This story was originally published for Winterfest Online 2012 back in February. I am reposting it here by request.

The Furry Matchmaker

By Nefereu

Okay, I know what you're thinking. Going Above to the park alone is a really bad idea, especially at night. What can I say? I can't resist all the wondrous sights and sounds. And the smells! All those lovely scraps and tasty morsels, just sitting there for the taking! It's a veritable smorgasbord! Besides, even I need a break every now and then. You can't imagine what hard work it is keeping Mouse out of trouble! I'm forever having to hide his blasting caps or some other dangerous thing he's "found" Above. Once, Mouse found a recipe for homemade gunpowder in some dusty tome in Old Sourpuss' chamber. I actually had to eat that one to keep him from blowing himself and the tunnels to smithereens. I had indigestion for days!

Still, I can't complain. I was all alone in that abandoned warehouse when Mouse found me. My ma was killed earlier by dogs that day, but I managed to hide in a hole they couldn't get into. Mouse brought me home, fed me and even managed to hide me for a month before old Sourpuss found out I was there. Sourpuss probably would have tossed me out, but then HE spoke up. From the moment I saw him I knew HE was different. HE was furry like me, but HE was also gentle and kind. I liked HIM the first moment I saw HIM. HE even convinced Old Sourpuss that Mouse needed me as much as I needed him. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

But, back to my predicament. It was late, the park was in total darkness, and just how I liked it. There I was frolicking in my favorite spot, a garbage can right near where the hotdog vendor sets up his stand. It had been a good day. The can was almost overflowing with lots of delicious tidbits ready to be devoured. That's when it happened! I was so intent on my treasure that I didn't hear the sounds of the Topsiders approaching. Without warning, a bright light turned night into day and I froze, too stunned to move.

"Hey, Bill, there's another one! That's the fourth one tonight!" A voice called.

"Well, don't just stand there! Shoot it!"

Suddenly, there was a loud swooshing and a sharp pain struck me. Within seconds, the world went dark and I knew no more.

It must have been much later when I awoke. The world was bright again and it hurt my eyes. My head ached and I couldn't feel my legs.

"Looks like this one is waking up, Bill. He's kind'a cute."

"You think they're all cute. Doesn't matter; they'll probably put him down like the others."

Gentle gloved hands picked me up and turned me over. Normally, I would have bitten anyone I didn't know, but I couldn't seem to make my jaws work.

"Um, Bill, we have a problem. This little guy has a collar on. There's a tag on it too."

"What? Are you sure? Lem'me see that."

Back in her apartment, Catherine was just finishing breakfast as she readied herself for work. Since accepting a position as an assistant supervisor in the D.A.'s internship program, Catherine no longer had to work 10 hours a day in the office. She still worked hard, but now she actually looked forward to going to the office instead of dreading what new horror awaited her on her desk each morning. When the phone rang, she picked it up immediately.

"Hello?"

"Is this Ms. Catherine Chandler?"

Catherine frowned, "Yes?"

"Ms. Chandler, my name is Bill Walters and I run a local pest control business. I've been hired by the city to remove unwanted animals from Central Park. I think we have your pet. He was picked up in the park last night."

"My pet?" Catherine asked, completely confused now.

"Yes ma'am. You know, you really shouldn't let him wander around loose like that. It's dangerous. A squirrel was picked up earlier this week that tested positive for rabies. That's why the city hired me. Good thing your little guy had his rabies tag and collar on or we would have put him down for sure."

"Mr. Walters, there's been a mistake. I don't…" Catherine was about to say "have a pet" when a conversation she'd had with Devin several months before came to mind.

"Hey, Chandler, I need a favor. I'm working on a special project for a certain furry friend of ours and I need to have a legit name and address to use for some paperwork. Do you mind?"

Thinking he'd meant he had a surprise for Vincent, Catherine had readily agreed. But when he said no more about the matter, Catherine promptly forgot the conversation. Now she strongly suspected that the 'furry friend' Devin was referring to wasn't Vincent at all, but Arthur!

'"Mr. Walters, just to be clear, the pet in question that we're talking about is a raccoon, isn't it?" She asked to be sure.

"Yes ma'am! Cute little fellow too; even got his name right here on his tag, plain as day: Arthur!" The man on the other end replied.

Catherine let out a long huff of irritation. She was going to kill Devin!

A short time later, Catherine entered Vincent's chamber. A quick call to the office had freed her for the day. A distraught Mouse was sitting nearby, on the verge of tears. Predictably, her large beloved immediately rose to greet her. "Catherine, it's early. I wasn't expecting you Below until tonight."

"I'm sorry to disturb you so early, but we have a major problem. It's about Arthur." She sighed.

"How did you know?" Vincent blinked in surprise.

She frowned at his statement. "Know what?"

"Arthur is missing. He's been gone since last night. Mouse and I have searched everywhere Below and he's nowhere to be found. Poor Mouse is very upset." He replied, indicating the forlorn young man seated across the room.

"That's because he's been captured Above. He was found in the park. A pest control company was hired by the city to get rid of animals there after one was found to have rabies. They called me this morning." She informed them.

Mouse immediately stopped crying. "Catherine found Arthur?"

She nodded and instantly the young man was in front of her.

"Catherine save Arthur! Saved Vincent. Rescued Mouse. Saving

Arthur, easy. He's small. Not big like Vincent or Mouse."

"Believe me, Mouse, I'd love nothing more. But that's the problem! I need to have proof of Arthur's rabies shot and that I have a permit to keep him in the city." Catherine said.

"Permit?" It was Mouse's turn to frown.

"Yes, a permit. Papers giving me permission to keep Arthur."

"Papers! Ok Good, ok fine!" Mouse exclaimed in understanding before dashing out the doorway.

"Catherine, you say these people called you concerning Arthur? How did Arthur end up registered as your pet?" Vincent couldn't help but ask.

"That's a question I'd like an answer to myself." She commented dryly.

Catherine had just finished a brief summary of her phone call with Mr. Walters when Mouse returned with something clutched in his hand. "Papers for Arthur!" He announced proudly. "Important Devin said! Keep safe Devin said!"

Carefully, Catherine examined them. The papers were heavily creased and stained, but they proved to be exactly what Catherine needed. As she read through them though, her face quickly darkened in anger. "Vincent, you're about to become an only child!"

Knowing his brother had probably been up to mischief yet again, Vincent smiled widely. "I'm afraid to ask, Catherine."

"According to these papers, I have a special permit to keep Arthur in the city as a kind of service animal. There's a letter here from a Dr. Harvey Fraus claiming I need him to help me deal with stress and anxiety! Devin is a dead man!" Vincent instantly broke out laughing.

"Fraus?" Mouse interrupted. He didn't understand anything Catherine just said.

"Fraus is the Latin word for fraud, Mouse." Catherine explained acerbically. Mouse still didn't understand, but he didn't care as long as it helped Catherine get Arthur back home.

The minute I saw her in the door I knew I was on my way home. Cathy is a Topsider, but she's one of us too. If she was here, my worries were over. I didn't even mind getting stuffed in that little box again. Anything to get me out of this joint!

Catherine thanked Mr. Walters and took up the animal carrier with Arthur

safely inside. To her amazement, the little animal went into the carrier

without a bit of protest. Carefully, she made her way back Below.

Sure enough, Cathy sprang me and in no time, I was the Tunnels! I was never so glad to see Mouse! I was chittering so loud, I didn't even pay attention to what the others were saying.

"Well, he seems happy to be home." Catherine observed with some amusement.

"I agree, Catherine." Vincent smiled widely bearing his canines as he put a gentle arm around the lovely woman next to him. 'Let's hope they'll stay out of trouble from now on and won't need you to rescue either of them again anytime soon."

Catherine grinned. "I hate to say this, but I wouldn't count on it."

It wasn't long before I was on my pillow, ready for a rest. It had been a very long adventure. Mouse spoiled me rotten with some muffins he'd swiped from the kitchen and I was loving every minute of it. But just as I was about to drift off for my well deserved nap, another very special friend dropped by. She immediately came over to give me a friendly pat, but her face didn't look too happy.

"Mouse, Father wants to see you right away. He heard about what happened with Arthur." Jamie said reluctantly.

"Father upset?" Mouse asked cautiously. Ruefully, Jaime nodded in reply.

Old Sourpuss! I should've known.

Later…

Blast it, this time that decrepit, lemon faced curmudgeon has gone too far! He's actually had the nerve to forbid that I be allowed to run loose in the Tunnels! If I'm not in Mouse's chamber, I'm to be on a leash! A LEASH! What does that moth eaten sawbones think I am? A Yorkie? Well, we'll see about this! Oh, I'll get back at him, don't worry! But, for now I have other things on my mind.

From the moment my paws touched sand back down home, I knew I owed Cathy. Other folks might have left me to my fate, but not our girl. She might be from Above, but she was family to me all the same. She'd saved Mouse once and now she'd saved me so I figured I owed her for both of us. The question was what could I possibly do to pay her back?

Anyone and everyone Below knew what (or should I say who?) Cathy always had on her mind. The Big guy or as I like to call him, my biggest and best friend, Vinnie! I know everyone else calls him Vincent, but I always preferred to call him simply Vinnie. It sounds friendlier and he has always been my and Mouse's special friend. Unlike most folks, Vinnie's always talked to and treated me like I was a person not just some dumb critter. He has always been good to me too just like Cathy. That's why I knew I had to do something to help those two get together. Cathy's been head over heels for the big lug but somehow, they never managed to make the magic happen. Maybe it was time someone did something to change that.

I got my chance a few days later when Vinnie came into the chamber looking for Mouse who was out. He came over and scratched me right behind my ears just where I like it as he always did.

"Where is Mouse, Arthur? Hmm? Has he gone out? Never mind, it wasn't important. Catherine's expecting me for a concert tonight." He sighed dreamily as he turned to go.

So, he was going to see Cathy? Well, no time like the present! Normally, I would never lower myself to beg. I'm a raccoon not some Fifth Avenue fluffball, but this was for a good cause. So I swallowed my dignity and quickly began chittering loudly, all the while rubbing against his boot.

Luckily, Vinnie understood what I wanted.

"I can't take you for a walk, Arthur. Catherine is expecting me." He observed reluctantly.

But I just ramped it up a notch, chittering pathetically as loud as I could. Sure enough, the palooka caved, just like I knew he would. He's such a softie! It wasn't long until I was parading proudly down the Tunnels on the extra long lead Mouse had rigged for just this purpose. Poor Vinnie was none too happy, but I knew he wouldn't mind once I was through. Now all that was needed was a certain lovely lady. We found her in his chamber, waiting patiently for her Vinnie to return.

Amusement glittered in Catherine's eyes at the sight of the larger than life man she adored walking the small raccoon. "Umm, Vincent? Should I even ask?"

Vincent made a face to show his displeasure. "I apologize for the delay Catherine. I visited Mouse's chamber, but he wasn't there. Unfortunately, Arthur picked that inopportune moment to decide he needed a walk. Father has decreed that Arthur is no longer allowed to roam the Tunnels without being on a lead of some sort since his little adventure."

Catherine bent down to give me a consoling pat.

"Poor baby!" She murmured in sympathy. "Father can be a real cranky old poop at times, can't he?" You said it, Cathy! Don't worry! I'll fix his wagon yet!

Just then though, Cathy stood up and I put my plan into action. Quick as a wink, I wound that long cord around her and Vinnie like a spider weaving a web. I tied the two of them up tighter than a sailor's knot on a ship's rigging.

Oh, I knew Vinnie could break the cord eventually, but he couldn't do it right now for fear of hurting Cathy. One more good turn around their ankles had them losing their balance and falling sideways right smack onto Vinnie's nice soft bed, just like I planned. Some fancy finger work and I was off that ridiculous lead. Ahh, that's better! Now to pay a visit to a certain old party pooper!

Vincent blushed crimson in embarrassment. "Catherine, please forgive me! I… I…" Suddenly all thought fled as Vincent became aware of Catherine's wonderful softness pressed so tightly against him. In a heart beat, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to lower his head and seal his unique mouth over her luscious lips. The soft exclamation of pleasure she gave only made the kiss all the more sweet. Soon the chamber was echoing with the soft sighs of two very special people hopelessly in love.

A few days later, the lovebirds dropped by, arm in arm. The grins on their faces told me my little trick had been a rousing success. Predictably, Mouse was busy puttering away at a new project.

"Catherine, Vincent!" Mouse called in greeting.

"Hello, Mouse." Catherine greeted with a huge smile. "Hello, Arthur!" She added as she gave me a special scratch.

"Hope you don't need something. Very busy! Big project for Father. Gotta finish right away!" Mouse informed them as he continued to work.

"No, we just stopped by to see Arthur." Vincent remarked genially, his grin growing larger as he regarded his lady fair. "Catherine wanted to see if he was all right since his night out."

"And to give him a treat." She added with a smile of her own.

Cathy reached into a large bag she was carrying and produced the biggest Coney dog I'd ever seen in my life! She even had it topped all the way, just like I loved them!

"Here you go, Little Guy." She whispered. "Benny's best, just for you! You deserve it."

I know it's undignified, but I couldn't help drooling. I loved this woman! She knows how to show a raccoon some serious gratitude!

Smiling serenely, she turned her attention back to the other tunnel occupants.

Taking in all the odds and ends on his work bench, she couldn't resist asking. "What have you got there, Mouse? Some new labor saving gadget you're working on?'

"Glasses!" He announced. "Have to make Father new reading glasses. Said he wants a dozen right away." Soon, he was quickly immersed in his task.

"A dozen?"

"Yes, Catherine." Vincent answered. "I'm afraid Father has had a run of bad luck concerning his spectacles lately. They've all gone missing or turned up broken. William even found a pair in the kitchen pantry, though Father swears he doesn't remember leaving them there. He hasn't been able to read anything for days. He's quite beside himself. He is so upset, he's even forgotten about his decision banning Arthur from roaming free in the Tunnels."

Back on my nice comfy pillow, I was busy wolfing down my prize. It was a good thing they weren't paying any attention to me or they might have noticed the bright gleam of polished metal and glass peeking out from under the velvet cushion. It served the cantankerous coot right for trying to turn me into a house pet! After all, a raccoon like me does have his dignity, you know!