"Is your cat dead?"
I glanced from the worried looking young woman chosen to judge the talent portion of the games to my cat, lying flat on his back, paws in the air, tongue lolling out, sound asleep.
I was just about to nudge Rooster awake when sudden inspiration struck. "He's...playing dead." Not exactly the talent I had originally planned for Rooster, but beggars couldn't be choosers. After a disappointing practice run with the prop I had bought just for this moment, I figured this would have to do. I shoved the deflated clown punching bag out of the way with my foot. "He's been practicing as long as I've known him."
"Oh, he's very good. Very life like." She wrote something down on her clipboard. "Yes, very good. Very nice." She consulted another judge standing nearby. They both whispered to one another while consulting each other's clipboards. After a moment, they presented me with my first blue ribbon.
I beamed. "Thank you very much." This was such a piece of cake, I thought, laying it down on the table next to Rooster's head.
"Found any terminator kitties yet?"
I glanced over my shoulder as Hayden walked up and then around the table.
"No, but give it time, I just got here." I looked at him curiously. "You don't seem surprised to see me here."
"I knew you wouldn't give up that easily. I'm just surprised you went this route. What's your back up plan when you don't get the invitation to Canary Island?"
"Oh, don't worry, I'll get that invitation." I gestured to the ribbon. "In fact, Rooster and I are well on our way."
Hayden picked up the ribbon in surprise. "How many ribbons have you collected?"
"One," I said, quickly adding, "but the night is still young. What are you doing here?"
"Someone has to cover this event." He lifted up the camera around his neck and pointed it at me. "Smile."
Gathering Rooster to me, I smiled brightly.
"The Hatter's Cove Gazette's own Kat Archer attends the Catastrophe Winter Games," he said, looking down at the display. "That should fill up some space in our life section."
He backed up as a judge walked forward, glancing over each shoulder, nervously. Hayden and I exchanged glances as the man hesitated next to my table for a moment before walking away and then coming straight back. He leaned over the table and whispered, "You're Kat Archer, aren't you?"
Hayden took a step closer causing the man to jerk back and stare at him warily. His eyes shifted left then right before settling on Hayden again. "Never mind," he said with a shaky voice. "This was a mistake."
I grabbed his sleeve and glanced over at Hayden. "You know, that side of the convention center looks pretty interesting. Why don't you go hang out over there?"
Hayden gave me a look before walking away.
Suddenly, four red, white and blue ribbons were thrust in my direction. The judge's eyes shifted to the side as he lowered his voice to a bare whisper. "Tell your mother, I did my part and now she needs to do her part."
"What am I going to do with this?" I whispered back. "I need one more."
"It's the best I could do. If Emma finds out what I've done, she'll kill me." Sweat began to bead on the man's forehead. "No, it's too dangerous." He reached for the ribbons.
I quickly moved them out of the way, accidently waking Rooster, who yowled in protest.
The man reacted as if he had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Wide eyed, he spun around, his eyes darting this way and that.
"Everything's fine," I hissed. "Just act cool."
He wiped a shaking hand across his forehead. "I should have never let your mother talk me into this. Emma's going to find out."
"Would you please calm down?"
"I can't calm down. We're cheating."
"It's not cheating. This is for a good cause. You will be well rewarded."
He stuck his finger in my face, prompting Hayden to hurry across the room. "It better be. I'm not going down alone. I'll take you with me."
I held up my hand in supplication. "Everything is going to be fine. I promise. Now, go get me another ribbon."
"No way. You're on your own, Kitty Kat," he said as he stalked off.
"Don't call me Kitty Kat," I yelled at his retreating.