"Dem? Dem, wake up. I need you."
Demeter tried to push her sister's voice out of her dream. It was a good dream, complete with Munkustrap, a picnic in the sun, and those little goldfish crackers she was so fond of.
"Dem! Wake up!" Now something was prodding her. The dream slipped mournfully into the night as Demeter rolled over to see Bombalurina on all fours, anxiously looking down at her. From her other side, she heard Munkustrap sitting up heavily.
Demeter was too tired to do anything more than blink at her sister. Munk, being a gentleman, asked (rather courteously given the late hour), "Is everything all right, Bomba? Is there—an alert? Do you—"
"No. No. Nothing like that." The red queen leaned back on her haunches, still looking at Demeter with an anxious expression.
Demeter forced herself to whisper, "Do you need to…talk?" Please no, she prayed.
"About…him?" Demeter's voice soured. Bombalurina blushed. For the first time she looked guilty.
"Tugger?" Demeter had to be sure.
Bomba whispered, "Yes."
Demeter felt Munkustrap collapse and turn to face the other way. The next step for him to ensure their privacy would be to ostensibly start snoring.
Bomba's eyes were very wide, faintly catching the moonlight from the left side. They were also big and brown and beguiling.
Demeter pulled herself up and yawned mightily. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was the elder. She let her green gaze wander for a moment over the familiar shapes in her den blanketed under midnight and moonlight; the pots and wooden blocks, broken chair legs and cracked but ornate mirror, and finally, her fidgeting sister.
"So," Demeter said. "Him." She was properly resigned for the task of advising her sister's relationship, although she knew it would do absolutely no good. The tom in question was not made of workable material—everyone knew that. He was built for the rush, the excitement; quick and slim and wild, handsome, but completely incorrigible.
Demeter had no idea how Bombalurina had actually mated to him.
"So," Bomba said, quietly, "I'm having a problem with his…um…"
Demeter felt her temperature drop and a tiny voice of panic in her brain. Please no, it whined, don't let her talk about that. Anything but that. Thinking about Tugger and her sister as it related to..."nighttime activities" would cause irreparable trauma. Or, at the very least, vomiting.
She twitched slightly. Munkustrap's striped tail softly draped over her leg. Demeter checked on him. His back was toward her and Bomba and he was absolutely still, but she knew he was just as awake as she. She watched as deep breaths caused his sides to expand and contract.
Meanwhile, Bomba still struggled to find the words.
"Well, it's like this. He's taken to…more often than usual…at the worst possible moments…" She had yet to form a complete sentence.
Demeter blinked diplomatically.
"It's those awful—" here Bomba dropped her sultry voice to a whisper—"bagpipes."
Demeter sighed in relief. "I thought you didn't mind them, of all cats."
"Weren't you listening?" Bomba said, affronted. "He's taken to playing them at the most terrible times. Like, mood music, or when we're—"
"Say no more," Demeter declared.
"You see why I can't take it anymore? I need some peace and quiet. The things I do for his vanity!
"And no, I can't tell him," she whined, seeing Demeter's answer forming. "He thinks I adore his playing!"
"I wonder what gave him that bright idea," Demeter said darkly.
Bomba opened her eyes innocently. "It's like this—I want them gone. But he can't think I had anything to do with it. I need your help!"
Demeter raised both eyebrows. This was the emergency that made Bomba sneak into her den in the middle of the night? Tugger's ridiculous bagpipes? Granted, they were annoying and he was quite terrible, but it didn't seem like a life-or-death situation. It wasn't worth waking up poor, tired Munkustrap. Or ruining a dream about goldfish crackers!
"I'm sorry, Bomba, let me get this clear: you want me to steal the Rum Tum Tugger's bagpipes and take the blame, because you secretly can't stand them and you don't want to hurt his feelings?"
"He doesn't have to know it was you," Bomba said evasively. "He just can't suspect me." She ran her nails through her brilliant red headfur. "Besides, you would be a hero to all the Jellicle cats."
"I'm in," Munkustrap said out of the blue.
Bomba smiled, a very saucy smile. Demeter sighed. They both knew the negotiation was over.
Munk traced his nails down Demeter's upright back. She loosened up. Maybe this wasn't such a horrible idea. Those bagpipes were awful. A Tugger without bagpipes would still not make the list of Demeter's Top Ten Favorite Things, but was definitely better than a Tugger with bagpipes.
"I once helped Mac swipe those," Munk said, in a dreamy sort of voice. "That was a great day. He did get revenge by putting food coloring in my fur after, turned my tail all blue, but it was totally worth it."
Bomba was suddenly business-like. "I'll distract him. I can keep him occupied"—she put a low purr on "occupied" and Demeter groaned—"for a few hours. Plenty of time for you to swipe 'em."
"Where does he keep them? I know he took to hiding 'em."
Bomba leaned forward conspiratorially. "In the bureau drawer. Under the dish-rags and those funny mittens Jenny gave us. Top drawer."
Munk laughed. "As if I couldn't reach them."
Bomba giggled. "He's more concerned about the marvelous magical Mr. Mistoffelees. Ever since the turkey incident."
Demeter smiled fondly at the memory of a large turkey deciding the Rum Tum Tugger was its mate. "Good times," she said.
Bomba clapped her hands. "Great! It's all set. Tomorrow, about noon. You won't need more than a few minutes—" she giggled indecently—"but I'll give you a few hours, just in case…"
"Please, Bomba," Demeter begged.
Laughing, Bombalurina jumped to her feet. She planted a kiss on Demeter's forehead. "Goodnight, sleepy-head. Thank you both! I can't wait to get my peace and quiet."
Munk muttered, as she was striding out, "If she really wanted that, she wouldn't have Tugger."
Demeter collapsed onto her back. She stared at the ceiling. "I should try to enforce a no-waking zone. I love Bomba; I want her to be happy, but…oh, Munk. You know."
He purred in agreement and wrapped his arms around her waist. Demeter smiled, just a little smugly. Her tom was very workable material.