Skunk the Cat, Detective

by Laird Long -

Jill Hennesy’s alarm clock went off, waking Skunk the cat. The all-black feline with the white stripe down its stomach stretched out its furry front paws and arched its furry rear-end, yawned hugely. After eight hours night sleep, it was high time for breakfast.

Skunk was posted in the hallway in front of Jill’s door when the young woman stumbled out of her bedroom and made for the bathroom. “Oh, morning, Skunk,” Jill said, almost tripping over the cat, which was Skunk’s intention—a reminder that someone had to be fed.

Jill bent down and patted Skunk’s head. The cat allowed it, so long as his food dish in the kitchen would soon be filled. Jill stood up and strolled into the bathroom. Skunk grimaced.

One half-hour of impatient waiting and shower-listening later, Skunk was finally rewarded with the bathroom door cracking open. He directed the towel-clad woman into the kitchen.

Skunk wound around Jill’s legs as she fumbled with the container of cat food, not so much out of affection as to hurry her up. At last, he heard the satisfying gloop sound of wet cat food glopping the bowl, and Jill brought his dish down to the floor.

Skunk sniffed at the chicken and salmon concoction disdainfully, as if to say, ‘This again?’ Then, when Jill had ruffled his fur, run out of the kitchen and back to her bedroom to get dressed, Skunk devoured the chow mound in one minute flat.

Jill left for work. Skunk finished up his leisurely licking (deodorizing his fur coat of human hands) and then nosed through the cat door and stepped outside. He sniffed at the warm air, feeling the bright sunshine soak into his black fur. Until Muffins, the grey tabby from next door, suddenly galloped up the steps of the front porch and into Skunk’s face.

The two cats briefly hissed at one another, sniffed each other. Then Skunk casually asked, “What’s up, Muffins?”

“Mrs. Robinson’s garden was wrecked again last night!” Muffins mewled, her big blue eyes wide. “She’s really upset. She gave me such a dirty look when I walked by on her fence just a moment ago!”

Trouble. It was no dog’s life a cat lead, Skunk well knew.

Mrs. Robinson was the elderly widow who lived four houses down. Her garden—her pride and joy and produce-producing patch of backyard—had been messed up once already earlier in the week. Plants picked over, leaves shredded, stakes uprooted, vegetables filched. And the woman obviously suspected that the felines in the neighborhood were responsible for the dirty work. A phone call to the city pound was a distinct possibility. Something no free-range cat wanted.

Skunk rubbed his white whiskers with a black paw. “We’d better convene a caterwaul,” he decided.

Muffins shot off like a grey streak to gather all the neighborhood pusses together for a confab.

Later that day, Skunk surveyed the crowd of felines gathered in the rundown storage shed in back of Earnest Grimes’ rambling house. The group of fourteen related and unrelated cats variously meowed at one another, groomed themselves with long, pink, stroking tongues, or huddled down onto their haunches on the yellowed grass to doze in the warm, stuffy confines.

“Everyone’s here,” Muffins reported, completing her wet nose count. “Except Cinnamon. She has a vet appointment she couldn’t get out of.”

The very name of the hated profession united the cats in a low growl.

Skunk held up a paw, batting down some silence. “Okay, let’s get to it. Someone or something has been messing up Mrs. Robinson’s garden. Twice this week. And it’s giving us all a bad rep in the neighborhood. Anyone have any information on whom or what is responsible?”

Yellow, green, and blue feline eyes shifted suspiciously back and forth. But no one was letting any cats out of the bag.

“If it’s someone here, now’s the time to come clean,” Skunk stated. “Before we all get our outdoor roaming privileges taken away. Or get strung onto leashes—like dogs!”

That last remark drew a collective hiss from the audience.

“Okay, good,” Skunk continued. “Then what do we think is the culprit?”

“Kids!” Mr. Butterball, the round, yellow, old tomcat spat out.

“Rabbits!” Tiki, the snowshoe Siamese squeaked.

“Rodents!?” Ghost, the pure-white, all-fur Persian suggested. Then she licked her chops.

Skunk nodded. “Those are all possibilities we’ll have to investigate. Now, I want-”

But the cats had already started wandering away, intrigued by the tinkle of a wind chime, the chirp of a cricket, the erratic flight of a butterfly. Herding cats together for a common purpose was a mission long steeped in futility.

“Looks like you’ve been elected to do the investigating,” Muffins commented to Skunk, grinning like a Cheshire.

Skunk sniffed around at the local bunny holes—under the Tanners’ front porch, the crack in the church foundation down the street, the abandoned composter in the Constantine’s backyard that served as a floppy-eared apartment of sorts. But the nose-twitching, whisker-wiggling story was the same. The rabbits all claimed they were getting their grub in small, green, chewy gulps from the large patch of wild alfalfa growing in the elementary schoolyard at the end of the block...

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