The Spotted Shoulder
Chapter 1
 
     “Cat loose.”
     “Loose Cat.  Shut the doors.  We have a cat loose.”
     Bam.  Bam.
     Echoes bounced off the walls and high ceiling.  A whoosh of air rustled the papers in Paxine’s hand.  People brushed against her and she found herself surrounded by people.  Everyone was reaching for…
     “Tache,” Paxine said, scooping him up.
     “Cat caught.  Open doors.” 
     “Who’s cat?”
     “He’s mine.  Sorry, he’s used to following me,” Paxine said to the people around her.  She felt ten feet tall and that everyone stared at her.  This was her first cat show, and she’d forgotten that Tache couldn’t just follow her about as usual. 
     For her twelfth birthday, she received Tache, a spotted exotic cat from her grandma.  He was, as her grandma put it, her Tail Guard or simply, her Tail.  His job was to protect her, and he had proven that he was an extraordinary Tail in that he protected not just her, but anyone around her.
     Paxine shifted Tache in her arms to check the packet of papers she received when she checked into the show.  Written on the packet was her table and row number.  The center of the room contained row after row of tables.  Along the edges of the room, vendor tables sat full of cat toys, cat trees, cat food, and every other cat item she could ever imagine.  She hoped she’d have time to take a look.
     “Tache, I can’t see through you,” she said, unable to shift the paperwork so she could see.  She resigned herself to walking about, looking for her table, since she couldn’t put him down.
     The tablecloths were cheap thin plastic with names scribbled in black marker to indicate the occupant of the reserved spaces.  She didn’t see her name until the fifth row.  The name “Cushing” was written on the middle table.   She set Tache down on a chair, letting her backpack slide to the ground.
     “That’s heavy.  You’d think I was still carrying you around,” she said.
     Tache ignored her, staring at the table next to them.  JayLee’s name was scribbled across the table.  JayLee was Paxine’s second cousin but acted as her bodyguard.  Her grandma called her Paxine’s nanny.  JayLee was showing her Tail, EJ, but really, she was here to provide added protection.  JayLee was strolling around the room as if she too were looking for her table.  EJ was perched on her shoulder like a lookout.
     “Cat loose.” 
     “Close doors.”
     Bam. 
     Paxine reached for Tache, but no one was paying him any attention.  Two rows over, a man and a woman scrambled around a table.  The man stood up with a cat in his arms.
     “Cat caught.”
     “No, cat loose.  Over there.”
     “Another?”
     Paxine kept close to Tache as people scrambled around a table, but they came up empty handed.  More people walked over, checking under tables. 
     How was she going to get her table setup if she had to watch Tache the whole time to make sure no one thought he was loose?  Maybe grandma was wrong about not needing a cat carrier.
     “Over there,” a woman said.
     How hard was it to pick up a cat, Paxine thought?
     Two men ducked under a table.
     Why were they chasing the cat?  Couldn’t they just call it?
     “Over there,” someone said with a shout.  A dozen people dashed over to another table.
“No, over there.”
     “How many cats are there?”
     More people scurried in to help look.
     “Maybe we should help,” Paxine said in a murmur to Tache.
     “Me owp,” Tache said, his voice carrying across the show hall.  A few people looked over in her direction.
     “Mew.” 
     The reply came from across the hall, where no one was looking, and no one paid any attention.
     “Well?” Paxine said to no one.  She couldn’t believe no one changed where they looked.  Didn’t the cat just say he was over there?
     “Geesh,” Paxine said with an eye roll.  “I’m getting stupid, Tache.” 
     “Yerr,” Tache said, smacking his tail against the chair in agreement.
     Paxine always thought Tache was special, but her grandma told her she was the one who was special, because she understood cats and they understood her.  This was a skill very few had and it was no wonder no one else in the room understood.
     “Me owp,” Tache said, calling again for the cat to come join them.
     “Mew.” 
     The response was closer.
     Bam.
     The room vibrated.  The large posterior of a woman stuck out half underneath an overturned table.  Two cages flew to the ground, and two frightened cats escaped.
     “More cats loose,” someone said with a shout.
     “Me owp,” Tache said again.
     “Mew.” 
     From beneath the table in front of them, scooted a white Persian kitten.  The kitten took one long jump, landing on the chair beside Tache.  She looked terrified.
     Paxine placed herself between the chair and the people in her aisle.  People were panicking, bumping into each other, and other cages. 
     Another cat, a gray and white shorthaired, scooted out from another table, jumping onto the chair with Tache.  There was barely room for all three, but the frightened cats didn’t seem to care, hugging close to Tache who seemed to be oblivious to all the activity.  Then a dark brown shorthaired cat peered out from under her table.
     “Mew.”
     “There you are,” Paxine said, picking him up.  “You’re the one that started all this.”
A show clerk rushed past her.
“Hey,” Paxine said, startling herself as she hadn’t intended for her voice to be that strong, yanking the man to a stop.
     The man looked frazzled.  A dainty cat-shaped charm hung from one ear.
     “Come here,” Paxine said, shifting to reveal all the cats crammed onto the chair.  “I’ve got all three cats.”
     The man looked at the chair with three cats and the cat in her arms.
“The Bengal is mine,” Paxine said, indicating Tache.
     The man nodded.  “I know who owns the one you’re holding.  Let me take that one first,” he said in a calm voice that didn’t match his frazzled look.
     The crowd parted as they saw him, as if he was royalty. 
     The owner, a woman one row over, threw up her arms.  “BrowniePie.  You naughty boy.”
     The woman cooed, kissing her kitten as she slipped him back into his show cage.
     The clerk returned for the second and then the third cat, heading two rows over.  The overturned table was upright and two women were getting their cats calmed and back into their cages.  The clerk joined them, handing them the last cat. 
     The clerk waved to no one in particular. “Cats caught.  You can open doors.” 
     Others echoed his call.
     “Thanks Tache,” Paxine said, wondering if her grandma saw any of this.  So much for being discreet.  She felt like everyone knew she was there and that she was up to something.
     Tache yawned as if he did this every day.  His idea of being discreet was showing off.
     “Now, what do we do with this?” Paxine said, focusing back to their table and a flattened metal cage leaning up against the table.  She noted that most people in the show hall were using fancy pop-up cages, made of cloth with zippered doors and plastic windows to allow you to peek in.  This was her first show and the metal cage was a rental. 
     The people around her paid her no attention, focusing on their own tables.  Paxine didn’t see anyone else with a metal cage in her row.  She lifted the cage onto the table and it unfolded on its own with three clicks, snapping into shape.
     “Well that was simple,” Paxine said, opening the cage door.
     Tache ignored her.
     “You have to get in.  It’s required,” Paxine said.
     Tache stood, looking disgusted.
     “Do you see any other cats sitting out?” Paxine said, waving her hand around.
     Tache hopped up into the cage.
     “I’ve a few things in the backpack that grandma said would make it nicer,” she said, opening her backpack.
     Tache turned his back to her.
     “See.  A blanket for you to sit on.  Bowls for food and water.  And…”
     There were two other cloths.
     “Uhm.  We’ll figure these out later,” she said, putting them on the chair.
     The blanket, folded in quarters, seemed just the right size for the bottom of the cage.
     “Grandma always knows everything.  How did she know this was the size we needed?  Tache can you move?”
     Tache was big for his age, weighing twelve pounds.  He wasn’t cooperating, refusing to move out of her way.  Within the confines of the cage, he was hard to lift and move.
     “I guess I should have done this first, huh?” she said.
     Tache’s tail came close to whacking her in the nose.
     “Watch it now or you’ll stay in there forever,” Paxine said, positioning the bowls in a corner and pouring water from her water bottle.
     “There.  Pure, crystal clear water for your highness,” she said.
     Tache flattened his ears in dislike of the cage, flicking his tail at the chair.
     “Yea, I know, I’m not done,” Paxine said, looking at the two remaining cloths.  One looked like a sheet.  The other looked like…
     “A hood.  A hood?” Paxine said, looking around again.
     Hisss.
     The cat in the show cage positioned behind Tache’s, hissed his displeasure at seeing Tache.  A man draped a hood over his cat’s cage to block the view.
     “Privacy…” Paxine said, murmuring to herself.
     A young woman, two tables over, draped a sheet over her table, setting her cage on the cloth.
     The sheet.
     Tache thumped his tail.
     “Yes, I know.  I messed up.  The sheet goes first,” Paxine said, opening the cage door.
     Tache stood, stretching, but didn’t step out.
     “Oh come on.  Now you don’t want to leave?”
     He yawned, pausing just a bit longer, before hopping out.
     “Well, you didn’t know what the sheet was for either,” she said, taking all the items out of the cage, using JayLee’s empty area to move the cage.
     “There, I see now.  The sheet hides the front of the table and I can stash my backpack there,” she said, sliding the backpack under the table and out-of-sight.  She set the cage back, putting in the blanket which was easier to spread out now that Tache wasn’t sitting in the cage.
     “There.  Just as it’s supposed to be,” Paxine said, placing the water bowl in without spilling a drop.
     Thump.  Tache’s tail whacked the chair.
     “Oh, the hood,” Paxine said.
     The hood covered the top and three sides of the cage.
     “There all nice and tidy,” she said, holding the door open.
     Tache ignored her.
     “Ahhh, you have to get back in.  Tache.  It’s not that bad.  Looks pretty comfy to me,” Paxine said, patting the blanket.
     He didn’t move.
     “You’re no help,” she said, lifting him into the cage.
     Tache scrunched down, looking gloomy.  She laughed, but it didn’t come out right.
     Tache ears twitched forward as he stared behind her, causing her to twirl around.  Garon, her great uncle, her grandma’s brother, hurried toward them.  He would have been tall if he stood straight, but he stooped.  His usually neat and tidy white hair was flying. 
     “Garon.  What are you doing here?” Paxine said, keeping her voice low.
     “We forgot something,” Garon said in a whisper.  His eyes were bright with his usual energy.  Out of his pocket, he brought out a metal punch that looked familiar to her.  “We have got to take that off.”
     On one of Tache’s ears was an Aural ring.
     “Those are illegal,” Garon said.
     Paxine nodded.  An Aural ring was one of Garon’s inventions that allowed Tache to hear better, permitted him access to her grandma’s office, and allowed him to be tracked should he ever get catnapped.
     “Won’t do well to get your father in trouble if his daughter’s caught with illegal devices,” Garon said with a chuckle.
     “Yeah, dad would have a fit,” Paxine said, remembering that her dad didn’t like Tache when she first got him, but now he was okay with him.  She didn’t want her dad to have any reason to change his mind.
     “Oh, but won’t that leave a mark on his ear when it comes off?” she said.
     “Might leave a black mark,” Garon said with a chuckle.
     “Oh…” Paxine said, thinking.
     Tache’s ears were black. 
     “A black mark on black ears?” Paxine said.
     “No one will notice,” Garon said.
     “Very funny,” Paxine said with a scowl.
     Tache ignored Garon as he put the punch up to Tache’s ear.  There was a faint click and the Aural ring stuck to the punch.
     Paxine checked out Tache’s ear.  There was only a faint shadow indicating something might have been there.
     “That takes care of that.  We can put it back on later.  Now, I’ve gotta run,” Garon said, pocketing the punch.
     “You’re not staying?  And what about his…” Paxine said, pointing around Tache’s neck where there was a very fine chain.  She had a similar chain around her ankle.  These two chains allowed them to communicate, even if they were far apart.  She also had a ring that fit on her pinky that worked the same as Tache’s Aural ring, except it didn’t allow her to hear further.
     “The judges will never find that.  Nope, I can’t stay.  Got work to do,” Garon said, rushing off through the crowd, passing JayLee walking up the aisle.
     “He had to take EJ’s off too,” JayLee said out of the corner of her mouth.  “Hi, I’m JayLee.  This is my first show,” JayLee said louder.  She’d finished her tenth circle around the hall and was now pretending to find her table.
     “Hi, I’m Paxine.  This is my first show too.  This is Tache,” Paxine said, almost laughing because they were pretending not to know each other.
     “This is EJ,” JayLee said, letting EJ hop from her shoulder onto the table.
     EJ’s coat was lighter than Tache’s and her tail was longer, but she didn’t whack anything.  Today, despite the fact that she liked to greet everyone with a very loud meow, she greeted Tache by touching his nose through the metal mesh of the cage.  Tache was her best friend.
     “She’s quiet,” Paxine said in amazement.
     “She’s learning,” JayLee said out of the corner of her mouth.
     Paxine held in a giggle.  Tache and EJ played pawpaw, a cat game of trying to slap each other’s paw.
JayLee set up her cage like a pro.
     “First show, huh?” Paxine said into her hand.
     “With EJ,” JayLee said, placing EJ into the cage.
     There was little left to do but wait for the show to start.  Paxine paged through the show catalog, finding Tache. He had a long registered name of Underfootbengals Tache of Tache.  Paxine Cushing, herself, listed as the owner.
     “See,” Paxine said, pointing to the catalog.  “There’s your name.”
     Tache ignored her.
     “You do have to remember,” she said in a whisper, “we are on a mission.  You have to pretend to be a show cat.  There are dangerous people all around us.”
     “Meow,” EJ said, disagreeing in a loud voice, quite sure she hadn’t seen any dangerous people.
     Tache sat up, facing the front of the cage.  Paxine grinned with encouragement.
     “We’ve exposed their plan, now we have to catch the culprits responsible,” Paxine said, continuing to whisper.
     The last couple of months had been dangerous.  Certain politicians were trying to promote and pass into law The Child Protection Act, which had nothing to do with protecting children.  She and Tache managed to expose the Act for what it was.  Now, her dad, a high-level politician and international lawyer, and her grandma, the Director of the Foundation (that governed all the women behind the successful men and all the Tails), were following the trail to find the people responsible for the Child Protection Act.  Anyone willing to murder was dangerous. 
     This was why she was at a cat show.  Her grandma and she were following a lead.  They learned that the governor may be involved, and his wife showed cats.  They knew she would be attending this show.  Sometimes the way to a man was through his wife.
     “Now, you’re looking the regal part of the Champion show cat,” Paxine said.
     “Kitten,” JayLee said under her breath.
     “Kitten?” Paxine said, forgetting to keep her voice down.
     “Mew?” Tache said, wondering why he was a kitten when he was so big.
“You have to be eight months or older to be a cat,” JayLee said in quiet voice.  “In what section did you find him?”
     Paxine paged back through the catalog.  “Oh.  Short-haired kittens.  You’re not eight months old yet, Mr. Tache,” Paxine said, realizing the catalog listed the cats by their category: Cats, Kittens, Alters, and House Hold Pets.
     “Yelp,” Tache said, saying he could beat any cat older than he especially if he didn’t have to sit in the cage.
     “This is the one you have to beat,” Paxine said, ignoring him, pointing to an entry for an Abyssinian owned by Karen Talassee, the governor’s wife.
     “Yealp,” Tache said, saying again he could beat any cat or kitten if he wasn’t in a cage.
     “Ah, you’re not competing against that one.  He’s an adult,” JayLee said out of the corner of her mouth.
     “Oh, yeah,” Paxine said rolling her eyes at herself.  “Anyway, grandma said not to be too disappointed if you don’t do well.  You were chosen for attributes that make you a great Tail and not a great show cat, er, kitten,” Paxine said, noting a hush fall over the hall.
     A group of people passed through the entrance doors as if they were one, forcing everyone in their path to step aside.  In their midst was Karen Talassee, the governor’s wife.  She was an average sized woman, with well-groomed dark hair, dressed in a stylish blouse and skirt.  She wore sensible shoes.  The only thing she carried was the soft cat carrier that contained her show cat.  Her entourage carried the rest of her gear.  She seemed oblivious of her effect on the room as she walked with her head as high as she could stretch it without looking straight up.  Her group guided her to her tables. 
     “Morning, Mrs. Talassee,” a woman said, passing by.
     Mrs. Talassee ignored her, fussing with her cat.
     Five tables in the row one over from Paxine had the name Talassee written on them, even though she was only showing one cat.  Her entourage spread themselves down the tables, leaving her in the middle.
     One of Mrs. Talassee’s people whispered in her ear as a show judge walked by.
     “Morning, Tracy,” Mrs. Talassee said with a big smile to the judge.
     “Oh, morning Karen.  Good luck,” the judge said, moving on.
     “Thank you,” Mrs. Talassee said with a big smile.
     The noise of the show hall resumed.  Paxine pretended to be a bored child left at a table to watch the cat.  She tried hard not to stare or look like she was staring as Mrs. Talassee settled her cat into his deluxe show cage.
     More and more people filled the hall and soon the tables were all full with cages and cats.  Paxine felt like the show should start any moment, but it didn’t.  She wondered if she could steal away to check out the vendor tables.  There was one that had the most interesting…  
     A young dark haired girl blocked her view of the vendor’s table.  The girl walked with a slow methodical pace, pretending to check out the vendor tables against the wall.  To the adults hurrying about, she was invisible.  To Paxine, she stood out like a beacon.  She was Mrs. Talassee’s nine year old daughter.
     “Target sighted,” Paxine said to Tache.  He whacked the cage, frustrated that he couldn’t see with his own eyes.
     “My eyes see just fine.  And yes, she is moving pretty slow.  Dawdling, I think is the word,” Paxine said, fussing with the hood on Tache’s cage, aware that she stood between Mrs. Talassee and her daughter.  Her daughter kept glancing over making Paxine feel as if she was the one being watched and not the other way around, but the girl was just keeping an eye on her mother.
     “She’s zigzagging up and down the rows and looking at every single cat.  This is going to take forever,” Paxine said, informing Tache as she ducked down onto the chair.
     “Mew,” Tache said, telling her to be patient.
     “Since when are you patient?  Trying to outdo Shaloonya again?” Paxine said, mentioning Garon’s Tail who’d trained Tache, teaching him to focus at the risk of losing his tail.
     EJ stretched her paw through the bars to play pawpaw with Tache.
     “We’re working.  Mind your own business,” JayLee said, tapping her paw away.
     “Shhhh.   She’s coming,” Paxine said, trying to look like she wasn’t waiting for the girl to reach them.
     Talassee’s daughter paced down the aisle as if she was a train losing steam, looking gloomier and gloomier with every step.  When she was one pace away, Tache whacked his cage hard with his tail.
     “Oh,” the girl said, startled.
     “Sorry, he doesn’t like cages,” Paxine said, trying to sound sweet and apologetic.
     “Oh, yeah.   Most don’t,” the girl said, muttering.
     “Would you like to pet him?  He likes being petted and he behaves better,” Paxine said, acting excited to have someone to talk to.
     The girl’s eyes opened wide.  “Can I?”
     “Sure.  Have a seat,” Paxine said, stealing JayLee’s chair.
     Tache stepped right out of the cage, when Paxine opened the door, and into the girl’s lap 
     “This is Tache.  His name means spot in French.  It should be pronounced Tash but he likes it pronounced Tack,” Paxine said.
     The girl seemed awed with Tache in her lap.  She stroked his coat as if she’d never touched a cat before.
     “Oh, gosh.  He is so soft,” the girl said in amazement.
     Tache yelped, pushing his head into her hand.  The girl giggled.
     “He likes that,” Paxine said, holding in her own giggle as Tache stuck his butt up into the air as the girl scratched his back.
     “He’s so neat.  Are you showing him?” the girl said, keeping her eyes on Tache.
     Paxine rubbed her nose, controlling herself from rolling her eyes, as was her habit (according to her mother) whenever she heard something she thought stupid.  She was at a cat show with a cat; of course she was showing him.
     “Yes.  It’s our first show.  I’m Paxine,” she said, pleased that she’d controlled herself.
     “My name’s Beth.  My mom’s over there,” Beth said, pointing toward Mrs. Talassee.
     “What kind of cat do you have?” Paxine said, already knowing the answer.
     “My mom shows Abyssinians.  Yours is a Bengal.  Right?” Beth said, sounding very sure.
     “Yes, he’s a Bengal,” Paxine said.
     “I know all the breeds of cats.  We go to a lot of shows,” Beth said, sounding proud about know all the cats, but not too happy about all the shows.
     “I’m just starting to learn.  My grandma’s helping me,” Paxine said.
     “Elizabeth,” a female voice said, screeching over the table.
     Beth rose out of her chair as if the voice had pushed her out.  Tache escaped back into his cage. 
     “Don’t touch that cat.  Come over here and clean your hands,” Mrs. Talassee said in a strict voice.
     “Bye,” Beth said, turning red with embarrassment.  She hurried over to her mother.
     Paxine stayed seated, peeking through the gap between cages.  Mrs. Talassee squirted stuff into Beth’s hands and handed her a towel. 
     “Don’t you know better to touch a cat?  You can spread germs.  Don’t you go near Arthur,” Mrs. Talassee said, pointing toward her own cat.  “That’s all I need is a rash of fleas.  You don’t know where that cat’s been.”  Mrs. Talassee spoke so close to Beth’s ear that her voice sounded like a growl.  Beth looked miserable.
     The noise of the show hall changed again.  This time, however, there was a powerful hint of excitement rippling through the room.  Paxine stood to wave as her grandma’s lean figure walked through the door. 
     Her grandma waved back.  A dozen other women waved as if they thought her grandmother had waved at them.  It seemed as if every woman in the room was watching her grandma, just like when Mrs. Talassee entered, but with one big difference.  Her grandmother’s nose wasn’t in the air and she greeted everyone she passed.
     “Sara,” a short heavyset woman said, stepping right into her grandma’s path.  It was Francina, whose husband owned one of her grandma’s favorite restaurants.  Sometimes Francina helped in the kitchen, always coming out to chat.
     “Why, Francina.  What a surprise?  How nice to see you.  What are you showing today?” her grandma said in a clear voice in the now quiet show hall.
     “I’ve three of my household cats.  Nothing special,” Francina said, being modest.  “And you?”
     “My granddaughter, Paxine is trying her hand showing her cat.  The tall blonde girl over there.  This is our first show,” her grandma said, pointing out Paxine.
     “What kind of cat?” Francina said, waving at Paxine.
     “Bengal,” her grandma said.
     “Wonderful…” Francina said, about to continue…
     “Let me get her settled in and I’ll come back for a chat,” her grandma said.
     Francina smiled with pleasure, stepping out of the way.  However, Paxine’s grandmother was able to walk only a few more steps.
     “Mrs. Pondoulee.”  It was Sandy, the spice shop owner, where Tache acquired a spoon one day.  It was both Paxine’s and her grandma’s favorite shop. 
     “Well, good morning.  What spices do we have today?” her grandma said, checking out the two cats that Sandy carried.
     Sandy laughed.  “This is Cinnamon and Curry.  My Siamese and Exotic shorthair.”
     “Let me get my granddaughter settled and I’ll come take a look,” her grandma said, trying to make it to Paxine.
     “Mrs. Pondoulee.”
     Her grandmother turned.  “Mrs. Sampling.”  She was the wife of Judge Sampling.  “What a surprise.”
     “I hear your granddaughter is showing,” Mrs. Sampling said.
     “Why yes, she is.  Let me get her settled and I’ll come over to see your lovely cats,” Paxine’s grandma said, still walking.
     “Of course,” Mrs. Sampling said, nodding with understanding.
     Her grandma stepped into Paxine’s aisle, greeting people as she went.
     “Goodness.  Everyone has cats,” her grandma said. 
     Paxine caught her grandma’s eyes do a little jerk, and she understood.  They both turned as if to look at Tache.  Mrs. Talassee was staring at them.
     “Why, Karen.  What a pleasant surprise,” her grandma said, sounding as if she meant it.
     Mrs. Talassee gave a closed lip nod to acknowledge the greeting.  “Mrs. Pondoulee,” she said in a flat voice.  “I knew you had cats, but I didn’t think you showed them.”
     “My granddaughter is showing her cat.  This is my granddaughter, Paxine Cushing,” her grandma said.
     Mrs. Talassee’s lips echoed the name Cushing before she said, “Not Doug Cushing’s daughter?”
     “Why yes,” her grandma said.
     Mrs. Talassee’s whole manner changed.  “How wonderful,” she said, but her words and the twisted smile on her face didn’t match.
     Her grandma led Paxine over to Mrs. Talassee, although, if Paxine had a choice, she’d have rather stayed by Tache.  She already didn’t like Mrs. Talassee.  Even Beth, now that her mother wasn’t paying her any attention, was edging away as if trying to escape.
     “What breed of cat do you have?” her grandma asked as if that was the most important question of the day.
     “Abyssinian.  I’m just showing one of my boys,” Mrs. Talassee said with pride and fake humility.  She wasn’t aware of her daughter creeping away.  One of Mrs. Talassess’ entourage put a hand on Beth’s shoulder to stop her, but Beth slapped it away, disappearing into the crowd.
     “How beautiful,” her grandma said, cooing through the cat’s show cage.  The cat pawed at the cage in a silent greeting, quivering with excitement.
     “Good morning, the show will be starting shortly,” an announcer said, broadcasting out the speakers.  “We will start with introducing our judges…”
     “Excuse me.  The show is starting,” Mrs. Talassee said, dismissing them by turning to her cat as if he needed her immediate attention. 
     Paxine felt sorry for the cat as he watched them with a mournful stare as they left.  He wasn’t happy in the cage.  Paxine knew his name was Arthur, noting that Mrs. Talassee never referred to him by name, never introduced her daughter, and never asked them what type of cat they had.
     “How is Tache today?” her grandma said as she gave JayLee the barest of nods to acknowledge her.
     “The usual.  Tail whacking bundle of trouble.”  Paxine said with a frown, but her words were spoken with fondness.  Tache’s tail smacked against the cage in response.  “He doesn’t like the cage.”
     “It’s good for him.  It builds character,” her grandma said.
     “He’s already a character,” Paxine said with a laugh.
     Her grandma pointed toward the show catalog.  “What’s the schedule for the day?” 
     “We’re up in ring three to start, and then four.  What’s a ring?” Paxine said, realizing she didn’t even know what she was pretending to do here.
     “See that table surrounded by cages on three sides?  There are five tables setup like that along the wall.  Those are called rings.  The table is where the judge examines the cat.  When you hear a ring called for shorthaired cats…” her grandma said.
     “Kittens,” Paxine said in correction.
     “Kittens?” her grandma said, looking confused.
     JayLee held back a laugh.  Paxine rolled her eyes. 
     “I’ve already been corrected,” Paxine said.  “Kittens are under eight months.  Cats are eight months and over.  Someone isn’t eight months yet.”
     “He’s not?” her grandma said, looking at Tache as if to make sure they were talking about the same cat.
     “Nope,” Paxine said.  “Look in the catalog.”  She pointed out his entry.
     “He certainly is acting like a cat,” her grandma said with a twinkle in her eye.
     Tache smacked the cage again, not liking the pun.
     “Okay, back to show stuff.  If you hear short-haired kittens called for a particular ring, put Tache in that ring in the cage with his number.  What is our number?” her grandma said.
     “We are sixty-three.  Wow, there are sixty-three kittens?” Paxine said.
     “No, no.  Short-haired kitten numbers start at fifty-one,” her grandma said with a laugh.
     “I don’t see EJ,” Paxine said in a whisper.
     “She’s a cat,” her grandma whispered back.  “She will be up in the same rings as Mrs. Talassee.”
Paxine flipped through the catalog.  “Oh, here,” she said, still whispering and pointing to Mrs. Talassee’s entry which was two-o-one.  EJ was two-ten.
     “I’ve already met and spoke with Beth,” Paxine said, not moving her lips as she spoke.
     “Good.  Excellent,” her grandma said, as if appraising the catalog.  “Now you know what you need to do.  This is a two day show and you have two days to accomplish what you need to CHAPaccomplish,” her grandma said, meaning Paxine’s mission.