by Mary E. Lowd
The pew-pew sound of laser weapons blared from the television — the kind of sound that’s always accompanied by a rain of colorful blasts of light on the screen. It was a rerun episode of Tri-Galactic Trek.
Petra hadn’t been able to stand a single minute more of Alpha Dog and Numbers Cat. That show might be educational, but it creeped Petra out the way that the two characters stared straight at the audience and explained every word they used. The final straw had been when Alpha Dog said, “Sharing is what dogs do when there isn’t enough for everyone to have their own! Do cats share too, Numbers Cat?” and Numbers Cat archly replied, “Sometimes,” followed by a laugh track.
Learning about sharing was good. Learning stereotypes about cats was not. If that’s what the kiddy programs were teaching, then Petra figured her litter was better off watching Tri-Galactic Trek. Hell, with how the world was going, space battle strategy might be a far more important lesson than sharing.
Unfortunately, Petra hadn’t foreseen that the kittens would want to play along with Tri-Galactic Trek, acting out the battle scenes by jumping all over the couch and throwing cushions at each other. After three spilt cups of milk and one broken picture frame, Petra decided that the kittens needed to get out of the house.
What Petra needed would simply have to take a back burner… She had been writing a proposal for requiring all government records to be digitized, but trying to concentrate on writing while the kittens asked for snacks, lost their toys (and needed help finding them), suddenly wanted to know why dogs came in more different sizes than cats, and needed so many other little things was… like trying to do something that Petra couldn’t think of because the kittens kept interrupting her.
She’d only been home with the kittens for half a week, and she was already losing her mind. She envied Lucky and Trudith for being at the White House, working with Alistair, talking to adults.
It took forty minutes to pack snacks, find her keys (Allison had hidden them in the refrigerator), change the kittens into clean clothes (Pete had dumped milk all over Robin), and get all three of them strapped into the backseat of the car. Sadly, that was pretty good. Getting out of the house with three wild kittens is not easy.
Petra started out driving to the park — but she ended up just driving. The park came, slid past the window, and receded behind them. She couldn’t make herself pull over the car. Then she’d have to let the kittens out, and they were contained right now. They were quiet and controlled, strapped in, held still by belts. Sure, they bickered and complaintively mewled, “When will we get there?” occasionally, but it was still quiet compared to the shrieks and screams back home.
So Petra kept driving. She drove in circles. She drove until the kittens finally fell asleep.
Then she heard the sirens behind her. A cop car.
Petra pulled over to get out of the way, but the cop car pulled up and parked behind her. A big dog — some kind of mutt with a scowling, jowly face and a crisply pressed blue uniform — got out of the car and came up to rap his big paw against her window.
Petra rolled the window down. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
The cop leaned over. “Where’re ya goin’?”
Petra flattened her ears in consternation. She didn’t know where she was going, and she didn’t know why this cop wanted to know. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice.
The cop repeated his words, slowly like he didn’t think she’d understood him: “Where ya goin’, Miss Kitty?”
His breath was warm; Petra could feel it in her whiskers and ruffling her fur.
“You’re leaning too close to the window,” she said, ears flatter than ever. “Stop crowding me.”
“Answer my question.” His voice was menacing. His jowly face looked angry, mean.
In spite of herself, Petra felt a wisp of fear in her stomach. She thought that she was past being afraid of the cops — her brother was president; she wasn’t a lowly alley cat anymore. She should be safe.
Still… She thought about telling the truth — I don’t know — and knew it would sound like a dodge, like she was hiding something. What answer did this dog want? What answer could she give to make him go away?
Nothing had changed.
She was the president’s sister, but out here, next to a dog in a police uniform with a gun, she was still just an alley cat.
“Get out of the car,” the dog barked. She’d taken too long to answer.
“Please,” Petra hissed. “Keep your voice down. I have kittens slee–”
“DON’T YOU HISS AT ME, CAT!” The dog stepped back from the car and pulled his gun. He lifted the muzzle to point it at Petra, and her vision blacked out in terror. The next thing she knew, his big rough paws were on her, yanking her, clawing her, dragging her out of the car.
The pavement smashed against her face. She felt a foot press down on her back, and her arms twisted around behind her, held tight in the cop’s big paws. She heard a quiet, “Mama?” and hoped to high heaven that her kittens couldn’t see her right now. She tried to call out reassuring words, but there was so much barking she couldn’t hear if she succeeded.
Then she blacked out completely.
Petra came to in a jail cell, face still smashed against concrete. Her first thought was a desperation that filled her body — a primal need to know — and her yowled words echoed off the walls: “My kittens?! Where are my kittens!?”
The response was gentle, soft-spoken, not at all what she expected: “Easy, Pet,” Alistair said. “The kittens are with Keith.”
Petra lifted herself, shakily from the ground, and looked over to see Alistair in a gray suit on the other side of bars. He looked tired and sad. Petra felt guilty, like it must be her fault, but she wasn’t sure how. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, Pet. You tell me.”
Petra stared at him blankly. His voice had turned judgmental on a dime. And with her face and back still aching from the way that brute police dog had thrown her to the ground, she was in no mood to defend herself.
“They told me you attacked a police officer?”
“Officer?” The pitch of Petra’s voice rose over the single word into a shriek. “That was no officer. That was a bully. A brute. A dog in the worst way. He should be in here! Not me.”
“So you did attack him.” Alistair didn’t even make it a question. He’d already played the part of judge, jury, and executioner in his own mind. She was guilty. Obviously. And he’d punish her with his supercilious coldness.
But Petra had already been punished with fists. Supercilious coldness was nothing to her. She could out-freeze her weakling brother any day. Petra’s voice turned icy, and she said, “I want a lawyer.”
Alistair laughed. “You are in so much trouble, foolish sister. You have no idea. If the officer booking you hadn’t recognized you as my sister, you’d be in a very different place by now. A lawyer won’t get you out of this one. I’m not even sure I can.” His tail twitched, as if the idea of his sister rotting in prison was a mere irritation.
Seeing her own brother ready to give up on her so completely, Petra’s anger — righteous though it might be — drained away, leaving only fear.
“I didn’t attack him. I didn’t do anything.” She babbled at Alistair, telling him everything — how stupid Alpha Dog and Numbers Cat had been, how hard it was to find her keys, how she couldn’t get herself to pull the car over, and she had just kept driving and driving. She explained it all, but badly and out of order. She was scared and confused and crying by the time she saw that the look on Alistair’s face had morphed into a mask of pure fury.
Terrified to the bone, Petra whispered her fear: “You don’t believe me.”
“No,” Alistair said. “No, I do believe you.” His paws balled into fists, but there was nothing good for him to punch. Only iron bars and concrete walls. “I just thought…”
“That it would be different.”
The two orange cats, brother and sister, stood on opposite sides of the iron bars and stared at each other while dogs all over the country believed that only bad cats get arrested. They both knew it wasn’t true.
In the end, Alistair didn’t promise to get her out, or tell her that he’d take care of it, or that everything would be all right. He didn’t even say that he’d do everything he could do. She already knew that without him saying it.
He just said, “Do you want me to have Allison, Pete, and Robin come visit you?”
Petra’s heart clenched. She missed her kittens already, but she couldn’t stand the idea of them seeing her in here — weak, wronged, unable to stand up for herself. She shook her head, not even able to utter the word, “No.”
She did whisper, “Tell them…” What should she say? Would she be home soon? Be good for Daddy and Trudith? Her voice caught as she said, “Tell them I love them.”
Continue on to Chapter 12…