Chapter 2: 12 Days before Christmas
Sunday, Late Evening:
I suddenly had a strange feeling that we were being watched.
Missy our Mom had lit a fire in the fireplace and the wood was crackling brightly. The cottage was warm and cozy despite the cold outside.
It was a typical evening in the Inca household. Cara, Fromage, Charlotte and I were seated around the fireplace with Mom, the young humanoid we jointly owned.
Thinking I was imagining being watched, I shook my head and settled down.
The strange feeling of being watched crept back again.
Not wanting to disturb the others, I cautiously peered out of the window. There was nothing there - just darkness with a little light from the large luminous moon overhead.
I circled around on the same spot and settled down again with my face turned towards the window, just in case ALIENS from outer-
space attacked us through the window.
Just as my eyes started to close, I saw a shadow moving outside the window. I opened my eyes
wide and looked. But there was nothing there. Just the stillness of a very dark night.
Suddenly, I caught sight of two shiny green eyeballs staring at me.
My heart stood still!
❖Was it a demon?
❖Was it a fire-eating dragon??
❖Was it a slithering serpent???
❖Was my greatest fear about to become a reality? Were the Aliens out to get us????
My heart started beating wildly going –
I saw a strong, big, gray paw stretching out towards me and the fur on the back of my neck rose like a porcupine ready for battle.
Then it dawned on me that the portly figure in the window, appearing and disappearing, was only the face of our friend Monk!!
I let out a slow breath and my heart gradually returned to a normal rhythmic beat.
Monk, a Blue Russian cat with long legs and large golden-green eyes was rather handsome
and sleek - if you go for the chunky type. He always sported a bright, red, bow-tie.
Monk was a pretty clever kitty.
Don’t get me wrong. Most cats are naturally intelligent. But I had noted that Monk was far brainier than most of the kitties I had met. I suppose you could call him a NERDY cat.
Monk lived next door to us with Solo (a world- famous detective), his assistant Hobbs, and Terrance a big dog.
Terrance was Monk’s best friend and a great doggie-detective himself.
I got up slowly so as not to disturb the others, leaped out of the window and joined Monk under the thick shrub separating our cottage from the sprawling garden in front of his large house.
“What’s up Monk?” I softly purred.
The calm and easy-going Monk looked pretty shaken.
My ears tingled and the fur on the back of my neck that had flattened, once again pricked up when I sensed how upset he was.
“You OK?” I meowed, beating down my own panic.
Monk gulped and responded in his usual unhurried meow making an effort to squash his alarm.
“You kitties have to come over tonight. Terrance has some unexpected news for us,” he murmured.
I promised him that we would, as soon as Mom fell asleep.
I hurried back to the others to break the news, wondering what was troubling the usually calm Monk.
The night was pitch black when we scampered over to Monk’s home. Compared to our small and modest cottage, Monk lived in a huge and fancy house. But we loved our little cottage and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
We padded across the great kitchen, with Fromage stopping to sniff at the tempting plate of cream left for Monk by Hobbs.
“Come on Fromage,” Cara hissed. “Monk will not be too pleased if you dig into his snack without asking him.”
“No way Cara, Monk is my pal!” responded Fromage as he stuck out his tongue at Cara.
He followed us nevertheless, looking back longingly at the full plate of cream.
Monk and Terrance were sitting together in a warm room, in front of a huge fireplace where the wood was still crackling.
At first, I had been surprised by Monk’s friendship with Terrance.
How could a smart cat like Monk be so pally with a dog?
Then I had got to know Terrance myself, and I was forced to change my mind.
We kitties had a poor opinion of dogs. But Terrance was someone that even us cats had grown to like and respect.
To be honest, our opinion of doggies had slowly changed.
We had never moved around with doggies before arriving in London. We never wanted to either. We had treated them as dreadful furry beasts somewhat on the sniffy side.
It was different now. We had two good doggie friends that we hobnobbed with daily.
Terrance and Polo!
Terrance was a powerful dog, a golden retriever with long gold hair. He is one smart doggie despite his rather sappy grin and his pink, drooling, floppy tongue.
He was famous for having helped Solo solve many detective cases.
If there was one thing I respected, it was his popularity with both the animal kingdom and the two-legged humanoid friends around us.
Never mind his foolish grin and drooling tongue.
I could do with some of that popularity myself.
Terrance usually went everywhere with Solo and Hobbs.
Solo had sent Terrance to a well-known training school for dogs. Solo was not sorry to have done so as Terrance had topped his class at the Canine Search and Rescue academy. Terrance was a valuable partner in the detective agency headed by Solo.
I was impatient to find out what Terrance was up to now.
Terrance wagged his tail when he saw us and gave us a welcoming grin. Monk jumped up from his favorite chair and came to welcome us.
“Anyone wants some fresh cream?” he purred in his croaky meow.
“Thank you, NO,” responded Cara before Fromage or I could get a word in, “we all had our dinner before coming.”
Fromage glared at her.
Knowing my brother well and that he would get into a brawl right away, I quickly changed the subject.
“Terrance, what is going on?” I meowed.
“Some important news concerning Raoul, Polo’s missing dad!” said Terrance once we had settled down in our usual places in the library.
I need to explain about Polo our pal and his sad family state.
Polo is a Pekinese doggie. He is short and just a tiny bit bigger than me.
We had got to know Polo when we moved to London from Paris in June this year. For some reason or other, he had developed a special place in his heart for Charlotte.
There had been some jealousy between Fromage and Polo over Charlotte. I was relieved that this was now ancient history.
Polo was owned by Señora Conchita Consoles, commonly known as the Señora, a popular opera singer, now retired.
The Señora had lost her husband Raoul who went missing while climbing Mount Everest in the Himalayas. She had been sad until we came on the scene.
She was slowly recovering from the loss of Raoul. But we knew that Polo and the Señora both missed Raoul terribly.
We had become good friends after we helped Polo during the mystery of the Señora’s stolen diamond necklace.
The outcome had been surprising but fantastic, despite the anxiety of Fromage’s disappearance and the discovery of the necklace in a very odd place.
It was at that time that I had been smitten by the detective bug. I longed to be involved in another case, and become a famous detective myself.
Terrance continued his story in short barks while we listened all agog.
“Solo brought home some news that would send Polo over the moon, if it turns out to be true.
“Solo has an old friend who works for Doctors Without Borders in Nepal.
“On a recent trip to London, the young doctor told Solo that he had heard of a foreigner, injured who was being cared for by some locals in a village near the Himalayas.
“From the brief description, Solo suspected that it maybe Señora’s husband Raoul.
“We are going to the Himalayas to check this out since Solo is not sure if it is really Raoul, Polo’s master.
“If either the Señora or Polo hears about this news and it turns out to be someone else, they would be really upset.
“What is most important is to keep this information from both the Señora and Polo until we are sure this foreigner is Raoul,” said Terrance.
“Don’t you worry; we will make sure that Polo never hears of this,” I said giving Fromage and Charlotte a stern look.
“Never in my life would I wish to disappoint Polo. He is our friend,” said Charlotte as she gave Fromage a beady look, her eyes narrowing.
“Me too,” muttered Fromage sheepishly. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Terrance gave us further details.
He would accompany Solo and Hobbs to Nepal. They would travel by plane from England to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, and then hire a car up to the Himalayas. From there they’d go on foot to the village with a local guide.
Terrance told us that the part on foot was dangerous and difficult. They had to trek along narrow mountainous slopes.
But Solo was determined to do this as Raoul was his good friend. If Raoul was alive, it would mean everything in the world for the Señora to be able to see him again.
“Not only the Señora,” piped in Charlotte.
“It would be for Polo too. He adored Raoul! He is Polo’s Dad after all” breathed Charlotte her little nose twitching.
We promised Terrance not to breath a word to Polo with regard to the reason they were leaving for Nepal.
“When will you leave?” I asked. “Tomorrow,” barked Terrance.
“Hobbs is getting our stuff ready. He has already bought the plane tickets for Nepal. I am going now for my vaccinations to travel out of the country.”
A sudden thought crossed my mind - What about Christmas?
The plan had been for all of us to celebrate Christmas together at Solo’s place. Señora, Polo, their housekeepers, the nice Applebee couple who were relatives of Hobbs, and Mom had been planning the Christmas dinner menu for weeks.
“If all goes well, we should be back by Christmas,” said Terrance.
A sudden chill ran down my spine when I saw the thoughtful expression passing between the old friends, Monk and Terrance.
I remembered that Terrance had said that the latter part of the journey was very dangerous, even life-threatening.
Here I was with my thoughts about enjoying Christmas when Monk’s family was going to be trekking through some of the most dangerous
roads in the world in order to help Señora and Polo, two of our good friends.
How selfish of me!!
No wonder Monk had been in full panic mode when he visited me earlier.
He seemed to have calmed down now, but I suppose he was anxious about his family going on such a dangerous journey - wondering if they would come back safe.
The Himalayas! Hmm… I thought. I had not heard of this place before. I who normally liked to know everything was stumped.
“Where is this place?” I asked Terrance.
Terrance ran up to Solo’s large writing table and brought us a booklet with pictures of the Himalayas.
What a breathtaking sight! Lots of mountains peaked with snow. The whole place looked huge and unfriendly. I could imagine how cold it would be there.
I pictured Terrance surveying the Himalayas, ready to conquer it.
“Solo does not consider this the best time of year to visit the Himalayas, as from November to March it is bitterly cold,” barked Terrance.
“On the other hand, Solo doesn’t wish to wait a moment longer in case Raoul is still alive and in need of medical help.
We are flying directly to Kathmandu,” ended Terrance.
“Will it be hard living on your own, Monk?” asked Cara in her soft meow.
“Lance is coming over. Solo called him last night and asked him to house-sit here until they got back,” replied Monk with a blink.
“Who is Lance?” asked Fromage.
“Lance is Solo’s distant relative,” said Monk.
“He is a young chap, always up to something or the other. He comes around when Solo and Hobbs go off on a case.”
“He is ok but I try to stay out of his hair. He usually lolls around watching TV while stuffing his face and has some crazy ideas to raise money,” meowed Monk.