The Call of the Cat Basket

The new York Cat Crime Mystery is published on November the 5th. The date is no coincidence. The book is set on Bonfire Day & Night.

Theodore in Dis-Guy-se

The first chapter is presented below.

Basket Case

Theodore did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every home-dwelling creature, fat or thin, hairy or furry, from New Earswick to Middlethorpe.

A protest march was planned for the city of York. Members of an anonymous anarchist group, who hid their faces behind Guy Fawkes masks, planned to descend on the city to protest about the government and the state of the nation. They were to be joined by several other groups: environmental protestors, students against fees, old people against death, cow welfare activists, badger cull protestors, members of a Radiohead Facebook group… You name it – they were descending on York in their thousands.

Theodore didn’t like to think too much of the greater concerns of the human world, if he could help it. He was beyond caring. As long as he had food in his bowl and a warm place to sleep, he was perfectly happy. Happy to be unaware. If only humans took the same view, the world would be a better place. He yawned with sleepy satisfaction. Then something hit him on the head.

He opened his eyes and glared at the dirty nappy that was inches from his head. He sniffed the offending parcel. It smelled of human waste. Baby waste to be precise.

‘Sorry, Theo,’ Emily said, fastening the poppers on Joseph’s babygrow. ‘Didn’t see you down there.’

Theodore looked up. Emily had just finished changing the baby, although Theodore preferred to refer to it as the Pink Hairless Interloper. He got to his paws and voiced his disapproval.

‘Come on. It didn’t hurt. We all have to poo, don’t we now?’

Perhaps it’s time you taught it to go outside, Theodore thought back.

Emily’s attentions returned to the baby. ‘You like tickles on the tummy,’ she said, and Theodore heard the Pink Hairless Interloper giggle.

‘You like that, don’t you… don’t you, Joey?’

And the Pink Hairless Interloper giggled again.

I think I’ll go downstairs, Theodore thought. There might be more intelligent forms of life down there.

Unfortunately there was just Jonathan, who was staring blankly at the television in the kitchen, a mug of tea in his hand. He was watching the news, as if it mattered; as if what was going on in the wider world was actually going to affect his existence. Why couldn’t I have had less ordinary humans? Theodore wondered.

Theodore padded past him and checked out the food bowl situation. His food had not been replenished since the night before. Even his water bowl did not have a cat’s whisker of water in it.

He miaowed at his bowls.

‘Shush,’ Jonathan said, not looking away from the television. ‘You’ll get fed as soon as Emily comes down.’

Jonathan knew that cats don’t miaow at other cats. Like human babies, they just use their undeveloped vocal cords to whine and bleat for food or drink from adult humans. They probably picked it up from human babies.

Theodore looked up at the television.

‘In other news today,’ the newsreader said, ‘a cat has been found in a child’s packed lunch bag on a roundabout in Tang Hall, York. A passer-by heard the cat’s cries and came to its rescue. It is now being cared for by the York branch of the Cats Protection League.’

Theodore’s ears flattened against his head. Best to stay indoors, Theodore thought, glancing at his cat flap. Bad things happen outside.

He looked over at his cat basket in the corner by the radiator. Bad things happen outside, the cat basket agreed. As soon as you’ve had your breakfast, you come for a nice long nap. A good eight hour snooze will set you up nicely for the day.

Theodore’s internal monologue was interrupted by the television newsreader in the corner of the room.

‘We have news just in… Milton Macavity, a convicted murderer, also known as ‘The Napoleon of Crime,’ is on the run from prison following a dramatic escape. Macavity was transferred to York Hospital early this morning, when it appears he faked an acute appendicitis.

‘Before going into the theatre for an emergency operation, he overpowered two prison guards and assaulted several people, including hospital staff and members of the public, before leaving the hospital on foot, wearing only a surgical gown. The police have warned the public not to approach the ginger-haired man, but to phone them and report it immediately. He has a history of violent behaviour…’

‘That’s only a stone’s throw away from us,’ Jonathan said. He picked up his mug and had a drink of Yorkshire Gold (‘a blend of 3 leaf origins from the top 10 tea gardens in the world’). ‘An escaped convict in the neighbourhood… Whatever next?’

Whatever, Theodore thought. We should never have moved to Haxby Road. I think I might have said so at the time. Next?

He approached the cat flap and stared through the rectangle of clear plastic, as a precaution to exiting.

A clothes line was hung across the yard. On it there was a row of babygrows, bibs, tiny pairs of socks and then a mixture of Emily’s and Jonathan’s clothes. The air was damp and there was no breeze. Rather optimistic, thought Theodore.

Then a pink-faced man with short ginger hair and ginger stubble appeared. He was wearing only a hospital gown. It must be the escaped convict: Milton Macavity, Theodore deduced.

The man turned his back to the house, exposing a pair of dirty grey boxer shorts. He cast off the hospital gown and tossed it into the corner of the yard. He snatched a pair of black jeans from the line and began to put them on.

Theodore turned and miaowed that Milton Macavity, convicted murderer and escaped convict, was in the back yard stealing a pair of Jonathan’s jeans.

Jonathan turned away from the television for a moment. ‘You’ve got a cat flap,’ he said. ‘Use it.’

Theodore turned once more to the cat flap. Milton was now putting on Jonathan’s red and black checked shirt. Theodore announced the latest development.

This time Jonathan didn’t even turn round. He just said, ‘I’m not going to get up and open the door. Just use the cat flap like any reasonable cat.’

Theodore looked back through the cat flap.

Milton was putting on a pair of light blue and dark blue hooped rugby socks.

Then came the voice from behind him. Why would you want to go outside? You don’t want to go chasing escaped convicts, now do you?

Theodore turned round and looked back at his cat basket. It was positioned in front of the radiator. It was brown and furry with the roof stretching over to form a warm cocoon. One of Emily’s old woollen jumpers lay in the bottom. Theodore had managed to knead the jumper to the point that she could wear it no longer and he had then inherited it. From the basket he could survey his food bowls, the cat flap and also any activity in the kitchen: the epicentre of the house. His cat basket was the perfect place.

Humans spend too much time looking for perfect places. Moving houses in the hope of happier lives. Expensive holidays in exotic locations. Retreats in remote wildernesses… They had yet to realise that the perfect place was a warm furry cave by a radiator. Life is oh-so-simple, if only you let it be.

Theodore blinked his eyes. He turned back to the cat flap.

Milton was wearing Jonathan’s shirt, jeans and socks. The escaped convict looked down at his stockinged feet and the wet grass and shook his head. He didn’t have any shoes, Theodore realised.

Then came the voice in his head again. Just let it go, it said. They’re just clothes. Who needs clothes after all? You come and have a sleep. This jumper is so soft. When you wake, everything will be just fine…

Theodore knew he had to resist the call of the cat basket. There was an escaped convict in his yard, who had stolen half of Jonathan’s wardrobe. He needed to take up the pursuit of this escaped convict. He nosed open the cat flap.

You don’t want to go outside, came the voice again. Bad things happen out there.

Oh, be quiet, Theodore thought, silencing the voice in his head. He pushed his head and then his body through the rectangular opening. With a snap, the cat flap shut behind him.

Milton was standing just a few yards away. He spotted the big grey fluffy cat. He caught the cat’s eye and placed a forefinger to his lips.

Theodore decided it would be wise to hold still his throat and not call out the alarm.

Milton walked over to the boundary wall. He jumped over it into the next yard.

Theodore padded over to where Milton had thrown the hospital gown. He sniffed it. It smelled of Old Spice deodorant and stale sweat. Theodore inhaled the odour, committing it to memory.

He glanced back at the house. From upstairs, he could hear the Pink Hairless Interloper squealing. From the kitchen he could hear the muted outpourings of the television. He miaowed at the house.

You know you don’t want to leave the comforts of home, the cat basket called back. Inside is good; outside is bad. Bad things happen out there…

He looked at the side wall, over which Milton had vaulted. Then he looked back at his own house. He was going to have to go it alone.

His tail raised up behind him, Theodore set off after Milton. He jumped up on top of the boundary wall and looked across at the rows of backyards separated by red brick walls. Milton was nowhere to be seen.

Theodore sniffed the damp autumn air. There was the faint smell of smoke; the smell of used nappies in the outside bin, moulding leaves in gutters, car exhaust fumes and the scent of urine sprayed by a neighbouring cat. But he could not pick out Milton’s smell and from that the direction which he had taken.

You can still come back, the cat basket called. It’s warm by the radiator. You can forget what you’ve seen. You can sleep away the day. You can dream beautiful dreams…

And Theodore did consider giving in to the voice and returning to the furry cave by the radiator. His perfect place.

But then he heard voices. Raised voices…

Theodore jumped down into the next yard and then up onto the next wall, following the voices. He hurdled several boundary walls.

You really don’t want to do that, came the voice, fainter now.

But Theodore’s ears were pricked back and his tail was standing up straight. He was in hot pursuit. His next case had begun.

The Call of the Cat Basket

Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Acomb

You may think that Acomb is one of the lesser interesting parts of York, but delve beneath the surface and you may come across some interesting facts. Here are ten things that you may or may not know about York’s largest suburb.

  1. The name Acomb most likely comes from the Old English Acum meaning ‘At the oaks’. This suggests that Acomb was once wooded. The original village has since grown to have a population of over 20,000 people. From little acorns do mighty oaks grow, as they say.
  2. History tells us that Septimus Severus’s body was burned on a pyre on Severus Hill in Acomb. Septimus Severus was a Roman Emperor, who died in York in AD211. Today his influence can be seen in the street names Severus Street and Severus Avenue. Nobody seems to know for sure where Severus Hill is actually located but my hunch is that there is a water tower built on top of it these days.
  3. Acomb House is situated opposite the entrance to Morrisons supermarket. In the nineteenth century Canon Raine exposed a Roman mosaic in his back garden. He quickly covered it up again and would not let anyone know its precise location for fear that it would be removed. One wonders if it will ever see the light of day again.
  4. Alfred Lord Tennyson, the royal poet laureate for most of the nineteenth century, had a brother called Edward. The unfortunate Edward was institutionalised in Acomb Asylum the whole of his adult life until his death in 1890. His grave can be found in St Stephen’s graveyard.
  5. Acomb Green was once a giant sand pit, that’s why it’s cut into the hillside. ‘Acomb Sandhole’ provided fine sand for sale to the local builders. It may well be present in the mortar holding your house together.
  6. Acomb did not become part of the City of York until 1937. Before then it was part of West Yorkshire.
  7. The 1930s Regent Building on York Road, now home to the present-day Co-op and other businesses, was a cinema until the 1950s. It could seat almost 900 people. It opened on 12 February 1934 with Maurice Chevalier in A Bedtime Story and closed on 4 April 1959 with Sierra Baron. Anecdotal evidence suggests it was shut down due to rowdy teenagers, both inside and outside the cinema.
  8. The Acomb Stakes is a horse race that takes place in August every year at York Racecourse, presently on the first day of the Ebor Festival. The seven-furlong flat race takes its name after the York suburb.
  9. Acomb has a namesake in Northumberland, located to the north of Hexham. This other Acomb is a former mining village with a population of just 1,270.
  10. Acomb is home to York’s finest (fictional) feline sleuth: Theodore…

Rear Garden: The Cat Who Knew Too Much, the sequel to The First of Nine: The Case of the Clementhorpe Killer, is set in Acomb. While writing it I came across the above facts and many more.

By setting the novel in Acomb, I could explore what might lie beneath the surface of a seemingly ordinary suburb.

By having a cat as the central character, Theodore can access places denied to humans. He can pass through hedges into other people’s gardens without anybody batting an eye. He can peer through windows, carrying out undercover surveillance without the householder realizing. He can trail a suspect without arousing suspicion. Having a cat as a detective may not be as crazy as it might at first sound…

Rear Garden, like its predecessor The First of Nine, is a cat’s take on murder mystery. It’s cozy crime with claws!

Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Acomb