Tara Bani sent Taras Peter and Squeak a very private mind-speak communique just before the Cat Mobile that was packed with boys and Kermit the Trenton jet transporting Peter and Freckles, met at Newark's Liberty International Airport. Freckles and Peter were rushing back to New Jersey and Spot, Freckles' twin was in the Cat Mobile to meet them. The problem Bani foresaw and was concerned about was the siblings' reunion. Bani suggested that the brothers meet INSIDE the Trenton hanger, as far away from any prying eyes as possible because of the inevitable two Great Cat family reunion in the form of an epic rough and tumble. He further suggested that any of the white warriors who didn't wish to become involved should stay in their respective vehicles until the Cats were done.
Peter and Squeak agreed, but then Squeak made the announcement in the bus with his eyes twinkling, by saying that if anyone was 'chicken', his exact word, they should definitely stay aboard the bus. Bani rolled his eyes; he knew that none of the guys, perhaps including their guards, could refuse the obvious challenge.
"Well, if any of you are wearing any cloth coverings you wish to save," Bani warned the guys, "you should take it off now."
Surprisingly, Doug, Buck, Bani himself, David, Noah, Kad and Sidi began to strip. When they got down to their underwear, the others realized enviously that they were wearing their new Ancient golden suits of body armor, it was the underwear that they didn't want damaged so they took it off and redressed. There were instant pleas to Spot to provide everyone including Squeak; with the same protection although Squeak, the little clothes horse, thought the Ancient armor was pretty.
Squeak had David actually drive the bus from the security gate, once inside the airport; to inside the hanger while Spot sat at the top step that led down to the door and Squeak had one arm wrapped around one of the Great Cat's front legs. David didn't want to think about who was going to drive when both Great Cats were onboard together or which was to occupy the sofa. He hoped Bani would forbid another rough and tumble in the confined space as the sibling Cats fought for 'driving sofa' supremacy and the steering wheel.
Tracy opened Kermit's hatch and Squeak managed to do the honors for Spot on the Cat Mobile. Then he shook a little finger up at Spot as a silent reminder or warning while Peter did the same to Freckles just before he exited Kermit. The Great Cats ran at each other, but just before they collided, they managed to skid to a stop, to sit and begin a war of tongues to see which of them would groom the other's face first although their tails twitched violently and their fur covered hides rippled with bursts of suppressed energy.
Bani and Squeak followed Spot while blue tinted Peter, wearing just his shorts and shirt, followed Freckles. Peter picked up Squeak for a brief, formal first time greeting as Bani introduced the two newest Taras verbally. That was the time that the twin Great Cats took all three Taras down to the concrete floor to begin roughing and tumbling them as if they were Cat toys. The Taras protested verbally between bursts of laughter as they fought back with their hands and feet uselessly. It seemed that being extremely ticklish was a minor prerequisite to becoming a Tara.
Back on the bus, Kad and Sidi, the remaining Cat warriors allied themselves with the human troops led by Doug and Charlie. Their united intention was to take down the unsuspecting Great Cats and perhaps actually win a rough and tumble for the first time. Of course they hadn't considered the numbers. They had never won a united bout against a singular Cat; they had no hope at all of beating two.
The rough and tumble was concluded within 10 minutes. The Great Cats won without the advantage of thumbs and proved in passing that human cloth coverings could not hold up to the rigors of roughing and tumbling for any great length of time or even 10 minutes by human standards.
During the bout, Freckles perfected his newly discovered cloth covering disabling measures as he taught them to Spot. Buttons popped open or off, zippers failed and snaps unsnapped permanently. No boy or warrior of any age could hope to prevail with their pants around their ankles or removed completely, while pulled up shirts blinded eyes and sleeves could be made into temporary handcuffs with the flick of a tail or barely extended claw.
The one sided battle ended when most of the protagonists who made the mistake of wearing clothing, literally ran out of their wardrobes in defeat as they struggled to get back into the bus with a modicum of dignity or a few scraps of cloth. No one noticed that Squeak left the melee early when Spot, thinking ahead, sent him to claim and secure the driving sofa for him just before he suggested a race to the bus to his brother Freckles. The first to the sofa got to drive; who sat in the actual driver's seat didn't matter.
Freckles allowed Spot to take a first step before his tail lashed out, grabbed Spot's hind leg and pulled himself ahead. The race ended when Freckles got to the entry steps, effectively blocking the door. He used his tail again to boom Squeak off the sofa and neatly placed the boy on his shoulders so Squeak could rest his head on Freckles'. Freckles already agreed to share driving responsibilities with Tara Squeak, so he was happy to keep his place and job of driving; so much for loyalty.
Peter had no competition for the driver's seat. He was more intent on picking up the missing semitrailer's trail and the treasure at the docks although he still was unsure how he was going to accomplish that feat just like he didn't know how he could see the gold deposit or know about the cache of rubies or…
The bus hadn't gone 50 feet inside the hanger before he manually stood on the brakes and the bus rocked to a stop. He was out the door in a flash and running back toward Kermit while naked, blue tinged Tracy was running toward him encumbered with a large reed basket equipped with lids and handles, in each hand.
"Hurry up and get these on the bus," Tracy commanded, "Oscar already called Customs for an inspection; they could be here any time."
"Where did you hide the cuttings?" Peter asked Tracy from over his shoulder. He was already running back toward the bus with the baskets.
Tracy giggled, "I put them in the fridge; don't worry, they won't be noticed; they look like alfalfa sprouts," he assured Peter.
Peter nodded. "After you clear customs ask Oscar to fly out to the new airport. My truck is parked there; use that to get the sprouts to Trenton Hall and in their green house. I'll see you later!"
Peter was about to carry the baskets into the bus, when he thought of a better, safer place. He willed the closest storage bay under the bus to open and placed the baskets there.
"The human part of you is so forgetful," Freckles chided Peter after he resumed the driver's seat.
"And Great Cats are no help at all," Peter chided back. He suddenly felt or sensed a Cat warrior or Spot touch his mind and he quickly snapped blocks in place. He knew it wasn't Freckles because he knew energy fruit filled the baskets and the cuttings were to become energy fruit bushes after they rooted, if they could be rooted and live in this cold inhospitable place even in a greenhouse without realizing that the pyramid was a greenhouse.
"What is a greenhouse?" Bani asked innocently, revealing that he was guilty of touching Peter's mind in his quest for more information than he heard of Peter's conversation with Tracy. The Great Cats and Cat warriors heard every word of his brief conversation with Tracy and they were snoops.
"It's the big bunch of glass huts near the drive," Buck explained and when he saw frowns, he elaborated, "My mother grows flowers, and plants for the house, you know, the ostentatious hut we live in. In the spring they grow all the little flowering plants that are set outside for the warm summer months."
"When can we expect to experience these warm summer months?" Kad wondered sarcastically.
"After a very great length of time that grows longer every time you bitch," Doug warned him once again. The guys, who owned a set, donned their Ancient armor while the others smoothed on Stuff since the bus was unlikely to stop anywhere where they could buy clothes. More importantly, they couldn't stop for food either.
Squeak drove unerringly to the Port of New York container shipping facility and was about to turn into the wide access road when Peter grabbed at the steering wheel after looking down that road and then up the highway they were already on. "The treasure was in that mess of containers somewhere, but now it's on this highway again going that way – I think recently."
"Tara Peter drives from now until we recover our treasure," the Great Cat brothers announced together so Squeak would relinquish control to Tara Peter the Finder. Everyone onboard started to ask David the same question in different ways; "How do you do what you do to be named an Ancient Tara?"
David got tired of saying, he didn't know any more than the Great Cats. Freckles changed the topic of conversation at the mention of Cats. He said to Peter; "Tell everyone about your Great Cat friends."
Peter frowned at the side of Freckles head that was resting on his shoulder, "Damn it Freckles, you promised you wouldn't go there," he accused.
"You said Cat friends, plural, how many do you have?" Bani was amazed. He was still amazed that somehow Freckles was his Cat friend, and he still didn't understand the mechanics of choice; who chose or adopted who to be interspecies friends.
Peter sighed although he kept his eyes on the busy eight lane highway they were following north, out of the City. "Did you see me getting molested by five kittens when the Great Cats gathered to meet and greet me?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Well those five kittens are two sets of twins and one single guy who seems to be the group's leader. Each of them individually somehow got the notion in their heads that he was my Cat friend, and they were going to fight each other to the death so the victor would become my friend with no further competition. So…"
"So to keep them from fighting…," Bani guessed, he was already giggling and had no need to complete his thought.
"Exactly," Peter confirmed, "I now have five Great Cat friends. Fortunately for me, they're too young to travel for at least another year or until they're taught what they need to know about being useful Great Cats; Ancient history and about Great Cat abilities. Angus just gave them their communicators and now they all talk at once, so that's the first lesson; just holding a conversation with Cat people and humans."
Peter looked up at the sky and suggested that Snoopy should be sent ahead to definitely identify the semi so the distinctive bus could stay way back out of sight. Freckles blinked and the big flat screen TV that was built into the ceiling lowered and the small backup screen in the dashboard came to life so everyone could watch Snoopy's progress as he zoomed down on individual trucks so Peter could identify the one that was loaded with the treasure.
Spot and Squeak had Snoopy looking for shipping containers that were mounted on flat trailers that were specifically designed to transport them and barely glanced at trailers built with fixed permanent boxes. The Cat Mobile was 10 miles behind where Snoopy was snooping and had just checked out a ship container that was passing a new bright red more common tractor-trailer, when Peter suddenly sat up and pointed. "That's the one we want!" He announced excitedly.
Since Freckles was better friends than Spot was with Snoopy, he sent Snoopy into the trailer to explore the contents. Peter was correct; everything that had been delivered to Penguin so far, that and a whole lot more that had been on display that was owned by others and about to be auctioned was in that trailer. Strangely to the warriors and Cats, all the pieces were loose and appeared to be floating, buried in snow so nothing was touching and the trailer box was half full of snow.
Charlie rolled his eyes before he explained in his own way. "You goofy motherfuckers; you've lived with humans long enough to tell the difference between snow and Styrofoam peanuts some people still use as packing.
Kad and Sidi looked blank. "What is Styrofoam?" Asked Sidi.
"What are peanuts?" Kad demanded and went a step further, "And if you insist on calling us motherfuckers we will take offense. That is a rough and tumble you will not win and it will take you a great length of time to recover from before you are able to fuck anyone," he warned.
Sidi explained the truth as he saw it; "We are father fuckers, cousin fuckers and friend fuckers, but mothers are completely safe although they will never know what they are missing," he informed Charlie imperiously.
"All three helicopters packed with guys AND Mom and Dad are on the way to take turns shadowing that truck as soon as they get up here," Buck reported. He added surprising information that Will discovered from his intensive Internet search. Evan's and Anton's highly regarded and long trusted German buyer, the suspected thief, bought a large property in Maine, right on the Penobscot Bay and the deed was in Evan's name.
"Is it possible the asshole stole all that junk to keep for himself, and that's where that truck is headed right now; to Evan's house in Maine, that he didn't know he owns?"
Peter agreed, "Maybe they drove the junk to the docks to hide it in plain sight. They had to assume that the cops would be called as soon as the next guard shift came on duty if not before. They couldn't know that Bucky and his, um, contacts work faster without the cops nosing around. Now since there's nothing at all on the morning news; it's safe to travel again."
No one could think of or suggest an alternative explanation, so, since they'd identified the truck and its most likely destination; Freckles sent Snoopy for a look see, also called 'casing the joint' in Maine. The joint resolved into a large stone house that was sighted on a fenced off peninsula so it would have a commanding view of the bay. The house was built by a wealthy family as a summer vacation retreat sometime early in the last century and in 21st century dollars it would cost many millions to replace.
Most noticeable was an addition attached to the back of the house that was at least twice the size of Paul Wilcott's field house. The wing had a pitched roof that was dotted with skylights, a solar display and stone walls that matched the original house but there was not a single window, and considering the view, that was more than somewhat strange – and suspicious.
"That son-of-a-bitch built a personal museum with Falconburg money!" Evan raged. "If that building is furnished with stuff he stole from Grandfather and me, I'm taking him on a fishing trip that will be the last thing he remembers."
"Not so fast," Bani countered, "that evil fiend and his minions stole treasure from us, so we have priority. These Great Cats will play a white warrior game with this fiend called tug-of-war, and then you can take what is left to fish."
"But he's been stealing from us for years," Evan protested, "so I have first dibs on his ass."
"I already said you can have his ass as soon as we finish with him!"
The argument over which of them would dispatch the fiend continued as the bus was overflown by all three helicopters on their way to shadow the truck. The choppers were planning to leap frog between local airports as they needed to land to refuel. They knew about the truck but the truck driver didn't know them, so they would pass the truck and drive straight to the fiend's (or Evan's) house as fast as they could go, Squeak promised. If the fiend was there, he would be caught and they all would wait for the truckload of treasure. If he wasn't in residence, they would still wait for the truck and the evil fiend. Peter didn't think he could resist enjoying the latest fabulous acquisitions to his collection that actually cost the villain nothing since he stole and sold Evan's new Castle Falconburg kitchen to finance the subsequent Penguin theft.
Squeak pointed up at the big TV, "Look at what Snoopy has found in that big hut!" Snoopy began to scan the newer building without instructions, just as Freckles taught him.
What looked like a one story warehouse from the outside was actually a two story, magnificently decorated, windowless home on the inside with a full basement. While Snoopy couldn't 'see' the flat artwork hanging on the walls, he could see the tops of frames and he definitely could see sculptures and rooms decorated with period furniture that was sitting on nearly priceless Persian carpets.
"Get up here Evan," Peter called out, "We're about to pass the truck, see if you recognize the driver."
When the bus came abreast of the trucks' cab, Peter paced it as long as he dared but Evan didn't recognize the driver, however he wouldn't forget the face. The driver was added to the fishing tournament's guest list while the individual warriors had already counted him as a valid 'kill'; of course the actual claimant was yet to be decided.
Peter looked at his watch and yawned as he looked up at the interior view mirror to see Edvard staring back and grinning. A private mind-speak later, Peter said, "You can drive now Squeak." He stood and pulled off his tattered tee shirt and added, "We've got about four more hours on the road, so Edvard and I are going to rest for a while." That was such a good suggestion; everyone manufactured a yawn and once again stripped off their clothes if they still had any to wear. Of course the queen-size bed couldn't accommodate everyone, just the guys that got to it after Peter and Edvard. The rest had to 'make do' on the sofas, lounges and the carpet. Freckles assumed responsibility for the bedroom and Spot took charge of the recreational activities in the lounge area.
It was then that Squeak realized that he'd been tricked so he grabbed a sofa seat cushion and a pillow and stacked them on the driver's seat before he scrambled up to his command position wearing someone's cap and someone else's sunglasses. Everyone knew when he experimented with the steering wheel because the bus tended to tip and lurch wildly.
Once Evan, Buck and Doug got comfortable on the bed with Peter and Edvard, Peter quietly rooted into his cargo shorts pockets to display a number of small yellow fruits. He shared them out while Freckles watched and waited the brief time until the energy fruit took effect. The next four hours for the boys on the bed, seemed to fly by as they attempted to wear out their couplers with Freckles' expert assistance.
"We are almost there," Squeak announced from between Doug's legs, not from the driver's seat.
Doug lifted his head to see that Squeak had resumed his ministrations. "Hey Squeak, thanks, but why aren't you driving? We're going to get caught," he warned and added, "Hopefully, that would be after you finish," he said with a moan.
Squeak resorted to mind-speak. "We are on a two lane road with nothing but trees to see that Snoopy is driving. He is almost as good as this warrior at driving," he promised. The bus lurched violently as soon as Squeak said 'almost'. Squeak pulled away from Doug, he looked up at the ceiling, "I am sorry," he apologized to Snoopy, "I meant just as good," and went back to work while Freckles studied the ceiling almost innocently and Doug winked at Freckles.
Everyone had congregated in the front of the bus by the time it did stop finally only there was nothing to see but trees, natural rock formations and half buried boulders protruding from the ground randomly among evergreen trees. They were parked on the two lane road, blocking one lane since there were no shoulders or any trails wide enough for the bus to be hidden.
Freckles had Snoopy inspecting the property's security system and displaying what he saw on the big screen TV. The ever helpful satellite identified remote TV cameras placed high in tall trees, out in the woods and more obvious cameras on towers overlooking the electrified fence and gates. There were still more on trees inside the property and of course more mounted on the building itself. The guys agreed that there were far more surveillance cameras outside than any one person could monitor, not counting the number that had to be inside the building proper or those watching the bay on the other side of the house. They had to assume that there was also motion detectors, heat sensors and perhaps trip wires and possibly anti-personnel devices set to catch unwary intruders.
Doug suggested that the Cats reconnoiter while Freckles countered that he and Spot would just look around without being seen, turn the security system to their advantage and disable any booby traps on the way into the building, "Well, alright then, just do that," Doug agreed with the roll of his eyes, without laughing.
They discovered that Squeak was ready to accompany the Cats when they heard the distinctive metallic 'snick' his rifle made when he chambered a round. That reminded everyone else that they needed to ready their weapons, which didn't take long since all they had were handguns; except Buck, he still preferred his little fully automatic Uzi 'squirt' gun that he carried in a small gym bag. They weren't expecting to participate in an invasion. Evan watched Squeak mount up on Spot's back and asked Freckles if he could ride on the Great Cat's back since it appeared that most of the furnishings were either stolen from him or his grandfather, Anton, while the treasure was still concentrated in the semi that was an hour behind them.
Freckles thought that over before he declined. Evan was small enough, but he didn't have a Cat warrior's reflexes, heightened senses or a tool that he didn't know how to operate anyway, so he might be a liability if he was in the first wave of invaders. Then as a salve to Evan's ego, Freckles suggested that Evan, Hans and Herman accompany Bani and the warriors in the second wave while Peter, who was still too human, would drive the bus full of white warriors into the compound on the third and final wave.
The Cats and Squeak were so eager to begin, they forgot something important. "Great Cats are so forgetful," Peter began, wearing a huge grin, "If I was planning to assault that fortress, I believe I would have used Snoopy to see how many evil fiends are in there first and where they were located relative to my route. But then I'm still too human."
Freckles frowned at Peter before he looked up just like he always did when he was communicating with Snoopy. "For your information," Freckles announced, "there are only four minions and they are in the old part of the house, in what you call the great room that faces the water. There is no one in the control room watching the monitors."
"Exactly, now would be a good time to get in there while no one is looking," Peter rubbed his gut wistfully; no one had eaten since breakfast or morning food. There was never any food in the Cat Mobile and they didn't want to risk stopping and lose their time advantage.
Squeak and Spot were first to react by opening the door and leaping out to the nearest boulder. Spot held Squeak in place while he disappeared into the forest by jumping from boulder to boulder. Freckles followed without further comment. Kad and Sidi cupped their hands and used mind-speak to warn the first wave of the invasion; "Do not eat all the food before we get in there!"
Doc was convinced that he bypassed his death and went straight to archeological and sensual heaven, although not necessarily in that order. The order depended on what he was doing at the moment. Doc thought Freckles was a giant Cat and he didn't believe it when Freckles told him a fully grown Great Cat was twice his size until he met Fang. That was when Fang had just arrived unannounced at the first welcoming orgy inside Angus' hacienda.
At first Fang wasn't lying on his belly beside Doc and one of the warriors, and then suddenly without warning he was there and looking down on Doc and the young warrior. Fang's body at rest, excluding the tail, reminded Doc of a sleek sports car that had a supercharged engine. The image of a classic Jaguar XKE came to mind and he laughed out loud.
"Thank you very much for that white warrior Doc," Fang said using Angus' voice. It was obvious to Doc that his mind had just been 'touched' by the Great Cat. "Although this cat is longer and will never require those black things on his feet." With that said, Fang used his longer, stronger tail to separate Doc from the Cat warrior for a formal greeting, then he took a moment to thoroughly sniff the entire length of Doc's body. Fang determined that Doc hadn't been properly coated with paste and set about correcting the problem using his tongue.
Doc was breathless during Fang's ministrations because a typical cat's tongue is constantly close to his teeth and Fang was an atypical cat with a set of atypical teeth and he hoped that Fang wouldn't make a mistake and discover that he liked the taste of archeologist if a mistake drew blood. Fortunately Fang was distracted by the entire band of young Cat warriors who felt free to climb the Great Cat in an effort to get him to rough and tumble with them and include the other white warriors; the twins, Pablo and Paulo. Once begun, the rough and tumble quickly included Doc and Angus with no holds barred. Doc didn't begin his promised tour until the next morning. He was surprised to find that he wasn't tired although he didn't get a wink of sleep but no one could tour before morning food, which they would find waiting at the communal cook hut.
During the short trek, Fang suddenly broke from the group to disappear in what appeared to be impenetrable undergrowth. The birds continued their calls and the monkeys continued their chatter that was interrupted five minutes later by a blood curdling roar and a brief squeal of ultimate pain and a briefer period of silence before the early morning jungle noise resumed. "Fang an' two of his cohorts are enjoin' a bit of fresh mornin' food," Angus explained to Doc and the twins with a shrug.
Doc was stunned by the first farms they encountered on the path to the old village. Before the Nazi, the People were hunter/gatherers, after the Nazi, with stocks of food animals; they became agriculturists with hunting and gathering only to vary their diet, never for sport. The farms they saw were magnificent, with the only fences made of stone that were built to contain the domesticated herds of cross bred swine. Doc discovered that the word domesticated did not include the swine as friendly pets. While the swine considered the Cat People to be an alternate food source.
Angus explained that the farms were so highly maintained and prosperous because the People didn't sleep, they could see at night as well or better than anything else, including humans, as they could see in daylight. They had superior senses and pound for pound, unusual strength and they were tireless; they got things done at any hour of the day or night and they were always ready to help a neighbor. It was then that Doc realized that he was in the midst of a truly utopian society; at least as ideal as any population was likely to achieve.
All the Cat People were waiting to meet and greet Doc as a close relative of white warrior Pettie as anyone could see from his height to the length of his flaccid coupler, plus there was a band of proud young warriors who attested to his stamina and the length of his coupler when it wasn't flaccid. Since Angus was Doc's interpreter in Fang's absence, he took the liberty of accepting any and all proposed couplings for Doc including Tonga, Carb and toddlers above age three.
Through all the formalities, Doc managed to eat breakfast until he could eat no more, even though he had no idea what he was eating and had the good sense not to ask. He loved the home grown dark roasted, ground coffee and suggested that if there was a sufficient supply it could be exported since he thought it was superior to Hawaii's Kona coffee variety. He also appreciated the fruit juice he was served until Angus suggested that he go lightly on the booze so early in the morning. Angus also informed him that Cat People could and did drink 'juice' in quantity and they never became inebriated but humans didn't fare so well.
"Angus," a twin called, "what are these kids asking us to do?"
"The whole tribe was fascinated with the twins, Toby and Terry when they were here. An' now that you two are here they want you to couple while they watch. They think that you twins couplin' is like fuckin' oneself. It's a thing they can't do. I'll just tell them no." Angus substituted 'no' for 'later' with a grin.
The twins did accept the opportunity to play soccer or football as the sport was called in most other countries except America, but the match never got started because Fang accompanied by two of his cohorts arrived and invited everyone to visit the Valley of Ancients. They would leave as soon as mid-day food was packed even though some warriors were still eating morning food. The Cat people were dedicated 'chow hounds'.
Just as the party began the trek, Doc and the twins discovered that the kids knew about piggy backing and the first boy to reach the shoulders of anyone who could carry them, got to ride without further arguments. The newest humans also discovered an ulterior motive; all the young riders enjoyed humping the backs of their pony's hair covered heads whether they were old enough to ejaculate or not.
Pablo turned his head and looked up, "Don't you dare to come in my hair," he warned a boy of 13 years, with a friendly smile.
Ever helpful Angus signed the warning to the boy and added, "As you're about to spill, swing around so warrior Pablo can finish you properly." Angus looked up at his own rider, "Understand?" he signed. All the riders understood that they were about to receive light couples if they were fast and accurate. Pablo became aware that his rider's dry humping became frantic until the boy suddenly swiveled around with is legs still locked around his host's neck and his pulsing cock was perfectly aligned with Pablo's mouth.
Pablo accepted the invitation and a minute later said "Wow, thank you little buddy."
While the not-yet-a-warrior teenage boy didn't understand what Pablo said, the three musketeers did; white warrior Pablo liked his rider so much, he favored him with a name; he was Buddy from that moment on. Then Paulo named his rider in much the same way; by thanking his new friend for his generous offering. The boy named Friend nearly strangled Paulo when he gave his rider an affectionate hug, using his legs, with the power in his thighs. Buddy and Friend began steering their mounts by simply turning their heads in the correct direction.
Doc began the trek apprehensively. He was most used to being met at his airplane and driven to an archeological site because of his status in academia. Previously he had always been fully dressed and supplies had already been delivered. That day, he was just wearing shoes and a light application of paste to ward of biting insects and prevent sunburn and his only burden was a delightfully cooperative boy riding proudly on his shoulders. He was definitely not looking forward to slogging through the jungle and swamps wearing a boy, paste and shoes. So he was more than surprised when the whole party entered a cave that was not far from the village.
Doc became depressed when the cave ended abruptly but was quickly overjoyed when the 100 ton door swung open. All the Cat ways into Cat City in the vicinity of the village had been left open since the People had been invited to use the City as if it was theirs. Fang had closed this door earlier because he wanted to impress the new first time visitors, and impress them he did.
Doc was ready to spend the day looking for tool marks in the stone that might identify the tools used. The door was just like the stonewood box he was shown; there were no visible hinges and he discovered that the 100 ton block of stone was so perfectly balanced; it could be moved with a push of one finger.
Tonga and Carb showed Doc their tools and attempted to explain that they were the tools, but Doc was disbelieving. He just knew that nothing that looked like a crudely made clarinet that they held with the mouth piece carefully pointed away from anyone and the flared bell end held toward their bodies could possibly be anything but a musical instrument that they obviously didn't even know how to play.
Buddy and Friend had a mission in mind but they needed their twins to be alone with them or risk having their 'rides' usurped by other eager not-yet-warriors in the party without rides; they needed to dismount. They turned the twin's heads toward the Cat way that spiraled down into the earth and jabbered away without result until Angus translated roughly that the younger boys wanted to be the party's guides, therefore they should go first. Angus didn't bother to say that the boys wanted to give the twins light couples in return for the same services already rendered to them. He doubted that the twins would object to being serviced by two very experienced boys. The twins started down the ramp after a quick glance down the center well created by the spiral. It seemed they were entering a bottomless, blue tinted pit.
In order to get Doc to leave off inspecting the door, Fang used the expedient of closing it and after it was closed, Doc began inspecting the stone walls to discover the source of the blue light. That was when he discovered the ramp, the Cat way, and started down on his own. He even had the audacity to advise everyone including the Great Cats to stay close to the wall if they were afraid of heights!
There was a brief pause halfway down when Doc's rider suddenly swung his body around to present Doc's mouth with a second load without regard to the danger of falling into the well when Doc stumbled as his vision was blocked by his rider's body that was wrapped over his head and convulsing.
"My word, you are certainly a prodigious lad," Doc panted after the fact. There was no way the boy or any of the Cat People could ever pronounce prodigious, so the boy announced that Doc had named him Lad although he wished he could say prodigious without spitting on anyone.
When the twins, Buddy and Friend reached the bottom of the Cat way, the Twins were astounded to find that they were back in the jungle, somewhere where a wide path, wide enough to be a single lane road had been cleared. The only thing they noticed that made the path something other than a jungle trail was the total absence of sound. When the twins stopped and reached out to touch a tree trunk that wasn't there, Buddy and Friend executed neat back flips and backed the twins against a glass smooth wall that comprised a continuous, wall, ceiling and floor, 3-D diorama.
Of course the twins quickly lost all interest in their surroundings in favor of the mouths that were providing them with quick couples. When the boys finished the twins, they took the time and liberty to liberally anoint them with extra paste so they would proudly remain erect during the rest of the trek. That is, Buddy and Friend were proud that they rode such magnificent stallions while the stallions were far less proud and wore red faces from being caught in the 'act' when Doc, Fang, Angus and the rest of the mob caught up. Then they had to wait again while Doc was assured that he wasn't in an underworld jungle. He was looking at a pretty picture to keep travelers walking the hallway from becoming claustrophobic when they inevitably realized that there were millions of tons of rock over their heads.
While Doc had no expertise in the fields of Botany, Zoology or Paleontology, that minor point didn't stop him from slowing the pace, to give him some idea of how ancient the Ancients were. He was looking for plants and animals in the continuous diorama that were thought to be extinct even though he wouldn't recognize a pterodactyl if it crash landed on him.
After a short length of time, an hour in this case, Buddy and Friend turned the twins' heads into a smaller unadorned tunnel lighted only by small glowing discs that sloped upward sharply and ended abruptly at another closed rock door. This door also looked to be new like the smaller tunnel. Wonderful warm bright daylight flooded the tunnel when one of the Cats opened the door. Fang announced that they had reached the Valley of Ancients that was also brand spanking new.
Doc looked down the valley from a treeless, rock plateau, and then looked up at Fang as if he was being pranked, as the boys called joking. He expected to see 13, 50 foot tall golden effigies to represent the 12 ancients, plus Bani just like those he'd seen on video. Instead, there was nothing but virgin forest to see, rather, just the tops of the trees. It seemed that no one else in the party expected to see more because no one else was looking; they were all opening heavy packs and net sacks to get their lunch or mid-day food ready to eat while the kids gathered to be fed like starving chicks.
"Is this some sort of joke?" Doc asked Fang. The adult Great Cats were more serious than their offspring unlike teenage Cats, Freckles and Spots' age and he didn't think they would carry out a prank of this magnitude; hiking through endless tunnels just to look at some trees. He looked around for Chief Tonga and his right hand man Carb, but they were no longer with the party. He saw that Fang was seated and had his attention fixed on the sky.
Without looking away, Fang said, "The view of this Valley must be hidden at times because there is a new sky eye that looks down on our lands as it passes. Friend Snoopy is working to break this machine or change the course of its direction. It will be a short length of time before the valley can be seen."
Angus managed to distract Doc with a long flatbread wrapped sausage and wedges of yellow melon. The juicy melon substituted as a tasty, nutritious non-alcoholic drink that resisted spillage during a trek or hunt. Doc knew about the energy fruit but thought it was only used in combination with paste and now was the time to expand archeology and earth's and perhaps one or more other world's known histories, not sex.
"These yellow melons are delicious," Doc commented, "What are they called?"
Angus rolled his eyes skyward in disgust while Fang nearly sent him skyward with a slap on his back with his tail and even managed something that resembled a laugh through his communicator. "These yellow melons, white warrior Doc, are called YELLOW MELONS!" Fang managed to say while further refining his electronic laugh to imitate his human friend Angus. "Are all these white warriors thick?" He asked Angus. It was obvious that Angus had used the word 'thick' in Fang's presence, and the Great Cat figured out the word's meaning.
Red faced Doc back peddled, he thought, and asked Angus another dumb question; "Angus old chap, would you happen to know the Genus and species?"
Always dour Fang actually rolled over onto his back and kicked the air along with almost breaking his communicator because of his laughter. Angus shook his head at Doc in mock despair, "You ain't exactly holdin' up the human end of this discussion Doc, ye bloomin' idiot; the answer to your dumb question is the same as your first question. The Genus an' species IS YELLOW MELON! These melons are unknown anywhere else in this friggin' world!"
Fang once again looked up and seemed to be listening before he gave Doc a toothsome smile that was far more disconcerting than a younger cat's because of the size of his teeth. In the wilds, Great Cats tended to gorge, so since the Cats had shared morning food, they 'nibbled' whole yellow melons at midday food, rinds and all and weren't too proud to beg small foods from the warriors. Doc noted that small foods included the melon rinds so there was no debris when the meal was concluded.
"Look on the Valley now Doc," Fang said.
Doc turned and once again bemoaned the fact the cameras were forbidden. What appeared to be a blanket of trees had disappeared to reveal 13 heroic sparkling golden statutes. One was Bani and the other 12 represented the original Ancients who built their City here and populated it with the Cat People, a new matchless civilization considering their range of abilities and frightening potential if someone from the human civilization pissed them off.
Once the screening trees were gone, Doc saw that the actual vegetation was a solid carpet of paste vines crawling hither and yon since there were no host plants to climb and the vines seemed to avoid the statue bases. Doc saw that there were a number of Cat People, some young warriors, boys grouped by age, women and girls of any age in what actually was a large field of carefully tended paste vines.
Mature leaves were dark green with a blue cast whose upper surfaces were so waxy they appeared to be 'wet' to twinkle in the bright sunlight when moved in the light breeze. Large red flower panicles were held above the leaves by stiff stems, which, if the vine was allowed to climb, the stems would hold the flowers and future berry bunches out away from the host plant and vine leaves unlike bunches of grapes growing on their vines.
The women and girls worked together in close proximity for no better reason than they could talk together and incidentally be an audience watching the boy's antics. Mothers could keep an eye on their rambunctious sons and the girls eyed up individual boys as future potential mates. Frequent erect couplers were also evaluated although the boys were more intent on impressing other boys in the group.
The boys were all born gamblers so to be fair, they sorted themselves out by age, and so picking contests were always fair with the winner's prize being the use of the loser's body for a certain length of time. Some boys who wanted to be best friends with certain other boys who were most often winners in their age group would pick as few as one berry or none at all which did nothing to speed up the harvest and everything to do with becoming best friends sexually and perhaps mates like Kad and Sidi.
Those two young warriors became orphans by accident. Their fathers were best friends with their mate's, the boy's mother's consent. When the boys were mere toddlers, their fathers out of the blue, decided to investigate the persistent rumor that there was more land out beyond the horizon. The warriors invited their mates on what was expected to be no longer than a two day canoe trip out to the horizon to confirm or debunk the rumor. The two couples packed food for the journey and left their sons in the care of the women on cook hut duty, which no child ever strayed very far from a minimum of three times per day.
Two weeks later the stonewood canoe was found drifting toward shore in the delta. The tragic adventure did nothing to encourage the Cat People to become ocean explorers or even fishermen with whisker fish in the lake being the only fishing exception. And so Kad and Sidi became orphans and the sons of the entire Cat People and life mates long before they were old enough to become warriors.
Doc thought he was seeing things when he saw Bani the statue begin to sink into the ground while Tonga and Carb had reappeared near the base and were pointing their clarinets (Ancient tools) down. The Cat People present for the harvest stopped all production to watch the unusual goings on and Tonga took the time to explain the reason in the Cat People's native language that was so difficult to speak it was almost painful to listen to.
Tonga ended his speech by pointing with a finger, not his tool, to a spot directly across the narrow valley that caused the People to race each other to the spot and look down expectantly.
Fang explained what was happening before Doc could ask. The 12 Ancient Taras and Bani had been aligned together. The Cats assumed that Bani was to be the only reincarnated Ancient Tara and suddenly there were two more; Squeak and Peter. Therefore Bani was being relocated to opposite the original Ancient Leader, and eventually Squeak and Peter's effigies would appear from the ground opposite two other corresponding original Ancients; the original Finder and the Guardian.
Doc was unaware that Fang's use of the word 'eventually' was a measure of time even more ambiguous than a 'short' or 'long' length of time. In this case, eventually meant as soon as Tara Bani's likeness finished sprouting from the spot across the Valley that Tonga had designated. After the 50 foot tall golden Bani disappeared completely to leave a bald spot on the side of the field, Tonga and Carb joined the audience; once again with their Ancient tools pointed at ground zero, where Bani was going to be reinstalled. Doc wanted to get closer but permission was denied. Then he wanted to go underground to see firsthand what was happening there, but that too was denied and when he thought about sneaking back into the tunnel, the massive door thunked closed in his face. He had to be satisfied with being one of four white warriors to witness this singular other worldly event. After Tara Bani in solid gold finished his reentrance into the world, Tonga and Carb moved to another spot and a golden Squeak usurped some paste vine's space in scale with the adult Ancients; innocent cherubic expression on his face at no extra cost.
"What about…" Doc began.
Fang cut him off in mid question, "As Tara Squeak grows to be an adult warrior, his likeness will also grow," he said, but of course how that was to be accomplished, wasn't explained. Then Fang made a comment that was almost a complaint; "These Cats and brave warriors have had to raise the ceiling and lower the floor in the new chamber where all these Tara's past and present will reside in a short length of time because of Tara Peter's excessive height."
"Do you mean that there's a chamber under construction now to hide these magnificent statues?"
"The 12 and Tara Bani were to be temporary, placed here for you to view and then removed to become raw metal, but after they were finished these Cats decided that they should be preserved so they might be properly remembered and honored. These can be viewed from the sky if they remain here so they will reside in a new chamber in a short length of time." Fang pointed to a third Tara that was emerging from the ground; it was Tara Peter who towered over the other Taras, living or Ancient with his neighbor Squeak, barely above Peter's knee.
Doc commented, "Do you realize that except for his height, he looks just like the Ancient Taras and all the Cat warriors?"
Fang sort of agreed; "Tara Peter is still much too human, but in time perhaps that problem will pass as his knowledge returns."
"You know Fang old chap, that observation was not exactly a compliment to we humans?" Doc questioned the slur that bordered on insulting. Fang led the way down into the Valley for a close inspection while further perfecting his laughter.
The gang that remained on the bus was laughing about Squeak, in his role as the 'Enforcer', a title that Doug had changed from Guardian because everyone knew what a mafia enforcer was, but Guardian made Squeak sound like a pussy. Squeak had disabled to first surveillance camera in the woods that the two Cats and one boy Ancient advanced invasion force encountered by using his rifle to shoot out the lens rather than simply looping the recording so they wouldn't be seen. Naturally the Cats scolded the boy for being over-enthusiastic. Squeak apologized for that goof and when he was first to spy a second camera, he merely redirected it up into the sky at an invisible point exactly where Snoopy was located and watching their progress in return.
Of course he was scolded a second time for not looping the recording. "I will do as you Great Cats suggest in the future if you will explain what looping is," Squeak retorted. Once he understood the basics, he sent his mind questing for the place where all the recordings were concentrated; the most likely culprit, a computer.
Of course Squeak knew that Great Cat Freckles always developed friendships with anything that required so much as a dribble of electricity, to the mighty turbines that powered Sea Song or the incredible Snoopy system. Even better, if the machine was controlled by computer then the Great Cat could influence that machine's performance and by suggesting improvements, make him and the computer into bosom buddies. Squeak found the house computer but needed the knowledge of how such friendships were established so he touched Freckles' mind so quickly the Cat didn't have time to raise his shield.
Freckles first suspected Peter who was rapidly becoming more and more Ancient and had touched Freckles' mind previously but the newest Tara had his shield up to prevent the nosey Cat warriors from learning about the energy fruit; the contents of the two baskets stored under the bus. When Freckles frowned at Squeak, the only remaining suspect, that Cat warrior and Tara was busy studying the cloud formations and once again looking like an innocent cherub, so he was the guilty party.
Meanwhile, Squeak only looked distracted; he had already made first contact with the enemy house computer. The machine felt neglected and ignored and someone had denied it the ability to make automatic Windows updates so there was a cache that would take upward of two hours to install. Helpful Squeak switched on automatic updates and then suggested that the overworked, abused machine shut down all its systems and refuse to restart for the time required to gobble in the newest updates or until Squeak contacted it later.
The Great Cat brothers knew exactly when all the cameras became inoperative when the tiny heat bloom each one radiated, dissipated to cold. Innocent Squeak asked, "What are games? Those four minions inside that hut play games constantly and neglect their computer so it has rebelled."
Freckles frowned at hearing 'games' mentioned. He explained that their white warrior friends would not allow him to play their computer games with them because they suspected that he manipulated the outcome of battles so he always won. It was Freckles' turn to look like the ultimate innocent before he broke into Buck's laughter while Squeak giggled naturally.
The Cats were about to disable the electric fence and open the gates to invite the second and third waves of the invading forces into the compound when Snoopy showed them that a truck like Big Foot had parked behind the bus and a man was standing outside the driver's window talking to Peter while he sat in the driver's seat and everyone else remained out of sight, alternately looking down on the man from the heavily tinted windows and Snoopy's view on the big TV.
The man just advised Peter, needlessly, that his damn big bus was blockin' one lane of a two lane road and he really needed to 'git' along outten' the way, 'acause' he was the Constable and otherwise he might have to fix Peter up by writin' a 25 dollar coupon, plus court costs payable instantly since the man also served as the local Justice of the Peace an' he just found Peter as guilty as sin of blockin' a lane of traffic without bein' broke down. Peter resisted the impulse to question the man about a conflict of interest; he couldn't be a cop and the judge. Further, in his position as Constable, the man wasn't interested in writin' nothin', standin' out in the cold, cause his hands were about froze off due to the heater in his truck bein' broke.
"We're lost," Peter stalled for time, "we're looking for a great big house near here somewhere."
The Constable looked suspicious, "That foreign asshole a friend of your'n?"
"Nope, the asshole owes us a lot of money and we've come up here to collect, or take it out of his hide." Peter hastened to add, "That would be after we remove him from your jurisdiction so we don't have any legal problems. Do you know where he lives?"
"Just down the road apiece on the right, I'm sure he won't mind if'n yo' just bust down the gate. You know that foreign asshole can't speak nary a word of the kings English? The dumb ass told the town, he was goin' into farmin' an' he built him a big ass barn, an' even went so far as to attach it to a mighty fine old house, BUT," the Constable raged suddenly, "the asshole didn't bother to build him nary one barn door! If he got him animals in there, they somewhat warmer than me in my damn broke truck!"
"That sounds like the asshole we're looking for. Say, since I'm a master mechanic, maybe I could fix your truck heater and avoid you having to write me a coupon?"
"You most certainly are not a master mechanic!" Freckles sent from afar. Peter also heard laughter in the background that was nearly drowned out by real laughter inside the bus.
"If you don't help me out here, you have to pay my 25 dollar ticket!" Peter countered silently.
"Plus court costs," Buck added further incentive.
"Well, if I have to fix that human's truck you have to get off your ass and go back and open the truck's bonnet. At least make a show of doing something," Freckles ordered.
"Well alright, but just so you know, American cars and trucks have hoods; English cars like Austin Healy have bonnets, and boots instead of trunks."
Freckles didn't respond to that advisory; there was too much laughter. The Constable released the truck hood and Peter opened it. At first the gang in the bus relied on the backup camera to watch Peter fake the repairs, but when all they saw was his back, they decided that they would join him without regard to what cloth coverings they were or weren't wearing. Everyone was well covered with Stuff.
The man only blinked when he saw Peter dressed in shorts and torn tee shirt, standing in front of his truck with his helpless hands on his hips, staring into the engine compartment. He was trying to ignore Peter's slightly blue skin that didn't appear to be caused by the cold; he was that color when he exited the warm bus. But, when Peter was joined by a gang, mostly undressed and/or holding up the pants or shorts they were wearing and also sporting blue skin, apparently everywhere, he just had to ask.
"You boys part of one of them there cults I heard about? You all painted blue an' you ain't cold, least while you ain't actin' cold."
Bani surprised everyone by telling some of the truth concerning Stuff's unusual properties, of which one was warding off cold. He sent Kad back into the bus. When he returned he offered the Constable a squatty golden jar full of Stuff, concentrated Stuff, and he encouraged the man to take a sniff after he inhaled deeply to prove it wasn't dangerous or poisonous. Then Bani stepped back and pointedly looked down at his torn shorts to see that something obvious was pointing back.
It was too late for the Constable; he'd taken more than a cautious sniff. He looked down at Bani and then down at himself. "That's right, that's another property that your wife will enjoy too," he assured with a leer.
The Constable looked at Peter suddenly. Peter hadn't moved his hands from his hips and by then he was watching Bani with everyone else. "Damn boy, you ain't much of a mechanic; watchin' ain't goin' to do the job, I got to git home, fixed heater or no…"
Just then the truck started. Peter closed the hood and made a point of dusting his clean hands together. The Constable didn't see his heater switch turn on or the comfort dial spin over to maximum heat but he felt the blast of heat when he opened the door with one hand while clutching his jar of Stuff in the other. His parting words were; "Just so you know, I expect to be off duty for the rest o' the day. Meanwhile, get that foreign some bitch outta my town an' your damned bus off my road!"
"Can we proceed with the invasion now?" Freckles asked sarcastically while the rest of the mob had fun congratulating Peter for is miraculous mechanical ability without the 'laying on of hands'. After he received an affirmative answer, he laid out his plan.
He, Spot and Squeak would enter the estate from the bay since they already knew the four men or minions inside were in a waterfront room playing video games. Rather by then they were trying to figure out why the current game quit without notice and pounding on the game box didn't help re-acquire the lost signal at all. The Cats assumed correctly that all attention inside the house would be riveted to them emerging from the bay, while everyone else in the force would actually enter the house using the front entrance located on the landward side.
"What will you do if there are weapons shown? We don't want you to be shot at and Squeak doesn't have Ancient armor," Sidi warned with concern.
Squeak lifted his tool to his eyes and sent out a video before he said, "I am the Enforcer!" Squeak liked being called the Enforcer, it was far better than being the Guardian, which sounded passive like he would be waiting for trouble before he acted, while as the Enforcer, he would act preemptively; 'Don't even think about touching a weapon if you want to live', he planned to say before he activated his tool if there was time. If there wasn't time, he would apologize to whatever metal the enemy carried.
The Great Cats made their way along the fence to the water before they encountered a small problem. No humans on the bus knew about the drastic tide changes in the far northeast of their country and the Cats and warriors lived very close to the equator where tides were minimal. The tide was racing out when they entered the bay and the rocky coast was growing fast. The Cats had to work to swim against the tide at a depth at which they could use their tails as periscopes so they dove to the bottom to 'water walk' using rocks for purchase to push their bodies forward. Spot encountered the first lobster.
While Spot hadn't ever seen a lobster before, Freckles had. He'd eaten two dozen, three pounders at one dinner. That evening, no one in the Trenton kitchen considered how Freckles would get his out of its shell and there was no way Peter could work fast enough to clean two dozen with a hungry Great Cat literally breathing down his neck. He ate the first one whole, including the shell. Of course Peter had an aversion to any crunching sounds at the dinner table and apparently so did all the other diners at table that evening.
Hamilton the butler whisked Freckles' tray away out from under his nose, a very daring, risky move, straight back into the kitchen almost before his first whole lobster reached his stomach. His lobster dinner was returned 10 minutes later in the form of three dozen hastily prepared lobster rolls; perfect tail foods, along an apology from the chef for not thinking in advance.
Unlike the Cats, the lobster had no difficulty swimming against the tide and it disappeared into the distance in the crystal clear freezing water faster than a Cat – in reverse by using its tail as a flipper. "What was that?" Spot sent.
"That was a live Maine lobster, cooked ones are red, and they are delicious." Freckles displayed his food knowledge although to date he hadn't eaten any white warrior food that wasn't delicious. "We should have a hunt while we are down here where they live."
"What about our mission?" Squeak asked from Spot's back. Spot was using his tail to keep Squeak in place.
"A hunt will not take long," Freckles assured to dismiss the matter. "I will circle around up current. You approach the next lobster slowly to keep his attention and I will pounce. We will share the kill and then switch places." That plan sounded simple and efficient since the Cats had no hope of out-swimming a lobster. Freckles just forgot to tell the lobsters that they should wait around to be caught and eaten.
"Can I snack on these lobsters too?" Squeak's question was accompanied by a rumbling stomach and implied that he thought they would easily catch several.
"Probably not, your meats must be cooked. Then there is the hard shell. We will bring the last one we catch to shore so it can be cooked for you." Spot consoled Squeak.
It was obvious that the first lobster that Spot and Squeak encountered didn't know Freckles' game plan. It did an end run around the Great Cat before Freckles' tail was in range. "You are too intimidating; dangle me in front. Perhaps it will think of me as food," Squeak suggested. That sounded like a much better plan.
Fifty yards further away from the forgotten target house, they encountered a behemoth of perhaps seven or eight pounds. Spot dangled Squeak the bait, and the bait waved his hands to get the lobster's attention. The lobster turned toward Squeak with raised wide open toothsome pinchers. It seemed interested in taking a nip from the bait at first, but apparently it reconsidered and began to jet away at speed, just like the first lobster.
Squeak raised both hands and aimed his middle fingers at the fleeing quarry in total frustration. "Take that you fucking fast lobster!" Suddenly and instantly the water temperature around them rose drastically while the area immediately around the lobster boiled. The heated water dissipated with the tide quickly and one bright red cooked lobster began drifting away in the same direction.
Spot 'water walked' Squeak to overtake the lobster and Squeak happily clutched his prize to his chest. "How is it that you dared to use your tool under water?" Spot asked cautiously.
"I did not," Squeak protested, "I was frustrated and shot this beautiful lobster a double bird; both middle fingers. It appears it cooked itself. Let us get to shore and scare those motherfucking treasure stealing minions to death, then we will share this food," he promised. "After we recover our treasure we will return to catch more, now that we know how," he added confidently and hoped that the Cats would forget how the lobster came to be caught and cooked simultaneously.
When the Cats and boy warrior agreed to hunt, they naturally raised their mind shields so they wouldn't be distracted by mind-speak calls to check their progress or interrupt the impromptu hunt. So when they thought to lower their shields as they walked out of the water onto the very rough, rocky shore, they received a barrage of less than complimentary calls.
The bus was parked on the driveway in plain sight and everyone was standing outside the front door where they could be seen if the minions weren't so preoccupied with their game machine. They were waiting for some sort of signal from the diversionary force that had not been forthcoming for nearly 30 minutes.
"There was a very strong tidal current," Freckles said but of course that didn't explain why the threesome was out of mind-speak contact for so long.
Freckles stopped at the verge where the high tide met the lawn. He looked to the right and left. He rolled his eyes but said nothing about the electrified fence that necessarily stopped abruptly well short of the high tide mark. They could have walked around the end of the fence without getting wet.
Squeak giggled before he said, "But if we did that we would not have all this delicious lobster food." He was careful to be out of tail range.
Freckles could only frown at the very dangerous imp. "You know touching a Great Cat's mind without permission is very rude." Freckles was shocked to discover that Squeak had just touched his mind and just like Peter, and when he did it, Freckles didn't feel the touches.
Squeak moved another 30 feet away from the Cats before he suggested, "Now would be a good time to shake off to get the minion's attention. None are armed if you discount a screwdriver one is holding."
When the twin geysers erupted from out on the lawn, the brief but impressive show did indeed get the minion's attention that was quickly followed by shock and horror at seeing what caused the geysers. Two smiling Great Cats held their attention as the four men were frozen in place staring through the leaded glass window, immobile, while Squeak, still clutching his lobster cradled in one arm rushed ahead to hold open a French door so the Cats could enter the big room uncontested.
"It is safe for you to enter now," Squeak sent after the fact, to the mob waiting impatiently outside, before he very kindly suggested to the four men; "If I were you I would clasp my hands behind my head to avoid becoming mid-day food for these hungry Cats, um, on your knees would also be very nice."
As the rest of the invading party burst into the room, Freckles and Spot were holding up two of the men by one leg each, using their tails. They were discussing the probable quality of the meat they were likely to find inside such pasty human skin. One of the men was bawling like a baby while the other had passed out and hanging lifeless.
"I think they are ready to tell us everything they know about the missing treasure," Squeak informed the group.
All eyes fell to Squeak, "Where the fuck did you find that humongous lobster? Did you guys raid the fridge already?" Buck demanded.
"Um, you might say he was already cooked in the bay before I ever touched him." That was the truth and was attested to by the Great Cats, which was no endorsement at all. "Did you hide the bus?" Squeak thought to change the subject.
"Duh, we would but there's nowhere to hide it," Peter countered.
"Pull it under some trees and then you hide it with camouflage to match the background like the Ancients painted the walls in Cat City. You are Taras like me and if I can do it…"
"Yeah, yeah, come on Bani, let's see how we do, but first let's look in the fridge," he sent via tight mind-speak. "The early bird catches the worm I always say," Peter added still in mind-speak mode.
"What has bird food to do with looking in the fridge for people food?" Bani asked out loud, which started a mass migration including the Cats to find the kitchen.
The four hapless minions suddenly found themselves alone and unguarded. They whispered about the possibility of escaping until Squeak's high pitched voice was heard clearly in their minds, "If you run, the Great Cats will find you in minutes and this is what you will look like." He sent the image of a very untidy pile of body parts that featured blood red as the primary color. "However if you cooperate and tell the truth you could continue to live," Squeak sent to all four minds while he deftly dissected his prize lobster and shared it with the Cat's as he promised. He and Spot found the meat so sweet and delicious, boy and Cat were ready to return to the bottom of the bay to catch more and Squeak could further perfect his double digit lobster catching by boiling technique.
Since the kitchen in the old house was crowded, Hans and Herman took Evan into the huge new wing where there was not just another kitchen; it was also where all the furnishings stolen from Anton at first and then Evan when he took over after his grandfather's passing were located. Not just located but designed into beautifully decorated rooms that were both a home and a museum to display the overflow, the result of ongoing thefts for so many years and not yet including the treasure that was on its way.
Both Hans and Herman thought the kitchen was strange. Any appliance that would function by natural gas sat unused beside its electric counterpart and they already knew that the enormous roof area was covered with photoelectric panels so apparently the gas appliances were backups if the roof panels were damaged and the electricity failed. Then Hans discovered a basement door that revealed a basement that was lined with rows of floor to ceiling shelves that were packed with every type of food and all basic supplies that would require a family of five, years and years to consume. There was also a huge propane powered generator in its own room; another power source.
"This new building is a doomsday shelter," Herman declared, Hans nodded his agreement.
Evan looked blank, "A what?" he asked.
"If we are to come to the end of the world as some people are always forecasting, those who can afford them and want to live longer, will lock themselves into shelters like these and hope for the best."
"For what purpose," Evan wondered. "I would prefer to join the rest of the world and allow assholes like Henrik here to try eating my worthless valuables like a diamond and gold salad with Rolex watches as crackers."
"That is the other point of view, plus I imagine that there would be bands of people with nothing, constantly trying to break into these fortresses."
"Well Henrik won't have to worry about any more invaders, we're already here. Let's go find out if those guys know when Henrik is going to show up. Now that Squeaky and the Cats have them so softened up, I think they might have a meltdown at any minute."
The four captured men, Henrik's minions, turned out to be nothing more than furniture movers. At least the five men (including the absent truck driver) were long time Falconburg Limited employees, and were currently paid by Evan. Since they started work when Anton was alive, almost nothing they were told to do was out of the ordinary. They frequently even traveled the world as they accompanied whatever they were moving and they in turn were accompanied by men with weapons. Presently they were waiting in what they thought was just another Falconburg residence to unload a truckload of valuable 'stuff' that they'd retrieved from an art gallery who Henrik told them, stole it all from Evan Falconburg. They knew it wasn't nice to steal anything from a Falconburg. People, who crossed Anton Falconburg and now perhaps his grandson, Evan, only did it once in their very limited experience that was acquired from company gossip and rumors.
Surprise of surprises, the weapons they carried into the Penguin gallery were only intended to intimidate the guards; they couldn't be fired, because they weren't loaded. The men were never asked to do any 'wet' work. In Penguin's case and previously, occasionally, others in Anton's organization treated Falconburg enemies including thieves to a one way trip to nowhere, but they knew nothing more about that and didn't want to know.
It was Hans and Hernan's turn to look like, try to look like, innocent cherubs, but they couldn't pull the look off as easily as Squeak. Obviously the men didn't know that Hans and Herman were the 'travel guides' that arranged the one way adventures for Falconburg's enemies, if they didn't do it themselves. Obviously the men had never seen Evan before since he was asking the questions.
There was a flurry of mind touches including by the Cats before the mind-speakers agreed that the men were mostly innocent; perhaps guilty of being gullible but otherwise valuable Falconburg employees since they were able to keep their mouths shut considering what they must have seen and heard over the years.
Evan offered his hand to the closest man. "Hi there, I'm Evan Falconburg!" That man was the same one that Spot threatened to eat while he was dangling from his tail. He fainted again and after Freckles picked him up and dusted his clothing off, the man opened his eyes saw what was providing the service and promptly fainted for the third time. Evan completed what he wanted to say to the rest of the crew. "I just want you to know that none of this was your fault. You still have your jobs if you want them and your first task will be to drive the truck back into the City, to the gallery you took the treasure from and then help unload it. Oh, one more thing; would you happen to know where Henrik is now and when he plans to be here?"
The most talkative guy, the one furthest away from the Great Cats and who hadn't experienced being dangled by one leg, shrugged. He elaborated when he saw Evan frown while the Cats actually were smiling but he obviously didn't know that. He hastened to add; "He could be at any one of your homes here in the States, the only one he doesn't ever stay at is Somerset Farm. Maybe that's because it's your principle residence and he doesn't want to intrude."
Everyone including the Cats began laughing at Evan while his mouth moved as if he was talking, perhaps shouting, but nothing came out. "Why is Evan rendered speechless from this information?" Innocent Squeak asked Buck in passing. He laughed with everyone else but didn't know why. At that moment he was more interested in resuming the hunt for lobster, since one, although huge was not enough when sharing with his hunting partners, Spot and Freckles.
"Well, maybe because he didn't know that he owned any other homes in the United States. He's never mentioned any and he loves to brag about what he owns. If he owned more homes than we do, you can bet he'd have let us know," Buck presumed accurately.
Evan began searching a desk until he found a legal pad and a pen, which he handed to the most talkative man. He ordered him and his three compatriots to write down the address of every one of the Falconburg residences they knew about, whether they delivered anything to any of them or not.
When Squeak noticed Peter laughing with the others he was inspired. He sent his inspiration to Spot and Freckles who ambled over to Peter to tell him that they needed his help, but first they helped him by carrying him outside, out of sight of the windows before they stripped him and began grooming him so well, he began to look like a member of the 'Blue Man Group' (with hair).
While this was happening he began protesting that he didn't require grooming until a giggling Squeak appeared between the Cats with a large wire dog cage he found in the house, balanced neatly on his head. The cage would be splendid for storing their anticipated catch. "We need your help Finder, to find us more lobster and for that you must be warm while you point them out to us, so we can catch them. We will share the delicious meat in return," he explained his inspiration to open negotiations.
Peter was careful not to laugh, but he had to decline as diplomatically as possible to avoid offending the irrepressible, always happy little boy who also possessed frightening Ancient powers who had yet to discover his limitations. "I'd be most happy to help your hunt by playing bird dog, Squeak, BUT, I think you've forgotten at least one very important thing. As you know I am not a Cat warrior and I am certainly not a Great Cat. While I may be a Tara as everyone but me seems to think; I'm not sure that this white warrior Tara can hold his breath long enough to be helpful."
Peter turned away and began to return to the house so he didn't see Spot grab Squeak who was holding the former wire dog crate, but he felt Freckles tail wrap around his waist and he was whisked aloft while both Great Cats ran at the water. "Inhale deeply," Freckles instructed while in mid leap. It seemed that there were two contests; one was a race to the water and the second involved which brother could leap farthest into the bay
"FRECKLES…!" Peter had time to scream before splash down as the hunting party of four disappeared under the water.
The twin splashes, sight and sound, and Peter's scream both aloud and in mind-speak brought everyone out of the house just in time to wave down all three helicopters together since there was room on the lawn overlooking the bay.
"Why are you trying to drown me?" Peter demanded of the Great Cats by mind-speak when Freckles' dive leveled off at 10 feet, so he could surface Peter quickly if the experiment failed.
"You must will yourself not to inhale, to make it so, and then you can swim under the water as long as any Cat warrior," Freckles replied. "I hope," he added, which was not confidence inspiring.
"I liked it better when I was your executive assistant; now that I'm a Tara I get no respect at all,"
"You will note that I am holding you around your middle and not your neck, that is a sign of respect,"
"Big deal, you're holding me 50 feet underwater trying to drown me," Peter sulked from being mishandled. Freckles corrected the over-estimated depth and hoped Peter would adjust because swimming was difficult with Peter in tow and he wanted to sink to the bottom so he could walk instead of swim.
After five minutes, Freckles asked Peter "Do you feel the need to breathe like a human yet?"
"No not yet, but that doesn't mean I won't. What's Squeak doing with that dog kennel? Do you want me to look for dog fish, if there is such a thing?" While Peter was bitching, Freckles sank to the bottom and water walked beside Spot while Squeak was being held out in front playing at being a delectable lobster bait or tasty lure. Peter stopped bitching when they actually reached the bottom, about 50 feet down. Squeak explained the use for the wire dog crate and laughed at Peter for hunting dog fish.
"Sorry no dog fish today, but there's three fair size lobster out there, there and over there," Peter pointed out at the three so far unsuspecting prospective prey and then took charge of the kennel so Squeak could do his thing as an acting bait with both hands free, although catching didn't explain how the first lobster was cooked.
Spot moved toward the first quarry but stopped when Squeak raised just one hand not two, with two middle fingers extended as before. The first time he was angry and frustrated, but this hunt, he was deliberate. "Don't get cute," Spot warned.
"This is called an experiment," Squeak informed everyone who could mind-speak, as, just like the first time, the water grew noticeably warmer around the hunters, and boiling around the lobster. Spot walked forward and bent Squeak down to collect his drifting, perfectly cooked lobster that he handed off to Peter.
"That demonstration of power was scary," Peter sent to Freckles confidentially.
"Hurry, the other two must have felt the temperature change, they are fleeing." Freckles said to contribute his two cents to the hunt. Squeak raised his hand again, started the second lobster cooking and merely moved his arm over to bring down the third that had been moving away from the danger zone at speed.
The gang that was riding in the choppers was just as hungry as everyone from the Cat Mobile and with Bucky and Victoria on the ground at last, Bucky once again challenged Victoria to find a local pet friendly (or service 'animal' friendly) restaurant that could and would accommodate them all for a real 'down east' lobster dinner with the number of dinners and wine to be adjusted up accordingly to accommodate two Great Cats and four warriors this time, in addition to the regular gang.
Ten minutes later Victoria returned to Bucky with her hand out, palm up. Bucky counted out $1000 and asked when his wife wanted to collect the second part of the bet, even though they hadn't made a bet this time. Victoria believed like Bucky; if one could throw enough money at a project, one would eventually succeed. She whispered in Bucky's ear, "Somehow the restaurant got the impression that our service animals are dogs so we will need the taller boys to screen them in the back, just like before, until we are being seated."
That comment brought previously silent golden Fang to life from inside the bus with considerable ever changing laughter borrowed from the boys. These, as the Cat warriors still on land were rolling around on the lawn. Fang's laughter increased as he or it left the bus and drifted slowly through the house. He paused to look at the three moving men who had just revived their friend, which was enough to cause the fourth man to have another relapse. "The big red thing with nasty black things on its feet has arrived," he said to Bucky.
"Do you mean the semi-truck?" Sidi risked asking as a joke. He had just regained his feet after laughing at Victoria's whisper. Fang turned his bulk to face Sidi and Sidi promptly tripped over his feet somehow to fall flat on his face. Bucky couldn't help laughing at Sidi and incidentally at Fang who was imitating Bucky's gravelly laugh perfectly. "Our younglings only learn the hard way," he observed before he returned to being an inert golden effigy sitting at Bucky's side.
Bucky looked at his watch and asked, "Can someone call the hunting party to the surface? We're all hungry and cold."
Bani answered for the group, "Sorry Chief Bucky, no can do; they have their shields up."
This caused Fang to activate once again and turn to face the water. No one overheard what he said in mind-speak except the last word was, "NOW!"
Fortunately for Fang's progeny, the Great Cats had been moving against the tide, further up into the bay. The tide hadn't turned yet so they went shallow and by swimming to control direction, they were able to get back to the rocks that fronted the house in near record time. The group on shore was able to monitor their progress because the Cats had to lift Peter and/or Squeak's head above water occasionally to 'see' where they were going with their tails.
Peter had no trouble carrying the dog kennel that was over half full of lobster until he was able to touch bottom and the cage was no longer buoyant, so Squeak happily took over as if their catch didn't actually weigh nearly 200 pounds. Peter grinned and shrugged sheepishly but stayed close to Freckles, Spot and Squeak, because when Fang called them to shore he battered their mental defenses as if they didn't exist and he wasn't interested in being punished separately. He forgot that the golden Fang couldn't move its paws or there was no doubt that the twin Great Cat sons at least, would have gone flying without their helicopter and he didn't want to be collateral damage.
"Now what do we do, they caught enough lobster for everyone so we won't need the restaurant reservations?" Bucky said to Victoria.
"Nonsense darling, the restaurant I chose didn't have a private dining room, so I booked the entire place, paid in advance. Those lobsters can be reheated, the Cats will have lobster rolls, and we'll need side dishes and of course, wine."
Bucky brightened, "Well then, let's get this show on the road. Do we fly if there's somewhere to land? We certainly all can't fit on the bus."
Victoria looked the boys over before she decided, "None of the boys from the bus can possibly go into a restaurant dressed as they are, they all look like rather unsuccessful rag pickers. They will take our helicopter and visit L.L. Bean in Freeport to buy suitable clothing first while we will use the bus. There will be room to land all three helicopters in the restaurant parking lot since our party is their only customer this evening."
"You heard the boss lady," Bucky said to the boys, "let's move out!"
Evan sent his five moving men in the semi-truck, back to New York. Then he gave Will the hand written list of addresses and ordered contingents of Trenton security men to occupy those, what he assumed to be residences that he didn't know he owned and if one happened to find Henrik in residence then they were to take him in custody and deliver him to Somerset Farm.
Will had a problem with that, he wanted Henrik's photo, which Evan didn't have, nor were there any known photos of Henrik anywhere in the Falconburg organization. If there were any, they had been removed. Describing him as a German National who 'looked' German and spoke English with a heavy German accent was insufficient identification, he explained. He pointed to Hans and Herman as two examples who could find themselves in handcuffs for the return trip to Somerset Farm.
Herman grinned, "We will go peacefully without handcuffs after lobster supper," he agreed, "but not before," he declared as he and Hans patted their weapons array lovingly, daring any of the boys to try to take them down.
All five of Evan's 'furniture movers' were finally and very thankfully in the truck and on the road back to New York City, and most importantly, they were all still alive. None wanted anything more to do with any species of cats or even one cat, especially one that outweighed any two of them.
The man that drove the truck to Maine, asked, "Are you guys sure that we shouldn't call Henrik like we usually do if he isn't there to meet us to place the junk?"
"Fuck no, in case you don't remember, the little kid we just met, was Evan Falconburg himself and he just found out that Henrik has been ripping him off with our help, even though we didn't know it. Too bad you didn't experience being held upside down by a giant cat's tail, being discussed by the same cats as if we were on the fucking menu!"
"I thought we were. On the menu I mean. Can you believe talking cats?"
"You didn't think shit; you kept fainting just like a pussy. That cat could have eaten your ass and you wouldn't have known…"
"…until the next time you tried to take a shit!"
"Fuck all you guys! Seriously, where do you think those cat's and those little native kids came from?" Three of the five men pointed up; the first driver hadn't thought about it.
"That's what I thought too. Maybe Falconburg's' got him his own personal space ship since he has a bunch of personal satellites?"
"Maybe, at least that's something Henrik hasn't stolen yet; and now that the kid is looking for him he won't have the chance."
"He must already know something's wrong since we didn't call."
"I bet he's got him a hidey hole somewhere; somewhere we've never delivered to."
"If he does, it better be fucking deep because when the kid finds him; well remember that photo of a pile of picked over bloody bones, we were shown?"
"I remember seeing it, but when I looked again, it wasn't there."
"Well, I remember that littlest kid's warning about that happening to us if we ran, and, um, that picture."
Victoria had been almost completely honest with the restaurant management; the party would arrive in three helicopters and one RV bus. She guaranteed the astronomical dollar amount with a platinum credit card and even waited patiently while the transaction was confirmed so it couldn't be canceled. The only area she did not elaborate on was the 'service animals'; she allowed management to presume that they would be dogs. She didn't think the restaurant would be too upset since they would make three times their normal daily gross and the Cat warriors, Peter and The Cats were supplying most of the lobster.
When Victoria really looked at the assembled gang who was about to re-board the bus for the trip to Freeport and the L.L. Bean store, she revised the travel plans. The bus, the gang and the Cats would proceed directly to the restaurant with Bucky aboard to keep order. Meanwhile, she would take mind-speakers, Will and Joe with her, flying in Great Cat or Black Widow and descend on L.L. Bean to do the shopping. There was just no way such a large group of 'rag pickers' could be seen in public before they were properly attired. Most of the grumbling stopped when Bucky reluctantly boarded and all of it from the warriors stopped when golden Fang followed Bucky.
Strangely, Bucky wouldn't allow Squeak to move the Cat Mobile until the helicopters had lifted off. Then he asked Evan; "Would there by any chance be anything to drink in your new house, and maybe a pound or two of butter and a pot to melt it? I was thinking that a cocktail party with lobster hors d'oeuvres would be in order until Victoria returns with your clothes."
No further suggestions or questions from the gang were necessary. Evan didn't touch the ground or floor until they were all deep inside the new wing. There was a fully stocked wine cellar with only the best vintages from around the world while bottled beer was more limited in brands and quantity because unlike wine, it didn't age and there was insufficient cooler space. But there was enough for the impromptu party, a picnic in the parking area alongside the camouflaged bus that was only spoiled by the open storage bay where the lobster were stored in their dog crate. Peter stood around guarding the closed bay that concealed the hampers packed with energy fruit.
The time to reveal the Ancient fruit's effects was in a bedroom. Peter was also unsure of the fruit's unique effects on the Cat warriors. There was no way to keep them away from the fruit so he thought it would be best if they tried them the first time, behind closed doors.
The warriors had resorted to using large stainless steel bowls from the house to clean the lobster because they were disappointed to find from Peter that bananas didn't grow in the land of snow and ice, hence there were no leaves to use as serving plates.
When the gang returned from the house, they each carried a case of wine or a particular brand of imported beer. Freckles found a box of the new plastic trash bags that refused to tear that the gang used on Sea Song to move the Cat People's currency instead of the special Ancient folding storage boxes and had the warriors fill them with ice cubes from the icemaker. (That was a machine that would soon be on the list of things to have back home in Cat City.) He and Spot carried those heavy, bulky bags.
None of the gang could find a corkscrew to present to Bucky so he could uncork the wine and there wasn't one on the bus. The Cat's hadn't bothered to look because they didn't know what a corkscrew was. Freckles disappeared back into the bus while Bucky described the essential tool to Spot. Although Bucky wasn't looking forward to opening dozens of bottles necessary to satisfy two Great Cat's appetites.
Spot asked the boys to open the wine cases and be sure to stand the bottles upright before he stared at the bottles briefly and corks began flying, randomly at first until he perfected his aim at anyone whose back was turned. That was when Freckles emerged from the bus carrying his travel bowls in his tail.
"Where did you get those bowls?" Peter asked suspiciously. "I know they weren't on the bus, there wasn't enough room to store them."
Freckles looked down his nose at Peter. He answered in his most haughty tone, "You yourself suggested that I make these travel bowls, so I made them. A travel bowl that refuses to travel when required is just a bowl."
"Somehow I knew I shouldn't have asked."
With that cryptic explanation, the nested bowls separated. Two were for ice cubes and wine and one was devoted to lobster meat that the Cats would share. Fortunately there was no shortage of towels and unfortunately there was no fresh fruit to be found.
The party was messy but fun and entertained the gang and the impetuous Great Cats and Cat warriors. Bucky was stuffed and just a bit tipsy when Will mind-spoke the group that Great Cat was in the air and would touch down at the restaurant in 30 minutes after being stuffed with new cloth coverings for the few and clothing for the many 'rag pickers'.
The gang loaded all the unopened consumables for use during the return trip to New Jersey, and returned bowls and other household items, which left a small mountain of debris; bottles, boxes and lobster shells, but no meat or whole lobster. "What do we do with the trash; we can't leave it here?" Bucky asked.
Fang's eyes came to life briefly and everything of questionable value disappeared.
Bucky rubbed his eyes. "Where did all that stuff go?"
Peter hiccupped and offered Bucky a lopsided grin. "Fang sent it all into nothingness," he explained. "Even I can do that, now that I know how, although the warriors and I have to use our tools." When he saw that Bucky wasn't satisfied with that explanation, he elaborated somewhat; "Any trash or debris of any kind can be reduced in size as big as dust. Then it's transported by will to somewhere else. If it's dry it looks like so much dust and very fine sand but if it gets wet, it turns into muck. That's how the river delta came into being. Simple," he added and tried to snap his fingers.
Golden Fang anticipated the boys and his progeny as the bus neared the restaurant by gliding from beside Bucky to the door, and then turn to face the mob who expected to race each other out the door. The statue dared anyone to try to squeeze past him without speaking a word.
The bus arrived three minutes before Great Cat the helicopter touched down as close to the bus as Devin could safely get to the building. Will sent Victoria's orders to the Cat Mobile; they needed assistance in carrying the new clothing from the chopper to the bus, however only those most decently clad; the guys wearing the new golden long underwear needed to help. Will and Joe followed the guys onto the bus to disperse the new clothing according to size. They also carried one very full bag each, which they presented to little Squeak, since Victoria knew his exact sizes.
The next half hour on the bus was like early Christmas that the Great Cats and Cat warriors knew to be some sort of white warrior religious holiday that they could have been celebrating annually had they not eliminated every robed missionary that intruded into their territory hundreds of years earlier, accompanied by the warriors wearing those ridiculous iron suits or alone. Those early intrusions could be smelled and heard from miles away. However, since they always enjoyed holidays, at least one every week, they felt they got the better of the two worlds without having to kneel down to strange effigies made from stolen property that the white warriors first saw in the People's treasure cave.
Since Squeak suddenly had another new wardrobe, he decided to go for the 'layered look' without knowing there was a layered look until Doug noticed that he could barely walk. Doug pointed out that the layered looked did not include three pairs of cord pants, four flannel shirts, a leather jacket and two ski parkas, complete with all manufacturer's and store tags. The boys ganged up on him, and tickling made him defenseless so they soon had him 'dressed down' with the promise that he could always change his cloth coverings whenever he wanted to; NOT including inside the restaurant. They made him leave the clothes he wasn't wearing behind, in Fang's safe keeping.
While Freckles and Spot wore their eyeglasses and neckties, the boys extracted their promise not to smile, frown at or talk to any humans they encountered inside. The twins still looked fearsome since their incisor teeth never quite fit inside their whiskered lips since the day of their birth, and in fact continued to grow with the rest of their bodies as they matured. Witness their sire Fang; even his statue accurately resembled a saber tooth tiger (with much shorter incisors), an effective and highly efficient killing machine at first glance. While the Cats agreed, they still noted the server's fear and no small amount of wonder; they still didn't exactly resemble any kind of service animal the restaurant ever saw, glasses and neckties notwithstanding. Victoria made a sincere effort to change all that, at least a little bit.
She intentionally entered the restaurant after everyone else, because she had surprise presents for the Great Cats; more human stuff that she thought they could actually 'wear' in the Cat's never ending quest to fit in with their human friends. She bought the Cats two of the largest backpacks that L.L. Bean had for sale. Both were rush monogrammed; Spot's was powder blue and Freckles was wine, his favorite dinnertime color.
Will produced a second plastic sack; black nylon web strapping and industrial Velcro to match the back pack's straps. The extra items were purchased from Lowe's since they had the most vacant parking space where Devin could land Great Cat, although under protest, and only if Joe and Will were very quick shoppers in the very large box store.
Joe bought the straps and Velcro while Will purchased special epoxy glue that would adhere to the straps and Velcro so the backpacks could be modified and worn on the Cat's shoulders and be removed with the flick of a tail, although they would need help to don the new human accoutrements that nearly every student wore or carried constantly.
The Great Cats were excited and vied with each other to be fitted first, by pushing each other's shoulders. When Victoria saw that they were about to start a rough and tumble, she raised her voice just like she did with her son, Buck. "You two stop this at once; if you don't, you will not receive your back packs!" she warned. The twins immediately prostrated themselves with their front legs stretched straight out with their heads on their legs. Their expressions changed subtly so both Cats managed to look contrite after being scolded.
"Apology accepted," Victoria said as she bent and patted both massive heads. "Now, first we will order our dinner and wine, then the boys and I will see about getting you both fitted at the same time," she decreed. The restaurant staff watched the impeccably dressed lady manage the two service cats, definitely not dogs, with open mouth wonder and also wondered which of the dinner party required so much four legged help.
Since Victoria took over the whole restaurant for the evening, the party enjoyed the service of the entire wait staff despite the presence of two very special 'service animals' that turned out to be giant cats. An 18% gratuity was automatically added to all large party checks so they knew they would all receive a minimum of that surcharge and if they proved to be efficient and friendly, there was always the possibility that they might receive more at the customer's whim.
Of course the group who had been on the bus, the one's most stylishly dressed in the latest L.L. Bean winter fashions, ordered steak while those who had flown on the helicopters, including Victoria, looked forward to enjoying the lobster that Squeak, Peter and the Great Cats had caught, as their entrée. The growing row in which some boys called others pigs (a killing offense in some secluded regions of the world), ended when one innocent waiter asked Squeak if he would like to sit on a booster seat that fit neatly between the arms of his classic captain's chair in the typical rustic 'down east' bay front lobster house.
There was a flurry of mind-speak pleas and reminders for Squeak not to be offended but he had already answered, "Yes please," and, "Thank you," after he plopped his little butt into the perfect size chair so he was at the perfect height to eat and of course tend to Spot's needs with a stack of extra napkins that Peter had already asked for. Peter also had two place settings cleared, and the corresponding chairs removed on his and Squeak's right; two places where the Cats would sit on the floor.
Squeak touched the waiter's mind and said, "You can scratch him if you want to, his name is Spot." That worthy bent his head helpfully and raised it under the waiter's hand. "I think Spot would like to have his ears scratched." Then he added, "You can use both hands to scratch both ears at the same time." Spot began his motorboat purr while he rubbed his head against the waiter's body. "He likes you."
"You could scratch my ears too," Freckles sent to Peter in open mind-speak that caused all the mind-speakers to laugh suddenly for no apparent reason.
"I could but I have to go out to get the travel bowls someone, not mentioning anyone's name, forgot."
"Perhaps, that human opening the wine would like to scratch my ears," Freckles suggested.
"I think he would, but he won't ever have time. Bucky ordered four cases or 48 bottles to start. Opening wine is a pain in the ass," Peter countered.
"No problem," Freckles sent back to Peter, just before Peter heard his own voice tell the waiter; "If you step back, or maybe scratch this Cat's ears, I will show you a trick with those wine bottles."
The waiter promptly left the serving trolley, handed Peter his corkscrew and began scratching Freckles' ears. The waiter knew that Peter's lips hadn't moved, but if he was a magician, he could also be a really good ventriloquist who could 'throw' his voice perfectly while frowning at the docile giant cat sitting at his side. All the remaining corks popped out at the same time and flew to hit the guys who were laughing at Freckles the hardest. Unfortunately there wasn't enough ammunition to make them stop completely before the second motorboat started in harmony with the first and Freckles' detractors were forgotten.
Peter left the restaurant wearing a frown, shaking his head and mumbling dire threats but when he returned with the travel bowls, he was laughing. He told everyone that what looked like the whole town turned out to see the three helicopters and the elegant bus that someone, without mentioning names again, had forgotten to de-camouflage before it left Evan's new estate. Also, less remarkable but entirely predictable; one of those residents just happened to be none other than the towns' Constable and Justice of the Peace, with his wife, who seemed to be a very happy wife, on his arm.
"Someone from inside this restaurant called someone outside and mentioned that there are two giant spotted cat's in here to have dinner with a private party!" Peter announced with a laugh and rapidly touched servers' minds. He felt a guilty young man who was scratching Spot and was near his age squirm mentally. Then a girl, two more guys and one of the owners; all made separate calls, to tell someone about the helicopters, the RV and the cats. He pointed to the first guy and said, "Can you help me in the kitchen? I need to fill these bowls with ice and maybe get some fresh pineapple if you have any."
Once in the kitchen, the waiter admitted that he called his parents to tell them about the cats' presence. He defended his action by saying that nothing happens in the small town of 1200 permanent residents in the winter. He said summer vacationers bring most of the interesting activities that the townsfolk see and talk about and the transport and cats were a lucky winter diversion. The result, news spread and the residents came out to see for themselves and no one was about to leave, despite the increased cold after sundown or the snow when it began to fall; everyone wanted to see the two cats.
There were only six pineapples, but the kitchen also had oranges, lemons, limes, lots of apples, and the bar contributed a gallon jar of cherries and two quarts of vodka, so Peter created fortified sangrias. Everything went into the bowls with the ice in the kitchen except the red wine that would be added in the dining room.
The helpful waiter wanted to know who was going to drink two punch bowls full of sangria; he would place extra glasses. To answer, Peter asked if the waiter could remember the recipe, since at least one and possibly two more refills would be required before dinner was finished because the two bowls were drink bowls for the Cats; that would be Cats with a capital 'C'.
The kitchen had plenty of freshly baked rolls to serve the traditional lobster rolls, so Peter instructed the chef about substituting lobster for steak that would be served to the Cats for dinner; start with a dozen each and be prepared to grill more. Of course the restaurant certainly didn't have gold serving platters or trays, nor did they have silver, so the Cats would have to suffer through dinner being served on aluminum trays, if they wanted to eat dinner. He checked via mind-speak. The food on the tray was more important than the inferior metal serving tray, just as he thought.
Once Peter and the waiter placed the incomplete drinks in front of the Cats and each Cat waited impatiently for them to top off the bowls with a dozen bottles of wine, the helpful waiter had questions. "Is it legal to serve alcohol to animals?" and, "Do you want to use our house red wine, instead of this stuff that costs $125 per bottle?" Something smacked the back of the waiter's head that caused him to say, "OW!" and look back while Spot studied the ceiling.
"Would it surprise you if I told you that these Cats understood what you said, and they also have prehensile tails? You'll find out about that when you serve them their steak sandwiches and Spot just used his to tell you to stop with the questions," Peter answered questions with one of his own. Spot followed through by pouring the first bottle of the expensive stuff, which started a race between Spot and Freckles. Peter and the waiter helped and just about the time the bowls were full and the Cats were about to dive into Peter's sangria concoction for ice cubes and fruit, Victoria stopped them.
"Oh no you don't, if you want to be fitted for your backpacks now," Victoria told the Cats.
Peter had his back to Freckles when someone, not mentioning names, used his voice to ask Victoria, "Can the Cats stand up to be fitted, AND drink their drinks at the same time?"
The waiter saw Peter shake a frustrated warning fist at Freckles but didn't know why, just before he pushed the Cat roughly so he would move to the side slightly so there was room to place the backpack high on the Cats' shoulders so he and Victoria could figure out how to arrange the straps around, and behind the Cat's legs and another between them to join yet another around his neck without interfering with his necktie or his communicator.
While Peter and Victoria worked on Freckles' pack, Squeak and the boldest waiter did the same for Spot. When it was time to cut the new strap material to the required lengths, Squeak pulled Peter down to his level, below the tabletop so they couldn't be seen. Peter held the strap and Squeak drew his finger over the imaginary lines to do the cutting and melt the cut ends slightly so they wouldn't fray with use. When they saw that the special adhesive required 24 hours to bond properly, they simply squeezed those areas where the Velcro needed to be attached so the bonds were made by 'welding' without using the adhesive at all.
The work was finished just about the same time as the sangria. The modified backpacks became the first ever 'Catpacks' as the Velcro tabs were closed. Peter and Squeak wiped Cat faces and everyone gathered to see the result while the Cats posed. Peter sent the helpful waiter and a helper off to the kitchen to make two fresh drinks, before he suggested that the Cats make a quick lap around the restaurant to make sure the packs would stay in place.
Big mistake; vague instructions were far worse that no instructions in this case. Spot grabbed and seated Squeak on his back and both Cats raced to and out the front door before anyone could stop them. Fortunately it was dark and the outside lighting was poor, so just a few local residents only thought they saw something before two happy Cats and one very happy boy returned. Unfortunately the same residents pointed down at huge animal tracks in the powdery snow to confirm what they thought, before the tracks were obliterated by more falling snow.
Frustrated Peter rolled his eyes and his head. "I meant take a lap around INSIDE the restaurant," he said.
"OOOPS," the Cats and Squeak replied in unison.
"This new pack is like a saddle," Squeak said happily, "I am Marshal Rooster Cogburn, from the old American west! High-Ho-Sliver!"
"Sorry Rooster," Doug said to Squeak with a laugh, "You've got your movies mixed up." He explained the great time difference between the half hour, black and white TV show and the more recent movie starring the great white warrior, John Wayne.
While the boys and warriors discussed TV shows, motion pictures and games played on televisions, dinner was served. While Freckles and Spot demonstrated their tails' dexterity eating their steak sandwiches, when their tails were not otherwise engaged both held them up so they could study themselves wearing their unique Cat packs. They agreed without false modesty that they were two very handsome Great Cat students. Of course the Cat conversation was conducted in open mind-speak so everyone except Bucky and Victoria heard and agreed with the Cats' opinion.
Buck finally asked a question, "Now that you've got packs, what are you going to put in them? You don't need to carry books; you can read any book without disturbing the pages and you remember every word." He reminded them that they always used the closest printer if they needed to write anything so they had no need of notebooks, pens or pencils. Further, no teenage Great Cat could ever hope to carry enough food, even for a snack, in one of those little packs, so the original question remained.
"I know what I will carry," Spot was first to answer while he gazed lovingly down on his little Cat friend. Squeak, the friend in question, jumped up to stand on his booster seat before he jumped to the floor, well out of Cat tail range in the direction of the door.
"Oh no, you will not stuff this brave warrior in your Cat pack," he declared from a safe distance, "If you try, I promise the fur will fly as your new pack disappears into nothingness!"
Doug broke up laughing. "Can we assume that was a definite NO?" He asked Squeak out loud.
The restaurant staff looked at Doug strangely before they glanced at each other and shrugged. They knew that friends and relatives who were shivering outside would ask and continue to ask far more questions about this unique party than they could make up plausible answers to already, so some of the commentary would simply be left out.
Spot moved in a blur of speed and when everyone looked to see where he went, they saw that he had Squeak clutched in his tail was and grooming his face while he apologized profusely for the affront to Tara Squeak, The Enforcer.
"Speaking of manners," Peter sent to Freckles while touching his head to Freckles' side so what he said would remain confidential between the two forever. That was a new trick Peter didn't know that he knew until that moment. He didn't know why this intimate form of mind-speak worked or how he knew about it; he just suddenly knew. "Have you thought of a way to thank Victoria properly for your new packs and cloth coverings, and Victoria and Bucky for allowing us to almost take over their ostentatious hut?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "If you haven't, I have a suggestion."
"Bani planned to gift Victoria and Chief Bucky with his stonewood tree and any other works she chooses. He will make others smaller and different for sale, but the first tree is very special; it is the only tree that will ever contain the Council of 12," Freckles answered. "Did you have something else in mind?"
"I was thinking that it might be very nice to give them a mini-holiday. If you can keep everyone busy in here, I will go out to the bus, remake the bed and stock the sleeping space with a nice bowl of energy fruit and a jar of paste. I will drive back to Trenton Hall and you will officially assist me to drive and unofficially assist Bucky and Victoria to have a very good time in the closed resting place during the five hour trip. We will give them a unique, lasting memory of this adventure, while everyone else will return in the helicopters," Peter concluded.
Freckles didn't agree or disagree with Peter's proposal, he merely said, "My honored sire Fang will assist you to drive the Cat Mobile after you teach him how."
Freckles started his diversion by using Peter's voice to request a drink refill and a 'few' more delicious steak sandwiches. This order prompted Squeak to request a similar order for Spot, and another steak dinner for himself. Then, not to be 'out eaten' by little Squeak, the warriors ordered three more steak dinners, before they would be ready for dessert; apple and blueberry pie(s) alamode.
Before Peter excused himself to go to the restroom, he instructed the helpful waiter in keeping Freckles' face wiped after each drink from his bowl and as necessary, while he ate his sandwiches. Once safely alone in the men's room Peter took out his precious tool and pushed the clicker on one end. No one saw him exit the building and had to assume that a rogue gust of wind blew open the door somehow even though all commercial doors open out, not in.
Outside, he grabbed one whole basket of energy fruit from the storage bay and found himself and the basket inside the bus in the blink of an eye. He slowed to make the bed carefully and when he went to hide the soiled linen in the stacked washer he laughed at what he found already hidden there. The new Cat packs would be the perfect places to store Kad and Sidi's tools that could be used in an emergency if a Tara wasn't present and he didn't think that the Cat's would object, although Bani might since he considered his bodyguards to be somewhat impetuous, also termed flakey.
Golden Fang came to life to say that Chief Bucky looked forward to an un-interrupted interlude with his mate and he would order wine and small foods for the journey. Peter was completely surprised, apparently confidential mind-speak messages were not confidential to mature Great Cats with direct line telephones, "Honored Great Cat Fang, you listened in on our conversation and you asked him already?"
"Yes, we will have great amusement. You will teach this Cat to drive and then this Cat will teach you how to drive like a Great Cat."
"Oh boy, I can hardly wait," Peter tried to sound enthusiastic.
If Fang noticed, he didn't comment, he had Peter's future as Tara Peter the Finder to discuss, or rather inform. Peter would need a proper human mate. He suggested Edvard. Then he was to seek Chief Bucky's advice in the purchase of another Kermit flying machine for use by him and the Cat People to journey to and from the Cat lands. Next Peter needed to hire is own replacement as the Great Cat's Executive Assistant.
"How about Tracy, he's Kermit's present steward? As you know he was with me almost everywhere I went when I was there. Did you like him?" Peter knew that he was actually talking to the living Fang through the statue and the real Fang had met Tracy in some frantic rough and tumbles in Angus' home and in Cat City and was in fact reluctant to depart the Cat lands so quickly. Freckles had also rough and tumbled he and Tracy often enough on Kermit during the flights in both directions, so there were few personal secrets between them. Fang approved of sky warrior Tracy and suggested that Tracy also find a human friend or a mate who would be prepared to assist Tracy in his position of Executive Assistant to Great Cats, and now three and perhaps more Taras should more be discovered.
Then Fang asked if Peter knew of uses for any of the other Ancient plants that were growing in Cat City. The statue watched Peter's mind click on as he searched hidden recesses, latent knowledge that only a true Ancient might possess. Peter cupped his chin, deep in thought before he said, "Well, do you know of the small tree that develops white round fruit? They're about the size of softballs when they're ripe, the white turns crystal clear and you can see through them because they're full of a clear liquid. If you squeeze one they feel like a water balloon."
"Show an image in your mind so I may see this softball tree." Fang directed, then said, "Yes, I know this tree; they grow close to the Ancient's throne. Great Cats do not squeeze a thing more than once."
Peter laughed, he could imagine why a Great Cat, with needle sharp claws could not squeeze anything as fragile as a water balloon. "That's the bunch of trees I mean, growing close to the throne and the resting places so they were always close for the Ancients to pick for themselves."
"You know that Great Cats and Cat People can drink alcohol without getting drunk; well the Ancients weren't affected by alcohol either so they introduced these softball fruit that I guess contain something else. If an Ancient picked one that was ripe, meaning completely clear with the stem attached, the juice inside turns blue in minutes and it's ready to drink. To drink the juice the Ancient would carefully push the hollow stem into the fruit and suck the juice out. If a Cat warrior, an Ancient or probably a Great Cat drank too much of the blue juice you would get drunk just like humans do from drinking alcoholic drinks. If I'd remembered these softballs while I was there, I would have tried one to see what happens. If the juice tasted good and had a kick, we could grow them in groves and pick the ripe ones year-round but I don't think they would ever be as profitable as paste is going to be."
Peter took the rare opportunity to be alone with Great Cat Fang to discuss something that had been bothering him. Freckles hired him away from the Trenton's while he was working as the steward on Kermit, and Freckles doubled his salary to work as the Great Cat's Executive Assistant in part because he had thumbs and he wasn't afraid of Freckles from the very beginning. However there was never any discussion about how and when he was to be paid. He was living in luxury but he still had truck payments that he'd been making from his savings and he'd like to provide for his mother so she didn't have to work. He didn't dare use a credit or debit card to purchase anything for himself; he was just about flat ass broke.
Golden Fang's emerald eyes flashed briefly. He said, "That was what humans call an oversight. It has been corrected." Of course Fang didn't say what he'd done; Peter would just have to wait and see.
"Thanks Great Cat. I've got to get back inside before I'm missed. Freckles just ate the last of the restaurant's blueberry pies without help! He's a mess!"
Peter had no sooner appeared in the dining room when he was all but assaulted by JC and Edvard. Edvard was laughing but JC was frowning. "Your name will be added to all the Katz family accounts by tomorrow morning," JC announced. "You should have said something about not being paid. Great Cats know nothing about paying wages regularly, so from now on, Tara Peter, you can pay yourself."
Edvard wrapped his arm around Peter's neck so he could whisper his good news in Peter's ear. Great Cat Fang just ordered him to resign from Evan's employ because he was just made Peter's official mate and with his computer skills, he was made the Katz Family's Chief Financial Officer. Edvard was so happy; he even sent his tongue into Peter's ear to seal the deal in preparation for the ride home on the Cat Mobile with Peter. They would trust Fang to do the driving.
It was Peter who announced that everyone would fly home. The gang from the bus cheered as the pilots rushed from the building to begin their preflight checks and apparently no one thought about the Cat Mobile, although if asked, it could have driven home without anyone's assistance.
Peter rolled his eyes when he looked at Freckles and Spot, blueberry purple and dripping vanilla ice cream up to their emerald eyeballs was not very attractive and wet towels wouldn't help much. Squeak wasn't much help either, he was laughing at Spot too hard. Peter sent the Great Cats with Bani and Squeak outside with instructions for the Cats to clean themselves in the snow before the four exotics held a brief meet and greet with the local citizens to satisfy their curiosity.
"Why didn't you just eat apple pie?" Peter grumbled in mind-speak.
"We did, we ate them first, they were delicious too!" Freckles sent back on the way out the door in the company of the entire gang. There was obviously going to be a rough and tumble in the fresh snow to burn off some dinner calories, although Victoria screamed warnings about any more torn clothing OR cloth coverings, she hastened to add for the warrior's benefit.
Victoria added a generous tip and signed the check without looking at the charges as Bucky put a stack of Ben Franklins under his wine glass while he ordered two bottles of wine and two wine glasses to go, and all the guys that had any cash also left generous tips. That December day was to become a local annual holiday.
The small party that was to take the Cat Mobile waited inside until the choppers lifted off with the rest of the gang and Spot aboard. When they looked out they saw that the locals had remained and seemed to be looking at a snow bank that was adjacent to the sidewalk from the building to the parking lot.
"I'll bet you a buck that damned Cat is under that pile," Peter guessed as they left the building, "and he'll pounce as we walk by." He had barely offered the bet when the top part of the snow pile pounced just as he predicted.
Freckles took the whole party down into the snowbank including Victoria, regardless of her one of a kind, designer original pants suit although he was careful not to damage those cloth coverings; but he made sure they were just as wet as everyone else's.
Peter began laughing before everyone else when he realized the Great Cat's motive; even undamaged wet clothing would have to be removed for comfort. Freckles treated Bucky just like he treated the boys earlier; his suit was a total loss but he was laughing too hard to care. While he didn't harm Peter or Edvard's clothing he made sure they were wet; even though those two boys already had sufficient excuse to get naked; they were planning to consummate their new relationship once in the bus, and on the road; no clothing required.
The Freckles inspired rough and tumble ended as quickly as it began. Freckles shook off and grabbed Victoria to whisk her off to the bus despite the townsfolk watching. He left Peter and Edvard behind to assist Bucky and some of his cloth coverings in boarding the bus. Peter took that time alone with Bucky to whisper instructions concerning the bowl of energy fruit he would find in the resting place along with a container of paste. The instructions were simple; eat only one each and then wait and see what happens, eat more as necessary.
The bus started moving before Peter got to the driver's seat, and had exited the parking lot before he remembered to grasp the steering wheel for appearance sake. He looked back to see Freckles seated in front of the resting place door. He was waiting until the sounds of love making began before he entered, by then the couple wouldn't care and after he began 'assisting' them, in all likelihood, they would invite him to be of assistance every time they went to bed.
Long after the bus disappeared up Main Street on the way to the Interstate, the townspeople noticed that the restaurant driveway had been cleared of snow along with a single lane the bus traveled on Main Street. Not plowed, but cleared in some way that left the pavement wet and steaming. That strange phenomenon was yet another item of gossip for many years to come.
Peter gave up the pretense of driving before they got out of town. He began stripping and laughing at the same time while golden Fang moved forward to sit beside the driver's seat close to the windshield. "What the hell…" he thought. He blinked experimentally and the pop outs, popped out to provide the interior space necessary for the Greats' driving sofa to become a double bed.
He pulled Edvard down on the bed before he said, "Honored Great Cat Fang, you are an excellent driver but there are some things you should remember whenever humans are around to see this bus. The bus engine should really be running when the bus is moving, and the wheels should be turning and touching the road surface at the same time, meanwhile we are enjoying this ride." He looked up into Edvard's adoring eyes and whispered, "And I will enjoy this ride after we enjoy some energy fruit."
"To hear is to obey, Honored Ancient Tara Peter," Golden Fang and Edvard responded in unison.
Once again Friend Emoe saved this chapter for me from MS Word's capricious actions. Word seems to know that I am electronically challenged and takes every advantage. Thank you Emoe, THE EDITOR!