I'D HEARD that cats were petty and vindictive - sneaky, even.

But I'd never seen it for myself . . . until now.

As you probably know, my family convinced me to take in a street cat, which we named Styx, about nine months ago, and it has been an adventure, to say the least.

First she went into heat. And while biology experts will tell you that the incessant, nerve-racking meowing is designed to attract males, there's a simpler explanation. It's meant to drive their owners insane.

If that was, in fact, her end goal, Styx achieved it, and then some.

We stopped the heat thing by getting her spayed. But Styx still wanted to hit the streets. She'd stare out the window for hours on end, her pitiful meows sounding almost like the lyrics from Randy Crawford's "Street Life."

"I play the street life

Because there's no place I can go

Street Life

It's the only life I know."

I often looked at her during those dark times and wondered why she would want to trade a bowl full of Friskies for a garbage can full of fish bones. Still, we had to do our part to help her answer the call of the streets in a way that would keep her safe.

Alas, it wasn't that simple. It never is with cats.

She didn't give a hoot about safety. All she cared about was smelling the garbage, chasing the insects, fighting the squirrels and seeing her crew.

Although I questioned the morality of letting her join the feline floozies outdoors, I relented, but only occasionally. However, when Styx realized we weren't going to let her outside constantly, she studied our behavior and figured out how to trick us into letting her outside.

At first, she'd simply sit in the window until my car pulled up, creep closer to the door and dash outside as soon as I walked in.

When we figured that one out, she concocted a more complicated scheme.

She debuted that plot Friday evening.

Having started a new gig as a radio talk-show host last week, I am now dead to the world by early evening. Like a fool, I thought that Styx would understand my desire to lie down. She didn't, of course, and after spending 15 minutes or so trying to get my attention using the sympathy-inducing Puss in Boots stare from the "Shrek" movies, she began to play hardball.

As I lay there in my early-evening stupor, I thought I was dreaming when I heard a faint scratching sound coming from somewhere near Styx's litter box. But when the stench came wafting through the air, I knew this was no dream.

I opened my eyes and saw Styx looking up at me with a wiseguy smirk. She knew, just like I did, that there was only one way for me to escape the foul odor emanating from the litter box. I would have to clean it, and cleaning the litter box would mean opening the back door to dispose of the contents.

I couldn't help smiling at the cat's ingenuity. With no wife and kids at home - they were at an event at Little Solomon's school - it was me against the cat, one on one.

Styx had clearly taken stock of the situation, and she liked her chances against a tired man in his mid-40s, with no little kids to chase her down.

So, there we were. A man who was tired and disoriented from a week of getting up at 5 in the morning, and a cat, spry and rested after lying around all day eating.

Like two Old West gunfighters, we stood our ground, staring at each other across the room, until I got up to do what we both knew was necessary.

I scooped out the litter, smoothed it over, put it in a bag and headed toward the back door, with Styx creeping around behind me.

But before I opened the door, I made a slight detour to the basement, where we keep the cat's food.

See, I've been studying her, too, and if there's one thing I've learned about having a street cat, it's this: Whenever you head toward her food, she's going to come see what you're doing.

When she did, I locked the basement door and discarded the litter without incident.

I won this round through sheer cunning.

But I know that Styx will never give up.