He often went for walks alone, because he was used to his own company.
Life would often become too hectic for him, especially in the house. The children would pester him, wanting to play. The adults would ignore him, always rushing off to do some sort of chore when he attracted their attention. They would talk to him in condescending, high-pitched voices, as if he had the intelligence of an average dog. If any one of his crew asked him if he was related to them, the answer would always be a categorical "no".
Nevertheless, he loved them, even though he would never admit it to anybody. Despite the fact that it wasn't cool in this hood to like your family, they were still his family nonetheless, and they put a roof over his head, and they gave him food - and to be honest, they weren't that bad ... not compared to the families of some of his crew.
So he was out tonight, wandering the streets alone. He hadn't even joined his crew tonight - it had been a long day. The shadows lengthened as the summer sun sank sleepily behind the clouds - streetlamps flickered on, flooding the streets with uniform, artificial light that made his eyes gleam. A crisp packet drifted past idly, scraping distractedly on the road.
He saw his friend Diesel up ahead. He yowled to him to call him over and he leapt fluidly from the fence, tail swishing agitatedly. His brown fur looked black in the half-light.
"That fat woman just sat on me, Paws!" said Diesel furiously, as he padded over. "There I was, minding my own business, and she came and put all her weight on my tail."
"How many times have I told you not to sleep on brown cushions?" he sighed resignedly, rolling his eyes.
Diesel paused, then said, "Good point."
"And how many times have I told you not to call me Paws?" I said, annoyed. "It's Mr Claws to you."
He looked around in a would-be casual manner, before coming closer and whispering in my ear.
"You know there's a new tom in the hood?"
"I smelt him, and recently. It seems to be coming from the old squatters' hovel down the street, and by the smell of it, he needs to have a good wash." Diesel smirked distastefully. "He's been dropping his scent in all of the crew's gardens - they're getting restless, buddy. If we don't deal with him soon, we're gonna have a brawl on our hands."
"At least we have the self-respect to keep clean," muttered Claws contemptuously, casually licking a paw. "These new hotheads without houses and families think they can take over everywhere, without us lifting a paw."
"We'll show 'em, won't we, Clawzy?" said Diesel, swishing his tail again.
"You'd like to think you would," said Claws. "But there'd be a reason why you're the Omega, mate, it's because you're damn rubbish at fighting."
Claws always got some sort of satisfaction from criticising his friend. It made him feel good that Diesel was the lowest rank in the crew, and that he was the highest.
He would never have admitted it to anyone, but Claws had copied the hierachy for his crew off a documentary about wolves he had seen while stretching on his mistress's lap. And it was duncey to copy dogs, for any cat. Claws was the Alpha, the leader, the strongest and the largest cat in the hood, with jet-black fur and keen, narrow eyes. The Beta was the second in command, a rangy tortoiseshell called Bull, who Claws wasn't particularly fond of. Diesel was the Omega, the lowest rank there was. He didn't seem too bothered about it - he made up for it with his wit and cunning mind.
"It don't matter how rubbish I am at fighting," said Diesel, "but I sensed rebellion, man, so I came to you. You're hard, you can sort him out."
Claws smiled, teeth sparkling in the lamplight. Diesel certainly knew his place.
"So you want to go deal with him now?" said Claws.
"Deal with who?"
Claws spun round, tail swishing, eyes gleaming into the darkness. He saw the silhouette of the speaker almost at once, perched carefully atop the nearest fence.
"Well, I always thought that you humanisers were the soft option," said the tom, his own tail waving, "Looks like I'll have to change my opinion now, though, doesn't it?"
The tom jumped down. He had bright-white fur and a rosy pink nose, but his mouth was curled in subdued malice.
"Get off our turf, Marshmallow Boy," said Diesel.
"And thank you for the warm welcome, Dungface. I say, if this is the way you treat your visitors ..."
"You heard him, squirt," said Claws, showing his teeth. "Clear out. Take your flea-ridden hide back to where it came from."
"Maybe later," said the tom, "but I thought I'd introduce myself first. Angel, nice to meet you."
Diesel could barely contain himself. He subsided into barely contained sniggers.
"You can call me," said the tom, with a bite of impatience, "Hunter."
"We'll call you what you want, mate, now get the hell out of here," growled Claws.
"As you wish." The tom leapt gracefully back onto the fence, his tail holding him in perfect balance. "But I might stick around a while ... this neighbourhood is a lot more pleasant than the one I came from ..."
Claws hissed viciously as Hunter slunk out of sight.
"That was the one, buddy, I recognise his whiff. Noticed he didn't stick around very long when he saw us, though! You know why he ran, don't you, Clawzy?" he added enthusiastically, as they turned back to Claws's house. "He was too scared to take on both of us at the same time."
"Sure he was," said Claws sarcastically. "I'd take him on one-to-one while you'd provide a running commentary." Claws halted at his cat flap. "I want the rest of the crew told, Diesel. Dropping his scent is bad enough, but attack on sight if you catch him dumping. Clear?"
"Good. Keep me informed." Claws hopped through the cat flap, back into the warm house. He was glad that he was still on top, even though somebody had let another cat out of the bag.