Authors: Emily Cheney Neville
"What'll she have to do?"
"Maybe I better go see her tomorrow," says Pop. "There can be lots of things – see if he left a will, if he owes any taxes, if he has property that has to be taken care of or sold. You can't tell."
"Kate said he was a miser. Maybe he left her a million. Say, that'd be great!"
"Don't be a dope!" Pop snaps, and he really sounds angry, so I pipe down.
The next morning Pop tells me to go over and see how Kate is. "The way she feels about people, I don't like to just barge in. I'll come by in ten minutes, like I was picking you up to go to a movie or something."
I saunter round the corner onto Third Avenue and stop short. There are two newspaper cars pulled up in front of Kate's building, one red and one black, and a sizable knot of people gathered on the sidewalk. I move in among them.
"That crazy cat lady . . . he musta been a nut too . . . left her about a million . . . a lotta rich cats, how d'ya like that. . . . "
So I guess he did leave her money, and all of a sudden I see it isn't "great." It's going to be trouble. I push through the people and go upstairs without anyone stopping me. When I open Kate's door, old stray tomcat shoots out. He's leaving, and I can see why.
Kate's room is tiny, and it looks like it's filled with a mob. Maybe it's only half a dozen guys, but the photographers are pushing around trying to get shots and the reporters are jabbering.
Orange kitten sticks his head out of the box. Then out he comes, into the sea of feet. I drop him back in and try to get across to Kate. She's pretty well backed into a corner and looking ready to jump out the window. She has her arms folded in front of her, each hand clenching the other elbow, as if to hold herself together. A reporter with a bunch of scratch paper in his hand is crowding her.
"Miss Carmichael" – funny, I never even knew her last name before – "I just want to ask one or two questions. Could you tell us when you last saw your brother?"
"No, I couldn't," she snaps, drawing her head down between her shoulders and trying to melt into the wall.
"Watcha going to do with the money?" a photographer asks. He picks up a cat, one of the big stray kittens, and dumps it on Kate. The cat clings to her and the photographer says, "Hold it now. Just let me snap a picture."
He takes two steps back.
At the first step the room is silent. At the second step a shattering caterwaul goes up. He has stepped on the adventurous orange kitten.
The scream freezes us all, except Kate. She shoots out of her corner, knowing instantly what has happened. The kitten is jerking slightly now, and bright, bright blood is coming out of its mouth. With one violent, merciful stroke Kate finishes it. She picks the limp body up and wraps it neatly in a paper towel and places it in the wastebasket.
The room is still silent for one congealed instant. Kate seems almost to have forgotten the crowd of men. Then two of them make hastily for the door. The photographer shuffles his feet and says, "Gee, m'am, I didn't mean . . . I wouldn't for the world . . ."
Kate whirls and screams at him: "Get out! Get out, all of you! Leave me and my cats alone! I never asked you in here!"
At that moment my pop comes in the door. Of course he doesn't know anything about the kitten, but he takes in the general situation and herds the two remaining newspapermen to the door. He gives them his card and home address and tells them to look him up a little later.
My knees suddenly feel weak and I slump onto the sofa, and my eyes swivel round to the little package in the wastebasket. It would be the strongest one. I really never saw anything get killed right in front of me before. It hits you.
Pop is trying to calm Kate down. She's facing him, grabbing each sleeve of his coat. "What am I going to do? What can I do? I don't want his money. I don't want anything from anyone. I just want to be let alone!"
"Take it easy, Kate, take it easy. You don't have to let anyone into your apartment. About the inheritance, well, I'll have to look into that." Over his shoulder Pop signals to me to go home and get Mom.
I go home and explain the situation to Mom, and she comes back with me. One photographer and a couple of reporters are still hanging around, and the guy snaps a picture of me and Mom at the door. Mom scoots on up. Bad as I feel, I still get a charge out of getting my picture taken for a paper.
"Hey, kid," one of the reporters shoves in front of me, "about this Miss Carmichael. Does she act pretty strange, like talking to herself on the street and stuff?"
I see the story he's trying to build up. While it's true in a way, if you really know Kate it's not. Anyway, I'm against it. I say, "Nah. She's all right. She's just sort of scared of people, and she likes cats."
"How many cats she got?"
There have been up to a dozen on a busy day, but again I play it down. "She's got a mother cat with kittens. Sometimes a stray or two. Don't get sucked in by all that jazz these dumb kids around here'll give you."
"She gets all that money, you think she'll buy a big house, set up a home for stray cats?"
I shrug. "I don't know. She doesn't want the money anyway. She just wants to be let alone."
"Doesn't want the money!" the photographer chips in. "Boy, she must be
nuts! I'm going back to the office."
The reporter says he's going to wait and talk to my pop, and I go on upstairs to see what's doing.
Kate is sitting on the sofa, sniffing and wiping her eyes and muttering, but looking calmer. Mom is making tea. Pop is looking out the window, scratching his head.
Kate gulps and draws a big breath. "Tell them I don't want his old money. Tell them to give it to someone else. Tell them to leave me alone. I just want my own place and my cats. They can't make me move, can they? I've lived here thirty years. I couldn't go anyplace else."
She gulps and sniffs some more, and Mom brings her a cup of tea. The stray kittens jump up to see if it's anything good and nuzzle into her lap. Kate takes a sip of tea and asks Pop again, "They can't make me move, can they?" This seems to be what worries her most.
"No-o," says Pop, "it's only . . . "
He's interrupted by a knock on the door, and I go open it a crack. A guy says he's the landlord. As soon as Kate hears his voice, she yelps at him, "I paid my rent, first of the month like always. Don't you come bothering me!"
"It's about the cats," he says. "People outside saying you got a dozen cats in here. There's a law, you know."
He's a seedy-looking, whining kind of a man, and he looks real pleased with himself when he says there's a law about cats.
Kate jumps right at him. "I'm not breaking any laws. I know you. You just want to get me out of here and rent the place for more money. You leave me alone!"
The man whines, "There's a law, that's all. I don't want no violation slapped on my building."
Pop comes over and tells the man there's just a mother cat with kittens. "There's a couple of strays here, too, right now, but I'll take them home with me."
"There's a law, that's all. Also, I got a right to inspect the premises." Pop shows no signs of letting him in, and he shuffles and grumbles and goes away.
"Lock the door," Kate snaps. "I keep it locked all the time."
Pop says he's going home to make some phone calls and try to figure out what's going on. He takes down the name and address of Kate's brother and asks her if she's sure there are no other relatives. She says she never heard of any. Pop goes, and Kate insists that I lock the door after him.
She gets up and starts stirring around getting food out for the cats. She buys fish and chicken livers for them, even though she hardly eats any meat herself. She listens at the back door a moment to make sure no one's out there, then opens the door and puts out the garbage and wastebasket. There goes the adventurous kitten. You got to hand it to Kate. She has no sniffling sentimentality about her cats. Kitten's dead, it's dead, that's all. She doesn't mope over the limp mite of fur. In fact, anything to do with cats she's got sense and guts. They're her family. I don't know that I could have put that kitten out of its misery.
Just as long as the world doesn't throw any stray fortunes at her, Kate does fine. But when people get in her way, she needs someone like Pop.
Mom says she'll stick around a while and tells me to take the two stray kittens home, just in case the landlord comes back trying to make trouble.
"O.K., great – Cat'll have some company!"
Kate sniffs. "He'll hate it. Cats don't like other cats pushing into their house."
She's right, of course. I put the kittens down at home, and Cat hisses at them and then runs them under the radiator in the kitchen. Then he sits down in the doorway and glowers at them, on guard.
Things simmer down gradually. Mom and I and sometimes Tom, who's right at the flower shop on the corner, take turns checking on Kate and doing shopping for her, or going with her so she doesn't get badgered by people. But pretty soon everyone in the neighborhood forgets all about her and her inheritance. They see her buying just the same old cat food and cottage cheese and fruit, and they probably figure the whole thing was a phony.
It wasn't though. Pop finds out her brother did leave a will. He lined up his funeral, left something to his housekeeper, something to a little restaurant owner way downtown – apparently that was his one big luxury, a decent meal twice a year when he went down to buy more stocks – and the rest to Kate.
Pop says it may take months or years to clear up the estate, but he says Kate can get her share all put in trust for her with some bank, and they'll take care of all the legalities and taxes and just pay her as much or little as she wants out of the income. And she can leave the whole kit and caboodle to a cat home in her will if she wants to, which will probably make her tightwad brother spin in his grave. I asked her once, and she said maybe she'd leave some to the Children's Aid, because there are a lot of stray children in New York City that need looking after, as well as cats. She's getting to think about people some.
There are some disadvantages to not getting a girl's phone number. This sort of date I had with Mary for golf on Election Day fell through. In the first place, I was sick in bed with the flu, and Mom wouldn't have let me out for anything, and secondly, it was pouring rain. Without the phone number, there wasn't any way I could let her know, and I didn't even know a street address to write to later.
By the time I got finished with the flu, we were into Thanksgiving and then all the trouble with Kate. Time passed and I felt rottener about standing her up without a word, and I couldn't get up my nerve to go out to Coney and just appear on her doorstep. I could have found the house all right, once I was out there.
The first week of Christmas vacation the phone rings late one afternoon and Pop answers it. He says, "Just one minute, please," and I know right away from his voice it isn't someone he knows.
"Young lady on the phone for you, Dave," he says, and he enjoys watching me gulp.
"Hullo?" a rather tight, flat little voice asks. "Is this Dave – uh, Mitchell – uh, I mean, with Cat?"
I recognize it's Mary, all right, even if she does sound strange and scared.
"Oh, hi!" I say. "Sure, it's me! I'm awfully sorry about that day we were going to play golf. I was in bed with the flu, and then I didn't know your phone number or . . ."
"Oh, that's all right," she says. "I wondered what happened."
There's a slight pause, and I see Pop grinning and pretending to read his paper. I turn around so I won't see him.
"Where are you now, out in Coney?" I ask Mary.
"No, as a matter of fact, I'm in Macy's." Her voice trails off a little, but then she starts in again. "As a matter of fact, that's why I called. You see, I was supposed to meet Mom here at five, and she hasn't come, and I bought all these Christmas presents, and I forgot about the tax or something, and this is my last dime."
She stops. I see now why she sounds scared, and I get a curdled feeling in my stomach, too, because what if the dime runs out in the phone and she's cut off? I'll never find her in Macy's. It's too big.
"Pop!" I yelp. "There's this girl I know is in a phone booth in Macy's and her dime is going to run out and she hasn't anymore money. What'll I do?"
"Get the phone number of the booth and call her back. Here – " He gives me a pencil.
What a relief. Funny I never thought of that. You just somehow don't think of a phone booth having a number.
Mary sounds pretty relieved, too. I get the number and call her back, and with Pop making suggestions here and there we settle that I'll go over to Macy's and meet her on the ground floor near Thirty-fourth Street and Broadway at the counter where they're selling umbrellas for $2.89, which Mary says she can see from the phone booth.
"O.K." I say, and then I sort of don't want to hang up. It's fun talking. So I go on. "Look, just in case we miss each other at Macy's, what's your phone number at home, so I could call you sometime?"
"O.K. Well, good-bye. I'll be right over. To Macy's, I mean."