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A Catty Arrangement

by Patricia Crandall

Sergeant Lex Wheeler adjusted the collar of his police uniform and made small talk with his partner, Lieutenant Alan Banks, as they advanced along a broken concrete walk to a shabby house in Winnipee, Massachusetts.

            As Lieutenant Banks stepped on the top step of the slanted gray porch, a gold-striped mouser suddenly appeared and swiped at his shoelaces. The officer sent a swift kick at the cat and missed. The animal darted down the steps and disappeared into an overgrowth of thorns and nettles.

            Sergeant Wheeler knocked on the front door. Predictably, there was no answer. He opened it cautiously and preceded Lieutenant Banks inside.

            An unmistakable cat odor permeated the air. Wheeler removed a protective mask from his jacket pocket and adjusted it over his nose and mouth. He breathed in this manner for the next eight minutes. Banks made a face, stifling the urge to gag. After making rounds and finding nothing suspicious, the two men left the residence, welcoming fresh air.

            Across the quiet, two lane road, the screen door of a Victorian gingerbread house featuring a witch’s cap, opened and closed. The rotund form of Maya Bull hustled across a tidy lawn embellished with tulips and daffodils. Approaching the officers, she asked in a peevish voice. “Lex, Lieutenant Banks, did you find the intruder?”

            Lex Wheeler spat on the ground and said, “Maya, there’s not a sign of anyone inhabiting the Jarvis place except cats! Is it possible a neighborhood kid or an animal lover is feeding those felines when no-one is looking?” He waved his big hand toward empty tins of cat food littering the porch.

            Maya stared impertinently at the officers. Her steely eyes settled on Wheeler, a former childhood sweetheart. “Isn’t there anyone else on duty besides the two of you? The mystery should’ve been solved by now. There is a violator coming and going on the premises because I pick up human trash every day plus empty cat tins in the yard. At least bottles can be recycled for cash,” she sighed. “And I give the proceeds to *Kit House.”

            Wheeler said defensively, “We solve a good percentage of the cases we investigate, Maya. I guarantee you there is no-one in that house. We’ve searched it from end to end and top to bottom.”

            Maya looked past Wheeler and Banks to the Jarvis house. The policemen followed her gaze in time to see a shadowy form pass by a front window.

            “There he is!” pointed Maya.

            The threesome raced toward the dwelling. In his haste, Banks tripped over a gray cat which darted across the walk. He clipped the backside of the cat with his shoe then cupped his sore ankle in his hand.

            The cat meowed. The front door opened. The officers aimed their guns, lowering them instantly.

            An old woman dressed in a soiled, baggy housedress, and rolled-up socks covering swollen feet, lowered a plastic tray of cat food onto the porch. An army of mewing cats swarmed from everywhere and rushed up the steps, pouncing on the food.

            “Glory Jarvis!” exclaimed Maya Bull, stepping aside as the felines raced past her. “I thought you were dead and buried in the Jarvis Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Cemetery.”

            In a surprisingly vital voice, the miscreant remarked, “I’m as much flesh and blood as you are, Maya!” She pinched the loose, hanging flesh of her forearm until it reddened and turned white.

            “Glory, do you mean to tell me you’ve been living as a recluse in your brother’s house all this time?” Maya asked unbelieving. “It’s been two years since Sam died and left it unoccupied. I went to his funeral assuming he was last of the Jarvis’.”

            Glory laughed half-crazed, “I may be the ‘black sheep’ of the Jarvis family but I’ve outlived the lot. When I learned of Sammy’s death, I came back to claim what’s rightfully mine…the Jarvis house. No-one in town’s any wiser.” She winked. “I’ve been living with my cats right under your noses.”

            The officers looked at each other in stupefaction. Lex Wheeler stepped cautiously forward and asked, “Miss Jarvis, my partner and I have searched your place many times. How did you manage to escape our notice?”

            The slatternly, wild-haired woman shuffled forward and said in an irritating, high voice. “Tch tch, neither of you gentlemen opened the hatch door beneath the rug in the kitchen floor. If you had, you would’ve seen a ladder going down to the root cellar. I hid in the potato bins under burlap bags when you paraded through.”

            “How did you get food for yourself and the cats?” asked Lieutenant Banks, folding his arms across his chest.

            Glory’s mouth was tightly tucked in at the corners as though savoring a hidden amusement. She said, “God willing when my feet aren’t badly swollen, I go out at night and walk three quarters of a mile to the eighteen hour superstore on Route 11. Not too many people in Winnipee shop at an early morning hour and the young clerks aren’t interested in the comings and goings of a bag lady.”

            Maya pulled Wheeler and Banks to one side. She said, “If I’d any inkling Glory was the intruder, I’d have gone about this in a different manner.”

            Wheeler scratched his head. “We must act on this, Maya. There’s a procedure to be followed.”

            Maya implored, “Allow me to speak with the members of the Ladies Society at St. Peter’s Church. They’ll see to Glory’s needs. She’s eccentric but a Jarvis.” She clicked her tongue, “Remember in the fifties this house was a showplace when her father ran the woolen mill – it did employ eighty-five percent of the town.”

            “If you take responsibility, Maya, I hope you realize what you are in for.” Wheeler persisted.

            “I’m aware of the consequences,”

            The police officers, looking relieved, turned to leave. “Lex, aren’t you forgetting something?” asked Maya.

            Still smitten by her perfect dimples and long-lashed blue eyes, Lex Wheeler said, “You seem to have everything in perfect order. What else could there be?”

            “Cats! I’ll tend to Glory. You take care of the cats.”

            Wheeler and Banks moaned. There would be the Humane Society to contend with. Not to mention the Animal Lover Activists and Kit House. Banks put his hand on his gun.

            Maya wagged a finger. Wheeler grimaced, “Start filling out forms, Alan. I’ll count cats.”

  (*A Haven for abandoned cats)

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