Authors: Wendelin Van Draanen
Anyway, she says, “Don't be a stranger, girlfriend. Stop by and see me sometime.” And she's hurrying off, tippy-tap-tapping her way down to Main Street in her spiky high heels, when all of a sudden she turns and says, “You're an Aries, aren't you?”
For a second I just stare, but finally I nod and shrug like, Yeah, so what?
She tippy-tap-taps back to me, then tilts my chin up and looks deep into my eyes. “And you have a birthday coming up real soon, don't you?”
I break free of her and shrug again, saying, “Yeah. Tomorrow,” as I toe at microscopic rocks with my high-top.
“Tomorrow! Well, hey. I know you think it's bogus, but you ought to let me do your birth chart. I promised it to you way back in what? September? Let me give it to you for your birthday. All I need is a birth certificate.”
She laughs. “You got one of those, right? Everybody's got one of those.”
I shake my head. “Well, actually, no.”
does, right? She's got to. So get it from her. Then come in and see me.” She starts walking down the street, calling, “It'll be fun!”
So I head up to the Pup Parlor, trying to shake off the thought of my birthday. And when I jingle through the door, I call out “Hi, Vera. Hi, Meg!” to Holly's guardians. “Is Holly around?”
Meg was combing out a cairn terrier, and Vera was busy soaping down a golden retriever. Both of them said, “Sammy!” and then Vera added, “Holly's out back, dumping the trash.”
“Probably peeking in on that carnival next door,” Meg said.
Vera blasted on the water sprayer, calling, “Go on back and see!”
I went through the grooming room, turned left at the register, and made my way past pet carriers and stacks of towels to the back door. And sure enough, there was Holly, crouched behind the bumper of a long white van, peeking in Slammin' Dave's back door, a big plastic garbage bag at her side.
“Hey!” I whispered when I got up close.
She jumped a little, then laughed. “You should never have gotten me started on this.”
I laughed, too. “I know. But how can you
There were guys pumping iron over to one side and bodies smacking onto mats on another. The guy with the cat hood was there, talking to a man wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. Slammin' Dave was coaching two wrestlers in the ring. One had a good-sized gut hanging over tight black wrestling shorts. The other guy was in skimpy red shorts and had the biggest outie I'd ever seen. I swear, it looked like a little fleshy toilet plunger, without the stick. Both of them were wearing tall black wrestling shoes, knee pads, and elbow pads.
“That's Ronnie Reaper in black and The Blitz in red,” Holly whispered.
Ronnie Reaper dragged The Blitz along, spun him around, then lifted him up and dropped him so The Blitz's stomach squashed across his knee.
Holly cringed, “Oowww,” as The Blitz collapsed onto the mat.
Slammin' Dave pulled Ronnie Reaper back, and when The Blitz straightened up, I was sure his outie would have been plunged to an innie, but there it was, poking way out.
I whispered, “I always thought pro wrestling was so bogus, but man, they are really hurting each other.”
Holly nodded. “Meg and Vera call it a carnival—which it kind of is—but they won't even give it a chance.”
Just then Slammin' Dave comes charging toward us, saying, “How many times do I have to tell you? This is not a peep show!”
“Hey!” I call as he's shutting the door in our faces. “I'm thinking about signing up!”
He hesitates, and looks me over. “You?”
“Yeah!” I flex a biceps at him. “I've got potential, don't you think?”
“C'mon!” I flex a little harder and turn from side to side like a body builder. “I may be scrawny, but I'm tough. And Holly here's a real gymnast. She does flips and stuff like you wouldn't believe.”
Holly looks at me like, I do? but Dave doesn't seem to notice. Instead, he stops scowling and actually opens the door a little wider.
“Besides,” I tell him, “everyone's always saying how bogus pro wrestling is, but I tell them you're for real.”
Now he's grinning. “You do, huh?”
“Yeah! So come on. Don't close the door.”
All of a sudden the guy in the cat mask is standing behind him. “We're ready,” he says to Slammin' Dave. His voice is low and raspy, which is kind of creepy right there. But then he looks at me, and I about freak. He's got
eyes—yellowish gold with long black pupils. And I know he's just wearing a pair of those wacky contact lenses you can buy for parties and stuff, but the whole package of him in his cat hood and those eyes is giving me chills.
“Well,” Slammin' Dave says to us. “We do need the ventilation, so as long as you're interested in the sport, and not just gawking…”
“We'll be cool,” I tell him. “And don't worry, we won't put up bleachers or anything.”
He laughs and wags a finger at me. “Start pumping some iron—someday we'll put that spunk of yours to good use.” Then he props the door all the way open and heads back inside.
The cat guy, though, doesn't follow him right away. He waits until Dave's out of earshot, then steps toward me and whispers, “Go away!”
“Dave said we could stay.”
He glances over his shoulder, then says between his teeth, “Curiosity kills the cat, so scat!”
Now, I'm not big on being bossed around. Especially not by potbellied cat dudes. So I lean forward a little and—just because it seems like a good way to get my point across to this guy—I bare my teeth and let out a low, doggy growl.
He doesn't say a word. He just squints his cat eyes at me, then follows Slammin' Dave back to the ring.
“Wow,” Holly whispers. “That guy's got issues.”
Anyway, we keep watching for a little while, and we get totally into the way The Blitz and Ronnie Reaper are going at it in the ring. Holly and I even try a couple of moves that they're practicing on each other. One's a block, and the other's this slick twisteroo-hammer-hold-make-'em-bite-the-mat move. It takes us a couple of tries to get that one, but when we do, Holly and I both go, “Oh, that's cool! Let me try it again.”
So we're in the middle of twisting each other around when the guy in the white T-shirt and jeans comes out with some trash.
He sees Holly and says, “Hey, chiquita. What's shakin'?”
“Hey, Tony,” she says back. “We're just watching.” “Looks like you girls are preppin' for the big leagues.” Holly and I both kind of blush, but he doesn't make a big deal out of it. He throws the trash bags into Slammin' Dave's bin and says, “So when you gonna get your old ladies to hire me? I'm quick. I'm cheap. Lots of people around here use me.” He takes her trash sack and flings it on top of his heap. “Let Tornado Tony do your work— you girls should be at the mall.”
Holly laughs. “Thanks, but we do fine on our own.” “Don't you even want to know my rates?” Holly shakes her head. “It's never gonna happen, Tony.”
“Hey, I don't believe in never, so expect me to keep trying.” Then he nods and says, “Cha-cha, girls,” and goes back inside.
Holly eyes Slammin' Dave's trash bin, which is now overflowing. “I'd better not leave that there,” she says, more to herself than to me. “Vera'd have a fit.”
I follow her over to the Pup Parlor trash bin, asking, “So, do you think you'll have any time to cruise around today?”
“Maybe.” Her trash-bin lid won't stay propped open, so I hold it up while she hefts the sack. And she's in the middle of swinging it into the bin when all of a sudden she stops and moves some papers aside. Then she gasps. It's a weird gasp, too. With a little squeak to it. So I look inside the trash bin to see what she's so wideeyed
and gaspy about, and in a heartbeat
eyes are popping and
let out a little squeak, too.
And in my gut I just know.
We've found Snowball.
It was the ugliest dead thing I'd ever seen. The top lip was curled back in a sneer. The eyes were glazed open, and the fur was matted and gooey-looking. This cat looked like it had been slimed by a giant snail, then tossed off the Empire State Building.
“Ohhhh,” Holly says. “Poor
“Tell me that's not a Zodiac collar on him,” I whisper.
Holly looks at me with disgust. “The poor thing's dead and you're worried about fleas?”
“No! It's just that…” I reach in and check the collar. “Rats!”
“Sammy, what's with you?”
So I give her a quick rundown of my morning with Hudson and the Kitty Queen, and when I'm all done, she looks back at the cat and says, “And you think
“Green eyes, fluffy black fur—well, before it got wet anyway—and a Zodiac collar.”
“But… what happened to him? And how'd he get in
We look around. With a big vacant lot straight ahead and Wesler Street to the right, the back side of the Pup Parlor was wide open.
“Anyone could've dumped him here,” Holly whispers.
“Yeah,” I said. And for some reason it seemed kind of spooky. Like if someone could dump a cat, they could also dump, you know, a body.
“So what do you want to do?” Holly asks.
I thought about it a minute. “I guess I should find out if it really is Snowball.”
“You want to go get that cat lady?”
I shook my head. “Believe me, you don't want her coming here. She
Holly hesitates, then asks, “So you're thinking about taking it
“It's probably the easiest thing to do.” I shrug. “Wanna come?”
She shrugs back. “Sure. You want me to get a Hefty bag or something?”
“Yeah. And some rubber gloves.”
Of course, the minute Meg and Vera find out what's going on, they've got to check out the cat and talk about everything
just talked about. But we finally get the cat in a Hefty sack and head out.
The cool thing about Holly is, she's tough. Well, except when it comes to animals, then she's like butter. But stuff like being too cold, or bugs, or scrapes and bruises, she doesn't let faze her. She also has her own skateboard, so we made good time carrying the Ugliest Dead Thing Ever across town.
When I turned onto Cypress Street, Holly asked, “Are you stopping in at Hudson's?”
“Good idea!” I called back. “We could use reinforcements!”
“You're not really afraid of her, are you?”
“Afraid? No. But she's strange, Holly. You'll see what I mean.”
Hudson didn't answer his door, though. Then I remembered he was going to develop pictures, so I went around back and knocked on his darkroom door.
So I pulled up the garage door and peeked inside.
His car was gone.
“You want to wait for him?” Holly asked.
“Nah.” I shifted the Ugliest Dead Thing Ever under my other arm. “Let's go.”
So we took off again, and when we got to the orange adobe house, I said, “This is it.”
The grass was dry and patchy, and the shrubs had long branches shooting out everywhere. Like Pippi Long-stocking hair, only green.
And of course, there were cats. I noticed three right away, but as we made our way up the walkway, more cats appeared. From under bushes, from around the house, from under the porch, they were all coming toward us,
“Wow,” Holly said, picking up her board. “This
Then I heard the Kitty Queen's voice calling, “What do
want?” from behind the screen door.
“Uh… I think we found Snowball,” I called back.
The screen door whipped open and Kitty pounced onto the porch. “What? Where?” she demanded. A sleek white cat and a calico followed her out of the house, and behind them came a string of kittens.
cats came down a walkway on the left side of the house. I held the Hefty sack out. “I… I'm not positive, but… but it fits the description.” I put down the bag and started backing up.
The Kitty Queen came down the porch steps, squinting at us. “Are you telling me Snowball's in that