Among the Cats of Manhattan there is one called Rocky, barely out of kittenhood, who is rapidly becoming a whiskered Nancy Drew.
Her search for the lost Gris-Gris had landed Rocky in a corner of the theatre district that she generally avoided. On the whole, she liked the Tabbies of Times Square, but there was one she couldn’t stand -- a misbehaving tabby who wouldn’t admit his age but who was old enough to know better. Wearing a diamond earring in one ear and a tiny fedora on top of his head, he paced the sidewalks between 50th and 42nd, day and night. Calling all the young female cats “Doll,” he pestered them with his attentions. In return, they had nicknamed him “Mr. Glib.”
There was no sign of Mr. Glib at first, but, “Speak of the devil,” Rocky groaned. There he came – his plump self prancing around the corner, in the middle of a crowd of tourists. Some of the women pointed their cameras at him, while the men called out, “There’s a real Broadway cat! What play do you think he’s in? Hey, turn your head this way.” Eager to oblige, Mr. Glib twisted his head around so that his diamond earring winked in the sun. Once he had made sure that there would be plenty of pictures of him in Florida or Iowa or wherever the tourists were from, he had attention to spare for Rocky. But he had reckoned without Pup.
While Rocky fell back on her only defence, putting on the expression that says, “you-aren’t-there-and-I-don’t-see-you,” Pup strolled back out of the entrance to the Iridium. It was a slow deliberate stroll, full of energy that was biding its time. Unmoving, like Patience and Fortitude combined, he positioned himself between Rocky and Mr. Glib. He didn’t look at either one.
As quickly as someone flipping a switch, Mr. Glib switched his gaze off Rocky. He swivelled around toward the restaurant, and as a customer hurried out, he charged through the open door and disappeared inside.
Rocky heaved a huge sigh of relief. But her peace was short-lived. As soon as she got inside the doorway of the Iridium, she saw that the club was in the basement. It could be reached only by going down a long flight of narrow steps that was so steep it made Rocky’s head swim.
Her heart pounded like a jackhammer. Staircases were her big terror. Not sensible apartment staircases or subway staircases, where the steps were fairly broad and the distance between the steps generally shallow. This staircase was almost a straight drop to the bottom, and the bottom was a long way down.
“Rrrooo?” she begged Pup anxiously. That meant, “Why should I do this?” But as soon as she asked that, an electric charge surged through her whiskers. Pup had brought her to the jazz club, because that’s where Gris-Gris was! Her first case was solved! That was the good news. The bad news followed right behind. Professionally responsible to see this case through to the end, she had to get herself down to the basement. Failure to do that would be Dereliction of Duty, which her mother put on a par with mange, and Rocky shared her mother’s opinion.
Buying time, Rocky turned around in circles. When Pup saw the sweaty little prints her paws were leaving on the ground, he stepped masterfully in front of her. Young and vigorous, he made himself move at the stiff pace of a twenty-year-old cat with arthritis in every leg. Putting his front paws on the step below him, he paused. Slowly, he started up again and, slowly, he reached the next step.
Rocky’s fear melted away. By moving at such a slow tempo, and with the bulk of Pup in front of her, like a soft landing place in case she fell, she could manage the staircase. And she did! In less time than she had thought possible, she was standing at the bottom.
Once inside the club, she and Pup threaded their way through a pleasant, dimly-lit room, crowded with empty tables. There was an elevated stage in the front of the room with space for a small orchestra, but this afternoon, there were only four elderly men having a jam session. Across their shirts ran the words “Gray-haired Bluesmen.” Just as she reached the front, she heard one of the Bluesmen call out, “Let’s start with ‘Walking Through New Orleans.’”
As the mellow sound of a clarinet floated through the air, Rocky stretched out beside the stage, partly to let her heart beat return to normal, and partly to look around for Gris-Gris.
But Pup kept on the move. Rocky lost sight of him among the long white tablecloths, but she spotted him again when he got to the top of a small staircase at the back. Apparently, the stairs led to the kitchen, because in a short while, a waitress came out carrying a plate. Behind the waitress was Pup, and behind Pup trotted a chocolate brown cat with a crumpled back foot. Gris-Gris!
Rocky dashed over in their direction. But before she got to Gris-Gris, her mind called out, “Watch it!” She had been all ready to gush over Gris-Gris, sing a song about her reunion with Mrs. Castle, and do a dance at her own success. Her mind was telling her, “This approach will backfire.”
As Gris-Gris’ face came into clear view, it was obvious to Rocky that she had forgotten all about her earlier life. She looked dazed, like somebody under a spell. What could have happened? As this question reverberated in Rocky’s mind, one answer came quickly. The answer was “Mr. Glib.”
Sgt. Pinky had taught her daughter that there were numerous ways of being a dimwit. It wasn’t only crossing a street without looking. It was letting yourself be Taken In by Appearances, Falling for Flattery, wanting the Easy Life. As the waitress put down a plate by Gris-Gris, with a cat-sized portion of scrambled eggs and bacon, Rocky realized that Gris-Gris was under the three-fold spell of Mr. Glib, New Orleans-style jazz, and restaurant food.
Gris-Gris was too busy making short work of her snack to notice Rocky. And Rocky realized that to Gris-Gris, who saw herself as Mr. Glib’s Doll and the waitress’s pet, Rocky was dust on the floor. She could forget about Gris-Gris coming home with her. If she wanted to make Mrs. Castle happy, she would have to have a plan.
By a miracle, a splendid plan rose up in her imagination. Like a neon sign, it winked and blinked in vibrant colors. But it needed Pup’s cooperation. Fortunately, Gris-Gris was chasing the last bit of bacon around the plate, so Rocky had a chance to signal to Pup what she intended to do.
Instead of rushing up to Gris-Gris with mews of joy, Rocky charged her eyes with a look of intense dislike. She stalked around the tables, approaching Gris-Gris just as she licked the last bit of egg off her whiskers. Rocky uttered a low, jealous hiss. She hissed again.
Confused, Gris-Gris started back. It was obvious that she didn’t understand what Rocky’s antagonism was all about. Why does this stranger hate me? But when she looked over her shoulder and saw Pup, she sat up with a pleased air. Here was a male who obviously preferred her to that stupid gray cat with the death-ray eyes. She gave a little wiggle of satisfied vanity and shot Pup a come-hither look.
Pup shot back the appraising kind of stare that gives nothing away. Ignoring Rocky as planned, he headed for the outside stairs. To Rocky’s relief, Gris-Gris followed Pup outside and up the steps. Trailing behind them, Rocky acted the part of Rejected Girlfriend, letting her tail hang down and her whiskers droop in a sad kind of way. While the strains of the Bluesmen playing, “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey,” followed them out of the club, Rocky prayed that Mr. Glib would be nowhere in sight.
As soon as they were up on the street, it was obvious that Rocky’s prayers had been answered. The coast was Glib-free. Without interruption, Pup headed toward Mrs. Castle’s apartment, leading the way down Broadway to 49th.
It was five o’clock, and the matinees had just let out, so there was heavy foot traffic to the right and left of the three cats. A stream of human voices flowed back and forth above their heads -- theatre-goers rhapsodizing about the shows and co-workers exchanging the daily kvetch. Rocky had to step smartly to avoid a man made up to look like Patti Lupone, who was capering along the pavement, belting out all of Rose’s songs from Gypsy.
Despite these distractions, Rocky saw Aaron, walking along dreamily and hugging a bag of Chinese take-out. He saw her too and blew a kiss to her. She also noticed one of the Catlicks whisking into an alley, and just as they reached St. Malachy’s, she saw the pastor running down the steps. He gave her a quick smile, as if he recognized her as Peggy’s sister, but before he could speak, someone across the street called to him and he turned away.
They were almost at the corner of Eighth Avenue, but they got no further than the Singhs, when Mrs. Castle came out. Seeing Gris-Gris, she let out a shriek and dropped the jacket that the Singhs had cleaned for her.
That was all it took to break the spell! Gris-Gris leaped into her arms. As she happily licked Mrs. Castle’s neck, it was obvious to Rocky that old loyalties had reasserted themselves. Gris-Gris was home and glad to be home. And if she ever wandered away again, Rocky would know where to find her!
“How can I ever thank you, Rocky,” called Mrs. Castle. “I’m going to leave a little something special at the Singhs for you. If you come here tomorrow afternoon, you’ll get a nice surprise.”
Before Rocky could let her know that Pup had also played an important role in Gris-Gris’s recovery, Mrs. Castle had turned away. She and Gris-Gris were nose to nose, whispering sweet nothings in Cajun and Feline.
Rocky sighed happily. She loved to start something and finish it in a way her mother would approve of. Besides, now that FEDA was a successful business, she could think about a boyfriend. She looked around for Pup, but he too had gone. He was heading down Eighth Avenue with his characteristically confident stride and, despite his raggedy appearance, the same aplomb as the library lions.
But now it was time for a nap. She darted past the Singhs’ water bowl to investigate the cushion they kept in their back room. It was a velvet cushion with a cat-shaped hollow in the centre, held inside a soft wickerwork basket. She would have a good snooze and tomorrow she would report back for her reward. She hoped it would be salmon.