When Catherine switched on her TV set one evening just in time to catch the news she wasn't really listening, she had more things on her mind, the main one being how to entice Vincent off her balcony and into her apartment, and from there hopefully into her bedroom. Then she heard the mention of the word cat, and she stopped to hear what the newscaster was saying.
"So the proposed plan is to capture as many feral cats as possible in one night and then take them along to the municipal buildings where kennels and runs are being erected even as I speak, in an attempt to rid the city of the stray cat problem. Earlier today Jeremy Ladds interviewed a member of The Cat's Protection League to talk about National Cat Day, and we have that report coming up next."
Catherine sat down to watch with avid interest. She had noticed the cat problem only the day before when lifting the latch upon the dumpster outside her apartment block to deposit the garbage five cats had pounced out from within it. Whether or not they had been dumped into the dumpster or got inside themselves she could not be certain.
The report came onto the screen and she listened as Jeremy Ladds spoke with a CPL member. "Yes, the problem has got out of control. We have had to do something as drastic as this."
"Yet a lot of people listening in will be concerned about their own pet cats being captured by mistake. What assurance can you give them?" Jeremy asked.
"Well, this could be a problem and we do realise this. That's why we have used this means of publicity. National Cat Day is a week from tomorrow. In that time we hope to reach every cat owner by means of TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and door to door campaigning, and then when the traps are in place, hopefully every responsible cat owner will ensure that their pet is locked up safely for the night."
"It's quite a responsibility you are undertaking though isn't it? Not to mention the cost of all that advertising?"
"Yes, to both questions. Yet we have sponsors thankfully who will be contributing towards the cost of the advertising. What you have to remember is that feral cats are on the increase, and by 1990 we could see as many as nine million stray cats in New York and surrounding areas, and that's an awful lot of cats. They in turn need feeding, and housing. Stray cats are becoming a problem. Not only in fouling but also in causing road traffic accidents, and carrying fleas. So we came up with the cat trap idea."
"What exactly do you propose to do?"
"Well, a week from tomorrow, we plan to have every responsible cat owner keep their pet cat safely indoors, then in selected areas of the city have traps ready in which we will place an increased scent of catnip. With this we hope to entice as many of the feral cats into the traps that we can, and then the following day collect them and take them along to the awaiting kennels at Municipal Buildings. We shall issue a telephone number the following day for anyone who may have lost their cat, to come and view what we have captured to see if their cat is amongst them. However, I say be warned, this will be a daunting task, for we hope to capture several million cats that night, so unless your cat is microchipped or wears a collar, finding it could prove a very tedious job."
"And you really believe that this improved brand of catnip will work?"
"Well we hope so. In tests it has had positive results. Cats in all shapes and sizes are irresistibly drawn towards the scent, but if it doesn't work we are always open to fresh ideas. So anyone out there that feels they can help, then please contact any branch of the CPL."
"Thank you. Finally, what will happen to all the feral cats that you capture?"
"That's the worst part. Unless homes are offered, the cats will be destroyed one month after capture. And all those that are re-housed will be neutered first."
"Could you not just neuter them all? Then set them free in the mountains."
"Perhaps, but neutering is the most expensive part. You imagine nine million cats at between fifteen and twenty dollars a time, that's an awful lot of dollars to find, and for what, to set a creature free to roam again. It's not just the breeding that is the problem, it's the nuisance of having all those stray cats as well. This is the only plan we could come up with, despite how terrible the result has to be."
Catherine watched the interview come to an end, thinking she must mention it to as many people she could that she knew owned cats. The one person she should have thought of first and didn't was Vincent.
A week later National Cat Day was almost complete. People had found a secure way to keep their cats in the following night, and it was assumed that everybody had been notified one way or the other of the cat trap plan.
Yet as the night itself loomed there were those, far beneath the city that neither knew nor realised the lure that cat nip would have on one very dear to them.
On his way home from spending the night reading poetry to Catherine from her balcony, a delicious scent wafted on the still night air towards Vincent. Turning his head, Vincent looked back towards the lights of the city from the shadows within the park with longing. Bending down he sniffed the earth, where fragments of cat nip had been planted to entice park cats into the city, and in doing so, the fringes of his cloak draped through the scent.
Lifting his fingers to his nose, Vincent drew in the scent, instantly his head felt fuzzy, and in a trance he walked steadily back towards the city lights, as behind him his cloak swept the grass with the delicious scent, and as he trod silently onwards, cats appeared from every alley way to follow him. Oblivious to his followers, and the danger he was in, Vincent walked ever closer towards the cat trap!
Unbeknown to Vincent, hidden cameras followed his movements as he walked along the pavements with a trail of some fifty cats behind him. What a sight they made! This pied piper procession as Vincent led them straight towards the traps.
Fortunately, the sight of all the cages stirred fear in Vincent, not that he was small enough to fit into any one of the them but even so he was alerted to the fact that some form of trapping was taking place, and shaking his head to clear the effects of the catnip he was suddenly able to see what was happening. Not only that, it was now very much daylight, and people were hurrying out of their homes to see if the grand scale operation had worked.
"Hey nice touch!" Someone yelled at him as he stood surrounded by cats of all colours. One by one they were meekly going into a trap to get to the cat nip.
"Yeah, man now that's what I call leading them on!" Called another laughing loudly.
Vincent blushed scarlet pulling his hood tightly over his head his heart hammering. Then to his horror he heard someone shout, "Hey, come and see this guy's disguise, good ain't it?" This alerted several people to come hurrying towards him.
With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, all Vincent could do was act 'normal' albeit that was something he could never be and he smiled at them with his mouth closed as he tried to find a way out of the situation.
He knew where he was but there was only one problem he could not scale eighteen floors at this hour of the morning. Already the traffic was beginning to build up and a small crowd of onlookers had surrounded him.
There was nothing else for it. The park was filled with joggers, so he would have to walk to Catherine's apartment building and get back to his home via the basement.
People smiled at him as he walked along. The sun was shining and he felt on top of the world. Of course he knew that they assumed he was in disguise yet the feeling of acceptance thrilled him. If only it were always like this. If only he could walk out in the daylight, and have people know who he was, what he was, and not assume he was part of some gimmick. He was still feeling bewildered about that too, whatever was going on in the city, why did people accept him, today of all days. He still felt mildly lightheaded, his footsteps seemed a long way below him, like he glided on air, and wherever he looked he could see cats coming toward him.
Just as he was about to enter Catherine's building, two large vans pulled up alongside him, the driver of one, winding down his window to shout at him. "Hey! Hang on, mate stay where you are and don't move."
Fear gripped Vincent's heart as he remembered Father's words. "What would they do if they caught you Above. They'd put you in a cage and make you wish you were dead."
Who were these men? Had they come to lock him away? He would fight till the death if he had to do.
Then he saw the chap in the second van grinning at him. "That's a brilliant disguise you have there. We picked you up on the cameras and just had to hurry over to thank you. I don't know how you did it, but thanks to you, we can now snare all the moggies that have followed you. Look, they're giddy from the cat nip and won't resist capture. What a great idea. We can't thank you enough. Have you seen just how many cats are behind you?"
Drawing his brows together, Vincent hadn't a clue what the chap was talking about, but he turned his head nonethelessand was shocked at the sight of literally hundreds of cats fanning out around him.
The chap was still grinning. "If you come to the TV studios later today we'll put you on the air. Here, take my card, that's the address to come to. Shall we say three o'clock? We'll pay you of course."
Vincent did not reply he dared not in case they found that the disguise came complete with fangs. Smiling, he took the card and nodded then fled as quickly as possible down the side alley next to Catherine's apartment building, lest they saw which door he went in through.
Catherine was taking out the garbage round the back when who should come through the swing doors but Vincent himself. She gasped. "Vincent! Whatever are you doing out at this hour it's almost eight o'clock in the morning! Quickly, come with me."
"I can't, Catherine. I have to go Below there are TV personnel outside. They want me to do an interview."
"They what!" Catherine exclaimed.
She grabbed him, knowing it futile to take him in the elevator he would surely be seen going into her apartment. "Then I'll come with you and you can tell me everything. I expected you to be home by now."
"I did too but there was this smell. It was so intoxicating I had to follow it. And then suddenly there were all these cages and cats."
Catherine slapped a hand to her brow. "Of course the cat trapping. I never gave it a thought."
"The what, Catherine?"
"Yesterday was National Cat Trap Day and all the stray cats were being enticed into cages with cat nip in an attempt to rid the city of feral cats. I'm afraid, Vincent you fell victim among them."
Vincent was stunned.
Soon they were safety within the tunnel beneath the basement and Catherine held on to his arm. "Now stay there, Vincent. I will just go back upstairs and get my jacket and bag and then I will come with you back to the home chambers."
"There really is no need, Catherine."
"There's every need, Vincent. That cat nip was being set in strategic points all over the city so if you get another whiff of it there is no telling where it may lead you. Now stay right there. I won't be long."
Once he got over his initial shock at what might have happened Father found the incident remarkably funny and laughed until his sides ached. "Now I know what to buy to keep you down here." he told his most mortified son. "Cat Nip, ha, ha, ha."
Catherine smiled. "And I know what to buy to keep him up Above with me." Father stared at her for one long moment, and began to laugh again. "We'll take it in turns shall we? You entice him one night and I'll have him the next."
"It's all very well joking about it you two but if you knew exactly how it makes me feel, you wouldn't do so. It's like being intoxicated. Rather like the drugs that Paracelsus used on me that time."
Father frowned. "I am sorry you had to be reminded of that time, Vincent. We shouldn't joke. It could have been so much worse."
"At least when we went along to the pound to claim him it wouldn't have taken long to see which one was ours." Catherine laughed and despite Vincent's chagrin Father joined her heartily..
Vincent's head hurt. "If neither of you have any objections I would like to go for a lie down."
"That's it, my boy," Father laughed jovially "You go take a cat nap."
Vincent groaned. His head was too muzzy for him to respond. He knew they were making fun of him and he knew it was in good humour so he let it go, smiling a little as he headed for his chamber.
Later that evening after Catherine had been idly writing out her shopping list for groceries she switched on the TV set, and gasped when the black screen gave way to a picture of Vincent's face looking back at her, and as the camera crew changed scenes she gasped again at the hundreds of cats that followed Vincent while he was totally unaware. Jeremy Ladds was back on the screen speaking once again. "We don't know who this mystery man is, but thanks to his brilliant idea to cover his cloak with cat-nip, the CPL were able to snare hundreds of cats and cage them with those that had been trapped earlier. And that disguise, well he really fitted the part, didn't he?" Jeremy Ladds was speaking to a member of the CPL.
"Yes, it was remarkable. He could have been a cat himself. It must have taken hours to apply such makeup, we would really like to thank him personally. This Pied Piper idea of his was brilliant."
"So do you have a message to put out to the viewers then?"
"Oh yes, most certainly. National Cat Trap Day was a" he laughed, "dare I say a roaring success. Huh! With the help of the Pied Piper we captured almost two million feral cats, thus decreasing the problem drastically. The other cats will be captured at a later date, and maybe we will see our friend again at that time. But if anyone knows his whereabouts now we would love to hear from you."
Catherine switched off the TV set. "I know his whereabouts but I'm not telling you." She said resuming the writing of her shopping list. Her eyes shone with delight and a smile quirked the corner of her mouth.
"I'm going to add a very special item to my monthly shopping list from now on." Catherine laughed. "Five Kilos of Cat Nip!"