It took a couple of trips to the pet shop to get it right. Well, three actually. The first trip yielded me a dead parrot. They make poor guides, unless you're looking for the bottom of a bird cage. The second turned out to be a roaming pigeon instead of a homing pigeon. Finally I gave up on wings and decided to acquire a cat. There was less chance of the shop owner pulling a fast one on me.
I had a special job in mind, and so I quickly disregarded a prissy longhair named Genevieve. I also wasn't interested in the one who looked more like Onslow on the couch in his tee shirt drinking beer. I didn't want some cat that was going to fight me for the bottle opener. I almost didn't notice Thorpe. His body didn't move as his eyes followed me. I could imagine him under a streetlight, tossing a cigarette to the ground and putting it out with his heel. This was definitely the cat I wanted.
I bought a leash and collar rather than a cat carrier. Since he might not think his purchase was enough to earn his loyalty and services, I stopped at Delia's Deli and got him some liverwurst. Everyone works better with a downpayment.
We went straight to the job. The road glimmered with the remnants of the recent rain reflecting the taxi's lights. We got out as close as the driver would take us. Thorpe was on his leash, leading the way. He didn't let himself be distracted, but walked with a sense of purpose. The flickering neon of the bar ahead of us seemed to be the only sign of life in this neighborhood. Something flew past my head – it was the dumb homing pigeon who crashed into the bar door. But Thorpe walked right past it.
He ignored the alley as well as the women lurking in the shadows. He passed the man sleeping against the building, and instead led me up a set of wooden stairs that looked like it couldn't hold anything heavier than the cat. Thorpe reached up and pushed the door open with his paw. I put my hand in my pocket for reassurance as we entered the darkened corridor.
Thorpe never hesitated. He led down the hall, bypassing broken bottles and hanging strips of wallpaper. Finally he stopped in front of a door. This time his paw wasn't enough to overcome the barrier. I moved him aside and slammed my shoulder into the door with my whole weight behind it. The door burst open and the group inside jumped up.
"Did you bring it?" The man nearest the door glared at me. I patted my pocket, and he relaxed. His companions glared at me. Thorpe jumped on my lap and pawed at the pocket. Finally I pulled out the black queen.
"Geez, what a drama queen you are! Can't you just show up at a chess meet like everyone else?"