Authors: Wendelin Van Draanen
“Slammin' Dave's is not a
, Hudson, it's a
I almost added that having wrestling dudes across the street from where I lived was a whole lot safer than having a bookstore, seeing how the guy who used to own Bargain Books got hauled off to jail for theft, attempted murder, and arson, but I didn't. I just said, “And Slammin' Dave takes his
Hudson grinned. “Can I deduce from your apparent knowledge base that you've been spying on him?”
“I wouldn't call it
,“ I said through a mouthful of cake. “Just, you know, watching.”
“No! You can't see anything from the apartment. I just go down to the school and look.”
“Doesn't that place have heavy black curtains covering the windows?”
He grinned at me. “So they let you just stand in the doorway and watch?”
“Hudson, quit it!”
He laughed. “I just want you to be able to admit it, that's all.”
“All right, all right,” I grumbled, scraping up cake crumbs with the back of my fork. “I've been snooping, okay? You happy?”
“Through cracks in the curtains?”
“Yeah,” I muttered. “Or the back door. They prop it open for ventilation.”
“Mm-hmm,” he said.
“There's nothing illegal about it, it's just interesting.”
“Interesting? How so?”
“Well, you've got all these beefy guys in these totally cheesy wrestling suits doing flips and body slams and rope dives. It's like they're catapulting cattle in there.”
“And you find catapulting cattle interesting?”
I laughed. “Well, yeah.” I leaned toward him and said, “There's this one guy who started showing up last week. He wears an orange-and-black-striped caveman suit and a hooded
mask. It covers his whole face. His whole
I mean, once in a while some of the guys will wrestle in full-on costumes, but this guy wears his mask all the time. He shows up in it, he wrestles in it… he never takes it off.”
“So does he sleep with it on? Does he eat with it on? Does he take a shower in the thing?” I leaned back. “What
he do in his mask, that's what I want to know.”
Hudson laughed, then said, “Sammy, it's just part of his character.”
“You know, pro wrestlers create personas—the character they play in the ring. Like Mark Calloway was The Undertaker, Robert Remus was Sergeant Slaughter, Terry Bollea was Hulk Hogan—”
“Wait a minute! How do you know these guys' real names?”
He shrugged. “I've been around for seventy-two years. I'm bound to have picked up a thing or two.”
Now, when he said that, it hit me that Hudson had been seventy-two for a really long time. So I was about to ask him, “When's
birthday?” only just then something catches my eye. Something
off to my left. Behind some bushes. Along the far side of Hudson's porch. So instead I whisper, “What was that?”
“What was what?” Hudson whispers back.
I stand up and tiptoe the length of Hudson's porch. And when I sneak a step down the side stairs and peek around the bushes, I choke out, “Aaarrh!” and jump back. Right on the other side of Hudson's bushes is one of the scariest sights I've ever seen.
A super-sized, batty-eyed Barbie.
She isn't exactly a
, though. She's more like a Barbie gone to seed. She's middle-aged, with super-bleached hair
and a mountain of makeup—thick black eyeliner that curves way up at the corners, three-inch fake eyelashes, sparkly gold eye shadow, and pink lipstick. She's wearing a halter top that matches her lips, high heels, and jeans that are so tight they look shrink-wrapped on. And as if that's not enough of a fashion statement right there, on the top of her head is a tiara.
she snaps, and her voice sounds really… snotty.
?” I ask. “Who are
Hudson steps around me, saying, “Katherine Brown? Why, to what do we owe this pleasure?”
“Don't play nicey-nice with me, Hudson Graham. And it's no longer Brown. Or Truesdale or Stewart. It's just Kitty.
Hudson is such a gentleman. In a heartbeat he says, “Well then, Miss Kitty… to what do we owe this pleasure?”
don't play nicey-nice. You know exactly why I'm here!” Her gaze shifts from Hudson to me, and back again. “You're harboring a criminal, and I intend to do something about it!”
My life flashed before my eyes: My suspensions. My detentions. My breaking-and-enterings. My run-ins with Officer Borsch. My illegal living situation at the seniors-only apartment complex.
I'd never seen this woman before in my life.
How did she know?
But Hudson says, “A criminal? What on earth are you talking about?” He motions over the back gate to his
rental unit. “There's not even anyone living back there at the moment.”
“I'm not talking about your renter,” she says, all huffy-like. “I'm talking about that vicious
Hudson's eyebrows reach for the sky. “Rommel?”
“I hear him howling at night! Do you think I don't know he's roaming the streets, thirsting for blood? This is the third of my kitties that's disappeared in two weeks, and I intend to get to the bottom of it!”
“If your beast got ahold of Snowball, I'll sue you, you hear me, Mr. Graham? I'll have your heinie in court so fast you won't know what bit you!”
Hudson and I look at each other, and although Hudson manages to keep things under control, I can't help it—the thought of Rommel taking on a cat just busts me up.
“You think this is funny?” she says, stepping toward me. “All you dog people are alike. You look down your noses at cats, but you think it's A-okay to let your monsters jump up on people and sniff in their privates and do their business in their yards—”
“Hey!” I said. “I've
a cat. I just happen to know that there's no way Hudson's dog attacked
“Oh, is that so?” she says, locking eyes with me. “Well, excuse me if I don't believe you.”
Hudson says, “Miss Kitty…,” but I'm not about to let her get away with how she's acting. “Watch who you call a liar, lady.”
She didn't reply, and she didn't respond to Hudson,
either. She just kept staring me down through those ridiculous eyelashes.
“Miss Kitty?” Hudson tried again.
“Is this sassy brat a relative of yours?” she asks without taking her eyes off me.
a brat,” I tell her, still staring her down.
Hudson says, “Kitty—”
“Miss Kitty, please listen to me. Rommel couldn't possibly have attacked your cat. He's old and arthritic.”
,“ she says. Like she's hacking up a fur ball. “It doesn't matter how old they get, a dog's got it in for a cat.”
Wow. This woman could stare. My eyes were watering, but no way was I going to blink.
“Miss Kitty!” Hudson says. “If you would please just follow me, I have something to show you.” He backhands me softly and says, “Quit it, will you?” under his breath.
So, okay. For Hudson I let her win the stare-down. Then I turn away and blink a gazillion times to clear my eyes before following along into the house.
Hudson leads Miss Kitty over to a corner of the kitchen, where Rommel's sleeping in a little wicker bed on the floor. “There he is,” he says, “my bloodthirsty beast.”
A wiener dog is not real ferocious-looking to begin with, but at this stage in his life, Rommel's got more sausage than spice, if you know what I mean. It's a wonder he can walk anywhere at all. Especially without scraping bottom.
She frowns. “That can't be him.”
“It's the only dog I've got,” Hudson says, putting a piece of mega-maple cake onto a plate. “How long has your cat—you said her name was Snowball, right?”
name,” she snaps, sort of circling Rommel's bed. She was dying to poke him to see if he'd spring into action, you could just tell.
“Ah. Well, how long has Snowball been missing?”
“Since yesterday.” She nudges the wicker bed with her shoe. Rommel doesn't budge, so she mutters, “He's playing possum.”
“No, he's just old,” Hudson says, laying a fork on the plate alongside the cake. “He's thirteen.”
“Thirteen? Really?” I ask.
“That's not so old for a dog,” ol' Bleachy Brain says. “Especially not a beagle.”
“You mean dachshund,” Hudson says.
“Same difference,” she mutters, frowning at Rommel.
Hudson hands her the slice of cake. “So if a cat happens by, how will we know it's Snowball?”
Her face pinches at the sight of the cake. Like she thinks Hudson's trying to poison her. She waves off the offer and says, “He's black.”
I choke out. “Why'd you name him Snowball if he's black?”
“Because he's mine and I could.” She turns to Hudson. “Snowball's fluffy, with green eyes and a long, bushy tail.”
“Does he have a collar? Tags?” Hudson asks.
“Just a Zodiac.”
“A flea collar,” I whisper.
“Oh,” Hudson says.
“Not that he
any of those nasty beasts,” she says. “But since there are flea-ridden
in this neighborhood, you can't be too careful.” She scribbles her phone number on a napkin and says, “Call me if you see him.” And just like that she clomps out of the house. No, Sorry I accused your dog of mauling my cat. No, Thank you for listening. No nothing.
“Wow,” I whispered when she was gone. “She's something.” Then I asked, “And what's with the tiara?”
Hudson shrugged. “She was once rodeo queen.”
“Her? When? A hundred years ago?”
He pinned her phone number to a small bulletin board by the table. “Don't be cruel, Sammy.”
“Cruel? I'm not trying to be cruel. But she must be,
Are you saying she's still wearing the crown she won when she was a teenager?”
Hudson nodded. “That's what I've heard.”
“Hudson, that's crazy. Why would anybody want to go around wearing—”
“Because she's trying to hold on to the past, Sammy.” He sighed and shook his head. “I can only feel sorry for her.”
for her? Why?”
“Because it's pretty obvious that the high point of her life was that crowning moment at seventeen or eighteen. You can't relive your glory days—and there's no living new ones if you're a prisoner of the past.”
I thought about that a minute, then said, “So why haven't I ever seen her before?” I laughed and added, “Believe me, I'd have noticed!”
“It's been a good five years since
seen her. She lives in that orange adobe place down the street.”
My eyes bugged out. “
place? Every time I go by, there are cats everywhere. On the fences, on the porch, in the yard… that place is just creepin' with cats!”
“Very well put,” he laughed.
“And she wants to be called
I shook my head. “I think she's more like
Hudson gave a little nod. “She's definitely someone who could use a little help.”
And that, I thought, was the end of that.
After the Kitty Queen left, Hudson invited me to watch him develop some pictures in his darkroom. Now, if it had been a school day, I might have gone. But it was Saturday, and it was beautiful outside. Flowers were blooming, birds were chirping, there were little puffer-belly clouds all across the sky. And the air smelled sweet—like pine resin and honeysuckle and… sawdust. I love the smell of sawdust. Don't ask me why, I just do.
Anyway, the point is, I didn't feel like being cooped up in a dark little room with stinky developer and a bare red safety bulb. I wanted to go
something. And normally I would have ridden over to Marissa's house, only Marissa had been kidnapped by her parents for a weekend of “family love and reacquaintance” in Las Vegas, of all places.
So instead I headed over to the Pup Parlor to see if I could get my friend Holly to break away from her chores. But as I was cruising up Broadway, clicking along the sidewalk past the Heavenly Hotel, this lady I know named Gina—or Madame Nashira, as she's called by her clients—steps out of the lobby.
“Sammy,” she sings. “How
“Great,” I tell her. “How about you?” I size up all her scarves and bracelets and her mountain of shellacked hair. “You going to work?”
“Yup,” she says. “The House of Astrology awaits.” She grins and adds, “Got a birth chart to finish—some classy lady's paying me double to do a rush job.”
“Cool,” I tell her, ‘cause even though I don't believe in all that stuff, Gina makes it seem interesting. I mean, listening to her talk about the twelve houses of the zodiac, and conversions into sidereal time, and all the other stuff she jabbers on about when she's telling you what she does as a fortune-teller, well, it almost makes you believe that she really is a star scientist.