"" Writer's Wanderings: Cat's Paws - A Short Story

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Cat's Paws - A Short Story

There is a term you learn when out on the water in a sailboat. It is cat's paws. When the water is relatively calm you can see the wind rustle the top of the water and cause ripples to form. They dance across the surface and when they catch up to you the wind fills your sail, the boat heels (tips to one side) as you suddenly gain speed. The following story was inspired by our sailing adventures when we owned a sailboat. It is purely fiction.

Cat's Paws

 The breeze whipped through her long blonde hair and cooled the face she lifted to the sun. She smelled freedom in the air. It would all be over soon.  Her long legs shifted to a more comfortable position and she smiled as she adjusted her bikini top. Certainly the gene pool had been good to her, but what was a body without brains. She congratulated herself on her ingenuity.

Blue water stretched before them. Soon the little strip of green land would disappear into the horizon behind the sailboat as it sliced through the smooth surface of the lake. George loved sailing on a day like this. While the lake was calm, there would be bursts of wind that would ruffle the water and create a pattern like the paw of a cat, a cat with its claws out. When the sailboat hit a cat’s-paw, it would heel to one side and send the occupants for a brief exhilarating ride that took breath away. Today the thrill would be a ticket to freedom.

A hiss from behind her head startled her out of her daydream. Missy, George’s pampered cat, couldn’t walk past her without some kind of feline comment. More than once the marks of a bared claw marred her legs. Honestly, a real man would have a dog, not a cat for a pet, she thought.

She looked aft. George was adjusting the sails again. She smiled. This would be her cleverest and easiest “accident”. The others had been a little more complicated. Henry, her first husband, loved flying. Her investment in flying lessons had paid off as well as the extra time spent with the mechanic learning the safety checkpoints. Henry’s last joy ride paid her a neat million.

Lenny loved hiking and mushroom hunting. She spent hours at the university library investing in her future by improving her mind with the study of mushrooms. Lenny was pleased when she agreed to cook the mushrooms he found. The addition of a few of her fresh mushrooms went unnoticed. And, of course, being proud of his knowledge of wild mushrooms, he wouldn’t admit that his stomach pains were from bad choices made in the woods. His “mistake” netted her three million after all the assets were sold.

McKenzie, the third in succession, loved mountain climbing. His accident had been more difficult. She had to listen to him beg her not to pull the ring that held his rope out of the crevice in the wall of the mountain. In fact, he’d almost climbed up to where she was working on it before the metal finally slipped from its hold in the rock. Another two million was added to her Caribbean retirement fund.

This would have to be the last accident. The investigation of McKenzie’s death had been a little too intense. If her calculations were right, George would add enough to her Swiss account to round it out to twelve million. A nice little bungalow on Grand Cayman and all the pina coladas she could drink would be the payback on all her investments of time and energy.

“Can I help you with that, honey?” she asked George as he fiddled with the lines trying to get the perfect set to the sails. She had to admit, George had been the most pleasant of the four husbands, or maybe she had just been more tolerant of his advances because she knew the reward would be worthwhile. And he was handsome—distinguished looking. His thick white hair made his tan appear even deeper than it was and gave him almost a youthful look rather than adding years. He had kept himself in good shape through his middle age and filled out a business suit with an air of strength, self confidence and success.

George’s wild dream was to cruise the world in his sailboat. That was the reason he wanted to teach her all the techniques to setting a good sail and using the wind to best advantage. They would be a great team, he predicted.

“Why don’t you hold the tiller and keep her steady as I work on that jib?” he suggested.

“You know I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid I’ll turn us in circles,” she said smiling to herself. She had already invested time and money to learn the basics of sailing. Today, it would pay off. There would be no better opportunity and she wanted to be done with it.

“Try it. I’ll show you what to do. You’ll really like this once you get the hang of it.” He patted the seat next to him and she moved to the back of the cockpit, holding onto the lifeline that ran around the deck to give sailors a “safety fence”. She nudged him with her breast purposely. No reason why he can’t die a happy man. Just as she started to nuzzle his ear, Missy jumped into his lap and surprised them both.

“That’s my girl,” George said as Missy began purring and making herself cozy. “You’d like to learn to sail too, but I’m afraid the tiller is bigger than you are.”

It was disgusting the way he fawned and fussed over the stupid cat. Well, Missy could follow her master today and use up her nine lives all at once. She placed her hand on the smooth wood of the tiller. George put his hand over hers to guide it.

“Do you feel the pull of the water?” he asked. “Just keep it like that. It’ll only take a minute for me to fix the other line on the jib.” A minute was all she would need. She could see a cat’s-paw on the water. They would be into it by the time he was in position. When his back was turned, she loosened the line for the main sail and held it in her hand.

The cat’s-paw was upon them. The boat heeled. Quickly she pushed the tiller and released the line sending the boom swinging across the bow. George barely knew what hit him as the force of the blow sent him flying over the lifelines.

She quickly secured the main line as the boat sailed on its new tack. She glanced over the side, expecting to see a body disappearing into the water but, instead, she saw a foot being held just above the surface, entangled with the jib line. She fastened the tiller in place so that the boat would sail itself for a few minutes while she freed George.

Unhooking the lifeline on one side enabled her to lean over to release the captive foot. Concentrating on the problem before her, she didn’t notice the cat’s-paw approaching the boat. Nor did she notice Missy’s agitation. George’s foot came free. Before she could straighten up, she heard a howl and felt Missy’s claws dig into her back. She screamed just as the boat heeled and water rushed up to engulf her. In an instant she was in the water as the sailboat rushed by. She floundered for a moment gasping for air. Swimming lessons would have been a good investment, she thought, as blackness closed in.

The boat sailed on. Its lone occupant sat in the sun on the deck and licked her paws.

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