“Fannie,” said Uncle Carl over the telephone, “how’s your trip?”
“The trip’s going fine. It hasn’t even rain on us,” I said leaning back against the picnic table. “How’re the cats doing?”
“They’re fine. Although Wicket’s been hiding for the last two days. I haven’t even seen him when I put out his food.”
“That’s a bit unusual,” I said trying not to sound worried. Richard looked at me from across the camp fire where he was roasting a marshmallow. “We’ve decided to come home early and I wanted to let you know. We should be home by tomorrow.”
“We’ll see you then,” Uncle Carl said.
“So we’re going home early because?” Richard asked looking concerned.
“Uncle Carl hasn’t see Wicket in two days.”
“Well let’s break down camp. We can be home in five hours if we hustle,” he said eating his marshmallow.
Richard knocked the logs apart. I poured water from the bucket to dampen the fire pit. Richard rolled the sleeping bags while I let the air out of the mattress. Within twenty minutes we stowed the camping gear in the back of the Love Wagon. Stirring the campfire ashes, Richard poured one more bucket of water on the fire.
The moon rose well over the trees as the Love Wagon pulled into the driveway. Richard unlocked the door to the house as we held our breath. Sadie sat by the door to greet us. I picked her up and hugged her.
Walking through the house, Richard and I called for Wicket. We searched his usual hiding places. Looking at each other, we walked outside. A symphony of frogs and crickets played for us as we searched for the cat.
“Wicket,” I yelled. We waited. Bushes to the left of us rustled. “Wicket, come here boy.”
Out wattled a small raccoon.
“Fannie, I’m sure he’s okay. He’s probably just catting around someplace like he did last time,” Richard said trying to cover his concern.
“Richard, he was gone for ten days and we lived in the city then not the country.”
“Yeah, and he didn’t travel very far then and I’m sure he’s close by now and just doesn’t want to come in yet,” Richard said putting his arm around my shoulders. “Come on, Fannie, let’s go back inside and get some sleep and see if he shows up in the morning looking for breakfast.”
The next morning Sadie sat by the sliding glass door staring outside. I went out and searched the yard again. Walking into the front yard, I spotted Bunny standing in her driveway reading the newspaper.
“Hi Bunny,” I said walking up to her.
“Fannie, honey, you’re home early is something wrong?” she asked with her refined Texas accent looking over the newspaper down at me.
“Wicket got out while we were gone and we can’t find him.”
“I’m so sorry. Have you called the Humane Society yet?”
“Not yet. Although I doubt anyone could catch him if he didn’t want to be caught.”
“Well, I won’t worry to much about a coyote getting him, the way he transfixes dogs with a stare, I doubt they’d stand a chance,” Bunny said laughing.
“That’s true,” I said laughing a little, “but I doubt he’d do so well with one of the Bald Eagles.”
Returning to the house I called the Humane Society and checked the lost pet hotline. An orange tabby was picked up two days ago two blocks from our house. My heart raced.
“Richard, someone found an orange tabby and turned it in to the Humane Society,” I said grabbing my purse and keys.
“I’m going with you,” he said following me.
Turning off Center Street, we parked the car. Walking into the large gray lobby of the Tacoma Humane Society we followed the signs to the left for the lost pets. Richard and I walked the length of the glass viewing area looking at every cat.
A volunteer escorted us into the main area. Row upon row of cages filled with cats of every description. Most of the cats slept, some cried for attention, and a few paced the confinements of their prison. No Wicket.
While driving home Richard said, “Fannie, why don’t we make some posters and hang them around the neighborhood. You never know, we might get lucky.”
Walking into the house Sadie sat at the sliding glass door. Sitting on the other side of the glass, our errant cat staring back. I ran to the door. As I pulled it open Wicket ran for the crawlspace under the house. He hovered for a moment at the entrance looking at me then darted under the house.
“Richard, did you see that. He’s okay, he’s been hiding under the house.”
We walked to the crawlspace. Wicket stood behind the screen looking at me. The hatch tilted open enough to allow the cat access, but not enough to draw attention. I reached for the door latch. He blinked his eyes. As I opened the door, he walked farther under the house.
“How are we going to get him out?” I asked frustrated.
“Well, I suppose we could wait him out,” Richard said looking at the crawlspace entrance. “That hole is too small for me to get into it. It’s not even wide enough to fit my shoulders.”
“Richard, he’s as stubborn as the day is long. I’ll crawl under there and get him out.”
“Are you sure about that?” Richard asked looking at me.
“Yeah,” I said looking at the dark hole. “I’ll put on a Tyvek suit and a respirator since I don’t know what’s down there besides the cat.” I locked the hatch.
We walked to the garage. While I put on the suit, Richard pulled out a cordless 10,000-lumen hand-held spotlight. I put on the full-face respirator then donned gloves. Richard handed me the spotlight.
Returning to the crawlspace, I removed the hatch. Richard held the light. Crawling headfirst into the pit leading to the entrance I could not bend my body enough to access the crawlspace. Kicking my feet and legs into the air moved me forward about six inches.
“Fannie, what are you doing?” Richard asked laughing. “You look like a fish out of water.”
“Richard, I’m stuck. Can you pull me out?” I asked my voice muffled by the mask.
Richard grabbed my feet pulling me free of the pit.
“Clearly, I’m not a contortionist,” I said laughing.
“Yeah, you might want to go feet first.”
I made enough noise getting into the access hole to awake the dead.
The crawlspace stands twenty inches high. Aluminum ductwork and pink insulation strapped between floor supports hung over my head. A patch work of plastic barrier and exposed dirt spread out into the darkness. Spider webs and remnants of past meals hung thick like curtains in the corners. Multiple paw prints tracked in several directions.
Richard handed me the spotlight. Inching forward on my belly, a deafening silence descended. I fanned the spotlight along the crawlspace. A partial strip of insulation hung from the support ahead of me. Crawling passed the insulation I recoiled. Lying in the dirt before me the head, tail and one leg of a rat.
Rounding the base of the fireplace I faced a forest of fallen insulation. Picking up one end I shoved it back between the joists. As I crawled under it, the insulation fell on my butt with a thump.
After 60 minutes the spotlight faded.
Left in total dark somewhere under Richard’s office, I yelled, “Richard, can you hear me?”
No answer. So I waited. My eyes adjusted to the low light coming from the vents. As I crawled back out it occurred to me that if I became stuck under a pipe or vent, Richard wouldn’t hear me calling for help. . . hmm, perhaps it’s time to go on a diet.
“Richard, he is not going to get the better of me,” I said crawling out of the pit.
“Fannie, have you considered we might need a different tactic?” Richard asked smiling. “One where you don’t look like a space alien trying to abduct him.”
Laughing I asked, “Okay, what’ve you got in mind?”
“Call the Humane Society and ask what they recommend.”
I removed my space exploration outfit and called the Humane Society.
“We suggest you use a live trap. Normally we loan them out, however, all of our working traps have been checked out because of the holiday. You can try Lowe’s or Home Depot to get the same trap.”
The employees at Home Depot had no idea what we were talking about when we inquired about the cat trap. The employees at Lowe’s where a little better informed and could get us to the general section.
“Richard, you start on that end, I’ll start over here.”
In the middle of the aisle a thin white and blue box marked Havahart Live Animal Trap.
“Richard, I found it.”
That night, I assembled the trap. The cage stood about twelve inches high and almost two feet long. Pulling the pressure plate into position I slid the set pin into place. Sadie walked around the trap sniffing it. I carried the remnants of the box out to the recycle bin.
Walking back into the house I said, “Richard, I’ve got the trap set and ready to take outside. Do you want to help me?”
BLAM, the trap snapped shut followed by a loud meow. Hurrying into the living room we found Sadie in the trap staring at us.
“I guess we know it works.” I said to Richard as I released the cat. “Come here little girl,” I said picking her up.
“Well let’s hope Wicket goes for it,” Richard said.
“I just have to put food in it for him for a couple of days to get him used to it, then set the trap. We should have him within three days. Come with me.”
We walked out to the crawlspace. The narrow pit would not accommodate the cage.
“Fannie, I have an idea,” said Richard. “We’ll just build a better cat trap.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll build a blind over the crawlspace leaving only one way in or out. We set the trap against it and he has only one choice.”
Using two by fours Richard erected a structure over the crawlspace door. Using black tarpaulin he covered the frame leaving only a small opening in the front. I put Wicket’s favorite food in the trap. Richard secured it to the opening.
The food disappeared sometime during the night.
We started on Friday. Saturday morning, Richard and I checked the trap. Wicket punched a hole into the tarp next to the cage and escaped his confines.
“What are we going to do?” I asked looking at the hole.
“You are going to chase the cat and try to catch him. If you don’t catch him, he’ll dart back under the house for safety,” Richard said. “If that happens, I’ll nail splints along the outside of the tarp to prevent him from escaping again.”
Two hours later Wicket communed with Sadie through the glass slider. I walked out the front door and snuck around the house. Wicket spotted me. He darted for the safety of the cat blind.
“Richard, I’ve got him cornered,” I said.
Richard carried an armload of splints into the back yard. Nailing them at two inch intervals he reinforced the base of the blind. We re-attached the trap.
Sunday night I set the trap.
“Richard, I’ve got the bathroom set up for operation Cat Bath. Once we catch him he’s going in the drink.”
“Fannie, have you considered the reason he doesn’t want to be caught is he knows he’s gonna get a bath when we catch him?”
“Do you want a cat who’s been living under the house sleeping with you without a bath?”
We crawled into bed that night and left the window open to listen for the trap. At 9:45 p.m. Wicket stretched is neck as far as he could. He cleared the pressure plate. Finishing his meal he enjoyed a drink of water. Moving slowly backwards he exited the trap.
Hearing his tags jingle, I flew out of bed landing at the window. An empty trap sat at the entrance, the pressure plate still cocked.
I ran out to the trap. The food bowl sat empty. I grabbed a stick from the ground and stabbed the pressure plate. It did not budge. Richard joined me as I pulled the trap free of the blind.
“With all that noise, I thought you caught the cat,” he said looking from the trap to the fire in my green eyes. “I guess not.”
“Richard, it worked perfectly before I attached it to the blind, you saw me test it. I can’t figure it out.”
Richard took the trap. He removed the food and water. Turning the trap over we noticed the set pin on the trigger plate bent about thirty degrees locking the trigger in place.
“I’m going down to the store right now to get a new one,” I said marching toward the house.
“Hold on there, fireball. We don’t have to buy a new trap, I can fix this,” Richard said setting the trap on the patio table. “Could you bring me a flashlight?”
Richard bent the set pin back to its original upright and locked position. Using my stick, he touched the pressure plate. The trap snapped shut.
“Fannie, just be very careful when you attached it to the blind so it doesn’t get bent again.”
Baiting the trap with more food, we waited in bed.
At 4 a.m. I heard Wicket’s tags jingle.
Using catlike stealth I moved to the window. Wicket stretched his neck over the pressure plate eating with practiced leisure.
My blood pressure shot through the roof as I realized he would skunk me again.
More confident than the night before, he turned to leave the trap. His left hind foot stepped on the pressure plate and BLAM the trap snapped shut.
Grabbing my camera I ran for the door. An inky predawn sky produced enough light to see my way to the cage.
Snapping pictures like a paparazzi I could hear Richard’s voice through the window. “What the hell is going on out there. . .oh no, you’re not doing what I think you’re doing? Are you really taking pictures? You’re such a cruel mommy.”
I stopped taking pictures and brought the cat, trap and all into the house.
Opening the cage, he ran straight for the bedroom. I caught him before he made it into the bed and whisked him off to the bathtub.
Warm water rushed from the spigot over his body carrying dirt and debris with it. He rotated lifting each of his feet shaking the water out. I caught him by the scruff to prevent a different type of shaking. After a vigorous lather and rinse the water flowed clear.
Drying him with a towel made him look like an orange and white pipe cleaner.
Afterwards, all four of us crawled into bed and enjoyed a nice long nap.