Few places capture hopelessness as effectively as the lobby of a juvenile detention facility. It's like a rite of passage for the career criminal and the filter for those that society lets slip through the cracks. Everything about the place made Furrball cringe, from the unsettling fluorescent lighting to the underpaid, overworked, emotionally jarred correctional officers.
"Dizzy! You're back so soon! I thought I told you to take a whole week…" The man looked so stereotypical, he could have come straight from a stock photo of a police lieutenant. Furrball diverted his eyes, trying not to laugh.
"Sorry boss. He here with me. Captain Jeffries, meet Furrball."
The cat held out his hand as the man raised an eye brow before giving it a firm shake.
"Furrball? A bit self-deprecating for a name, don't you think?"
The feline smirked and rolled his eyes.
"We're not here to help him." Fifi whispered into his ear.
Dizzy cleared his throat, flashing a look at his boss.
"You'll have to forgive me," the man said. "My humor's not for everyone, so says my ex-wife. Anyway, this way please," he said, leading them to his office.
"Now, I don't expect miracles, but we could really use some background knowledge about him. Enough to get him to a suitable foster home this time."
"We use foster home for all animal here. Not just people. We all people here," Dizzy explained.
"That's s-s-stupid," Furrball observed. "He's a c-cat. Why w-would you expect him to act l-l-like anything else?"
"Says the cat that's keen on a skunk," Jeffries observed.
Furrball started to get up, before Fifi squeezed his leg under the table. He shot her a look, but she shook her head slowly.
"Why is he locked up, anyway?" Fifi spoke up, trying to get things back on track.
"You mean this time? Mauled a shopkeeper. He needed 32 stitches and a tetanus shot."
"Wh-what about a r-r-rabies shot?" the cat snarled.
"Of course we did," the man replied, not detecting the comment's nature.
"Anyway, we've had to put him in solitary this time around. He got into seven fights his first week in. Sent four others to the infirmary. And meds don't seem to have any effect on him. I'm worried that they're going to put him to sleep if he gets sent here again."
Furrball shot Dizzy a glance.
"Guess we're not s-s-so equal after all," the feline observed. "H-how many children y-you execute a y-year?"
"Let's go to cell, okay?" Dizzy stood up, coaxing Furrball out of the room.
As per Furrball's request, all the lights were turned off and guards at the ready outside of the room. Being semi-feral himself, the cat knew that two senses were vital for gaining the trust of a completely wild cat; sound and smell. Sight tended to create rushed judgment which was too risky. There's only one chance to make a first impression and with a feral, that's the only chance you get to establish a rapport. With the lights off and his human clothes discarded, Furrball got down on all fours and entered the darkness.
Though he'd anticipated the pounce, the amount of force behind it surprised him, making it difficult to absorb the blow correctly. He could hear the kitten sniffing, inspecting him and slowly, Furrball outmaneuvered him, darting out of lunging distance. Furrball, out of immediate danger inhaled deeply.
The 'kitten's' scent told Furrball volumes. He wasn't as young as the others had predicted. Definitely a mixed breed. But most importantly to him, at least one of the cat's parents wasn't a stray. Likely the father. It might have been easier if it had been the mother, but at least by stray instinct, the cat would understand Catonese.
It's warm in here.
You are who? Yes.
I heard about you from a friend.
You are who?
Furrball dodged the strike intended for his ear mostly by accidental reflex. He was definitely rusty to this type of interaction. It was generally advisable to answer questions as they were posed.
Just a cat from another land.
That's right. You know, you talk in an interesting way.
Do you have a name?
Name is what?
A name is what others call you. Just you.
Pest? Asshole? Oh.
Hmm. Maybe we can think of another name for you.
Me give you.
Maybe. In time.
Furrball wasn't fast enough to evade the swipe this time. He felt the blood gushing before the actual tear. By blind luck, he was able to roll over to the opposite side before being attacked any more.
Okay. What about Sparkz?
Yeah. Seems to suit your disposition.
Oh. Is name your?
It just is.
Look, Sparkz, I'm going to turn on the light now. Is that okay with you?
Furrball banged on the door. A few seconds later, the low-watt bulb hummed to life. The two cats visually inspected one another for what seemed like an hour. Sparkz was three-toned; black, gray and white with matted fur and scruffy ears. His eyes were different colors too, one green, one almost red, giving him a somewhat menacing appearance. What Furrball couldn't take his eyes off was the fact that the cat's upper left paw was gone.
Furrball noticed that Sparkz seemed to like what he saw, particularly the bandage and the chunk of missing ear. Furrball grinned at this, as most seemed to frown upon these features. Furrball looked up as Sparkz pointed his stub at his tail.
I can't remember.
Furrball pointed to Sparkz's left arm.
Too me. Present. Remember can I.
Who would cut off your hand as a present?
Shopkeeper. Bird ate I.
At a pet store?
Cage outside. Game fair. Yeah?
If you're starving, yeah.
Back in Captain Jeffires' office, Furrball felt like a scout debriefing his company after a mission. It felt strange. Even Fifi's presence hadn't calmed him sufficiently after his talk with the cat which lasted half the day.
"The s-sss-system is going to k-k-keep failing him. He can't go back to foster care and you w-won't let him go out on his own."
"We didn't invite you here to criticize our policy, Mr. Furrball. Please just give us the information we need to do our best with him."
"Wh-what's to tell? He's about 10 in h-h-human years. There's t-t-toon blood flowing in him which is w-why he can go bipedal. He doesn't speak or understand h-human."
"What about his family?" Fifi spoke up, causing Furrball to face the skunk.
"From wh-what I can tell, h-his dad was the d-domestic. Probably carrying the t-toon blood in him. He never knew his father, though. Was raised in a s-street family until about four years ago when they abandoned him for some reason."
Furrball shot a look at Captain Jeffries.
"S-s-so he says. I think they were killed in a s-s-street cleaning campaign."
Dizzy and Captain Jeffries nervous exchanged glances, but said nothing.
"He's not a r-risk to the public. Not if he's left in peace. If he w-were treated equally, he w-w-wouldn't ever be v-violent."
"C-call it a c-c-code. We don't want to l-live in b-blood, but we have to s-survive."
"Fact is, Mr. Furrball, he's a violent offender."
"F-fact is, Mr. Jeffrey, he's a k-kid!" Furrball slammed his paws on the table, standing up. Captain Jeffires was about to chastise him about getting his name wrong, but stopped when he saw the look in the cat's eyes.
"He ate a b-b-bird in a c-c-cage outside a pet store. He hadn't had a real m-meal in a week before he resorted to it. What was the b-bird cage doing outside?"
Fifi squeezed Furrball's paw under the table.
"The b-bastard that cut off his paw? No ch-charges, I b-bet."
"The man was defending his business," Captain Jeffries protested.
"And this t-t-time, he was s-s-sleeping on a m-m-mat outside of a s-s-shop," Furrball continued, ignoring the defense. "The guy s-s-smacks him with a b-b-broom to wake him up and he was in f-f-fight mode."
"I read the case, I know about it. They went easy on him this time, still. 32 stitches isn't a little swipe in the dark."
"It is if you're always being hunted."
The cat's tone was deeper. Pronounced and determined; laced with the sting of experience. For a moment, the room fell completely silent.
"Um," Dizzy tried, pulling out some paperwork. "I have idea."
Furrball took the documents looked at them for a moment and then at Fifi. She smiled, taking the documents from the cat and her heart skipped a beat. Furrball noticed her eyes dilate and cocked his head, concerned.
"These are adoption papers," Fifi breathed. Furrball's eyes popped out and he shot a look at Dizzy.
"You worry about him?" Dizzy spoke up. "You raise him. Who else can?"
Furrball looked at Fifi, then at the table, trying to put his head around the idea. Turning back to Fifi, he started to open his mouth, but she nodded, silencing the words before they left his mouth. A hopeful smile took over his face and the two joined hands.
"Of course. We'll do it together," she whispered into his ear.
Furrball looked over at Dizzy, then at Captain Jeffries. The man sighed, shaking his head.
"Fine. Let 'im be your problem from now on. Let's go to the court to make it final, then."
The next 48 hours were a blur. Sparkz was not particularly adverse to the idea of leaving the island, particularly since Furrball spoke his language. He was intrigued by Fifi as well, and found her scent to be enticing. Sparkz had this untamed charm and curious disposition that Fifi absolutely adored.
After saying their goodbyes to Dizzy, the three flew back to the States without incident. At first, Sparkz was horrified to realize he was so high above the ground, but after ten minutes, fatigue of the recent events overcame him and he spent the remainder of the flight sleeping.
Arriving at LAX, Fifi rented a car. In the hotel, the two adults sat, considering their options. After much deliberation, Furrball finally decided to bite the bullet and go see his old mentor. Sylvester was more than happy to introduce the cat to his directors and they were more than happy to sign Furrball to a lucrative five-year contract with merchandising and possible film time. As for Fifi, she was able to land steady work as a freelancer for a French-language magazine. Furrball couldn't help but think how life is funny about how it takes so long to work itself out and yet when it does, it seems so seamless as if it took no effort at all.
They rented a flat in a moderately quiet neighborhood where Furrball spent most of the time educating Sparkz. It took a solid three months to get Sparkz to speak Catonese properly, but he was an eager student. Furrbal wasn't exactly qualified to be teaching ESL to Sparkz, so he assisted Fifi in doing so, losing his stutter almost completely. The time the three spent together that they all cherished the most was when Furrball would sit on the side of the roof at night and serenade the two with an impromptu concerto. The soothing sound swiftly lulled Sparkz to sleep every time and instilled a sense of passion and wonder in Fifi. As for Furrball, it was therapy for putting up with his day job, being in the public eye once again. If only he could think of the perfect way to give her the ring…
Thanks for reading!