I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.
The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.
But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.
Chasing leads, maybe
It was rather an anti-climax to see the cat, Herman, come slinking out of the bedroom, down the passage, and then stop just at the edge of the room to look at the visitors.
He must have been hiding in her room all this time, and when he’d heard the door close, he thought it was safe to come out.
Jan saw him and held out her hand, “Come on, Herman, you’re safe now.”
He didn’t seem to agree and sat down just back of that invisible line in the sand that he wasn’t, yet going to step over.
But he did meow a few times, just to let us know he wasn’t pleased.
“Now that you’ve seen the cat, what were you thinking might be of significance?”
“I don’t know. The fact he considered the cat his might have been significant in some way.”
Herman was back on his paws and taking tentative steps towards Jan. Each time he stopped, he looked sideways at me, waiting. Perhaps he thought I might attack him. It would be the other way around.
“Doesn’t trust me, does he?”
He took a step back at the sound of my voice.
“Don’t listen to him Herman, you’re safe here with me.”
He looked at her, the same expression on his face he gave me. Talk about the original poker face. I doubt anyone could guess what he was thinking.
A few more steps, then about a yard away he stopped again and sat. He then spent the next few minutes looking at me. Was this a test to see who blinked first? I knew who would win that contest. Not me.
Jan moved slightly and he jumped, and moved back several steps, looking warily at us both now.
“We’re not going to win him over, are we?”
“Maybe, maybe not. There are a bowl and some food in the other room. Put some in the bowl and bring it to me.”
Ah, the way to a cat’s heart is through his stomach. I think the only thing relevant to that statement was that he was male. I did as she asked, and handed her the bowl, and resumed my position, far enough away for him not to consider me a threat.
He watched me leave the room and return again, and I think he recognized the bowl, and that we were about to trick him into submission.
She put the bowl down next to her and patted the floor.
“It’s your favorite, Herman.”
Yes, head movements, and was he sniffing to see if he could recognize what was in the bowl? Maybe he was hungry after being hidden away. Would starvation overcome a fear of strangers?
A minute later we had the answer. He was hungry and tentatively came over before smelling what was in the bowl before starting to eat.
Jan patted him.
“Works every time,” she said.
Both of us realized at the same time that Herman had a collar, slightly lost in the fur. And she had the same idea as I did, that the collar might be significant.
She removed it as gently as she could without startling him, and then looked at it, around the outside, and then on the inside, and a sudden change of expression told me she found something.
“VS P4 L324. What do you think that means?” she asked?
“Whatever it is, it’s a reminder that’s significant to O’Connell, or it is a message to someone if anything happened to him. I expect that might mean it was a message to you. You shared the cat so, clearly, he thought at some point in time you would look.”
“If he was expecting me to decipher it, then he must have seen something in me that I can’t.”
“You would work it out in time. The point is if he hid that in plain sight, believing that if anyone came, they would take no notice of the car, then what else might he have hidden. Does the cat have a bed?
“Not at his place, he used to sleep at the end of his bed. But I put out an old blanket.”
How did she know the cat slept on the end of O’Connell’s bed? I wasn’t going to ask, but if they were more than just friends, perhaps he had confided some details of what he was doing.
“In your room?”
“In the spare room where you found the food.”
I went back to the room found the blanked tossed in a corner, put there by the person who searched her flat no doubt, because I couldn’t see the cat doing it, not unless he was extremely bad-tempered and had super cat powers to move objects multiple times heavier than he was.
I picked it up and immediately had cat hair on my clothes. Good thing then I wasn’t allergic to cats.
Then, I had a feeling someone was watching me. I was right, Herman had come back to see what I was doing.
“Just straightening it out for you,” I said.
The death stare didn’t change. He just stood there looking at me. Or was he looking through me at something else, like a ghost? It was slightly un-nerving.
I felt around the edges and suddenly, in the middle of one side, where the manufacturer’s label was, it felt like something was under it. On closer examination, I could see the stitching had been removed for several inches in length and then crudely sewn it back together. Inside what would be a pouch, I could feel something under the material, and with a little more twisting I thought it might be a tag.
I’d seen a pair of scissors in the kitchen and came back to get them. Jan was busy trying to position the wet part of the towel over her head. After I’d finished with the blanket, I would fetch her some Panadol.
I gently cut the crude stitches and then wriggled the item out. It was a card with a number on it, 324. That was all that was printed on the card. Not what it was, who it belonged to, or what it represented. I went back into the room where the cat was now sitting on her leg.
“There was a card sewn into the blanket. It has the number 324 on it. That would make it…”
“… a check for a post box, or safety deposit box, or a storage locker.”
Not exactly what I was going to say, but close enough.
Then she said, “It’s the same number on the collar. L324. Locker 324. Somewhere defined by VS and P4.”
“Do you have a computer?”
“Not here. Do you?”
“Then I’ll go into the office and use one of theirs. I assume you can do the same?”
I could, but I wasn’t quite sure what or who would be waiting for me,, now that I knew I couldn’t trust Nobbin.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s safe for me. It’s probably better if I don’t, not until I can find out who is who.”
Either of the two, Nobbin or Severin could be on the wrong side, maybe even both of them. I was surprised that Severin didn’t drag me off when he came for Maury. Perhaps I was still useful to him in the field as a second-string to finding the USB.
I helped her to stand.
“No time like the present. I’ll let you know what I find if anything. Are you going to stay here?” she asked.
“No. Severin knows about this place and might come back. We’re done here. I’ll make sure the cat gets out. I don’t think you should come back here unless you have to.”
“Then I’ll see you at the hotel.”
© Charles Heath 2020