Adriana Island Cats #3 (Humor)
Change is afoot for both humans and cats on Adriana Island. George the Magnificent, the tabby-Siamese ruler, is fighting hard to keep his realm from being taken over by Kaylie, the ambitious pure-blood Siamese queen. Holly, along with Adriana’s other two trustees, is waging a legal battle to protect Norma Brentwood’s precious land from her greedy son and the threat of development. Norma herself is struggling with serious illness. Ben is under siege by Father Time and Ben’s mother, Maggie, is trying to reconcile a youthful mind with an aging body.
And what about Shazaam, the mysterious stray kitten living under the couch? Is she hatching nefarious plans to take over everybody?
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I ⬥ A SLUG IN THE GARDEN
Spring came early to Adriana Island and Holly Haven. March flourished purple and white crocuses, golden daffodils and satiny tulips in neon reds and yellows. It was now the middle of April, which was showing off with forget-me-nots and fresh pink blooms on camellias and Japanese cherry trees. Ben had almost finished getting the garden ready for the greenhouse seedlings he’d tended through the West Coast’s usual wet and windy winter and was chirping about the new vegetable varieties he intended to plant.
I’d have been content to sit on the front veranda and gaze at the ocean or watch blooming apple trees in the orchard while birds defended their territories with song, but in November I’d been elected as a trustee for Adriana. Since then I’d learned that creating an official community plan took a lot of time and gave back equal amounts of frustration. And, because I was still writing Tidelines, the business gossip column in the Adriana Advocate, being Mom to a Samoyed dog and six cats with demanding Siamese voices, my plan to write more short stories was on a burner so far back I couldn’t even see it.
I’d just finished putting breakfast dishes in the sink and was looking out the window at the end of the driveway, where three cats sniffed at the cedar shrub that served as their message tree, when the phone rang. I hoped it wasn’t Duff, one of the other trustees. We were forever getting complaints about our zoning proposals from some landowner who didn’t want his land zoned because he might want to do something different with it some day. Ben and I would be happy raising asparagus and cats forever, but we didn’t want to risk having a slaughterhouse next door.
“Holly, dear, are you busy this morning? I need to talk to you.”
My mother-in-law sounded stressed. That worried me; she was usually so calm. “Should I come over?”
“No, I’ll come to you. I don’t want to have this discussion in front of Norma.”
Maggie had been sharing Norma’s house for a year and they were getting along fine. Still, Maggie was eighty-one and Norma in her late seventies. I wondered if was becoming too much for them to take care of a big house, a big garden and Norma’s animals.
“By the time you get here, I’ll have the morning coffee brewed. If you’re lucky, Cal might show up, too.” Maggie and Cal Peterson, our next door neighbor, had lived together for a while, scandalizing Ben, but now they were back to just dating.
“He had to go to Victoria today,” Maggie said. Cal was the island’s Mr. Fix-it, probably buying building materials he couldn’t get on Adriana.
Twenty minutes later I heard tires crunching on gravel and went to greet Maggie at the back door. In spite of seeing her almost every week, I was always surprised at her tiny size. Her take-charge attitude – no doubt left over from her days as an elementary school teacher – made her seem much bigger than four feet eleven and a hundred and five pounds.
“So what’s wrong?” I asked, as she preceded me through the combination mud and laundry room into the kitchen. I hoped she wouldn’t notice the kitchen cupboards needed wiping down. I loved white pine, but it showed every sticky fingerprint.
“Let me say hello to my grandcats first.”
Her eldest grandcat had heard the car, too, and came mincing across the red brick-patterned linoleum on delicate black paws. George, our Siamese/tabby cross, had been King of Holly Haven ever since we’d moved in five years before. He had dark tabby stripes, large green eyes and a Type A personality that made him, in spite of weighing only ten pounds, a force to be reckoned with. He’d been dubbed Georgius Felinus Rex by Ben, who had a passion for Latin and ancient Rome and the name suited his outsized ego and regal dignity. Maggie cuddled him against her chest while he purred, green eyes half-closed in ecstasy.
“You are such a precious,” Maggie crooned. “I wish I still lived here so you could curl up on my pillow at night.” I couldn’t help smiling. When Maggie moved here from Moose Jaw, she didn’t like cats. Five years ago Ben hadn’t liked cats either but now they were both adoring slaves of the resident felines.
George decided he didn’t want to be called ‘precious’ – no doubt preferring ‘majestic’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ – and demanded to be put down.
Maggie did as she was told and I followed her into the living room, where our Applehead Siamese seal points, Kaylie and Ming, were napping on the sofa. She gave the two cats a few strokes. They yawned and stretched in acknowledgment. “Is Kaylie still trying to boot George off the throne?”
“She’s watching for the least sign of weakness,” I said. Kaylie was dainty and petite, eight pounds of unrepentant terrorist. Ming, thumping in at twenty-four pounds, was a gentle worrier who tried to look after everybody. Kaylie had taken full advantage of that when she birthed her only litter. Ming spent twice as much time with the kittens as she did.
“Where are the kittens?” Maggie asked.
“They’re not kittens anymore. They’re almost a year old.”
“Well, teenagers then.”
“They went out with Nicky and Ben,” I said. “They’re either helping Ben by digging holes in the garden or stalking some unsuspecting creature.”
“Not the hens, I trust.”
“With Mr. Mighty on guard? Never.” Our Leghorn rooster put the run on everybody except Nicky with his thick, white Samoyed fur.
The cat flap in the back door rattled and our three teenagers galloped through the mud room, sounding like a herd of ponies. They raced down the hall bisecting our house, past Ben’s den, our bedroom and bath, then past the stairs that went up to the guest bedrooms, then the door to my den, bounced off the front door as they turned the corner and erupted into the living room. Poppy and Caesar had chocolate points, crossed eyes and kinked tails, like Ming, who was a throwback. Cato, however, was living proof of Kaylie’s illicit affair. He was well-named, a talkative politician with blue eyes who kept his pure white fur spotless and followed George everywhere, intent on learning how to put down peasant revolts. Maggie petted them all and, their curiosity satisfied, they completed their circle tour by trotting through the dining room and kitchen, and back outside.
I put out mugs, cream and sugar. “Come and have your coffee and tell me what’s bothering you.” Everyone sat at the kitchen table to drink coffee, make plans and gossip. It was the heartbeat of the house and stood, symbolically, at the center of the kitchen.
Maggie sighed as she reached for the cream jug. “Trevor told Norma he’s going to sue The Islands Trust to get her property back.”
“That’s sickening!” The year before, Norma had deeded her hundred and sixty acres to The Islands Trust for parkland, subject to a life tenancy for herself. Her only child, Trevor, a wealthy, balding surgeon in Victoria, had been trying to get control of the property for several years so he could develop it, which was why I’d got myself elected as trustee. I wanted to make absolutely certain the old-growth forest and sloping meadows were designated as park in the community plan. I didn’t want the serenity of the pioneer farm destroyed by hotels, marinas and golf courses.
“I don’t think he’s actually done it yet,” Maggie said. “But Norma is devastated. She’s been feeling low, anyway, ever since the tragedy in January.”
My heart ached for Norma. Barely eight months ago, her son had tried to get her designated as mentally incompetent, hoping to take her land. Then her three oldest cats, Pyewacket, Tigger and Whiskey, had died of feline infectious peritonitis, all within the space of one week in January. The three youngest, Smoke, Doran and Blue Eyes, had escaped the FIP, but I knew Norma was grieving for the others and would for a long time. I still missed my beloved Buddhist cat, Henry, and he’d been gone for more than two years. “Are the cats and BJ still grieving, too?” BJ was Norma’s roly-poly long-haired red dachshund, as much enslaved to cats as our Nicky.
“They’re getting over it. Smoke is regaining the weight he lost and Doran no longer insists on sleeping with Norma every night. Blue Eyes has stopped clawing the couch.”
Maggie ran her fingers through her short auburn hair. Dyed, of course, much to Ben’s disgust, but it fitted her youthful attitude. I found it difficult, now, to believe I’d once disliked Maggie. But that was when we used to visit her in Saskatchewan and she was a rigid authoritarian named Edith. Her husband’s death and her own heart attack had brought profound changes, including her name.
“It’s Norma I’m worried about,” she continued. “I don’t know whether she’s physically ill or depressed about the cats and Trevor.”
“Last year, after she got over the pneumonia, her doctor said she was in great shape. Sounds like it’s time she saw him again.”
“I’ve suggested she make an appointment, but she keeps putting it off. She’s such a stubborn old biddy.”
“Takes one to know one.” I pushed the plate of shortbread toward her. I only realized how worried Maggie was when she didn’t respond to my teasing.
“Holly, I’ll look after Norma if there’s anything wrong, but I may need help. Would you be able to give me a hand now and then?”
“Naturally! No need to even ask.” It wasn’t likely I’d be called on to do much. Norma had lived her entire life on Adriana and many people would be willing to help. Before I could remind her of that fact, Ben came in for his morning coffee, followed by Nicky, looking for anything edible and eager to soak up all the attention he could get.
“Good morning, Mother,” Ben said, giving Maggie a peck on the cheek, “you’re looking chipper.”
“I’m perfectly well, Benjamin.” She gave him a sharp look. “You’re beginning to show your age, though. I can see gray hairs in your beard.”
“I could dye it,” he said. “Red, so we’d match.”
In spite of the difference in height – Ben was five foot nine – he and his mother did look somewhat alike. Both had blue eyes. Both had high cheekbones and fairly heavy eyebrows. Ben’s hair was a sandy blond, like Maggie’s before she went completely white. My long, black hair was now laced with so much silver that it almost matched theirs.
“My hair is auburn, not red,” Maggie said.
“Whatever.” Ben poured himself a mug of coffee. “I refuse to dye mine, though. I’ve earned my gray hair.”
Nicky put his shaggy head in Maggie’s lap, gazing up at her with a soulful look that no self-respecting cat would ever deign to use. She buried her hands in his thick white fur and scratched his neck. “Don’t remind me of your age, Benjamin. It reminds me all too clearly of my own.”
He sat at the table and reached for a shortbread cookie. “You’re out early today.”
I refilled Maggie’s mug while she told Ben about Trevor’s threat to sue The Islands Trust. “I thought he might just be giving her a bad time for thwarting him,” she said, “but Norma is convinced he means it.”
Ben looked at me. “You haven’t heard anything, have you?”
“Not a word. I really don’t think he could get a reputable lawyer to take it on. Norma was told by her own lawyer that her agreement with The Islands Trust was rock-solid. I’m sure it was also checked by the Trust’s lawyer.”
“Maybe Trevor will get a disreputable lawyer,” Ben said. “If the case goes to court, it could be a real mess. And take forever.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Maggie looked worried.
“There’s nothing you can do about it, Mother.”
“But Norma’s really upset,” Maggie said.
“Sure she is,” Ben said. “But tell her not to worry. Common sense will prevail.”
“I wish I could be that optimistic.” Maggie sighed. “Benjamin, are your hens laying these days?”
“Spring is sprung,” Ben said, “and the eggs are starting to roll again. Want some?”
“Yes, please. But not the little green ones.” We had white Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds who laid normal eggs and tiny Araucanas who laid little green eggs that none of my egg customers were willing to buy. “Are those funny little hens still laying under the blackberry hedges?”
“They are,” I said. If they went broody and raised a family, Nicky would be pleased. He adored herding chicks.
“Don’t bad-mouth my Araucanas,” Ben said. “They’re the cutest birds around, with those little tufts of feathers on top of their heads.”
I looked at Maggie and shrugged. Soon after we’d moved to Holly Haven, five years before, Ben had acquired the nickname St. Francis of Assisi because he couldn’t resist the blandishments of any animal, feathered or furred, a fact I swore was known by every deer, bird and squirrel within a ten-mile radius, not to mention our own menagerie.
Maggie pushed her chair back. “I’d better get some groceries. Nothing has been resolved, but I feel better now that we’ve talked about it a little.”
“Maybe it’s time Norma adopted a kitten,” I said.
“She can have Caesar,” Ben said from the mud room. “That blasted cat snuck in while I was having coffee and buried another dead mouse in my boot.”
“Ben, you don’t really mean that.” I don’t know why I bothered. We both knew he didn’t really mean it.
“See you later, Mother.” Ben went out. I heard the clash of the garbage can lid and then Ben walked by the kitchen sundeck, heading for the greenhouse.
“It’s too soon for another cat,” Maggie said.
“A kitten might take her mind off Trevor.”
“It could work, I suppose.” Maggie smiled wryly. “A kitten would be loyal and much easier to deal with than Trevor.”
“They both mark territory, though.”
“Yes, but cats only spray; they don’t hire lawyers.”