[Author’s Note: Yes, it’s been a while, but that is what distraction gets you. Going to be posting a few more chapters today. Hope you like them. Also, check the table of contents for the first parts.]
After saying their goodbyes to Duchess, the four went to the parking lot, where Frederick escorted Reglatta to her car. After a few exchanged words, and a few more kisses, she climbed in and drove off.
“Nice to see lovebirds in the act of wooing,” Con said, slipping an arm around Billy’s and kissing him on the cheek.
“Yeah,” Billy said, kissing back.
“Alright,” Frederick said, going up to them, “Do you two need a ride? Duchess told me she sent a car your way.”
“She did, and it was a swell ride,” Con said. Billy nodded. “The car landed outside the windows and we just climbed aboard.”
“You flew?!” Frederick said, aghast. “Good lord, I could not find myself in one of those. I am even turning green at the thought. Blech,” he finished, making a screwed-up face.
The two chuckled. “Forgot you do not like flying,” Con said.
They walked up to Frederick’s car and climbed in.
“Where are we going again?” Frederick said.
“The Caterpillar’s Question.”
“The Caterpillar’s Question,” the online computer said, overhearing the conversation. “Established in Twenty Forty Six. Located on Eastwood Avenue. Best known for their martinis.”
“I like this car,” Billy said, patting a side panel.
“Thank you, sir.”
The car pulled into the quiet streets and zoomed past the scenery.
“Is there anything that I can get for any of you?” the car asked.
“No, that’s okay Jeeves,” Frederick said. “We will probably be drinking inside the bar.”
“Jeeves?” Billy said. “Why that name?”
The computer gave off a quiet cough. “I am modeled after the character Reginald Jeeves from the novels of P. G. Wodehouse, sir,” it said. “During the construction of the Kama Forty Nine, the computer programmers thought to put his sensibilities into my personality matrixes, thus making me an excellent companion for any driver.”
“So, this is a Forty Nine, huh?” Con said, eyeing the slim lines, the smooth architecture, the easeful comforts. “Not bad. I take the metro myself.”
“Indeed sir,” the computer said. “Alas, the Kama Metro Line does not have such privileges, if I may be bold to say.”
“I have to agree to that,” Billy said. “Although, I prefer the family’s Elite Thirty Seven.”
“Ah, the Thirty Seven Elite,” the computer said. “An excellent vehicle to drive in. I would set forth an emotion of approval, if I were human, sir.”
“Oh stuff it, Jeeves,” Frederick said, smiling. He set the car on autopilot and turned the seat around to face the other two. “So, tell me more about this place. I take it you guys have been there before?”
“A few times,” Con said. “It was our dating habitat.”
Billy nodded and pointed to Con. “I found him nursing a gimlet and a black eye the first we met. I started talking to him, and it just went on from there.”
“Ah, it was after what’s his name?”
Con nodded. “Yeah.”
Billy’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. “I thought his name was–“
“What’s His Name,” Con said firmly.
“Oh. Okay.” Billy rubbed his head and started looking out the window.
The silence stretched for a few minutes before the computer intoned, “Gentlemen, it appears we have been intercepted.”
“I have to second that,” Billy said, focusing on something outside. “Looks like one of those animal stampedes.”
“Roof down, Jeeves,” Frederick said.
“Yes, sir.” The top panels and side windows silently sank down.
The scene was fantastic. The wide-angled streetlights illuminated a parade of felines of every color, dressed in blue and white striped satin. Some were dancing on their hind legs, walking and pirouetting down the street while others in pink ribbons were scampering around the crowds that looked at the event with excitement. Various people were reaching down to pet the fluffy beasts while others looked around in wonder. And in the middle of it all, was their larger-than-life owner, Jonathan Moose himself, dressed in khaki slacks, an eye-popping bold Hawaiian shirt, and a large ten gallon hat, strumming a rather large ukulele in his hands, singing various jingles of his circus.
No one can say when he came into the city, but no matter who you ask (the Silver Dandies with their ebony fixings, the Urban revivers with their post-1980s hoodies, the black-rimmed and white-hatted elderly librarian fundees, the list goes on), the story of his entrance was the same. Apparently, he arrived during a stormy night driving an 18-wheeler with the words “Professor Moose’s Electric Circus” on the side in big, bold, colorful letters. According to various newscasts, he was a skilled bio mechanic, specializing in robots and cyborgs – not to high-circle levels; he did not care about the fame. However, due to an ‘accident’ (If ever Jonathan tells the story, he will always hook his fingers when he says that word) he retired from his research and began collecting stray felines for use in his circus. The circus in question, Jonathan kept saying then, was to be a treat for the kids, the parents, and the kittens themselves.
When the local ASPCA branch heard, they tried to prevent the circus from opening, citing difficulties with the felines and stating that it would have counted as cruel and unusual punishment, something the public agreed to. That did not stop Jonathan, though, as he unleashed a surprise to everyone involved: hordes of robotic kitten droids. They were flawless in movement and in design, something he took great pride in creating. In the news reviews afterwards, he explained that the felines he collected were used in studies in design, and that they were soon shipped to the city animal shelters for population control.
Everyone went ecstatic over the droids, various city critics saying ‘a new thing in the new world’. The circus became a well-known attraction in the city. He would occasionally stroll down the major thoroughfares and parks with his hordes in tow, acting as both a Pied Piper and a walking advertisement, giving out flyers and the occasional free pass to the public.
Right now, the public were enthralled with the robotic animals, which kept leaping around and tumbling in tune with the ukulele. A few children chased after them, and the droids returned the favor. One leaped into the car and looked up at Con, purring softly.
“Wow,” he said, giving it stroke, marveling at the plush synth-fur. “Very nice.” He looked up at Jonathan, came up to the car and smiled. “I never have seen one of these up close.” Con picked it up and turned it around, looked it over, the droid unresisting. “Quite amazing.”
“They are, are they not,” Jonathan said, beaming. He picked up the droid, and it sat in his arms, looking bright eyed and bushy tailed. “I love them to death.” He put it to the ground and it scampered away to join the crowd. He then reached into his pocket and took out several tickets. “Dunno if you want to go later or not. You three seem to be a good crowd.” He gave the packet to Con, who looked at them as if he was handed a toy. “That’s six passes, good enough for you three and others if they want to join you.”
“Thank you, sir!” Con said, beaming at Jonathan. “Did you know that I have wanted to you and your hordes for a time now?”
Con nodded. “Yeah. Always wanted to see it, but never found the time to go.” Another kitten jumped in and curled on Con’s lap. “Why are they getting on me? Freddie’s the cat guy.”
“Dunno, babe,” Billy said, poker-faced. “Maybe they think you would like some pussy?”
Jonathan and Frederick laughed uproariously as Con blushed hotly. “Oh ye gods and fishes, I love that!” Jonathan said as he plucked the kitten from Con’s lap and placed it on his shoulder. “I have to get going. Give me a few moments to get everyone in line.” He reached into his pocket and took out a whistle, which he blew loudly.
All of the kitten droids scampered from where they were and lined into three rows of twenty. “Alright every one, let’s get moving,” Jonathan bellowed out. “Ah one! Ah two! Ah one two three!” And with that, he started strumming on the ukulele and walked off, singing about warm sunny skies, the kittens marching in formation, onward to the next destination, wherever it was.
“Sir,” the computer said as the horde turned around the corner. “I believe we can move now. It appears that the obstruction has been cleared.”
“Always one to state the obvious,” Frederick said, turning around the face the wheel. He pushed a few buttons, and the car went back to its smooth ride.
“We should head on over there some time,” Billy said, looking over the tickets. “Apparently, we got first row seats.”
“Just do me the favor, babe,” Con said.
“Do not EVER make a cat joke like that again.”
Billy laughed for the remainder of the drive.
The Caterpillar’s Question appeared to be a squat building fashioned out of old-circle brick and mahogany furnishings. A bright awning of yellow and red covered the sidewalk in front of the place; small, stained glass lamps hung from the top and illuminated a double glass door. Copper chairs and tables, treated to look a weathered green, scattered across the patio. Slat grey brick and dark green wood shutters finished giving the place a look of old-circle charm. Instead of a sign, a blue and green neon sign shaped like a smoking caterpillar on a toadstool flashed discreetly at the side.
The car parked itself on the curb across the street. “We are here,” the computer said, then opened all doors.
The trio got out and looked around. The night was clear and crisp with a stiff autumn wind. The moon illuminated itself on the buildings, casting sharp silver highlights upon the facades and the windows.
“You have been here before,” Frederick said, tossing his hat and scarf onto the car seat and closing the door. “How is it there?”
“Not bad,” Con said. “Dunno how they will deal with your costume, but I do not see any kind of issue.”
Frederick looked down at his Harlequin design, faded but still eye catching, and looked at Billy’s dress. “If they will not make a mention of Billy, then I do not see why they will with mine.”
They crossed the street in time to see someone stagger out and fall on to the ground. A tall, formidable man dressed in a black button down shirt and white slacks kicked the man on the leg. “If you come back,” he said in crisp high-circle tones, brandishing a wooden stave, “I will call the police!” He then focused on the approaching trio and did a double take. “Well, if it is not Bill and Conway! How’s the married life treating you guys?”
“Not bad, Aundre,” Con said, shaking hands with the bouncer. “Not bad at all.”
“Sorry we do not come here anymore,” Billy said, shaking hands after Con. “After the marriage, we have been busy with other things.”
“Like your art, Conway?” Aundre said. “I hear that you are doing well enough.” Then he looked at Frederick. “Well, looks like we have a newcomer.” He nodded slightly. “Welcome to The Caterpillar’s Question,” he said grandly. “We hope you will enjoy the stay here.”
“I hope so,” Frederick said, eyeing the prone figure on the ground.
“Oh, don’t worry about this guy,” Aundre said, prodding with his shoe. “Just had too much to drink. Made a pass at the resident diva. The usual thing here.” He shrugged ruefully. “I do not know if these two told you anything about this place, but it does get a bit rowdy. Hope that doesn’t scare you.”
“No, it shouldn’t,” Frederick said.
Aundre nodded, and then opened the door, bowing slightly. “Then I will let you in, and hopefully we can make you welcome.”
“Thank you,” Billy said, and the three went in.
“Oh wow,” Frederick said, looking around. Con and Billy exchanged a grin.
The place belied the homey exterior, showing off a grand, open place of deep red carpeting with matching, over-stuffed sofas of modern design scattered all around. Tables of dark wood were sectioned off to the left, in which hovering seats were filled with patrons of fantastic dress. Droids traveled everywhere, carrying the occasional bottle of wine or a few tumblers of cocktails. At the back of the building, a large raised platform accommodated six performers in changeable blue suits playing rugged jazz. A bar positioned itself to the right of the building; the stools, decorated with leather and chrome hovered genteelly over the footlights. Behind it, a man dressed in dusty red and green was polishing a glass.
“Hm,” Con said, eyeing the bar. “Looks like they got rid of Brian.”
“Either that, or he moved someplace else,” Billy said. “He was a really good bartender.”
They went up to the bar, and the guy said, “What can I get you three?”
“A dry apple martini,” Con said.
“A Bronx,” Billy said.
“And I will get a gimlet,” finished Frederick.
“Got it,” said the bartender, getting the bottles and the shakers.
“If I may ask,” Con said as the drinks were prepared, “what happened to Brian?”
“No idea, kid,” the publican said. “A few hours ago, they asked me to come in. Said the other guy wasn’t here anymore.” He placed their drinks in front of them. “That will be thirteen credits.”
“Do not worry about that, sweetie,” a dark brown voice said. “They’ll be under my name until they leave.” The bartender nodded and walked away to other people.
Con turned in his seat. “Well, if it is not Lola herself! How nice to see you again.”
Frederick turned to see a flamboyantly dressed woman.
She was dressed in celeste silks that molded itself to her figure. Beads of dark jet edged her hemlines. Gloves of white kid leather done with sinuous lines of jet covered her lower arms. Her face was done in bright unguents, enhancing her remarkable beauty. A small headdress of blue and black beads covered her dark, curly hair.
“A pleasure, as always,” she said, her smile encompassing all three. She then focused on Frederick, a grin placed upon her luscious mouth. “And who is this?”
“Freddie,” Con said before Frederick could open his mouth. “He came from one of those wild parties at Madame Percival.” He waved towards the fantastically dressed woman. “Allow me to introduce you to Lola McBlanc, resident showgirl and owner of The Smoking Caterpillar.”
“A pleasure,” Frederick said, taking her gloved hand and giving it a suitable shake.
“Indeed,” she purred, her voice toning down to smooth, chocolate tones. She placed a hand on Frederick’s leg and leaned over, showing off a considerable cleavage. “And how wild was it?”
“The party? I can’t say that it was that wild,” Frederick said, wrenching his gaze upward. “Lots of dancing and drinking, yes, but also plenty of fun.”
“I see.” She leaned closer. “Care to dance?”
Con nudged Frederick. “You really should. She knows how to cut a rug, to use the old-circle saying.”
Lola blinked in surprise. “Yes,” she said slowly, as if thinking of something. “I think that is a good idea.” She smiled widely. “Come, let’s dance, Freddie.” She grabbed a hand and pulled him to the dance floor, his drink still in possession.
“So,” she said as the skirted the area, “tell me more about you.”
“Well, nothing really,” Frederick said. “I am just your average guy.”
“An average guy is nothing without an outstanding girl,” she said. “Tell me, are you single?”
The question took him by surprise for some reason. “Actually, I am engaged.”
She laughed musically. “I see. Well, I am sure that who she is will be an exceptional woman.” She simpered, causing her cheeks to dimple. “But an average guy like you in such an outrageous costume surely has something to say, don’t you think?” Her hand reached down to cup his butt. “Of course, I am sure that I can make you say something.” She gave it a light squeeze.
His face flamed. “C-Can you get that off me, ma’m?” Her laugh caused him to blush more, but she removed it after giving it another squeeze.
“I hear that the Brass Boys are cutting the rugs tonight,” she murmured.
“The who?” he said, trying to overcome his blush.
She leaned closer, her mouth brushing an ear. “I hear the Brass Boys are cutting the rugs tonight.”
“Never heard of them. Are they a band?”
Her face went to a puzzled frown before going back to its simper. “Well, if you want to listen, feel free to take your friends over to the back room.” Her smile broadened. “Better yet, let me take you for a private session.” Her head tilted towards a discreet white door to the corner of the building. A man in a tuxedo and large sunglasses stood to the side.
“Well, if you think it is okay…,” He looked to Con and Billy, who were talking to another couple of people. “I still need to put down my drink, though.”
She ignored the comment. “Come on. I’ll introduce you to them.” She smiled again and escorted him to the door. The man glared through his glasses.
“I hear the Brass Boys are cutting the rugs tonight,” she said.
The man smiled, looking like a lion ready for its next hunt. “I heard they are out of town,” he said. He opened the door.
He peered into the dark gloom of the room. “Uhm . . .”
“Do not worry,” she laughed. “You will understand everything after your conversion.”
His head turned to her. “My what?”
She did not say anything else and instead pushed him through the door.
“Hey, wait!” The door clipped the rest when it closed.