"You see, a few weeks back I got this letter," Miss M started, gesturing to the open paper on her desk, "from Atlas's sister in New Orleans, Gladys. She and her husband, Artie, run a business of their own down river selling bootleg to the local speakeasies."
"Wait, Gladys?" Ivy asked, looking over at the brown tabby. "I thought you said your name was Missy."
"Oui," she nodded. "Gladys is my mother."
"Your Atlas May's niece?" Rocky exclaimed, awestruck by the idea.
"I thought you wanted to hear the story," Miss M interrupted, taking another sip of gin. Silence filled the room and she continued.
"Their usual customers were ratted out and they didn't have anyone to sell to so they sent me a proposition. She had heard of the Lackadaisy's fall in reputation and offered to help. Naturally, I thought it over for a while but decided to call after the Captain's disappearance-"
"We found out that Captain Kehoe was caught by the law, Miss M," Rocky cut in. His boss just nodded in response.
"I thought as much. It's a good thing Missy got here so fast then. Starting today, she will responsible for arranging transactions on the river. She'll also help with the deliveries and runs."
"Wait," Ivy's ears perked excitedly, "She's going to be staying here in St Louis to help out?"
"Yes," the white cat answered, earning a happy giggle from her goddaughter. "She'll be staying with me for a while. Hopefully with her help, the Lackadaisy will get some decent business again." With a sad sigh, the southern belle glanced at her late husband's portrait before turning back to her audience.
"Well I guess that's enough for one morning. Missy, I'll show you to your room and let you get settled in. Later, Rocky can give you the tour and you can meet everyone else. And Ivy, weren't you supposed to be watching the café?"
"Oops!" the girl gasped. "I'll see you later Missy!" she cried, rushing out the door and down the stairs.
"Alright, I'll leave you ladies alone then. See ya tonight." With a big grin and a tilt of his hat, the gray tabby took his leave.
"This way, sweetie," Miss M directed, strolling out of the office and down the hall to a door at the end. Behind it was a small but comfortable guest room complete with a vanity, newly made bed, and window with a lovely view. Another door to the side revealed a private bathroom, sparkling and stocked for its guest.
"Wow," Missy gasped, amazed by the enchanting room.
"Make yourself at home, dear," Miss M smiled as she turned to leave.
"Thank you. For everything."
"Not a problem, dear," she heard as the door swung shut behind the fluffy tail.
Returning to the study and taking a seat on the desk's polished surface, Miss M sighed again and glanced at the painting.
"I hope I've done the right thing, dear," she whispered, searching Atlas's eyes for a hint of agreement.
Later that night, Missy made her way down the stairs and into the Little Daisy Café alone. Miss M had politely declined accompanying her, insisting she had work to do, but told Missy to run along and enjoy herself.
A sign in the window proclaimed the café to be closed but a small group of people inside proved otherwise. She recognized Rocky and Ivy but there was a third person among them she had not met yet. Ivy was hanging on his arm and Rocky seemed to be zealously teasing them about it.
"Salut," she greeted casually, slipping through the door. Ivy instantly gave a girly shriek and ran to hug her.
"There you are!" Missy's ears flattened at the sudden shout but she couldn't avoid Ivy's enthusiastic embrace. "Took ya long enough. Come on, I'll give you the tour."
Missy just chuckled nervously at Ivy's outburst and allowed herself to be dragged over to the others.
"Jeez, Miss Pepper," Rocky laughed, leaning against the bar with a carefree ease. "Just rip her arm off, why don't cha?"
Ivy just stuck her tongue out in a very mature fashion. "Do you know how long I've waited for another girl to talk to? I can't exactly tell my friends at school about the Lackadaisy; well, not much anyways. All I have is you two and Viktor and that gets old, fast."
"And here I thought I was your best friend," Rocky feigned insult, placing a paw dramatically over his chest before dissolving into snickers. "Besides, what about Miss M? Can't she accommodate to your 'lady talk' needs?"
The girl rolled her eyes. "Miss M's fine and all but she doesn't exactly do girl chat. I can't talk with her about fashion or new hair styles or boys. Missy here is my new girly friend." Ivy gave her new friend a grateful smile and gestured around them. "This is the café, of course you've already seen it. And that's Rocky, you've already seen him too. And this is his cousin, Freckle."
Next to Rocky stood an orange tabby, looking awkward and shy in his green pin stripes. When he heard his name, he turned and met her gaze with large orange eyes before quickly glancing down, his ears and tail twitching bashfully.
"This is Miss Burke, Miss M's niece from New Orleans. She'll be working with us from now on."
"Call me Missy," she insisted, putting her hand out to shake his.
He was young, maybe her and Ivy's age, and looked like a nice guy, maybe a little too nice to be in the business. But she quickly pushed her doubt away. Never judge a book by its cover. She was sure there was a reason he was on the team other than his good looks.
"Calvin," he corrected in a quiet Irish brogue similar to Rocky's but more pronounced and soft spoke. He shook the offered hand politely. "Nice to meet you." In a flash, Ivy had released Missy and was hanging off his arm again and, leaning towards the new girl with lamp like yellow eyes.
"You still have to meet Viktor!"
Rocky visibly recoiled, his eyes widening and smile gone. "I thought the Doc said he was supposed to rest for at least another week!"
"You know Viktor, stubborn as a mule." Ivy shrugged. "I told him that as long as he took it easy he didn't have to stay home. He should be out in the garage. Come on!"
"Uh, do we have to?" Rocky asked, tugging at his tie anxiously.
"Oh Rocky, I'm sure he's not too mad about the truck," Ivy comforted, leading the group out the door and down the dark alleyway next to the café. "Besides, if he is, just stand behind me and you won't get hurt too bad."
This didn't seem to ease the troubled tabby and made Missy nervous about entering the eerie garage ahead of them. Before she could object, though, Ivy was dragging what Missy could only guess as her boyfriend through the side door, leaving Rocky and Missy to follow as they pleased.
"Ladies first," Rocky offered weakly. With a roll of her eyes, Missy strolled into through the door, her cowardly companion creeping in behind her.
Across the concrete floor, a giant red cat was working on a truck that looked as if it had seen better days. One of the tires was completely gone and two of the others were flat. Bullet holes speckled the side and back of the black paint. Most of the windows had not survived.
"Oh my...," Missy gasped, studying the damage with wide hazel eyes. Competition was tough upriver, that was for sure.
"You should see the other guys," Rocky chuckled but instantly fell silent when the big guy noticed them. He had an eye patch but he only needed one brilliant green eye to glare them all into submission. Well, all accept Ivy.
"Now Viktor," she started, giving a stern look that almost looked comical on her usually cheery face.
"No 'Naow Viktor', I kill idiot naow!" Even in his thick Slovak accent, it was easy to detect his anger. "I tell that idiot not to take de truck but he took it anyvay and naow look.
Rocky yelped and jumped behind Freckle for protection even though he was a good few inches taller than his cousin. The orange cat didn't seem so thrilled to be a body-shield and glanced back at Rocky in betrayal. Missy's tail bristled in fear at the giant lumbering towards them. Tucking a dirty rag in the left pocket of his faded overalls, he produced what looked to be a wrench from the right. After seeing the truck, though, Missy could hardly blame him for being mad.
"Just calm down. You can kill him later. Right now you be on your best behavior to meet someone."
Ivy pointed at Missy and instantly the single green eye flashed at her. Under his piercing gaze, her ears flattened and whiskers drooped. She cleared her throat quietly and gave a nervous smile.
"This is Miss M's niece from New Orleans, Missy Burke. She's going to be our new supplier so be nice," Ivy warned.
"Hello," Missy squeaked. There was a moment of silence as he studied her. Suddenly, his hand rose up and she flinched.
"Nice too meet you," he growled, patting her head with a heavy paw. It messed up her brown curls and misplaced her hat but she wasn't going to complain.
"You too," she replied in relief.
"Great now that that's settled let's move on," Rocky declared in a trembling voice. He made for the cellar door but didn't get far. The angry Slovak caught him by the back of the shirt and held the skinny gray cat aloft.
"Look vhat you do to my truck!" he shouted in Rocky's ear. Rickaby cringed and thought fast on his feet while dangling in the air.
"Don't look at me! It wasn't like I was the one who shot it. Blame the guys chasing us last night. We're lucky we got it back in one piece."
With an annoyed sigh, Viktor released the tabby and crossed his arms. "You no use my truck if come back like dis. Next time, you fix it."
"Sure thing," Rocky agreed, still curled on the ground. "I'll be more careful. Bring it back better than new. No problem." With a roll of his eye, the russet cat turned away, leaving Rocky relieved he had survived with all of his limbs intact.
"Come on, I'll show you down stairs," Ivy urged, seeming uninterested by the squabble. The brown cat dragged her companions to the cellar and flung open the wood door to reveal a set of stairs descending into darkness.
"Oi," Viktor called from the truck, "Take the flashlight and be careful, dievka."
"Alright," the girl called back, leading the way down into the gloom.