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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 out 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 basked back again with her leg.

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 wrapped some plastic ties around the hasp and staple and 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 mister 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 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 around 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 cat 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.

Her 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 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 quiet 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 became 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 would be 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 around 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

When she pushed through the gate, after her trip to town, 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, 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 the Rags.  Oh dear, she was really quite disturbed by the happenings of the last couple of minutes.

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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 but 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 died that had floored her for a long time but the shock and pain had eased now. 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 pedalled 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 day and it was 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 cafe, 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 ginger 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 bedraggled corpse, lying dirty and wet in the gutter.  Probably by the time she arrived home Rags 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, strolling along the pavement, wheeling her bike beside her, 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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Rags’ Riches – Conclusion

The wardrobe door was flung back against the hinges.  The sudden flood of light, accompanied by the crash and splinter of old wood ignited the cat. With a gargantuan thrust of his back legs he launched himself, just out, no aiming or thought just out and away.  Unfortunately, just at that moment the swarthy gentleman was taking a step forwards the better to search the depths of the cupboard.  The cat was leaping upwards, the man was leaning downwards, the two met midway.  Rags extended his claws as a result of shock and fear; they hooked into skin, one lodging in the tender flesh just inside a nostril.  Not unsurprisingly this caused the human to screech in a most inhuman fashion.  This terrified the cat even more and he scrabbled and scrambled upwards, clawing and reaching, rending the soft skin of chin and cheek and forehead.

The bloke staggered backwards, by this time Jenny had grabbed her camera and without anything approaching logical thought she pointed it and clicked the shutter button.  The scratched and bleeding ne’er do well now got an eye full of camera flash, he squealed anew and covered his eyes with both hands, effectively blinded.

Jenny grabbed the umbrella and charged forth brandishing it spear-like before her.  The crook had tipped on his axis and was now on his way forward again.  Due to the difference in height between the two, the pointed end of the gamp connected brutally with the squashy, tender parts that were inadequately protected by the soft, baggy track suit bottoms that were his preferred attire.

He collapsed in an S-shaped, shrieking pile on the bedroom carpet; his hands were clutching the area around the top of his legs which he truly believed were aflame.  Jenny leapt over him “Sorry, sorry – I’m so sorry”.

Rags had had just about as much as he could take.  He headed like a small ginger rocket for the stairs, the outside and safety.  For reasons that were never fully understood the second intruder leapt after the cat, whether he was fleeing from the ear curdling screams of his erstwhile companion or whether he believed the cat to be possessed of unnamed treasure it was difficult to know, but he was off in full pursuit before Jenny had reached the bedroom door.

Unfortunately, or not, depending on your point of view, his feet disavowed his ambition and tied themselves into a knot on the top step.  He tumbled in a flurry of flailing limbs and rolling, bouncing body parts from top to bottom of the narrow staircase arriving unconscious and uncaring against the front door.

Jenny fled as fast as her wobbling legs would carry her for the ground floor.  She jumped over the hunched and immobile body in the hall, grabbed the cordless phone from the little table and ran to the kitchen where she shot outside.  She secured the back door and tore the key from the lock.  She ran round to the front of the house where she paused, breathless and slightly hysterical, she dialled 999.

She reported the current circumstances, suggested that it would be very helpful if the local constabulary could send someone other than an apprentice and that perhaps an ambulance would be of some use.  The screeching of the various sirens and horns brought out such of the neighbours who were at home, all of whom stared in some bemusement at the batty old cat woman who seemed to be patrolling the front of her house armed with an old umbrella, her hair awry, her clothes askew and her face wearing a rather manic expressions which precluded conversation.

When the dust had finally settled and the nice police lady had provided a steaming cup of tea, Jenny took the time to shed a couple of tears of shock and nerves.  Only a couple, just for appearances sake really, because in truth she had found it all terribly thrilling.  Not to be repeated, no never that, but still quite out of the ordinary run of things.

The man from the bottom of the stairs was carted away on a stretcher to be given treatment for his concussion and a rather nasty broken wrist.  The other chap was escorted to a police car, hobbling in a most peculiar and careful fashion, blood smearing his shocked and ruined countenance.

“Hello, hello madam.  Are you alright?  Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?”  The young policeman was being terribly kind and friendly.  Probably felt that he had some sort of stake in the whole thing and Jenny was more than willing to let him bask in a bit of reflected glory.

“Has anyone been to the garage constable?”

“Yes indeed.  You are quite the hero.  The boxes are very clever devices indeed.  On the top they are fitted out to carry bottles of rather nasty Bulgarian wine.”

“Oh, is that all?  Wine – well!”

“Ah, but quite a number of them have false bottoms and that’s where it gets most interesting.  The bottoms appear to be used to carry bags of very valuable drugs.  Oh yes you are quite the hero and no mistake.”

“Drugs, well my word, drugs here in our little road.”

“Unfortunately they are everywhere and hidden away back here probably seemed a good idea. Well, if it hadn’t been for you and that old cat I don’t doubt they could have carried on for pretty well as long as they wanted.  Where is he the old fella?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  He was dreadfully upset and frightened.  I don’t know where he’s gone and I’m so worried about his leg.  He could have torn the stitches.  Poor old Rags what a rotten time he’s had.”

“Well, I’ll tell the lads to keep an eye out for him anyway.”

“Yes, that would be nice.  Thank you.”

“So, what are you going to do with your reward?”

“Reward?”

“Oh yes quite a handsome reward coming your way madam.  Quite a nice little sum.”

“Well. Goodness.  Really?  My heavens, who’d have thought it?”…

The next morning Jenny filled the cat bowls.  Everyone was going to have a special treat. She didn’t have the reward yet but had been assured that it would be substantial.

“Here we are my lovies, tuna treat and chicken livers in sauce, the little gold tins were scraped into various dishes and she did believe there were more visitors than ever.  Word must have got around the local cat population.

A stately ginger figure strode haughtily past the feline hoi polloi.  With a very superior glance in their direction Rags made his way through the garden and entered the kitchen via the back door.  He sniffed at the small empty porcelain bowl sitting next to his blanket.  His ears rotated just once, checking for untoward noises.  All was calm, he turned his great gold eyes upwards and stared unblinking at the daft old biddy.

“Oh Rags, how lovely.  You are quite famous you know and really rather rich.  Would you like something to eat?  I have a special tin of Pampered Pussikins, tuna in prawn jelly.  Do you think you could eat that?  Apparently he could.

Afterwards reclining on the settee, licking at a front paw he took stock of his situation.  It had been an interesting few days, he was getting on a bit and this daft old bat wasn’t bad – for a non feline.  Maybe he’d stay.  Just until something better came up anyway.  Jenny poured a cup of tea and plonked down beside him.  “Well Rags, that was different wasn’t it?”  He listened but none of what she said seemed to relate to food so he tucked his front paws under his chest and drifted off to sleep.  Jenny smiled and sipped her drink, life could be so very lovely couldn’t it, and so surprising.

 

The end

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 16

Taking tiny little gulps of air she kept as still and quiet as possible. The two men were conferring, the low rumbling of their voices drifted up the stairs from the hall. Her fingers were tightly crossed in the hope that they would think she hadn’t arrived home yet.  Maybe they would hope that they were here before her, lying in wait.  Closing her eyes, Jenny visualised the kitchen, had anything had been left lying about?  She mentally ticked off the stuff that had been on the table.  The umbrella was here beside her, leaning against the back of the wardrobe, the camera hung on its strap, tapping against her side when she moved.  It was a matter of habit and tidiness that coats were always hung straight on the hook, so no problem there. Her damp mac may be dripping on the kitchen floor but surely they wouldn’t have noticed that, they were men after all.

Then the shrill, screaming jangled her overstretched nerves and took her breath completely, the kettle, she had put the kettle on.  It hadn’t even registered that the act had been completed, operating on automatic, fill the pot, plonk it back on the little stand and flick the switch.  Dozens of times a day, hundreds and hundreds of times a year, hands working without conscious thought and now the squealing, steam-driven whistle had betrayed her.  They knew that she was in the house because of the blasted cup of tea that was always her habit on returning to the home.

The automatic cut out killed the screaming noise.  “Lady, lady you here, we know you is here.  We need speak you.  Lady, come on out.”  Oh no, this lady wasn’t coming out.  If they wanted this lady out they would have to drag her screaming and kicking.  “Lady, we no hurt you. Just talking.”  Yes well, she wasn’t born yesterday now was she?

Rags had heard the voices and stiffened, his ears were rotating this way and that, little furry radar antenna seeking out the source of the disturbance.  He eased his muscles, stretching his limbs, full alert, taut and ready.  She didn’t dare move in case he took fright and leapt from her arms.  A dizzy spell swept through her, breathe you fool, she hadn’t realised that she had been holding her breath.  She took a gulp of the heavy air, in spite of the staleness it flooded her body with oxygen, oddly it made the dizziness worse.  She felt herself tip backwards in amongst the old coats.  The hangers rang quietly together.  Jenny and the cat froze at the tiny sound.  Had they heard it? Was it loud enough to carry through the old heavy wooden door and down the stairs?

Now came the heavy tread of their feet, mounting the stairs, running upwards, muttering to each other in a language she couldn’t understand.  She had lived in this house such a very long time and recognised the creaks of each stair and then the click of her own bedroom door.  There followed sounds which she imagined were the men tearing at her clothes in the built-in wardrobe.  Now that really made her cross.  There in the middle of the terrifying, awful afternoon she was cross thinking about the mess that she was going to have to clean up.

They looked into the bathroom, she heard the door smash back against the wall.  Next was the airing cupboard and then she heard them tread into the back room.  It could only be moments now until she was discovered.  She readied herself; Rags picked up on the tension and squirmed in her arms.  Footsteps crossed the floor the old boards creaking with the weight of them.  “Lady, you in here.  I know you in here.  Come out now, we not hurt you , only talking.”  The fastener creaked as they turned it and the tiny crack of light widened as the door was pulled open.

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 15

Spinning around Jenny grabbed the camera, the table clutter and the cat.  Rags was not impressed.  He writhed and pushed against the grip of the old arms and the oddments of junk that were digging into various soft parts of his body.  He was also disturbed by the strange noises that the weird old woman was making “oh, oh, oh, oh my, oh.”

Juggling with the encumbrances Jenny ran for the front door, she was really rather frightened and judged the best form of attack was basically to run away as fast as she possibly could.

Through the lounge and down the tiny hall she fled.  The umbrella caught against the door frame, it would have made sense to just drop the blasted thing, but that didn’t happen.  She hutched it up under her arm and took a tighter grip on everything, including the cat who was now dangling, face forwards down the front of her body.  His back legs swung back and forth around her knees, his front legs were caught by the paw pits under her right arm.  His head writhed and pushed against the front of Jenny’s sweater as he desperately tried to gain purchase somewhere to extricate himself from this mad situation.

There was a patterned glass pane in the top half of the front door and to her absolute horror, Jenny saw the grey and threatening outline of a male figure. The other man from the garage.  “Oh, oh, oh my.”  She spun on her heels and scampered up the narrow staircase.  Flying into the back bedroom she dragged open the wardrobe door and pushed herself in between the old coats and winter jackets stored there.

It was a massive wardrobe, far too big for the room but it had been in the family for generations and thank heavens for it now.  Her fingers closed around the edge of the door and heaved it to behind her.  When she had been a little girl she had once tied a rope to the handle and tried to swing on the resulting loop. Of course the handle had been pulled off and what a dressing down she’d received from Daddy.  He’d repaired it with a big metal plate inside and now she sent up a silent prayer of thanks for his clumsy handiwork that had left great nuts standing proud.  She grabbed hold of one of these protruding metal rings and dragged the door closed.  She heard the little catch click into place.

She was panting now in fear as much as breathlessness.  The old cat was squirming strongly and trying his best to climb up the front of her jumper, his full battery of claws extended and hooked in the open weave of the woollen garment which clicked and unravelled happily in the darkness.  He was growling way down in his throat.  “Shush, shush, oh please hush now Ragsy.  Shhhh, she stroked his ears but he simply flicked his head refusing the caress.  He didn’t like this one bit, he wanted out and he wanted out immediately.  Unhooking the claws, dragging great loops of yarn loose from her top, she lowered him gingerly to the floor.  It was dark and cluttered in the wardrobe and for a moment she was overcome by a nasty dizzy spell.  Leaning back into the heavy wool of the old coats, she could smell the fabric, the remnants of perfume and a slight hint of mothballs.  The agglomeration of homely aromas calmed her somewhat.  She breathed deeply, Rags was scratting now at the bottom of the door in his desperation to be anywhere but here.

She propped the umbrella against the back of the wardrobe, hung the strap of the camera over her shoulder and carefully lifted the old tom and cradled him to her.  He straightened his front legs and pushed back from the stupid human.  Until now he had avoided employing his teeth but he was a whisker away from the final assault.  He spit and hissed and Jenny knew that she was actually in real danger of becoming badly scratched and bitten if she didn’t calm him quickly.  She hugged him to her with both arms and with the ends of her fingers she tickled and stroked at his face, she swayed gently as far as the confined space would allow.  His heart was pounding against his chest wall, she could feel it quite clearly and was overwhelmed with guilt, poor Rags she had frightened him dreadfully.  What a stupid old woman she had become.  Tears jumped to her eyes and trickled down the wrinkled cheeks.  They plopped on the top of the furry head causing him to flick his ears, he lifted his face to hers.  After a moment of breathless quiet he licked just once with his sandpaper tongue at the salt water dripping from her face.  The mad world stilled and cat and human were held in a moment of magic, of understanding and of mutual affection.

She had heard the thumping of the back door as it was swung violently open.  There was crashing and banging downstairs and she squeezed her eyelids tightly closed to avoid more tears as she imagined the damage to her things.  The cat now seemed to have entered some sort of suspended animation state.  He hung heavily in her arms.  She didn’t know whether his eyes were open or not but the manic thunder of his heartbeats had slowed noticeably.  She continued to stroke the ears and forehead as she waited in silent terror for what was to come.

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 14

Controlling the urge to break into a full blown run was a problem. Juggling with the bag holding the flask and her biscuit box was a tussle, and trying to drag out the camera, without dropping the whole shooting match on the floor, caused her to jiggle and totter in the most alarming way.  Trying to keep her hood over her head was the last straw and almost finished the thing with Jenny spread-eagled on the rain-soaked pavement beside the main road. In the end the hood won its battle and so she sped onward at a fast walk with the rain pasting her hair to her head and rain drops rolling down her nose, and dripping off her eye lashes.

She didn’t head straight down Cloud Street, but went up to the next turning and along the parallel road.  This street had houses on one side and the railings of the park on the other.  She dodged between the parked cars, avoiding the small piles of dog mess that owners had decided didn’t need picking up, seeing as it was raining.  She did tut now and again but really there were more pressing matters today. She slowed as she neared the corner. A quick glance behind reassured her that, unless there was an aspidistra face behind any of the lace curtains – which was very possible, then she was unobserved.

She slunk sideways until she was almost brushing the garden wall with her thigh and then took small, tentative paces nearer and nearer to the junction of the two roads.  Nearly there, she leaned forward from the waist as far as possible.  There it was, the white van, parked outside the garage and the two swarthy characters shuttling back and forth, transferring boxes in and out of the space. Jenny took a deep breath.  Her heart was pattering in the most alarming way.  Her hands were shaking and quivering and, although she was no Lord Snowden, she had taken enough snaps to know that it wouldn’t work if the camera was dithering about like a leaf on a tree. Scrunching down a little she placed the black plastic case on the top of the garden wall. Another quick glance behind.  Not only did she suppose that all this looked very suspicious but also imagined that her behind was protruding in a most unbecoming manner.  No one seemed to be around.  She blessed the drizzle and turned back to the job in hand.

Crouching even lower she managed to position her eye, lined up with the viewfinder.  Ideally kneeling on the floor would have been the best option but no, what would anyone think, that was just too far beyond the pale. She pressed the little button several times.  It was an old camera and each time it was necessary to turn a tiny knob on the top, winding the film along to the next exposure.  She tried to judge it so that the men were in the frame carrying the boxes.  Five tiny clicks and then she remembered that Rags hadn’t had his picture taken this morning as she had planned.  He had leaped up in reaction to the flash and shot behind the settee where he had stayed for long minutes, glaring at her whenever she tried to coax him out. The last one must be saved for a snap of him, her golden eyed friend.

The strap on the bag with the flask in had slipped from her shoulder, pinning her left arm to her side.  The action of shrugging it back into place caused her leg to flex which in turn kicked the great umbrella which was leaning against the garden wall.  It fell to the pavement and the solid wooden handle made a great clatter.  The men at the garage heard the commotion and stopped in mid stride to peer up the street towards her.  She turned and took to her heels.  There was time for one quick glance back which witnessed them hurriedly throwing the doors on the back of the van together and at the same time kicking at the wood on the garage openings to secure it from prying eyes.

She scurried in a pantomime of a walking run back down the street.  The bag and her coat tails flapped and flew behind and the umbrella jerked willy nilly in her hand, doing its level best to inveigle its length between her pumping legs which would no doubt send her head over aspect into the rain filled gutters.

She didn’t dare slow down, she forgot all plans for shopping.  Hightailing as fast as her rather elderly limbs would carry her she made for the safety of the little house.  Making the alley way in record time she scuttered through the back gate and flung herself into the kitchen with tears of panic and hilarity mixing to trickle down her flushed cheeks, and she barely able to catch her breath.  The old cat stopped his daily ablutions and stared round-eyed at the apparition. His front paw halted on route to his left ear which was in need of attention, being slightly smeared with the remains of the butter that he had purloined while the mad old biddy had been out. “Oh my word.  Great heavens.  Oh Rags, good grief.”  He wasn’t sure what was expected of him and nothing that had been said seemed to be related to food and so he resumed his toilette.

Plonking the camera and other paraphernalia onto the table Jenny picked up the kettle.  She couldn’t remember the last time that she had needed a restorative cup of tea quite so badly.  She turned to the sink as the back gate rattled on its hinges and as her horrified eyes stared in disbelief the entrance opened and the smaller of the two men from the garage sidled into the back garden

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