Author's Note: This is the sequel to both Serendipity and Masquerade, and starts just a few days after the last chapter of the latter story. I recommend that, if you haven't already, you read both stories before you start Overtures as there are incidents from both which will not be elaborated upon here. I hope you will find this fiction as enjoyable and full of twists as were its predecessors. My thanks to Hobbeth for her betareading skills.
Now for those who reviewed the end of Masquerade:
FrankieC: Thanks for the ovation! I hope this next story will answer some of your questions.
Disclaimer: I don't own the canon characters, I'm just writing about them. Please do not copy or hyperlink this fiction without my express written or verbal consent. This includes adding this fiction to C2 communities. I may be reached at my email of record. Any and all original characters, including Cindy Lou/Lucinda and her cats (especially the cats) are mine and may not be used without my express written consent.
Overtures: approaches or suggestions made in order to establish discussions, negotiations, agreements or relationships.
"And here I'd heard taking care of cats was easier than having a dog," Jeff Tracy quipped, leaning up against the wall in one of the guest bedrooms in the Round House, his arms folded across his chest, and an amused smile on his face.
"You're no help!" Lou Myles complained, pushing up on one side of a square of ceiling tile with a broom handle. The tile tilted sharply and fluffy gray shadow leaped from the one the woman was attacking to another untouched square, her form flashing across an empty bit of ceiling support. Lou heard the cat land with a thump on the safe spot and let out a strangled scream.
Jeff shook his head, chuckling. Cats! Who would have thought they could be so... difficult to handle. Not me! Not until now. Getting Lou and her "babies" here wasn't exactly easy. He let his mind drift back to the frustrating time three days ago when he had brought Lucinda Myles and her four cats to his island home.
The first obstacle they encountered was at the Dutchess County Airport in Poughkeepsie. It was the one closest to Lou's home, roughly twenty miles or so and across the Hudson from where she lived. The actual flight from Portland went smoothly, as did storing the corporate jet in one of the hangars. But they had to wait an hour and a half for the rental vehicle that Jeff had ordered, and multi-billionaire Jefferson Tracy was not used to waiting for much of anything anymore. He tried hard to curb his impatience, but it still showed, and even though Lou hadn't commented on the situation, he could tell she wasn't too happy either.
On leaving the airport, she directed him to the park where she had left her van. The van, she insisted, had to go back to her place and be secured in the garage, an idea he agreed with wholeheartedly. But this meant she had to drive it home herself with Jeff trying to keep up with her. I don't remember her driving this fast in Asheville! And she dared complain about my driving on the Parkway!
Once they were at her place, Jeff poked around the new place while she packed her two suitcases, one garment, and one travel bag. It was nice, he had to admit, to see a woman who could pare things down to the bare essentials. Memories of Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward's usual huge collection of bags made him appreciate Lou's relative frugality. But what Lou knew, as Jeff did not, was that there would be four cat carriers to add to her luggage, all to be secured within the jet's pressurized cabin.
After pulling the carriers from their respective storage spots, Lou explained that she had to dose each cat with sedative. Jeff offered to help by holding the cats as she medicated them. Lou raised her eyebrow at him as if to say, "Oh, really?" but she took him up on his offer.
Midnight was easy; the black male squirmed and complained, but Jeff held him firmly and the pill, wrapped in a bit of bologna, went down the first time. Dosing Muffins (Jeff could never get the hang of the cat's cutesy real name) was also a relatively straightforward job. He held the fluffy gray cat to his chest and stroked the soft fur as Lou administered the pill. It was spit out almost immediately, but a second attempt did the trick. Both cats were put right into their carriers, where they began a chorus of complaints in their distinctive voices.
Spot, Jeff's favorite of the four, if truth be told, allowed him to pick her up and stroke her. But her irises got big and black as Lou approached with the bologna-wrapped pill. The skinny tortie knew from experience what was wrapped inside that bit of treat and she spit it out every time, while still managing to eat the bologna. Jeff was quite impressed at how far the feline could project the little sucker. Finally Lou had to resort to a liquid. She told him to tighten his grip as she forced the cat's mouth open and squirted the medication in using an eye dropper. Spot writhed in his arms, and tried to eject the liquid, her tongue working furiously. But it was no use, he held the cat firmly and the medicine went down. He was sure that Spot gave him a look of betrayal as he eased her into her carrier.
"Now for the real challenge: Snowball," Lou said. "Be right back."
Jeff poured himself a glass of water, and sat down at the kitchen table. He recognized it as being new, and as different as could be from the one she had in her little place in Asheville. I guess I can understand it, he thought. That dinette set would have been a nasty reminder of the night we were attacked. He let out a deep breath through his nose. I wonder what things will remind her of yesterday?
Lou came back with his leather bomber jacket and handed it to him. She was wearing a thick, long-sleeved sweatshirt. "Snowball's not fond of being picked up in the first place, unless it's her idea. She shouldn't be able to claw through the leather, though."
He gave her an incredulous look as he donned his jacket. "Are you sure I'm going to need this?"
"Yes," she replied shortly. "You are. Now to find the little darling. Come on."
It took twenty minutes for them to corner Snowball in one of the guest rooms upstairs, and another ten to grab her. Lou got one hand under the white cat's abdomen and took firm hold of her hind feet with the other. "I'll carry her downstairs then hand her over to you. This wouldn't be so difficult if I hadn't just taken her to the vet the other day."
Jeff followed her downstairs, watching as she stroked the cat smoothly and rhythmically, whispering soft words in an attempt to calm and soothe. Still, the white one struggled against her firm hold.
They came to the kitchen, and Lou turned to hand Snowball to him. "Take her hind feet and hold them very firmly..."
She didn't get any further because Snowball exploded into action. Jeff had managed to get an arm around the cat, and threw the other over her for good measure, but the white feline twisted and turned in his grasp, squirming and kicking out with her hind feet. She yowled in his ear, putting her front paws on his shoulder and digging in with her claws. It was like trying to hold a dozen cats at once. "Lou!" he hollered. "I can't hold her much longer!"
The cat's head ducked and bobbed as Lou tried to grab it. "Just don't let go!" she called back, her eyedropper in one hand. Finally she managed to grab the scruff of Snowball's neck with one hand and move the other hand up to hold the still writhing head, letting go of the scruff once she had a firm grip on the head. She put her thumb and forefinger along hinge of the jaw and pressed, hoping to open the mouth. "Open up, Snowy. Just a little bit!" she coaxed through gritted teeth.
"OW!" Jeff bellowed as a set of the claws in his shoulder shifted to rake his neck. "LUCINDA! HURRY UP!"
"Don't let go! I've almost... there!" The cat's pink tongue worked against the liquid as Spot's had, but she was well and truly medicated. Lou grabbed her from Jeff and shoved her straight into her case. "Now, go to sleep like a good kitty and don't poop in there!"
Jeff put his hand up to his neck and came away with a smear of blood. "Damn!" he said. "That smarts!"
"I'm sorry, Jeff," Lou said apologetically. "But I didn't think you'd want to try and give her the medicine. Let me clean those scratches so they don't get infected," she said.
While she helped him clean his war wounds, she asked, "Are you sure you want to bring them to the island? I mean, Jadzia would..."
"I know she would," he replied, watching in the half bath's mirror as she put a large, flesh toned bandage on the side of his neck. "But you're trying to keep people away from your Cindy Lou persona at the moment. If we take the cats to Asheville, Jadzia will see what you currently look like. Which wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that her husband is a sheriff's officer and if any kind of bulletin went out looking for you..."
Lou nodded. "I see your point. Josiah would feel obligated to give an updated description." She sighed. "I just hope you know what you're in for here."
"I'm sure we'll be fine," he said, turning to face her and putting a hand on her shoulder. She frowned as she gazed at his neck, and he put his free hand up to it. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. It's just I've been meaning to ask you something. I was wearing a similar bandage on the back of my hand yesterday and when I woke up, it was gone. Did you take it off?"
"No, Gordon did, as we were preparing you for transport to New York," he said. "He took something out of the middle of the padding, a flat wafer thing..."
"Oh, good!" Lou said in relief as she moved into the kitchen. "I'd hate to lose that. It was part of the transceiver that we were using. Where did he put it?"
"In your black case," Jeff answered. "And before you ask, that went on to the island with Scott."
"Great! I'm glad to know it. Oscar's in that thing."
"Well, are we ready to roll?" Jeff asked, looking around at the cases, each of which now held a silent, sleeping feline.
Jeff had no choice but to swallow his comments as Lou packed up a large canvas bag with four ceramic dishes, and all but two cans of cat food from her cupboards. Next, she dumped all her cat kibble back into its plastic storage bin, emptied the water dispenser and dried it out, gave the kibble dispenser a cursory wipe, then stashed them all in the canvas bag. She pulled two full bags of cat litter into the kitchen and indicated that they were to go, too.While Jeff put these in the car, she cleaned the cat litter boxes and took out the trash. She also took the time to remove the sweatshirt and put on her favorite leather coat. They loaded up the suitcases and the cats, then she had him also load a large, round, gray plastic case into the trunk.
"What's that for?" he asked, wondering if it had anything to do with the cats.
"You'll see," she replied. "I'll just lock up and we'll be ready to leave. But we do have a stop or two to make back on our way back to the airport."
They got in the car, pulled out of her drive, and she directed him down the street and around the corner, pulling up before a house very much like her own, just a little bit more worn.
"Ah'll be rahte back," she said, slipping into her Cindy Lou persona. She went up to the door, rang the bell, and was admitted to the house. A few moments later, she returned with a lanky teenager. Jeff put on his sunglasses as they approached, hoping to obscure his face somewhat. The boy glanced in through the windshield as they got close and frowned to see him behind the wheel. Jeff smiled back at the teen in response.
There was a knocking on his window, and Cindy Lou stood there, smiling. "Would yew please open th' trunk?" she asked sweetly. "An' could yew give Rahy'n heah a hand with th' mowin' robot?"
"Sure... Cindy," he said, just barely remembering her alias as he got out of the car.
"Rahy'n? This is mah friend, Jeff. Jeff, this heah is Rahy'n Pierce. He's gonna be watchin' mah prope'ty an' mowin' th' lawn whahle Ah'm away."
"Nice to meet you... Ryan," Jeff said, finally untangling the boy's name from Cindy Lou's accent. He stuck out his hand, and the teen took it with a desultory grip. The trio moved to the back of the car and the menfolk hauled the mowing robot from the trunk. The case did have wheels on it, and Jeff figured that the boy would have little trouble transporting it up to Lou's house and back.
"Now Rahy'n, heah's yoah money," Cindy Lou said, giving the teen some cash then writing a check for the balance. "Ah have no ideah how long Ah'm gonna be gone, but theyah's enough heah t' covah th' next foah weeks. Ah 'spect yew t' keep an eye on th' prope'ty, pick up th' mail daily, an' mow at least once a week. If'n yew see anythin' out o' ordah, y'all give me a call, y'heah? Heah's mah satellite phone numbah." She handed him a bright orange slip of paper.
"I will, Ms. Kelly," Ryan said. Jeff was pleased to hear the boy address Lou with respect. "Uh, Ms. Kelly? What about Snowball? Do you need someone to look after her?"
Cindy Lou put a hand the teen's lanky shoulder. "That's sech a nahce offah, Rahy'n, but Ah'm takin' her an' th' othah cats with me. Mah friend doesn't mahnd."
"Oh, okay. Can I say goodbye?"
"Shu-ah, sugah! Jeff? Please open th' cah so that Rahy'n can say goodbah t' Snowball?"
Jeff swallowed his retort and obliged. The boy put his hand in the case to stroke the white cat gently. "Ah'm afraid we had t' sedate them foah the trip," she explained.
"I understand." He gave Jeff another pointed glance and said, "You have a good trip, Ms. Kelly. Be careful, okay."
Cindy Lou smiled widely. "Ah will. Oh, an' Rayh'n?"
"If'n ol' Miz Hickerson... oah her son... ask wheah Ah've gone, tell 'em from me that's it's none o' theyah damn bizness."
Jeff grinned despite his irritation and Ryan chortled. "I'll do that. Bye, Ms. Kelly. Nice to meet you... uh... Jeff."
"You, too, Ryan."
The teen's presence and obvious distrust of him made Jeff want to be extra gentlemanly, so he opened the car door for Cindy Lou. She thanked him with a gracious incline of her head, and within a few moments they were off. Finally! he thought. Curious, he asked, "How'd you meet young Ryan there?"
"Snowball got treed and I asked him to get her down. He's been friendly every since," Lou said, dropping the drawl. "I had made arrangements about the lawn the other day."
"Good call. You need someone to take care of the property, keep up the appearance that someone is there," Jeff said, then paused. "He seems a tad protective."
"Really? I hadn't noticed," Lou said in a tone that told him that she had indeed noticed. Jeff snorted.
"One more stop, Jeff."
"What for this time?" he asked, his frustration coming out in his tone.
She had the good grace to sound sympathetic. "Clean litter boxes. I don't think you have any on the island."
Jeff stayed in the car while she shopped and called home to make a few changes to the accommodations. As much as he wanted her close at hand in one of the guest rooms in the main house, it would work far better if she were to stay in the Round House and if a connecting room was cleared for the cats. Virgil looked a bit confused at the instructions his father gave, but he said he'd see to it.
And he had. By the time they arrived on the island, a room had been cleared of furnishings and the cats were let out to explore. Over the past two days, Lou, Scott, and Virgil had been working to put up shelves so the cats could look out the window and a tall cat gym for the cats to climb and play on. When Jeff went down in the evenings to help, he noticed that Spot would retreat to the room's en suite bathroom as soon as he arrived. "I don't know if she wants me to follow her in there or if she's running away from me," he commented to Lou.
But the tall cat tree that they had built was the cause of Lou's current problem. Moofums, who liked to climb as high as possible, had found a way to get into the dropped ceiling. Lou had become very concerned when the fluffy cat didn't appear for dinner and was puzzled when she heard the feline's tiny "mew" but couldn't see her. The mystery was solved when Jeff pointed out that one of the acoustic soundproofing tiles was slightly out of place over the top of the climbing post. Lou immediately understood what had happened, and had spent the past hour chasing her cat from square to square, pulling some of the ceiling tiles out in a quest to bring Moofums down.
"Where's a stepladder?" she now asked. "Earth to Jeff!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Lou," he said, shaking himself out of the reminiscence. "What did you ask for?"
Jeff was about to reply to her question when his telecomm watched buzzed for attention. "Jeff here."
"We have an emergency, Dad," Scott said.
"F-A-B. I'll be right there." The IR commander was revealed as he said, "I've got to go."
"Go. I'll ask Kyrano."
"No," he replied, glancing up at the ceiling, where a fluffy grey, white and peach colored face looked down at them both. "She can probably get down on her own, Lou. Come with me and see how we do things around here."
Lou also glanced up to the ceiling and sighed. "You're right. She can. I'm coming."
They left the room via the connecting door, through the spacious bedroom that Lou was using. She made sure that door was closed; she had no desire to find the cats in her bed when she returned. It felt odd to her to leave the Round House without locking a door behind her, but then, who was going to break in?
Jeff started the little cart and once again made a mental note for Brains to create something with an antigravity base, like the hover bikes. This thing jars my teeth with every single bump. Maybe the suspension's gone--if it has one. I could have Kenny look at it. Lou joined him and together they headed back to the main house, and the latest assignment for International Rescue.