It was eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-spring, with the sun fighting the smudged clouds to emerge and a light dew dampening the calls of the blackbird perched in the peach tree. I was clean (thanks to a thorough licking), sleek and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. Everything a well-turned out feline private detective ought to be. Today, I wasn’t chasing my tail - I was chasing a case.
After a quick tour of the premises, and a visit to the sandbox to lighten my load, I took up position on the sill. Pale green leaves dappled the sulky sunlight as a pair of sparrows squabbled in the branches. I yawned, stretched my jaw and pushed back my ears before considering the best stake-up position to await the arrival of my No.1 suspect.
I hadn’t been looking for a case. It had dropped into my lap, and no matter how hard I tried to push it under the rug and ignore it, it kept nagging at me like a dame selling cigarettes at a speakeasy or carnations at a 'Skyladiko'.
This was no victimless crime we were talking about. The victim was someone who meant the world to me.
The victim was me.
As the winter chill had lifted Big Red had started giving me my meals al fresco. And who was I to complain? Food, water, the constantly changing drama unfolding on the street below, a patch of sunlight to luxuriate in, and the occasional bluebottle fly to chase was pretty much as close to cat heaven as anyone could expect in the Here & Now. It also gave me a great view of next door’s tabby as she sashayed her way around the garden like the closet siren I knew she was at heart.
But there was trouble in paradise.
There was a thief on the balcony – and his loot was my lunch.
Every morning, my bowl was filled with crunchy goodness. Being a cat of simple needs and moderate appetites, I would only take a few mouthfuls before doing my daily limber-up and practicing my stalking technique in the mirror. But lately, when I returned for a top-up after my mental gymnastics (the ones that involved stretching out on the sofa, twitching my ears and gently snaking my tail from side to side as I considered the intricacies of a case), I’d noticed that someone had beaten me to it. The bowl was picked almost bare, leaving only the boring brown triangles that no discerning feline will eat unless faced with certain starvation.
It was a mystery. Judging by the look on her face when she dished it up, it wasn’t Big Red dipping into my food – and as for DanglyMan and NoisyKid, they hardly even touched it. No other cats stalked my beat. So, who was the culprit?
None of my usual contacts knew anything – or at least, those birds weren’t singing. I suspected the blackbird may have been in on it. His only reply was a teasing “Wouldn’t you like to know?” look down his yellow beak with one beady eye, before hopping over to another branch to squawk for his mate.
And so the stake-out had begun. For three solid days, I had taken up my post, hidden between the curtain and the frame of the balcony doors, watching, waiting for the thief to come. For three days, I followed the progress of fallen leaves from the untended flower box geraniums from one end of the balcony to the other. For three days, I pricked my ears for the slightest sound offering a clue beneath the blanket of birdsong and passing cars. For three days, I took only minor 20 minute naps to break the monotony of round-the-clock surveillance.
And for three days, I’d woken to find my bowl bereft of crunchies. It was as if the thieves were waiting, watching me, and swooping in to claim their swag the minutes my eyelids drooped.
But today was different. Today I would catch them in the act, and show whoever they were that I was no kitty to be toyed with.
I dropped down from the windowsill and took up my place near the half-open balcony door. A slight breeze fandangoed the net curtain at the edge of my gaze, threatening to break the focus. A beetle scrabbled to the corner, ignorant of the fact that he’d fall his certain death if he ever did manage to scale that ledge. The sun rays grew stronger, and warmer…. the lazy drone of a fly threatened to lullaby me to sleep. But I resisted.
A whirr of wings and chorus of coos announced it was Show Time. A gang of thuggish pigeons alighted on the railing. Big, urban bruisers with red eyes and dirty grey plumage. One sported what looked like a half-hearted Mohawk dipped in a puddle of something unmentionable.
My backside instinctively started waggling in anticipation. I forced my base urges back and bided my time “Slowly, slowly, catchy pigeon” I repeated under my breath like a vengeful mantra.
One by one, they hopped down onto the balcony tiles. Led by the biggest, meanest bruiser of the bunch – a strutting heavy with a splat of black across his left eye – they pigeon-toed towards the bowl. Black-Eye mumbled orders to his minions and they took up position behind him as he bent his filthy head to the food, MY food.
Fury acted like rocket fuel on my back legs as I exploded out of my hiding place. Mohawk narrowly missed losing an eye to the fully-extended claws on my right paw as a flying jump landed me squarely on Black-Eye’s greasy puffed-up chest.
His minders with the single digit IQs scattered to the four winds with a flap of frantic, discordant coos, and I looked down at my thick-billed nemesis trapped beneath me. Black-Eye fixed me with a malevolent glare as he struggled to escape. Part of me wanted to grab his filthy head with my teeth and twist til I heard those its super-light bones in his neck snap like dry sticks – but I couldn’t. I have my standards – and there are some things that I simply won’t put in my mouth.
I lifted my paw, claws extended, and swiped. I caught the top of his left wing and the cheek just below his vicious eye. Pain and panic shot him upwards as the movement threw me off-balance. Black-Eye scrabbled out from beneath me for a clumsy, hurried take-off that dropped into the branches of the mulberry bush below, leaving me with a pawful of feathers and the satisfying sight of a smear of avian blood across the tiles.
“Don’t think I'll be having any uninvited dinner guests for a while,” I said to myself as I shook the grimy feathers out of my grasp and smugly licked my paw.
Sauntering over to the edge of the balcony, I looked into the green-eyed gaze of next door’s tabby. She blinked up and turned to stare at the cables linking the street lights.
From one end to the other, they were filled with a chorus line of pigeons, all looking in my direction. They didn’t look like they were about to dance the Can-Can.
I decided it was time for my nap. Inside.
I decided it was time for my nap. Inside.