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Scenes from a Cat

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"Now here is the part," Tim said, keeping his hands open, palms out at his sides, "where I say, 'I wouldn't do that if I were you,' and I really, really mean it. Not just cause I'm the law, and it's wrong, though that's part of it, but also cause you might well end up dead. And as someone who knows quite a few people who've ended up dead, I can say that alive is preferable to dead." Tim paused, trying to read the room, such as it was, and the object of his attention stared back at him.

"Understand?" Tim asked. "Nod if you understand."

David Lee Charles, who had not yet demonstrated a whole lot of understanding, failed to nod.

"Also," Tim said, "there's a good chance that if you come at me, the sniper over there will just put you down for a spell, not kill you outright, and that is a hell of thing, getting shot. I don't recommend it."

That part, of course, was not true, and Tim'd have to apologize to Wendell later to make sure he didn't think that he was taking a jab at Wendell's marksmanship.

Christ, but Tim was the last person who should be trying to talk anyone down. There was a reason why he'd always been the one up there with the scope.

It did not resolve itself peacefully, but at least Tim only had to fill out the one form, this time.

Tim hauled himself out of his truck and stood for a moment at the bottom of the stairs leading up into his apartment building. Until that afternoon, it hadn't been a terrible week - a lot of research, one deposition, and one bail jumper who hadn't run when caught where he was hiding out less than two hours' drive from the office, and the requisite amounts of paperwork for days when no one got shot - but he still felt worn down by it, and wasn't looking forward to his evening off in any way that resembled their work-life balance seminars.

It was because he stood there for so long, that he even noticed the cat to begin with. He'd been considering turning right around and picking up some fast food and maybe another bottle of whiskey, instead of dealing with the expiring chicken breasts and frozen vegetables that he'd picked up on his last grocery run. He'd even bought the fancy vegetables with the sauce in the package.

And it wasn't like he had never seen a stray cat or anything - some days there were stray cats every-fucking-where - but one of the things that he liked about his block of apartments was that it was not one of those places. It was a little fake-fancy for his tastes, and he could have done without the illusion of security afforded by the gate, but one thing that it did have was little enough shrubbery for wild animals to set up housekeeping in.

This cat, though, didn't seem all that wild. It was just hunkered down in the space between two patios, curled up into a miserable ball, and too stupid to go looking for shelter more substantial than whatever pointy green shit the landscaper had planted.

It was still there when he jogged past on his way to the empty little gym set up in the "clubhouse", and it was still there when he trudged back an hour later.

Christ, if he had to spend his evening knocking on doors about a damn cat, when he'd spent all day knocking on doors in their nearly futile search for David Lee Charles. Well, he'd certainly bitch about it in his internal monologue.

The thing that made any sort of decision for him was that he was pretty sure this particular cat belonged to his upstairs neighbor - who, he discovered three days prior, from his other neighbor across the hall - had moved away for work. She hadn't seemed much of a treat to begin with, and 'I wouldn't say this if it wasn't true, but I like when nice things happen to nice people, and she didn't seem like a nice person,' didn't seem like any reason to revise that. The cat was all piebald with a black patch around one eye like a cartoon dog, maybe a little darker than usual thanks to the intermittent chilly drizzle of rain. Tim figured, what with all the cats he'd seen, it wasn't all that likely that the cat he'd seen keeping watch out the upstairs window just happened to have a doppelganger in the building.

"At least you don't have a Hitler moustache," Tim said. It kept watching him.

It was late, and he was tired, and by that point, Tim knowing his neighbors' habits as he did, he was likely to the the last person to pass by until morning, so Tim was left with the option of leaving the fucking thing alone outside overnight. It was either too scared or too stupid to run off as he approached it, just twitched its ears and sunk back a bit further into the corner. To its credit, the cat didn't try to claw Tim's face off when he scooped it up, but neither did it relax against him. In some sort of display of feline core strength, it stayed curled up in the same ball, shivering a little and starting up a rumble that didn't seem like a purr.

So with the cat balled up in one arm, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket with the other and called for a pizza over the low, unhappy yowling in his ear.

The chicken got tossed in the freezer next to the packet of vegetables, and when Tim had the apartment door shut behind him, the cat bolted for the bedroom, where it tried to make a home among the boxes under Tim's bed.

Half an hour and an open can of chicken soup and then tuna later, Tim had the cat shut in bathroom, with a bowl of water, and a pizza on the kitchen counter. The most damage the cat could do was pee on the linoleum, he hoped, but Tim was going to eat his damned dinner anyway while he considered his next step.

There weren't any rescue organizations open that late, but he knew Wal-Mart was, and another forty-five minutes past that, Tim was the proud owner of some kibble, a litter tray, and a small bag of litter that proclaimed itself to be the world's best. The litter tray he could donate to wherever he took the cat, he presumed, and he'd definitely spent a stupider $50 at a bar at some point. The cat watched the additions to its bathroom lair as distrustfully as it'd watched everything else.

Tim still slept lightly enough, (when he was sober, at least) that he thought he could count on being able to hear trouble, but he couldn't muster up much of a fuck to give about it, and in the end, wasn't awake long enough to judge.

When Tim opened the bathroom door the next morning, the little bastard had clawed Tim's towel off the rack sometime in the night and curled up on it, instead of anywhere else on the floor or on the bath mat right next to it. The bowl was empty and the litter box had been used, though, so Tim filled the one and emptied the other before leaving for work.

It'd be going too far to say that he'd forgotten about the cat by the time he got home, but Tim had been too busy to think about it much, except for when Rachel had asked him what he'd done the night before, and he'd managed not to pause too long before saying "nothing special". He hadn't even needed to change the subject - he wasn't expected to do anything more exciting than maybe drink himself into a stupor, which Rachel had made clear enough, in the past few years, that she had no interest in.

When Tim walked back through his door, the cat was still there, safely stowed, which was a bit of a shame, because 1) the cat was still there, and 2) he wouldn't have a story about how this cat he found was able to Houdini itself out of a locked apartment.

Tim had picked up a box of Friskies Seafood Delight at the QuikTrip where he stopped to get gas. He hadn't even been gone twelve hours yet, but as he opened the bathroom door, he realized he could have been, could have been 6 times in a week, even, and that was real-world statistics, not even getting wrapped up in Raylan's Harlan bullshit, which, they'd all noticed, had been significantly quieter since Boyd was more permanently locked up.

When Tim tipped the contents of the bag out into the bowl, the look he got from the cat damn near woulda set his hair on fire. Maybe Tim'd already spoiled it with the tuna the night before, but wouldn't it just figure that the lady who'd straight up abandoned a cat to Lexington in December had also been the lady who'd only feed her cat some sort of artisinal raw food bullshit. Well fuck that - he wasn't going to be suckered in by a baleful glare from a two-bit feline villain.

Also, it was raining, and he really didn't want to go back outside.

As long as it didn't sound like the cat was destroying anything or puking in his shoes, or whatever else it was cats did, then Tim was pretty content to ignore it as long as it was ignoring Tim. But because he was keeping an ear out for destruction, puking, or destruction by puking, more often then not he found himself staring off into space, then starting over at the top of his page again. By 8 o'clock, he'd given up on reading and turned on Sportscenter, even though he was only vaguely sure that they were in football and maybe basketball season, and he hadn't done more than keep one eye on a tv in a bar in months. Highlights were highlights, even if he had no idea who the dudes performing them were.

By the next day, Tim admitted to himself that no fliers were going to magically appear by the mailboxes, and if he wanted the cat to go away, he was going to have to make a little effort. Which probably started with talking to the rest of his neighbors.

Even though he'd fully brought it on himself, three apartments in, Tim had learned more than any man could want to know about said neighbors, and was longing for the towns where he'd get every door shut in his face for being a stranger, carrying a badge, or asking questions, much less all three.

The worst part was that it was all such useless information. How did 1431 even know that 1412 had a new girlfriend who worked out at the Waffle House, when Tim was fairly certain that everyone else passed each other like ships in the night just as much as he did with them, and none of them had windows which faced each other.

Maybe everyone else in his building actually attended the "mixers" the building management kept pushing. Tim hadn't even had to go so far as avoiding them, but he'd assumed it was just another empty promise of "amenities" to jack up the rent.

Tim had seen the same statistics on solitary confinement that everyone else had, and been through SERE besides, and the longer he stood in the doorway of his tiny bathroom, the less inclined he was to leave the cat shut up in there all day.

It was tough to say, looking around his apartment, either what needed to be kept safe from the cat, or what the cat needed to be kept safe from. He took the knives off the drying rack and moved one supposedly decorative candle jar from its perch on top of the bar to a nook under the edge of the counter, but after that, it wasn't like he had so many things that he couldn't keep them put away, or anything so expensive that he wouldn't take its breakage as a stupidity tax if the cat got into it. Still. "Don't make me regret this," he said. Its ear twitched, but that was it.

Tim left the bathroom door open, moved the food bowl out to the kitchen floor, where it'd be easiest to see the ants if they came for the dish, and sat down on the couch with his book.

Tim liked books. It wasn't even so much that he liked to read, though he did, and he wasn't one of those book fetishists as popped up everywhere these days, talking about the tactile experience of reading, though there was something about holding a book that comforted him, but what it probably was the most was he liked the connectedness of books. He liked picking up some trashy, much-read romance novel as much as the manga that Raylan teased him about, through romance novels had been few and far between out in the desert. He liked leaving a book, when he was done with it, at a library's book sale or one of those "free" shelves that popped up at the beach or a train station.

Which was all a long way of getting around to the fact that it was a problem that the cat seemed to be fucking terrified of books. It was willing to poke its nose out of the bathroom door, but only so long as Tim didn't turn a page. Googling "Cat scared of books" didn't turn up any useful links, and so Tim spent his evening on the couch, reading, where every time he turned a page, the cat flinched, even once it moved from hiding in the bathroom to being hunched over in the corner of the living room.

There was a perverse part of Tim's brain that thought, "I'll show you terrified," and wanted to bring out the vacuum cleaner, but it was also passing midnight, and he generally tried not to do anything that might bring a sleep-deprived Kentuckian to his door in the middle of the night.

Eventually, Tim put the book down, and for lack of anything better to do, went to sleep.

Saturday afternoon, the cat developed a case of the crazy legs. It was willing to move from room to room, it seemed, but only at top speed.

Every time it hit the patch of ill-advised hardwood in the space between bedrooms, he could hear it lose traction for a couple seconds before sliding and scrambling onto the carpet at the other edge, and then, a few seconds later, sounds that he was pretty sure were couch, coffee table, chair, and floor again. It wasn't any stupider than running on a treadmill, or a hamster wheel, he supposed, and it did make him smile a bit to see it.

And then on Monday, which was at least 6 days longer than he'd planned on owning a cat, Tim woke up, and it was pressed all along of side of him, and stayed pressed along side him as he moved around, making coffee, getting dressed.

Rachel - who always looked right even after she had to put some asshole down for taking a shot at her - of course it was Rachel who picked the tiny clump of white cat hair off his black henley that day. She raised an eyebrow and offered it to him, pinched between the two fingers that had first plucked it up, for just long enough to catch Jimmy's attention behind her.

"She doesn't seem like your type," she said, and Jimmy, who couldn't see what she had done, but also couldn't mind his own business more than anyone else in the goddamn building, wolf whistled.

"I think I'm going to need you to talk about your dick a lot less if 'she' isn't a human," Rachel said.

If she hadn't so clearly left him the opening, Tim wouldn't have gone for it. Unlike some people, Tim did have both a mental filter and an awareness of federal workplace sexual harassment guidelines, not to mention that stretch where Rachel'd been his actual boss and likely would be again in not too long. "So I won't come crying to you when the sweet pussy that kept me up all night on turns into a raging hell-beast," Tim said.

"Yeah, get some," Jimmy called.

They were definitely due for another workshop.

"I never pictured you as a cat person," Rachel said. "Though I can see the resemblance, now - prickly, prone to inappropriate sexual behavior..."

"You made that second one up," Tim said.

"The metaphor did get away from me in a hurry," Rachel admitted.

"You don't know whether it's a boy or a girl?" Rachel asked while they were reviewing surveillance

"I didn't see as how it was any of my business," Tim said. "Please don't tell me how to figure it out."

"Why would you think I'd know anything about cats," Rachel asked.

"You've got family. Family are the sort of folks who have pets."

"You've got family," Rachel said.

"Not the sort I'd trust with a live animal," Tim said.

Rachel lapsed into silence, fiddling with a dial on the speaker that Tim was fairly sure didn't need fiddling. Without being able to see her face, he had a hard time judging whether she was waiting him out or forming her own thoughts. Whichever it was, she didn't say anything else.

"Ruth?" Tim asked.

"She's black, you said. She can't be a Ruth.

"Well that's just racist," Tim shot back. "Wait, what? I said she's sort of black. Partly black."

"Ruth means red. Like Rusty."

"Picked it out of the bible," Tim said. "Seemed like the sort of this to do around here, name your lady cat after a lady in the bible."

Rachel watched him like she was waiting for the punchline of a terrible joke, but there was no punchline, and no joke.

"Fine," Tim said. "Not Ruth."

"Not unless you want her to have a miracle litter in her old age," Rachel said.


"Oh, you mean the temptress who robbed Samson of his strength and virility? Definitely that one."

"Are there any women in the bible who aren't terrible?" Tim asked.

"How well do you know your bible?" Rachel asked.

"I've seen Pulp Fiction," Tim said. He elaborated at Rachel's uncomprehending expression. "It had all the bits that seemed relevant to my life at the time - you know, I will strike down with great strength and furious anger at those who threaten and betray my brothers?"

"Not a church family, then?" she asked.

"Oh we went," Tim said. "But the preacher didn't make one tenth the impression of Samuel L. Jackson."

In the end he went with Spots, which seemed appropriately gender-neutral for its first week in Tim's life, and also didn't seem like it would tempt him into conversation. At that point, he still thought there was a way out. There was still, after all, an unpredictability to his work schedule that worried him too much to keep a pet for long. Even a cat.

"What about your neighbors?" Rachel asked, because at least she knew that there was no chance of his family swooping in to handle it.

"You mean the neighbors who all left him outside to begin with, or sided with whatsername because she's hot? How many strangers have keys to your house?" he asked, and she nodded to acknowledge the point.

And he wasn't friendless, not hardly, but they weren't local, his friends, and they sure as fuck weren't cat-sitters, either, so certainly not cat-owners.

Spots was cute, he supposed, but it wasn't a kitten anymore, or even particularly kittenish. Maybe it'd make a good companion animal for some elderly person in an assisted living community. Except for the running and the crashing and the possible accidental suffocation in their sleep. Maybe, what-if, what-if, what-if, none of which got any closer to the problem of what Tim was going to do with this furball that first time he needed to cover for it.

"Girlfriend?" Rachel suggested, like she didn't know just as well as the next person why that would never fly.

"Are you suggesting that I date some poor girl so she can be baby-mama to my cat?" Tim said.

Rachel's proclaimed lack of cat knowledge didn't keep him from asking her questions, like when he spent a solid forty-five minutes pushing Spots back to the floor from the kitchen counter next to the range.

"I don't think cats are that sort of learner," she said. "One of my friends used to say, 'if you smack a dog and tell him he's been bad, he'll think he's been bad, and if you smack a cat and tell him he's been bad, the cat will think you're a crazy person with a violence problem."

Of course, Tim was a crazy person with a violence problem, so, not that he'd hit the cat, but it wouldn't be wrong about him if he did.

At the end of another long week, Tim was always looking forward to one or even two whole days off, unless something blew up, which was less of a likelihood than it had used to be. But then, one day, he found himself thinking that he'd really like to sit on his couch with Spots for about six hours. Not with a book, of course. Still terrified of books, that cat. Maybe he'd buy a Kindle.

"Supposed to be theraputic," Rachel said, when Tim admitted to it. "I could use some therapy."

"Do you want to borrow my cat?" Tim said.

"Depends. How is she with women?"

Add that to the list of things Tim didn't know about his cat, which he hadn't realized he'd needed to know about his cat. "I've heard her last owner was a real bitch," he said, "but you don't seem much like her, so it's probably fine."

"Are you inviting me over to your apartment?" Rachel asked.

Which, Tim supposed he was, if it came to it, though he hadn't pushed the thought that far. It wasn't that he'd never had a guest over, so much as that he'd...

Actually, it was that he'd never had a guest over, not since he'd moved to Lexington. It wasn't like the Marshalls spent all their times in each others' pockets, not like the attorneys did, with their dinner parties and more plainly named networking events. He'd only gotten so far as thinking that he'd been in a poor mood the night before, the sort of mood that he'd usually drink away, but by the time he'd gotten back up off the couch to get a beer, he hadn't wanted to get up off the couch to get a beer anymore, and that would be a thing that would be nice for Rachel, whatever he was going through.

"Sure," Tim said. "Consider yourself invited."

"I'll be done around 6 tonight," she said. It was 3:15 when she said it, and she said it like she expected a response.

"I said you were invited, but don't give me cause to regret this," Tim said. "Don't make it weird."