All good detective paperbacks start in the office, with flyspecks on the glass and cheap booze threatening to erode its way out of the bottle perched on the corner of the desk. Debt collectors final demand notices are used to soak up coffee stains, and the coffee cups that caused them are so desperately in need of cleaning that it would be easier to buy new ones.
Then the blonde walks in, and suddenly the prospect of financial salvation and maybe even an interesting story unfold like a tabloid in a strong breeze.
Which is of course why I am chained in this cellar, a trickle of what might be water but smells disgustingly like cat pee is running down my back, and as far as I can tell financial ruin is the least of my problems. Particularly as I can hear keys rattling in the lock.
The door swung open on hinges that squealed more than an angry possum, and a tall man with a bandaged hand came cautiously into the cellar. More interesting than the bandage was the heavy stick he was holding in his other hand. Any thoughts I had nursed of launching a surprise attack were dashed – I would have to be overwhelmingly lucky to stand a chance of winning, and he only had to be lucky once to hit me in the head with that lump of wood and it would be lights out. He walked down the narrow stairs, well away from the edge where the handrail had long ago disappeared. The door swung shut behind him of its own accord.
“C’mon you mongrel, it’s time for you to go for a little walk.” He didn’t look me in the eye as he spoke, and he grabbed the chain where it looped around my neck and twisted it tightly enough to make my eyes pop a little.
“How about you put that stick down and we’ll talk about it, one on one?” The threat came from deep down in my chest, and came out past my teeth as a feral snarl. “You were stupid enough to put your hand in my mouth last time, how about you let me have another chew at it.”
He just laughed and hauled on the chain harder, dragging me kicking and struggling impotently to the steps. Once there he was presented with a problem. The stairs were wide enough for just one of us to pass at a time, and certainly not when we were close together with his hand on the improvised collar. I watched the situation with interest, one wrong move on his part and I would seize on the chance to make my escape.
And it was a wrong move that he made. He quickly realised that he would not be able to get both of us up the stairs side by side, let alone through the door, so he pushed his butt backwards and used it to guide himself, dragging me along after him. At the top of the steps he used his butt to shove the door open. Fortunately for me, this meant he was bending forwards and off balance. I waited until he was just clearing the doorframe and about to pull me through, when I lunged away from him. The combination of my weight, his being off balance already and finally having the stick in his hand so he couldn’t grab the jamb meant that he fell. His head connected with the solid timber of the door with what was frankly a rather satisfying clonking sound, and then it repeated the noise three or four times as he slid down the steps. Finally he ended up sprawled full length on the floor. The chain fell from his limp fingers, and with a shake it fell from my neck too. Two big steps and I had gone past him and out into the hallway, into freedom.
Somewhere in this house was my partner. We had both been caught at the same time, and separated, I guess so we could not plot our escape. I looked up and down the hallway, and realised suddenly that I could smell the distinct odour of cat poop. It was wafting down the hall towards me, so I guess it must be coming from the room at the end. While it might seem like an odd time to be thinking about cat messings, you have to remember that we had been peeping in through a window when we had been caught, and standing in a garden bed to do so. And that garden bed had been, I remembered vividly, as full of cat poo as a litter tray in a cattery. If I followed my nose, there was a good chance that I would find my partner, and we could both get out of here.
The first room I looked into was interesting, very interesting, but held no sign of my partner, so reluctantly I moved on.
The door to the next room was not properly closed, allowing me to ease the door open a little further without making any noise, and peer around. Just as I had hoped, my partner was there. She was laying on the floor, her hands tied behind her back and her jumper pulled over her head. Oh, and a large clay-like deposit on the sole of her shoe was exuding the wonderful aroma of cat.
I crossed the short space of floor to her, and flipped the jumper off her head. My partners face split into a huge grin when she saw me.
“Oh boy am I glad to see you! Can you help untie me?”
I just nodded, and looked closely at the knots. They were not particularly expertly tied, and had been done using thick nylon cord. I only worried at them for a few moments before they suddenly fell apart. My partner rubbed her wrists then gave me a quick hug before working on the knots binding her ankles. These were released even faster than I had managed on her wrists, and she stood with a stretch and a groan.
“We really screwed up this one didn’t we? We’d better get out while we can, and call this investigation a bust. Come on, let’s get before any of them come back.”
I didn’t answer, but instead took her by the hand and led her to the room I had gone into before this one. This whole case was about missing cats, more than a dozen had gone in the surrounding streets over the last few weeks, and my partner had decided to investigate. I had protested – to say the least, I am not a cat-lover – but I had been over-ruled. This house had a ‘for sale’ sign out the front for longer than either of us could remember, but suddenly cars were coming and going from the place, and the sign still had not been taken down. What was in the room was going to blow this whole case wide open.
I shouldered the door open, revealing the full horror of what was inside.
Cages full of cats. Dozens of cats. Five, six seven to a cage. All of them different breeds, but all of them white. Did I mention that I was not a cat-lover? Well, some things are just wrong, regardless of personal feelings. I wouldn’t keep a flea in conditions like that!
My partner let out a long whistle, one that I knew indicated surprise and shock and disbelief. If we could get the police here, these cat-kidnappers would be caught in the act. We turned and ran.
That evening, we sat at the dinner table with an RSPCA inspector and my partners parents.
“That was clever thinking of the young lady here, to tell the police on triple zero that she had seen what she thought was a dead body on the floor through the window. Lucky she didn’t mention that the body was of a cat!” said the RSPCA inspector.
“But what were all the cats for? Were they going to sell them to a pet shop or something?” asked my partner.
“Sadly, no. These guys were licensed to provide cat skins to the fur trade, but they’re only supposed to catch feral cats out in the bush, cats that are destroying wildlife. Taking pets is against the law, and keeping them in those conditions is cruel and also breaking the law. Add to that the breaking and entering of that house, and tying you up when you found them out, or at least they THOUGHT that you had found them out, means they are going to be looking at a holiday at Her Majesties expense.”
“Well,” said my partners mother “it’s a good thing that she managed to work it out and escape.’
“Well, I did have some help” said my partner.
“Ah yes,” said the RSPCA inspector “Your intrepid partner in all of this.” He leaned over and scratched me behind the ear, and my tail started thumping on the floor. “He’s a really good dog, isn’t he?”
What? Why are you surprised? I TOLD you I didn’t like cats.