Finicky Stinx was in the middle of enjoying a relaxing bath when the phone rang. It didn’t matter to him and he ignored it. It was not that it was too much trouble to get out of the bath and run to the door. He was not even in a bathtub. He was on the living room floor right in front of the fireplace. And for him that was not an unusual place for a bath. He is a cat. And a cat’s bath can take place anywhere and involves as little water as possible. Instead, it involves a lot of licking and strange positions that only a cat can master. And cats don’t answer phones.
But he did hear the answer machine pick up the phone. His ears perked up with his recognition of Marjorie Johnson’s voice on the answer machine’s speaker. “Honey, I’m staying late at the market. I’ll see you around 9.”
For Finicky, that was bad news. 6 PM was his dinner time, and if Marjorie didn’t get home until 9 PM, his dinner would be 3 hours late.
Marjorie was the wife of Lester Johnson. And Marjorie and Lester owned the farm where Finicky lived. It was an inauspicious farm in an inauspicious town. Lester worked on the farm all day. Marjorie took care of the finances, did the laundry, and most important of all, at least to Finicky, she made his dinner every night. If she didn’t make his dinner, he would be on his own. So Finicky decided to take matters into his own paws.
He jumped out of the open window in the living room and strolled to town. The distance was about two miles as a cat trots. Since he is a cat, he didn’t have to worry about roads, fences, or buildings. Though he did avoid a horse pen. Horses didn’t appreciate his smell. And he wasn’t too fond of theirs either.
Finicky crossed through Bottletree Forest, scurried around Disurgeons pond, and loped over the Finley Warehouse. His destination was the alley behind Main Street, the place to go for tasty vittles. His favorite stores to hang around were Dabney’s Fish Market and Bob’s Butcher Shop. Behind those stores were some great smelling trash cans. Often he would see some of his other cat buddies hanging around there, although if it wasn’t a good day, some of his enemies too. If he didn’t get there early enough, Bruiser would eat all the good food or hoard it all to himself. Finicky was no match to Bruiser, a 25 pound Minx with a tattoo of a sailor and a collar made of wood from old railroad ties. Luckily, when he arrived at Main Street, Bruiser wasn’t there. His family never let him out until after dark, and the sun hadn’t dropped behind the horizon yet.
So Finicky jumped into an open garbage bin and began his feast of discarded chicken giblets, fish, and other treats that are especially delicious to cats. Then, fully satiated after his meal, he hopped back over the edge of the trash bin and found a nice spot in the alley for his after dinner bath and nap.
He was only three licks into his after dinner bath when he noticed something shiny in the gutter. Like most cats, Finicky loved shiny objects and was naturally curious, so he had no inhibitions about strolling over to take a look at the object. It was half buried under some twigs and leaves, so he pawed them away and saw the object it its full glory. It was a piece of gold. What a find, he thought to himself. It looked just like a gold nugget that came straight from a gold mine.
He bent down to pick it up when he noticed that it wasn’t a nugget after all. It looked strangely like a human tooth. That’s really weird, he thought to himself. He hadn’t seen a gold human tooth for years. Not since he stopped touring with Van Halen. Before retiring, Finicky was the road cat to Van Halen. He traveled with the band and was a fixture at their backstage parties. During that time, he encountered many strange people and cats. And of those people he met, many had fake teeth. Some were gold, some were missing, and some would even bring a dentist to tears.
I wonder if someone is looking for it, Finicky thought to himself.
As he mulled over the tooth, the last hint of sunlight faded away. Bruiser will be here soon. He’ll be upset that I ate his dinner and he might want this tooth for himself. So Finicky decided to hurry back to the farm.
Back in his cozy living room, he placed the tooth next to his favorite spot underneath the living room window right next to his favorite ball of yarn, and he thought no more about the tooth for the rest of the evening. It was a problem to be solved during the day, he thought, when more humans would be awake.
The next morning, he began the day with a leisurely bowl of cat chow, this time provided on time by Marjorie. She was now back at home and guilty for missing his previous night’s meal. After receiving from Marjorie his justly deserved massage, and while taking his second nap of the morning, he heard tapping. His ears perked up with interest.
He heard the tapping again. It sounded like someone was tapping on glass. The farmer and his wife must have been out, or they would have done something about it. Groggily, Finicky thought to himself a cat’s got to do what a cat’s got to do.
He wandered out of the den as the tapping grew louder. He realized it was coming from the living room. As he entered the room, he saw where the tapping was coming from. A bird was pecking at the window. This would have surprised most cats, but not Finicky. It wasn’t just any bird, it was a warbler, and it wasn’t just any warbler, it was Kurt Birdbrain, one of Finicky’s best friends. When Kurt saw Finicky through the window, he started singing the most beautiful song you would ever hear a warbler sing. Kurt Birdbrain had the most beautiful singing voice of any warbler in recent history and his affection for Finicky brought out the best of his talent. Finicky was excited too, but purring cannot be heard from too far away. Finicky bounded out of the cat door and jumped up on the ledge right next to his friend.
“It’s great to see you, old buddy!” Finicky exclaimed.
“You too! I was beginning to wonder if you were even home,” replied Kurt.
“I was just in the middle of a catnap. What brings you here at this time in the morning?”
Well,” said Kurt, “I was flying around and I saw a flash through the window. I flew closer and saw that it looks like there is a piece of gold right near your blanket.” Finicky looked through the window and saw the sun reflect off the gold too. It was beautiful. “And being my usual curious self, I had to come and ask you about it.”
“Well, it’s the strangest thing,” Finicky replied. “It’s a piece of gold, but shaped like a human tooth. Why would a human make a tooth out of gold? When it comes to humans, I just can’t understand why they do the things they do.”
“Yeah, they are a pretty strange species,” Kurt added.
“Just yesterday, something really strange happened to my humans,” Finicky added, “Marjorie’s hair changed from gray to brown. If Petunia the Minx down by the railroad tracks had done that, all the cats around town would think she was crazy.”
“I agree,” said Kurt. “The other day, a guy who lives in a house by my nest shaved all the hair on his head. Now all I can see is his pink skin. He sure looked better covered in hair.”
“These are the mysteries that only a human can solve,” replied Finicky.
“So what are you going to do with the tooth?” Kurt asked.
“Well I guess I better find who it belongs to.”
“That sounds like the right thing to do. But how are you going to do that?”
“I’ll go back to town, and start looking around for clues.”
Since he was forever in Finicky’s debt for helping him get his career started, Kurt offered to help.
“Great,” Kurt replied, “when are you planning to start?”
Finicky thought about his schedule. He still had one more nap scheduled before lunch and two after that. Plus he had his bath and the afternoon massage by the farmer’s wife.
“Now’s as good a time as ever!” he exclaimed.
So off Finicky and Kurt went. Now humans are not a very observant species unless they are setting out to look for something specific. And most humans pretty much ignore cats and birds unless they are looking for a specific cat or bird, so no one noticed the cat trotting through the fields, yards, and crossing streets as he found his way to town with a bird flying only a few feet above him, making circles through the air, scouting out the shortest route, and at the same time singing beautiful songs.
Their first stop was Dabney’s Fish Market. Kurt followed Finicky to the alley right behind the fish market. As soon as Kurt swooped down from the sky and landed right near Finicky, tittering ensued from an eve above the back door of the fish market. It was from a family of robins that was sitting on a ledge. They were big fans of Kurt and wanted his autograph. After a brief round of introductions, and after they were convinced that Finicky was friendly, not like the other cats that roamed the alley, Finicky told them about the tooth.
The robins said that a little girl with ponytails had come out of the door yesterday. She skated around the alley a little bit. She wasn’t paying attention and hit the curb, falling off the skateboard. Ow! Finicky thought to himself. He thought it was crazy that not only did humans walk on two legs when they were endowed with four, just like cats, they rode all around on all sorts of crazy mechanical contraptions. The girl was okay, but her tooth must have fallen out when she fell.
“Thanks!” Finicky said. “We’ll try to track her down.”
That is more easily said than done, though, since cats and birds are separated from humans by a wide language barrier. So asking the fish market proprietor for information about the girl really wasn’t possible. But maybe, Finicky thought to himself, if I show the tooth to the proprietor, he will understand what I’m taking about. He told Kurt his plans.
“Sure,” said Kurt, although he was skeptical. Humans are an unpredictable species. Some love his songs, while others yell at him. But he agreed to help Finicky. So they made a plan. The plan was for Kurt to tap on the door with his beak, then for Finicky to run inside and bring the tooth to the proprietor.
Kurt started tapping on the door with his beak. Tap Tap Tap Tap.
After several minutes, Kurt remarked, “This guy must be taking a nap, just like you were this morning.”
“Well, wake him up, it’s almost time for my next nap!” Finicky replied, getting impatient with drowsiness and Kurt’s impertinence.
Finally, the store proprietor opened the door. He looked out but didn’t see anything except a bird flying around. Stupid kids, he thought to himself. They are probably hiding behind the trash cans. As he was looking across the alley, a cat ran between his legs, jumped onto his counter and dropped a gold object right next to his cash register.
Mrs. Chantillion Hester, who was in the store for her weekly fish shopping, hated cats. She was not only allergic to them, but had a latent fear of them after a bad episode at zoo when she was twelve. She had been looking at the lion cage when all of a sudden the lion looked over, smacked his lips, and growled at her.
So when the cat jumped on the counter, she screamed.
“Get that filthy beast out of here!” she yelled. She started to try to beat the animal off the counter with her purse. Luckily, Finicky was fast and jumped off the counter, accidentally leaving the tooth behind, and ran under the proprietor’s legs. Mrs. Hester had missed the cat, but hit a perch squarely with her purse.
The proprietor tried to grab the cat, but the cat ran around to the other side of the counter, Mrs. Hester screamed. Finicky noticed that she wasn’t missing any teeth.
The proprietor was extremely apologetic, “I’m so sorry ma’am, he just ran in off the street. I’m going to get rid of him.”
As Finicky ran around the counter, Mrs. Hester tried to beat him with her purse. Finicky jumped back up on the counter, Mrs. Hester swung, missed Finicky, but this time hit the proprietor on the back of the head. “Oof”, he yelled as his dentures flew out of his mouth and into a fish tank.
The proprietor grabbed Finicky. Finicky tried to point at the tooth with his paw, but the proprietor thought he was just trying to scratch him. He tightly gripped the cat with one arm, opened the back door and tossed the cat out the door and slammed it shut.
Mrs. Hester was now sneezing up a storm.
“I’m fo forry,” said the proprietor, trying to speak without his dentures, “he just ran in between my legs.
Kurt landed next to Finicky. Luckily, since he was a cat, he landed on his feet. He looked over himself and didn’t see any cuts or bruises. But he was full of dirt, and annoyed since he had just finished his bath. He prided himself on his immaculate fur coat and was dejected. He moaned to Kurt, “Not only did I leave the tooth inside, but they don’t even like cats. I could have gotten a serious injury from the crazy lady trying to hit me with her purse.”
“Well,” Kurt replied, “one thing you always taught me, especially at the start of my singing career, was to never give up. We’ll get the tooth back. I’ll go around to the front and take a look.”
Kurt flew up to the top of the building and looked in through the front window. He saw sunlight reflecting off the tooth next to the cash register and the women yelling at the proprietor. He perched on a tree in front of the store and noticed another person walking down the sidewalk with a purposeful look.
Inside the store, Mrs. Hester yelled at the proprietor, “Yesterday, my granddaughter fell off her skateboard in the alley and lost her tooth. Today, you allow a cat in the store. I’m going to report you to the health authorities.”
“Please, Mrs. Hester, your granddaughter had an accident,” replied the proprietor. He had dug his dentures out of the fish tank and stuck them back into his mouth. “And I’ve never seen that cat before in my life. But look what it brought in!” He held out the tooth to Mrs. Hester.
She peered close to his hand and looked at the tooth. While she was looking, the door to the fish market swung wide open and Mr. Barback, the owner of the store next door, Buford’s Wine Shoppe, walked in. As he stepped through the door, a bird flew in, grabbed the tooth out the proprietor’s hand and flew out before the door could close.
Mrs. Hester screamed, fainted and landed on the floor with a thud. Mr. Barback remarked, “That’s the damdest bird I’ve ever seen.”
The proprietor slapped his forehead. “What a week,” he muttered.
Kurt landed next to Finicky and laid the tooth on the ground. “That was a little nerve wracking, but I got it. I thought the door was going to close on my tail and then I would be stuck inside.”
“Thanks buddy, I owe you big time,” Finicky said.
“No problem”, Kurt said. “That was actually pretty fun in a crazy way.”
“Well, where can we find that little girl? And how are going to know which one?” asked Finicky.
Kurt replied, “There’s a school down the road. Maybe she’s a student there. Let’s check it out.”
And they were off with Finicky trotting at a respectable pace for a cat and Kurt flying overhead and scouting out a path.
It was recess when they got to the school. Hundreds of kids were climbing on jungle gyms, playing ball, and chasing after each other. It reminded Finicky fondly of his days in the litter. And Kurt remembered with warmth his days in the nest. He was glad though that it lasted only a couple of months, not years like with humans.
Kurt brought him back from his thoughts. “Any ideas?” he asked. “It looks like there are a million little girls.”
“Well, at least let’s try to look at as many of them as we can.” Finicky was skeptical, but did not have any better ideas.
Finicky found a cat sized hole in the fence surrounding the playground and snuck through. He stayed at the base of the fence at edge of the playground and walked around, trying to look at the faces of as many girls as possible. While he was walking around the edge of the playground, Kurt flew overhead, singing as loud as possible, hoping the kids would look up. When some kids did look up, he noticed that many had missing teeth. How could he even tell which one the gold tooth belonged to?
Finicky was not even that lucky. To get a close look at the kids’ faces he ventured away from the fence. Pretty soon kids started to follow him. Then they surrounded him. He didn’t want to hiss at them since he prided himself on his impeccable manners. He would only do that as a last resort if they treated him badly. Suddenly some hands closed around him and someone grabbed him.
A little girl with red hair and long braids picked him up.
“What a cute kitty cat!” she exclaimed.
Another girl grabbed her nose with her hands.
“But he sure stinks!” she replied.
The girls names where Mary and Mupa, and they were extremely excited about their find on the playground.
“Well, you don’t smell too good yourself,” Finicky said, extremely disliking her smell of bubblegum and raspberries. But all the girls heard from the cat was “Meow, meow, meow, meow.”
While Mary held Finicky, Mupa noticed that he had something in his mouth. She reached in and pulled out the gold tooth. “Look what he had in his mouth,” she said.
“It looks like a tooth,” Mary replied.
“We better show Ms. Hensworth,” said Mupa.
Kurt, flying above, saw ten to fifteen kids all around the cat. He chirped and tweeted as loud as he could, but to no avail. He saw one girl carrying Finicky into one of the classrooms. He tried to get close to the door, but there were too many kids around. At least there was a window so he could look into the classroom.
“Ms. Hensworth, we found a cat in the playground,” Mary held out the cat to Ms. Hensworth. Reluctantly, she grabbed it from Mary.
“And he had this with him,” Mupa added and she placed the tooth in Ms. Hensworth’s hand.
Ms. Hensworth examined the tooth and then Finicky’s collar. “We should try to find out who the cat belongs too”. A tag on his collar had the words “Finicky Stinx. I belong to the Johnson Family at 5564 Wormington Road.” It also listed their address and phone number.
“Mary, can you bring the cat to the principle’s office and she can call the owners.”
“Sure,” Mary said with a big smile on her face.” She loved doing official errands for the teacher.
Ms. Hensworth put the tooth in a small brown bag that she grabbed out of her odds n’ ends drawer in the desk and she handed the bag to Mary. “Maybe the tooth belongs to his owners also.”
Mary exited the room with Finicky in one hand and the bag in her other. Most of the other kids in the class were jealous that she got to do this errand. That was all the kids except those that were allergic to cats.
Kurt saw this was his chance. He flew up as high in the sky as he could go, until the girl and Finicky were tiny little dots. Then he flew towards the ground at full speed. Almost losing control, he flew right in front of Mary’s face. Startled, she loosened her grip on Finicky and he jumped out of her arms. Kurt was flying so fast it took him about ten feet to slow down and turn around. While Mary was focused on the cat, Kurt flew by her again, grabbing the brown bag in his beak. After jumping out of the girl’s arms, Finicky ran as fast as he could, back through the hole in the fence, across a street and up a tree. The girl ran to the fence and looked out at Finicky in the tree. Dejected, she went back to the classroom, crying. Finicky got away.
Ms. Hensworth consoled her, “He probably just wanted to get home. I know the Johnsons. I’ll call tonight to see if the cat got home safely,” Mary sniffled and stifled some tears and murmured “Okay.”
Kurt landed on the branch next to Finicky and tried to catch his breath. “Any more bright ideas?”
“Hey, have you thought of anything better?” responded Finicky.
Kurt responded, “Well, I did see a bunch of skateboards. Maybe we can see which little girl rides on of them. She might be the one we’re looking for.”
They waited for what seemed like hours, and Finicky took the most uncomfortable nap of his life. Trees were not made for catnaps, he thought to himself. Finally, Finicky heard a bell ring. Soon, kids started pouring out of the class rooms. “I’ll go scout it out,” Kurt said. “When you hear me twittering, try to follow,” and off he flew.
From his vantage point, Kurt saw an adult unlock a fence surrounding an area where the skateboards where stored. The adult handed skateboards to many boys, but only a few girls. He counted just three girls receiving skateboards. One had short brown hair, which was not how the robins described the girl that lost the tooth. One was in the group that had brought Finicky to the classroom. She had seen the tooth then, and hadn’t claimed it. There was only a third girl. And she even had pony tails! There were several other skateboards left, but the girl with the pony tails fit the description, so he followed her. He chirped and tweeted as loud as he could.
The little girl carried the skateboard out of the school, and didn’t put it on the ground until she left the school property. She set it down, and then she was off. Kurt was able to follow her, but Finicky had trouble. No matter what Mrs. Hester thought, he was not a lion. He was a house cat, built for napping, eating, and chasing yarn. After almost two miles of running, he stopped to rest and get his bearings. He was totally lost. He could still hear Kurt far ahead. Hopefully, he’ll come back and look for me, Finicky thought to himself.
Kurt followed the girl from a respectful distance, high up in the sky, and from that vantage point saw her enter a brown house covered with wood siding. In front of the house was an ominous sign, “Beware of Dogs!”
Kurt backtracked and found Finicky giving himself a bath.
“I’m just trying to get the dirt off from that alley in back of the fish market,” Finicky said sheepishly.
“We have another problem," Kurt said, "the house is guarded by dogs.”
Finicky was not particularly fond of dogs. Some were nice, some were not. And they usually had bad breath. He thought it was best to stay away from them unless he knew them or was given a proper introduction.
“I’ll distract them while you bring the girl the tooth,” Kurt said.
“As long you do a good job. I might be able to scare one dog with a snarl, but not for long, and not two dogs.”
Finicky followed Kurt to a house downwind from the girl’s house. As he hid behind some bushes, Kurt flew up in the air to take a look. “The dogs are asleep by the front door.”
“Can you distract them?” Finicky asked.
“I just need some food, and I have an idea where I can get it.”
Two blocks from the house was a McDonald’s restaurant. At the drive through window, a freckle faced teenager handed a bag of food to a customer in a red jeep. A bird flew from out of nowhere and flew into the boys face, chirping and tweeting. The boy dropped the bag in the space between the car and window. Then as fast he was there, the bird flew off.
“I’m sorry,” the freckle faced teenager in the window said to the customer in the car, “I’ll get you another bag.”
“No problem,” the driver in the car said, “That was pretty weird. I’ve never seen anything like that happen.”
“Me neither,” said the boy, his face red with embarrassment.
A few minutes later the boy handed the driver a fresh bag of food and the car drove off. The boy watched with amazement as the bird flew down again and grabbed the bottom of the bag. As he flew into the air, all the food fell out. Then the bird grabbed the box that contained the hamburger, but the box opened and the hamburger meat, bun, lettuce and onions went everywhere. Then the bird grabbed the meat and flew off.
The manager is going to think I’m crazy for saying that one bird made this mess. I’ll have to say it was a flock of birds. As he was thinking this, the next car drove up and ran over two packages of ketchup, splattering a red mess all over the side of the building below his window.
Kurt flew back to the house carrying the hamburger meat. It was getting heavy, being a lot more than he was used to carrying. I hope Finicky is fast since I can’t keep this up for too long.
Kurt flew over the house, then above the dogs. He flew only about five feet above them. They smelled the meat and woke up and went crazy when they saw a bird carrying a big juicy hamburger patty over their heads. They started to bark and jump, but just couldn’t get enough lift. They had strong legs, but having no wings gave them a big disadvantage compared to Kurt. The meat smelled delicious to them. “Was this a gift from heaven?” one of the dogs thought to himself.
Kurt landed on the edge of the roof and put the meat down in the rain gutter. He needed to catch his breath. The dogs below barked and then sat down, drooling in anticipation.
In the excitement the dogs didn’t notice a cat crawl over the fence and wander into their house through the dog door. They would have been really upset. But their priority was the meat.
Finicky wandered through the house, peering into each room. Then he was face to face with the girl. She was missing a tooth.
The little girl exclaimed “My tooth!” and picked Finicky up and gave him a big human kiss on his nose.
“Yuck” he though to himself. He liked humans and certainly appreciated the three square meals that the farmer and his wife prepared for him, but a human kiss was always wet and meant another bath.
The girl was really excited to have her tooth back. She danced around the house, carrying Finicky at dizzying speed through the rooms. He didn’t want to be rude and snarl, but he would have much rather been on his own four feet than stuffed in the girls arms. But she seemed so happy that he couldn’t ruin the moment. He started to get a little queasy with all the bouncing and was happy when the dancing came to an end.
With a lot of shouting and excitement, a matronly women bounded down the stairs near the front door. “What are you yelling about, Penelope?”
“Mom, I just found this cat in the house and he had my tooth,” the girl responded.
The mother looked at the tooth and examined it. “Well I’ll be!” she exclaimed. “Do you know how the cat got it?”
“No, I’ve never even seen this cat before…Mommy, can I keep it….please?”
Finicky responded “No, I live with the Johnsons. I have to get back in time for dinner.”
But the all the girl and the mother could hear was “Meow, meow, meow.”
“See, he wants to stay.”
He has a name tag, darling”, the mother said. After examining it she said, “He belongs to the Johnson family. And his name is Finicky Stinx.” She continued, “I’ll give them a call.” She left the room and returned in a few minutes. “Mrs. Johnson will be here in a few minutes to pick him up. They said Finicky is known for his adventures.”
“He is so sweet and fluffy,” Penelope said, “although he does smell a little funny.”
“Well, excuse me, you don’t smell too good yourself,” Finicky replied, though all Penelope and her mom heard was “Meow meow meow meow.”
Penelope sat down on the couch with Finicky on her lap next to a window. Kurt flew down and landed on the outside of the window and chirped.
“Mom, look at that beautiful bird! Doesn’t it look like he’s whistling at the cat?”
“Oh you must be imagining that, sweetie, birds and cats don’t get along.”
Finicky chuckled to himself and thought that humans had a lot to learn about cats and birds.
Kurt chirped, “I’m off to get some dinner…I’ll see you around.”
Finicky replied, “Thanks for helping me out. Take care of yourself, buddy.”
To Penelope and her mom it sounded like lot of meowing and chirping.
Penelope’s mom walked back into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner and Penelope picked up the book she was reading.
A few minutes later the doorbell rang. Penelope’s mom looked through the peep hole and asked who was there.
“I’m Marjorie Johnson, Finicky’s owner.”
Penelope’s mom opened the door and greeted Marjorie “You have a very smart cat. I don’t know how he did it, but he brought back Penelope’s gold tooth.”
Marjorie replied, “He continues to amaze me. He seems to get into adventures all the time.”
Penelope’s mom offered “Do you want to stay for dinner? I’m making corn beef and hash. And I’d love to learn more about this amazing cat.”
And Penelope agreed “And I could play with him some more.”
Marjorie replied, “That’s very generous of you, but I better get home. My husband will be coming in from the fields in a few minutes. He’ll be hungry. And I have to get Finicky home. He’s still mad from the last time I fed him late. But you can visit to play with him any time.”
Finicky purred to himself and thought about a good home cooked meal. That makes a cat’s hard days work worthwhile.