Mimjet’s plan to liberate the four cats was very simple, but to accomplish it seemed impossible when he considered that Bridges, the retired boxer, was guarding the room. He wanted very much to E-mail his cousin Agabi, the restaurateur, for advice. Agabi had once been a successful thief in India and knew many tricks. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to make the attempt unless Bridges stopped monopolizing the laptop and left the room. Even if he had the chance, Agabi might not answer his E-mail soon enough, if he answered at all.
Though Mimjet knew how to verbally persuade intellectual minds, Bridges was, he believed, a borderline moron, who would not respond to reasoning of any kind. It would do no good, for that matter, to play on his conscience, since Bridges, it appeared, had no conscience at all. Mimjet had once seen the ex-boxer remove an unruly guest at Reginald’s orders and then beat him senseless outside. Bridges hated Mimjet for what he considered were his ‘heathen ways,’ and yet the pugilist had a pentagram and swastika tattooed on his chest.
As Bridges searched for pornography on the web, Mimjet paced back and forth over the floor, mentally searching for a plan. After much thought and prayer, the Indian realized exactly what he must do, and, on the matter of conscience, it gave him a moment of mental pain. He had promised that Francine’s part in the conspiracy would never be known and she would not loose her job, but, in order to gain her cooperation, he must make it appear as if she was complicit in the affair. Early that morning in the garden, when he and Francine were alone, he told her what they must do. It took several moments for the information to be digested in the English woman’s dense mind.
“Tell me again,” she asked incredulously, “how are we going to spring the cats?”
“I told you,” Mimjet sighed impatiently, “we will make that moron think they’re gone.”
“I don’t follow you,” she passed a trembling hand through her flaxen hair.
“Don’t follow, just listen this time,” Mimjet counseled gently. “I will join those four cats inside the closet, and when he goes to get help, open the window, place the cats in the sack and lower it to the ground. I will, of course, lower myself down afterwards too.”
“And where will I be?” She studied him in disbelief.
“You will be in the get-away car,” he reminded her impatiently now.
“I will do no such thing!” she said, folding her delicate arms.
He wrung his finger at her and spoke in his most severe tone: “you will, dear nanny, because, Reginald will not believe that I did this by myself. Was it not you who brought them into this house? You, after all, have the greatest motive: profit. I’ve already implicated you by stealing some of the shopping money and storing away some of their food. I’ll mail them a letter with my accusation. Otherwise, if you help me, they might blame both of us if they find out, but they’ll have no proof! These cats aren’t their property, Miss Francine. They were humans, who’ve been turned into cats!”
“You filthy beast!” she cried.
“Be packed and ready,” he ordered her gently. “My uncle Agabi will find you employment if you wish. We do this for a greater good, Miss Francine. You are a pretty lady, but you were never really very good at this job.”
It was still early morning. The Cromwell family was asleep. It was a perfect time, Mimjet was certain, to rescue the cats. When Bridges left to relieve himself, which also meant he was going to have himself another smoke, Mimjet, who had been forbidden to be in the room alone with the cats but had gained Turner’s confidence, grabbed a large sack and then a length of rope Indira and Maj had thrown up to him from the yard below. He then called something in Bengali to them and then began gathering up the cats and dropping them into the closet one-by-one.
“Hey, careful with the ribs!” Ed hissed, as he was transported across the room.
Buck scampered eagerly into the closet, purring with expectation as he joined Tom and Ed. Jim, who was sound asleep, was, of course, picked up with his cushion and didn’t awaken as Mimjet laid him gently inside.
“All right boys, you know the plan!” he called in to them. “It’s now or never. My accomplice is waiting below in her car.”
The cats were frightened. Jim, who awakened in the dark, was comforted by the mental exchange of his comrades around him. Their fate was totally in Mimjet’s hands. If he failed, they would be scientific curiosities the rest of their lives. Francine, who sat numbly in her car, answered her cell phone, and listened to Mimjet’s command: “Start your engine and drive up to the side of the house.”
“I had to leave half of my clothes in that house!” She almost wept.
“I will buy you new clothes,” Mimjet promised, as he climbed into the closet with the cats. “What you do now is the most important thing you’ve done in your short unspectacular life!”
At that point, Mimjet turned off his cell phone and prayed silently to himself. Within moments, Bridges was entering the room with a lunch he had made for himself. When he realized the room was empty and saw the open window, he came to the conclusion that Mimjet was certain he would make. In typical English jargon he cried, “Someone pinched the cats!”
Beside himself with rage, the pugilist stormed around the room. His well-groomed hair, moustache, and chiseled features belied his long years in the ring. Having heard the commotion inside, Turner, a large, overweight fellow, charged into the room. Only a moment later Veronica, Agnes, the cook, and the gardeners Clyde and Earl came running up the stairs. When they saw the empty room, pink slips loomed in their overwrought minds.
“Where did they go Bridges?” Turner asked the pugilist, a faint smell of rum detectable on his breath.
“You were standing at the bleeding door, you tell me, you bleeding imbecile!” Bridges shot back.
“This ain’t my fault!” Turner cried defensibly. “You watch your tone!” He looked menacingly at the smaller man.
Veronica and Agnes, who would share the blame when the Cromwells returned from town, looked accusingly at the two men.
“He couldn’t even watch four cats!” Agnes murmured to Veronica.
“Will, it sure ain’t my fault, deary,” Veronica shook her head. “All I done is brought up them bags of cat food and litter. I ain’t laid eyes on them since.”
“All we done is bring up the sand,” said Clyde, looking back at Earl.
“Let’s spread out,” ordered Bridges, “they can’t be far!” “I’ll check the top floor,” cried the pugilist.
“I’ll cover the bottom,” said Turner
“Agnes, Clyde, Earl, and I will check the grounds,” promised Veronica. “You blokes better find them cats before the Cromwells wake up!”
With the room now empty, Mimjet acted quickly. All four cats were stuffed into the sack, with poor Jim whimpering the entire time. “Easy does it Mimjet!” Buck could not help transmitting. After tying the bag tightly with rope, Mimjet lowered it down to Indira and Maj, who swiftly untied the knot, and ran together with the bag toward the car. A stream of invectives and blasphemies flowed from Jim’s mind into the other cats’ heads.
“Oh, I remember my Dickens now, I surely do,” Mimjet mumbled frantically as he tied the end of the rope to Reginald’s massive desk and then began the more difficult task of climbing down the line. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” “Yes in deed, I’m like Rumplestiltskin,” he murmured giddily. “If Bridges catches me, I am also like Sidney Carton in Dickens’s Tail of Two Cities, for I am dead…. I must save the cats, but I must also save myself!”
Indira and Maj, who had helped Francine load up the car, now dumped their precious cargo into the back seat and climbed in themselves. When Mimjet reached the ground, he thanked Vishnu, Shiva, Buddha, and the Christian god Jesus and began running frantically across the lawn. Clyde and Earl, who were combing this portion of the grounds, spotted Mimjet, but the gardeners were Mimjet’s friends and saluted him as he passed.
“Godspeed!” Earl called out in parting now. “This house won’t be the same without you!”
With a wry smile, Clyde asked Mimjet as he approached the vehicle. “Was it worth it, you crazy Hindu? You’ve thrown away your jobs for those stupid cats!”
“It was worth it my friends,” Mimjet cried out as he climbed into the front seat of the car. “These are not just cats, they are magical cats—blessed by the gods!”
By now Bridges and Turner had returned to Reginald’s study and looked out the window in time to see Francine’s car pull away from the curb, move quickly around the circular driveway and whiz down the private road leading out of the estate. There was, the two men realized, no way they could run down the stairs, climb into the limousine and catch up with the fugitives in time. More importantly, the overweight chauffer was too winded to try.
“I knew it, I just knew it,” Bridges pounded the windowsill with his fists. “That crazy Hindu was behind this. He’s gonna make a fortune off those cats!”
“No, Bridges,… that’s not why he did this,” Turner declared reflectively, sitting down in front of Reginald’s desk and mopping his brow. “…. He really cared about those cats. I heard him talking to them; he believes they were sent by the gods. I think he worships those little beasts!”
“You realize, Mimjet, I’m practically a fugitive now,” Francine complained bitterly, as they headed south toward Shadowbrook Arms. “When my next employer asks me where I worked, I will have to say in England. There will be a three year void on my resume for this city. The Cromwells will tell them that I’m a thief. I’ll never work in this town again!”
“If you insist on being a nanny,” Mimjet consoled her gently, “you can use myself and Agabi for references, but I think you can do better Francine. Why don’t you go to college and get your degree. Isn’t there anything else you can do but take care of someone else’s brats?”
“I bet I know what she could do,” Jim offered as Francine thought about her reply.
“Jimbo, you rascal!” Buck chuckled, as the mental imagery played in all their minds.
“… I haven’t a clue,” she confessed finally, looking into her mirror at the twins glowing faces and listening to the soothing sound of cats purring in her car.
“I am thinking, you would make a fine nurse,” chirped Indira.
“I am thinking, you would make someone a fine wife,” chimed Maj.
Mimjet laughed softly as he patted Francine’s knee. For the first time in the three years they had worked together in the Cromwell’s house, he dared think of her as a woman, a bit too pale for his tastes but with a fragility that stirred his imagination now that he was his own man.
“We know what old Mimjet’s thinking!” Buck transmitted, hopping up on the back of the seat and looking down her blouse.
“You were working below minimum wages for those people, Francine,” Mimjet reminded her gently. “Anything you do from now on will be better than taking care of those brats. I’m not worried about your future, Francine,” he said wryly, reaching back and giving Buck a pat. “You’re a beautiful woman, who must cultivate her mind and venture forth into the world!”
Buck was not certain of his own future, but he looked fondly down at Francine’s breasts, wondering if he too might appeal to the English woman when he was once again a flesh and blood man. There was something very special about being a cat now. He was not worried about competing with Mimjet for Francine’s favors. Mimjet, after all, thought they were gods!
Recalling Tom’s message typed on Reginald’s computer, Mimjet remembered the Main coon’s reference to Shadowbrook Arms. His own laptop had been left back at the estate, but, using a copy of the Yellow Pages snatched by Indira and a road map found in the glove compartment of Francine’s car, he pinpointed where the apartment complex was on a the map. Purring and swishing their tales expectantly, Buck, Tom, and Ed jumped up and down the front seat, while Jim continued to ask those proverbial words, “Are we almost there?” The closer they came to their destination, as Francine followed Mimjet’s instructions, the louder and more excited the four cats became as they waited to be reunited with their friends.
As Buck and his gang were driven back to Shadowbrook Arms, Sheldon and the girls, now that they had escaped the old woman’s zoo, scrounged the alleys and streets downtown for untainted food. “The trick,” Sheldon tried to sound confident, “is to wait for restaurant garbage to be tossed out in back of buildings.” After waiting for just the right moment, he directed Tanya and Penny to assist him in salvaging their first meal from a box of chicken scraps just thrown into a dumpster.
“It’s fresh out of the pot!” declared Sheldon.
Peering down into the dumpster, the gray Norwegian forest cat looked smart and handsome as he tippy-toed onto the dumpster ledge.
“I’m not eating garbage,” vowed Tanya, lingering in the background now.
“Then starve,” thought Penny, looking back with a sneer. “I love chicken. I wonder if it’s Parmesan or cordon bleś.”
“Picatta!” Sheldon meowed jubilantly.
“No kidding?” cried Penny in disbelief, hopping up alongside of him on the ledge. “Come on sister,” she called down to the pouting Tanya, “let’s eat!”
Reluctantly now, the little Siamese leaped up lithely onto the rim as if she was born to her exquisite form and joined them in the dumpster for the meal.
In addition to picatta, they found discarded pastries and fresh mashed potatoes, so that their first full meal as cats turned into a feast.
As Sheldon and the girls trotted south on the road to Shadowbrook Arms they were filled with hope for the first time during their nightmare on the street. They didn’t have a clue how the spell would be broken and they didn’t have the same sense of timeliness effecting the other cats. Sam and Drew had implanted the notion in the other cats that they were running out of time before becoming one hundred percent cats. Buck and his gang had felt this too. For Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny, the only question was whether or not India’s death meant they were trapped or freed from the spell. Their main concern, at this point, was getting back safely to Shadowbrook Arms.
After filling their little bellies, the two female cats, bolstered by Sheldon’s optimism, felt as confident as he that they would find their way home. Sheldon was certain that they were on the correct road and, if they continued due south, would arrive home soon. Suddenly, however, as Tanya began complaining about the long, tireless journey ahead, another cat appeared on their path. Unlike the previous felines that Sheldon was able to “hiss” away, this big tailless, multicolored cat would not move. It was, of course, a feral Manx hybrid, and it didn’t respond to the telepathy transmitted from their minds. It was, in fact, interested in the females cowering behind Sheldon’s side and was prepared to do battle to that end.
“Oh God,” Sheldon heaved a sigh, “this one’s not going to move!”
“It’s very simple,” Penny decided, a sudden inspiration filling her head.
The same thoughts naturally came to the other two too. Question: how do you spook a cat? Answer: You scare it! Do what the feral cat does not expect: human gestures and sounds, done loudly and jerkily in a variety of unexpected ways.
And so, as the big tom cat approached the trembling Sheldon, the two females began jerking around, making spitting and coughing noises, while Sheldon bolted up in the air and let out a very unfeline howl. Clearly, in the big cat’s feral mind, he was up against three inexplicable horrors. The effect was swift as expected, for he pivoted on his paw pads and ran.
To keep their spirits up as they trotted south, Sheldon told his two companions a story about Roy, a cat who adopted his family after being abandoned by the neighbors next door. Neither female knew his family were actually cat fanciers, so he spun for them quite a yarn.
“When the Howard’s moved back to Utah,” he began thoughtfully, “they also left their dog Scamper, but he was adopted by the Bradley’s across the street…. I was jealous of Dicky Bradley at first, since my own dog had recently died and, yes it’s true Tanya, I once hated cats. But Roy grew on my family, if not on me at first. He had many traits that were strange for a cat. One of them was that he thought he was a dog…. Don’t laugh, Penny, it’s true. He even barked and wagged his tail. He was not a friendly cat, I’m afraid. He would bite and scratch when we picked him up, and he would growl at us when he didn’t get his way, but he proved to be invaluable to my family one day…. A burglar tried to break into our house one night, and old Roy jumped up and latched onto her leg. It was a good thing we made poor Roy sleep outside, because she was unable to even climb into our house.”
“The burglar was a woman?” Tanya wrinkled her pink nose.
“Why not?” Penny shrugged her shoulders. “If cats can bark, women can steal.”
“I was caught shoplifting when I was twelve,” Tanya suddenly confessed.
“But we digress,” Sheldon said, nudging the exhausted females on. “…. The lady, who was trying to rob our house turned out to be the long lost daughter of the Howard’s next door.”
“Oh, you’re making all this up!” Tanya rolled her eyes.
“In our cookie cutter neighborhood the houses looked so similar that poor Roberta, the burglar, thought she had arrived home.”
“Roberta?” Penny mused thoughtfully. “Was she pretty?”
“Ugly as a five iron,” Sheldon began laughing, “but when she tried her key and it didn’t work, she attempted to go through the kitchen window…. That’s where Roy came in.”
Sheldon began to laugh so hard now, he lost his train of thought. It seemed plain to Penny that he had made the entire story up, but Tanya, who had been majoring in psychology, was not so sure. Sheldon’s old girl friend was named Roberta. Half of the story might therefore be potentially true. As the three cats crossed at a green light and Tanya asked him why he used that particular name, a familiar specter for cats materialized on the other side of the street. A Doberman pincer on a leash began to drag the unfortunate little woman taking him for a walk toward them as the woman crossed the street. Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny ran in the opposite direction and ducked beneath a parked van. The dog tore free of its master and stood outside their temporary haven, barking furiously at the cats underneath. The woman picked up the dog’s leash, yanked at it angrily and finally, after a flood of unladylike curses, coaxed the brute back on its walk.
“You’ve never forgotten Roberta,” Tanya said petulantly as they continued on their way. “I can see the symbolism of your story…. It’s not just about Roy, the cat who barks; it’s about a woman who steals back into your life, but you fight to keep her memory away. That’s where old Roy comes into the picture. Roy is your alter ego…. Scamper’s actually the love that got away.”
“Wait a minute,” Penny cleared her throat, “that doesn’t make sense. If Roberta, the thief, is trying to get back into his life, where does Scamper, the neighbor’s dog, fit in?”
“Roberta represents unrequited love and Scamper represents lost love!” Tanya replied dubiously.
“But Scamper is a male,” teased Penny.
Sheldon began laughing again. Soon, Tanya took Penny’s mental cue and began laughing too.
“Now it’s become a fairy tale,” she chimed, nudging both of her friends. “Roy, the Barking Cat!”