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Kathy and Petra arrived, shoulder to shoulder, breathless, radiating truimph. Petra’s hair was a bird’s nest, complete with twigs and leaves. Kathy had pulled threads in her jumper and an enormous patch of mud on one knee of her jeans.

"We found the cat," Petra said.

"Or she found us," Kathy said.

Emma scooped up a spoonful of cuppucino. "So she’d gone walkabout?" she said.

"It doesn’t suprise me," Sue said, tapping a concrete rusk on her plate like a gavel. "If anyone gave me a name like Salami, I’d go walkabout too. And I wouldn’t come back."

"But then you’re not into food," Emma said. "Salami is."

"She was supposed to be called Salome," Petra said. "But my sister’s kids didn’t know that word, so they went for the nearest one to it."

"Where had she been?" Emma asked.

"We think Mrs Campbell had her," Kathy said.

"That’s the old lady up the road," Petra said.

"I though you’d asked there?"

"Asked!" Kathy growled. "We smelt there. She opens the door two millimetres and it hit you. Petra was gagging, it was so bad, and I kept saying ‘Do it, it won’t make any extra mess’. And behind her it’s knee deep in moth-eaten dogs and starving, mangy moggies, all watery eyes and running sores, some of them so weak they can barely drag themselves up.

"So we ask her and she says no she hasn’t seen her, and of course she’d recognise her, she’s so like her own Flopsy ...".

"You told me Salami was a genetic freak," Sue said.

"She is," Petra said. "She’s the only monochrome tortoise-shell that I’ve ever seen."

"So anyway, we looked in a few other places," Kathy said, "Like down the drains ..."

"... which are full of mutant rats forging renaissance masterpieces," Petra said.

"... and in the roof ..."

"... where there’s a whole aeroplane that predates the Wright brothers ..."

"... and under all the bushes in the park ..."

"... where all we found was coke cans."

"Did you try your old flat?" Sue asked.

Petra shook her head. "She hated the place. No birds. No trees. Nowhere to sun herself. A thug of a tom who thought he owned the place. She wouldn’t go back. Particularly not after three weeks."

"So back it came to Mrs Campbell?" Emma said.

"All the neighbours said that’s where she was. Mrs Singh says Mrs Campbell’s always pinching her kids’ rabbit, and Mrs Nguyen watches her chooks like Mrs Campbell was a fox."

"Arani Singh offered to try for us," Petra said. "She spun Mrs Campbell some yarn about Salami having FIBS, which was going to stand for Feline Infectious Breath Syndrome ..."

"Which Salami has," Sue said, "because she never cleans her teeth."

"... but Mrs Cambell didn’t ask. Arani said she just went tut-tut and said she hoped Salami wouldn’t come spreading it here."

"And two hours later, who turns up at the back door but Salami," Kathy said.

"She’s pretty sick. And she hadn’t been fed for days," Petra said. "But with any luck she’ll have enough sense not to get caught again."

"I’d like to do something about that woman," Kathy said.

"Have you tried the RSPCA?" Sue asked.

"They’re too busy running extermination camps," Kathy said.

"Maybe we could haunt her," Emma suggested, "with the ghosts of animals past."

"She wouldn’t notice," Petra said. "There’s no way she’d hear a plaintive ghostly miaow over all that yapping and yowling."

"Which means we need something a bit more substantial," Kathy said. "Donate her a pit bull, or a rotweiler, maybe."

Emma thought for a moment. "Maybe we could borrow Tigger."

Petra, Kathy and Sue looked at her, puzzled.

"He’s part of Customs’ exhibition of prohibited imports. A sort of Assamese feral cat. Black and orange stripes. Two and a half metres long, and I’m not sure if that includes the tail. Very friendly, really, if you don’t rub him up the wrong way. I’m sure we could borrow him for the weekend."

"Does he need a handler?" Kathy asked.

"You could use some of Jason’s friends. They’re into leather gear."

* * *

A furniture van with motor-cycle escort brought Tigger late on Friday afternoon. He yawned, sniffed, then deigned to step down. He paced the bounds of the back yard, sniffed at the cat flap in the back door, and then flopped down with his chin on the concrete surround to the fish pond, his paw trawling idly for passing goldfish. The house vibrated to the sound of a semi-trailer idling.

Salami glared from behind a firmly closed window, and returned to washing the yellow streak down her back.

The neighbours watched from behind high fences.

Mrs Campbell’s voice wafted plaintively across the street. "He’s just like my Tiddles, Mrs Singh, come back at last ..."

At three in the morning, the neighbours were still watching, as Mrs Campbell ambled slowly down the street with a bucket of milk, a gigantic collar and a leash.

* * *

Emma finished her second eclair before asking "And how is Tigger?"

"Tiddles," Kathy said.

"He’s not pleased," Petra said. "He was peering out of Mrs Campbell’s lounge room window last night with an If this is how you treat refugees, I want to go home expression."

"So when are we going to get him back?"

Kathy frowned. "It’s not easy extracting a long-lost kitten from a lovelorn old lady."

"Even if he bites?"

"They’ve achieved peaceful coexistence," Kathy said. "Mrs Campbell’s not stupid. She knows she’s got to feed him, or she’s it. But she knows she’s not exactly at the top of Tigger’s list of succulent morsels, either."

"She’s cheating," Petra said. "The milkman delivered a case of valium last night."

"We’ve thought of a stop-gap," Kathy said. "Mrs Singh put this in the paper for us yesterday." She pushed forward a scrap of newsprint:

Assam cat, 2.5 metres, orange and black stripes. Must answer to Tigger. Panther and can of yellow paint favourably considered.

"It’d better get results," Emma said. "Because if Tigger’s not on show when the Director gets back on Friday, they’re going to lend me the white elephant as well."


Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1992

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