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The Catnapper

by Beverley, Napier, New Zealand


Mrs. O'Malley lived on a dilapidated dairy farm down the road from us. I was just a kid but I remember that she was the local catnapper. Her place was crawling with a multitude of motley moggies. The trouble was she fell in love with peoples'cats quite easily. It was rumoured that her weasel-faced son was then dispatched in the dead of night with a sack to collect the favoured one. Mr. O'Malley was a small, frightened-looking man with a liking for the bottle. When the pubs closed he could be seen biking his wobbling way home along the country road, singing his Irish songs. Mrs. O'Malley was fat and formidable but she had one virtue. She was an excellent baker of pies and cakes - although you had to be careful of the product - it was said that the little curranty things in her buns were actually mouse droppings (she kept her sacks of flour in the barn).

My father thought Mrs. O'Malley was a joke until she pinched Tiger Tom. The cat was tough-looking stripy affair and a mouser/ratter supremo. He was the only cat in the place that my father had any time for. "It's all your fault," Dad shouted at Mum "you had to tell Mrs. O'Malley that Tiger Tom was the best mouser in the district."

Mum looked guilty. She had bragged about Tiger Tom when Mrs. O'Malley came around selling cakes.

But Dad had no intention of letting Mrs. O'Malley get away with her infamy. He stated categorically that he was going to catnap Tiger Tom right back. "He'll be in a cage in the barn," said Dad. "I'm going to get him back tonight."

"Can I come?" I shrieked. I longed to get into Mrs. O'Malley's place. It contained a treasure trove of rubbish.

"No," said Dad and Mum together. Dad assembled his catnapping kit. A black balaclava with holes cut in it for eye-holes, a torch, some twine, wire cutters and a sack to contain Tiger Tom.

It wasn't far to Mrs. O'Malley's place. After dark Dad sneaked off down the road and I sneaked off right after him - but Dad rumbled me when we reached the O'Malley's letter-box. He didn't say a word, just gave me the torch to hold while he fiddled with the catch on the gate.

The door of the barn was ajar and we sneaked inside. I was almost sick with excitement. What if Mrs. O'Malley caught us. It would be a fate worse than death. Perhaps she'd put us in a cage and keep us alongside Tiger Tom.

There were some cages at the back of the shed and sure enough Tiger Tom was there, incarcerated in a big cage with several other moggies. Dad had the cage open in seconds. He grabbed a yowling Tiger Tom, threw him into the sack and secured the top with some twine. The other cats took off too.

We were haring it towards the door when it happened. Dad tripped over something and fell flat on his face. I shone the torch and nearly died of terror. Mr. O'Malley must have been sleeping off his booze in the hay on the floor of the barn. Now he sat up and made a little squeaking noise as he surveyed Dad. My father was indeed an awesome sight. He had fallen into one of Mrs. O'Malley's open sacks of flour and he looked like a refugee from a graveyard. To make things worse Tiger Tom was letting out a low, strangulated howl (you know the sort of noise, cats make it from the back of their throats when they face up to each other) and it sounded hollow from inside the sack. It was too much for Mr. O'Malley. He let out a sort of gibbering shriek, staggered out of the barn and disappeared into the night. Dad and I knew when to run and we did - Dad clutching the sack containing the yowling Tiger Tom. Getting home was all a piece of cake after that and for days Dad bragged about his catnapping episode. And Mr. O'Malley. He was a changed man and never touched another drop. He regaled all those who would listen about a visitation he had had from the Virgin Mary. She had appeared in his barn dressed in white and had terrible dark holes for eyes. She had told him in a spectral hollow voice what would happen to him if he stayed on the drink.


Editor's note:

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