Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Disney and their likenesses are only used for fan related purposes.
Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants
Mush Meyers was innocently walking down Bayard that morning, whistling a merry tune to himself, hefting his papers up high for any prospective customers to see. It was a beautiful spring day, the air didn't smell half as foul as it always did, and there seemed to be a promise of something, well, a little different in the air. Adventure, maybe, or excitement, or... or—
"I'm gonna skin that damn cat!"
That, Mush noticed when he saw the slime that already stained his shirt and wrinkled his nose at the smell, consisted of a loud crashing sound, a high-pitched yowl from a stray cat, the fishmonger on the corner's angry shout and then a soft slap where Mush had gotten hit in the chest with a... he looked down... was that a fish head?
He peered a little closer at the dirt where it had fallen. Yes, Mush thought a little queasily. It was a fish head. Bending his knees a little, he covered it with one of his papes so that it couldn't look up at him with its accusing eyes.
Oblivious to the fishmonger's threatening cries, a small cat, scrawny and underfed, came darting away from the fish stall, eager for the thrown fish. It was a grey cat, with fur a little longer and bushier than the average alley cat's, and its hunger made it a little more reckless than it should have been. Having tracked down the fish, it barely paid any notice to Mush as it started to poke and prod at the newspaper, anxious for its meal. Only then, when it couldn't move the heavier morning edition of the World, did it look up at Mush, sadness in its great big green eyes, and mew so pitifully that only hard-hearted fishmongers could turn it away.
Mush couldn't resist. For him, it was love—or, rather, total adoration—at first sight. It had to be. Why else would he have actually picked up a fish head?
Not with his ink-stained hands, though. He used the ruined newspaper to gingerly pick up the fish head before setting it down in the dirt, out of the vengeful eye of the fishmonger—who, getting one good look at the young man he'd hit with the fish head, decided Mush could keep it, free of charge.
Mush then watched as the grey ball of fur scurried past him and started to wolf the treat down. From his post, all he could see was a fuzzy tail like a bottle brush sticking out in the air and a pair of fluffy back legs that looked like the cat was wearing a pair of wooly trousers.
"I think I'll call ya Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants," he declared when the cat finished its breakfast and, smelling the fish on Mush's shirt, trotted back over to its new friend. Mush squatted down to pet the cat, never once thinking that the stray cat might swat back.
It didn't. Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants simply mewed its agreement as it nuzzled its matted head against Mush's outstretched hand. Then again, for the promise of some more fish, it thought it would go on answering to I'm gonna skin that damn cat!
Kid Blink was lying in his bunk, his tongue sticking out between his teeth as he finished reading the back page of one of the papers he hadn't sold. Business had been slow, earning him hardly enough coins for lodging, let alone a good meal over at Tibby's, and he found it was just easier to linger in the bunk room until Kloppman called the boys down for a cheap supper served on the first floor. So, laying on his back, stretching out as his head hung over the edge of his bunk, he busied himself until it was time to eat.
Which was exactly how Mush found him not too much later. Out of breath and holding the front of his belly as if he'd had some bad meat and needed the toilet, Mush rushed into the bunk room. His dark eyes lit up when he saw Blink and, lowering one of his hands, he waved—which left Blink catching sight of a bulge in the front of Mush's shirt that made his pal look like an expecting mother.
Blink just about fell off his bunk. He only managed to catch himself in time before rolling over onto his front, his paper forgotten. He pointed. "Mush! What happened to ya?"
"What? Oh, you mean this?" Mush opened the middle two buttons on his shirt and out popped a furry little face looking a little worse for the wear having been carried upstairs inside of Mush's shirt.
It was a good thing Blink had righted himself. When the furry little face was followed by a furry little body and he realized it was a cat... well, he really would've fallen off his bunk that time. "Tell me that ain't what I think it is..."
Mush nodded solemnly and set the cat down on Blink's bunk. "Blink, meet Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants. Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants, this is my friend Blink."
The cat meowed its hello quite graciously. Kid Blink just closed his good eye and took a deep breath. When he opened his eye up again, the cat was still sitting there—or, rather, laying there. In the time it took for Blink to close his eye and open it, Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants had sprawled along the lengths of Blink's bunk. It watched him with a predatory gleam in its yellow-green eyes, daring Blink to even try to push him off.
Blink gave in. He only had one good eye, after all, and cat's claws could be wicked sharp. "So what did Kloppy say?"
Mush was too preoccupied with reaching out tickling the cat under its chin. "Kloppy?"
"Yeah. Ya did ask him right? About keepin' this thing?"
"Huh? Wha—oh... oh, yeah, Blink. 'Course I did." Twin spots of color appeared on Mush's cheek—he'd never been a good liar. Luckily for him, though, Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants, tired of being tickled, jerked his head out of Mush's reach, then placed his paw warningly on Mush's hand as if to say no, human, no.
And, of course, Mush reacted as if that was the cutest thing he'd ever seen. "Look at that! Did ya see what he did?" He scooped the cat up in his muscular arms and squeezed. "Oh, my Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants!"
Blink just prayed the damn thing didn't come with fleas.
Skittery Daniels, old mister dumb and glum himself, was the next boy to saunter into the bunk room. He wasn't one for following the Children's Aid Society's rules—hence the cigarette he was puffing away on as he entered—and when he saw Mush sitting on a bottom bunk, waving a one of his frayed laces in front of a fluffy, grey cat, all he said was—
"Since when did you claim a bottom bunk?"
Mush kept tangling his lace, chuckling when the cat just missed it. He waited until the cat was finally victorious, snagging the lace with one of its sharp claws, before he answered Skittery: "Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants doesn't like to be up too high."
Skittery paused. In the next second his mouth dropped open, his brain taking a second to catch up to his ears, and it was only because his fingers were even quicker that he didn't drop his smoke. "Li'l mister... what?" He raised his eyebrows. "What the hell did ya call that rat?"
"Little Mister Fluffy Pants," Mush said earnestly. "And it's not a rat, Skitts."
Skittery thought about it for a second. Then, walking around to the other side of Mush's new bunk, he stuck his cigarette back between his lips and reached out with both hands. One hand he kept on the cat's rump, while the other he used to lift up its tail. He shook his head and let the long, fluffy tail fall.
Wiping his hands against his trousers, he took his cigarette out of his mouth and ashed it on the bunk room floor. "If that's a mister, Mush, I think it's missin' a coupla vital pieces."
"What do you mean?"
Skittery jerked his head at the cat's rear end. "I'd say ya got a Li'l MistressFluffy Stockings over here."
"Don't be silly," Mush said, and he patted down his cat's fur where Skittery's hands had ruffled it. "This is a boy's lodging house. 'Course it's a mister."
It took all of Blink's insistence to get Mush to leave Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants alone in the bunk room when Kloppman called the boys down to supper.
Because Kid Blink had been able to tell fairly easily that Mush was lying when it came to telling Kloppman about the cat, he worked hard to persuade Mush not to slip Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants inside his shirt again and sneak him down to dinner—no, not even to feed him some scraps. It was only after Blink promised to help Mush bring up a couple of pieces of roast for the cat to nibble on that Mush patted Fluffy on the head, told it he would be back soon and, almost hesitantly, followed Blink down to the first floor.
Mush was already far too attached to his cat. He was antsy while apart, wondering what Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants could be getting up to in the bunk room while the boys ate their supper meal. He had just about worked himself up into thinking that Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants had climbed into the steel tub and one of the younger boys, Tumbler maybe, had decided to give the stray cat a bath when the women from the Children's Aid Society served the meal.
Despite it being a waste of a good nickel, Mush only took half a serving—Blink taking the rest—and ate it quickly, before rushing back upstairs to the bunk room to tend to Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants without any of the other boys around. So it was that, when Blink finished his meal—including the scraps he promised Mush's cat... he was hungry—he found Mush, all alone in the bunk room, in quite a state.
Crawling around on his hands and knees, searching underneath his new bunk, Mush was calling out: "Fluffy? Here, Fluffy, Fluffy, Fluffy... where'd ya go, kitty?"
"Fluffy?" Blink asked.
"Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants was gettin' too long to say," Mush explained, as if it were obvious.
"Why are you callin' for—oh." And that was when Blink realized that, while they had left Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants sitting nicely on Mush's bunk, it wasn't there anymore. In fact, Blink couldn't see Fluffy anywhere. He covered his good eye with his hand. "You lost it, didn't you?"
"Don't worry," promised Mush. "I'll find him. He's gotta be here somewhere, right?"
But it wasn't. There wasn't hide nor fuzzy, grey hair of the cat anywhere in the bunk room, no matter how many times Mush looked under the bunks, in the wash rooms, inside the steel tub more often than was probably necessary. Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants had disappeared. Or, so it seemed.
That night, the meowing started.
Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants was gone.
Well, as Blink pointed out, trying to calm Mush, the cat wasn't necessarily gone because the boys could hear it. First there was the muffled cries, then the high-pitched yowls, hissing that sounded like snakes were in the room, all followed by a frantic thundering of little paws running back and forth on the ceiling before Fluffy froze, yowled again, and was quiet.
The quiet never lasted.
The running would start up again, though none of the boys could figure out how it could be coming from above them, and the yowls, cries, meows just wouldn't stop. Blink, who woke up when the crying first started, didn't want to blame Mush. Skittery, who had never fallen asleep, was a lot more realistic and insisted Mush get up and look for that rat.
Which Mush did. Except, no matter where he looked, under the bunks again, and in the hall, and looking dubiously up at the ceiling up above, there was no sign of Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants. But the boys could hear him and, with the exception of a couple of the younger boys who could sleep through anything, they couldn't sleep.
It was no wonder that they started to get a little cranky. Skittery vowed to wring that rat's neck—he refused to accept that scrawny, fuzzy grey thing was a cat—and Racetrack grumpily questioned Mush's lack of brains when it came to actually sneaking Fluffy into the bunk room. Even Blink was losing his amiable temper; it didn't help matters that, ever since he lay down on his bunk, he'd been scratching and itching like mad.
But it was Jack Kelly who put it the best—
"If you don't find that cat and shut it up, I'm gonna go absolutely batty!"
Considering Jack had taken his red bandana, scrunched up the two twisted ends and, looping the fabric around the back of his head, then shoved the ends into his ears in a makeshift sort of earplugs... well, he looked a little crazy already. Wisely, showing a rare bit of intuition, Mush decided not to point that out.
Some time around sun-up, Fluffy finally laid down to get some sleep—or, as Race called out hopefully, it ran itself headfirst into a wall somewhere and knocked itself out—which mean that some of the newsboys were able to get a little shut-eye. Unfortunately, though, the key word there was little.
Skittery's eyes were closed again for the first time in hours, Jake was snoring in his bunk, Pie Eater had fallen asleep hanging halfway off of his bunk and Jack had just removed his red bandana and slung it over the rails when the all-too-familiar clomping up the stairs rang out through the bunk room, followed by—
"Up and at 'em, boys. The presses are rollin', sell a pape, sell the papes!"
The lodging house superintendent, a man called Alfred Kloppman, was far too chipper in the morning. Obviously, Fluffy's yowls didn't' reach down to the superintendent's room.
By some unspoken rule, none of the boys took their complaints to Kloppman. Grumbling like they always did, the superintendent was oblivious to the fact that the grumbles were a little louder than usual and a touch more spiteful. Kloppman made his rounds, then, satisfied the boys were all awake, took his leave.
At least Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants had the good notion to keep quiet while Kloppman was in the room.
Mush, taking a little heart in the way the boys kept Fluffy a secret, walked up to the first of his pal's he saw and slung his arm around his shoulder.
"Hey, Jack! How'd ya—"
Jack Kelly turned to look at Mush, his eyes rimmed with red the same shade as his bandana; the circles under his eyes were so dark, it looked like a pair of twin shiners. He scowled. "So help me, Mush, if you ask me how I slept, I'm gonna soak ya!"
Mush took his arm back and turned, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to look at Race. "Hi, Race. How's—"
Racetrack was chewing on an unlit cigar, an ugly expression on his face. "Don't push your luck, Mush. I'm thinkin' we should get Kloppman up here to fish that mongrel o' yours out."
He gasped. "We can't tell Kloppman about Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants! He'll make me get rid of him." And Mush, with his baby face and the shrewd way he could always manage to manipulate his innocence, promised: "Don't worry, fellas. I'll find Fluffy today."
And maybe it was sheepishness, or just plain old sleeplessness, but they all believed him.
"Here, buddy," Blink said, biting back his sigh. Of them all, he knew Mush the best and could tell exactly when he'd been played. "C'mon, I'll help ya look real quick."
Just like Kid Blink expected, they still couldn't find Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants in the bunk room.
There wasn't much time for them to look but, seeing as how the bunk room wasn't so very large, it didn't take long for the two boys to take a look around and find that the cat wasn't there to be found. The memory of the racing footsteps and the cries that came from up above, Blink wondered if the cat could have gotten to the floor above but couldn't see how. In fact, in all the time that Blink lived on Duane Street, he'd hardly ever thought about the top floor. Was there even one?
He asked Mush, but he didn't know. And without the chance to go upstairs—because Mush was just as adamant that they not tell Kloppman—Blink led a reluctant Mush down to the distribution center to buy their papers. He hoped that, once they had left the lodging house, Mush might forget about that darn cat for just a while.
No such luck.
Mush got a little teary-eyed when they passed the spot where he first found Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants and made Blink wait as he bought a fish head ("It's his favorite!") from a stammering fishmonger who seemed intent on giving him a good price for it. And then, as they spent the afternoon scaring customers off because of the smell of fresh fish that followed them everywhere, he kept pestering Blink, asking him over and over again about the cat's strange disappearance.
It didn't get any better when they made it back to the lodging house. Despite Mush's hope that Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants might have come back while they were out, there was no sign of the cat anywhere except for a smell that, considering they were in a boys' bunk room, wasn't really so noticeable.
Mush went whispering for Fluffy, Blink had the idea of waving the fish head around to entice the cat to come out, but nothing—
—until it was light's out, the boys were all in bed and, as suddenly as it stopped last night, the meows started up again.
"Do you think he only cries at night? Maybe he misses us." Mush sat up in his bunk, just barely missing hitting his head against the top, and gasped. "Maybe he's afraid of the dark!"
Or maybe, Blink thought testily, that damn cat just knew that there was a bunk room full of restless teenage boys trying to sleep.
When Kloppman came trooping up the stairs the next morning to wake up his charges, he was in for quite the surprise: hardly any of the boys were sleeping.
Boots was lying in his bunk, the pillow over his face. Skittery was on his back, kneading his eyes with the balls of his fists, mumbling and grumbling and making threats towards Mush that could barely be picked out from the din of the other boys' complaints. Swifty had followed Jack's lead, wearing a pair of makeshift earplugs; Pie Eater was counting sheep out loud, desperate to get a little more sleep. Dutchy and Specs, having given up on sleep hours ago, had started a pick-up game of cards on the floor. Tumbler, standing on Bumlets' shoulders, was poking at the ceiling with Bumlets' walking stick, trying to shut the cat up.
"Mrawr! Merr... Rowr!"
It wasn't working.
Kloppman flinched at the cat's yowls and knew, with the experience that came with countless years sitting at the superintendent's desk for a boys' lodging house, that there was certainly more going on here than at first look. He put his hands on his hips and clucked his tongue. There was a moment of quiet when the first boys noticed that Kloppman was standing there and, murmuring to their companions, passed the news along like a tidal wave.
And then, with a sound that was part yowl, part moan and every reason why the lodgers were awake long before their earl morning wake-up call, Kloppman shook his head. He couldn't pretend he hadn't heard that.
"Boys..." he began.
"Don't you boys us, Kloppy," piped up Race from his bottom bunk. Little sleep for the little newsboy left him even shorter than usual—with his temper, that was. He pointed across his bed at his sheepish neighbor. "This is all Mush's fault!"
Normally the boys were all for backing each other up, sort of like the musketeer's code: one for all and all for one, or something like that. The newsies never ratted each other out, always covering up for one another, and Kloppman never thought he'd find the one thing that pushed the bounds of that loyalty and then overstepped it.
And if he did, he never thought it would be a cat.
"Mush, what's goin' on here?"
Mush's answer was an unintelligible murmur.
"I lost Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants."
And Kloppman wasn't quite sure he understood that, either.
It was later that afternoon and barely any of the fellas had returned to the lodging house just yet. Some of them, like Pie Eater and Snoddy, were catching a few z's in the alley behind Duane Street; others were dragging their feet, not wanting to chance going to the bunks and hearing that stupid cat howl again. Jack Kelly had taken refuge with a friend of his father's, and he came back later that night, humming dirty vaudeville ditties under his breath. Racetrack Higgins managed to con a couple of free coffees off of Weasel—he didn't go to sleep at all that night, and was one of the living dead the morning after.
Even Kid Blink had abandoned Mush after two sleepless nights in a row. Normally a goofy smiler if there ever was one, Blink had given Mush a look that suggested he was all bound up inside before heading off with Skittery to find a shady tree in Central Park to kip under.
So it was a lonely and despondent Mush Meyers who, after half-heartedly selling his papers over by Bottle Alley, came trudging back to the lodging house before selling the evening edition. Torn between worrying over Fluffy and the continued nagging guilt that he'd managed to lose his cat and keep all of his bunk mates up those last two nights, Mush came slinking over to Duane Street in the hopes that he could find Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants and get the other boys to forgive him.
"Mush, boy, that you?"
Mush stopped when he heard Kloppman's voice. Not really interested in another lecture but too kind to say so, he headed towards Kloppman's desk instead of towards the stairs like he'd been aiming for.
"Hi, Kloppy," he said, and there was no hiding the unhappiness in his voice.
Kloppman smiled over at him. "Chin up, fella. Got something for you." And he stepped away from his desk, revealing the lazy-eyed cat resting he held tightly.
Mush's dark eyes brightened considerably. "Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants! Where did you find him?"
"Would you believe me if I told you the attic?"
Kloppman nodded. The bundle of fluffy grey fur in his arms was a dusty mess of rumbling and purrs. There was no sign of the frantic beast that had tried to claw Kloppman's arm off when he first found it, yowling and crying, lost in the attic. Then again, a piece of day-old fish—the extra day gave it extra flavor, decided Fluffy—could go a long way with making friends.
"Oh, Li'l Mister Fluffy Pants," Mush cried, taking his bedraggled cat from Kloppman and hugging him close, "what a naughty little boy you were. You had me worried to death, and you were in the attic, probably chasing mice, having a grand ole time. Fluffy, you better not do that ever again!"
Which only went to prove, thought Kloppman, that even the buffest, most muscular young man could melt into a pile of goo when it came to a little girl cat. Lifting up one of his gnarled, old hands to hide his smile, the superintendent wondered if now was the best time to remind Mush of the lodging house rule about no pets—give or take a dog or two—before deciding against it. Not yet, anyway.
Besides, Kloppman still wanted to figure out how in the world that cat had found its way up to the attic in the first place. And if he needed to lay out mouse traps.
End Note: I'm... I'm not really sure with this one-shot came from. Well, I guess I do - there's a throwaway line coming up in a future chapter of Fireflies in the Morning that mentions a stray cat named Fluffy. And I thought, what happened with Fluffy... and, you see, this is the result. I hope you liked it!
- stress, 08.07.11