The King of Rock and Roll’em!
I am taking my ease in the living room of Miss Temple Barr’s flat at the Circle Ritz apartments and condominiums, a snazzy fifties joint built like a four-story black-marble hockey puck. In other words, it is round, and therefore definitely not square.
You could say the same about me.
Miss Temple has shut all the miniblinds to dim the chamber, and is now cursing the darkness because the VCR is not working and she cannot see to correct the problem.
I myself have never troubled to keep up with these new-fangled devices. Remote controls and answering machines are as much as I care to deal with. So although she is invoking my name—along with those of others often employed in such circumstances, such as “for Pete’s sake, for the love of Mike” etc.—I know that she expects no more help from my quarter than she does from the ever-absent Pete and Mike.
“Two stars in the building is one too many,” she grumbles, punching buttons that punch right back by refusing to stay depressed. “The Mystifying Max’s greatest sleight-of-hand trick on or off stage was making this zippety-doo-dah machine work! Where is the man of the house when you really need him?”
I am right here, where I always am—when I am not off on my investigations—ready to absorb all gripes. But operating VCRs is not in my contract, not even when I am the partial reason for the technological trials I see unfolding before me.
“There!” Miss Temple sits back on the parquet floor with a satisfied sigh. “Better watch, Louie. You are up first!”
That is only the natural order of things, so I stretch, yawn, manicure my nails, and scratch behind my ears.
“Do not turn your head away,” she beseeches. “Your segment is coming up.”
Yes, I see that my rear appendage is lofting to great advantage.…
“Louie! You are on!”
I am forced at last to play couch potato and turn to view the television screen. It is rerunning the ending of my least favorite show, Sabrina. I have nothing against teenage witches, although I have never consorted with them, but that black, mothball-mouthed feline supporting puppet is one bad actor. I could chew the scenery with far more effectiveness.
In fact, a demonstration of this is coming up, as I come on. Eat your heart out, Salem. And then lend it to me for a snack.
In a moment a perky voice-over chorus pipes into the room: Ooo-la-la. A la Cat!
We see white-gloved hands removing a crystal dish from a cupboard. A silver spoon deposits some wet glop the color of Silly Putty into the dish’s pristine center. The entire mess (I am speaking metaphorically here of a product I dearly love, of course) is gently laid on a high-gloss white floor.
“Dinner is served,” announces Jeeves Black-sleeves the butler. A pale, patrician pussycat ankles over to inspect the offering and begin eating with dainty abandon. Mon amour, the Divine Yvette, draped in silver foxiness.
The camera pulls back to reveal a Big White Set from the Hollywood musical heyday of the thirties and a flight of stairs to cat heaven, lined by dancing dudes in jelly bean-colored zoot suits. Down the center aisle, floating like a butterfly, windmilling his limbs like an aerialist, hustles yours truly in full black formal attire, crowned by a flamingo-pink fedora that perches precariously over one ear and eye.
I four-step from left to right in the wide center aisle, gaining momentum as the music swells into a full orchestration. Suddenly, I do a Fred Astaire drag to the left, ratchet up the mandarine-orange leg and torso of a chorus boy, and end up balanced on his shoulder like an epaulette with the black spot.
The guy’s grinning face assumes an even more frozen expression as all sixteen of my extended shivs sink through fabric into flesh.
After flourishing my only unclawed member, I leap down to the white stairs again and continue my descent.
While watching my acrobatics, I squint at the small screen, hoping to see the noose of twine that a rival has slipped into my path to trip me up. Alas, apparently the evidence has ended up on the cutting room floor, just like my competition for the job of À La Cat spokesdude, the yellow-bellied Maurice.
“You certainly are quite the high-stepper,” my Miss Temple comments. “I wonder what made you improvise a straight-up two-yard dash? That poor dancer looks like he’s been spindled, stapled, and mutilated. But he kept a game smile on his face. What a pro!”
Hey! I am the pro here. It is not every day one has to dodge a bullet, so to speak, on camera without mussing a hair.
And I certainly am slick and sleek as I finish my descent by nosing up to the Divine Yvette and sharing her repast of A La Cat on Baccarat crystal.
“Ooo-la-la. A la Cat! Ooo-la-la. A la Cat!” the offscreen kitty chorus trills while I preen and lick my chops and the Divine Yvette lowers her smoky eyelashes to snick a crumb from my chin.
“What a natural,” Miss Temple declares, stealing the words from my mind. She ought to know, being an ace freelance public relations lady, and now manager of my sudden performing career. Considering my real profession is private dick, I am doing all right as a TV star.
She rewinds the bit, so we can play it again, Sam Spade.
We are no less impressed on second sight.
“Well,” she says, “if they do not get a good response from that commercial, there is something very wrong with the American viewing public.”
This disturbs me. Of course there is something very wrong with the American viewing public! They are only human. I had no idea that my media fate would depend on them. I can only hope that cats everywhere know where the remote control is, and use it.
But Miss Temple is never content to let me rest upon my laurels, as firm and fluffy as they may be.
She is fooling with the VCR again, her curly red head shaking in disgust as it snaps and whirls its defiance at her manipulations. I do think these particular devices have been planted among humans by subversive alien visitors. I have never known a household appliance more capable of driving people to extreme measures.
“I know I got it,” Miss Temple is muttering, whether to herself or to me it makes no difference. She is clearly out of control in either case. “I double-checked the time and channel…do not tell me—! Ah.”
I watch some dopey introductory shots filled with nothing but close-ups of people’s faces. They are all grinning like pumpkins, and it is not even Halloween, except for the faces, that are grimacing as if they had Just eaten fermented Free-to-Be-Feline, my least favorite health food.
Thinking of which, I burp.
Miss Temple is oblivious to my digestive distress, absorbed instead by the whirring sound the tape player makes as it reels and unreels until she has the exact place she wanted.
“Now.” She rises, aims the remote at the machine, and zaps it into loud life.
I flatten my ears. These afternoon talk shows are filled with yowling, keening people lined up to engage in hissy fits and claws-out fist-fights, making a spectacle of themselves. If I had a shoe, I would heave it at them. In fact, I watch with interest as Miss Temple comes to curl up beside me on the couch, kicking off her navy-and-burgundy high heels with the leather rosettes on the toes so delectable for chewing.
She settles in, absently patting my head off-center. I hate that!
I observe the scene on the screen: the usual lineup, the usual host pacing like a major cat behind bars, the usual zoo of exotic guests, the usual peanut gallery of a growling and spitting audience. Miss Temple leans forward when our upstairs neighbor, Mr. Matt Devine, walks on, and from then on I do not even get my head patted off-center. Not only is this show interminable—unlike my snappy sixty second commercial debut—but Miss Temple keeps rewinding the tape to run Mr. Matt’s segments over again, it is like watching an entire television program with a bad case of the stutters.
I cannot take it, and soon drift off to Lullaby Land, where cat food commercials are the main event, and people are confined to sixty second cameos. In my dreams, the Divine Yvette, shaded-silver queen of the screen, is joined by her glorious shaded-goiden sister, the Sublime Solange. I feel my whiskers twitch with bliss. I am not only skimming down the endless flight of steps to (heir supple Persian aides, but I manage to give the evil Maurice a karate kick on the way down. He flies into the air and disappears in the dark wings of the stage set.
My triumph is complete…until the buzzer rings and hauls us all offstage.
I wake up punch-drunk and blinking, to find Miss Temple on the telephone and the VCR tape on permanent hold. Mr. Matt Devine’s earnest face is frozen on the screen, but Miss Temple has finally turned her back on it.
“What?” she is saying. “That cannot be. It is ridiculous.” She pauses. “Of course I can come over, but I hardly expect to be able to do anything about it, other than to talk some sense into the workmen, and they are not the type to listen to me…no! I really do not need any more ‘backup,’ thank you very much, Aldo. I can handle this, solo.”
My ears perk up. If there is something to be “handled,” and if Miss Temple Barr is insisting to someone else that she can do it “solo,” my special skills will definitely be needed.
It sniffs as if something is up at the Crystal Phoenix Hotel and Casino, where Miss Temple’s grand plan of renovation is even now coming to fulfillment, now that the classiest little hotel and casino in Las Vegas is her biggest client. I have a major stake in the Crystal Phoenix from the old days. Back before it was remodeled into the elegant joint it is today, it was a derelict hotel along the Strip, like the Aladdin was now and then for years until it finally fell like the walls of Jericho a few months ago. The Crystal Phoenix is where I began my career as dude-about-town and unofficial house dick. That was before I met Miss Temple and we decided to share digs here at the Circle Ritz apartments and condominiums.
I glance at the television screen and wrinkle my nose. That was before Mr. Matt Devine came into the picture, or even before Miss Temple came to Las Vegas In the mysterious company of Mr. Tall, Dark, and Debonair: Max Kinsella, a magician known as the Mystifying Max. He lived up to his billing by vanishing without a trace for several months, leaving a vacancy with Miss Temple at the Circle Rite that I slipped into like an eel on ice. But now Mr. Max is back, an ex-magician, but not ex-enough in other departments, which both Mr. Matt Devine and yours truly are not exactly gleeful about, if you get my drift.
But why should anybody get my drift? I know enough to keep my ears open and my lips buttoned. What they do not know that I know will not hurt me. If you can follow that, you are welcome to assume you have gotten my drift as much as anybody ever will.
Copyright © 1999 by Carole Nelson Douglas