The tenth life of mr whi.., p.1
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       The Tenth Life of Mr. Whiskers, p.1
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           R. A. Gates
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The Tenth Life of Mr. Whiskers


  The Tenth Life of Mr. Whiskers

  by R. A. Gates

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this short story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. No animals, dead or alive, were harmed during the writing of this story.

  Copyright © R. A. Gates 2012

  Published by Ruthless Publishing

  This book is dedicated to my daughter, Monica, one of the most awesome people I know.

  I couldn’t have finished this short story without the help of my wonderful critique partners. So, thank you to Kody, Karen, Melinda, René, Steve, Maddy, and the rest of the members of Stonehenge and the Witchy Writers for all your feedback and encouragement. And, of course, a big thanks to my family for the unending support.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Pucker Up excerpt

  Chapter 1

  “Why do they always turn into canaries?” Laney mumbled as she swept the pile of yellow feathers into the dustpan. Her boss, Mrs. Burns, would throw a fit if she knew Laney practiced spell casting in the stockroom while the bookstore was still open. It wasn’t as if there were any customers still shopping at 9:50pm on a Friday night, anyway. All the closing duties were already finished except for counting the register and locking the door, and she couldn’t do that for another ten minutes. Besides, she had to get this spell right. Being called Lame Laney throughout school really sucked.

  She grabbed another out-of-date potions textbook for target practice when the bell over the front door chimed. Back to work, she thought, setting the book on the edge of the back office desk.

  Taps echoed on the storefront’s linoleum floor followed by uneven footsteps. Only a couple people in town used a cane and neither of them had ever come into the store before. Pushing aside the beaded curtain hanging in the entrance to the backroom, she peeked out. A teenage boy with messy, black hair hanging over dark eyes strolled in. It was the new kid in school—Kody. He flipped his hair off his forehead with a casual jerk of his head.

  Her stomach twisted nervously while she studied him. Nobody knew anything about him: what kind of magic he wielded, why he was hiding out in Salmagundi, or how he hurt his leg. Rumors about the latter ran rampant through school. Everything from a curse to stepping on a landmine made the circuit. He was a mystery, a puzzle just waiting to be solved and she loved a good puzzle.

  She straightened her shirt, ran her fingers through her hair— plucking out stray yellow fluff stuck in her short, blond curls— and plastered a smile on her face. “Can I help you find something?” she asked, pushing through the curtain.

  He barely glanced at her as he made his way through the store. “Nah, just browsing.” His voice was deep and husky, most likely from disuse. This was actually the most he’d ever said to her since he moved to the Alaskan town. In fact, on his first day, he totally ignored her when she reached out her hand to introduce herself. Her cheeks still flamed at the memory. Maybe some puzzles were better left unsolved.

  He meandered down the dimly-lit aisle, running a finger down each and every spine. One book after another was pulled from its place and glanced over before being set down. There was no urgency in his movements as he perused the shelves. The back of his opened black trench coat swayed against the back of his knees as he walked. The sleeves molded to his arms with a crease running from cuff to shoulder. A few locks of his black hair grazed the rim of his up-turned coll—

  Dark, penetrating eyes caught her gaze.

  She swallowed down a gasp. Damn it. He caught me staring. Grabbing the nearest thing to look busy, she cleaned up the trail of books he left behind. Plus, it gave her an excuse to follow him and observe.

  “Hey,” he said, holding up a large, leather-bound tome on Egyptian hieroglyphics. “Does this come in an audio book?”

  “Uh, no,” she drew out, totally caught off guard by the question. She searched his face for any sign of humor as her brain scrambled to compute the sincerity of his request. His neutral expression gave nothing away. “It’s more of a visual topic and doesn’t translate well into audio format.”

  The corner of his mouth lifted into a crooked smile as he turned to put the book down. Not back on the shelf where he found it, but tossed haphazardly on a nearby table.

  Okay, so he’s a douche.

  He made his way down the next aisle. “So, Laney, what do you do for fun around here?” Not even bothering to look at her, he grabbed another random book from the shelf and flipped through the pages.

  He remembered my name? She eased a volume back into its slot as his question rolled through her mind. “Do you mean me specifically, or town kids in general?”

  He glanced over his shoulder, his gaze traveling up her body and stopping at her face. “You.”

  Her stomach flopped and all the moisture vanished from her mouth. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat. His stare was heavy and having it focused on her was almost more than she could handle. It wasn’t until he looked away again that she was able to draw in a breath. Why did he want to know about her? “I like to read. And I also like to help my friend Thane with his potion experiments.”

  Kody froze in the process of pulling out another book. “Is he your boyfriend?”

  A bitter laugh escaped her lips. “Yeah, right.” She’d had a crush on the older boy last summer, but he was so engrossed in researching and testing his magical theories that he barely noticed that she was even a girl. Her heart still ached at the rejection. Her shoulders drooped as she walked to the front door and flipped the welcome sign over. “Are you almost done? I’m closing the store, so if you want to buy something, do it now.”

  The heel of her foot bobbed up and down as she patiently waited for him to come to the register. Leaning against the counter, he laid the book down on the shiny, wooden surface.

  Her eyebrows rose in surprise when she saw the title. Kellman’s Advanced Healing Magic was a heavy duty book about a very rare magical ability. It was expensive, too. Did he just hand over another piece to the puzzle that was Kody? Did he have healing magic?

  “That’ll be $79.65. Is this for personal research?”

  “Something like that. Do you take Visa?” He handed her the card and waited. As she slid the card through the reader, he absently rubbed the thigh of his bad leg.

  She bit the inside of her lower lip to keep the million questions from bursting forth. It didn’t take long before she gave up. “How did you hurt your leg?” Yeah, that’s real subtle, Laney.

  “What, this?” He gestured to his leg with a nonchalant wave of his hand. “I was running with the bulls in Pamplona. I zigged when I should’ve zagged.”

  Her eyebrows lifted in disbelief. Did he think she was stupid or merely gullible? It was her own fault, really, for thinking he might tell her the truth. He didn’t know her, so why would he open up?

  “How old are you?” she asked. According to a book she read on the subject, only adults were allowed to run in the event.

  “Sixteen.”

  “Uh huh. And you’re going to stick with that story?”

  He shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

  Yep, he’s a douche. She sighed, shoving the credit card slip and a pen toward him. Checking the name on the card, she said, “Sign here… Delores.”

  A faint blush tinted his cheeks as he signed the paper. “Delores is my mom,” he mumbled.

  “Yeah, the same last name kinda clued me in.” When she reached out to grab the pen, it slipped from her fingers and fell on the floor next to his feet.
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  Before she could walk around the counter, he held up a hand to stop her. “Allow me.”

  Hmm, so he can be a gentleman.

  When he stood back up, he not only had the pen in his hand but a piece of paper with handwriting on it. Instead of handing it to her, he kept it just out of her reach as he read it to himself.

  Okay, scratch that last one.

  “Who’s Mr. Whiskers?” he asked.

  She stretched her arm as far as it would go and finally snatched the paper from his hand. “What are you talking about?” Her boss’s handwriting was scrawled across the top:

  Make sure Mr. Whiskers ate his dinner. He hasn’t been looking too well lately. There are some drops for him in the medicine cabinet if he looks limp. Be back Saturday morning. Mrs. Burns.

  “Mr. Whiskers?” Laney didn’t even know her boss owned a pet. She flipped the paper over only to find it blank. Was she supposed to see this and it fell to the floor accidently? Or did Mrs. Burns change her mind about checking on her pet and she meant to toss it in the trash? Her boss left to visit her sister last weekend. Six days was a long time to go without food. She hoped Mr. Whiskers was a cat because they supposedly had nine lives. A cat could survive that long without food, right? But what if Mr. Whiskers was a hamster or something?

  If the animal died, Mrs. Burns would fire her, for sure. Laney needed this job to pay for the class trip to Europe this summer. Even after saving up all year, she still needed the next three months paychecks for the last payment. How unfair was it that her entire summer hindered on the life or death of a stupid pet?

  “I take it you don’t know who Mr. Whiskers is.”

  Groaning, she ignored his spot on observation and shoved the paper into the back pocket of her jeans. She’d have to go upstairs to her boss’s apartment and check on the animal. But first she had to get rid of him. The last thing she needed was a witness to her ultimate failure if the cat was dead.

  She quickly stuffed his book in a plastic bag and handed it to him with a false smile plastered on her face. “Here you go. Come again soon.” Without even a glance back to make sure he left, she headed straight for the back storeroom. The stairs leading to Mrs. Burn’s home were next to the shelves of holiday decorations.

  The top drawer of the steel office desk held Mrs. Burn’s house key. Now if she could only find it among the various stray papers, dried-up pens, and paper clips, she’d be doing good.

  “Where are they?” she grumbled while rummaging through the junk drawer. Finally, her fingers brushed against the rough metal keys. The sharp edges dug into her palm as she clutched them and headed toward the stairs.

  “So, do you think Mr. Whiskers bought it?”

  She jumped at the sound of his voice, nearly falling off the bottom step. Either she focused so hard on finding the keys she didn’t hear him coming, or he was a ninja in disguise.

  He passed through the doorway, beads clinking behind him. With his cane in one hand and his purchase in the other, he followed her to the foot of the stairs where she stood, staring at him.

  “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t be back here.” She couldn’t let some guy she barely knew into her boss’s apartment, could she? Glancing at his bag she remembered what he bought. If he really had healing magic, he might be useful. Besides, if Mrs. Burns’ home was anything like the old woman, Laney wasn’t sure she wanted to go in alone. The old bat was nuttier than a jar of peanut butter.

  “I’m bored.” He said, motioning with a tilt of his chin for her to go up. “Ladies first.”

  She eyed him up and down and stopped at his bum leg. “Can you even climb stairs?” Wow. That sounded much nicer in my head.

  “Can you?” he asked with an edge to his voice. He sniffed the air, his brow furrowing. “Do you smell that?” Using the handle of his cane, he nudged her aside and clomped up the steps.

  “Smell what?” She inhaled deeply through her nose as she followed him. “I don’t… Is it smoke? Oh, my gosh, is the building on fire?” Adrenalin kicked in as she rushed to the top of the stairs and quickly unlocked the door to the apartment. Hopefully, Mrs. Burns kept a fire extinguisher handy. Kody pushed through the door, taking a whiff in every direction as he strode through. Immediately, he headed straight for the hallway on the right.

  She still had no idea what had him in such a tizzy. Everything seemed fine: no smoke, no fire, or ticking time bombs. But what she did see halted her in her tracks. To the left was a small kitchenette with a breakfast bar and two stools. Straight ahead was the living room, complete with couch and a wide screen. No shrunken heads dangling from the ceiling, no crystals in every corner, or half-melted candles on every flat surface. This apartment reflected that of a normal person. Mrs. Burns had a passion for horticulture, but the only plant in the room was a small aloe vera by the sink. Was she in the right place?

  “Do you have a key for this one?” Kody asked, jarring her out of her thoughts. He stood in front of a plain, white door at the end of the hall.

  “I might,” she said, sifting through each key on the keychain. One after another, she fit a key in the lock only to find it didn’t work. He loomed over her, watching her every attempt to open the door. His presence weighed upon her, making her so self-conscious that her hands trembled and she nearly dropped the keys a couple times. Heat crept up her neck as she concentrated on not glancing at him. It was more important to find the right key so she could finally put some space between them. Didn’t he realize how nerve-wracking he was?

  “Can’t you smell that?” he asked, his nose scrunched up.

  She paused in her search to take another whiff. A faint odor hit her senses; something rotten, like old garbage. Her pulsed relaxed a bit knowing that a fire wasn’t waiting for her on the other side of the door. Then she remembered the note and the reason she was headed to the apartment in the first place. She didn’t want to go inside anymore.

  “I think we found Mr. Whiskers,” she whispered.

  “We won’t know for sure if you don’t open the door.” He gestured to the jumble of keys she clutched in her hand.

  Swallowing down the bile slowly crawling up her throat, Laney inserted the last key and turned. The click sent a shiver straight down her spine. The door creaked as it swung open. The stench that flooded from the room nearly knocked her over. Her stomach clenched. She pinched her nose and followed Kody inside.

  “Oh, no.”

 
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