“Sir, does your cat fly?” my assistant, Mr. Afterthought, called from the outer office.
In a rather matter-of-fact tone, I might add.
“Come again, Mr. A?”
Oh yes, I had heard him clearly but really, is there any other appropriate response?
“I say, does your cat fly sir? As far as you know?” he elaborated.
“No, Mr. A. Not as far as I know.” I went on, “In fact, I will venture to be unequivocal on this point.” I cleared my throat. “My cat does not fly.”
“Odd,” said Mr. Afterthought.
I waited for more but all I heard was the shuffling of paper.
“Was there something else, Mr. A?”
I mean, spit it out man, let’s have it. If you are saying it is odd that my cat does not fly, well, it just seems to me that a much more substantial elaboration is called for here.
“Well sir, your neighbor has sent a messenger with an unusual complaint. Regarding your cat, sir.”
“Yes?” I rose from my desk and walked into the outer office.
“It seems the cat…” he searched for the right word, “…appears…in her chess club every so many minutes. At all hours sir.”
“Yes sir. As if he’d flown in.”
“Yes sir.” He handed me the note.
“Does he play chess, sir?”
“Your cat,” he said.
“Uhh, no. I think I can be rather unequivocal about that one too.”
“It’s good to hear sir.”
I finished reading the note. “Cancel my afternoon, Mr. A.” I grabbed my coat and prepared to go out into the snow of Winterfell.
“But Ambassador, all you have is a pickup by the dry cleaner,” Mr. Afterthought said as he looked at my calendar.
“Well, cancel that then. No, don’t cancel that. Uhm…well, do whatever it is you do when I’m not here. OK?”
“I will have to go and investigate this matter straight away, at the pub.”
“How convenient sir.”
Ulysses The Cat has been living in Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum for quite some time now. He makes himself scarce when customers are in but when things are quiet, he’ll roam around as if a deputy on patrol.
But a couple nights ago, about an hour before last call, Ulysses wandered in from wherever he goes and roamed about the bar and the adjoining sitting room. He stayed clear of patrons looking to pet him but otherwise ignored the diners and drinkers.
After closing, I was watching Ulysses make his rounds as I enjoyed one last round of my own. I lost sight of him a few times but I was half-reading the paper and tending to my tobacco and liquor and not paying that much attention.
Now as I worked my way across the snowy streets of Winterfell, I began trying to remember fully those “lost sight of” moments There must be some explanation other than a flying cat.
Iggy was working the bar when I arrived.
“Hey boss,” he said as I took a seat, “Lunch?”
“Yes, starting with a pint,” I said.
“You got it.”
I gave him a look.
“Sorry. I meant — Straight away sir.”
I smiled. Iggy is new, an apprentice time traveller from the 21st century who is visiting Winterfell and Caledon and studying here for the summer. Yes, it’s January…well, it’s summer in his hometime. His sponsor with the Time Travellers Guild is a friend of Uncle Manuel back in Dankoville. Iggy arrived with a letter of introduction from my uncle. He’s picking up some spending money, tending bar at the pub.
“Have you seen Ulysses?” I asked.
“Yes sir. He was running around here just a moment ago.” We both looked around for the cat, who was nowhere in sight.
“You haven’t noticed anything different about him, have you Iggy?”
“I don’t think so, boss.”
I told him about the complaint from the chess club.
“There were a couple of times yesterday when it did seem like he was here one minute and gone the next,” Iggy said. “And maybe the other way around as well. It was busy here though, I didn’t have time to really notice. Did seem like he sort of vanished.”
Hmmm. A disappearing flying cat.
It was quiet in the pub, the weather had seen to that. More snow. It was still a quarter to noon, the lunch crowd hadn’t come in quite yet and while they might not add up to a crowd on a day like this, there would still be a few.
In the middle of my brisket sandwich (it’s our lunch special on Tuesdays), accompanied by a delightfully dill pickle and some chips, I saw Ulysses out of the corner of my eye, sniffing at the red ball of yarn I’d left for him in the sitting room.
I watched him play and then wander around the pub. When he came near I said hello but he paid me no mind and trotted past. I broke off a tiny bit of brisket and held it near the floor. After a moment of watching me, Ulysses approached and took the brisket.
When he finished eating, he resumed his rounds. A few minutes later, I saw him run behind the bar and I got up and walked around it to offer him more brisket. But he wasn’t there.
I continued looking. Iggy looked too. No cat. A couple of minutes passed. I returned to my seat.
And there was Ulysses, over in the corner by the bookcase. How did he get by us without notice?
The only thing I could do was order another pint and monitor that cat. A few regulars and a few others had braved the weather and were now enjoying lunch. Iggy was handling the small group alone and seemed to be keeping up.
I watched Ulysses go from one corner of the pub to another and points in between, stopping here and there to stare or wash or scratch, looking every bit like a normal cat.
At one point he seemed to disappear. I don’t mean that literally. I simply lost track of him. He’d gone behind the bar and not come out, as before. I went behind the bar to look and again, no cat. I returned to my seat. Hmmm.
A few minutes later I noticed Ulysses in the corner by the bookcase.
I had not seen him fly nor had I seen him disappear. But something was definitely going on. Mr. Afterthought had been right, this was odd. Very odd.
“He must have some hiding place,” Iggy said as he returned from taking an order.
I finished my pint and Iggy came to clear my plate.
“Leave that,” I said. There was a small piece of brisket remaining. I cut it down further and took a piece. I walked around behind the bar as Iggy went about his work.
I stood there and watched Ulysses’ every move. I did not take my eyes off him.
After staring at the fireplace in the sitting room for a few minutes, Ulysses came back into the front room and started for the area behind the bar. I watched him approach me. I knelt down to offer him the brisket. I reached out. He saw the brisket in my hand and watched to see what I would do. When it was clear to him I was not about to move, he came toward me to take the brisket.
But before he could, he disappeared.
I do mean that literally this time. He was there one moment but not the next. Iggy saw it too. We looked at each other. “Quickly,” I said and ran out the front door. “Charles,” Iggy said to the busboy as he tossed him his bar cloth, “you have the conn.”
Around the corner and down the street I ran with Iggy trailing behind, to the Queen Alice Chess Club.
The door was open and I ran right in and stopped. No one was in presently. Then Iggy came running in and nearly crashed into me and did succeed in knocking over a vase of flowers – which fortunately he caught before it hit the floor.
We looked at each other and grinned, sheepishly. The silliness of the moment caught us both and we laughed. Two grown men – one with a handful of brisket – running through the streets in the snow, no topcoats, and running full speed into a chess club, of all places, chasing after a disappearing flying cat.
Well, here we were. Now what? Our laughter died and we both stood there, neither knowing what our next move should be. (A little chess club humor ;))
“Do you play, boss?” Iggy motioned to a chessboard in the middle of the room.
“Not really,” I said, “my brother Hudson is the chess master in the family. My father was quite fond of chess, more so in his younger days…”
As I waxed on about the history of chess in the Whitfield family, Iggy took a seat and started playing a match by himself. We were both caught by surprise when Ulysses trotted in from the next room. He appeared a bit surprised as well.
Iggy and I exchanged glances but did not move. I felt something soggy in my hand and then remembered the brisket. Slowly, I knelt.
“Here ya go, boy.” I said quietly and reached out.
Ulysses sat and looked at me, then Iggy, then my hand. He came to me and took the brisket and ate it immediately. He looked at me, asking if there was more. “All gone,” I said as I reached to pet him.
Ulysses rubbed his head against my hand, then turned and looked at Iggy again as if asking if he had any brisket. He walked back toward the next room. But he never made it. Poof.
Iggy jumped up from the chessboard, ready to run back to the pub.
“I’m going to wait here,” I said, “you’d better go back and see how Charles is doing. And keep a watch for Ulysses.”
About ten minutes went by, give or take. And then Ulysses went by. And then he was gone again.
I sat down at the chessboard and resumed Iggy’s match. I should have asked him to send Charles over with a pint of stout. I lit a cigar and waited for Ulysses to reappear.
A few minutes later, there he was, sniffing at a plant in the corner. A minute later, he was gone again.
This was one of those times that I wished I carried a timepiece. It might be helpful to determine whether Ulysses was making his appearances at the chess club at regular intervals. It might also help to know exactly how long he spends in the chess club on each visit and whether that interval coincides with the amount of time he is gone from the pub. Or does he have additional stops on his route?
And, even though both Iggy and I have seen Ulysses vanish right before our eyes, we must still eliminate any possible means the cat could use to cover the territory between the pub and the chess club. We can’t just assume he goes from pub to club in a snap. That may well be the case but still…we must prove it or at least disprove other methods.
I began thinking about how to answer these questions. One person could be stationed at the pub with a timepiece and another at the chess club with same. Another could be stationed halfway down the street to see if Ulysess passes through on the way between the two. A fourth should be stationed in the tunnels below the street. Until I saw Ulysses vanish before me, I would have guessed the only recently-discovered Winterfell tunnels might come into play here. Now, I don’t think so but still, we must eliminate that possibility. A fifth person must be assigned to watch the skies…just in case we have a flying cat on our hands. A disappearing flying cat.
A team of five people would be needed and I, of course, would oversee this entire operation, stationed…at the bar. Well, it is conveniently located. (Mr. Afterthought was right again!) That makes six people – and the appropriate timing devices and photographic equipment – to record the comings and goings of a cat.
As an explorer who has led expeditions into unknown places and times, the idea of six people tracking the movement of a cat – and the associated cost of such an endeavor – did seem to border on the ridiculous. In fact, it may have pushed beyond that border.
Still, what choice do I have? My cat is entering the chess club on a regular basis without so much as applying for membership. If I am going to put a stop to it – and I must for the sake of my neighbor – then I have to find out first, exactly what is causing this phenomenon.
I can just hear them now at the Time Travellers Guild when I tell them my cat can disappear into thin air.
At least I can still say I haven’t seen him fly. Yet.
Queen Alice Chess Club