“Syd, the whole thing’s jinxed. We gotta call it off.”
Syd shows stiff calm, his eyes frozen hard on Moe. And Moe flinches.
“Didn’t you see that black cat in the doorway just now? It’s a bad sign, Syd. The job’s jinxed.”
“What cat?” asks Shorty, who’s not short. He’s unwrapping another Tootsie Pop. He crunches them the way he cracks his knuckles. The school dope who first called him Shorty lost his front teeth quick, and an earlobe. Then one day Shorty told us, “I kinda like it. Ironic.” So that name stuck, though you might squirm a bit inside when you say it. You can’t be too careful.
I sense the wheels turning in Syd’s head. Not over the mystery cat, over Moe. He’s the worry. Syd needs the mope, needs his steady hands. Syd’s head turns to me.
“Get me the cat.”
In the hall I look left and see a tail disappear around the corner, headed to Syd’s office. The door’s open, I go in, and two wide-eyed kids in shorts freeze in place. Repeat eighth-graders, could be. Dumbstruck stupids, probably their usual look. One’s got his hands jammed in Syd’s desk drawer, the other’s gripping a fat wad of twenties, probably real.
“Keep quiet. Be still. Listen.” The words come out before I get things figured. I should drag their skinny asses to Syd. Then they might be in for a long boat ride and a longer swim. Or worse, a muggy trip to the swamp with me and Shorty. It’s summer, when the swamp insects roar loud together, itching your nerves, and murderous mosquitoes bite like hell. So many, they jam your eyes, nose, and ears.
So I figure to toss these small fry back, let them float another day, get hooked deep a little later. Just a matter of time. I tell them to put the wad back where they found it, close the drawer with no noise, leave by the open window they came in and get smarter real fast. They go without a sound. I close the window, lock it, then remember the cat.
It’s curled on a chair and paying no attention to anything that’s gone on. It musta come in through the opened window too, and I’m wondering about Syd’s no-good plan for it. Syd thinks logical. A simple matter of A leads to B, B leads to C, he says, also reminding us that “a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.”
I let the cat sniff my fingers. It puts a paw lightly on my hand and purrs. I pick it up gentle and it settles warm in the crook of my arm. Around its neck, a pink metal tag with just the name Lynx, no address or phone number. Really dumb tag. Syd’s cat now.
But I’m figuring hard as I walk down the hall and then come up with something. Shorty meets me, pop in mouth: “Syd wants me to wring its neck, kill the jinx for Moe. I got no gloves though.”
“It’s not a chicken,” I tell him, “It won’t wring so easy. I got an idea that could work.”
Shorty nods, and when we find Syd and Moe, Syd frowns at the cat, calm on my arm. Before he can say a thing, I ask Moe, “Remember the alphabet?”
“What? You saying I can’t read?”
“No, not at all. I wanna show you something. On the tag here, this cat’s name says Lynx.”
“Laws and rules everywhere, Moe, as you know. There’re alphabet rules too. As letters move from A to Z, their power increases. B is more powerful than A, you see? Like a second homerun is better than just the first one. Or like a Queen beats a Jack or an Ace beats a King.”
“I didn’t know.” As Moe looks at the floor, Syd and Shorty peer at each other, squinting doubt.
“Fact is, Moe, few people know alphabet rules.”
“So L comes after J, Moe. The lynx in this black cat beats any jinx in it. The cat’s jinx is trumped, beaten. It don’t work no more.”
Catching on, Shorty gives me a little nod, then says to Moe, “I knew a girl named Lynx once, and she was only good luck for me. Plenty of good luck.”
That clinched it. Shorty never comes up short, always figures quick how to finish an inning. Moe was back in the game. I’d deal with the cat, I told them.
Absolutely wonderful story! Thank you for sharing!