MAROONED IN MANCHESTER
The van we were netted in and bundled into was taking ages to reach its destination-I think that’s how you pronounce it. We scratched at the nets we were trapped in but they would not even fray-it was like scraping a metal cage, not to mention the fact we were still dazed and confused. We couldn’t quite see which of the two people was driving but we could hear “PC Cockcroft”-or was it “PC Fisher”?- beep the van’s horn deafeningly.
“Whoever’s two cars ahead of me, move it!”
The van didn’t move right away, so clearly the horn beeping didn’t work.
“What’s causing this jam? There aren’t that many cars heading to work nowadays, not since working from home became an employment right for most people working 16 or more hours a week. I sometimes wish we officers weren’t exempt from that right.”
“Then how would we catch all them clever cats?” his fellow officer replied. “You can’t just work at a desk all day filling out forms online half the time then faffing about on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever the other half of the time.”
He switched on the van’s radio, which instantly blared out:
“This is MancsBeat 106.4 FM, the news at half past one.” Fucking hell, I thought. How much time did we spend dazed and confused with that catnip? “The government has announced controversial proposals that could see cats and dogs forced to wear cloth nappies in public, in a bid to deal with the growing waste problems in city streets. The Prime Minister, Shannon Evans-Jones, said in a statement today outside No. 10 that despite complaints from animal rights activists, the proposed law was necessary...”
“Wrong radio, Jonathan.” the driver said.
“Sorry, Logan. Just a reflex action.”
He then turned on a different radio, which said,
“….head-on accident at box junction between Lewis Street and Lowry Boulevard. Police and ambulance units expecting to reach scene of accident in five minutes. Golf Mike two-two, do you copy?”
“Yes, will copy. Over.”
I asked them, “So when are we going to get to wherever the heck we are going?”
“Don’t know at the moment.” PC Cockcroft replied. “Just hold your tongue, Felix.”
“My name isn’t Felix.”
“Whoever you are, hold your tongue.”
I did indeed hold my tongue at that, although I couldn’t do so for long without hurting it. That moment, Tabby looked at my fur, stroking it a bit, and noticed, “Where did you get those scratches from?” looking at the scratches on my chest.
“A fight with a dog as I was travelling to Queensbury. Also I hurt my paws on some railings. I couldn’t help it; he went after me and I had to swish at him so he wouldn’t chew me up like a bone. As for the railings, I was trying to avoid being puked on by a slurry oaf.”
“They haven’t healed properly, and they’re looking very sore indeed. You need to see a vet, or a doctor, or whomever.”
“I’ll be fine, Tabby.”
“How long ago did you see the dog, Puss?”
“Seven nights ago.”
“Seven nights ago??” She hunched back, visibly shocked. “I know you’re a rough and tumble cat, Puss, and a brave and curious one too, which is why I love you. But you can’t go on like this; you’re gonna get sick and die pretty soon from these wounds.”
“They’re only fur wounds.”
“They’re gonna be more than that in a night or two, Puss. Please listen.” Tabby was getting anxious and irritated at the same time; looking again at my torso she had a point. Tabby looked me right in the eye, just a whisker away from me, and spoke to me rather slowly.
“I love you, Puss, and I’m only asking you to do what’s best for you, which is also what’s best for me. Also, I’m probably pregnant with your kittens, Puss, which is another reason I need you to be alive and well, and get those wounds sorted out as soon as you can. It won’t be just Thelonius and Molly’s kittens you’ll miss, it’ll be ours, too. Do you understand?”
A tear flowed from my right eye before I firmly said, “Yes, Tabby, I do. I love you too and don’t want to leave you. Are we really expecting kittens?”
“I think so. It doesn’t even take a full season from snuggle to kittens.” Tabby licked her lips.
“Goodness me, that was fast.”
“Human babies take ages to make by comparison.”
“How would you know? Have you seen one?”
“Only casually. I’ve seen a few pregnant women by comparison and their stomachs looked so big we could almost fit in them if it weren’t for the baby inside.”
How I chuckled at this picture in my mind. Even a small baby human would be bigger than either Tabby or I! Small is beautiful, though, and nice when you want to hide.
Whilst I was thinking about that, I could hear the van’s radio saying, “Vehicle has been towed away from accident site. Traffic clearing now, over.”
“This is Golf Mike two-two, copied, over.”
The van eventually moved again, albeit still moving only about as fast as we could run. Not wanting to be bothered by the two officers, and not able to get out of the nets which felt as strong as metal, we got a little rest before a flat voice said, “You have arrived at your destination, Greater Manchester Police Headquarters, Sentient Non-Human Animal Ofifce.”
The van stopped, Cockcroft and Fisher opened the doors and dragged the nets we were in out of the van using the same thing with hooks and ropes. “Hey, careful!” Tabby cried out.
“Listen, the nets ain’t designed for comfort, you know.”
The nets we were in were dragged to a building with a sign saying “Greater Manchester Police Headquarters” with an arrow pointing to the “Sentient Non-Human Animal Office on the right. Cockcroft-I think it was Cockcroft but wasn’t sure-flashed his card at the door to that office; the door slid open quietly as a mouse.
Tabby and I were then dragged into that office and then a bigger officer dragged our nets into a corridor and showed us an area he said we’d be staying in for now. It was soft, coloured in a nice bright blue, and had walls that could be easily scratched without us hurting our paws. Once he’d got us in that room, he unclipped our nets.
“So how long are we gonna be in this room?”
“About half an ’uman hour.”
“Not too long, then?” Tabby quipped.
“No, we’ll try to be dead quick.”
“Which other cats are in here, then?”
“For the record, most of the animals in these cells are out of control dogs. You’re the first pair of cats we’ve caught today.”
“Are you from the CCCU too?”
“Yes, although we also partner up with the DDDU.”
“And what the frig is that?”
“It stands for Dastardly Dog Discipline Unit. We deal with the smart dogs, CCCU deals with the smart cats. I won’t be long!”
He then closed the heavy steel door on us.
What was “half an hour” in their terms felt like ages to me in that room, even if it were designed for cats just like us. I spent a lot of time scratching at the walls, although my claws didn’t make a mark. Tabby was already feeling the effect of kittens inside her and so just slept for a bit.
She grumbled, “Are they going to bring us any food? I’m hankering for even a mouse at the moment, and there’s nothing to eat in this room.”
“Tabitha, can’t you wait a bit? It can’t be too long before they come for us.”
“Maybe, but they’d better have food for us here. Good food, not shitty so-called cat food. I’m feeling rather tired as well.”
We heard the sound of another door being opened nearby, but likely for a dog since I heard two sets of human feet. That dog must’ve been dangerous and “dastardly” then, and probably twice my size.
The next moment the door opened for us. The guy who opened the door happened to be PC Fisher, and he shouted out to us, “You two. Come along with me. Sergeant Hoyle-he’s the desk sergeant on duty this afternoon-wants to talk to the both of you.”
We had to get out of that room, and he was too big for us to pick a fight with, especially when we could see PC Cockcroft behind him. We followed him warily, hoping they’d let us go on our way to Marple or Bramhall soon.
We were led into a room with a large metal desk where this Sergeant Hoyle character sat; the room otherwise had nothing that caught my eye. We were directed to the bench so that we could see Sergeant Hoyle, who was clearly a woman with hair as short as the two PCs who’d picked us up at Failsworth, and rather similar in colour to my fur, and Tabby’s. She looked at us with a strong gaze and asked,
“I’ve never met you two cats before. What are your names?”
“I’m Puss and this is Tabby.”
Tabby sighed. “I can answer for myself, Puss!”
“Your full name?” Sergeant Hoyle demanded.
“Hmph. Strange names cats get saddled with these days.” Sergeant Hoyle remarked. “I’ll believe that’s your real name. At least we’ve never seen animals with stupid names like Diamond Jewel or Number 16 Bus Shelter.”
Turning to Tabby she asked, “And your full name is?”
“That name’s a bit more sensible.” She muttered under her breath. “Let me just check our records for cats with those names.”
She started tapping on a nearby screen to her right, saying. “Okay Prosa. Search for Puss Inbrains.”
After a moment, the screen called back, “No records shown for Puss Inbrains.”
She then said, “Okay Prosa. Search for Tabitha Whiskers.”
The screen asked back, “Did you mean Tabitha Whickers?”
“No, I meant Tabitha Whiskers.”
The screen called back, “No records shown for Tabitha Whiskers.”
Sergeant Hoyle turned to us. “How come you’re not on our database? Cats were supposed to have been registered, even if they were sentient.”
“What do you mean, sentient?” I asked.
“Having human levels of intelligence and generally being able to talk like a human, even with some difficulty or noises you wouldn’t hear from human tongues, like your miaowing.”
“Exactly, Mr Inbrains.”
“I thought mister was only for them humans.”
“We’ve used that moniker for other smart male mammals, and crows in some cases. And the miz moniker for female mammals, and crows in some cases. Are you listening, Ms Whiskers?”
“So, when were you born?”
“About forty-two seasons ago.”
“That would make you ten in human years and give you a birth date of around March 2038 on our calendars. As for you, Ms Whiskers, how old are you?”
“That gives your birth date as December 2038, or is it January 2039?”
“I see. Wait here, both of you. Don’t try to rip those nets open!”
She walked away briefly, muttering, “How many smartypants cats did emerge from that disaster with all the seepage from Copefield? It can’t have been more than a hundred.”
She returned a few moments later, at a time displayed as “14:44” on the large panel on the left side wall. Still the afternoon, then, we realised. “I’m back. I want you to place your paw on this device.”
“The one you’re holding in your hand?”
“Yes. And you won’t get out of those nets until you put your paws forward.” She extended it to us, close to our nets.
I put my paw in the device, and upon doing so a strange, flat voice blurted, “Please state your first name and last name.”
“Puss Inbrains” I sighed.
“Your age, please.”
“Did you mean ten and a half years?”
“Where I live? Bradford.”
“Date of birth recorded as 10 March, 2038. Place of residence: Bradford, West Yorkshire. Cat species identified: British Shorthair, Ginger.”
Tabby went through the same questions with the device, which listed her date of birth as “11 December, 2038” and also listed her as “British Shorthair, Ginger.” although her fur was actually short; she had winked cheekily when my species was given by the machine. It also ignored the fact she’d been trapped in Halifax for some time.
“Right, kitties. You’re now both registered. So I can now ask you, why were you taking so many catnip plants from that patch in Failsworth?”
“We just couldn’t get enough of them.” Tabby admitted. “We didn’t know that we couldn’t take 20 at a time. We weren’t going to give them to anyone.”
“For the record, queencat, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. And this notion applies to animals that aren’t human as well as animals that are, as long as they have sufficient capacity to understand. By the way, before you ask, the United Nations Convention on Sentient Animal Rights, which Britain ratified, doesn’t excuse sentient animals from drug laws, including the need to get a licence for selling them. You won’t get a licence around here; only the likes of Brighton and Totnes would give cats like yourselves a licence to supply even catnip.”
“Are you talking about being sentient again?” I enquired.
“Yes, tomcat, I am. Now listen. Given that it’s your first offence, and that you weren’t really trying to give the plants away or sell them, you will be issued with an official police caution. That means that if you are caught again with too many catnip plants in your paws, or breaking any other human law, you will be charged under human law. This could lead to for example being made to perform tricks for other humans or be issued with what we call a SADBO.”
“SADBO? Is that a kind of collar for sad cats?”
“Not quite. SADBO stands for Sentient Animal Discipline and Behaviour Order. I’ll show you an example from my desk screen.” Turning to the screen Sergeant Hoyle said, “Okay Prosa. Show me results for ‘Issued with SADBO’.”
The first result of the screen showed a headline in big letters from something called the “Manchester All-day News.”, saying:
“SNEAKY STEALING SQUIRREL GETS SIX YEAR SADBO”
“A red squirrel reported to have stolen as many as 1000 nuts from allotments in the Borough of Tameside was today issued with a six year SADBO by Ashton Magistrates’ Court. The order bans red squirrel Dean Redwood, of West Side Woodlands, Droylsden, from entering any allotment in the Borough of Tameside and from entering Sheldon Road, where he was also found to have frequently harassed and caused a public nuisance to park-goers. If he is caught breaching the order, Redwood could be caged for up to two years.”
He was just a squirrel. However if he’d been on my patch he’d have ended up as supper.
Sergeant Hoyle then said, “Ok Prosa. Show me results for ‘Catnip overdose’.”
Yikes. It immediately showed up another news article from the “Manchester All-day News”:
“Cat Nixed By Cat-Nip
It was reported that a tortoiseshell cat described by people living in Withington as “much-loved”, “a shining example amongst smart cats”, and a “delight to converse with” died of a catnip overdose on Wednesday. Jolene Parton, aged just six in human years, was reported to have chewed 30 catnip plants whilst resting in the wealthy suburb of Didsbury. A vet was summoned by a passer-by who saw that Ms Parton was still and unresponsive, but she was pronounced dead at the scene. A verdict of accidental death was soon recorded by the assistant coroner.”
I were visibly shocked then-so much I nearly puked, even though I didn’t know this cat. Below it I saw something that made me feel a bit happier, knowing that humans sometimes got punished too:
“Man who cruelly killed clever cat caged
A Salford Quays resident who killed a cat trying to sing the latest hits because he “just lost it completely” at “all that purring” has been jailed for ten years.
Zachary Fielding, 44, admitted that he had been so annoyed by the soft, sweet purring voice of Tom Gray-Claws, whose singing earned him a place in last year’s final of Britain’s Got Animal Magic, that he pulled out a Stanley knife, stabbing Mr Gray-Claws twice in a rage. Mr Gray-Claws collapsed soon afterwards and was rushed to Salford Animal Centre but was pronounced dead on arrival.
Sentencing Fielding, a former HR consultant, at Salford Crown Court, Mr Justice McQuaid told him, ‘You were once a man of sound character who just lost their temper one time simply because an innocent, creative cat was singing a bit too loudly but otherwise causing you no harm. Those who enjoyed his unique voice will never get to hear it again, and Salford is sadder for this loss.’”
I never knew that cat, either, although I felt pleased there was some justice for cats in this world. Sergeant Hoyle then turned off the screen.
“I want to know how you got all the way from Bradford to Manchester. Tell me.”
“Well, it’s a long story. Do you know a cat called Thelonius?”
She thought for a moment, putting her finger on her chin. “It rings a bell….now I remember. I spoke to a cat with that name once in connection with the disappearance of a young man with learning difficulties in Bramhall; turns out I confused him with a similar-looking cat. I thought he’d seen him recently but he didn’t know the man. The case is still ongoing at this time.”
“Does he live in Bramhall, then?”
“I couldn’t possibly comment due to GDPR.”
He probably did, though, if Sergeant Hoyle was telling the truth. “I’ll go look for him there. How do I get to Bramhall?”
“I’ll explain later. First, tell me how you got all the way from Bradford to Manchester. It’s a 40 mile journey, which is very long for a cat to crawl on all fours!”
“We didn’t crawl on all paws-I mean all fours.” I explained. “I walked to this place called Queensbury, stayed the night there, walked to Halifax, met Tabby, we then got taken to Brighouse, then I got trapped at this place called the University of Huddersfield or summat, then I got in someone’s car which got all the way to Saddleworth, then I took a tram to Failsworth, where Cockcroft and Fisher picked us up.”
“I’ll tell you both something. Colne Valley University isn’t a real university. It’s what’s called a diploma mill-it’s fake. It just looks like a university. We had a police dog once who presented to us, from his mouth, a degree in psychology from Colne Valley University with his name on it, typed. He got the sack once someone checked out his so-called degree-the authorising signature read ‘Professor Yuill B. Allwright.’ which is clearly a joke name.”
“But two people called Joshua and Milo said they worked there. They tried to shock us into telling them our secrets for some ex-purr-i-ment.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, actually. They’re both wanted by West Yorkshire Police over a kidnapping of a not-so-clever but still chattering cat. They’re now on the run, so don’t bother going back there to find them.”
“We won’t. We need to get to Bramhall.”
“What sort of cars did you travel in?”
Tabby replied. “A big, long car and a small car with two doors. I can’t remember more than that.”
“Not any number plates?”
“No. Not enough time to read them.”
“Right. I’ll just enter the caution on our computer and release you both from the nets.” We waited a few moments for her to bring out a device, which looked like a pair of scissors only much sharper, and she cut eight sections of each of our nets. “You’re now free to go. The next train to Bramhall is in about half an hour. You’ll have to make your own way to Manchester Piccadilly station, I’m afraid.”
“Where on earth is it?” I asked.
“Just ask someone to Google it.”
We walked out of the police station, and upon exiting the grounds found ourselves in what must have been Manchester. We noticed Missi, the cat who’d helped us escape Joshua and Milo, just outside.
“Missi!” I cried out. “What are you doing here?”
She was tired and weary. “I’ve been charged with what they call assault. I’ve been bailed.”
“What do you mean, bailed?” Tabby asked.
“I have to go to this place called Ashton Magistrates’ Court. I came down here looking for you both; this muppet in Ashton-under-Lyne kept pestering me so I scratched his legs badly with my claws. I ran but a policewoman found me and trapped me in a grey net.
“Sounds like you’ve had a rough journey here too. Do you know the way to Manchester Piccadilly or summat?”
“Sorry I don’t. Ask some human nearby. I’ll see you both soon.”
“Are you coming to Bramhall too?”
“Near there. Marple.”
“Does Thelonius live there, then?”
She was getting very irritated. “I don’t know who Thelonius is. Can you just leave me be for now? It’s been a very bad day for me.”
We walked away, and as luck would have it, the first human we encountered gave us good directions to “Manchester Piccadilly” upon us asking her, although we did face a bigger problem-even more trams than in Failsworth, not to mention fast traffic. Trams and cars kept whizzing by, and having been in nets for so long we wanted to jump across the rails and experience that leaping feeling. But the sight of rushing trams made us crawl slowly.
As we walked, Tabby said, “Are you sure Thelonius is in Bramhall?”
“I think so, given what that woman said.”
“You mean you’re still not sure? We’ve been travelling nights for this!”
I quivered. “Okay, okay, Bramhall, like it said on that box that cat in the park was holding.”
“You’d better be right, Puss, because if you end up leading us on a wild goose chase, I’m leaving you.”
“What about the kittens inside you?”
“I can raise them on my own if I have to!”
“I’m sure it’s Bramhall.”
At last we made it to the station. It was truly a sight to behold-an enormous glass building so big whales could slip into it like we can slip through cat flaps. Well, if it was filled with water, anyway. The glass doors ahead whirred open for us and we heard a voice announce all over the station:
“The next train to depart from platform 8 is the 15:01 service to Stoke-on-Trent. Calling at Stockport, Cheadle Hulme, Bramhall, Poynton, Macclesfield, Congleton, and Stoke-on-Trent. This train is formed of four coaches.”
“Um, excuse me?” I called out. “Which way is platform 8?”
“Turn left.” someone said among the crowd of people at the station.
“Right. Come on, Tabby.”
We sneaked through the barriers below which led to that platform-they were only designed to block apes, hairless and hairy. Also, the metal human guarding them was busy with someone else-”please present your ticket”, and we sneaked under it whilst it said that. We ran down platform 8 looking for what must be the train, eventually finding it. Just as we found it, we heard a loud whistle blow in the distance. We then heard a strange noise-shit! As fast as we could, we both jumped clear of the double doors of the big long car, with our tails only just clearing the gap. The doors closed a moment later,
Would we get to see Thelonius and Molly in time for their kittens?