Packaging Is Everything
(Story 3 in the Building to Last universe)
Somehow, Doyle managed not to laugh in my face, even though I'd been acting like a first-time pet owner, fretting over how to move the family cat to our new flat. Accommodations had shifted most of my and Ray's possessions to our new billet. In fact, only one item remained to be transferred to the new address--and he was not happy.
Raven had been spending more and more time away from our old flat and the chaos of packing our duff for the move. I had been worrying that the independent sod would do a bunk and we'd never see him again. Ray had finally taken pity on my near-virgin experience of the joys of pet ownership and had suggested that we lock him in the box room with a litter box. I had thought it was a great idea.
Raven had not liked it worth a damn.
At first, he'd politely scratched on the closed door to tell us he had been inadvertently locked away. When Doyle and I ignored that, Raven politely meowed that he'd like to be let out. Again, we ignored him. Raven then raised his voice and yelled that he wanted out! When that brought no results, the black-hearted animal began to demand in no uncertain terms that he be let OUT! right NOW or ELSE!.
Ray's only comment was that Raven must have a Siamese or two in his family tree because only the Siamese can sustain that particularly strident variety of feline moan. I could tell Doyle thought the whole thing was very funny.
Four hours later, with Raven still alternately demanding to be let OOOUUT! and threatening dire consequences if he was not obeyed, Ray no longer thought it was so humorous. Neither of us got much sleep that night.
Next morning, I found Doyle standing outside the box room listening with appalled respect to Raven's cat curses and insistent demands. "Here, mate," I said as I handed him the carton I'd kept back from those provided by the movers.
"What's this for?" Doyle asked as he turned the box around in his hands.
"It's to move Raven to the new flat," I explained.
I could see the doubt on Ray's face as he looked from carton to door and back. "D'you really think this'll hold him?" he asked as he gestured in Raven's direction.
"Guaranteed to hold three stone," I said. "Raven's not more than a third that."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed and his green eyes seemed to bore right through my easy facade. "But he's one stone of very lively tomcat."
At this point, Raven threw himself against the closed door. Both Ray and I took an involuntary step away from the ominous rattle. "And if you think I'm going to help you put that animal in a box, you've done your nut," Doyle said emphatically.
"But you will hold the box for me?" I wheedled shamelessly.
Ray sighed heavily and looked at me. "I'll hold the box," he agreed. "But getting him into it is your problem."
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and started towards the door.
"Oi, Bodie," Doyle said.
Glad to postpone the battle, I turned back toward my partner. "Yeah?"
"D'you have a pair of gloves about?" he asked.
"No," I said regretfully. "They were packed with the rest of our stuff."
"Too bad," Doyle said dolefully. "They might've helped."
I turned back toward the box room. Raven's Siamese moans had not let up. Taking a deep breath, I reached out one hand and turned the doorknob. Gently, I eased the door open a scant fraction-of-an-inch at a time.
Raven fell silent.
I continued to open the door. When I had a crack that wouldn't accommodate an anorexic mouse, I stopped.
A furry streak oozed through the opening, flashed through my legs, brushed past a startled Doyle and disappeared down the stairs.
Doyle dropped the box.
I leaned my forehead against the doorjamb and began to curse. When I finally ran out of breath and turned back to Ray, he had his back to me. I could see his shoulders shake in silent hysterics. When he finally turned around to see what I was doing, he barely managed to hide his grin.
I could have murdered the little bastard. Could have murdered Doyle as well.
"You misnamed that cat," Doyle said. "Should have called him Houdini."
"I'll Houdini him if I get my hands on 'im," I growled as I strode past Doyle on my way downstairs.
Ray picked up the carton and followed me down, then helped me hunt for Raven. We finally found him sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, grooming the fur on his stomach.
"That's disgusting, that is," Ray commented. "Taking a bath on the kitchen table that I just cleaned. He glared at the cat. Raven suspended his grooming and glared back at Doyle.
While the two of them were glaring at each other, I tried to inch my way closer to the table. When I thought I was close enough, I made a grab at Raven.
Only Raven wasn't there.
As I lay sprawled across the slick tabletop, I could see the tip of a black tail as it disappeared through the doorway into the sitting room. I felt no end the fool.
"Bodie-mate," Ray said thoughtfully.
I straightened up and gave Doyle a look that dared him to make any comment on my recent position. Keeping my eyes on him, I tucked the tail of my polo-neck back into my trousers.
"We need to plan this out," Ray continued. "Can't let a furry escape artist out think and outmanoeuvre two of the Cowley's finest. 'S'a matter of pride!"
"We know he's in the sitting room," I said thoughtfully. "The only ways out are the front door and this door."
"If we close this door, he can't get back out here," Doyle said. "And the front door's closed, so he can't get out there."
I may have been oversensitive to the ridiculous position I'd just got out of, but it seemed to me as if Ray were speaking to me the way you do to a slightly slow nephew when you are trying to get him to think it out for himself. But it all made sense, so I dismissed this niggling suspicion and went on with planning our campaign to capture the cat. "We need a net or something." I said. "He's too slippery to hold onto." "Not to mention his claws and teeth," Ray added.
I gave Doyle a pained look. I'd been trying to forget about Raven's natural defences.
Ray must have known what I was thinking, because he tried unsuccessfully to hide a grin. Then, he tried to placate me by suggesting, "How about using that old denim jacket we put in the dustbin? Don't think the bin's been emptied yet."
"Who's the bright lad?" I said approvingly. "You get that and I'll see what else I can find hanging about. In the meantime..." I firmly closed the door between the kitchen and the sitting room.
When I met Doyle back in the kitchen a few minutes later, he was carrying the remnants of his old denim jacket. I'd had to bribe him to throw the old rag out. (Cost me the price of an Alpaca cardigan jacket-- bloody highway robbery, I call it.) I had the oil-stained rug that we kept in the boot of the silver Capri in case of motor breakdowns, cold stakeouts or winter afternoons at rugby matches.
Doyle looked at me. I looked at him. Finally, I squared my shoulders and said, "Let's do it."
Ray opened the door to the sitting room a fraction-of-an-inch at a time. I held the old rug near the floor in case Raven tried a repeat of the debacle at the box room. Nothing happened.
When the door was open wide enough for one of us to squeeze through, I moved quickly into the room. Ray followed me, making sure the door was secured behind us.
Raven sat on the hearth with his paws neatly folded beneath him. He looked a near cousin to the Sphinx--still and inscrutable.
Doyle had dragged the carton into the room behind him. He dropped it near the door and began to circle round the room to the right. I circled to the left.
Raven didn't move. He seemed to be ignoring us.
When I thought we were in strike range, I looked at Doyle. He nodded slightly, automatically picking up on my signals. We both pounced.
I swear that bloody cat levitated a foot into the air. Then he turned into a black missile that streaked between the two of us and disappeared behind the settee. The jammy sod wouldn't come out. Near broke my back moving it, even with Doyle helping me. It didn't do us much good. Raven just streaked out from under it to lead us round the settee, over the table, in and out of the bookcase and across the cupboards. My only consolation was seeing Ray sprawled on the floor when Raven proved a few seconds quicker than Doyle thought he was.
At one time, Raven eluded us by climbing the curtains. I could see Ray wince at the sound of overstretched and aged drapery rending beneath the claws and weight of the tomcat.
"Those curtains'll come out of our salary," Ray moaned.
I didn't answer as I was too busy climbing on top of a wooden chair in an attempt to reach Raven. Should have remembered that it was the chair with the wobbly leg. Fell flat on my face when Raven leaped and I made a wild grab for him. Fortunately, Ray was underneath me. He broke my fall nicely, though I have landed on softer objects than his bony frame.
"Ooof!" Ray pushed up on me. "Gerroff me, you clumsy ox!"
I looked reproachfully into stormy green eyes. "You don't love me any more!" I declared.
"You weigh a bloody ton!" Doyle retorted. "And this floor is damned hard. Not to mention the fact that that sodding animal is sitting over there laughing his nut off!"
I looked up to see Raven perched on the mantle. The only word for his expression was smug. Made me understand a bit of how Ray feels when I give him what he calls my self-satisfied, patented smirk.
Wanted to strangle the little sod. Almost made me forget why we were making so much effort to take him with us. Raven can be an exasperating bastard when he feels like it. Can also be good company, a sympathetic ear and an affectionate little twit.
I carefully removed myself from my position on top of Ray's lithe body, then I gave my partner a hand-up. We stood and looked at Raven for a moment. Ray looked grimly over at me, determination firming his mouth. (I love looking at his mouth. 'S'a work of art and should be a national treasure. Course, that's just my opinion.)
"You get 'is attention," Doyle said. "I'll bag the little sod."
After nodding my agreement to Ray, I slowly moved toward where Raven perched on the mantle. Kept moving about, trying to keep him focused on me while Doyle sidled up on what should have been the animal's blind side.
Cats must have eyes in the back of their heads. Ray insists that Raven reads minds. Whatever it was, we didn't fool the furry beast at all. As Ray lunged, Raven was already in the air. Sailed right over my head, he did. Or almost over it. Felt the claws on his hind feet grab my head to give the little bastard more momentum.
I yelled like a banshee. It bloody hurt!
Ray glanced my way to make sure I wasn't too damaged, then continued his pursuit of the furry escape artist. With vengeance in my heart and determination in my soul, I joined my partner in the chase.
During the next ten minutes, I saw the furnishings of the sitting room from many strange and different angles. Finally, Raven made a small tactical error and I managed to throw the rug over the top of the daft bugger. Growls, howls and cat curses polluted the air as I tried desperately to hang onto the writhing bundle of wool rug and enraged feline. Sharp claws came right through the wool and punctured both my polo-neck and me. "Shit!" was the mildest thing I said.
Ray said it sounded like Raven and I were performing an obscene duet. I glared at him as he brought the carton over to where I crouched on the floor, but I didn't say anything. Was trying to figure out how to get Raven into the box without the rug. Finally got him partially unwrapped, then stuffed him quickly into the carton as Ray slammed the lid down.
I hurriedly got up from the floor and told Ray, "I'll get the keys, you get the box."
Ray glared at me. "Bodie...!" he began ominously.
"It's my turn to drive," I said placatingly as I swiftly backed out of the room. I could feel those angry emerald eyes boring into me even when I was in the next room.
Out of Doyle's sight, I took a moment to examine the punctures on my hands and tum. Bloody cat! But then, I wouldn't have reacted any better to someone stuffing me into a box.
I got the keys and waited for Ray at the door to the flat. The narked look in his slanted eyes told me he'd get me for this. At that point, I decided I'd rather have Doyle mad at me than have to handle that box. Raven was throwing himself about in it while yelling imprecations and threats in an alto Siamese scream.
By the time we got to the Capri, Ray was looking decidedly apprehensive. I managed to settle him in the back seat with the carton, though there wasn't much room and he had to sit sideways in order to fit.
As I started to pull out into traffic, a particularly bloodcurdling out- burst from Raven startled me into putting my foot down on the accelerator. The Capri shot out into the light traffic with a squeal of over-stressed tyres. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Ray bash his head on the doorframe. Afterwards, even when I couldn't see his face in the mirror, I could still feel those icy eyes glaring a hole in the back of my head.
The drive seemed to last forever. The noise from the back seat got more and more violent as Raven struggled to escape his prison. Doyle was practically wrapped around the box, trying to keep the bloody animal from battering his way out.
We were two blocks from the new flat when Ray's panicked yell of, "BODIE," almost caused me to drive up on the kerb.
"What?" I asked and flicked a quick glance in the mirror.
"'E's digging his way out!" Doyle yelled.
"What d'you expect me to do about it?" I asked in near-panic.
"Something!....anything!" Doyle said. "D'you want to lose him while we're still driving?"
I unconsciously leaned on the accelerator. We went from travelling five miles over speed to moving twenty miles an hour faster than was legal.
"BO-DIE!" Incipient hysteria raised Ray's voice a full octave.
"'Ang on!" I shouted. "We're almost there!" I spotted an open space by the kerb in front of the new flat and aimed the Capri for it. We made a kamikaze swoop and came to a jolting rest. "'E's got a hole in the box!" Ray yelled.
"D'you think you can get him inside before he gets out?"
"It'll take the two of us to try and hold the box together," Doyle replied.
I scrambled out of the motor and pulled the seat forward so that Ray could get out of the back. He practically shoved the carton into my arms as he wrestled his way out of the cramped quarters.
"Oh, shit!" I muttered as I got a good look at the rapidly widening escape route Raven was ripping in the box.
Doyle joined me at the kerb. We both wrapped our arms around the carton and practically sprinted up the front steps in a remarkable exhibition of co-ordinated panic.
When we reached the front door of the new flat, Doyle had to take most of the box as I had to have one hand free to scrabble for the keys to the front door. Took me three tries to get them out of where I'd jammed them in my pocket when I got out of the Capri. Heard something rip as I jerked them free. Almost dropped them, but finally managed to get the door open.
Doyle and I stumbled through the door just as the cardboard carton practically exploded in a burst of black fur and shredded paper. Acting as one, Ray and I dropped the remnants of the box and leaned back against the door, closing it with a slam.
Raven half-crouched in the front hall. His ears were flat against his head. His hackles were raised so that he looked twice as big as normal. Black whiskers stood straight out as his teeth flashed in a spitting snarl. Constant growls sang deep in his throat. Dilated green eyes practically glowed phosphorescent in the dim light of the fall afternoon. The long black tail lashed madly from side to side.
"What do we do now?" I asked Doyle.
"Why're you asking me?" Doyle said. "He's your cat."
I turned to face my partner in amazement. "He's our cat, Ray."
"How do you figure that?" Ray asked. He still hadn't taken his eyes off Raven.
"What's yours is mine and what's mine is yours, till death do us part," I told him.
"That doesn't include rampaging tomcats," Doyle retorted, finally turning to look at me.
"You going to abandon me in my time of need?" I asked him plaintively.
Doyle snorted inelegantly. "Who left me in the back seat of the Capri with the furry fiend?"
I felt a bit bad about that. Tried to justify it. "Just thought, you being used to cats and all, you might know something to calm him down." Tried my best little-boy-caught-with-his-hand-in-the-biscuit-jar look on him.
Ray wasn't having any, sending me back a look of frank disbelief.
By this time, Raven had disappeared somewhere within the flat. Ray and I slowly moved into the sitting room and collapsed on the settee.
Raven was stalking around the room, stomping his feet. Sounds ridiculous, dunnit? Cats are supposed to be so light on their feet-- silent stalkers and all. Raven is usually like that, but today, he was stomping his feet. Sounded like a herd of bloody elephants, he did.
As we sat and watched Raven stomp around the corners, lashing his tail and glaring at us every so often, Ray got a speculative look in his eyes. Finally, he turned to me and commented that, "I hope 'e doesn't stay mad too long, sunshine. He's liable to start spraying."
"Yeah," Ray said and I could see the little devil of mischief peering out of his almond eyes. "Male cats mark their territory by pissing on things."
I looked at my partner in utter horror. I knew who would be cleaning up after the little bastard if he did spray--and it wouldn't be Doyle.
"Maybe he won't think of this flat as his territory," I said hopefully. After a moment of thought, I looked at Doyle in suspicion. "Why didn't he spray the other flat, then?"
"Well behaved tomcats learn not to spray inside the house," Doyle answered with a touch of superiority in his tone. He grinned. "Unless they get narked at the people in it. Then, they do it for revenge."
I groaned. "Isn't there anything we can do to get him calmed down? Don't fancy living in a place that reeks of cat piss."
"Well," Ray said slowly, "My mum always said that if you rubbed butter on a cat's feet, he'd settle down."
I looked at him in total disbelief.
Ray looked slightly defensive. "She always said that if you could get a cat to start licking his fur and grooming himself that it calmed him down."
"If you think, for one moment, that I'm going to try to butter that furry sod's feet...!" Words failed me.
"Nah," Doyle said, looking at Raven. "Can't see either of us trying that unless we can borrow a full suit of armour."
"What do we do, then?" I asked.
"Wait, I guess. 'E can't stay mad forever."
"Dunno about that," I replied. "That cat's a good hater." In a transparent bid for sympathy, I drew up the edge of my jumper and peered mournfully at the bloody punctures across my turn.
"That looks bad, mate," Ray said in concern. "We'd best put something on it. Cat claws can be bloody filthy." A loud crash of broken porcelain drew our attention back to Raven. He was sitting on top of an end table with a smug expression. Below him on the carpet was the shattered remnants of a china table lamp. "Little bastard!" I muttered.
"Better that than spraying," Ray said philosophically. "Maybe he's got it all out of his system now."
"I hope so," I sighed prayerfully.
"Come on, love," Ray said. "Let's take care of those wounds. Besides," he continued, "I need to use the loo. Very nearly had a nasty accident when he started clawing himself out of that box."
I snickered slightly as Ray meant me to do. "Tough CI5 agent like you?"
"Yeah," Ray said pugnaciously, but I could see the suppressed grin behind the act.
I sighed dolefully. "You and me both," I admitted.
"Noticed you didn't have your full attention on your driving," Ray said.
"Worse than usual?" I asked.
Doyle grinned. "Nah. Bit better if anything. You ought to try driving with half a mind more often." He danced down the hall to the loo half-a- jump ahead of me. Knew I'd thump him for that last remark if I caught him.
In the loo, Ray had me pull off my jumper so that he could tend to my punctures. Despite the bloody peroxide, he was very gentle with me. I basked in the concern and affection that radiated from him as he tended the scratches on my hands, arms, head and tum. Was almost worth getting the worst of it from Raven.
Afterwards, I cleaned up the glass in the sitting room and Ray made us tea and sarnies. Raven, who'd investigated all the rooms in the new flat, went to the door and told me that he wanted out.
I didn't want to let the little bastard go, but I did anyway. If he was going to do a bunk, he'd do it eventually, no matter what we did. He never had really liked using a litter box, either. Must admit that it was nicer for me I when he did his business outside. Meant that I didn't have to clean up after him.
Ray and I had just finished our cheese sarnies when the sitting room I window began to rattle. I practically had to footrace Doyle to the frame to get the honour of opening it for our furry flatmate. Didn't beat him by much.
Raven didn't want to be petted. He had us both practically cooing over him. Was almost disgusting the way we tried to woo him out of his snit. I've seen people act like that about new babies and small dogs. Always swore that I'd never do it myself. Yet, here I was, opening a tin of salmon and practically talking baby-talk to a tomcat.
I drew the line at baby-talk. If I ever sunk to that level, Ray would never let me hear the end of it. Though he was acting almost as soppy as I was--and the salmon was his idea.
Raven lapped up the tinned fish, then moved to the sitting room. Ray and I sat on the settee and half-watched the BBC news while the cat settled down to serious washing.
"Looks like he's calmed down," Ray said. "Me mum always said that a grooming cat was a happy cat."
"You told me," I replied. "And we didn't even have to butter his paws." Ray gurgled with laughter.
"Wasn't that funny," I told him.
"Was just thinking what Cowley would say if he ever found out how two of his finest let a mere cat intimidate them that way."
I snickered, then sobered. Putting on a solemn look, I said, "That'd be bad for his blood pressure, that would. Would hate to be responsible for causing the Cow to have a stroke."
"You're right," Doyle agreed, equally mock solemn. "We'll just have to make sure he never finds out about this little incident."
We both dissolved into snickers. It took us a while to calm down.
Ray put his feet up on the settee and laid his head back in my lap. It felt good to sit there with my partner lying against me and Raven grooming himself on the carpet.
A slightly unpleasant thought intruded. "You do realize," I said to Doyle, "That we left Raven's litter box at the old flat?"
"We can get him another one," Doyle replied. His eyes were closed; he wasn't far from being asleep.
"Yeah," I agreed. "But that means that Accommodations is bound to charge us the fee for cleaning the flat."
Ray groaned at the palpable hit on his pocketbook. His eyes popped open. "After all that work we put into cleaning that place?!"
I gave him a hug. "I'll buy us dinner out tomorrow night, love. You can choose the restaurant."
"Let's save that till we're done unpacking," Ray suggested. "We'll enjoy it more."
"Determined to keep my nose to the grindstone, are you, 4.5?" I said lightly.
"As long as I can keep the rest of you right here," Ray said in a throaty voice. He reached one arm up to bring my head down for a kiss.
I smiled down into those lovely, exotic eyes. "I'm glad we're done with this move. 'M'not looking forward to the next time."
Ray closed his eyes as he lay back in my lap and groaned. "Don't even think about it!" he said. "I'm traumatized enough as it is." His eyes opened wide as he looked up at me and said, "Take us to bed, love?"
"That's the best idea you've had all day," I said approvingly. I helped Doyle sit up, then got off the settee and gave my mate a hand in standing up from the overstuffed piece of furniture.
I put one arm across Ray's shoulders and he put one arm round my waist. As we started for the bedroom, I noticed Raven was curled up on the seat of the armchair that stood across from the settee. His right paw covered his nose and I swear the little sod was snoring. He wasn't the only one who'd had a hard day. I knew that Ray and I would soon be adding our contribution to the midnight chorus.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 3, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1989