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Short Stories and Short Chapters for busy people wanting quick reads

Rags’ Riches – Chapter 11

Jenny didn’t sleep, well in truth she never expected to.  She had made a lovely cup of hot chocolate and sploshed a generous measure of whisky in it.  That usually did the trick but not tonight.

After all the hard work, she’d climbed up to bed leaving the house looking almost back to normal.  The little table had been packed into a big bin bag.  There was a place down in town where they might be able to mend it, providing it wouldn’t cost too much and who knew in this day and age.  Quite often it was cheaper to buy new but the new things were rarely the same quality and they didn’t have the little memories soaked into them.

One thing that Jenny was absolutely determined about though was that she wasn’t going to let this horrible thing spoil enjoyment of her home and her peace.  All you had to do was face it, put it in perspective and move on.  The damage had in fact been minimal and the mess was cleaned up.  The thing that was causing her to toss and turn and fidget was that blasted box.  She knew without the merest shadow of a doubt that it had been there when she left for the vet’s office. So, was it that the horrors who had ransacked her home had taken it for nefarious reasons of their own?  The other option caused her more concern.  Had the people who had invaded her space come specifically for the box and the rest was simply subterfuge and nastiness.

In the dark of her bedroom she sat up and tried to sort out her thoughts.  If the burglars had been children, who knew what their thought processes were.  They could have taken the box for just about anything.  If it was the men from the garage how on earth could they possibly have known where she lived?  No, it just wasn’t logical.  It must have been children, youths whatever you wanted to call them. Well, she could think of a few names but stewing and worrying at it wasn’t going to make any difference.  She lay down and pulled the duvet up around her chin but the feeling of disquiet wouldn’t leave her.

The next morning Jenny needed to bring Rags back from the vet and before that she wanted to go to the wet fish shop for a treat for him. During the trip to town she would call in to see the butcher.  She wanted to know just what he had written on the note pushed under the garage door.  Although it was for certain that he would have been cautious it might help to set her mind at rest to have him confirm it.

“Hello there Mr Morton.”

“And a good morning to you my dear.  How are you?”

“Oh, I’m alright thank you.”

“Well you don’t look your chirpy self if you don’t mind me saying so.  Has something gone wrong with that old cat?”

“Well, no it’s not that.  You see I’ve had a robbery.”

“Oh that’s rotten.  Was much taken?  You poor thing, I’m so sorry. The buggers, oh excuse me, it just makes me so angry.”

The honesty behind his reaction nearly brought more tears but Jenny steeled herself.  She was proud and made of pretty stern stuff and kindness was nothing to cry about now was it?

“No, as a matter of fact nothing was taken, just a mess and a bit of damage. I suppose it wasn’t that bad really, but it shook me up I have to admit.”

“Well of course it did, of course it did, you poor thing.  I don’t know, we do live in nasty times don’t we?”

“Oh well, there are a lot of good people about.  Yourself for instance.”  She gave the butcher a quick smile.  One thing she didn’t want to do was to reduce the conversation into a session bemoaning the state of society.

“Mr Morton, please don’t read anything into this but I did just want to ask.  When you left the note at the garage what did you put?”

“Oh, I see what you mean.  No, no I didn’t go into any details, no, no of course not.  I just said that a cat had been trapped and we had rescued him.  I felt that was vague enough.”  The big man’s eyes cloudy with worry.  “Oh, my goodness.  You don’t think it could have been because of that do you?  If I thought I was in any way to blame for your trouble.  Oh my word.”

“No, no don’t upset yourself.  I’m sure that was fine.”

“Ah but it wasn’t, was it?  I mentioned a cat didn’t I?  Now everyone knows you are the lady who feeds the cats.  Even if they didn’t they’d only have to be around for a couple of days and see the little beggars trouping down to your yard.  Oh, how stupid. I am so sorry.”

“No, no please Mr Morton don’t worry, after all what else could you say?”

“Here, here take this.  He plonked a great piece of pork onto a paper, wrapped it and pushed it across the counter to her.”

“No, now come on Mr Morton don’t be silly I can’t take that.”

“Take it, take it.  I feel as though I have done something stupid.  Please take it and I’ll feel better.  Cut it up for you and the cats.  Please.  Oh, what an idiot I am. I should have made up some sort of story, oh dear.”

He was so upset she didn’t tell him about the box.  He was already getting into a state and she didn’t want to make matters worse but the conversation had actually confirmed what in truth she had been suspecting.  The men from the garage had come to take the box back hadn’t they?

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 10

It’s a cliché of course but nevertheless true.  The policeman who pushed his way through the kitchen door and tiptoed amongst the debris looked like a sixth former in fancy dress.  He was kind enough it has to be said.

“Have you anyone who can come and help you Madam?  Maybe you have someone you can stay with until you sort all this out.  I’ll have the fingerprint people here and they make a bit of a mess I’m afraid.”

Jenny shook her head.  He’d pulled the little black book from his pocket and made a note of everything she had to tell him.  The vet and Rags.  He had raised an eyebrow when she called Rags a stray and she knew straight away that he wouldn’t understand and the heart had gone out of her.  She had waited an hour and a half for him to come anyway.  She had used the time to check the rest of the house and felt blessed relief when it became apparent that “they” had only been downstairs as far as she could tell.

“Is there anything missing?” He held his pencil at the ready to list her goods and chattels.  She was trying not to be ungracious but really, what good was it all going to do anyway.

“No, I don’t think so.  They just spoiled things and broke things.  Do you think it was children?”

“Well, difficult to say really.  There isn’t that much real damage, just a mess and that would seem a bit like kids I admit but do you know anyone who might have a grudge?”

Not that much real damage, she looked in sadness at the little broken table and the pile of ceramic pieces.  No, not that much real damage but a great deal of hurt.

“No, I get on with my neighbours.  Well you don’t see them much anyway these days.  Not like it used to be, but no I don’t think I’ve upset anyone.”

“You feed the cats don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think that somebody might find that a nuisance?”

“Well I don’t think so.  Nobody’s ever said so.  They don’t stay, the cats.  They just come and eat and then mostly they go on their way.  Why would that upset anyone?”

“No, it’s probably not that, but you know people are funny sometimes. Anyway I’ll get the fingerprint people to call in and I’ll give you a crime number for your insurance company.”

“Thank you.  Is that all?”

“Sorry.”

“Well are you going to try and find out who it was?  Who came in, who did this.”  Tears flowed anew as she swept an arm around the wreckage.

“Well if they haven’t taken anything, there’s no way that evidence will come to light or anything like that so, I don’t know what we’ll be able to do.”

“What about cameras?”

“Cameras?”

“Yes, I thought there were cameras everywhere watching us all.”

“Well, yes but not here, not in a little road like this and not in the back alley way.”

“No, no I suppose not.  So there’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m sorry, no.  If you’d had things stolen it would have been better.”  Jenny gasped “Well no not better, of course not better, but in that case we could have circulated a list, you know to pawn shops and such like.  When it’s just vandalism like this it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to do much.  Anyway this is your crime number and the finger print people will be along in an hour or so.”

“Can you tell them not to bother?”

“Not to bother?”

“Yes, the finger print men, I don’t think I can face any more mess and if they can’t do anything anyway, well.”  She shrugged her thin shoulders.

“Shall I make you a cup of tea?”  The young man looked a little shamefaced, he knew only too well the heart ache that robbery caused but he was a realist and there was no point raising false hopes.  “You know the trouble is that even if we caught whoever did it they wouldn’t be able to do much. There was no physical hurt, no major damage.”

“Oh it’s alright I realise it’s not your fault.  Yes go on put the kettle on and we’ll have a cup of tea.”

When he had gone she started to tidy the kitchen.  After an hour or two things were starting to look better.  There wasn’t that much actual damage, a few breakages and some scratches but really it was quite superficial.  She was saddened more than anything that someone could do this for no reason that she could think of.

As she worked her way around the lounge, cleaning and clearing and picking up, she bent and retrieved the piece of old string that had been wrapped around the wooden box.  She fumbled it into a bundle ready to go into the shed.  Might as well take the box as well.  It was nowhere to be found.  When she had left to go to the vet she had pushed the two things together into the corner she was sure, but now, and in light of the major clean-up she had done, she could see without doubt that it was gone.  She had been feeling better but discovery that the box was missing caused her stomach to clench and cold sweat to break out on her forehead.  She was gripped with a feeling of real dread, and she didn’t really know why.

 

 

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 9

Jenny wasn’t surprised when the vet suggested keeping Rags at the clinic overnight.  They needed to stitch up his leg and give him antibiotics.  Because he wasn’t a house cat they all agreed that it was best to have him confined until he was properly on the mend.  Mr Morton knew Jenny well and tailored his fees to fit the situation.  She agreed to try and keep the ginger tom in the house for as long as possible after his treatment.  The only one not happy with the whole thing was the patient himself.

He yowled and growled and grumbled the whole time.  He tried to scratch and he tried to bite.  After the effort to get him into the carry basket it now seemed that it was the only place he wanted to be.  He refused to come out and then once out, he struggled and fussed trying to clamber back in.  They had all seen it all before though, and simply carried on with kindness, patience and good humour.  By the time she was standing at the stop waiting for the bus home Jenny was smiling to herself, he was safe and now the problems were all over, she could relax.

Looking forward to a cup of tea she threw open the yard gate.  There’d be a bit of tidying up to do now before she could settle down for the evening.  She was totally unprepared for the scene that greeted her.  The back door to the house was hanging open; her hand flew to her mouth.  That was wrong.  She supported herself with a hand on the wall as she crept forwards across the yard, her kneecaps juddered and wiggled in the most alarming way.  Her stomach was churning and tears had filled her eyes.  This was trouble.

It was only later she realised that there could well have been real danger, there could have been people in there, yobs with weapons or paint spray cans, anything.  In those first moments her brain didn’t really send sensible messages though and so she walked forward slowly across the yard.  She pushed the door wider open.  The mess was everywhere.  The kitchen floor was scuffed and dirty and some of the drawers had been upended, knives and forks were scattered on the lino and her jars of coffee and sugar had been flung to all four corners of the room.

The lounge broke her heart.  There was chaos everywhere.  The cushions from the settee and chairs were thrown about, little tables had been flung aside and one was obviously broken.  The leg was separated from the top and raw wood glared white where it had snapped in two.

She was shaking now and crying, little moaning noises were erupting from her throat.  Her sideboard had been ransacked and cups from her special set were shattered on the carpet.

Suddenly she found herself on the floor, her legs had simply given in and plopped her onto her bottom.  She gave in, she sobbed and hiccupped and rocked back and forth as little noises of disbelief and despair bubbled from her mouth.  Tears soaked her cheeks this pain was horrible, dreadful.  For a while she could do nothing more than give in to grief.  Apart from the deaths in the family this was the worst thing ever to have happened to her.  The deaths had been hard but foreseen, prepared for in a way and the horror was manageable.  This though, this was a thrust to her very soul.  Her precious home had been violated, her life had been assaulted and her calm and accepting nature had been sundered by this vicious act.

Afterwards, she couldn’t have said how long she had sat on the carpet among the debris of her life.  The light was fading from the day and she felt chilled, although it could be the result of the shock as much as a genuine drop in temperature.  Eventually though she had to come back.  For a long time there was no way to see past the horror but ultimately a strange sense of acceptance took over and she dragged herself up from the carpet.

Oh Jenny.”  She addressed herself, “Just look at this.”  She picked up a couple of books, they weren’t torn and she took heart from that tiny little blessing.  She did a stock take.  Maybe, it wasn’t as bad as it had first looked.  The cups were broken and tears stung again as she picked up the ruined porcelain.  They weren’t valuable, not in a monetary way but they had been her mother’s. She took a big breath, if felt like a sigh but it filled her with oxygen.  She began to tidy things and then the thought struck her that actually she should probably call the police.  If she was going to she should leave things as they were.  She picked up the telephone and dialled.

 

 

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 8

Jenny telephoned the vet and then rooted around the hall cupboard.  Someone had given her a cat carry basket and if ever she had to take one of the strays to the vet it was a godsend.  She dragged it out and gave it a quick dusting.  The inside was lined with an old towel. Now then, this was the tricky bit.  She knew that cats, well most animals really, could be incredibly strong when they were distressed.  Rags was still in the wooden box with the string tying the lid.  Now and again he would scrabble and scratch and call to her, his meows plaintiff and puzzled.

“It’s alright puss, just be patient I’m doing the best I can.”  She imagined him shrugging his shoulders, grumpy thoughts flicking through his mind.  It was silly to imagine them talking and thinking in “human” language she acknowledged, but it was harmless and enhanced her dealings with the animals.

“Keep still little fella I know you’ve got a sore leg I’ll take you to see Mr Warner.  He’ll fix you up.”

Okay, everything was ready.  She knelt on the floor beside the box.  The cat carrier was pulled up close and the wire door wedged open with an old plant pot.  She had the bar to lock it handy on the top, and she had a pair of stout gardening gloves protecting her hands and wrists.

“Now, look Ragsy I know you’re a bit frightened but there’s no need to be.  I’m not going to hurt you.”  Murmuring quietly to him she untied the binding, as she unfastened the string, she hung onto the lid with her other hand; he was pushing and thrusting, sensing escape.  Tiny claws pushed out under the wood, the meowing increased in noise and urgency.

He was heaving against the lid with his head and both front paws were creeping furry toe by furry toe under the top.  Now or never.  She lifted the lid and in a split second she had her hand on his neck.  He was shouting and complaining and growling in the low down grumbling way that cats do.  She tried not to laugh, but he looked so funny with his ears flattened against his head, rumbling and hissing. Now though she had to grab the waving front paws, the lethal claws were fully extended.  Ten tiny scimitars with only one aim, to draw blood.

The lid was completely off the box now and battle was joined.  She lifted him with her glove stiffened fingers, trying the while not to touch the injured back leg.  He saw day light and bared his needle teeth in a hissing sneer.  “Oh now, now come on Ragsy, it’s for your own good.”  Hanging on as tightly as she could with her encumbered hands she tried to gather in the dangerous front paws.  They wrestled together down on the carpet for long moments. The ginger tom was now half in and half out of the box he kicked with his rear paws and the box jerked backwards across the kitchen floor. Jenny dragged him forward as gently as she could.

As she poked him towards the door of the cat carrier Rags did a clever folding movement with his head and rear end effectively turning himself into a wriggling, squirming ginger U shape.  She tried to get the bulk of his body into the plastic box.  He wasn’t having any of it and braced one loose front leg against the little door. It flicked closed.  He pumped with his back legs and scooted the whole carrier two feet across the kitchen lino.  Jenny was dripping with sweat now and her arms quivered with the effort of holding the bucking, heaving body. She scooped the cat basket  back again with her foot.

Suddenly, inexplicably it was over, he straightened in her hands lowered his head and gave up the struggle, his depleted strength was spent.  As she pushed his bottom into the box and flicked the metal mesh door closed he turned around and glared at her.  He rumbled and grumbled and when she put a finger towards the front of the carrier he hissed and spat.  “You’re welcome.” She laughed.

Jenny sat back on her heels and took a great breath.  Well, in terms of cat transfer it wasn’t the worst she’d had to deal with, but it wasn’t the easiest either.  Thank heavens that when she got to the vet’s office there’d be staff to help her manage him.

Mr Warner had said he could fit her in at the end of his surgery.   She had about an hour and had to go by bus.  Better get a move on.  Gathering the old string and the box she pushed them into the corner. If it were chopped up the wooden crate would make lovely kindling for lighting the best room fire.  She shrugged into her coat and made for the front door.

Just as she pulled her little gate closed Mr Morton’s van drew into the kerb.  “Hello there Mrs Woods.  Ah, is this the little guy.  Did he not run off then?”

“No, he’s hurt.  It’s just as well we got him out today, he has a really nasty wound on his back leg.  I’m just off to the vet with him.”

“Oh, I wish I could give you a lift but I can’t have a cat in the van, sorry.”

“No, no it’s fine I can get the bus. It’s only two stops and I have my pass.  Mr Morton did you replace the lock.  I want to pay you for that and I won’t take no for an answer, I don’t know what I would have done without your help.”

“Well, that’s very kind I’m sure, but unfortunately things haven’t worked out quite as I’d hoped.”

“Oh dear, what’s matter?”

“Well, I took the new lock up and replaced the broken one and then popped over to see Mrs Patel.”

“Yes.”

“Thing is though she wouldn’t entertain the idea of holding the key for me.  She’s such a lovely lady and I had no doubt that she’d help us out, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  It was all very odd.  She wouldn’t have any truck with it; she didn’t want to speak to the owners of the garage and certainly refused the idea of me leaving them a note with her name on.  You know she seemed to me to be a bit scared of them.”

“Well, I did think that they were rather unfriendly. What should we do?”

“Well as I see it my love it’s done isn’t it.  You’ve rescued this little chap.”  He poked a finger towards the cat box and was rewarded with a hiss and bared teeth.  “He, he not that he seems that grateful just now.  But I’ve removed the new lock and just wrapped some plastic ties around the hasp and staple. They’ll be able to take those off with a knife or a pair of scissors and then I’ve left a little note explaining what happened and pushed it under the door.  I don’t know what else we can do under the circumstances.”

“Oh dear, well thank you Mr Morton.  Thank you.  I do hope they won’t be too cross.”

“Well I would advise you to just keep away from there for a week or two ‘til the dust settles and then it’ll all be forgotten about.”

Shaking his head ponderously at the daily conundrums of life the butcher climbed back into his seat and Jenny gave him a little wave and with a frown of worry creasing her forehead she set off down the road to the bus stop.

 

 

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 7

As she stroked him gently Rags tensed.  It was obvious that the poor thing was nervous and hurting.  Jenny knew from her huge “stray cat” experience that just one wrong move now and he would run.  Even hurt and weak as he was he would be off like a little ginger rocket.  It was vital that he didn’t get away. He needed a vet to have a look at his leg, he probably needed some antibiotics, certainly it needed stitches. “Hush, Raggy, little lovey.  Don’t you worry.  I’m going to help you now.”  She crooned quietly, calming both herself and the stray.  All the time her eyes flicked around the room, searching in the dim space, looking desperately for something to put him in.  A sports bag, a box anything would do but it needed to be really secure.  Once they were outside the garage, if he had the chance to run he would and if he ran then almost certainly he would die.

Everywhere there were piles of the wooden boxes.  They almost filled the space, most were sealed up but against the wall were a few with lids were propped beside them.  If she could get him into one of those and find some way to fix a lid that would do the trick.

She carried a box with a lid resting on top of it across the concrete floor.  It was heavy and bulky, almost too much for her to manage and it was pure determination that got her there in the end.  Being that it was made from wood she had expected some weight but by the time she lowered it to the floor she was puffed and her arms quaked with the effort of moving the thing. She placed it carefully beside the piece of sacking and, crooning steadily reached out and lifted the poor old cat with her right hand.  Gently so as not to hurt him anymore she cradled him.  His claws were out and his ears had lowered, flattened against his head but so far so good.  As quickly as she could she flicked the old piece of sacking into the bottom of the box.  She laid Rags down on it and then before he had time for second thoughts she slid the lid across the top.  She heard him meow quietly.  “It’s alright, don’t you worry little fella.”  She couldn’t possibly nail the lid on but she had found a piece of old plastic rope.  The other crates seemed to be fixed firmly with silver nails, but there was no way she could do that and anyway you couldn’t nail an animal into a box it would be cruel.  She wrapped the stiff cord all the way round the box a couple of times and tied it as tightly as she could in a big knot on the top.  She inspected the thing.  Yes, if she was quick and because the poor thing was weak this might work, there were little knot holes and gaps in the wood and so he would have enough air for the short journey.  She stood up and tried to lift it. The weight of the cat and the box and lid was just about all she could manage.  Huffing and puffing, half lifting and half dragging her burden she scuffled to the door.

The bike was leaning against the wall just out of reach and so she had to put the box down again.  Not what she wanted but it was her own fault for not planning ahead so she simply tutted with frustration.  With an eye on the box in case the cat managed to push his way out she stretched over to pull the big door back into place and hook the broken padlock through the loop.  She jiggled it until it looked as though it was locked and then crossed her fingers that there wouldn’t be a robbery before Mr Morton came back.

She pulled her bicycle forward, leaned it against the wall and then with some juggling and a deal of huffing and puffing, and the odd swear word under her breath, she managed to balance the box on the saddle.  Wrapping one arm around the box and using the other one to guide the bike she set off on her slow way home.  She could hear Rags scratching and scrabbling at the lid and his pitiful meowing.  “Hush now, hush little puss.  It’s alright.”  She knew it probably wasn’t going to make much difference to the cat but it made her feel better crooning and murmuring.

After an absolute age she made it to her back gate and with a great gust of a sigh she leaned the bike against the wall.  Once the box was in the kitchen she took a quick walk around the little room to make doubly sure all the doors and windows were closed.  Very possibly the cat would make a mad run for it when she removed the lid.  It was enough, she was jiggered, totally exhausted, her arms were sore, there were splinters in her fingers and her back felt as though she’d been kicked by a donkey.  She flopped down onto the kitchen chair.  No matter, it had been a mighty struggle but she gave herself a mental pat on the back.  Mr Morton was going to see to the padlock.  Rags was safely in her care now and all her problems were over, weren’t they?

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 6

Jenny rattled the back door of the little building but it was locked tight.  The window was covered with metal mesh and so, even if she was able to break the glass it would get her nowhere.  Tears flooded from her eyes as she thought of the cat stuck in the horrible dark place.  She had knelt on the dirty ground and spoken gently to him through the door.

“Don’t worry Rags, I’ll get you out little lovey.  Don’t you fret.”  She hadn’t heard anything for a while but had no doubt that he was still there.  For a moment, unable to decide what to do, helplessness overwhelmed her.

There were the police of course but wouldn’t that be a bit silly, surely they wouldn’t countenance breaking in, no of course not.  “Just leave ‘im love. He’ll be fine, get ‘isself out next time the door’s open.”  She could hear in her head, the replay of the time they refused to become involved when a poor little kitten became trapped in an empty house across the road from her house. In the end she had been able to let that little guy out but ever since, and it was three years ago, she cringed remembering the condescending manner of the policeman.  No that wasn’t the way to go.

“I’m going away for a minute little fella, I’ll be back don’t worry.”  She carefully made her way to the end of the block and onto the concrete.  The front heavy pair of doors at the entrance of the garage was the whole height of the place.  There was a padlock on a hasp and staple.  She reached out and rattled at it, then she pushed at the door and although it moved a little it was well and truly bolted and barred.  Frown lines had drawn themselves on her brow and a great sigh escaped into the quite space.

The hasp and staple were screwed to the doors.  It was secure no doubt, but only in a way that would discourage ne’er do wells from trying to get in.  If she was to break the padlock, if she could, then surely the owners wouldn’t mind provided it was quickly replaced.  Oh no, that wouldn’t work, how would she get the keys to them.  No, that idea didn’t work.  If the men had seemed a little nicer a few days ago, she would have gone ahead and then left them a note with her address but it didn’t seem wise to let those sorts of people know where her home was.

She was close to despair.  It was horrible to think about just going home and leaving Rags, but what other choice was there, realistically.  She nearly jumped out of her skin when a car horn gently beeped behind her.  She spun round to be confronted by the smiling face of Mr Morton, the butcher.  “Alright, Mrs Woods.”

“Oh, Mr Morton, hello.”  He took one look at her troubled face and clambered from his delivery van.  “Hey, Mrs Woods is sommat wrong luv.”

Jenny could feel tears threatening again, she nodded.  “Oh Mr Morton, I know this is silly but you see.  One of my regular cats, Rags, I call him that because of his chewed ear.  Well, he’s caught in here.  I haven’t seen him for over a week and then the other day I thought there was just a glimpse, but you see the men were so very unfriendly.  I don’t know what to do.  It’s all locked up and who knows how long it’s going to be before they come back.  I know I’m a silly old woman but the poor thing can’t get out and it’s so dark in there.

“Now, come on don’t get upset.  You’re not a silly old woman at all.  Now I’m sure there must be something we can do.  Let’s have a look now.  Oh well, that’s a fine strong lock and no mistake.  I don’t think we’ll be able to do much with that, not without causing criminal damage at any rate.”  He grinned at her and then walked over to the back of his little van.

“Now then Mrs Woods, don’t you be watching me.  I don’t want you to have any sort of conscience.”

“Oh no, Mr Morton you mustn’t, really you mustn’t you could get into terrible trouble.  Don’t do anything wrong just because of me and my cats.”

“Tell you what, I’m just delivering some meat to that house at the top of Cloud Street, why don’t you do me a big favour and just take this parcel and give it to the lady there.  It’s all paid for.”  He handed over a parcel wrapped in white paper and gave her a tiny push off towards the end of the street opposite where they were standing.  “Mrs Patel, tell her you’re my assistant for the day.”

When Jenny came back from delivering the meat Mr Morton was stowing a great tyre lever in the rear of his van.  The padlock was hanging limply from the hook on the door.  “Will you be able to manage now love?  I really need to get on. When you come out just push the doors to and then hook the lock back in.  It won’t fasten properly but it’ll look right and then I’ll come back later and bring a new one.”

“But how will you get the new key to them.”

“I’ll leave them a note and Mrs Patel’ll hold it for us, I know she won’t mind.”

“Oh Mr Morton thank you.”

“Get on with you, we can’t leave the poor thing trapped in there now can we.  He’ll probably just run away now when you open the door.  I’ll pop along to the shop and get a new lock. I’ll be back later on when I’ve finished work”

Jenny opened one side of the doors just enough to slide into the space.  It was very dim inside.  “Raggy, Rags.  Hello, come on boy, it’s alright.”   She had imagined, as had the butcher, that the old cat would make a run for it once there was an escape route and couldn’t understand why he hadn’t.  Then she saw him.  He was lying on an old piece of sacking.  He raised his head as she walked towards him and gave a feeble meow.  His coat was dull and dirty, his eyes were partly covered by that odd eyelid that only shows when cats are not well. She gasped as she saw the horrible gash on his back leg.  It was clean, he had obviously been licking it but it was nasty and obviously should be stitched up.  “Oh Rags, you poor, poor thing.”

Now what was she going to do, she couldn’t carry him and push her bike, she couldn’t leave her bike here, and if she tried to put him in the basket he would without doubt jump out and run off.  If he ran off with that horrible wound she just knew he wouldn’t get better.

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 5

The cats enjoyed the boiled rabbit and chicken livers.  Mr Morton, the butcher was an old friend and often passed on things that were no longer saleable.  For Jenny there was always the temptation to keep some of it for her own meals.  She didn’t though, it would feel like a betrayal and she was strictly moral.

The kitchen door was open, Jenny leaned on the wall and sipped at her cup of coffee.  In due course each of the diners stalked off to whatever business needed their attention.  Rags hadn’t turned up again and that was seven days, which was now very worrying.  Replaying the quick glimpse of the lock up over and over, she was convinced that the flash of ginger had been him.  That little glimpse of orange must have been the old boy.  If he was in there it seemed likely that he would be trapped when the big doors were locked again.

She paced a little and argued with herself about the wisdom of taking any sort of action.  He wasn’t her cat, not really.  He was an old stray and as such she had no responsibility and certainly no rights connected to him.  On the other hand they had been friends for such a long time now and she was worried for him.

The coffee cup was empty, rinsed out and upended on the draining board, the little house was tidy, Jenny had a little spare time.  She would walk up towards the garages.  The exercise was good and it was a pretty day.  If there was no sign of Rags then she would try to stop fretting about him and take a stroll round the park in the sunshine.

Her tummy did a little somersault as she neared the short block of concrete buildings.  There was no sign of the big white van but the memory of that nasty little incident was still vivid.  She knew that there were no windows in the front elevation and being the middle one of a terrace, there was no access from the sides.  It wouldn’t be easy to see around the back, but it was the only possible place that she would find a window or perhaps a back door.

She was hesitant to take the plunge.  It would turn her little walk into something much more.  It would make her into a nosey old woman – or – an investigative explorer.  She chuckled to herself.  Oh yes, just like Nancy Drew, she had loved those books, in fact they may even still be in the attic, it might be worth looking in the boxes.  Oh darn it! she was worried about the cat and she didn’t mean any harm and if he was trapped in the storage unit then he needed helping. Nancy Drew wouldn’t have hesitated and so she wouldn’t, she straightened her spine.

The garages had concrete parking areas at the front and a narrow pathway down both sides of the block.  It was to be hoped that maybe there would be some sort of solid ground to walk on at the back. After a quick glance around she turned right and followed the wall of the first garage.  It wasn’t very big and taking a peep round the end corner she was disappointed to find that there was no proper walkway.  It was all uneven dirt spotted here and there with oil stains and with a few clumps of sad grass struggling to survive.  Everywhere was littered with paper and other things that didn’t bear looking at too closely!  This was not a nice place and if she went any further she was committing herself completely to the hunt.

Steadying herself with her left hand against the dirty back walls of the buildings she took careful steps onto the broken, lumpy surface.  Thank heavens it was dry otherwise it would be impossible to get down here.  It was typical of so much in modern life she reflected, the garages looked reasonably smart at the front but here in the back it was just a messy rubbish dump.

Now, to head towards the fourth little building.  It was easy to count them because, to her delight, each one had a narrow wooden door in the back wall and a tiny window of wired glass.  One, two, three, now here it was.  She stretched out her hand and grasped the metal door handle.  It would be too much to have any hope at all that it would open but of course it was worth a try.  It was no surprise to find that it was locked.  She listened carefully.  There was the sound of bird song and then, muted and quieted by the block of concrete structures, there was the faint noise of traffic on the main road.  It was a lonely and rather unpleasant little place and she felt nervous and flicked her eyes back and forth along the back walls.  There was no sign of anyone around, it was impossible to be seen from the front parking area.  If she was to fall and twist an ankle or something here it would be very difficult to attract attention.

She took a couple of staggering steps and found that the little window was higher in the wall than a house window would have been.  As such she had to stand on tiptoes and pull up with her finger- tips.  It was dingy and dark inside.  There were brighter vertical lines far to the front and it could only be that they were where the front doors didn’t fit completely together.  Apart from that there was just the very dim light from the tiny dirty window.

The wooden boxes just about filled the garage.  They were piled on top of each other to the height of a man and then stacked one behind the other.  There must be hundreds of them, all the same sort.  She rubbed at the grime on the outside of the window but it was just as thick on the other side.  Cupping her hands around her face she pressed against the dirty glass.  There was no sign of movement.  She tapped against the wooden frame, “Rags, Rags”.  It was silly because he didn’t know that was what she called him.  He had never even been into her house, he was his own cat this one not like a cute little pet who comes when called.  She knocked again, “Raggy, Rags are you there.” How silly it sounded and yet what else was there to do?

There was a small sound against the base of the doorway.  A scrabble, a tiny little scratching.  Her heart missed a beat, “Rags, Rags is that you.”  She had leapt away from the window and knelt on the dirty earth.  “Raggy.”  Then she heard it, a pitiful little meow followed by another scrabbling noise.  “Oh, Rags you poor thing.”  Tears came to her eyes.  She had known all along, deep down, the poor thing was trapped in this horrible dark place.  How on earth was she going to get him out?

 

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Rags’ Riches – chapter 4

Returning after the trip to town she pushed through the gate.  Jenny was surprised to find two tabby cats sitting on the back door mat.  “Hello you two.  You’re too early.”  They stretched languidly to their feet, poised, half relaxed, half ready for flight.   Leaving their options open in the way that cats do.  “It’s alright kitties.”  She walked towards them calmly and bent to give each one a gentle stroke.  “The butcher gave me a rabbit and some other bits and I have to cook it up, but seeing as you’ve waited so nicely I’ll get you some nibbles.”

They stood to one side of the stone step allowing access to the kitchen.  She reached to bring down the cardboard packet from its resting place on top of the cupboard.  After sprinkling a small handful in front of them she watched, smiling as they nibbled.  The little noses and licking tongues left tiny damp smudges on the step as they hoovered up the treats.  Jenny pulled the door closed and left her visitors to their own devices, knowing that they would probably just curl up somewhere and snooze the day away until dinner time.  No doubt about it cats had got it all organised.  Even these little strays seemed happy and at ease.  The winters probably weren’t easy for them to be sure, but they coped.

Now, the plan was to go down to the park, take a ride up the quiet little avenues in the area and look at the big houses.  They were beautiful, shiny front doors with gorgeous patterned glass fanlights and gardens with cleverly designed brick paths. She wondered what it would be like to live somewhere like that, but wasn’t envious.  Not that she felt undeserving in any way but was happy with what she had.  After all a big house with all that extra responsibility wouldn’t benefit her now would it?

Humming quietly she whirled past the backs of the houses.  So much litter now, of course it blew back and forth down the narrow alleys but there were other things.  Black bags of rubbish spilled out and had been split.  Probably a lot to do with cats, but they didn’t know did they?  You couldn’t blame them if there were carcasses and so on, it was just food to the kitties and they thought the mess was someone else’s problem.  There were some boxes and unidentifiable detritus and even an old mattress, dirty and wet, leaning against one back gate.  She sighed, people didn’t seem to have the time to bother about these things anymore, of course rats would be attracted and it was just so unsightly.

She turned at the end of the back alley and headed the opposite way from the route that she had taken earlier.  The carriageway was narrower up here and ran along the ends of the roads parallel to her own.  The old cobbles rattled her bike and her bones but she was used to it and sped on towards the block of lock up garages.  All the while she flipped glances back and forth watching for the old tom.  Every now and again there would be the glimpse of a familiar tail, or the flash of a black coat skipping over a garden wall, but no sign of the ginger cat.

As she approached the block of garages a large, white van pulled from the end of the road.  It drew in opposite to the small concrete building, effectively blocking her way.  She stopped and supported herself with one foot on the cobbles the other one still on the bike pedal.  If the van pulled right up to one of the double doors it would mean dismounting and walking around.

The van door swung open and the driver and his mate jumped out.  They were both dark-haired with a look about them that she could only think of as swarthy.  In their short leather jackets and baggy black pants there was something that struck her as unfriendly, certainly they didn’t invite any sort of approach or conversation.

The bigger one, from the passenger side, glanced around as the other man unfastened the big padlock.  Oh well then, she would have to walk around.  They ignored her weaving around the side of the white vehicle and across in front. They were too involved dragging the big garage doors open to notice a little old lady on a bike.  By now Jenny had reached the far side of the van and her inquisitive nature drew a glance to the inside of the garage.  The light was turned on; there inside were stacks and stacks of wooden boxes.   How fascinating, she couldn’t imagine what they could contain.  One of the men had turned around.  He stepped between her and the garage blocking the view.

“You want something lady?” It wasn’t friendly and she felt quite threatened by his demeanour.  Jenny lowered her gaze.  As she looked away though she had the quickest glimpse, a flash nothing more, of ginger fur.  She did a double take and the unfriendly stranger took a step towards her.  He was really rather frightening.  She clutched at the handlebars of her bike and scuttled away feeling quite upset.

The pleasure had gone from her little jaunt.  All she wanted now was to go home and put the kettle on and then cook up the treats for her fluffy friends.  She scuttered to the front of the van, mounted up and sped along the road that had brought the two men to the garage block.  As she pedaled away she could feel their eyes boring into her back.  The bike wobbled alarmingly, was it that or the men glaring behind her that caused the nasty lurch in her stomach.  She had meant no harm, but was concerned about that flash of ginger.  It could easily have been Rags.

 

 

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Rags Riches – Chapter 3

The old bike was stored in what had been the outside toilet.  When the house was modernised and a lovely new bathroom installed Jenny had decided to have the old lavatory taken away and the little brick building converted into a handy storage shed.  She dragged the machine out and popped a shopping bag into the wicker carrier basket on the handlebars.

She clambered aboard, swung her legs over the frame and tucked her skirt in around her knees.  She didn’t have one of the strange plastic helmets and didn’t think it was the law to have one whilst cycling, but that could be a mistake.  She would never have thought herself vain but they did look so very odd.  Some of the racing cyclists wore sleek pointy ones and they looked special and right on those fit young people, but the others were very ugly to her eyes.  Of course for the little ones anything to protect them had to be good but really, some of the older people with woolly hats pulled on underneath looked most peculiar.  Still, it was wrong to judge and maybe going without was making a mistake, anyway, apart from anything else she wouldn’t really know where you would go to buy one.

She shook her head and chuckled to herself, what an old fogey she was becoming.  It didn’t bother her at all.  She enjoyed this life with its small pleasures.  It had been awful when Mum and then Dad had passed on of course, but it was in the way of things and had to be accepted.  When Bill had died that had floored her for a long time, but the shock and pain had eased now and, although she thought of him every day, the loss was more a little nugget of sadness deep down inside and there was still a lot in life to be happy about.

She pedaled down the jigger and stopped at the end.  The road was so busy these days.  The lorries were very frightening and some of the cars were driven too fast, but there was a little cycle path for the first part of the trip and then just a walk to the shops and there was a place to lock the bike in a rack by the church.

The sun shone on the lovely day and it made a pleasant trip to town. She had lived here all her life and still loved it.  It was a small place and didn’t have anything really particular to make it outstanding, though there was a famous person in the graveyard, a scientist, and some people came to stand and look at his gravestone.  Otherwise it was just a pleasant English town.  Yes, the main road wasn’t quite what it had been and there were lots of charity shops and estate agents offices, but it was bright and colourful in the spring light and, as she passed the corner, Mr Shah waved and made her feel real.

Why not treat herself to a lovely cup of coffee in the Spiced Bun, and maybe one of their lovely shortbread biscuits. Yes indeed why not? Afterwards she would drop the shopping bags at home and then have a pedal around to try and spot the old cat.

She had barely acknowledged it to herself, but as she’d travelled along her eyes had swept the road edges and her cheerful mood was in part due to the lack of a poor ginger corpse, lying dirty and wet in the gutter.  Probably by the time she arrived home the old boy would be sunning himself on the top of the shed in the warmth that built up on the black tar paper roof.  Well it would be lovely to have a little ride anyway and maybe go through the park.  She hummed happily,  a smile lifting the corners of her mouth.  Life felt good, small and a little unexciting to be sure but good nonetheless.

 

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Rag’s Riches – Chapter 2

A few days later she sat on a plastic chair in her yard, sipping her tea and watching the cats finishing their breakfast. The bowls were scooting back and forth across the flags as the younger, more boisterous felines licked the last juices from the china.  Jenny’s forehead was creased into frowning lines.  She counted on her fingers Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday that was five days since she had seen the old tom.  It wasn’t unusual for him to miss a day or two but for the last six years, since she had first made his acquaintance, he had never been missing for so long. She sighed and turned back to the house, leaving the kittens playing in the sunshine and the older cats curling into sun-kissed cushions or setting out on business that had been interrupted by their stop off at Jenny’s cat café. He was a wise old moggy; he had probably lived on the streets for years and was surely able to look after himself.  She couldn’t care for them all.  She did what was possible and sensible but had always resisted the temptation to take any of them into her home, no, that would be a slippery slope.  There was no way to choose between them and so they all remained visitors.  Of course there was no doubt that many of them had perfectly good homes already and were just taking advantage of a free meal.  That was fine with Jenny the more the merrier, but all that said she did have an extra soft spot for the old boy.  She had christened him Rags when they first became acquainted, because of his chewed ear and she had enjoyed their mutual respect for each other.

He would allow her to tickle him and stroke his ginger fur, made harsh by life and age but still thick and springy under her fingers.  In his turn he would sit on the wall and stare with eyes the colour of Tiger Eye gems.  She saw friendship in the eyes and respect but there was independence there as well, he was his own boss.

She was worried about him though.  She was going down to the greengrocers later and so would take her bicycle and have a little ride around and see if she could find him or, heaven forbid, his body if he had been in a road accident.  It was always a risk and it had happened more than once.  She had retrieved the poor damaged corpses and carried them to the little park and buried them in amongst the trees.  She knew she shouldn’t, knew that it was a serious offence to be digging in the public park but she was careful and never left any mess.  It couldn’t be wrong surely to give the poor little things a quiet place to sleep away eternity, who could fault her for that.  Her eyes moistened at the thought that she may be having to take Rags to the park and she gave herself a mental shake. Now, come on there’s no need to jump to conclusions.  The old sod has probably found someone with better biccies.  She would have a look but then would have to accept that he would come or not depending on his own mood and that was it and all about it.

Decision made she went about her morning chores and looked forward to a little trip in the afternoon with the hope that she’d see him drowsing in a sunny corner somewhere or tormenting Mr Jones’ pigeons, she grinned at the thought.  It was only one of the old cat’s sins and it made him even more loveable in her eyes.

 

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