The kid on the forest floor had lost his pants again. His legs were cold on the damp mulch of pine needles and dirt and they itched with insect bites.
Donald had been cheated! He’d been made a fool of by a squeaky-voiced kid. What was worse, the kid had escaped. Now Donald hunted the kid.
The cat smelled the money. The cat had always been able to smell money. That was part of its magic. The money was in a pouch strapped to the chest of a small human who lay on the forest floor. The cat watched the human, its whiskers twitching.
The human looked at the cat. "Hello," it said. "You’re cute, aren’t you? I’m in a real lot of trouble."
"Yes," said the cat. It could speak. That was also part of its magic.
"I’ve never met a talking cat," the kid said.
"I’ve never met the King," the cat replied. "Now listen, I smell trouble, and I smell money, and I’ll help you out of trouble if you’ll give me some of the money."
"It’s not mine to give," said the kid. "There was a man…he stole it from my father. Gambling, you know?"
The cat nodded.
"I’m a lucky kid," said the kid. "So I went to get the money back and won all of it. They didn’t want to let me play, but I made them let me and then I won all of their money. Most of them thought it was funny, but not Donald…that’s his name. He’s going to shoot me, he said."
"Very interesting," said the cat. "How did you lose your pants?"
Donald let Lightning have a good smell of the kid’s pants. Lightning was the best blood hound in the country. He began to bay and Donald grinned. Donald had grabbed the kid’s legs as he’d tried to clamber out of the window and tore the pants right off.
Donald needed the money the kid had run off with. Lightning, his dog and faithful companion for so many years, had cancer. He needed an operation to have the tumor removed. Donald was going to use that money, which he’d won fair and square, to pay for the operation.
Lightning yipped in the distance. He had cornered his quarry.
The cat wanted money because it wanted to pay to get into the guild of familiars. It was a magical cat and wanted to be matched with a witch or wizard. But if you didn’t have the money to get into the guild, you were bound for a life of ignominy, helping out wayward humans and such like.
The kid said, "I need pants and I need to escape and I need at least some of this money so that my older sister can afford college. But I’ll give you some of it if you can help me."
The cat agreed to help.
The kid held his breath as the hound barked and scrabbled at the base of the tree. It had been a chore to climb the tree without pants, although luckily, the kid still had his socks, so his feet hadn’t got scraped up on the rough bark. Now the man came puffing up the forest path. He stared up at the kid and swore in a language the kid didn’t understand.
"I’ll give you the money if you give me my pants," the kid said.
Donald tossed the pants up to the kid, who caught them. The kid lobbed down the pouch of money and Donald caught it.
The kid had one leg through his pants when Donald opened the pouch to make sure his money was inside and the cat jumped out spitting and clawing.
Donald tried to shoot the cat, missed and hit Lightning. Lightning, who was immune to bullets, chased down the kid and sank his teeth into the kid’s legs. The cat, who was not immune to bullets, ran up the tree.
The kid wrenched his leg out of Lightning’s jaws, but left his pants behind. He really needed a belt.
Donald stood over him holding his six-shooter.
“I’m going to shoot you,” said Donald. “I’m going to put a bullet right through your skull.”
“I don’t have the money,” the kid said. “I took it out so the cat could fit in the pouch. It’s up in the tree.”
“That tree with the cat?”
They all went back and looked at the tree. There was no cat in it anymore.
“Can your dog smell out the cat?” the kid asked.
“Hunt, boy. Hunt!” said Donald, and Lightning took off. The kid put on his pants and followed.
The cat had to let go of the money bag to speak. It said, “Hello.”
The old lady smiled. She set down her picnic basket. “Would you like a sandwich?”
“I need help,” said the cat. “I have a great deal of money and I’ll split some of it with you if you help me get away. There’s a dog who is immune to bullets, a crazy man with a gun, and a lucky kid who keeps losing his pants, all chasing me.”
“Oh, I suppose I could use the money,” said the old woman. “I’ve always wanted to see Europe before I die, but I’ve never been able to afford to go. We’ll just eat the sandwiches and then put the money in the basket and no one will be the wiser. I hope you like tuna salad.”
The cat had to eat the majority of the sandwiches. It felt very full and sleepy afterward. The old lady encouraged it to snooze in the basket next to the bag of money.
When the cat woke up, it was still in the basket, but the bag of money was gone.
Donald, the kid, and the hound were looking down at it, utterly bemused.
“Where is our money?” asked the kid.
“An old woman stole it,” the cat said. “We’ll have to hurry if we want it back. She’s going to Europe.”
“Hunt, boy. Hunt!” Donald said to Lightning, gesturing with his six-shooter. The boy lifted the basket with the talking cat and hurried after, pausing now and again to hitch up his pants.
“I smell money,” yowled the cat. “Forget your pants. Run faster!” The kid ran.