It started with Mrs. Weaver’s cat. A mackerel tabby called Mrs. Winstanley, who sits on the wall of No.18 between half-past six and half-past seven every morning, licking her paws clean of the cream that she’s pinched from No. 20’s milk bottles. I see her on my walk to school most days.
It was odd because Mrs. Weaver’s cat was never usually about late on a Thursday night, but then again, neither was I. She was following me up the alleyway towards home.
Next, it was Maud. The cat from No. 36, a rather round, gray cat with an unfortunate nose that was not dissimilar to that of her owner; Maud jumped out at me and was promptly biffed on the head by Mrs. Winstanley.
We trotted along for a while, past No. 41, with the half-inflated Father Christmas on their garage roof, when the streetlights went out. I froze, and the cats yammered at my heels. And with only a partially illuminated reindeer to guide us, I noticed that Spot, the calico cat from next door, had joined my flock and was padding along by the curb, stepping over glinting strings of tinsel.
So there I was, like some sort of furtive pied piper, worried Mrs. Weaver would pop her head out of the window and ask what an earth was going on and why I was out so late on a school night, and did my parents know? And I’d have to tell her what I’d been doing because I panic when questioned.
But she didn’t appear, and when I got home I told Kit the whole story. He was sitting up in bed reading a copy of Swallows and Amazons upside down.
“Why were they following you?” he asked.
I dug into the pockets of my overcoat and held out a plastic sandwich bag full of the remnants of seventeen sardines and a mackerel that had gone off last week at the back of the fridge. “Fish,” I said, and he sat up straighter.
“Did you do it?” he asked, and I nodded.
“All of them,” I said, and we grinned, imagining the bewilderment of Mrs. Fieldshort, our English teacher, when she couldn’t quite work out where that smell inside her garage, and around her front door, was coming from.
Outside, in the street, my cluster of cats were still meowing, and I just prayed their chorus hadn’t woken our parents.