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Eureka Amid the Th’whatsies

The blood part didn’t last long, and then they both curled up and went to sleep. Once they were solidly out, I crept up Terry’s long body and crouched on his pillow. I held my breath and patted his upper lip with a velveted paw, tickling both of us by the friction of his mustache stubble against my pad. Obedient to the reflex, he shot up a hand which I’d swear was faster than a living normal person’s, and rubbed it, leaving his lips parted. Good. I wanted to inspect.

Disappointing: No fangs, just short little human-style teeth. How had he done it? I sniffed Sasha’s neck as thoroughly as I could, but there was no trace of the wound, although I could smell some mixture of secretions that didn’t belong in human spit either. What the hell? I resolved to watch them like a mousehole until I figured it out. And then what? Call Dr. Van Helsing? I had no answer for that. They didn’t seem to be hurting anybody, and I was already feeling something uncomfortable about Sasha that I knew was probably called loyalty, if I looked myself in the eye. But I was curious, just the same.

Terry got up in the morning and got dressed in a lovely tailored suit that matched my smoke-blue fur to perfection. I know, because he laid the trousers down on the bed while hunting around for his cufflinks and I couldn’t resist lying on their smoothness. Just for a moment, and then he yelped at me. This woke Sasha up. He had the artistic eye to see the similarity and told Terry it wouldn’t show, and this would teach him not to be a slob with his clothes.

“I wouldn’t have ever picked you for a cat spoiler, Sash. I thought all they carried out in Montana were barn cats, extra large, not tiny gray fuzzballs.” Terry wasn’t mad, just enjoying picking on Sasha, which after last night’s donation seemed a little unfair.

Sasha pulled the bedclothes over his head and mumbled, “It’s called blue, not gray. Russian Blue, and I’m betting Missy’s damn near purebred. So go get some masking tape to de-class your damn pants and send one of the kids for a proper clothes brush later on.” He pulled Terry’s pillow over his head too and was back asleep at once. I had no idea how purebred I was or wasn’t, but Sasha didn’t seem to mean anything racist by it, unlike certain Maine Coons I knew, so I decided to be complimented.

“De-class my pants, indeed!” Terry muttered. He got dressed and I followed him out, needing to use my pan. His long legs outstripped me in a second, but I heard him tell the young men in the room about the clothes brush. These were a different set; I guessed they all really were bodyguards, and since they hadn’t been following Sasha, they were probably Terry’s. I remembered the “His Grace” bit, and that many vampires were European nobility. In fact, it made sense for vampires to have bodyguards in this cross-and-garlic savvy media age. I just hoped cat blood wasn’t on the menu.

Down in the basement there was another vampire-Nazi taking a bath in the big tub. He was Asian looking, except that he had pale cat-colored eyes of one of the colors the humans called green. He startled when he saw me.

“Hello! Where did you come from? Never mind, I’ll ask one of the humans. So sorry,” he called after me when he realized where I was heading. He had an upper-class British accent. Cosmopolitan bunch, this. I finished my business and came out as he was rinsing his hair under a showerhead at one end of the tub, leaning over a filtered drain which was neatly keeping his long dark hair from making a mess in the rest of the soaking water. Fancy-schmancy again, but tongue and paws were just fine for me. The thought made me thirsty, and I headed up the stairs to the kitchen.

But the damn treads were just a little too steep still, although this time I got halfway up. I sat there, wondering if the Brit would possibly give me a lift when he toweled off. I was shaking a little from the exertion–still not 100%, although I was feeling worlds better today.

He got out of the tub and I blinked, as he picked his glasses out of midair and put them on. Definitely not 100%, Squeak–Eureka, I said to myself. But then a small towel floated over to him from the bench and he put it around his hair. Oh come now. Vampires, okay. But this? There had to be a literal string attached, and I meant to find it. I hopped downstairs–okay, that was the plan. But what happened was that my traitorous limbs folded mid-hop and I flipped head over heels down two of the steps.

“Oh, kitty, kitty, kitty!” the man exclaimed, leaping out of the tub, and in a moment was by my side, wet as he was, which I didn’t appreciate. I pulled away as best I could, which was rude, but I was now thirsty, bewildered, and a little bruised.

“Sorry!” He did something with his outer soul and all of a sudden we both were dry. What kind of witchcraft was this? I crouched still as stone, waiting to be turned into something useful yet attractive.

“Sorcery,” he explained. “I take it you’ve never seen it before. It’s something some of us Th’nashi can do with our g’nah–oh dear, what is it a–oh yes, what you cats call our outer souls.”

I just stared at him. “You speak Cat?”

He grinned. “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Cat. However, I know you understand what I’m saying–well, you are just a bit of a thing, and I don’t know who’s raised you–hello!” This was to Terry, who had opened the door at the top of the stairs.

“Pharaoh, why are you sitting bareass naked on the stairs talking to the cat?” He answered himself. “Never mind, I don’t want to know. But the meeting is starting in like five minutes. Everybody else except Dante is here.” He closed the door. I got the impression that he didn’t think much of Pharaoh.

“We don’t get on well. A lot of humans think sorcerers are creepy, even the Th’nashi themselves. And I must admit I’m a tad eccentric.” He went back downstairs and got dressed from a neat pile of clothes folded on a bench. “I’ll get the human side of your advent from the people upstairs, and then I’ll see if I can pull a string or two and get somebody to explain things to you properly. Would you like a boost up the stairs?” He came up to me, brushing back his long hair into a ponytail which he of course elasticked out of midair, and I sat up and put my paws on his jeans. He chuckled and picked me up, so delighted at such a brief communication that I purred for him. Eccentric or not, I liked the Pharaoh. Pharaohs, Graces, where does it end?

The Pharaoh carried me up to the mercy of my breakfast and continued on into the dining room, where a dozen people had gathered for bagels and whatnot. I gulped down some water and followed him, because it smelled promising.

“No lox,” ordered Sasha out of nowhere, stopping a friendly lady in her tracks. “She’s still got another day of taking it easy, and it won’t do anybody any good in a lump on the rug.”

“Where did she come from?” asked the Pharaoh in an artless tone. Terry did a sort of kick-under-the-table thing with his outer soul. No, his . . . G’something. I hoped the explainer was good at it.

“Abandoned,” Sasha straight-face lied. I could tell the Brit had caught the lie, and that Sasha knew it and didn’t care, except that now the Pharaoh was curious and I thought Sasha rather hated that. But the green Asian eyes crinkled in polite assent and they all sat down and had a very confusing meeting, all about politics and Houses and humani. I did finally work out that they were the Th’nashi and called ordinary people “humani,” which I thought rather twee, just so everybody could be called human. After that, I fell asleep in a patch of sunshine on the rug, which was a bad plan, as somebody stepped on my tail when he got up to use the restroom.

“Watch it!” I yowled, and ran off to hide under the living-room couch. This didn’t work, because it was too close to the floor, and the humans all laughed themselves silly, crowding into the archway between the two rooms to enjoy my scrambling backside as my tail vibrated like a berserk metronome in a vain attempt to get traction.

The couch lifted before I could sprain something, and the Pharaoh picked me up. He murmured, “I’m taking the liberty of putting you in His Grace’s office. Plenty of corners there. Windowseat in full sun right now.” I just clung to his hand with my paws, too humiliated to purr or even give him a human-style nod of assent. Sasha followed us in with my dishes and gave the hapless bodyguards an order to set me up another auxiliary pan in the small powder room in the office. Terry watched this from the door, trying to look sour, but still recovering from my unfortunate exhibition.

“Now that the new family member is taken care of, perhaps we can get back to the meeting?” The speaker was a huge man named Dante Fabrizio, who was something called the Privy Councillor, which apparently meant he was Terry’s boss. So everybody left me alone. I curled up on the windowseat in the promised patch of sun and had a quiet attack of hysterics from all the stress. Then I had a bath, finally getting the last invisible flecks of Mrs. Roaman’s dissolution out of my fur. At least the bodyguards would be likely to clear away any corpses and keep the kibble coming, so I guessed life with the Th’nashi might be bearable after all. On that thought, I drifted off, the pleasant smell of the dusty lace curtain all around me like a mother’s purr.

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