I hear the racket of barking dogs at the foot of Addison Street long before I pull onto Bolivar Drive and into the parking lot of the shelter. The brand-new two-story shelter of steel and aluminum siding takes up the entire block. I park my Mustang in the lot, and Esmeralda and I stride into the lobby.
The bracing odor of disinfectant can’t quite mask the scent of hundreds of caged animals. I don’t know who chose the mint-green walls, but it’s a good choice. Green is the color of the heart chakram, mint-green the color of compassion.
We meet Maureen at the front desk, a whirlwind of efficiency in a denim jumpsuit that looks great on her Amazonian curves.
“Thank the good Lord you’re here!” she cries and thrusts a release form at Esmeralda.
While I wait for Esmeralda to fill out the form and write a check for the shelter’s fee, I hear through the doggy din a nasty stream of invective shouted by a man. There are abundant references to fornication, consumption of feces, and sucking of body parts.
Senor, has to be.
Whoa! I tune that out.
Esmeralda wraps up the formalities, and Maureen escorts us to the dog habitat. We confront hundreds of cages confining hundreds of dogs pacing and barking or howling unhappily.
The cage Maureen takes us to is large enough for a Great Dane, but not quite large enough for a Senor-sized man. There he sits, his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his knees, his head bowed. He’s just too big and the cage is just too small for him to hold his head upright.
My neck aches just looking at him.
He’s unknotted the kerchief and draped the red paisley cotton over his private parts. But for the kerchief, the silver chain around his neck, and the leash clipped to it, he’s starkers.
I whip around, turning my back to the cage.
Maureen whips around, too. “That’s Berkeley, huh.”
Senor shouts at Esmeralda, abundant references to her as a female dog and all the vile things he intends to do to her when he gets his hands on her. She shouts back, her language no less salty, promising him all kinds of punishment. For a hopeful moment, I wonder if she will leave him in the cage for the night, and Tesla’s fondest desire will come true.
But no, Esmeralda starts to cry. Senor apologizes and cries, too, and I hear the clang of a metal latch lifting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hallmark movies and weep at sappy endings, but I don’t want to witness their tender reunion.
Now, through the doggy din, a high sweet voice, a purry kind of voice, whispers in my ear. “Soft, fair maiden! Thou hast magic! Rescue me from this poxy hell!”
“Maureen, where are the cats?”
“This way,” Maureen says and charges out of the dog habitat. She doesn’t want to witness their tender reunion, either.
The cat habitat is a cleaner, quieter place. The inhabitants of the cages mostly snooze. But some of the cats pace, distressed at their predicament.
One is especially distressed.
The moment I walk up to the cage, her eyes meet mine. Eyes like mine–the color of absinthe, a mingling of hazels and golds. Pet-baby love at first sight. I gaze at the most preternaturally beautiful tiny feline I’ve ever seen.
Her fur coat is long and silky, of purest white with no spot or stripe of any other color. A furry ruff encircles her slender throat and spills down her narrow chest like Elizabethan lace. Her tail could have been a plume on a countess’s fancy hat at Versailles. The slightly overlarge ears, shell-pink inside, are framed with more silky white fur and each tipped with a white tuft. Her absinthe eyes are large and almond-shaped and slightly slanted up, the nose long and aristocratic with shell-pink nose leather. Overlong white whiskers arch around the bow of her mouth and shell-pink lips.
Power? Definitely. I sense the entity’s power instantly. Her aura sparkles like spun gold in spring sunshine.
“She’s mine.” I pluck the adoption card from the front of the cage. The card provides only a number: 83191. “What’s her name?”
Maureen looks at the card. “I don’t know. This one’s special.”
“I’ll say. She’s a cat refined into a cat.”
Maureen nods, relief plain on her face. “Lady left the cat in her will. Lawyer settling the estate brought her in. Cat’s been really upset ever since. Won’t eat or drink. Lawyer gave us papers that are supposed to go with her.”
“What, her pedigree?”
“I don’t know. The papers are sealed.” Maureen takes the adoption card, leads me back to the lobby, and hands me an adoption form, which I hastily fill out. I fork over the last of my Andy Jacksons. She tallies up the adoption fee, returns a twenty, and starts to make change.
I hold up my hand. “Keep it, Maureen. And keep up the good work.”
Maureen rummages in a desk drawer and hands me a large sealed envelope marked with the same number as the one on the adoption card. I tuck card and envelope in my handbag. The adoption fee also buys me a cardboard carrying case.
At the cat habitat, I open the magical little beauty’s cage, lift her out, and set her in the carrying case. Her long, lithe body is shockingly feather-light, her bones fragile beneath the thick white fur. I close the top, and the cat mews piteously as I carry her into the lobby.
Esmeralda is waiting with Senor, now decent in the T and jeans and tennis shoes. Is he embarrassed by his beastly behavior today? The sneer on his face hints not.
“You’ve been a bad, bad boy, Senor,” I say.
He lifts his lip in his trademark snarl and glares at my carrying case.
I return the glare times ten. “You come anywhere near my cat, Senor, and I’ll have you thrown in the pound for the rest of your unnatural life. Esmeralda? Same goes for you. You’ll be history at the Garden of Abracadabra. Got it?”
“We got it, super,” Esmeralda says in her strangely husky voice and smirks. “Senor and me, we like cats.” She circles her arms around Senor’s waist, he circles his arms around her shoulders, and they lock lips.
She’s a different woman after sunset as surely as Senor is a different beast.
I pity Tesla. He doesn’t stand a chance against this dark sex magic. First he’ll need to figure out how to break Tabitha’s curse laid on him, then the curses laid on Senor and Esmeralda. How far have those curses gone? Which way do they go? Has Esmeralda cursed Senor or Senor cursed her? Have they each cursed the other? Or does some witch or sorcerer hold a grudge against them both?
A curse won’t just ruin your day. A curse can ruin your whole life.
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