by Raji Singh
After the brutal Crimean War, to assuage the sometimes bestial nature of humans, a war-like sport rises to prominence in Mother Russia: Cat Boxing.
From the back alleys of Moscow, to the Czar’s lavish Palace at St Petersburg, cat, scratch-less, fever grips the nation. That my great-great grandfather, the renowned American publisher James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, is there is no coincidence. He invented the ‘sport’, over 40 years before, along the Ohio River.
(My great grandmother Shelva, Blackjack’s daughter-in-law to be, one day, writes of these, her girlhood daze, in Moscow. Her story begins with…)
A knock on our Moscow door, I answer. In the glittering daylight, so shiny a gentleman in a white uniform bows to me. His bullion epaulettes tousle in the breeze, while his well-groomed beard, moustache, and dark hair are immoveable. Without speaking, he holds out a heavily- engraved-in- gold envelope.
“Mama, Papa not home.”
Still, no words does he utter. He is an emissary of the Czar I know, by his appearance and the grand, jewel-encrusted carriage drawn by four white steeds awaiting him. Glad Mama not here. She despises the Czar: Would spit in the face of anyone having to do with him. Papa’d abide him, while mentally spitting on his ceremonial fur boots. (All the while, they preach to brutter Ivan and me. “Ach! Don’t spit, mine deti. Is nasty habit.)
I do not know what to do, so I take the envelope – all that gold! It is weighty as it looks. The courier whisks royally away.
It is an invitation addressed to Blackjack Fiction. He is in his room. I go. The door is ajar. I see Cecily Cobra rising from her basket. She and Blackjack are face to face, eye level. She seems to be peering over his shoulder at me. Something tells me, I had better not enter. I wait patiently – indeed, yes I am eavesdropping. I will learn my lesson.
Blackjack begins stroking Cecily’s throat. She enjoys it, swaying, almost swooning, mid air. She sniffs his mouth, contenting herself with his familiar breath. Blackjack takes a small drinking glass. He encircles the inside of Cecily’s fangs with the rim. Slowly he pushes down on her hood. Whitish venom trickles from the fangs. Such milking, I’ve read of, yet, cannot believe. How did he learn how to do that? WHY would he try such a dangerous thing?
He uncorks a vial and mixes the venom with the vial’s clear contents. He sniffs it. “Whew!” He tells Cecily. “This dosage will work quite well, my dear.” Then he whistles and calls. “Ragamuffin. Come here my little champ.” The foundling kitty he’s adopted comes running between my legs and into the room. His stiff gray hair tickles my bare ankles. I must stop myself from laughing. Ragamuffin’s no scrounger anymore. He’s sleek, svelte – ‘no king of the alley’, but no longer a sickly scardee-cat. Blackjack’s been treating him well.
What I see next is hard to believe. Blackjack takes the tiniest pair of leather boxing gloves from his valise and begins fitting them onto Ragamuffin’s front paws. He ties them tight and puts Ragamuffin on an end table so he faces Cecily. He rings a jingly bell, and says, “gentleman and gentlewoman, lets have a clean bout. No striking, hissing, scratching. No hitting below the whiskers or the hood.”
‘What has Blackjack been teaching that dear Kitty?’ I wonder.
Ragamuffin stands on his hind legs and begins swiping at Cecily. ‘Whhoosh, whhish’ – paws find only air because Cecily swerves quickly out of the way.
“No! No! No!” Shouts Blackjack. “Get in there. With your whole trunk, Raggy. “Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid to take a few lumps. I guarantee the opponents the Czar will have lined up for you won’t. Like this Raggy. Watch.” Blackjack moves on Cecily. He thrusts. She swerves – ‘whhoosh, whhish’ – air fists. He gets closer. His uppercut misses. Cecily thumps him on the nose. He comes back, able to tap her snout lightly. She sniffs, holds hood erect, as if to say. ‘Didn’t hurt a whit, Blackjack. You’ve barely the clout of an anemic mongoose.’
I am so lost in the oddity I am seeing I forget I’m holding the heavy letter. It slips from my fingers and ‘thumps’ against the oak floor. Cecily startles, takes her just seconds to leap from the basket and onto, around my knees. She slips up my body, puts her eyes to mine. I feel her fork tongue brush the bridge of my nose. I smell her gamy breath.
“NO! Cecily,” Blackjack shouts. “We are guests.” He comes over and strokes Cecily’s throat to calm her. Ragamuffin follows, paw petting Cecily’s tail and my ankle at the same time to show we are all tovarishch – friends. Blackjack apologizes, as the gentleman he is. “I am truly sorry for this Miss Shelva. Cecily can be too protective at times.”
“I…I…” I cannot speak. I point to the letter.”
“Ah, I have been expecting this invitation ever since I arrived in Russia,” Blackjack says. He uncurls Cecily from me and returns her to her basket. I quiver in deep relief.
“You know the Czar, Blackjack?”
“Don’t know him. But he knows of me, Miss Shelva. I am the one person in this world he wants to meet. I have something, the only thing, he does not possess. He desires it. Believes, he will take it. It is my task to see he doesn’t. If I succeed, I shall profit handsomely, and become a wealthy man.”
NEXT WEEK: What will Blackjack do with the vile mix of venom, and the-who-knows-what?
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
©2013 Raji Singh