Hank and I were sitting in my book-lined office. We had finished our lunches and were drinking cups of our float-a-horseshoe coffee and I was indulging in some complaining. "Les Trade and Greg Son have real crimes to investigate – murders and robberies and arson – while I deal with vandalism and graffiti."
"But at least you solve your cases," Hank consoled me.
The telephone rang. "Rock Tuff, investigator."
"Oh, Mr. Tuff, you've got to help me." The woman's voice was trembly and scratchy and sounded like someone who met my criterion for age.
"What is your problem?"
"My cat Baby is up a tall tree in front of the house and won't come down. I'm afraid he'll fall or starve."
"This sounds more like a case for the fire department or the police."
"They won't come. It's the third time he's been up there this month." And it's only the tenth day.
"He's an eight-year-old, white male Persian and he weighs sixteen pounds." Her description sounded like the description on a "wanted" poster. "He's beautiful," she added. All the people think their children are good-looking and most pet owners are the same about their animals.
I took her name, Catherine Petterson – "but everyone calls me Kitty" – and her phone number and promised to see her soon. I asked Hank to get a large blanket and someone to help him hold it; then I went home, changed into running shoes and jeans, and drove to Kitty's house.
It was on an older residential street lined with venerable trees, the tallest of which was inevitably in front of Mrs. Petterson's house and was Baby's current abode. Many generations ago, my ancestors had left the trees for the stability of terra firma and while I do not suffer from acute acrophobia, I do become a little uncomfortable at elevations greater than my own height.
Mrs. Petterson was waiting by Baby's tree. She looked as I had pictured her: gray-haired and grandmotherly. Someone had already placed a ladder against the tree to allow me to reach the larger, lower branches.
"He's up there, Mr. Tuff."
I looked up: all I saw was a lot of green leaves.
Hank arrived with the blanket and the assistant he had recruited: Amanda Friend. I wished that he had brought someone else because with people I know, I like to project an air of confidence, of being equal to any situation, and I did not feel even barely adequate to this one.
Several neighbours, all seniors, had come out to watch the free entertainment provided by Baby's antics. Most, I suspected, were like the fans at an auto race: hoping for a fatal accident or at least some serious injury.
"If Baby falls, try to catch him in the blanket," I told Hank and Amanda.
"What about you?" Hank asked.