This was Gainer’s island so it came as a huge surprise when he limped past Munro into the house one morning, his ears tattered, his face bloodied and the tip of his tail missing.
He came in as soon as Munro opened the door and went directly to the most defensible position in the house — right under the big old couch. He ignored the rest of the cats as well as the food and treats. He stayed, immovable, under the couch with only the slightest of occasional whimpers.
The other cats scattered and stayed as far away from the couch as possible. Indeed, most demanded to be let outside.
Gainer did not come out for the entire morning and it was only after the remaining cats had been banished outdoors, when she sat on the floor beside the couch and laid a small offering of tuna in front of her, that he emerged. He sniffed the tuna, took a small bite, crawled onto her lap, curled up and closed his eyes. Munro assumed her doctor’s professional detachment, examined his wounds, decided she’d seen far worse in the emergency room and took him to the bathroom where she cleaned and tended the various cuts and hurts.
Gainer was silent through all of this, he wasn’t a noisy cat to begin with, but he didn’t make a sound even when she knew what she was doing with the open wounds was painful. It was one of those “let’s just get it over with” kind of moments she decided where they both knew what was going to happen and the sooner and easier it got done, the better they’d both feel about it.
Since retiring to the island, Munro had filled her house, indeed her entire life with her garden and friends. In particular, she filled it with her cats. The cats tumbled out from every shelf and hidden corner (corners filled with old pillows) whenever she returned indoors from gardening or, heaven forbid, a longer trip to the mainland. The cats would tumble and slip on the old, well-polished pine floors as they raced in anticipation of receiving treats. The winners also received a few strokes down the back or a friendly scratch of the ear while the latecomers had to make do with whatever energy she had left.
All except for Gainer. He was the undisputed king of the clowder and there wasn’t a single entity in the house, or indeed on the island, who failed to recognize his status. He got treats whenever he got there and he received the most stroking and attention. His place at her side on the big old couch was not questioned. Or, not more than once by any newcomer to the house as his claws and teeth soon put the interloper into his rightful place in the group.
Gainer was an 18-pound, half-feral Tom who had vanquished anything from other cats to foxes and even the odd mink wandering by.
More than one big old hound treed him over the years; but this success was mostly short-lived as Gainer would attack from above. He’d drop out of the tree, grab onto the dog’s ear with his teeth, attach his front claws over the eyes and leave bloody trails down that stupid dog’s back with his back claws. The blood trails along the back were almost a rite of passage for young deer hounds and every island hunter knew what to expect when his dogs entered Gainer’s property. They also knew enough not to whistle down their dogs if they made a berth around Munro’s property; the dogs would pick up the trail on the other side of the fence.
Gainer’s scent was indelibly ingrained in each dog’s mind as something to avoid. In this way, Gainer trained several generations of island dogs, delivery men, neighbours, and absolutely every last cat on the small island. It was his island or it had been up to this morning.
Later that same morning, Don, the new neighbour everyone had agreed to hate, arrived in a silo of fury on her doorstep. It seems Don had insulted just about everyone he met on the island with his big-city ways. He’d made a lot of money in real estate – bajillions of it in fact – and let everyone know how powerful and rich he was.
He’d managed to infer to Case, the Quinn patriarch, that island farmers really didn’t know how to get the best out of the land. Mind you, the Quinns had come from Ireland fleeing one step ahead of the British army after one revolution or the other and had survived for generations farming on four-inches of clay soil over rock. They knew a lot, but like a great many country people just went about their business and didn’t advertise.
He also propositioned the university-aged, fair-haired daughter of one of the Petersons and that clan was furious. There were only two things that united the Irish Quinns and the British Petersons. Both loved a good brawl between their young men and both thrived on the smouldering hatred of outsiders who belittled them. Don set a modern record for quickly and effortlessly earning the latter.
The one bit of advice he’d been given by the minister, who reserved judgement on the man, was to watch out for the hell-cat next door and not mess with it. The minister suggested he keep his dog on a leash or behind a fence; but like a lot of things, Don didn’t listen too well or take advice seriously. He knew the chances of a cat beating up his award-winning German Shepherd were next to none.
That morning, Don went outside to find his dog under the porch. The show-winning stud had a shredded back, chunks out of his ears and blood pouring from where his testicles used to proudly hang. Don somehow knew Gainer was at fault.
He left chunks of gravel in his driveway and dust in Munro’s as he sped next door in his big, shiny new 1-ton Dodge truck he’d purchased just so he could drive around the island without damaging his fancy Mercedes.
Munro heard him coming, half the island could hear him coming, and she went to the front door to see him appear, slamming her porch screen door open and began his tirade. “Your cat attacked my dog. Without justification. And I intend to sue for damages. This was a champion show dog and I won’t stand for this kind of unprovoked attack. You will hear from my lawyers,” was a small sampling of the outpour from the enraged Don as he began to describe his dog’s injuries from Gainer’s teeth and claws.
Munro listened with great patience as Don listed all the dog’s injuries. She allowed his demands for reparations to fill the space between them, and formed a small secret smile in the back of her mind.
When he’d finished shouting at her, she calmly asked, “Is your dog so feeble as to be beaten by a cat? Very interesting indeed. I’m sure your breeding customers will be overjoyed to hear of this and the obvious lessened value of their animals. Maybe some of them are rich enough to sue you back?”
Don was taken aback. He hadn’t considered this.
He stood silent for a second debating his next move when Munro began again. “I was actually thinking of writing this up on my cat blog. You know how popular cats are on the Net don’t you? I’m not sure you know how popular stories about Gainer are? He has his own website. Well, I write it of course but you can imagine how those readers are going to react when they read about your dog attacking my cat. After all, I think we can both agree that cats don’t attack dogs. Do they?” She said the last with a small smile, then she added, “I’m sure my readers will also visit your website to add comments there as well.”
Gainer was one of the minor cat-celebrities of the Net and the fact he’d just decimated a German Shepherd would drive a massive surge in discussions and traffic. Pictures of Gainer under the couch would stir a firestorm and Don’s dog breeding site, actually a bragging website for his stud, would be overrun with Gainer fans.
Don backtracked quite quickly, “You so much as mention this online and I will bring a world of legal problems from my legal staff to shut your website down.”
“Hmm, well, I don’t much like the threats you’re making and before you threaten to sue, you may want to ask your lawyers what freedom of speech means and what freedom of the press involves. I think my readers are particularly going to enjoy this conversation as well. Your reaction is a great addition to the story.” Munro smiled wondering what would come next.
Don was dumbfounded. He wasn’t at all used to this kind of quiet resistance and effective counterattack. He wasn’t quite sure what to do next to extricate himself from this potential problem but like always, he decided an attack was always the best course of action when in doubt of the outcome. “You will hear from my lawyers so I suggest you get a very good one.”
“Did you see the fight? No? Me neither. So how do you know it was my small cat that attacked your big dog? And why was your dog over on my property? Will your lawyers ask these questions?”
Don’s bluster filled her wisteria covered porch. The fragrance from the dark-blue flowers was lovely and a direct contrast to the scent of anger Don emanated. Munro took a few seconds to appreciate the contrast and smiled inwardly. A small part of her mind tried to decide if he was angry at being stymied, at being stood-up to, or because his dog has lost the fight. But mostly, she just nodded, keeping time to his tirade, allowing the never-ending words to wash over her until she recognized the hiss behind her.
Gainer appeared between her legs and the porch wall as she leaned against it in a casual country sort of way that some folks have when they’re enjoying a good conversation.
The hiss was clear. The intent was clear and he advanced on Don quite determined to send this dog’s owner back the way the dog had retreated with his ass dragging the ground in pain and trying to rub it better. It had taken Gainer’s sacrifice of the end of his tail to obtain that rear-facing position and when he had the dog’s balls firmly in his mouth, he’d brought his teeth and front claws into place. The dog had retreated screaming and Gainer looked at this person with the similar scent and thought the trick would work twice.
“Has that cat ever attacked people? My lawyers will want to know?”
“Yes indeed. Several fake telephone salesmen got pushy and Gainer protected me. Drove them right off the porch and managed to scare one so badly he wet his pants trying to get out the door.”
“You keep that cat under control,” demanded Don.
Munro simply smiled.
Gainer went down into his hunting crouch, his tail rigid behind him and if there would have been a tip, it would have been twitching slowly back and forth seeking to make sure the killing rush was a well-balanced affair.
“That cat looks like it’s going to attack.”
“Yes. It does look that way doesn’t it?”
Don took a small step toward the porch door.
Munro quietly watched the scene unfold as Gainer advanced a baby-step, keeping the distance between them the same. Then Gainer, his belly never leaving the ground, and never getting out of balance, took another baby step. She hoped Don would recognize this movement from movies of lions hunting on the Serengeti.
Don was now silent, his eyes never leaving Gainer’s. A seasoned negotiator, Don understood what was in play here. One would dominate and the other would forever be relegated to subservient status. He’d be damned if he’d be pushed around by a cat and got ready to put the boots to this one. It wouldn’t be the first animal to feel the steel-toes of his work boots.
Munro’s smile grew as Gainer advanced another mini-step. He was clearly within killing range and all three of them knew it. She decided to let this play out. She saw Don settle himself for the charge. Saw him shift his weight to his left leg, the right one in kick position. He was as tense and ready as Gainer. Her sense of the porch and those on it went into slow motion, she knew this feeling from times when several accident victims came into the hospital and she dealt with multiple problems, people and staff at the same time.
She saw both Don and Gainer waiting for the other to blink; neither did.
Munro froze, her reverie broken, as Gainer screamed his anger and pain in an epic cat screech heard half-way across the island.
Every bird within earshot froze on the wing and dove for cover. Rabbits bolted for holes. Hounds laid down, wrapping their tails under them, and whined. Mice went into shock. People looked up, shook their heads and were glad they weren’t anywhere near that damned old cat.
She startled and then laughed out loud as Don jumped backwards three feet, banged into the screen door and put his elbow right through the screen. She smothered her laughter as she saw Don look at the screen, saw him take a startled look at the unmoving Gainer and understand he’d just lost the most important battle. He’d backed down first. His resolve to put the boots to the cat disappeared under the onslaught of that demonic scream and all three of them knew it.
She smiled inwardly as she saw he never took his eyes off Gainer but noted the cat never blinked nor twitched a muscle. It was clear though if he moved the wrong way now Gainer would be all over him, claws and teeth alike. Munro assumed her neutral, professional physician’s face as she saw the recognition of defeat. She nodded at him as they made eye contact but couldn’t restrain her grin as Don, never turning, backed out the screen door.
She saw him glance at the wrecked screen, saw his narrowed eyes and took the victory graciously, “Never mind about the screen door, I wanted a new screen anyway.”
Don nodded, closed the door, made sure the old-fashioned latch was engaged and turned for his truck.
Gainer stood, purred and rubbed against her leg. It was still his island.
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