LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #1
Sam Tomcat was hit by a car while chasing another cat. He wakes up in 1973. Has he really gone back in time or is this a dream while he is lying on the vet's operating table having his jaw wired and his leg pinned?
"So, is it headfirst in the welly for this one?" said a mean looking ginger alley cat, puffing on a catnip roll-up.
"Looks like he's been done, guv. Neat job of it, must've been a sharp penknife," said a scruffy tabby, " …aah, back in the land of the living are we sunshine?"
"Where am I?" asked Sam.
"'Ere, have a slug of this, put fur on your chest it will," said the ginger, proffering a hip-flask. "No? You don't mind if I have some do you?"
"Must've been some knock you took," said the tabby, "Knocked you clear into next week."
Sam Tomcat looked around him. The buildings were vaguely familiar, but everything smelled wrong. It was too dirty and sooty. He stood up and started to wash himself.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," he said, "But I could murder a bowl of Pearl Ocean Delicacies."
"Oooh," said the ginger, affecting a limp paw, "Pearl Ocean Delicacies. We don't have any of that here. Got some Whiskas Beef and Kidney back at the yard though. We only opened the tin this morning."
"No chance of some Sheba Terrine, I suppose," said Sam hopefully.
"Ooh, Sheba Terrine," laughed the tabby, mincing in an affected manner, "You been overseas? Just out of quarantine? We might have some boiled coley at the back of the fridge, but that's as posh as it gets."
"I don't need quarantine," said Sam, "I've had all my vaccinations, I'm microchipped and I've got a Pet Passport. Last year I went to the South of France."
"Get you and your vaksee-nay-shuns," chortled the ginger, "And what the blummin' 'eck's a microchip when it's at home? Some fancy bleedin' stuff to go with your Sheba Terrine? Come on, can't waste time when there's things to stick our noses into. You coming back to the yard Sam or do we have to drag you by the scruff of the neck."
"How d'you know my name?" asked Sam, perplexed.
"Cos you were transferred to our yard and we were told to keep an eye for you. 'A habit of getting into trouble' said the transfer report. I'm Ginge Hunt, your new guv'nor. So look lively – that's an order!"
Later, Sam pondered his predicament. He was in a world where no-one seemed aware of the dangers of FeLV or FIV and where his only food choices seemed to be Whiskas Supermeat, Kattomeat or Kit-E-Kat – all requiring the application of an antique can-opener – and primitive dried foods called Go-Cat and Munchies, supposedly linked to urinary blockage. Kittens were so routinely drowned they didn't even warrant further investigations and neutering rates were a disgrace. Even Annie, the sympathetic tortoiseshell, had been forced to have one litter (whose paternity and fate were unknown) "for her own good" before being spayed. Sam was appalled to learn that Ginge had knocked off every unspayed female in the district, some of whom were rumoured to be his own daughters.
What sort of place have I ended up in? Sam asked himself that night as he bedded down on a spare blanket at the yard. What sort of nightmare did cats endure in 1973?
"… breathing normal …"
"… he'll have to lose a few teeth, but the jaw aligns nicely …"
" … heartbeat good …"
"… all going well we can save the leg …."
Next week, local tabbies have been going missing en masse; a horrified Sam discovers the state of feline healthcare in 1973 and Sam tries to explain to his insensitive colleagues that short-legged cats should be referred to as Munchkins, not spazzes.
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #2
Sam Tomcat was hit by a car while chasing another cat. He wakes up in 1973. Has he really gone back in time or is this a dream while he is lying on the vet's operating table having his jaw wired and his leg pinned?
Sam snoozed in the old caravan Ginge Hunt had found him for lodgings. It was midday and everyone at the yard was having a short nap. A black-and-white TV was playing in the corner. Sam, with his colour vision, had found black and white disturbing. There was also a distinct lack of cat-oriented programming apart from a white cat called Arthur dipping his paw into a can of Kattomeat. Sam knew that some time between monochrome 1973 and full colour 2007, the product would be named Arthurs.
"Wake up, Sam," the voice insinuated its way into his subconscious, "You're dying."
"Nnnrgh?" yawned Sam, scratching one ear as he woke.
The white cat was sitting on his bedside table, scooping pawfuls of food from an open can.
"You're dying, Sam, your heart's failing ...."
Suddenly the caravan door banged open and Sam woke with a jolt. The white cat and the open can had gone.
"Rise and shine wonder-cat," said Ginge Hunt, There's been a murder on our patch."
Down near the newspaper shop, Sam looked at the dead kittens while Ginge comforted their distraught mother, Siamese Suzy. With Ginge it was hard to distinguish between "comforting" and "chatting up" thought Sam.
"Looks like an open and shut case," said Ray the shabby tabby cat, "Suzy saw Rex over there nosing about among the crates and when she got here, he'd already killed the kittens."
"Better haul him in for questioning," said Ginge, swaggering over to them. "Boy, she's hot for me," he told the pair, "hardly lost one litter and she's talking about having anothe one as soon as possible to replace them. Females, eh?"
To Sam's experienced eye, Rex didn't look like a killer. He was a rather simple-minded Alsatian (he'd given up trying to get Ginge to call the dog a German Shepherd) who insisted he'd smelled blood and gone to investigate. The kittens were already dead when he found them.
"Come on sunshine, you think we were born yesterday?" Ginge said, swiping Rex across the nose with his claws out.
"It's true," said Rex, "They was already dead. And there was this smell ..."
"Oh yeah, so they were killed by a smell?" Ginge said, admiring his bloody handiwork on Rex's nose.
"Like you," said the simple-minded Alsatian.
Sam leaned forward, "He smelled like Detective Hunt?"
"Yerr," affirmed Rex, "same sort of aftershave."
"Well it wasn't me," Ginge said.
"What aftershave d'you use, guv?" asked Sam.
"I don't. I'm eau-de-tomcat, pure and natural," growled Ginge, "You're going down for this, Rex, you know what they do with killers these days? The lethal chamber ... Phyllis, put Selwyn Doggitt here into a cell, will you? And fetch me a cup of catnip tea while you're at it."
"The pathologist's report's through, guv," said Ray, as Sam and Ginge made their way back to their desks, "Single bite to the neck, each of them."
"You sure?" asked Sam.
"So he bit them to death," said Ginge, "What's the difference? They're still dead, their poor mother is desperate to try for another litter and we've got the killer banged up already."
"It's not Rex's style, guv," insisted Sam, "A big dog like him would shake a kitten to death. Rex's big fangs couldn't have made a precise bite. And frankly, he doesn't fit the profile of a kitten-killer."
"Well, maybe Selwyn Doggitt here tried to play with them? Big thick mutt like him, doesn't know his own strength," Ginge said.
"But he mentioned the smell of eau-de-tomcat," Sam said.
"So what you're saying ..."
"Is the killer had to have been a tomcat. Now think about this. Suzy already has a litter of kittens. She won't be in oestrus again for at least another 5 or 6 weeks."
"What's Easter got to do with it?" asked Ginge.
"Not Easter, oestrus. On heat," Sam said, "The killer didn't want to wait that long. He probably wouldn't be in the area in 5 or 6 weeks time so he wanted Suzy on heat in the next few days. So he killed her kittens. With no kittens nursing, Suzy would come back on heat within a few days and our killer gets to console her," Sam said, "... mate with her," he added, seeing Ginge's eyes glaze over.
"Ray!" yelled Ginge, "Have we had any itinerant tomcats round here of late?"
"There's Bernie Blackfoot, guv," Ray answered, "comes round here every few months knocking up every female he can find."
"Bring him in, I think wonder-cat here is onto something."
That evening, Sam felt a weight off his mind. Rex had been released and Bernie Blackfoot had admitted to the killings. Just as Sam had suspected, he'd wanted Suzy back on heat. Ginge had gone over to give Suzy the news. Bernie had been sentenced to neutering at a local cat shelter and would probably spend several months in rehab. Sam knew that Bernie would be a changed character when he got out. He fell asleep, satisfied.
"Very good Sam," said the white cat, scooping another morsel from his Kattomeat can, "You've proved you've got heart."
"What do you want with me?" asked Sam.
"They're coming to get you ...." the white cat said.
Sam blinked. The white cat had gone.
"... heartbeat back to normal ..."
"... he had me worried there ..."
"... gums are a good colour ...."
"... he's safe to sleep it off now ..."
"... it's all right Sam, your owners are coming to get you...."
"... they're coming to get you ..."
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #3
"Right lads," said Ginge Hunt, swaggering across the room, "We're going to be getting a Chinky on the team."
Sam groaned. Ginge's insensitivity to other breeds was legendary. Shortlegged cats were "spazzes" and there was no persuading him that one day the preferred term would be "Munchkin". All white cats, regardless of eye colour, were "deaf-aid" even if they had perfect hearing. With Ginge's hazy knowledge of countries of origin, a Chinky could mean any of the oriental breeds.
"Why's that then?" asked Chris, a young black male whose aspirations of becoming the local lothario had been ended by a visit to the vet after he'd been caught in flagrante with next door's rabbit. Or as Chris called it, in Alicante with a bunny-girl.
"Some sort of community relation thing," said Ginge, scratching his ear, "There's been a spot of bother with the local Siamese community and my guvnor thought we should have one of them on the team to help sort it out. Can't see it myself, but who am I to ask questions?"
"Does that mean we get Chinky grub in the canteen?" asked Ray, "Only last time they did that was just after all those greyhounds went missing and Phyllis swears she found an ID tag in her sweet and sour."
Everyone except tortie Annie and Sam guffawed.
"The dogs were being shot when they stopped winning races," said Annie, mainly for Sam's benefit, "The bodies were buried."
"All totally legal," said Ginge, "and so it should be, we don't want the place infested with greyhounds do we?!"
"So where's this Chinky, then?" asked Ray.
"Yeah, wossis name? Wun Hung Lo?" sniggered Chris.
Sam cringed at the juvenile humour.
"Hiya," said a voice from the door, "I'm Plum Blossom." An elegant, but muscular, seal-point Siamese neuter walked gracefully in.
"Cor, it's Jason off Blue Peter!" said Annie admiringly.
"Sorry luv," said Plum Blossom, "I know we all look alike, but according to my pedigree I only share a great-grandfather with Jason."
"Round 'ere most the kittens share a grandfather - Ginge Hunt," sniggered Ray and even Annie joined the laughter.
Ginge shouted for quiet. "Plum Blossom, this is Chris the resident wag. Annie over there has been spayed, so don't get any funny ideas, though Phyllis probably wouldn't say no, she hasn't had a nibble of interest for years. That's Sam, Ray and I'm Ginge Hunt. The reason you're here is cos there's a lot of your kind round here up in arms because some lass has walked out on an arranged marriage and taken up with a local low-life."
"Would that be Siamese Suzy and yourself guv?" asked Sam innocently.
"No Sam, it wouldn't. You'll have to excuse Sam, he thinks he's funny," Ginge said.
"Little miss Serene Cherry Grove, chocolate point Siamese, was supposed to marry mister Beauty of Bangkok Palace, but when the big day came she'd scarpered through an open window. Since then, she's been seen in the very unsuitable company of Foggy Flatnose whose only claim to bloodline is his granny getting knocked up by a blue Persian. Naturally, Cherry's family aren't too pleased."
"Is there a dowry involved?" asked Sam.
"A dairy? No, it doesn't say anything here about milk products," Ginge retorted, "Why should there be a bleedin' dairy involved?"
"Not a dairy, guv, a dowry. Money paid by the bride's family to the the groom's family."
"What for gettin' her of their hands?" asked Ginge.
"Round here it's the blokes what pay the women," sniggered Ray.
"If Cherry's family paid a dowry , but Cherry's done a runner, and Beauty's family won't pay it back you've got a difficult situation," Sam explained.
"You're not wrong," said Plum Blossom, "Cherry's family paid Beauty's family for Beauty's services."
"So it's a temporary marriage?" Sam asked.
"Indeed," assented the graceful seal-point, "Beauty's family will have the pick of the litter when they're born."
"This is making my head spin," said Ginge, ploughing on regardless, "And meanwhile, Cherry's getting herself knocked up by Foggy and will be ruined for life."
"That's a myth, guv," said Sam.
"What's a myth, wonder-cat?"
"That she'll be ruined for life. That every litter she has from now on will somehow resemble Foggy. The genetics disprove it."
"Well in my view they're ruined if someone got there before me," said Ginge, "We need to find Cherry, preferably before she gets in the family way, and get her back to her rightful suitor. Slanty-eyes here is supposed to make things easier as he's one of them and he knows how this arranged marriage malarky works. Everyone clear?"
Sam and Plum Blossom were sent to speak to the families.
"So why d'you join, Plum Blossom?" asked Sam.
"My family thought it would set a good example," the Siamese replied.
"There's a big future in it, you know. Community liaison, that sort of thing. You're intelligent, you'll do well."
"There doesn't seem much future in intelligence. From what I've seen, it's mostly about beating people up and shouting."
"Things are changing. Gathering intelligence is the future. We can't keep beating false confessions out of innocent suspects. It's intelligence that gets the real culprits."
"Can I say something, Sam?"
"Yeah, don't worry, I won't grass to Ginge."
"Cherry's my cousin. Personally, I think she's better off with Foggy. Beauty's a looker all right, but Foggy's steady. He may not have much to his name, but he'll stick by her."
"So what you're saying, is we get the families to agree over the money and accept that Cherry's made her own choices?"
That weekend, Sam reflected that Plum Blossom's solution would never have worked. A Siamese cat on the streets was an easy target for kidnap and ransom, or maybe forced to have litter after litter until she was worn out. Ray and Chris had picked them up before the Siamese community could get to Foggy. Cherry had been sent home in disgrace. Beauty's family wanted nothing more to do with her. Foggy's only concern was for his unborn children. He didn't want them to end up at the bottom of a canal.
Two days later, Foggy Flatnose was found floating face down in the canal.
"... he's on an antibiotic drip and painkillers ..."
"... he'll be out of it for while ..."
"... you'll have to feed him by gastric tube for the next two weeks ..."
"... probably a permanent limp, but otherwise ..."
"You'll be left deformed, Sam," taunted the white cat, "They won't want you home. They'll put something in the drip and you won't wake up, Sam."
Sam hissed angrily at the white cat. It calmly scooped some more food into its mouth.
"You can't eat, Sam, your mouth's stitched shut."
Sam's belly growled with sudden hunger, but the can of food was out of reach.
"They'll forget to use the feeding tube ..." it taunted.
"No they won't!" Sam yelled at it, "They won't." His stomach already felt full.
The door banged open, letting in a stream of early morning sunlight.
"Nightmares, wonder-cat?" shouted Ginge, "C'mon, you got a job to do."
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #4
"So, smartass," said Ginge Hunt, pacing around, "What do your fur-end-sicks tell you this time?"
"Forensic, guv," said Sam, crouching to look at the pawprints.
"Furensics, then," said Ginge, "It still sounds like some sort of hairball medication."
"For a start, whoever did this was a polydactyl."
"A polly wotsit? What's one of them when they're at home?" Ginge exploded.
"We 'ad one of them, guv," said Chris, "but the wheel fell off."
"My mum displayed ours on the mantelpiece," shabby tabby Ray added.
"A polydactyl - a cat with extra toes. Look - the culprit left pawprints after walking through some engine oil. Clearly shows extra toes on the front paws."
"A mitten cat then," said tortie Annie, "Why didn't you just say he was mitten cat?"
"Might not be a he," said Sam, "unless he's been neutered."
"No smell of tomcat pee," Annie added. She was catching on fast.
"So no chance of it being Whisky and Sandy then," said Ginge, "That scuppers our chances of putting the terrible two-some away for a while."
Sam straightened up, "Guv, do I take it you wanted Whisky and Sandy framed for this cat burglary?"
"Seeing as they're responsible for most of the raids round here, I don't see that one more would make any difference," huffed Ginge, "Supplying catnip, raids on catnip patches, theft of catnip mice .... a period of cold turkey would do them good."
"So they've got catnip habits?" Sam asked.
"I can't smell any catnip," Chris said.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" asked Ginge in a long-suffering voice.
Chris looked blank.
"Not all cats react to catnip," Sam said, "About half of us can't - including me."
"So how d'you know there's been catnip involved?" asked Annie, perplexed.
"For a start, Ray is drooling and rubbing his head on the ground where - at a guess - some catnip was spilt. Typical catnip reaction," Sam explained. Seeing Annie's concerned look, he added, "Oh don't worry - he'll be okay in about ten minutes."
"We weren't worried," Ginge said brusquely, "Ray often drools."
Everyone but Sam and the intoxicated Ray burst out laughing.
A little later, Sam outlined the profile of the suspect. He would have to be over 6 months old in order to react to catnip. He had mitten paws. He probably had links to kitten p*rn - not the cutesy pin-up calendar stuff of fluffy kitties that Ginge, Ray and Chris drooled over, but hardcore stuff of provocative barely-pubescent cats rolling about or crouching in the lordosis position, flaunting their tail ends.
"So, you're saying we pull in every mitten-footed catnip user this side of town?" Ginge said, "Especially if he has a collection of dodgy pussy pics?"
"Scrappy Thornton fits the profle," saggy Phyllis said, "Habitual catnipper - been picked up from other cat's homes numerous times and flattened Fluffy Patterson's catnip patch so often she had to grow it a locked cold frame."
"Pick him up and paw-print him," said Ginge, "If his prints match we're onto something."
"What about Lucky Jenkins? She's got extra toes," suggested Annie.
"A female? What would a female be doing looking at kitty-p*rn?"
"It's not unknown," said Sam, "Many lasses are very admiring of a well-toned male."
Annie blushed. Spayed or not, she had a huge crush on Blue Peter's hunky Siamese Jason and would happily have invited him to share her blanket-lined cardboard box in the kitchen. Ginge strutted, well aware of the admiring glances he got from on unspayed females. Ray and Chris sniggered; as neuters they might get a few glances, but they weren't up to doing the biz like Ginge.
"Lucky's only got three legs though," said Annie, "That's how she got her name. The prints at the scene definitely showed four paws."
Sam glowed with pride. Of all his colleagues in 1973, Annie had the most aptitude for modern methods. "We'll interview her anyway. Polydactyly runs in families. She might know someone."
"She's got a brother," Annie said, "She sometimes talks about him when we go out on the prowl of an evening. Says she's worried he's fallen in with a bad crowd - a feral colony that lives in the railway yard."
"Ray, Chris, you can deal with Scrappy Thornton," said Ginge, "Sam - you and Annie get down the railway yard and see if you can find Lucky's brother."
"What about you guv?" asked Sam.
Ginge preened, "I'm going to pay Lucky Jenkins and her freaky feet a visit."
"It won't do him any good," said Annie to Sam when they were out of earshot, "Lucky's been spayed."
Sam and Annie found Lucky's brother down near the railway sheds. He was a moth-eaten tabby-and-white whose tail had been broken and set crooked and who was missing several teeth. His name, as far as he had one, was Fleabag. He'd walked out of home one night and never returned.
"Lost 'em in a fight with a Cortina," Fleabag said proudly, "Same time I broke me tail."
Several hard looking ferals, including some disreputable-looking females who were clearly pregnant, loitered around the yard, warily eyeing Sam and Annie. Sam had great sympathy for them. In his day they'd be trapped, neutered and returned to live out their lives, no longer driven to fight and breed. In 1973, they were more likely to be given poisoned cat food by the land owner.
"Ever thought of going back home, Fleabag?" asked Sam, "Your sister misses you."
"Nah, she's the reason I left. Territorial. Always beating me up. I left soon as I could."
"Fleabag, we know you broke into the pet shop, on Saturday night. Your prints are all over the place," Sam persisted.
"Yeah, well I needed me fix, di'n't I?" Fleabag retorted, " 's getting harder to get 'nip, what with lockable cat-flaps an' stuff. Anyway, I'm movin' out soon."
"Why's that, Fleabag?" asked Annie gently.
"They're flattenin' this place. Closin' the yard. I heard the stationmaster's rodent officer telling his lads about it. More an' more freight's going by road and they don't need the goods yard or the canals n'more. They're being laid off. Nothing for us casual mousers either. Callin' the exterminators in an' not just to do the rats. Lot o' prejudice against us wildies, the sterminators'll kill us soon as look at us."
"Where are you going to go?" asked Sam, "You can't just move from yard to yard, rubbish dump one month and back of Wallis supermarket the next."
" 's what we've always done," said Fleabag, "Gotta go before me girls have their litters though. Tonight or tomorrow. One of the lads has found a place at the back of the Wimpy. It'll do till we find somewhere permanent."
The Wimpy was on the other side of town, outside of Ginge's patch.
"What are we going to do, Sam?" asked Annie, "If the guv have this lot picked up, they'll just be put down. I couldn't face Lucky again if I was responsible for having her brother put to sleep." Her loyalties were clearly divided.
"We could tell the guv we came down here and the wildies had already moved on," Sam said, "It won't solve Fleabag's problem, but he's chosen to go feral and that's no reason he should be put to sleep. Where I'm from we had better ways of dealing with the feral problem."
"We round them up. Have them neutered and spayed. Find homes for the tame ones and the kittens and let the others go back where they came from."
"What if there's nowhere for them to go back to? What if they're bulldozing it?"
"Try to find them somewhere else to live," Sam said. He didn't mention the scourges of FIV or FeLV.
"Sounds like paradise," said Annie.
"Compared to this, I suppose it is," Sam agreed.
Back at the yard, Ginge exploded in anger.
"You couldn't find Lucky's brother and his mangy mob?" he yelled at Sam.
No guv," said Sam.
"Sorry guv," said Annie.
"If I want anything done round here, I have to do it myself," Ginge ranted.
The next morning, when Ginge got to the railway yard, Fleabag and his feral colony had already gone. For once, Sam's sleep was not interrupted by nightmares.
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #5
"Look lively, you lot," growled Ginge, pacing up and down between the seated colleagues, "We've got a job on! …. Samantha – are you paying attention or topping up your tan?"
"Sorry," mumbled Sam, who was finding it hard to keep awake, "Must be the sunshine making me doze off. I feel kind of out of it."
"You look kind of out it," growled Ginge.
"Yeah," said scruffy tabby Ray, "You look like you're on Valium."
"I feel like it," agreed Sam.
"Yeah, well Chris is like that every day without Valium, so buck up!" Ginge spat.
"So guv," interrupted Annie, sensing a male dominance display brewing up, "What's this job we've got?"
"Finally," Ginge said, "I thought no-one was going to ask. There's a turf war over on Tindale Street. The mob from the bearings factory claim the paper-works cats are muscling in on their territory."
"Yeah, but that happens all the time," said Sam, "A colony expands and needs a bit more ground. What's the problem?"
"The problem, Sunny Jim is that the paper-works cats are killing the mice on bearings factory territory. The bearings factory cats aren't taking home their quota of mice and management are threatening to lay off some of the cats."
"And by 'lay off' he means a sealed cardboard box on the railway line," Ray added, "In case you were thinking they got a cushy retirement package in front of the fire."
Sam groaned. His head felt thick and muzzy as though he were drugged. To make things worse, he was sure he could hear his owner's voice, far and distant like a crackly, badly tuned radio broadcast, saying something about pain control.
The factories were at one end of Tindale Street, backing onto the wasteland that separated the edge of town from the railway line. Behind the factories were the rotting wrecks of old cars, mattresses and sofas. The other end of Tindale Street was housing. In Sam's day, the factories had been demolished and the wasteland cleared and the whole area turned into a residential estate.
As he walked down Tindale Street he smelled something – or someone - familiar. He was certain it was his lady owner. The smell was faint in the same way a kitten smells fainter than a grown cat, but nevertheless it was her. Despite his muzziness, Sam jog-trotted towards the odour. A young girl was sat on the kerb playing with a plastic dolly. Sam walked up and sniffed her.
"Hello cat," said the girl, "Are you friendly?"
Sam sniffed her scuffed knees and tapped her leg with a gentle paw. "It's me, Sam," he said, but of course she couldn't understand him
The little girl stroked the top of his head. "I'm not allowed a cat," she said, "My little brother's allergic and, besides, mum thinks animals are dirty and need too much looking after."
Sam sat down beside her, his tail twitching gently.
"If I did have a cat, I want one that looks like you," she added.
Sam's lady owner had always told him that she'd picked him out because he looked like a cat that visited her when she was young.
"I have to go now," said Sam, knowing she couldn't understand, "but I'll come and visit you every day."
"Bye-bye cat," the girl said, "You will come back and see me, won't you?"
When Sam arrived at the bearings factory, Ginge, Ray, Chris and Annie had already been there for some time.
"Blimey Samantha, you took your time," snarled Ginge.
"Sorry guv. Look, I really don't feel well," Sam said.
"Are you all right Sam?" asked Annie, "Your coat's looking a bit dull and your third eyelids are up. You haven't gone and caught distemper or something?"
"That's contagious int it?" said Chris, "My uncle died of distemper."
"Chris, you don't know who your parents are, never mind your uncle," Ginge snapped.
"That's a point," Ray said, "Ginge could be your uncle, Chris."
"Flippin' 'eck, this isn't getting us anywhere," hissed Ginge, "I propose that Sam here goes back to sleep off whatever malady he's picked up. Let's hope it's just a hairball, not distemper. As for the rest of you, let's get down to business before we've a full scale turf war."
Sam stumbled back to his old caravan. The little girl had gone from the street and Sam preferred to keep a low profile. Sick cats in this day and age couldn't expect much sympathy and he had no way of telling people he'd been vaccinated. As he curled up to sleep it off, the voices filtered into his subconscious and a blinding light shone into his eyes.
"…. need to reduce the dosage, want him sedated not totally zonked out …."
"… pupil response is still very slight …."
"… his body temperature's dropping, need to put him on a heat pad while he stabilises …." "… seems to be an adverse reaction to the medication, sometimes it happens …"
And then there was blackness.
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #6
Sam woke up with a splitting headache. He'd dreamt of his owner fussing over him, willing him to get better from an injury. He couldn't figure it out. Was he back in 1973 or was he lying in a vet clinic recovering from injuries after being hit by a car? Sometimes he couldn't work out which was real and which was the dream.
"Morning," he yawned, strolling into the office.
"So you're still with us," Ginge said sarcastically, "So it can't have been distemper after all. Chris – you lose your bet."
"We were running a book on what it was you'd come down with," shabby Ray told him. "Chris reckoned distemper on account of some uncle dying of it …" he cuffed Chris round the ear, "… and I reckoned Cat Flu being as half the paper-works cats have it …"
"Which, incidentally, is likely to solve the problem of who gets the chop," interrupted Ginge, "being as natural wastage is going to do for half of them, there'll be enough prey to go round, especially with Mr Dionysopolus's dumping his burger-van leftovers next to the bins down there. Now then, enough of this – you've all lost your stake money so we'll put that in the catnip fund – we've work to do."
Ray groaned and lifted a hind leg to scratch under his chin. Chris cuffed him. Ginge eyed up the pair and bristled, his threadbare fur standing out from his body.
"Ray, you been consorting with Fleabag's gang again? Ask Phyllis for some flea powder and stop scratching!" You're making me itch," growled Ginge.
Just then, a pair of smart black-and-white tuxedo cats entered the room. They blinked and yawned politely to Ginge and sat down, their tails wrapped tidily over their front paws.
"This here is Constable Tiddles …" Ginge began.
Ray and Chris stifled a laugh, "Tiddles," whispered Ray, "Who the 'eck calls their cat Tiddles?"
"Excuse them, they were born and brought up in the gutter," Ginge interrupted himself, "… and this is Sergeant Mittens. Over the past few weeks they've been keeping a suspected dog-fighting operation under observation."
"Dog-fighting?" asked Annie, "Isn't that K9 Squad's job?"
"Sam," said Ginge, noticing the young cat's eagerness to speak, "Would you like to tell us why dog-fighting is also a cat's concern?" "Dog-fighters often let their dogs practice on stolen cats, gives them a taste for blood."
"Thank you Sam, top marks and go to the top of the class. Chris stop scowling. Or uniformed colleagues will now explain."
Tiddles and Mittens stood up. The two cats were so similar in appearance – glossy black fur with smart white paws, chest and nose – that Sam couldn't keep track of who was who.
"We've been observing a place on Norfolk Road," Tiddles/Mittens said. "Each morning two female individuals load metal cages into a white van and drive off. We can't follow the van easily, but luckily colleagues in the Flying Squad have been able to track it. Getting sensible information from a pigeon isn't easy, but we've tracked the van to several locations."
Tiddles/Mittens paused and his colleague took up the story, "The van goes to a different location each day on a rota basis. At each location it sets cages which it collects the following morning with any cats that have been trapped. We've established the locations and we've placed uniformed officers at each one to warn local cats not to enter the cages. It's not easy – some of those cats haven't seen a pilchard in months and they're willing to take the risk. The younger ones are particularly vulnerable."
"Could be fur-trapping," Ray offered, "There was a big case not so long ago."
"I'm told there are vivisection labs that pay for stolen cats, especially pet cats that are easy to handle," Annie added.
"I take it none of them are seen again?" Sam asked.
"We took the risk of putting one of our best officers undercover," Mittens/Tiddles replied, "He's so good at getting out of tricky situations he's known as Houdini. That was 4 days ago."
"So you want my cats to risk their skins to get your Officer Houdini out of trouble?" Ginge asked with a grimace.
"It's probably too late for that," admitted Tiddles/Mittens, "He knew the risks. What we need is to stop these people. We know where they'll be and when and how they are picking up the cats, but we don't know how they are getting the cats out of there. We do know there are dogs in the house and that's why we suspect dog-fighting."
"Or even if they are getting the cats out of there," Annie said.
"Ginge?" asked Sam, "I've done quite a bit of getting in and out of houses in my youth – nothing I'm proud of – I'd like a crack at getting into that house and seeing what's going on inside."
"We've lost one officer already," said Ginge, "I'm not happy about putting one of my cats in that situation."
It was a couple of hours later and fully briefed that Sam followed the two uniformed officers to the house. A grey-and-white tuxedo cat was dozing on the gatepost of the house opposite. He stood up, stretched and blinked a greeting.
"Officer Bagpuss – one of our best when it comes to cat-like stealth and observation," Tiddles/Mittens said, "He's seen cats being taken into the house and none come out."
That evening, under cover of dusk, Sam scouted around the house. The doors and windows were shut, but he could detect the reek of cat pee and poop and the odour of spoiled cat food. Though he could smell dogs as well, he couldn't smell blood or fear, just resignation. If fighting was happening, it was at another location.
Up at the top of the house was a skylight opened just a crack. If only he could get up there. Looking around, Sam noticed a tall tree at the far end of the terrace. If he could get up onto the roof of the furthers house, he could make his way over here and squeeze in through the skylight.
Once inside, Sam was almost overcome by the stench of ammonia and filth. He found himself in an unused bedroom piled high with bags and boxes. The bedroom door was shut, but luckily it had a handle not a doorknob. Sam had seem enough YouTube movies of clever cats to know how to open it.
Moving silently downstairs, he saw row upon row of cages of cats. Some were swaying from paw to paw like badly-housed zoo animals. Others were resigned to whatever was happening and were sleeping. Elsewhere in the room were larger cages containing dogs. Sam's heart stopped and he stood stock still, but he soon saw they weren't fighting dogs, just scared dogs. If they started barking, the terrified cats would start yelling and the house would turn into bedlam.
Moving silently past the cages, he spotted a glossy black-and-white tuxedo cat.
"Officer Houdini?" he asked in a whisper. The cat nodded. "I'm Sam Tomcat, part of Ginge Hunt's team. What's going on in here?"
"Some of these cats have been in here for months," Houdini answered, "Nothing happens to them. The women go and fetch more cats and they bring them back here. Dogs too. Sometimes a cat dies and it's ages before they notice. There's no dog-fighting, no nothing …" he looked perplexed, "… I've heard them saying they'd rather die than give the cats up."
"They're hoarders," Sam whispered, "We need to get the authorities to notice."
"Most of the cats here would be put down," Houdini said. "Except those with collars and tags – their owners must be missing them."
The cage fastener was on the outside and Sam managed to loosen it with his mouth and paws. Houdini jumped out and stretched. It was obvious he'd been cramped in the cage.
"Even so, the RSPCA will be a lot better for the cats than if they stay here. There's one over there had kittens – the whole family is sleeping on cat poop," Sam said, "Here they have no chance."
Houdini and Sam made their silent way up to the bedroom, passing piles of rubbish along the way. They already knew what to do. They'd pass it over to K9 Squad who'd get word to some of the patrol dogs who could lead their handlers to the house. The dogs would get all the glory, but that couldn't be helped.
A few days later, Ginge strutted into the office tail held high. With Ginge that might mean nothing more than he'd pulled the night before.
"Sam, stand up," he ordered. Sam did so, not sure what humiliation Ginge Hunt was about to healp on him. "Gentlemen – and lady – give Sam a big round of applause. Thanks to his mis-spent youth, 130 cats, kittens and dogs have been removed from a house on Norfolk Road. According to the papers, because the houses either side were used by squatters, no-one had noticed what was going on."
"What happened to the cats, guv?" asked Sam.
"Some have been reunited with their heartbroken owners. The rest have been taken by the RSPCA who are doing their best. Apparently some are in a bad way and unlikely to pull through. There was a couple of dozen dead animals in the freezer," Ginge told them, "All in all good work."
Annie gave Sam and affectionate nose-bump and lick on the ear. "Well done, Sam," she said, "No nightmares tonight eh?"
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #7
For almost a week Sam hadn't been haunted by the Kattomeat cat. Then, last night, the nightmare had returned.
"You'll be left deformed, Sam," taunted the white cat, "They won't want you home with a gammy leg and wonky face. They'll put something in the drip and you won't wake up, Sam."
Though Sam hissed angrily at the white cat it merely scooped some more food into its mouth.
"They can't pay for all that treatment Sam. The RSPCA will never find a home for a defective cat like you. That's what you'll be – defective and deformed."
Sam had woken with a start. The dawn chorus, such as it was in town, was in full throat. It was his day off and he could have slept for longer, but he wanted to visit the little girl on Tindale Street. In 1973 she was a young girl; in 2007 she would be his owner. Somehow, he'd been flung cruelly back in time and didn't seem able to get back to her. The best he could do was find the little girl, though the thought of his owner broke his heart.
A few hours later, after finishing off last nights Munchies – food Sam knew as Brekkies – he made his way to the house on Tindale Street where she lived. His heart leapt - she was out there on her bicycle. He walked up to her and meowed loudly.
"Hello cat," she said, sitting down on the kerb, "You came back. I missed you."
For almost an hour she stroked him and he purred for her. There was so much he wanted to tell her! Finally her parents called her indoors and Sam sat for a while wondering what to do. Although he'd been here a few months now, he hadn't really explored his surroundings. By 2007 most of the factories and old terraced houses had gone.
Though some of the resident cats challenged his right to be here, he had only to mention being one of Ginge Hunt's team and they let him pass, not so much out of respect, but because of Ginge's reputation for solving disputes with his teeth and claws and never mind proper procedure. On one street, he'd missed the name, a group of boys were playing football. Sam sat on a fencepost to watch them.
One by one, the boys were called in to dinner until only one sandy-haired lad was left. The football had been taken home by one of the others, leaving the boy at a loose end. Then he spotted Sam and rushed over.
The boy clearly had no idea how to interact with cats, thought Sam, as he was hugged. He managed to squirm himself free without resorting to a gentle reminder with his teeth. The boy seemed familiar to him. Though he lacked the adult man smell, he had the scent of his man-owner.
"We picked you out because we met because of a cat like you," his lady owner had said.
What if they'd met because of Sam himself, back here in 1973? Sam trotted a short distance away, then looked back, hoping the boy would follow him. Could he lead the boy to Tindale Street where his lady-owner-to-be lived? Surely it was just round the corner.
"Sorry cat," said the boy, "I'm not allowed to go past the corner."
"Hello cat!" came another voice – the little girl had seen him on the corner of the road.
"Is he your cat then?" asked the boy as Sam rubbed around both their legs.
"No – isn't he yours?"
"We've got a dog. Dad says dogs and cats don't get along."
"We can't have cats because mum doesn't like animals and my brother's allergic. My brother's allergic to EVERYTHING!"
"He prob-ly belongs to one of the houses here," the boy said, "but he comes round for a fuss."
Sam knew the children had begun a friendship that would grow into something more. As long as he was here, he'd visit them both and nurture that friendship. But for now, while the children were comparing cuts and grazes from falling off of bikes, he needed something to eat.
"Come back cat!" came the boy's voice behind him.
"It's all right," said the girl, "He always comes back again."
Back at the yard, Ray was waiting outside Sam's caravan.
"Where the heck have you been all day?" Ray asked tersely.
"Day off, remember?" Sam answered.
"Day off's been cancelled. The guv's in trouble."
"Don't tell me someone finally got hold of him and sent him for the snip," Sam retorted.
"Worse. He's been accused of murder. Remember Sadie?"
Sam had long since lost track of Ginge's girlfriends, "Is that the silver tabby one with the blue eyes?"
"That was Sparkle you twit. Sadie's the one with fur so black it shines blue. Black as a raven's wing. Black as a Manx cat's bum-hole down a coalmine."
"Aah that one. He might have mentioned her. Something about wanting her to have his kittens only the last lot haven't left home yet."
"The last lot aren't ever going to leave home. They're dead and Sadie says it was the guv that did it. Claimed he kept pressuring her to come into Easter-us again and said he'd do for the kittens if she didn't get a shift on."
"I can't see the guv doing that. He's a ruffian, but not a killer."
"Yeah, well it's a fit up," Ray said gloomily, "Sadie positively ID-ed the guv from a whole bunch of tomcats."
Back in the office, Ginge was nowhere to be seen. According to Phyllis he was keeping a low profile. Chris and Ray were in favour of heavy-pawed tactics to wring the truth from Sadie. Annie was in favour of the softly-softly approach.
"Tell you what," Sam said, "Annie and I will see what we can get out of Sadie and if we think she's holding back you can play good-cat-bad-cat with her."
Sadie was sitting in the corner of the store cupboard that served as an interview room. She looked both upset and sullen. Though she was very young and her fur was an intense black, it was already flecked with white hairs.
"Hello Sadie," said Sam gently, "Would you like to tell us what happened?"
"I already told the other officers," Sadie said, "Tweedledee and Tweedledum in their matching uniforms."
Sam guessed she meant Tiddles and Mittens, the uniformed officers that had been called out.
"Perhaps you can go through it again for our benefit," Annie suggested.
According to Sadie, Ginge Hunt had been to visit her the previous night. The three kittens were about 5 weeks old. Ginge had stayed their overnight, just as a friend since Sadie wasn't on heat yet, and when Sadie had woken up, Ginge and the kittens had all vanished. She thought she'd heard the kittens cry out a few times.
Ginge Hunt's account, as given to uniformed division was that he'd tried to sleep, but Sadie's kittens kept climbing all over him. He'd boxed their ears to warn them off, but this only made them cry out. Just before morning he'd left to do a bit of prowling before coming to work. According to him, the kittens were sleeping in the cat basket and their mother was on the rug nearby when he'd left.
"I know they weren't his and tomcats sometimes kill other males' kittens, I can't see Ginge being that sort of cat," Sam said to Annie outside the store cupboard, "He's not the most tolerant tomcat when it comes to kittens, but he's not what I'd call infanticidal."
"I think we need to take a look at the scene – some of your new-fangled fur-end-sicks," Annie told him.
With Sadie being comforted by Phyllis, the pair made their way to Sadie's home.
"You know, when I had my kittens, they all disappeared sudden-like. There wasn't another cat around so I knew my owners had taken them," Annie told Sam, "It's so cruel – I still wonder whether they drowned them or they took them to a vet or whatever."
"That's what I suspect here," Sam said, "Hang on – I can hear people inside the house talking …"
Sam and Annie could hear one side of a telephone conversation.
"… no I don't know where she's gone. I let her out to use the flowerbed this morning and she didn't come back …. yes, the kittens have been removed … well how was I to know she was an early starter and would get pregnant? She's still underage – six months you said and she was already preggers at 5. Okay, as soon as I can catch her. We got chloroform from the chemist .. no we didn't drown them."
"Well," said Sam, "I think that answers what happened to the kittens. You have a look round and see if they've buried the bodies in the garden."
A few minutes later, Annie had found some disturbed earth by the bottom flowerbed. The residual chemical smell told them that was where the chloroformed kittens had been buried.
"We'd better get back to the yard and tell Sadie what happened to her kittens. The sooner we can get her back home, the sooner they can get her into the vet so she won't have any more kittens," Annie said. She understood the grief process Sadie was going through and knew that the vet's op was the best option for young female cats if they wanted to avoid that situation over and over again.
"The guv's not going to be too happy – that Sadie's going to have her sex-drive removed, I mean," Sam said.
"I think the fact he's off a murder charge should compensate for it being 'a waste of a good female' " Sam replied, mimicking Ginge Hunt's usual comment about spayed females.
That night, Sam slept with a warm comfortable feeling. He felt closer to his owners than he'd felt for weeks, but at the same time he felt he was making a real difference here at the yard. His loyalties were divided – his owners in 2007? The two children and Ginge Hunt's motley crew in 1973? Could all of this really be a dream? Or maybe this was reality and the other life, the one with the painful leg and hurt jaw, maybe that was the real dream. He wondered how he could stop the dreams.
LIFE ON MARS - CAT STYLE #8
"…okay, we're taking him off the meds now, he's been out of it for long enough …"
"… been like a zombie, just squirting the food in, cleaning him up, but he's not really with us …"
"… once he's off the medication we can take the feeding tube away, get him eating on his own now the jaw's stable …."
" … he'll be unsteady for a while, but we need to get him moving …"
"… be fine on the leg – it's pinned …"
"… antibiotics for another week …."
"… some of the stitches can come out, fur won't grow back fully till next moult …."
Sam woke up feeling like he'd been out on the tiles all night. Remembering yesterday's after-work party he probably had been out on the tiles till the small hours. The others had snorted far too much cat nip and he'd succumbed to a few sniffs of valerian, but it just made him hyper and gave him a headache.
He stretched, yawned and looked around for something to eat. He was ravenous. What he really fancied was minced chicken. There was half a hot dog sausage leftover from a raid on the bins where burger-van owner Mr Dionysopolus dumped his leftovers. Sam vaguely remembered Ginge wolfing down a grim-looking saveloy for a bet and then throwing it up a few minutes later. The sausage portion looked unappetising so Sam scraped some newspaper over it. He'd grab something on the way in.
"Good morning Samantha!" said Ginge brightly when Sam arrived, "How's the head this morning?"
Ray and Chris were groaning and trying to remove congealed fat from their fur. They'd remained on the prowl when Sam had left the party and gone back to the caravan. Annie rolled her eyes in dismay – she'd joined them for a few bites of kebab meat and then gone home before she was missed. Phyllis had also been there for a while, boxing Ginge's ears over some choice morsels before heading home. Chris came from a "put the cat out at night" family and Ray's family believed he had a second home. Sam considered the microchip under his skin and how different it was for him.
"Can't take the pace!" said Ginge. Sam was sure Ginge's energy had more to do with a pick-me-up from his flask, a "bit of tonic" Ginge called it.
These cats were somehow more carefree and their families more cavalier about their care. Sam spent his nights indoors, looking out of the window, but knew he was safer as a result. Had he been hit by a car during the night he might not have been found in time …..
"Right boys, we have work to do!" yowled Ginge, making Chris and Ray bury their heads in the paws in response, "A bit loud for you nancies is it?" yelled Ginge directly into the two cats' ears.
"Yes guv, sorry guv," said Chris apologetically, but the moment Ginge turned his back, Chris and Ray were smirking at each other.
"We have reports of a cat busting in through other people's cat flaps and raiding their foodbowls. Not just cats' bowls either. There's a Labrador on North Hill afraid to put his head out the back door because this bowl-raider smacks him the nose then eats his Kennomeat."
"Yeuch," said Annie, "A cat eating dog food?" she shook her whiskers.
"Quite right," said Sam, "It's nutritionally deficient for cats – it doesn't contain enough taurine …"
"I just meant it tastes awful – I can't imagine any self-respecting cat eating that stuff."
"Thank you Annie, I will pass your comments on to the K9 branch," Ginge interrupted, "Meanwhile we have this bowl-raider on the loose. According to witnesses, she's a skinny mackerel tabby, probably less than 6 pounds in weight, but not afraid to throw that weight around against Labrador dogs."
Sam did a quick calculation - 6 lbs, that was a little under 3 kilos, definitely skinny for a full grown cat.
“Now, with the Labrador’s permission, we’re going to set up a trap. That cat knows when he’s been fed. Chris, Ray – I want you in the house before the dog gets his afternoon meal. We’ve cleared it with the resident pair of cats, they’ll keep out of your way. Sam, Annie and myself will be positioned at strategic locations in the garden. If the dynamic due fail to apprehend our little bowl-raider, we’ll be blocking her exit. Everyone clear?”
“I don’t like Labradors guv, my uncle had his tail bitten off by one,” protested Chris.
“Chris, you don’t know who your parents are, never mind your uncle. Quite possibly your uncle was a Manx cat and didn’t have a tail to get bitten off in the first place,” retorted Ginge.
By mid-afternoon, Chris and Ray were hidden behind a sofa inside the house while Sam was in the branch of a tree (Special Branch as Ginge insisted on calling it), Annie was underneath the old coal-shed and Ginge was behind the conservatory. The bowl-raider didn’t even make it to the cat-flap before Ginge had her pinned.
“Bowled over, you might say,” panted Ginge, “You’re nicked.”
The first thing Sam noticed, apart from the cat’s thinness, was the goitre on her neck.
“Guv,” he said, “That cat needs medical attention – she’s hyperthyroid.”
“She high per what?” asked Ginge.
“Her thyroid is overactive. That’s why she constantly hungry. Her body is burning off food as fast as she can eat it. If she’s not treated, her heart is going to give out.”
“Rubbish,” Ginge retorted, “She’s just a bit skinny. Old cats get that way.”
On their way back to the yard, Sam realised hyperthyroid was probably unrecognised in 1973. It was accepted that old cats often got skinny. No-one thought to find out why. The skinny tabby bowl-raider was flat on the concrete floor of the interview store cupboard, panting.
“Guv,” said Ray, “She’s burning up.”
Ginge jumped backwards, “Jeez!” he swore, “She’s probably got the cat flu.”
“It’s just an sign of hyperthyroid,” Sam tried to reassure him, “along with the mats in her fur and the way her eyes seem to protrude.”
“We could get Phyllis to have her dropped off anonymously outside the vets,” Chris added.
Sam sighed, he knew it probably wouldn’t do any good as the vets wouldn’t have heard about the condition. Still, it was better than being in custody and the vets would realise the cat needed frequent feeding.
“That was a good thing you did,” said Annie later on, licking his ear, “I don’t know about this high per thyroid, but who knows, maybe someone has registered her lost? C’mon, fancy a takeaway?”
“You asking me out to dinner?” Sam asked.
“Sure, why not. Just because I’m spayed and you’re neutered doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy your company. See you behind the Lite Bite after closing time?”
“Sounds good to me,” agreed Sam. Finally he seemed to be settling into life in 1973.
At closing time, when the cafes had tossed out unsold food, Annie was waiting at the corner of the Lite Bite. She saw Sam trotting along the street opposite. They nodded a greeting to each other. Sam spotted a gap in traffic and dashed into the road. Closing time was also rush hour and vehicles were pulling out of service yards. Sam never saw the white van that hit him. Annie yowled in horror as she saw him bowled over into the path of a Cortina and then hit the kerb where he lay very, very still.
Sam’s eyes felt gummy as though he’d slept for too long. All around him was the astringent smell of a vet surgery. He wanted to yowl in horror, but for some reason his mouth wouldn’t open very far. His first instinct was to leap up and run out of the path of thundering traffic … except one of his legs stuck out at a strange angle and refused to bend. A wide plastic collar, like a coolie hat, prevented him reaching his leg to sniff and investigate.
“Welcome back Sam Tomcat,” said a female voice, “You’ve only been half awake these last couple of weeks.
Sam remembered Annie’s heart-rending scream as he’d run to greet her that afternoon. How could a cat so full of life be just a dream? It would take him a while to settle back into 2007 and once he’d healed he promised himself he’d go looking for Ginge Hunt’s descendents. A larger-than-life cat like that had to be real. Didn’t he?