Taking special precautions not to be visible during his search, Furrball eventually happened upon a gated community in the town. Must have been a week day, since there was hardly anyone about. Wearily, the feline crept closer to the security shack, hiding in a bush to wait for the perfect distraction. For some reason, the fence was lower nearest the guard shack. Milliseconds mattered when trying to avoid security cameras and knowing when the watchman was distracted was his best bet to infiltrate the area. Sure enough, Furrball didn't have to wait long for his diversion as an SUV slowed to a stop in front of the gate and a perturbed-looking woman rolled down her window.
"Anthony, this is the fourth time you gave my son a hard time about getting a pass, now I'm sick of it!" Furrball's ears twitched as the lady stuck out an accusing finger at the guard.
"Mrs. Rossi, I told him before if he's going to change vehicles and let his buddies drive, he's going to have to take his ID tag with him to avoid problems in the future…" The guard sounded as if he were reading a script, barely giving her a glance.
"But you know him! You've known him for twenty years!" The feline smirked impishly as the veins on the guard's forehead started to bulge.
"I think you're exaggerating a little, Mrs. Rossi. Do you need me to make another ID tag for him? Maybe I can install a homing device on it so he won't lose it this time."
"Oh, that would be won-" the lady stopped in midsentence, noticing the guard's crooked smile. "Are you mocking me, Anthony?"
It was clear from the rate the two were going that the distraction was enough. Furrball hopped the fence as the screaming match began.
It wasn't difficult to find Max's place. Planned communities are nothing but predictable. The cat simply walked north until he found a road leading into the woods where the shadows seemed darkest. As he followed the path, the feline's nose twitched. Definitely smoke. Had the fireworks started without him?
Cautious approaching the clearing, Furrball relaxed, hearing a couple of familiar voices.
"Hey there!" Freddie noticed the cat staring at burning mansion. "I heard you broke outta kitty jail!" Furrball nodded at the fire, pointing at Freddie's left hand. It was extremely red and the skin was cracking.
"Ain't nothin' to it," Derrick spoke up, not taking his eyes off of the fire. The three stood in silence for a moment, taking in the scene. As the windows burst from the heat the flames shot out, sparking the fountains on the front lawn.
"Well, no point in sticking around for the fire marshal," Freddie said, causing Derrick to laugh.
"Yeah. I bet Uncle Wayne wouldn't be too cool about covering for his nephew if he caught you here," Derrick mused. Furrball cocked his head.
Yeah," Freddie explained. "And don't worry too much about Ms. Duff. It pays to have fire insurance if your whole life isn't in the building like this case…"
"Alright, split up!" Derrick ordered, disappearing into the brush.
"'Everbody's gotta be down for themselves, don't they?'" Furrball looked at Freddie, perplexed.
"Street Soldiers, remember?" Freddie smiled wide, taking off.
Furrball was about to do the same when something in the distance caught his eye. A lone figure on all fours. As the image came into focus, Furrball's pupils started to sting, burning with unadulterated rage.
Slinking through the yard like a puma, the cat stopped within feet of his prey. Max was oblivious to his visitor as the tears silently ran down his cheeks. After a few moments, the words came, garbled, though they were.
"Why?...Facking money! Dumbass dad…why? Everything…DAMN IT!"
Furrball felt a slight tugging at his heart strings. His resolved weakened slight, even as he noticed the heavy stick lying near Max. Instead of picking up the stick, Furrball picked Max's pocket. Escaping into the forest, the cat just missed the procession of fire trucks.
The security guard was still fighting with the lady at his point of entry. Easily escaping the gilded cage of a community, Furrball ducked into an alley.
Furrball looked around, finding a car on the opposite end. A red hand stuck out motioning for him to get in. Although trusting a pyromaniac wasn't something he'd normally do, the feline had no wheels and fewer options.
The two drove in silence for a time. Freddie looked over at Furrball as he inspected the contents of Max's wallet. Exactly $600. Freddie smiled as Furrball took the cash, shaking his head when the feline offered him half. Furrball was getting ready to toss the wallet when he noticed a photo of Max and Elmyra from some time after the Looniversity. Even though his grin was evil, Max couldn't deceive the camera with his eyes. He looked as if he truly had feelings for Elmyra. Furrball closed the wallet before a flood of thoughts he wasn't ready for came to him. Freddie held out his hand.
"I know a great incinerator for this," he explained as the blue cat handed him the wallet. He looked at Furrball, who was now staring off into space wearing a poignant look on his face. Freddie opened his mouth, but decided to let it go.
Before he could get his mind off the subject, a single thought infiltrated the feline's consciousness.
Was the source of his mental anguish and the inspiration for his perpetual wanderlust summed up into two mirror syllables?
"Excuse me?" Freddie glanced at Furrball. He smiled weakly at the barkeep and lay back in his seat, inhaling deeply.
Before long, they arrived at a modest house in a cul-de-sac. Furrball looked around nervously as Freddie parked. "Let's go," he said, unlocking the doors.
Furrball felt a cold sweat run down his back as they waited at the front door. Even as Emily opened the door, he couldn't bring himself to face her.
"Thanks Freddie," Emily smiled. "I'll take it from here."
Freddie patted Furrball on the shoulder before he hopped in his car and sped away.
"Drink this, it'll help."
Furrball sipped the tea as Emily slowly paced around the room.
"None of this is your fault, Furrball. I was prepared for the risks."
The feline looked away, unable to respond.
"Insurance is going to pay me more than I paid for the bar, anyway." Furrball looked at Emily, who grinned, closing her eyes. "I figure it's time for me to patch things up with the family anyways. I guess you just can't run away from who you are forever just because it's easier to do."
At this, Furrball mewed softly, nodding his head.
"I just had one request, though," Emily stop in front of the feline, pausing for emphasis.
"Play one last song for me, won't you? You're incredible."
Furrball shrugged, looking at the ground.
"Oh, right. I heard what he did…" Emily disappeared into another room, coming back with a violin case. "I used to play a lifetime ago," Emily explained. "Now I can't even hold the bow properly."
Furrball took out the violin, tuning it slowly as he gently brushed away the dust with his paws. The urge to connect with the song in his heart was too strong to resist and the feline played with a fervor Emily had never seen before. When he finished, Furrball tried to ignore the tears in Emily's eyes and Emily returned the favor for him. They sat on the floor quietly for a moment before Furrball put away the violin and offered her the case. Emily shook her head.
"It doesn't need to collect more dust over here," she began. "I'd feel better knowing it's being used by a master."
Furrball relented, accepting his gift with a gracious bow.
"Won't you stay for lunch, Furrball?"
The cat amiably declined, point to his heart instead of his stomach. Emily nodded, empathetically. "Then I won't keep you any further. Good luck."
By instinct, pure luck, or simply accident, Furrball found his way back to Calamity's shack around dusk. Decidedly unsure of his next move, he had to know why that rare, primitive emotion hadn't passed through as it usually did. Even if for nothing else than to see her again, he had to know.
The light was on in the living room. Good, someone was home. Creeping closer to the window, the cat's heart was shattered by the simple reality of what he saw. It wasn't that he wasn't happy for Calamity… Lord knows he must have been lonely as well, but the fact Fifi was kissing back. From her words in the car, it seemed…a dishonest…desperate…complacent action. Or perhaps it was the old jealousy he'd always harbored as a kitten. Quick to want, slow to take, envious of those that did… It didn't matter. Before he could cause a scene, the blue cat turned to stroll away.
He made it five steps into the street, when Calamity's front door burst open.
"Furrball!" the French accent was completely gone, now.
Furrball turned to see Fifi running towards him. Ignoring his tendency to flee, the cat allowed Fifi to embrace him, if for nothing else, just to remember what it felt like to be hugged. The skunk squeezed tighter and he closed his eyes, hugging back for a moment. Looking up, he saw Calamity leaning against the front door an indifferent expression on his face. Shaking himself free from the embrace, Furrball took a knee apologetically. The coyote smirked, unimpressed. Furrball looked at Fifi, then Calamity again. The old sign was back. Furrball read it several times.
"Deal with it."
Three words, so simply put…and yet…
Fifi turned the cat's head to face her car. He finally noticed the boxes stacked up next to her car.
"We broke up, Cali and I," she explained. "I'm moving out. We were just saying goodbye."
Furrball stared at Fifi, letting the words sink in. As they did, Furrball turned towards Calamity again. Just as he did, the coyote slammed the door. The feline sighed, shaking his head.
Fifi helped the cat to his feet and pointed to the boxes. "Will you help me?"
Furrball nodded, arranging the boxes in the car for her, trying to take it all in. Just before he finished, something made him drop the last box.
! ! !
Furrball's eyes immediately followed the noise and he sprinted to the shack, Fifi not far behind. Before the cat could bust down the door, Calamity, wearing a welding mask emerged at the window, revealing a burnt bag of popcorn and shrugged. Furrball punched the door and loaded the last box into Fifi's car. As he picked up his violin case and started to take off down the road, Fifi pulled his arm. The feline submitted and the two got into her car.
-End Part 4 of 4-
Special Thanks to Gui Montag