Table of Contents
’Fraidy cats . . .
I shoved the tulip key into the slot. For a moment I feared that the key was stuck, but it engaged with unseen metal fixtures, and the wall suddenly seemed to give.
I stepped back, worried that the earthquake earlier that day had weakened the structure of the building. Carefully, I crept back up to the wall, put my hands against it, and gave it a nudge. A four-foot-wide section started to swing, and the outline of a door emerged from the pattern of bricks. Now, I gave it a proper shove. The whole thing creaked and swung open into the basement, rotating on a hidden, interior hinge.
I leveled my flashlight into a pitch-black corridor.
Isabella leaned into the tunnel, ears pricked, nose crinkling. She walked through the opening, and I fell in line behind her. Rupert sat on the basement floor, looking apprehensive. He wanted nothing to do with this murky, gaping hole in the wall.
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “You can stay here—in the cold, dark basement—without the flashlight.”
Rupert gave me a nasty look and cautiously followed us through the opening in the bricks.
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HOW TO WASH A CAT
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2008 by Rebecca M. Hale.
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For my grandfather, Bill
I FOLLOWED A trail of paw prints, clumped up litter, and splattered flecks of soap up the stairs and down the hall to my bedroom. Sticky wet spots covered the floors, the walls, a rolltop desk, a wicker laundry basket, and a half dozen scattered books. A miserable wet lump of fur huddled in the middle of my bed.
“This is for your own good,” I said, stealthily creeping towards him as I clutched the corners of a large beach towel. The lump glared back at me incredulously.
“We’re almost done. We can’t turn back now,” I argued, slowly moving closer to the corner of the bed. The lump continued to stare at me suspiciously.
I glanced down at my arms and legs, grimly surveying the map of fresh scratches. Sighing, I gripped the towel and moved into position. The quivering lump dug his claws into the bedspread, anticipating my next move.
I lunged forward, the towel unfolding as my arms spread wide. My target tried to jump out of the way, but the billowing beach towel swallowed him whole. I felt a twinge of guilt as the sheet came down over his disappointed face; then I carried my struggling wet fugitive back downstairs to the kitchen sink.
THE DAY HAD begun with a sense of foreboding, filled with apprehension of the task that lay ahead of me. Yawning in a reluctant gulp of crisp spring air, I wiggled my toes to rouse the two slumbering cats entwined at the foot of the bed—a mass of white fur tinged with peachy, buff-colored highlights.
One of them stood up, her back arching in a full body stretch before her slender figure leapt nimbly to the floor. Isabella issued a commanding look in my direction and sauntered out of the bedroom.
I swung my feet down to the hardwood floor, unearthing the second of my feline foot warmers. The more portly of the pair, he hit the ground beside the bed with a squawking grunt and waddled sleepily across the room to his inclined scratching post.
I splashed a basin full of cold water on my face and plodded slowly down the flight of stairs to the kitchen. Isabella greeted me with an impatient chirp and looked pointedly at her empty food bowl. Her imperious gaze followed me through the dark kitchen as I groped for the light switch and stumbled towards the coffee machine. Together, we watched as the first promising drops of brew began to plink into the glass receptacle. Isabella sat down on the floor in front of me, her wand of a tail waving back and forth, while I siphoned off the first precious ounces of the dark, steaming liquid. Coffee in hand, I dribbled a cup of dry cat food into the small white bowls on the floor underneath the kitchen table.
Upstairs, heavy feet padded towards the litter box, creaking the floorboards above my head. Seconds later, the unmistakable sounds of spastic, frenzied digging shook the ceiling, snowing the kitchen table with a light covering of dust. Isabella and I listened as the litter box—a shiny, red contraption complete with a covered hood—began to rock to a lively mambo beat. Thousands of sandy particles pattered against its plastic walls as the commotion above us increased in intensity.
I ran a caffeine-coated tongue over my top lip, waiting for the inevitable culmination of the boisterous goings-on inside the bouncing red igloo. Isabella trilled expectantly as a violent eruption launched the energetic digger out of the litter box and propelled him down the stairs. His fluffy, white blur careened around the corner and skidded through the entrance to the kitchen. He was covered from head to toe with a fine dusting of cat litter.
I greeted him casually. “Good morning, Rupert.”
He blinked innocently up at me, grains of litter scattering from his furry eyebrows to the kitchen floor.
As a species, cats are generally known for their cleanliness. For Rupert, however, that objective couldn’t quite compete with his love of litter box dancing. Despite his best efforts to remove it, stray pieces of litter clung to his white coat like persistent black fleas.
I had put this off as long as possible. A rank, unpleasant odor had begun to follow him around. It was time to give him a bath.
Biting down on my bottom lip, I strolled over to the sink and pulled out a couple of worn beach towels from a nearby drawer.
“Nothing special going on here,” I said breezily, discreetly reaching my hand up to the shelf that held the cat shampoo.
My fingers flailed about in an unexpected vacuum. I risked an obvious glance to the empty shelf, and then down to the smug, satisfied cat sitting on the kitchen floor, munching on his breakfast. He paused, sensing my stare, and beamed triumphantly up at me.
Twenty minutes later, I finally found the shampoo bottle—shoved into a crevice between the refrigerator and the wall, alongside several toy mice and a bouncing ball. Rupert monitored my search from a series of defensive positions in the hallway, under the table, and behind the kitchen curtains. He crept commando style through the kitchen, sliding across the floor on his furry, round belly, eying me warily as I gripped the bottle around its neck and tapped it on the palm of my hand.