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Chapter 14

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Chapter Fourteen
-- by Deb Moran --

When the Cat’s Away, the Mice Will Play ... With Tums?

Although he unceremoniously had abandoned Allie with D.K.,  John preferred to regard it as a temporary deposit instead.  Thinking in terms of dollars always made better cents to him.   “D.K. always wanted kids anyway,” he thought to himself.  Head down, the Cat turned around and pawed his way past the still flummoxed Ball attendees, hurrying towards the main set of doors.

“John?  John Robie?”

No response.

“Johnnie, darling, come over here.”  Elsa Pride threw herself at him, kissing John’s flushed cheeks.

“Hey, old chap!”  Clarence Pride, the portly optician, clapped John heartily on the back.  “Didn’t see you all night, m’ boy.  Grand party, wasn’t it?”

Frankly, Clarence was startled to see John, since last week at the Athletic Club, John had mentioned that the Robies were going to skip the Ball this year, but only half as startled as John was to run into the Prides.  On any other occasion, John would welcome the company of Clare, as his friends called him, his Cuban cigars, cognac, and off-color stories.  But not tonight.

John began to panic for the millionth time this evening, small drops of perspiration shining prominently on his upper lip.   “Friends!  Fancy confronting you at this fundraiser!”  John tried valiantly to sound casual.

Elsa to John:  “Where’s your honey?”

“Honey?  I hate honey.  Hives, you know.”

“Not the condiment, old man,” Clare chimed in.  “Where’s the little woman?”

“How should I know?  Ask Louisa May Alcott,”  John snapped back.

Elsa looked curiously at John.  “John, you’re acting rather strangely.  What Clare is asking, dear, is where is Francie?”

“Ahem.  Oh, that ‘honey’,” he cleared his throat to stall for time.  “Home with heartburn. Horrid case. “

“Sorry to hear that.“  Clare replied.

“I would be home with a burn in my heart, too, if I had such a divine husband out alone at the social event of the season!”  Elsa playfully toyed with the cleft in John’s chin while pleading for more with her eyes.

John’s uneasiness at this unexpected encounter was showing more than ever.  A steady stream of sweat meandered south from his forehead down the bridge of his perfect nose.

“Elsa!”  Down girl, down.” Clare laughingly scolded his wife.  “You’re drooling on your mink.  And besides, look how uncomfortable you’re making John.”

No question about it -- John was uncomfortable.  He was loosening his collar and wiping his brow.  His fidgeting, however, had less to do with Elsa’s flirtation, and more to do with the bad luck of running into Francie’s mouthiest girlfriend.   Elsa, sure as day turns into night, would rush to a telephone to check on Francie’s “heartburn.”

“John, now that the Ball has gone flat, ha ha,” Clare laughed at his own joke (the only one to laugh), “Elsa and I are headed to the Drake for a  port.  Care to join us?”

“We simply can’t go home and sleep after all this excitement,”  Elsa added.  “It’s just so marvelously unbelievable about the cat bounding into the Ball, and then snatching up that precious thing!”  Elsa had always loved birds, especially exotic species such as the cockatoo, and she was heartbroken at its gruesome death at the hands (or rather mouth) of the leopard.  “I hope they throw the book at that cat.”

John’s imagination went into overdrive.  “How could they know about my plan?” he wondered in terror.  Barely keeping frenzy out of his voice, he turned to Elsa: “ What’s this about the Cat?”  But, suddenly spying a policeman nearby, he decided not to wait for an answer.  He turned on his heels, calling back to the couple:  “Feline!  Farewell, friends.  Forced to flee.  Fear of felines, I’m afraid.”

Elsa and Clare looked at each other in confusion.  But, John didn’t care to enlighten them further.

“Remind me to telephone Francie and inquire of her health,”  Elsa said to Clare.  Then adding, “But let’s get that drink first!”

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