Will our hero ever catch a break?

Patches found himself gazing into vacant and confused eyes as Dustin stood mute before him, “Have you lost your tongue, boy?”

Dustin shook his head emphatically, “Oh no, sir, I have it right here, see?” The tongue was extended for inspection as Patches merely sighed. “But, sir, I really do hope terribly that you can help me retrieve my cat. I miss him awfully much!”

Patches started massaging his temples as he ground out through gritted teeth, “Dustin, I do not WANT to be retrieved. I do not like you. I have been happily free of you for these many months, and I have no desire to change that.”

Dustin nodded agreeably, “Yes, sir, but could I have my cat back?”

He turned and started beating his head rhythmically against a wall.

“Sir? Are you all right, sir?”

The cat turned his head and squinted at the annoyance before him. There was a faint red mark on his forehead. “Am I all right? You want to know if I’m all right, Dustin?” The pretty but vacant head nodded eagerly, “I am not bloody well all right, Dustin! Why don’t you get another cat?”

The boy shook his head, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that, sir. Patches is ever so special. I’m not sure where I’d find another talking cat.”

“Or shape-shifting one,” was muttered beneath a breath before a greater one was taken, “Dustin, I am Patches. I do not want to go home. I am perfectly content where I am. Go. Away.”

A head was already shaking, “You can’t be Patches, sir, for you’re much too tall!”

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Patches’ head was again beating a nice tempo against his wall. For this reason he did not immediately notice the knocking on the door. It wasn’t until he heard a plaintive, “Neighbour?” That he stopped with a groan. It just kept getting better. He pushed Dustin out of sight and held up a warning finger. He stood with his hand on the doorknob and glared at the boy until he clapped his hands over his mouth and nodded. The door cracked open the barest smidgen, “Yes?”

A bright, white, and sharp smile greeted him, “Oh dear, I do so hate to bother you, but my dinner is running late and I wondered if you might have something to tide me over? A steak? Pigeon? That delectable boy who was pounding on your door?” Curls were patted into place, “Whatever you could spare, really. I would be so grateful.”

He leaned his head against the frame, “Eugenia…you can’t eat the boy. The din hasn’t died down from the last time your dinner was running late and you got peckish.”

A girlish pout appeared, “Oh, pooh. He was barely a mouthful. I don’t see what all the fuss was about,” a long suffering sigh whooshed out, “Very well, but do you have that steak? I really am most awfully hungry.”

He gritted his teeth, “You really need to learn to keep your larder stocked.” Her eyes stared up at him in entreaty and he sighed, “I might have a steak. Wait here.” He carefully closed and locked his door, he wasn’t trusting his sanguinaire neighbour to any degree. As he came back to the door, steak in hand, he could hear a commotion arising out in the hall. If this kept on the way it had begun, his teeth would be worn to stubs! He put his hand on the doorknob and hesitated briefly. Glancing over at Dustin with narrowed eyes, he started to turn it.

An Unwelcome Visitor

Patches snarled, ears flat against his skull. While he could think of a number of individuals who would adore pounding angrily on his door, none immediately stood out from the others. A resigned sigh escaped his feline lips; he would have to investigate.

Slinking out the open window, he deftly balanced as he slipped along the gutter. Below stood  a caricature cloaked in black, the broad-brimmed hat shoved comically low over the face. It was clear that this fellow was an amateur, and Patches was sure that the situation would sort itself out if he ignored it. He sniffed in disdain, trotting back to bed. That disdain would very nearly prove his undoing. Looking up at the sound, the foolish figure happily shouted “Patches! It’s me!”

Patches, nearly once more abed, swore quietly to himself. The boy – he’d completely forgotten about the boy. It was surely more prudent to let him in than to leave the damned dandy on the doorstep, alerting all of Catford to his whereabouts. Reluctantly shifting back to a more presentable shape, he shrugged into the closest dressing-gown to hand and trudged sleepily towards the door. He was most put out.

Swinging wide the door, Patches bowed mockingly low, every elaborate flourish indicating his scorn. The lad gaped at the greeting, but stood in the narrow doorway. “My cat has a butler?”

“No, you dolt. Does it look like anyone who lives here keeps servants? Get inside!” As the erstwhile cat grew more agitated, his words took on a sharper hiss. Stumbling over the lintel, the oaf knocked the valise from its resting place, sending banknotes into flurries in the cramped hall. Patches swiftly slammed the door, and with no trace of sympathy for the sprawling young man, injured, prone, and mewling. He began shoving a year’s worth of wealth back where it belonged.

The boy rose, apologizing all the while; it was clear that he hadn’t learned to control his constant chatter. Patches glared as he firmly latched the bag shut. “Enough, Dustin. Why are you here? Were you followed? Who sent you?”

“How – how do you know my name, sir? Who are you? Do you happen to have a cat living here? Only my cat ran off quite some time ago, you see, and I’m quite certain I saw it on your eaves yesterday evening, and Patches isn’t just any cat, you see – he’s quite special. He can talk, sir, really and truly! And I would quite like him back.” With a happy little smile, Dustin seemed to hug himself with happiness, secure in the knowledge that his poor, poor, pussy might at last be coming home, and not at all afraid of the man before him, or his queer mannerisms.

Patches, unable to do anything beyond blink in the wake of this torrent of words, blinked. “Dustin,” he slowly began, “You surely remember that I’m not always a cat? And that I don’t very much care for you?”

A Few Surprises

With a nod of Mr. Johnson’s head, the man carrying the valise with Patches’ payment left the room as quietly as he had appeared.

“I believe our transaction is complete, then,” Patches announced.

He stood on his hind legs –  most unusual for a cat – and to Mr. Johnson’s shock, grew to five times his original size. His tabby fur receded with every inch until a thick haired, mustachioed man appeared. Patches now sported a neatly pressed herringbone suit and matching bowler hat.

“I…I do say…my word!” Mr. Johnson stammered, his squinty brown eyes becoming orbs. His right hand, which had been toying with a fountain pen, quivered and splattered ink all over the blotter.

The former cat bent to pick up the valise, chuckling “My word indeed!” As he walked swiftly toward the door, he called back over his shoulder, “We’ll be in touch, Mr. Johnson.”

Patches didn’t really like having outsiders understand his ability to metamorphose, but he less enjoyed the prospect of Mr. Johnson’s cronies delivering a sackful of cash to his residence. So far, he’d been able to keep the location completely confidential from any employers, and this decision had served him well. None had ever been able to locate him after he completed a job. Tabby cats appear on every street corner in the urban world, and thick-haired, mustachioed men in herringbone suits and matching bowler hats were even more ubiquitous.

After a labyrinthine course through the city, certain no one followed him, Patches unlocked the rickety street-level door and lit the gas lamp. Setting down the valise on the chair by the door, he unclasped it and scanned the contents. Satisfied that he had not been had, he removed the bowler and unknotted his neck cloth, walking into the cramped drawing room where he had laid out the plans earlier that morning. Throwing his jacket on the threadbare sofa, he bent over and examined the hastily written instructions, the detail devoted solely to the representations of the building. This would be the easiest of all jobs, and really, he had perhaps been overpaid a bit for such a basic theft. Not that Patches lost a moment to remorse over this…

Gathering up the plans and tucking them back into the dossier he’d received yesterday afternoon, Patches stuffed them amongst a pile of neglected correspondence, and walked toward the tiny garret at the back of the apartment. As he walked, he shrunk back down and resumed the comfortable feline gait. He found he slept much sounder in this form.

He had no sooner nestled on the pillow of the small bed than his ear cocked at a sudden, sharp pounding on the front door.

And we begin!

“That seems like a ridiculously high amount to charge for such a simple task!” the fat man protested. “I’m sure that it could be done for quite a bit less, perhaps by someone else!”
Patches growled at his client, baring one fang to make his point, “The price was agreed about beforehand, you wouldn’t be trying to amend the contract at such a late date, would you?” His claws came out and dug into the oak of his desk, “I would hate to think you were trying to cheat me while besmirching my character.” Splinters appeared on the desktop as his claws worked and fur rose along his ruff, “I would hate to have to deal with such…slander.”
The man nervously loosened his collar, “I-I’m sure there will be nothing to worry about. Your reputation is unimpeachable.” He wiped away a drop of sweat from his brow as the fang disappeared back behind the bewhiskered lip and the claws drew back.
Patches was amused by his client’s swift backpedaling and his tail lashed behind him. “Of course my reputation is unimpeachable, Mr. Johnson. I am simply the best burglar to be found. Which ever direction an item is going, in or out, it will get there with no one the wiser.” He purred slightly and there was a glitter from his slitted eyes.
Mr. Johnson eyed the claws that were advancing and retracting from the fuzzy paws before him, “The…item must be recovered within the fortnight.” He gulped at the sight of a re-emerging fang and hurried on, “That is what my superiors have stated. The deadline is a fortnight. We do, of course, realize that we have nothing to worry about with you on the job.”
Patches’ barely audible purr started once again, “That is because I am the best. You may tell your superiors that there is nothing to worry about. I trust you have payment at hand?”
The fat man patted at his forehead with a hastily retrieved handkerchief, “I just simply contact our security team and they will escort it in.” At the inquisitive lift of a whiskery eyebrow, he hastily added, “Which I shall do. Immediately, of course!”
As Johnson whipped out his cell-phone with a shaky hand and whispered into it, the cat leaned back with a contented look. Business was good and life even better. He smiled, a mere quirk of a grin, as his client put his phone away.
“It’ll be up in just a moment Mr. Patches. Just the merest moment and our team will escort it in,” the nervous babbling pleased Patches, and his purr grew louder. Johnson grew more nervous, not knowing whether a pleased cat was a good or bad thing for his own hide. He relaxed slightly as a knock came at the door, “I-I’m sure that will be them. Shall I?” He motioned at the door and leapt from his seat at Patches’ affirmative reply.
The knob shook in his hand as he opened the door, revealing three large men looming behind it. The cat’s ears twitched forward and his eyes gleamed with satisfaction as he saw the large bag carried by the man in the center.
“Excellent,” he hissed as his purr became a rumble, “Most excellent, indeed. You may tell your superior’s, Mr. Johnson, that their task will be completed with the utmost efficacy.”