“Now you’ll stay in at night,” Joe told Houdini, the big, orange, cantankerous-looking tabby he was trying to stuff into a carrier. Not flippin’ likely, said Houdini, although of course he didn’t because he was a cat. Instead, he arched his back, flipped his bottom over Joe’s arm, and catapulted himself onto the dresser, the top of which was crammed with Joe’s girlfriend’s precious ornaments. He skipped across the Royal Doulton figurine and skidded the china egg full of earrings into the framed picture of Joe’s girlfriend smiling into the glazed face of a Brad Pitt lookeelikee.
Joe jumped up and flung a grab at Houdini who leaped over the back of the dresser, taking two pot mice and a fancy glass perfume bottle down with him.
“Ruddy cat!” Joe had already made three attempts to bung Houdini into the container, but it was still far fewer than it had taken Cats’ Protection when they tried to prise him away from PreciousPersians.co.uk. Their owner had already seen a number of unsalable progeny following his randy incursions. Houdini had been in and out of those carriers so many times that his ‘rescue’ name was a no-brainer.
“That’s him,” the Cats’ Protection lady had said, showing Joe into a double-doored pen at the bottom of her garden. “He’s a handful.” Houdini cast a baleful eye at Joe.
“He breaks out of everywhere.” Houdini extended a paw towards the chicken wire, and half-lidded his gaze.
“Breaks into places too. Stole some Felix pouches and a pair of knickers once.”
It seemed Houdini’s rap sheet was extensive, and the perp closed both eyes with a what can I say? sort of look about him.
“You should get him chipped.”
“Absolutely!” Joe had a plan. “My friend’s a research vet; GPS-enabled microchips you pair with your catflap.” More or less, he thought. Tom wasn’t exactly a friend, more a post-curry endurance-boozing mate from the rugby club. He wasn’t exactly sure Tom was a vet either, but he said he worked in the vet college labs on those chips, so he most likely was, right? Joe peered at the large orange backside filling the grille of the lock-down that was Houdini’s ride home. ‘Right, we’re off. Wish me luck!’
So now Joe was grappling with an armful of hacked off cat, and said hacked off cat was kicking up a storm behind Joe’s girlfriend’s dresser, in amongst the broken knickknacks he’d contrived to get down there.
“Gotcha!” Joe hefted a pile of old books into one end of the gap between the wall and the dresser. But before he could get to the other end, Houdini shot out like a cork from a bottle of well-shaken bubbly, and flew straight up the curtains. Joe made a lunging grab and Houdini relocated, twinkle-toed along the top of the pelmet and then tipped himself, like a long sinuous slinky, down the edge of the window frame — straight into the laundry basket.
“Ha!” Joe leaped on the basket, scooped out the yowling bundle of affront, and stuffed him into the carrier, still wearing the mohair pashmina Joe’s girlfriend had folded carefully into the basket for hand washing. Job done.
“Turn around when possible.” Joe’s navigation system didn’t much like where they were. Neither, it seemed, did Houdini who stopped trying to scythe through the wicker carrier and struck a pose of glinting malevolence at its rear. Tom, on the other hand, displayed a range of reactions to their arrival that went from furtive through recognition, finally coalescing into a rather alarming kind of excited. He let Joe in and hurtled off down the corridor, lobbing verbiage about ‘my project’ over his shoulder as he went. Joe hopped along behind, lugging Houdini and snatching words out of the air: “innovative,” ‘cutting edge,’ ‘no, forget the “cutting” part.’
“This is regular uni research with a grant and everything?” Joe huffed to a halt behind Tom in a pokey, un-researchy looking room stacked with gadgets and looking out over a yard milling with motley mogs.
“Getting there.” Tom grinned a toothpaste grin. “Anyway, want to see how it works?” His trigger finger was itching over a button marked ‘ON’. “Look in the yard.” His mouth curled up at the edges, like a schoolboy who just found a sticky, half-sucked toffee in his pocket. He thumbed the button. Every cat in the yard came to a halt. Every cat; black, white, tabby, long, tall, boxy, scruffy, velvety, long haired, and bald, turned as one towards its own pen. Long legs, short stubby legs, legs with plumes, frills, and pantaloons, and legs like chicken drumsticks, began to march — left right left right left — right into the pens, and with a SWOOOSH, all the doors closed behind them.
“See? Home and dry and not running amok, caterwauling at the neighbours!” Tom waved his arm in a wide flourish, like a magician after a trick. “Now, let’s get Houdini’s kit fixed up and loaded with his safe routes.” Tom unhooked the lid of the carrier. He reached in with a green razor and shaved a tiny patch from the back of Houdini’s neck. Then, with hands flying like a prestidigitator, he blobbed on a speck of his special glue, plinked a minute chip on top, hummed a hair dryer over the spot, and snapped the lid back on. “Chipped!” he announced. “Just the programming now –”
Houdini growled. If cats could be not amused, Houdini was not amused. He sizzled a low hiss.
Joe’s mouth flapped open, like a cat flap, his mind sniggered.
Tom was beaming like all his summers had come at once. He poked at a small console, swiped some stuff across the screen, and handed it to Joe. “There you go, first working prototype of Tom’s Tom-Tom! Satisfaction guaranteed!”
Houdini begged to differ. He extended a lazy leg and hovered it by his ear, unsheathing blades of keratinous liberty. He’d got shot of ticks bigger than this.
Suzanne Conboy-Hill is a health care specialist in learning disabilities currently researching in virtual worlds and capacity to consent. In her other worlds, she provides hotel services to several cats, a couple of dogs, and a large number of uninvited spiders.