, thing you did. Do you do that often?”

Misto smiled and shook his head. “Only on occasions,” he said, propping his chin on his paw and gazing into her green eyes. She gazed back at him. They stayed that way until the pleasant silence was broken by a loud exclamation from Bustopher Jones.

“There you are!” he cried, startled. “Don’t do that again, do you hear? Gave me quite a fright! Are you ready to go? The second round starts in a few seconds. I wasn’t going to leave until you decided to come back. I was worried about you,” he admitted, placing his paws on his round hips in an expression of exasperation.

“I’m sorry,” Misto said, glad Bustopher had forgotten about his apology to Nimbycreep. Misto sighed inwardly, thinking about what he had heard in the alley and wondering if it was real or if he had somehow misunderstood it. He followed Bustopher dutifully down the steps, carrying the carpet bag, and Victoria waved to him from the window overlooking the alleyway as he and Bustopher came through the tiny door.

Round two passed quietly and without much ado. Misto, Pix, and Tang sat glumly at one end of the hard bench, the latter two having been disqualified from the tournament after much debating by the elder cats.

“What a waste of my talent,” Tang said, trying to cheer them up. His voice sounded so forlorn, however, that it did no good. “I’d go home if it weren’t for the big supper after the darn thing’s over.”

“Yeah,” Pix agreed. “Don’t feel bad, Misto. I believe what you said about Nimbycreep cheating. I wouldn’t put it past the old coot.”

“But I got you both disqualified!” Misto cried despairingly. “And now I’m not even sure what I heard.”

“Oh, having hearing problems, are we?” Tang said, brightening. He pulled Misto’s ears out so that they were nearly as big as his own. “How’s that?” Pix giggled. Misto joined in. Soon the three of them were laughing their heads off and creating quite a row. The other cats stared at them condescendingly.

“Good Heaviside, they’re still drunk,” Gen. Thatchpaw remarked to Janglejazz.

“What’s the score now?” Misto asked Pix after they had retired for the night. The three of them, being temporarily ostracized because of the accusations against them, had curled up together in a remote corner of the room, behind the armchair. Above them, General Thatchpaw slept fitfully while draped across the back of the armchair, snoring and mumbling things in his sleep.

“Blast you, Pollicle!” he mumbled, kicking his foot once or twice and then giving a mighty snort. Pix winced at the sound and covered his ears with his paws.

“If I remember right,” he said, yawning, “the General is tied with Chipper for 5, Nimbycreep has only 2 (of course), Bustopher wound up with a 3, poor old Botherleggy had 10 because he got another 5 for hitting the ball over the fence, and... hmm...” He kicked Tang lightly in the ribs with his foot.

“Dowhat?” the Siamese mumbled, raising his head from its resting place atop his paws and looking groggily around.

“What was Janglejazz’s score last round?” Pix replied.

“HowmIsposedtaknow,” Tang said, still incoherent. “Something like 3. That gives him a 6 now.”

“Ah,” Misto said, stretching out against the soft carpeted floor. “So Nimbycreep’s ahead.”

“Don’t worry, Misto. Bustopher’s still got a chance,” Tang said, lowering his head again.

“I hope so,” Misto said, glancing at Victoria. She had fallen asleep at the windowsill, and the breeze from the air conditioner lightly blew her delicate white fur. Misto sighed and went to sleep.

Pixelpat stretched his cramped muscles and spread his toes, punching Mistoffelees accidentally in the stomach with his front paws. Misto groaned and sat up abruptly, rubbing his eyes. He glanced around the room. It wasn’t morning yet; he could see the sky through the window, and it was a dark blue and filled with only starlight and the faint, dim rays of faraway dawn. He moaned and rolled over, trying to get comfortable again, but he soon realized it was no use. Pix’s paws seemed to be everywhere, and if they weren’t his then they were Tang Tao’s. Misto tried pushing them aside and laying down in their place, but they sprung back and hit him in the stomach or poked him in the face, so after a while he gave up altogether and went for a walk around the room in search of another place to sleep.

Gen. Thatchpaw had finally fallen from his spot on the back of the armchair, landing in an odd, tangled position in the seat of the chair. Every once in a while he would snort and mumble softly, only to begin breathing heavily again as his dream went away and left him alone. Misto passed the armchair after watching this with interest for a few moments. Janglejazz had fallen asleep in a curled up position on one of the fancy bed pillows, his tailtip covering his nose. Bustopher Jones slept in the middle of the bed; the comforter and mattress sunk down beneath his weight and made a sort of bowl for him to rest in. He frowned in his sleep, and Misto felt a pang of guilt. He noticed Lentil and Botherleggy asleep facing each other, as though they had dozed off in the middle of a conversation. Nimbycreep was sprawled out at the foot of the bed, and Chipperchintz snoozed in a drawer lined with a pillow.

“Can’t sleep?” whispered a voice from behind him. Misto jumped and whirled around, breathing hard.

“Wha...?” he gasped, clutching the fur on his chest. His heart felt like a lump in his throat, and not just because he had been startled. Victoria stood there, the moonlight playing on her fur and reflecting in her eyes. He felt that odd melting feeling that he had experienced earlier while standing on the steps.

“Me neither,” she said, stepping forward and taking his paw. “Come on. But be quiet.” She led him out the door, down the hall, and down the huge flight of stairs. “We’d have taken the elevator, but there might have been humans at the bottom,” she explained apologetically.

“Oh, it’s all right,” he said, dazed. He was sure his feet hadn’t touched the floor since she had touched his paw. “I don’t like the elevator much, anyway. I had a bad first impression with one.” He craned his neck to see if the patch of fur on his back was still missing. He was relieved to see it wasn’t noticeable.

She laughed and pulled him away from the stairs and into the lobby of the hotel. The lobby was dimly lit and sparsely populated, with only three humans, each sitting at different tables and looking lonely. One woman kept glancing at her watch and then at the door, shaking her head in agitation each time. The other two, a man and a woman, were sipping at glasses of wine and staring at the tablecloths with glassy eyes. Misto was frightened by them, and he thought maybe Victoria was, too, because she kept close to the wall and avoided the humans. There was a band playing soft, sad music from the front of the room. “Over here,” she told him, motioning towards an empty table in a darkened, secluded corner. He followed willfully as she ran across the floor of the lobby and darted quickly under the table.

“Made it,” he gasped, as soon as he had joined her. She laughed and smiled at him, her eyes shining.

“Do you always do this when you can’t sleep?”

She shrugged. “Doesn’t do much good just lying there when you could be doing other things.”

Misto agreed. The band wound up their number and started a new one, slower and sadder than the first. No upbeat music tonight. The band played melancholy at this time of night, when the hotel’s depressed and lonely tenants came to the lobby to drink away their sorrows. The piano player hit a few low keys while the sax wailed and the bass guitar moaned. Misto sighed heavily.

“Are you a leader at your junkyard?” Victoria inquired, wrapping her tail around herself primly.

“No. Not even a follower,” he replied glumly. “I’m just sort of... there. An obstacle to be walked around.”

Victoria nodded sympathetically. “Well,” she remarked, after thinking a bit, “at least you can’t be told what to do.”

He laughed bitterly. She tilted her head to the side and tried to look him in the eyes, but he had turned his face away. Afraid to say anything, she studied him for a minute. He wasn’t as tall as the other cats she had known, or as debonaire, but there was something about him; a quiet elegance, perhaps, or some quality that was shy and hidden from her. His fur glistened somehow, although there was not enough light under the tablecloth to reflect from it. He was remarkably thin. His eyes, as she saw for the first time when he turned back to face her, were an astonishing shade of blue.

“Your eyes are blue,” she commented. He looked surprised.

“Well, yours are green,” he shot back.

She laughed. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that I’ve never seen a black cat with blue eyes before.”

“Tang has blue eyes.”

“Tang’s a Siamese. He’s supposed to,” she laughed again, and Misto began to feel uncomfortable. His tailtip twitched anxiously.

“I-I’m tired now. M-m-maybe I’ll go back upstairs,” he said, averting his eyes from hers.

She pouted. “All right. Go on.”

“You don’t mind, do you? I mean, we weren’t exactly getting anywhere.” She raised an eyebrow, and he smacked himself in the head. “That’s not what I meant. We weren’t getting anywhere in conversation.”

“I see,” she said coldly. “That’s all you males can think about. Don’t think I don’t know! I can see right through that shy, quiet exterior, you... you...” She threw up her paws in frustration. “I’ll thank you to leave now,” she added, turning away and pointing towards the other side of the table.

“But...” Misto began, but he could see it was useless. With an exasperated sigh, he went under the tablecloth and darted across the room to the foot of the stairs. He leaned backwards to get a last look at her, but all he could see was the tablecloth. He sighed again and went upstairs.

Victoria laughed to herself. How cruel she could be! She smiled, thinking of the look on his face when he’d turned back around and she had told him his eyes were blue. And then he’d tried to defend himself! Oh, this one would need a lot of work before she could get him to lighten up. She suddenly frowned. What was his name again? Mistoffelees? Yes, that was it. Satisfied with her minor accomplishment, she left the lobby and returned to her spot in the windowsill upstairs. She took the elevator.

“I messed up, Pix,” Misto remarked to his friend with a dejected look on his face. “I really messed up.”

“Don’t feel bad, kid,” Tang replied, whacking him on the back and causing him to go into a fit of coughing. “Nobody has luck with Victoria. She either likes ya or she doesn’t.”

“I don’t understand how I messed up, though,” Misto said, trying to direct this statement to Pix, who was sitting on his other side with his chin in his paws, sadly watching the other cats golfing.

“Well,” Tang replied again, “count your mistakes. One of ‘em has got to be it.”

Misto sighed and swung his legs around so that he was facing Tang instead of Pix. Pixelpat seemed gloomier than ever after the 3rd round that morning, and now, in the middle of the 4th, he had fallen into an impenetrable funk. “That’s just the problem,” Misto told Tang. “I don’t think I made any mistakes.”

“Them’s the breaks, Misto,” Tang replied. “Come on, help me cheer up ol’ Pix. Here’s what we’ll do...” he leaned over and began to whisper into Misto’s ear. Misto could hardly keep from giggling madly.

“Help! Oh help, I say!” Misto wailed in a high-pitched, mock-feminine voice, jumping out in front of Pix, batting his eyelashes madly and trying to smooth down the fur on his head.

“Mwahahahahahaha!” Tang said in a low baritone, leaping out next to Misto and beginning to strangle the black cat, who did a perfect death scene, going into horrible convulsions and shrieking painfully. Finally he slumped to the ground, rolling his eyes and coughing loudly. Tang repeated the evil laugh and twirled his whiskers like a villain twirls his mustache. Pix cocked an eyebrow at them and managed to hold out for a few seconds before bursting into wild laughter.

“Thanks, guys, I needed that,” he croaked, slapping his knee.

“Gee, did you like it that much?” Misto asked, puzzled. “I though it was kinda gothic myself. No matter; you’re cheered up now!”

“Know what would cheer me up even more?” Pix hinted, a mischievious glint in his eye.

“What?” Misto and Tang inquired in unison, leaning forward expectantly.

“Let’s find Victoria and go on a tour of the hotel!”

Tang agreed heartily, jumping around in a circle and laughing in his peculiar way, but Misto was somewhat more hesitant. “Couldn’t that be dangerous?” he asked warily.

“Of course,” Tang replied, whacking him on the back again. “That’s why it’s so much fun! Come on, I know Vickie’ll be excited too.”

Tang and Pix bounded into the building, followed by a reticent Mistoffelees. A pair of glowing eyes watched them leave the alley from the shadows behind a trash can, hidden from sight. Nimbycreep smiled to himself and clasped his hands together delightedly. Here was his chance to make sure he won this tournament as well...

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