The Animal Investigator
It was a Saturday afternoon in cloudy Pilton, and the menagerie reclined on the big sofas in the home of ‘Cook-Inn’ volunteer Fred. All the humans were out just now, hopefully buying them pet food. The five cats and Barney the big dog could relax for an hour. Barney was telling the cats about a strange encounter he’d had on his morning walk, concerning a friendly dog called Dane, who lived with the humans across the street.
“He’s scared out of his mind” began the chocolate Staffy, chewing the arm of the sofa nervously. “It seems that, twice already since Christmas, someone (or something) has slithered into his bathroom window and devoured all the dog food!”
Misty, the midnight-black tom who styled himself as the monarch of the household, purred rather scornfully. “I bet it’s that dog just eating it all himself.”
“Wrong!” said Barney defensively. “I can tell you he’s actually looking too thin these days. Anyway, you can’t be so dismissive with a girly name like Misty.”
Misty snorted in annoyance. “I was given to the family by a human who thought I was so beautiful, I must be a girl. It’s not my fault they never checked.” He glared at the room in general, while the other cats chuckled at his discomfort.
Archie and Daisy, the Bengal brother-and-sister team who’d been the family’s most recently acquired members, had been conferring together. “We’ve got an idea” said Daisy, who was the more outspoken of the two. “Let’s consult the world’s most famous feline detective!”
“Great idea” piped up Marley and Morris, the mother-and-daughter team who’d arrived with Misty – and who took no nonsense from him at all. They slinked gracefully into the bedroom where Fred’s mobile lay, and with deft digits on their paws, they dialled the East Lothian residence. Sherlock Romes himself answered, because he had been dozing close to the landline.
After explaining the issue, the Pilton animals paused, and awaited the Great Detective’s answer with baited breath. Romes considered for a couple of minutes. “I feel you need more information,” he said at length. “I once lived where you do now, and I can tell you that those bathroom windows are simply too narrow for it to be an ordinary human – but a pet would have trouble getting the containers open. To decipher this mystery, you must make a house call.”
This was a scary thought to little Morris, who had been timid since her youth. What if I stay here in case the phone rings’? She suggested.
Misty and Archie, toms of the world, exchanged a knowing look. “Good idea” they said. “We can handle it. The rest of you sit tight.” They began strutting towards the open window. Barney landed in front of them in an effort to inject some sanity into them.
“Dane is a rescue animal,” he reminded the toms. “He hates cats and without me as escort he’d try to eat you.”
“We’re all coming,” said Marley firmly. “It’s the only fair way.”
Trooping over to the neighbour’s house, the animals let Barney thud against the door – and then stepped back while Dane nudged it open from the other side. He barked nervously at the sight of the cats, but Barney explained about the investigation and he gingerly let them through into the hall. They set up a rota so that at least one animal would be watching the bathroom window when the burglar struck again.
They were in luck. As soon as it was dusk, a funny slithering noise could be heard. Daisy’s sharp eyes picked out the movement of the window as it opened wide, and she let out a shrill alarm call when the thing entered the bathroom. Morris, who’d been hanging back near the light switch, illuminated the scene. All the animals gasped as what looked like a very thin and dirty pixie was revealed, standing before them with wide eyes. “T-take me to your leader?” He stammered, squinting at the brightness of the halogen bulb.
As the biggest animals present, Dane and Barney stepped forward, nosing him gently but with firm intent. “What do you think you’re doing, nicking all our food?”
The pixie-thing shrugged. “I was hungry. I’ve been living in the sewers underneath the street for as long as I can remember, and my food supply has run out.”
Marley, who had a kind heart, shoved her way to the front. “Show us” she proposed.
A weird procession slinked up the street under cover of the darkness, avoiding the glow of the street lamps. At its head marched the creature, whose name was Eugene. He showed them the entrance to his home; the manhole underneath the tree stump at number 9.
“I live in the tree’s roots” he explained. “When this estate was built, Barratt Homes made the mistake of planting this tree seedling inside the drain (this is really true! – Janine) and it grew to an enormous height because of all the water and nutrient. But a few months ago the council chopped it down, and since then the sap supply has stopped. I had to learn to eat pet food instead, because it’s soft and all my teeth fell out years ago from drinking sweet tree sap.” Eugene’s shoulders slumped, and his pointy hat drooped in shame.
“You don’t need to steal anymore” mused Misty, who fancied himself a wise ruler. “There’s a better way.” He disappeared for a minute back into Fred’s house and re-emerged with a leaflet. “This is the helpline number for a charity called ‘Cook-Inn’. They can deliver you soup every week, and some fruit and veg to keep you going.” He felt around in the voluminous folds of his fur (“You should go on a diet” whispered Marley) and produced Fred’s mobile.