“It was a dark night with not…”

“Dude the nights are supposed to be dark; that’s kind of the point. You don’t even know how to tell a story,” scoffed Damien.

“Excuse me,” said Picasso, “did I give you leave to speak?”

“Leave to speak,” mimicked Damien with a laugh. Then looking at the gathered crowd, he asked, “Who talks like that dude?”

“Can I continue my story?” asked Picasso, now getting annoyed.

“Go right ahead,” said Julian, putting a paw on Damien’s to prevent him from interrupting the black cat. He was trying really hard to find out why this overbearing asshole called himself ‘Picasso’ (what did it even mean?). But if this bigmouth wanted to make a fool of himself, Julian would be the last person to stop him.

“It was a dark night with not a star in sight,” restarted Picasso. He paused to see if anyone would interrupt him again. When no one peeped he grinned with satisfaction and continued his tale.

It had been a really scary experience and not only because the night had been dark. Damien could say whatever he wanted but that night had been rather dark. Picasso remembered he couldn’t even see his paws in front of himself. He had to rely purely on his instincts to determine where he was going.

“The night was so quiet that I could hear myself breathing. It grew colder the further I went and my hackles rose in warning.” He saw his audience shiver. Pah! And Damien thought he didn’t know how to tell a story.

“I had been walking for roughly an hour…I was sure I had reached the end of the world; the way it was looking but I had to continue. I had to be brave…I couldn’t give up after walking so long and so hard.”

When he didn’t speak again, Damien asked impatiently, “What happened next?”

The only person who didn’t seem impressed was Julian. But seeing the look of rapt attention on Damien’s face, he kept quiet.

Picasso looked at the five cats’ expectant faces. He smiled. He could have forgiven Julian for doubting his story but then he had decided he didn’t like Julian so he wouldn’t be making any concessions for him anytime soon.

“When it seemed that the road would never end…I reached…” Picasso paused for effect, “the end of the world.” The last bit came out as a whisper, loud enough to be heard, soft enough to send a shiver down the spine of his listeners.

“Whoa…how cool!” Damien said looking at his companions who promptly started to show suitably impressed expressions.

Picasso looked at the upturned faces with pride. He strolled on the park bench, trying to heighten the suspense. He turned his neck dramatically to stare at his audience and said, “I saw a witch…the likes of which you have never seen. She was terrible looking, her eyes had a mad expression and she had a…”

Before Picasso could tell them what the witch had, Julian interrupted him with a snort. He had had enough. He said, “I don’t know who you think you are but that’s the lamest thing I have ever heard! End of the world? Pah!”

There was stunned silence as everyone stared from Julian to Picasso to Damien.

“Julian?” said Damien quietly. “I think I’d like to listen to the rest of this story. If you have something better to do…you may go,” said he dismissively.

Julian clenched his jaw convulsively but bowed low to Damien and left. He knew he’d have to pay for his insolence but he was confident he’d be able to get out of whatever petty punishment his boss threw at him.

“What did the witch have?” asked Damien, as eager as a puppy.

Picasso did not immediately go back to his story. He had followed the exchange between Damien and Julian keenly. Though he was glad Julian had left, he had assumed him to be the pack-leader. Apparently not. Intrigued, Picasso filed that information for later review as he concentrated on narrating his story.

*

“So, what’s your story?”

Julian whirled around but couldn’t see anything; not because it was dark, but because there was a paper bag on his head – the petty punishment – all for disagreeing with Damien. Well, Julian deserved it. If he couldn’t keep his mouth shut after all the practice he had already had, he bloody well deserved the punishment. “Who is there? Answer me at once!”

“And what will you do if I don’t?” chortled Picasso with relish. He had been witness to Julian’s ordeal; a fascinating experience. Picasso was new to this part of town and he had never seen cats behave so…what was the word his mistress used…uncharacteristically.

His mistress traveled a lot (not that he had ever been consulted but Picasso had quickly learnt he was resourceful) and as a consequence he had met many kinds of cat species. But none that thrived on being together. It was a mystery; one Picasso intended to unravel before his mistress decided to move again.

“Nothing really,” said Julian removing the paper bag from his head with ease. “It’s Picasso from last night, ain’t it? I am here because of you, just FYI.”

Picasso had no problem understanding that lingo. After all, didn’t his mistress use such words herself? “Why in the world are you roaming around with that abominable thing on your head?”

“It’s my punishment,” said Julian with a bitter grin.

“And why do you endure?”

“It is none of your business,” said Julian succinctly before putting the paper bag back on his head.

*

“What do I do? Come on dude, you gotta help me.”

Julian rolled his eyes. He could safely do this since his face was still hidden inside the paper bag. “Damien if she has said no, I don’t see what you can do. I am sure you’ll find more chicas.”

“Err…”

“Girls Damien; I mean girls,” said Julian rolling his eyes again.

Suddenly the paper bag was removed from his head and an angry paw struck him on the cheek. Julian’s eyes blazed with irrational anger and he could have, there and then, killed Damien or at least hurt him badly but he restrained himself.

“Brother,” said Damien politely though his tone belied his anger, “doesn’t she like you? Go talk to her. Tell her I want her,” ordered Damien, throwing the paper bag away. “Don’t come empty handed.”

“Yes boss,” said Julian, bowing. It wouldn’t do to anger big brother.

Once Damien was out of sight, Grizzly stepped out from the shadows. He had a box of sardines in his mouth which he laid in front of Julian. Julian thanked him silently and attacked his dinner hungrily.

“What are you going to do chief?” The last word was nothing more than a whisper, a forbidden term, not to be used among company.

Julian didn’t answer till he had licked every last drop from the box, his whiskers and his paws. Once satisfied, he said with a grin, “I give it one week tops.”

“He won’t forget this one,” said Grizzly ominously. Then another, far worse thought occurred to him, “What if he knows?”

“Grizzly,” said Julian menacingly, clutching him by the neck, “I will take care of it.”

Now quaking in his paws, he said, “Maybe if you told him…surely being the older brother he won’t envy your…”

“GRIZZLY!” shouted Julian.

“Ah I see that the loyal servant found his master eh?”

Both Grizzly and Julian turned towards the voice, their quarrel forgotten for the time being. Damien was famous for two things – his anger and his penchant for bullying. Maybe the bullying arose from the self-knowledge that no matter what he did, he’d never be as good or well-loved as Julian.

“Boss…” squeaked Grizzly, going pale with fear, “I was just…”

“Go away Grizzly,” said Damien dismissively, “before I hurt you.”

“You wouldn’t dare…” warned Julian.

“Oh I would brother you can count on it,” he said glaring at Grizzly who beat a hasty retreat. “Now, why don’t you tell me how you plan to woe her for me?”

“Boss,” began Grizzly, “if you could just…”

“Griz, I thought Damien gave you a clear order. Leave us alone.”

To his relief, Grizzly did not disobey this order. He slinked away, eyes at once accusing and pleading. Julian closed his eyes to compose himself. He needed to set Damien’s expectations as soon as possible; if he could ever hope to have Pearl for himself. When he felt ready to face his demons, he turned to his brother.

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