"WHERE WERE YOU LAST NIGHT?"
Copyright Mark Long, reproduced by kind permission
I repeated his words silently, savouring the feel of them in my mouth. Then I took a long pull on my cigarette - it is an odd mix of flavours, smoke and smugness. Still, I supposed that I shouldn't leave him hanging too long.
"Where was I last night? Now, there hangs a tale that I think you will find rather out of the ordinary"
"But what I am getting at", said John, "is that where-ever you were, it wasn't at the pub which is where you said that you were going to be. I sat there like a lemon for hours and you didn't show up. I mean..."
"John, let me tell you what happened and perhaps you will see that there is a very good reason or better yet, very good reasons why I didn't join you at the Duck and Doublet. Now, does it seem to you that 'Duck and Doublet' is a strange name for a pub? It seems odd but then, it has been a very odd time so perhaps it is not to be-"
"David! You were telling me why you were not there! I don't care what the pub is called.", interrupted John
"Ah, yes. Well, I had dressed and shaved and checked that I had money and all the usual things that I would do before going out with my fine old mate, John. Nothing was on my mind but the prospect of sinking a few pints of nutty bitter and discussing whatever we happened to talk about, be it sport or politics or what indignities your boss had inflicted on you that day." I paused for breath and John chipped in.
"There are times when I wonder why I call you my mate at all."
"I have wondered the same thing, if I am to be honest. All that I can say for sure is that I am glad that you are. But, I was telling you about last night. As I said, I was all ready to join you and was even on my way when the evening went in a very different direction. I was walking down the road when a car drew up. It looked half familiar and so I noticed it. So, I stopped walking and waited. The driver wound down the window and called my name. Er, have I ever mentioned a girl who works at my office, Carol Jones?"
"Yes, mate, generally after about the fourth pint when you explain how much you love her and how she won't even give you a second look. Of course, sometimes it is after the fifth pint. So, she finally gave in to her lust for you? Is THAT what you are trying to tell me?"
"No, John, nothing as sordid as your colourful imagination suggests. It seems that the lovely Carol is the proud, even the doting, owner of an aged tom cat by the name of Hercules. Hercules, it seems, is not quite as sharp witted as he once was and has taken do doing things that she would rather that he didn't. Not as you might imagine, chasing the lady cats but wandering in to odd places and picking up small items and leaving them where they should not be. Curious behaviour for a cat perhaps but not something that you would imagine would send his owner looking for help from a near stranger in the dark of a winter's night. However, it would seem that old Hercules had excelled himself that night which is why I went round to Carol's flat rather than meeting you as I had intended. So, you see, there was a very good reason."
John looked at me with disbelief and I hid my smile with a pull on the last of my cigarette. "You can't just leave the story there! What happened next?"
"Well," I answered, "Carol's flat is on the 12th floor of one of the blocks in town, one of the older style ones. It is all rather tasteful if you don't mind the odd cat hair. Sadly cat hair was about all that could be found of Hercules - that and a very plaintive meow. Carol had searched the flat without finding any sign of him which must have been a bit off-putting because it is not a large flat by any means. His call were strangely faint as if he were some distance away and so Carol put 2 and 2 together and arrived at the sum of 5. It turns out that the plumber had called that day to fix a pipe and had lifted several floorboards to get at the leak. Carol assumed that he (the cat, not the plumber, that is) had crawled in to the floor space and had a cat nap. Of course, the boards had since been replaced so she was sure that he was trapped and in some distress. She had jumped in the car and driven to the local DIY superstore to get a crowbar to prise up the floorboards and had realised that she might need a bit of muscular help when she saw me walked down the road."
"So, you spent the night lifting floorboards?", asked John.
I chuckled, "No, nothing so simple. When I got to the flat, I could hear an unhappy tom cat right enough but he didn't sound as if he was under the floor. It sounded more like he was outside the flat. Carol hadn't considered that because she lives on the 12th floor and there was no outside to speak of. So, before I agreed to pull up any floorboards, I insisted that we should look for him in the flat one more time. It was a bit hard to tell with him starting and stopping his complaints but it definitely sounded to me as if the noise was coming from outside the flat so I opened a window to see if it was any louder then - and it was. The windows are the old sash type and lift up a few feet before stopping but I opened one as far as I could and stuck my head out. There, perched on the ledge, was a ginger cat looking rather threadbare and not at all happy. The plumber must have opened a window while he was working and Tiddles or rather Hercules must have felt inclined to walk out for a bit of fresh air. He might have been happy to walk out there but he wasn't going to walk back for anything. We tried tempting him back with saucers of milk and his favourite foods. We tried calling him in that odd high voice that people always seem to use when they are calling cats. We made encouraging gestures and noises but nothing seemed to make a bit of difference."
"Did you try poking him with a broom", asked John
"No, and I will thank you not to make the suggestion if ever you meet Carol. She is a dedicated cat lover and would not approve."
"So...", urged John
"So, picture the scene. A damsel in distress and her cat, also in distress. A knight errant, looking to make a good impression. I did what any man would have done and made a damn fool of myself. I decided that the ledge didn't look all that narrow and I could coax him along to the next window if I got out on to the ledge with him. I admit that Carol had made us both rather stiff drinks when we discovered that Hercules was uninjured if immobile but I thought that it would make me steadier if anything. So, I carefully climbed out of the window and there was the first problem. The windows didn't open very far and I didn't want to lean back in to the nothingness. However it happened, my belt got caught in the window catch as I was getting out. I didn't want to try to free it in case I fell so I just took my belt off as I eased out on to the ledge. As soon as I was out there, Hercules quietened down and far from being inclined to move seemed quite comfortable now he had some company up there. Since he looked calmer, I tried, very slowly, to pick him up with one hand so that I could pass him to Carol through the window. He wasn't having one bit of that and he started scratching and hissing like a thing possessed the moment that I lifted him up. Juggling an angry cat on a high ledge is not a good thing to do, trust me on this. Then I had an idea. I had taken off my jacket and shoes before I got out of the window so I told Carol to pass out my jacket to me. I thought that he would quiet down or at least be more controllable if he was wrapped in a jacket and I very much wanted him more controllable given where I was and what his claws were doing. So, I grabbed my jacket with my left hand and wrapped the cat in it without much cooperation from him. What I hadn't thought of is that it takes two hands to wrap and hold a cat which leaves none free for holding on to the wall or the window. With me so far?"
John nodded, eyes wide.
"So, I am standing there with arms full of cat and jacket, trying to work out what to do next. It was then that I noticed that my trousers were beginning to slip down since I had taken off my belt. Before very long, they were around my ankles and there was no way that I could get back in through the windows with my legs effectively tied together. I did the only thing that I could do and stepped out of them."
"So, you climbed back in through the window in your boxers?", asked John
"Well, no. Not as such. I decided that I needed to think this trough - there is something about standing on a window ledge with the breeze on your knees that makes a man thoughtful. It was while I was planning my next move that the police arrived. If you look at it from their perspective, it must have seemed a little peculiar. A man in socks and a white shirt sans trousers holding a struggling bundle on a window ledge. To cut a long story short, they got a police doctor to yell up at me through a megaphone that suicide was not the solution and got the fire brigade to get me down. So, to answer your question, I spent last night on a window ledge and in a police cell being offered the number of the Samaritans rather than having a quiet drink with you"
"Bloody hell, that really happened? Sounds terrible!", said John.
I smiled, "I don't know, could be worse. Oh, and I can't meet you Friday for a drink either since I have a date with Carol. Would you mind looking after the cat?"