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Writer Has a Feline That His Girlfriend's Cat Has Gotten His Revenge

July 02, 1988|DR. ROBERT DAPHNE | The Washington Post and Dr. Robert Daphne is a pseudonym for Bob Reiss, whose latest novel, "Saltmaker," is being published by Viking.

I hate cats. Really, I do. I hate the way they do nothing all day. The way they I sit on your face when you try to sleep. The way they claw you when you try to pet them. Name something about cats. I guarantee you. I hate it.

Cats were never a problem when I lived alone. But then I started dating a girl who had two cats. I married her. Now I have two cats.

Living with Louis and Daphne, my feelings grew stronger. My couch disintegrated. The kitchen smelled like Nine Lives Beef & Egg Dinner. Fur balls clung to my Wheaties. The only baseball trophy I ever won "fell" off a shelf and broke.

If my wife and I had a fight, she would scoop up Louis in her arms and cradle him for hours. "Oh, my Louis, my one, my Louis," she would say, smothering his head with kisses. Louis tried to steal my side of the bed. He ambushed me in hallways.

"It's male rivalry," my wife said.

"But he's a cat," I replied.

No, my wife insisted. I was the oddity. All her old boyfriends had loved Louis, petted him, rolled up little paper balls and thrown them, and cute, adorable Louis would fetch them.

I tried it. He went to sleep.

But the truth dawned on me one evening at a party on Capitol Hill. The watershed evening. The evening when I knew I had to write the book. I ran into one of the old boyfriends by the bar. He sneered, familiar hatred dripping from his voice, "Does she still have Louis?"

At that moment the blinders were ripped from my eyes. I saw that thousands of boyfriends through the ages had shared my feelings. We'd been bamboozled. Tricked. Marc Antony had hated Cleopatra's cats. Napoleon had marched off to get away from Josephine's cats. Take Alfred Nobel. I'd wondered why the inventor of dynamite would donate his fortune to peace. Now I understood. He didn't want the dynamite for humans. He invented it for cats.

I knew I had to get my feelings down, rant until I felt good. To tell the world about Louis. To kill him again and again.

So I wrote a cat book. That's right. One of those paperback cat books you see on counters in bookstores. One of those cutesy gift books serious writers always complain suck up the resources of their publishers.

I took five quick days and jotted down my fantasies about killing Louis. Chuckling madly, like de Sade, I dreamed up more and more ways to end the miserable creature's existence. Quicksand kitty litter. Electric scratch posts. I imagined more great men of history and how they had escaped detection. I called all the victims in the book Louis. I advised how to fool your girlfriend into thinking you loved her cat, so she wouldn't suspect you later. I gave tips on body disposal.

It was all a lark. Something to do. I didn't really think anyone would buy the book. But my agent laughed when I showed it to her. And she sent it out.

Doubleday bought it.

In September, "How To Kill Your Girlfriend's Cat" is going to be published. Or actually, launched.

"We're bringing out a hundred thousand copies," my editor gushed over the phone. "We'll have counter displays. . . . We're printing up promotional booklets for stores. You have to come to the office and meet the president. She's a big fan."

Maybe at this point you're envisioning a happy ending to this story. Perhaps you see me, R. Robert Daphne, basking in the Riviera sun, Irving Wallace-style. Perhaps you imagine me sauntering into the casino, tossing a $1,000 chip onto the table, laughing delightfully when I lose. "It's only money." So far this looks like a success story. The American Dream. Not to mention the death of Louis.

Sorry.

Louis gets revenge.

Because now I have to make a second confession. Dr. Robert Daphne isn't my real name. It's a pseudonym for the cat book. It's my feline nom de plume. Under my real name I just finished a serious book, "Saltmaker," a novel about a president tried for treason for refusing to use nuclear weapons. A novel I sweated over. A novel I stayed up nights writing. A novel I dreamed would lift me into the ranks of respected American writers. I wrestled with that novel for three years, not five days.

The novel is coming out this summer too.

Is the novel getting the kind of attention the cat book is?

Noooooooooo.

"The response to the cat book is unprecedented," my Doubleday editor bubbled on the phone yesterday. "We got an order for 13,000 books just from Waldenbooks! This is going to be a hit."

"How many copies of the novel will be in stores nationwide?" my Viking editor asked. "About 13,000."

"Will you be willing to go on television to promote the cat book?" Doubleday asked. I said yes, but only if I wore a paper bag over my head, like men on David Susskind. It was important to keep the two books separate, in case the TV people wanted me for the novel too.

"It's hard to get novelists on TV," the other company said. "But we'll try."

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