“Found it where?” I asked.
“Just laying around,” he said. “There’s all sorts of stuff just laying around right now, Spam. You wouldn’t believe the things people put in these boxes and leave on their porches. I’ve noticed a lot more of them lately, so I brought some back to see if there was anything inside. There’s been food in some of them. Here—” he reached a paw back and picked up a piece of something dense and colorful. “Do cats like fruitcake? Didn’t care for it myself.”
“Renfrew, I hate to tell you this, but they don’t leave those boxes laying around for coons to find. They’re calling you the UPS bandit!”
“I’ve been called worse,” he said, dropping the fruitcake and flinging the white box aside in disgust before tearing into another, unopened package.
“You’re taking peoples’ Christmas presents!” I told him.
“They put them outside, Spam. Honest. They didn’t want them.”
“They didn’t put them outside. The delivery guys brought them to the houses and left them outside for people to pick up when they came home. Except you got there first. There’s more of them now because people are ordering Christmas presents delivered.”
I put a claw through the plastic covering the box with a lady doll in a fancy dress inside. “This is some little kid’s dolly.”
He gave it a glance then went back to rooting around among the boxes. “Yes, well, you can’t tell from the outside, can you? A lot of them haven’t had anything shiny or good to eat, but lots have too!” He stuck his paw in a box and held up a sleek silver cell phone. “Look! I have a new phone. It’s all mine.”
I read the label on the torn edge of the box. “No, it’s not. It belongs to this Bert Smashnik guy.” I patted the dolly box. “And this is for—Mrs. Angela Atkins. I bet it’s for her little girl. Her main Christmas present.”
“And your point is?”
I was tempted to extend all of my points and let him see what they were, but didn’t for two reasons. One is that he also has sharp claws and teeth, and is maybe a pound or two heavier than me. The other is that he is my friend and he can be useful. I just had to appeal to his better nature. If only I could find it.
“Renfrew, you don’t even know how to use this stuff!” I told him, patting an iPad still in its package inside its box with the lid ripped off.
“I can feel it and wash it and make it shine!” he said. “And some of it looks like computers, and I can work computers better than you!” He flexed his hand-y paws at me.
“You can plug stuff in, but you can’t really make them work,” I told him. “Not out here in the woods. You need accounts and passwords and all kinds of stuff Darcy and Maddog and Bubba’s partner have already.”
“I could use the ones at your house,” he said.
“Right. Of course you can. So why do you need to take somebody’s Christmas present? I’ve spent my entire life learning how to use a computer, and there is quite a learning curve. Honestly, I don’t think your—uh—temperament is suited for that kind of dull geeky stuff. I’ll tell you what. If you’ll help me return all these things before morning, I’ll help you make a YouTube video showing how cute you are. You’ll be a star.”
He frowned, grumbled, and looked around at the litter with a very territorial gleam in his eye. “I don’t think so, cat. This is mine. I stole it fair and square.”
There was so much there, and I knew he’d lose interest before tomorrow, by which time it would all probably be ruined.
“Let me take the doll at least,” I said. “She’s not shiny, and you don’t really want her, do you? Some poor little girl is going to be really sad tomorrow, and will probably grow up to hate Santa Claws thanks to this childhood trauma. She may even belong to a family that feeds raccoons now, but will become a hunter because she somehow suspects what became of her Christmas doll.”
He stopped fiddling long enough to growl at me. “What do you care, cat? Why should you care if humans get what they want or not? You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. There are cats and dogs wandering all over town, making nuisances of themselves, whose people abandoned them and moved away.”
“Oh no! Why didn’t you tell me? Is it vampires again? Are there more taking other people like the Vampire Marcel took Darcy?”
“I wish. No, they leave because they want to, and they abandon little Fluffikins or Fido because they want to.”
“Renfrew, you’ve changed. You didn’t used to hate humans.”
“I don’t hate them, but I’ve seen some stuff lately that—well, let’s just say I don’t care if they have a special happy day where they keep all their toys and I don’t, even though they just left them on the porch.”
He was justifying his selfishness by making it all someone else’s fault, just like the bad guys on TV always did. I knew times were hard for humans. I’d heard Darcy on the phone to her friends talking about how tough it had been for people to get gifts, or even food for their families this year. It was on the news too. Some people may think it’s un-catlike to care about that stuff, but I have always prided myself on being a good kitty. If nothing else, it makes me stand out from the crowd.
“You’re just being a Scrooge,” I told him.
He looked up. “What’s that?”
“It’s a mean old man in a story. He keeps seeing these ghosts, see . . .” I couldn’t quite remember the whole thing, or which was the right version because since Halloween I’d seen the same story done about twenty different ways.
“What’s a ghost?”
“Kind of like a vampire only deader, and without a body. They’re very scary.”
“Why if they don’t have bodies? That’s silly, being scared of those. Was the Scrooge scared of them?
“No, but they reminded him of stuff. Like some were—uh—the ghosts of the past. That was—er—animal friends who’d either died or been left behind come back to tell him to stop being such a jerk. Then there were the ghosts of Christmas present. I think those were people who found out coons were stealing the Christmas presents intended for their families. They all had ghostly guns. And then there’s the ghosts of the future, and you don’t even want to know what they did.”
“Well, I don’t know any ghosts. Just one noisy cat who’s mad because he didn’t like his present, and is trying to give it back. You can have something else if you want it. I’ve got lots. I’ll even wash it for you to make it shinier.”
“No thanks. I’m taking the doll, and then I’ll be back and return the rest of the things where you got them,” I told him. That was a lot easier said than done, however.
I picked up the package containing the doll box swimming in a shallow jumble of packing peanuts inside the wrapping. The address on the shredded outer cardboard was on Blair Street. That was mostly downhill, so I could drag the dolly, who was about as long and big around without the packaging as my tail. With the packaging, she was clumsy and caught on things, at least until I got out of the trees and onto the snowy path, where the box slid down to bump my nose and front feet as I tried to walk backwards.
I had just made the street when a striped blur waddled past me. “Change your mind?” I shouted after him, dropping the doll box. “How did you get this stuff to your nest anyway? It’s heavy!” Some of the boxes in his stash were much bigger than the doll’s.
He ignored me until he was way ahead of me on the sidewalk along Blair heading down toward the lagoon park. “Minions,” he said. Then he turned, and I saw the shiny metal box he carried in one paw. “Needs washing,” he added, with a white sharp grin under his black mask.
It was just so wrong. My assistant detective apparently had henchcoons in his UPS bandit gang. This was really going to be bad for my corporate image as feline head of the premier interspecies detective agency of Port Deception. Mutiny! That’s what it was. I wasn’t about to let him get away with it! I dropped the doll box behind a convenient picket fence and took off down the sidewalk after the ring-tailed mutineer.
The snowy sidewalk was slick, so I jumped a fence and ran alongside it in the adjoining yards, jumping other fences when I needed to. I passed three dark houses and four with lights on them, fake trees lighted up, real trees lighted up, Santa and his sleigh with the—er—reindeer following the star heading for the hay. And in the next yard, there was the little farmyard scene I’d seen a few other places, with all the people in their bathrobes, clustered inside a three-sided carport. A fake star decorated the roof of the carport, and another bathrobed figure with wings hung above everybody else, plus some fake sheep, a fake donkey, and a horse trough-looking thing holding a doll. Maybe I should put Renfrew’s doll in there?
The yard up ahead was dark. No car sat out front or in the driveway. A low fence separated the lit-up house from the dark one. I crossed into that yard and the next one, also dark, and sat to rest and reflect by having a wash beneath an overgrown hedge. Renfrew had no doubt already made it to the lagoon and ruined the shiny boxy thing’s function, whatever it had been. I couldn’t save all the presents. If I turned around now and went back to his nest and moved them all—took some of them home and stuck them in the house—that would save some of them anyway, and he wouldn’t be there to stop me.
That seemed like a good plan. If the owl had been sitting in a tree when it saw me, which is, I understand, the way owls usually spot someone tasty to eat, I wouldn’t have heard it and would have been a dead cat on a one-way flight to an owl’s nest. But he was on the ground, watching, and when he spotted me and came after me instead of the less accessible prey he’d been hoping would come out and play, the other prey found her voice and let out a long, low growl. The noise tipped me off, my excellent feline instincts for avoiding air strikes kicked in, and I dived for cover deeper into the hedge.
The owl flapped and hooted a little, and I made myself very big, slitted my eyes, arched my back and sprang right at his wide-open eyes.
Oh, yeah, he had talons and a razor sharp beak, but he generally used them on animals dangling helplessly from his talons, not head-on. “Back off, bozo!” I spat at him.
The owl blinked at me, taken aback, his head retreating while his body stayed in the same place. I guess he wasn’t used to his snacks talking back. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I mistook you for someone else. No need to get huffy. I have to eat too, you know.” And with a ground-dragging unfurling of his massive wings, each of them at least as long as I am from nose to tail tip, he was airborne.
I didn’t trust him to stay gone, not for a moment. But I wasn’t about to stay inside the hedge all night, and I wanted to find the other cat who had warned me of the attack.