"Who's your friend?" I asked, tipping my head toward the cat.
"That's Elvis," Sam said, flipping open the latches on the battered Tolex case with his long fingers. He was tall and lean, his shaggy hair a mix of blond and white.
"Really?" I said. "The King of Rock and Roll was reincarnated as a cat?"
Sam looked at me over the top of his dollar-store reading glasses. "Ha, ha. You're so funny."
I made a face at him. Elvis was watching me again. "Move over." I gestured with one hand. To my surprise the cat obligingly scooted around to the other side of the plate. "Thank you," I said, sliding onto the burgundy vinyl. He dipped his head, almost as though he were saying, "You're welcome," and went back to his scrambled eggs. They were definitely Sam's specialty. I could smell the salami.
"Is this the cat I've been hearing about?" I asked.
Sam was engrossed in examining the vintage Fender. "What? Oh yeah, it is."
Elvis's ears twitched, as though he knew we were talking about him.
Sam shrugged. "He doesn't seem to like the Stones, so naming him Mick was kinda out of the question." He waved a hand in the direction of the bar. "There's coffee."
That was Sam's way of telling me to stop talking so he could focus his full attention on the candy-apple-red Stratocaster. I got up and went behind the bar for the coffee, careful to keep the mug well out of the way of the old guitar when I brought it back to the table. Elvis had finished eating and was washing his face.
"What do you think?" I asked after a couple of minutes of silence. Sam's head was bent over the neck of the guitar, examining the fret board.
"Gimme a second," he said.
I waited, and after another minute or so he straightened up, pulling a hand over the back of his neck. "So, tell me what you think," he said, setting his glasses on the table.
I put my coffee cup on the floor beside my feet before I answered. "Based on what the homeowner told me it's a 1966. It belonged to her husband. It's not mint, but it's in good shape. There's some buckle wear on the back, but overall it's been taken care of. I think it's the real thing and I think it could bring twelve to fifteen thousand."
Beside me Elvis gave a loud meow.
"The cat agrees," I said.
"That makes three of us, then," Sam said.
I grinned at him across the table. "Thanks."
When I got up to leave, Elvis jumped down and followed me. "I think you made a friend," Sam said. He walked me out to my truck, set the guitar carefully on the passenger's side, and then wrapped me in a bear hug. He smelled like coffee and Old Spice. "Come by Saturday night, if you're free," he said. "I think you'll like the band."
"Old stuff?" I asked, pulling my keys out of the pocket of my jeans.
"Hey, it's gotta be rock-and-roll music if you wanna dance with me," he said, raising his eyebrows and giving me a sly smile. He looked down at Elvis, who had been sitting by the truck, watching us. "C'mon, you. You're gonna get turned into roadkill if you stay here." He reached for the cat, who jumped up onto the front seat.
"Hey, get down from there," I said.
Elvis ignored me, made his way along the black vinyl seat and settled himself on the passenger's side, next to the guitar case.
"No, no, no, you can't come with me." I leaned into the truck to grab him, but he slipped off the seat, onto the floor mat. With the guitar there I couldn't reach him.
Behind me, I could hear Sam laughing.
I blew my hair out of my face, backed out of the truck and glared at Sam. "Your cat's in my truck. Do something!"
He folded his arms over his chest. "He's not my cat. I'm pretty sure he's your cat now."
"I don't want a cat."
"Tell him that," Sam said with a shrug.
I stuck my head back through the open driver's door. "I don't want a cat," I said.
Ensconced out of my reach in the little lean-to made by the guitar case Elvis looked up from washing his face—again—and meowed once and went back to it.
"I have a dog," I warned. "A big, mean one with big, mean teeth." The cat's whiskers didn't so much as quiver.
Sam leaned over my shoulder. "No, she doesn't," he said.
I elbowed him. "You're not helping."
He laughed. "Look, the cat likes you." He rolled his eyes. "Lord knows why. Take him. Do you want him to just keep living on the street?"
"No," I mumbled. I glanced in the truck again. Elvis, with some kind of uncanny timing, chose that moment to tip his head to one side and look up at me with his big green eyes. With his scarred nose he looked . . . lonely.
"What am I going to do with a cat?" I said, bouncing the keys in my right hand.
Sam shrugged. "Feed him. Talk to him. Scratch under his chin. He likes that."
I glanced at the cat again. He still had that lonely, slightly pathetic look going.
"You two will make a great team," Sam said. "Like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards."
"SpongeBob and Patrick," I muttered.
"Exactly," Sam said.
I was pretty sure I was being conned, but, like it or not, I had a cat.
© Sofie Ryan