As dark and stormy nights go, this would take first prize in any competition of air-born circadian anomalies. It was a really miserable evening, with no sign of easing up any time soon. As his Guzzi droned into the darkness, McRench thought evil thoughts about dark weather as water dripped steadily around the visor on his helmet and trickled down his neck, soaking his Moto Guzzi T-shirt and making off with whatever warmth his jacket had considered providing. In the saddle, water pooled in the depression caused by his weight, where it pooled and soaked through his old rain-suit pants, into his jeans...and beyond.
That particular cold was the worst. It brought home the insanity of riding a motorcycle in the rain, rested it on the forward sections of his consciousness beside the guest register, and banged its fist repeatedly on the counter until he stopped whatever else he was doing and paid attention. Tomorrow he would most certainly look into the possibility of buying some kind of closed vehicle. He really would. Maybe even a car.
He passed through the little Virginia town of Marshall on his way east without finding a place where he wanted to stop. In early winter, the days run out of useable light before the stomach allows as how it's dinner time. But now a combination of hunger, limited visibility, and the miserable rain had him looking for the next place with hot food out of the rain. Anyplace!
He almost missed it glowing softly behind the small fleet of livestock trailers, but The Livestock Exchange Grill called to him, and the Guzzi brakes came on all by themselves without conscious effort on his part. He slowed and squished up to a stop on the muddy gravel next to a rusty old Chevy pickup with steam rising off the hood. McRench was wet, hungry, and tired. His passenger was not in a good mood either.
Otto was, in some ways, an unusual cat. The fact that he loved riding crouched on the tank between McRench's arms was not, in itself, that unusual. Lots of cats do that. The fact that he was known to have a short and rather violent temper was not unusual either. Lots of cats are like that. But the fact that he actually seemed to enjoy riding in the rain made him quite a bit different from most run of the mill cats one would find snoozing on soft cushions or scouring fish heads in a dumpster. He loved it! And if you believe that, there are lots of folks just like you who believe in the Loch Ness Monster and/or Big Foot, and they're all willing and eager to take your membership and put you on their mailing list.
Otto's eyes were shut tight, and his claws locked into the section of carpet McRench had fastened across the top of the fuel tank. Wet fur streamed behind him, permanently set by hours of high speed headwind into a style much like the duck tail hair style of high school kids when McRench was a teenager. Drenched, tired, hungry, short of temper...Otto was not a happy cat. So McRench should have been prepared for what happened. But he wasn't. Maybe it was his hunger...or his fatigue...but personally, from experience, I believe it was because his underwear was soaked.
Pulling a drenched cat from a wet piece of carpet he is firmly attached to is never easy or pleasant, but do it in the rain on a dark night fifty miles from home and a warm bed, and you will discover something very much like weapons of mass destruction. The display was short but violent, and only the tough ballistic nylon of his AeroStich jacket saved McRench from serious harm. And not for the first time. The jacket looked like it had been through a corn harvesting machine. Riders would say to him, "From the looks of your jacket, I see you've taken a few falls."
McRench would tell them, "No...just my cat." This made a lot of riders uncomfortable, and they'd gradually stroll off to find someone else to talk to. For a long time, McRench believed it was the fault of his toothpaste until he tried every brand he could find at the pharmacy, and people still moved away when he mentioned his cat. The sordid truth stayed just out of his grasp.
McRench, with Otto under one arm, sloshed and dripped into the incandescent yellow shaft of light that tumbled from the door of the little diner, and dripped and dribbled to the last two stools at the far end of the counter. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a relatively dry towel and began to rub the cat vigorously. Otto accepted this as only one tiny payment on a huge and mounting debt. In spite of this unusual scene...a man drying off a soaking wet cat at a diner counter. no one paid any attention to them.
The reason no one paid any attention to them, as McRench began to notice, was that there was no one else in the diner. No other customers, no waitress, no cook...nobody. Just the low rumble of the ice maker and the weak strains of country & western music coming from somewhere out of sight. He waited. The coffee pot was within reach and he considered filling one of the heavy truck-stop mugs stacked next to the stainless steel urn, but he hesitated. Some places were funny about that sort of familiarity. Otto put his front paws on the counter and made a growling noise. He wanted his coffee also, and he wasn't as patient as McRench.
When faced with something out of the ordinary, one plugs in reasons and excuses just to keep the brain happy and focused on whatever else it was focused on before the strangeness of the situation distracted it. McRench thought: the cook's back in the kitchen...the waitress is too...and the guy who drove the pickup is in the john. Yeah. No problem. Hot scrambled eggs...bacon...home fries with ketchup...hot coffee...he thought.
As gracefully as possible for a still somewhat wet but now thoroughly disheveled cat, Otto leapt onto the abandoned counter and slowly began a stroll toward the other end. McRench didn't attempt to stop him. He'd had enough of Otto's temper for one evening, plus there didn't seem to be anyone the cat could disturb. McRench figured if someone did show up, the cat was their problem. He'd let them handle it. And that's pretty much what happened.
The door from the kitchen swung open as a large man with an evil looking little stainless steel automatic pistol stepped through and scowled at McRench.
"You picked a bad time to come in, buddy...keep your hands on the counter and don't move!"
"So...this means we don't get dinner?", McRench asked.
"What you get, sucker, is robbed!"
"Look...we were already havin' a bad night...can't you just fix us some bacon and eggs before you run off? I'm starving' and my cat's in a really foul mood."
"Well, I don't give a flyin' flapjack about you or any mangy ol' cat...gimme your cash, sucker!"
There are some things we say in the emotion of the moment that we would, in retrospect, give anything not to have said. I'm sure in later years, with lots of time on his hands, the robber often thought about that particular choice of words at that particular moment. But what's done is done. The water has flowed under the bridge, and the bridge is burned behind it. And so we attain wisdom.
At the instant Otto realized that he was not only wet and tired, but he wasn't gonna get anything to eat in the foreseeable future, he gave up all pretext of decorum. Out of the corner of his eye the guy with the gun saw the first beginnings of movement, but even as he turned to face whatever it was that was happening, it happened. And it happened to him. The hand with the gun was surrounded by whirling claws and teeth, and the hand wisely chose to let the gun go in an effort to get as far from the pain as fast as possible. McRench launched a coffee mug with as much energy as he could muster, and hit the main circuit breaker on the wall. The diner was instantly dark. But you know what they say about cats in the dark. The screams and howls continued unabated.
Screams and shouts quickly became pleas for his life as the guy with the grudge against the work ethic realized discretion was far wiser than bravado in this situation. When McRench flipped the main switch back on, Kevin, the cook and owner of the diner was sitting on the failed robber, and Otto was on the counter smoothing his rumpled fur back into place. The guy on the floor was clutching a badly mangled hand and obviously having a bad night. The insult added to the injury was when Kevin pulled the robber's own cell phone from his pocket to punch in 911.
Not too much later, McRench and Otto got the dinner they had stopped for. Otto ate a huge plate of scrambled eggs and quite a few strips of bacon, but who's counting. There was plenty of hot coffee, and even apple pie afterwards. Ever the grateful gentleman, Kevin not only fed them gratis, he didn't charge McRench for the coffee mug he busted against the wall. And from then on, every Sunday morning, McRench and Otto can be found at the two stools at the far end of the counter for breakfast. Unless it's raining, of course. No one in their right mind wants to be around a wet cat before he's fed.