Adriana Island Cats #2 (Humor)
George the Magnificent, the tabby/Siamese cat, still rules over the small farm on Adriana Island. His slaves, Ben and Holly, have been whipped into shape but he has a new challenge when a mere kitten moves in. Kaylie, a purebred Siamese, aims to be Queen of Holly Haven and can hardly wait until she’s big enough to swat George off his throne.
Ben and Holly are distracted by another arrival, Holly’s mother-in-law. Ben loves his mother, but she shocks him with her new independence and modern ideas about how to live her life.
Meanwhile, Holly discovers skulduggery as ambitious land developers move onto Adriana. Already expert in feline politics, she realizes she must take action to help save the way of life she’s come to love.
What People Are Saying
Written with both wry humour and laugh-out-loud moments, the author has nailed small island living in all its kooky entertaining glory!
— Barbara McDonell
The cat family has increased from 3 to 6 and the fun has increased by the same magnitude.
— Lorna Russell
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“How soon will you get the lab report?” I put King George the Magnificent back in his cat carrier, where he hunched down and swore in Siamese. I could tell by the look in his eyes as I closed the lid that he intended to get even with me for unforgivable lèse majesté. Not only had I forced him into a small, dark box, I’d allowed the vet to stick a needle in him.
“Tomorrow,” Jerry said, scrubbing the examination table with disinfectant.
“How come so fast?”
Jerry grinned at me. “Holly, this is veterinary medicine, not people medicine.”
“That settles it. In my next life I am definitely coming back as a cat.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem; you keep telling me you’re already half cat.” He lugged the cat carrier out to the car and said, “Don’t forget we have a bridge game later this week.”
“I never forget to show up for bridge games. I don’t even mark them on the calendar.”
“You must really be hooked,” Jerry said, one hand resting on the hood of the car.
“I am. Every hand requires the use of strategy and psychology, and each hand is different. Every one is a challenge.”
“Just like every cat is a challenge,” he said, waving his hand at the cat carrier. “Particularly Mr. Magnificence there.” He grinned and hurried back into his clinic.
As I drove through the serene April sunshine, past small farmsteads, then steep hills clad in fir, cedar and arbutus, toward the east side of Adriana Island where Ben and I lived on our mini-farm, I couldn’t help worrying about the lab report. My other cat, Henry, my beautiful Buddhist cat, had been diagnosed with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus a year and a half ago. Though I was fairly sure George hadn’t come into contact with Henry’s saliva or blood, we’d decided to have George tested for FIV. Not that we could do much about it if the diagnosis was positive, but at least we’d know what to expect.
Henry was a big gray cat with white bib, belly and paws, who had turned up one winter night and somehow persuaded George, a fiercely territorial tabby-Siamese, to let him stay. Ever since then he’d been trying to teach George democracy and me the futility of worrying, but I doubted that either of his pupils would learn our lessons well enough to graduate.
The Chevy shuddered across the cattle guard that supposedly kept wandering cows out of our farm and George’s muttered curses rose to a demanding yowl.
“I beg your indulgence, Magnificent One; you’ll be out of that carrier in about one minute.”
Three dozen hens and Mr. Mighty, the Leghorn rooster who continually competed with George for the title of King, scattered toward the orchard as I came down the driveway. Nicky, our fat, snow-white Samoyed dog, danced beside the car as I pulled into the carport next to Ben’s battered blue pickup. Now I remembered, five miles and fifteen minutes too late, that I hadn’t brought Nicky his usual treat from the grocery store in Mora Bay.
By the time I was out of the car, Ben had hurried over from the big greenhouse he’d built during the winter.
“When will Jerry get the lab report?”
I managed not to smile at the intense look on his face. When we’d moved to the farm three years before, Ben had thought cats were boring creatures who did nothing but eat and sleep. Now he was a devoted slave to George and Henry and called himself their Houseboy. He’d also become a modern-day version of St. Francis of Assisi, who fed deer, raccoons, birds and squirrels and would no doubt have fed mice if George had allowed any on our five-acre farm.
“Oh, that’s fast.” Ben took the cat carrier in through the back door – though we should have called it the front door because it was the one we always used – and set it down beside the washer and dryer. He opened the carrier and George charged out, ears back, tail quivering with indignation. My ten-pound King stalked into the kitchen, lecturing us loudly in semi-Siamese tones.
“George,” I said, “stop yelling. I had to do it.”
He turned his back on me, sat down and began grooming his black and gray stripes to their usual elegance. His big ears were still folded back and I knew there was an angry glint in those large green eyes.
Henry strolled in from the living room, his big, gray froth of a tail carried jauntily upright, the sign of a happy cat, flopped down in front of George and said, “Prrrt?”
Ben stroked his beard, a sure sign he was worried about something. “Holly, we need to talk. I had a phone call while you were gone.”
“Can it wait? I’ve got an appointment to interview the new owners of that RV park near Gordon Bay and I’m already late.”
Ben sighed. He was proud of Tidelines, the column I wrote for our weekly island newspaper, the Adriana Advocate, but I was always rushing off somewhere just when he was in the mood to discuss weighty subjects like what kind of lettuce to plant or the mess the cats and I had made of his current budget. “It can wait. Go on, or you’ll be even later. I’ll soothe Georgius Felinus Rex’s wounded feelings and give him an extra treat for lunch.”
Ben’s hobby was the study of ancient Rome and he’d given George the impressive Latin moniker about the same time he’d named himself Houseboy and me Head Slave. Now he carried George to the kitchen counter, saying, “It’s not easy being a cat in this house, is it, Your Majesty?”
“Save me some lunch, too,” I said, as I headed toward the door.
“I’ll try,” Ben said, “but Cal’s eating with me. We’re going to extend the watering system to the rose garden.” Cal was our next-door neighbor, the local Mr. Fix-It, and he and Ben always had their heads together over one project or another. The only time they disagreed was over politics. Ben was right-wing, Cal left-wing. I didn’t want to get involved in their fist-thumping arguments, so I refused to tell anyone, even the cats, who I voted for. I liked Cal a lot, but his stomach was a bottomless pit. There wouldn’t be a crumb left, no matter how much lunch Ben made.
I climbed back in the car and retraced my route, this time skirting Mora Bay and heading south along the island’s west shore. I’d visited Rollin RV Park, near Gordon Bay, in the fall, when the Rollins still owned it, and had written part of a column on what a great place it was for a vacation. The camp sites were scattered among the trees for maximum privacy and a shady trail wound though the arbutus trees down to a sand and pebble beach littered with driftwood. The Rollins had lived there for years, doing most of the development of their five acres after he’d retired from the small mill outside Mora Bay.
I drove in through the wide gate, surprised to see that the old hand-lettered sign had been replaced with a slick professional version in metal and bright blue paint. It wasn’t out of place, but I wondered why the new owners thought they needed it. Ted Rollin had told me he always had a waiting list for RV slots and sometimes even for tent sites.
The small office was to the left, just inside the gate. I went in and rang the buzzer. While I waited for the young blonde woman who emerged from the old-fashioned stucco house fifty yards away, I heard a faint scratching behind the desk. Mice? Not likely. Mice were usually cautious enough to be quiet around humans.
“I’m Deanna Perry,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “You must be Holly Sutton.”
“Sorry I’m late,” I said. “I had to take one of my cats to the vet this morning and it took longer than I expected.”
“Cats? You have cats? Here, would you like another one?” Deanna hauled a cardboard box from behind the counter, set it at my feet and retreated. “I can’t touch the creature; I’m violently allergic.”
Inside the box, crouched in one corner, was a cream-colored kitten with fawn feet, tail and ears. Out of a light brown little face shone the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Definitely part Siamese. She croaked at me in a tiny voice and I picked her up and cuddled her against my chest. Her small body was warm against my hand and I could feel a steady heart beat and hear the rumble of a purr that seemed too loud for such a tiny creature.
I looked in the box. It was empty, except for a damp patch in one corner, and smelled of urine. No water, no food. I got a grip on my rising anger and said, “How long has she been in that box?”
“Since yesterday,” Deanna said. She leaned on the counter and scowled at the kitten. “Some people in a motor home accidentally left it behind. Peter, my husband, found it trying to get in our back door. We’re not going to allow stray cats around here, breeding and begging and being a nuisance.”
“She’s too young to breed.” I was trying not to grit my teeth.
“Whatever. I called the people and they didn’t want to come all the way back here for her. Apparently they only got the kitten because one of their kids nagged them into it. They said it wouldn’t matter, that cats can look after themselves. But with my allergies, I simply can’t have any animals on the place.”
“Look,” I said, “this kitten is probably dying of thirst. Could you get me a little dish of water?”
While Deanna was gone, I crooned to the kitten. Why was I calling it ‘she’? Another glance at her face gave me the answer. She looked so tiny and helpless, so soft and delicate, it was difficult to think ‘he.’ But we’d made that same mistake when George adopted Henry. Henry had long soft cloud-gray fur, a white blaze on his nose, slanted yellow eyes and a great plume of a tail. Ben said the cat was too pretty to be male and named it Henrietta. When we took Henrietta to Jerry for shots and to have a leg wound treated, he surprised us by suggesting we have ‘him’ neutered. I’d told Ben it was lucky he’d given the cat a name that could be shortened to the male version.
Deanna returned with the water and I put it and the kitten back in the box. The kitten stuck her face in the dish and started lapping.
“I hope you’ll take it,” Deanna said. “Otherwise I don’t know what I’ll do.”
I could tell her to hand the kitten over to the SPCA in Mora Bay, but who knew when she’d get around to it? “I’ll make sure she finds a home.” I hauled my notebook out of my bag. “May I ask you a few questions now?”
“All right.” Deanna was keeping a wary eye on the kitten. “I hope it can’t get out of that box. Is this an article you’re doing about us?”
“No, Tidelines is basically tidbits about the business community on the island. When I run out of news items, I rant about whatever is on my mind at the time.” There’d definitely be some ranting in the next column about people who abandoned small kittens.
Fifteen minutes later I put my notebook away, uneasy about some of the answers Deanna had given me, but not willing to get deeper into a conversation that might reveal I knew less than I should about the legalities of running a business on Adriana. I put the box with the kitten on the front seat of the car and decided it was a good time to visit my friend, Norma Brentwood. Her home was only five minutes away, set between the high tide mark and a thick forest of old-growth timber on the south side of Gordon Bay.
As I parked beside the wide veranda of the old house, its cedar siding weathered to silver-gray, I saw Norma sitting on the porch swing. I was surprised to see her wearing a skirt and sweater. At this time of year she was usually dressed in jeans, shirt and rubber boots, spading up her garden for a new crop of vegetables, or else mending fences.
Norma’s half-dozen cats and her long-haired red dachshund, BJ, greeted me when I walked up the steps, each demanding a ritual head-scratch before stretching out in the sun again. Norma’s smile was subdued, her white hair in its French roll wispier than usual.
“Hi, Norma! Are you ready for another kitten?”
“Sit down, Holly.” She shook her head and sighed. “I’d better not take another kitten right now. Trevor says this place is getting too much for me and that I should think about selling.”
This did not sound like the Norma I knew. “I’m sorry to hear that you’re not feeling well.”
“Oh, I feel fine,” she said, moving restlessly on the swing. “But every time Trevor came over this winter, he told me I’m getting too old to run this place by myself. I suppose it’s time I faced the fact that I’ll be seventy-five next month.”
“Norma! Don’t tell me you’re going to just lie down and die because of a few numbers.” I’d met her son Trevor, a high-priced surgeon in Victoria, and he was way too smooth for my liking.
She frowned at me. “Well, no, I’m not, but Trevor says I could have a heart attack or a stroke any time. Better to have things tidied up before that happens. He’s offered to buy the property from me so I’ll have enough to go into an apartment or a seniors’ home.”
“Very considerate of him.” There was more than that behind Trevor’s offer, I was sure. Norma owned a hundred and sixty acres, half in grazing land, and encompassing two-thirds of Gordon Bay, an inlet known for its sand beaches and safe anchorage. If I were a land developer, I’d be salivating big time.
Norma glanced at two otters munching on a crab at the edge of the quiet cove and sighed. “I just hate to leave here, Holly. I was born in this house, you know.”
I knew. And I knew how much she loved the place. She and I had walked over almost every square foot of it while she told me its history. She had touched the trees as though they were her personal friends.
“Don’t go, then,” I said. “There’s no need to leave things tidy just for Trevor’s convenience.” I rose. “I have to be on my way, Norma. That kitten hasn’t been fed for heaven knows how long and Ben’s anxious about something. Sure you don’t want to see the kitten?”
“Sorry, but I must say no.” She sighed again. “Come back soon, Holly, I don’t know how long I’ll be here.”
I climbed into the car, worrying. For the three years I’d known Norma, she’d been busy, brisk and full of energy. Now she was acting like a little old lady. She even looked older.
Had Ben and I aged much since we’d come to Adriana Island three years ago? I didn’t think so. Ben was now closer to sixty than fifty and I wasn’t far behind, but all I’d noticed was that my long braid of black hair had a little more silver in it. Someday I’d look like my Italian grandmother, but not yet. Ben’s blond hair and beard had grayed over the years to a sandy color that hadn’t changed in the last ten. Retirement from the rat race hadn’t turned us into fatties, either. We were both still lean, still wearing the same size jeans we’d worn when younger. Ben occasionally wore overalls and a straw hat and, with those innocent blue eyes of his, looked like a real hayseed. I still didn’t know whether he liked the look or wore the outfit as sort of a joke.
No, we hadn’t changed. And I knew it would take more than the theoretical threat of illness to make us old before we actually felt that way.
I couldn’t understand why Norma was giving in to Trevor so easily. But he was a doctor and her only child. Perhaps she thought his opinion carried more weight than her own. Or it might be that she didn’t want to fight with him.
A small meow from the box reminded me that I still had to make a decision about this little cat. I’d always wanted a Siamese kitten and Ben was agreeable. He’d even promised I could have two. Now one had fallen into my lap. She probably wasn’t pure Siamese, since her former owners had driven off without her, but that didn’t matter. The big question was whether I should expose this tiny creature to the risk of contracting Henry’s FIV.
Supposing I did keep her, what would I call her? I knew that naming an animal almost guarantees it will have you under its paw forever, but I couldn’t resist. What was an apt name for such a tiny little girl? If she was a girl.
The tiny little girl let out a bellow that startled me so much I nearly drove off the road.
“Definitely a Siamese accent,” I said. “I’m sorry, kitten, but you can’t get out of the box. The last thing I need is for you to crawl under the brake pedal just when I have to use it.”
Another comment from the box, soft and plaintive this time. It seemed she was willing to use every weapon in her small arsenal to get what she wanted. That reminded me of another tiny person, a character in a fantasy novel by one of my favorite authors. The girl called Kaylie had needed to use every weapon available in order to survive.
“Kaylie,” I said. “How does that sound?”
She answered with a soft meow and I went back to worrying about her fate. Aside from Henry’s illness, there was George to think about. He was eight now, middle-aged and more conscious than ever of his dignity and elevated position, so he might not accept her. Mr. Mighty, our fierce Leghorn rooster, could take a notion to attack with that sharp beak of his. I tried to think who among our friends would be willing to adopt a kitten and managed to come up with numerous reasons why none of them were suitable candidates for parenthood.
When I coasted down our driveway, Nicky came bounding to meet me. I climbed out of the car, the cardboard box in my arms.
“I’ve got a kitten in here, Nicky. But you’re not allowed to eat her.” He wouldn’t, of course; Nicky adored cats. I just needed to keep talking while I tried to resist temptation.
Nicky nosed the box, tail wagging, and was rewarded with a ladylike little hiss from Kaylie. He decided to follow at a respectful distance. George The Magnificent had raised him from a puppy and Nicky knew that cats were gods and must be worshiped. He’d also had his nose clawed often enough to know he wasn’t allowed to play with them unless invited to do so. Still, he’d never seen a kitten and I didn’t know how he’d react to Kaylie.
I took the box into my den and left it there while I gathered food, water and a litter box. Kaylie needed to recuperate with food and sleep for a couple of days before she went anywhere. She made short work of the Fancy Feast, tramped through the litter box, then through her water dish and climbed up my pant leg into my lap, trailing wet sand.
“I thought you were dainty and delicate,” I said.
She burped and fell asleep. I stroked her gently and murmured, “How could anybody drive off and leave you behind? Didn’t those irresponsible fools know you’re a princess?”
Outside my den door, Nicky whined. George had no doubt caught a whiff of kitten and would be out there, too, his scowl threatening mayhem. Henry might be anywhere; meditating on his favorite chair or up a tree talking to the squirrels.
When I heard Ben’s voice, I yelled, “Come in, but leave the guys outside.”
He squeezed quickly through the door. “Holly, why is the door shut? I want to tell you about that phone call.”
“Not now. We have a more immediate problem.” I lifted my hand so he could see Kaylie.
“That’s a kitten!” he said, unnecessarily. “I thought you weren’t going to get a kitten until Henry …” His voice trailed off.
By the time I finished a detailed description of my meeting with Deanna Perry, Ben was pacing up and down the room. “If I could find those people in the motor home I’d wring their necks! And those people at the park, too, those Perrys. Can you imagine anyone so criminally stupid as to leave an animal shut up with no water?” His voice had risen and outside the door, Nicky’s threatened to burgeon into a proper howl. Even George was complaining about being shut out of the family conference.
“Kaylie’s safe now. We just have to decide what to do with her.”
“We’ll keep her, of course.”
“But what about Henry’s FIV?”
“George is all right,” Ben said.
“We don’t know that. What if Jerry calls tomorrow and says George is infected, too?”
Ben sighed. “I suppose you’re right.” He leaned down and ran a finger along the fur on Kaylie’s back. “Maybe Gareth and Sue will adopt her.” Gareth was Ben’s son.
“I doubt it. Beanbag would have a nervous breakdown.” Their forty-pound corgi was terrified of cats.
“Well, somebody will. Come on, let’s go make coffee and pay some attention to Nicky and George before they tear the door down.”
I left Kaylie, still sound asleep, in my chair and went to the door. Ben opened it and I shooed Nicky, George and Henry out of the way so he could close it again. In the living room I cuddled George, told him he was wonderful and apologized again for subjecting him to the merciless ministrations of the vet. When Ben came in with the coffee, I noticed Nicky had disappeared. Henry sprawled peacefully on the floor and George paced around my lap, torn between staying to enjoy my adoration of his peerless self and exploring that strange cat smell emanating from the den.
Ben had no sooner sat down and said, “Holly, about that phone call …” when Nicky came trotting in from the hall with Kaylie’s body dangling limply from his mouth.
“Nicky!” I screamed, ejecting George from my lap as I leapt up. “Ben, you didn’t close the door properly!”
Before I could do anything, the dog put Kaylie on the floor and stood there grinning, tail waving madly. The kitten shook her head and staggered to her feet, blinking. She stared up at the white giant with his mouthful of teeth, then smacked him across the nose. Nicky stopped grinning and sat down abruptly, his tail slowing to a merely tentative invitation. Kaylie gazed around, blue eyes wide, apparently overwhelmed with the possibilities of her new world.
George looked at the kitten as though he didn’t believe what he was seeing. He sniffed the air a couple of times, then lowered his belly to the floor and crept forward with lissome ease, a fur-covered drop of mercury, growling deep in his throat. Three feet away from Kaylie, he rose to full height, stalked over to her and hissed.
Kaylie looked up at this new monster who weighed twenty times more than she did, arched her back, bared her teeth and spat in George’s face.
George backed up a foot, looking so surprised that I clapped my hand over my mouth. If I laughed, he’d smack Kaylie out of spite or else sulk for the rest of the day. He continued to stare at her, astounded that this tiny creature would dare sass him back.
Kaylie figuratively dusted her little brown paws, stepped around George and minced over to Henry, who was still sprawled on the carpet, watching the proceedings with great interest. Kaylie sniffed his ear, he sniffed hers and they butted heads. Then she turned her attention to Nicky, who was now lying in front of the couch.
They touched noses and Nicky took a swipe at her creamy body with his great tongue, tumbling her on her back. She staggered to her feet and clambered over him, occasionally getting tangled in his long fur. She skidded down his back, thumped to the floor and began clawing her way up the sofa, intent on conquering her personal Mount Everest.
“She’s sure a gutsy little thing,” Ben said. “But she looks so dainty. I thought she’d faint if George even looked at her cross-eyed.”
“I thought she’d run when he hissed at her, but instead she hissed right back.”
“She was pretending to be a bigger snake, I guess.”
“Why a snake?” I asked.
“Because when a cat hisses, it’s imitating a snake. This book I got from the library said snakes are one of the most feared animals in the world.”
“I thought she was imitating a tiger and telling George that if he didn’t leave her alone, she’d rip him to shreds.”
I knelt, petted George and assured him that he was King forever and that Kaylie wasn’t big enough to rip him to shreds. Then I captured Kaylie and petted her, hoping that if they smelled their own scents on each other, Kaylie wouldn’t be so impudent and George would refrain from committing caticide.
Ben took the kitten from me and the little minx sat demurely in his hands, purring, her big blue eyes gazing adoringly into his. He cooed and cuddled her wet head under his chin. Kaylie had made another conquest.
George bellowed, his tone clearly saying, “Look at ME. I’m the most important personage here.”
I picked him up and crooned to him, but his attention was on Ben cuddling the kitten. “Ben, put her down or George will explode with jealousy.”
“Are you going to keep her, now that she’s met everybody?” Ben asked. He took George from me and attempted to soothe the King’s ruffled feathers.
“I won’t know until I talk to Jerry tomorrow,” I said.
I scooped up Kaylie and headed for the den, with Ben, George, Henry and Nicky trailing behind. She decided the litter box was exactly what she needed at that moment and showed her pedigree by burying her puddle under a mountain of sand. Then she took two laps of water and charged off down the hall toward the kitchen, Nicky right behind her, and the two adult cats a few paces behind.
“Aren’t you going to see if she’s all right?” Ben asked.
“I have a feeling Nicky will look after her. Is there any more coffee in the pot?” It had been a long day, what with errands and appointments and the rescue of a kitten who had more guts than Dick Tracy but not nearly as much sense.
Ben poured me a mug of potent brew and I led the way to the front veranda, where I lit a cigarette and slumped down in one of the wooden deck chairs to survey my kingdom. George was convinced it was his kingdom, of course, but it was my name and Ben’s on the title deed.
The meadow, velvety green with new grass, sloped down the hill to the cedars, maples and Garry oaks at the foot of our property. Beyond lay the shimmering blue of the Gulf of Georgia, punctuated in the distance by low-lying rocky islands. I savored the peaceful view with as much pleasure as I did the coffee.
To my left was the orchard, half hidden by the house, where the apple trees were in full bloom. To the right was Ben’s greenhouse and a huge vegetable garden, surrounded by an eight-foot fence to keep out the deer. Between garden and house, budding rose bushes surrounded a concrete patio, a permanent memento of the swimming pool which had been there when we bought the place. Ben loved swimming but after a couple of animals fell into the pool, his St. Francis persona took over. He filled it with rocks, cemented it over and built a rose garden around the perimeter.
I took a sip of coffee, leaned back and heaved a contented sigh. The house renovation was pretty well done, the outbuildings were in good shape, the garden was protected from the deer and I had a new kitten. Maybe.
Life was peaceful. Life was good.
Ben said, “Holly, about that phone call. I don’t know how to tell you this, but …”
I smiled. “How bad can it be?”
He looked as worried as I’d ever seen him. “Bad enough. The call was from my brother Dave.”
I sat up straight. “Your mother’s had another heart attack?”
“She’s coming to live with us.”