A calico cat that was the mascot of the Boston Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team disappeared in November and did not return until January.
The Boston Globe
We were sitting around the SWAT Team house, listlessly swatting at things—flies, each other’s butts and so forth—when Officer Rudolph came walking slowly around the corner, a dejected look on his face.
His lips started to move, but he didn’t even have to vocalize what was on his mind—we all knew without him speaking a word.
“No sign of SWAT Cat, if that’s what you were gonna ask,” I said sadly.
“You read my mind,” he said, then plunked himself down on the bench beside me. “How long’s he been gone?”
“Since late November, so that’s over a month now.”
“Do you think he’s been the victim of . . .” Rudolph began, when Officer Monday finished his sentence for him.
“Foul play? More likely than not.” We all hunched over, our forearms resting on our thighs, our heads hanging down, dejected. The bond among SWAT Team members is so strong, when one guy dies, or gets fired, or quits, or has to move to another city because he got married, it’s like a death in the family. Especially, like I say, if someone dies. And even if, as in SWATsie’s case, he never appeared to give a shit about any of us except when he was hungry or wanted his head scratched.
“Do you think we’ll ever see his cheerful . . .” Rudolph began, when Monday cut him off again.
“Don’t sentimentalize him,” he snapped. “That’s the problem with cat owners. They have to gussy their cats up, anthropomorphize ‘em.”
“What does that mean?” Rudolph asked.
“It means you take ‘em to a taxidermist and have ‘em stuffed, right?” I said.
“No, you stupid doody head,” Monday snapped. “It means you attribute human qualities to ‘em, like reciprocal feelings of love that you have towards . . .”
He was just about to say “them” in the contracted form “’em” when who should come ambling into HQ but SWAT Cat his own, bad self.
“SWATsie—thank God you’re alive!” Monday said, his voice cracking and tears starting to flow. Ain’t that the way it always is; the apparently hard-boiled guy has a runny center, like a poached egg, or a chocolate-covered cherry.
“We’ve been worried sick!” Rudolph gushed, but it was sincere, heartfelt gush, not the phony kind, like society fund-raising gala gush.
“Glad to have you back,” I said, stroking him under the chin. I knew I couldn’t top the two drama queens, so I tried to maintain my stoic, business-like façade.
“Thanks,” SWATsie said. He was looking a little peaked, and I don’t mean like Pike’s. “Any food in this joint?”
Rudolph rushed to get his two tin bowls, one for water, and one for dry food. “See—we kept everything just like it was.”
“Iams Low-Calorie cat food in the turquoise bag,” he sniffed. “I’m taken hostage, you guys don’t rescue me–and I’m still on a diet?”
We three human members of the team looked at each other with embarrassment. “He’s right,” I said. “I’ll go get him some . . .”
“No,” Rudolph said. “You stay here—you’re the narrator.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I can’t leave you two third persons here by yourselves.”
“I’ll run down to 7-11 and get him some wet food for a change,” Rudolph said, and I was glad it was he who volunteered. I had a feeling we were in for a hair-raising tale of suspense and escape, and I didn’t want him breaking out in a horrified exclamation with every plot twist.
“So what happened?” Monday asked.
“If you really want to hear about it,” SWATsie said, echoing Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the most difficult book he’d ever read, “the first thing you’ll probably want to know is who kidnapped me, and where they took me, and what my crummy accommodations were like, and all that Patty Hearst kind of crap.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “Isn’t that the whole point?”
“All right,” he said. “You know that smoothie joint down by the waterfront?”
“The one that has all the add-ins, like wheat germ, and flax, and cocoa nibs?” Monday said.
“Right,” SWATsie said. “And all the men have pony tails, and all the women have preternaturally-healthy-looking skin.” I was impressed—I’d never seen a four-legged animal pull off a Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double-hyphenated word.
“But they’re all so . . . peaceful, and mellow,” I said.
“I shoulda known better,” he cracked out of the side of his mouth, like Joe Friday confirming the suspicions of his sidekick Bill Gannon on Dragnet. “They put a plate of milk out for me, and before I knew it Dawn or Heather or Rainbow or Aura or one of the other natural-phenomenon-named chicks had picked me up from behind and whisked me up the back stairs to a windowless room.”
The two of us gulped loudly enough for Rudolph to notice as he ran up with the Fancy Feast Classic Tuna in the easy-open pouch. “What was that gulping sound?” he asked.
“SWATsie here just told us how he was spirited . . .”
“I said ‘whisked’ . . .”
“ . . . up the stairs to a windowless room by his kidnappers.”
“They’re a cult,” SWATsie said as he wolfed down his food.
“You’d better slow down, you’re going to choke,” I said.
“I’ll come up for air to tell you the rest of my story. Anyway, once my eyes got used to the dark . . .”
“Wait a second,” Rudolph said skeptically. “I thought cats could always see in the dark.”
“Not all the time. And we can never see fine detail or rich color. We get by on about one-sixth the light a human needs, but it still takes a little time to adjust.”
“Oh,” Rudolph said, a bit chagrined at having been brought down a peg in terms of his reputation as an ailurophile.
“Anyway, once I could see clearly, I looked around the room and saw—little children.”
“So they were kidnapping . . .”
We all gasped—I mean all of the humans. SWATsie had already been through the horror, and seemed a bit deadened by the experience.
“But didn’t their parents notice they were missing?” I asked.
“You know parents these days,” he said, shaking his head. “Always looking at their phones. By the time they finish playing Words With Friends and Candy Crush their toddlers are tugging on their sleeve to write a college tuition check.”
We knew what he meant. We’d seen children dropped off at the beach or at the mall, while Scandinavian nannies tried to attract junior private equity analysts in the food court. The kids could wander off for a half hour—who knew what kind of brainwashing they were getting at Orange Julius or Cinnabon? Then when they came back to Ingrid or Kristin or Helga they’d be programmed to consume branded goods . . . for the rest of their natural born days.
“So the hippies were . . .”
“You got it. They were fighting for shelf space in the grocery store aisles of the consumer’s mind. Doing the work of a thousand Saturday morning commercials in a fraction of the time, through hypnosis, suggestion and outright Mesmerism.”
“But how long . . .”
“It doesn’t take long to get a kid hooked on hemp seeds, or quinoa, or cacao powder. Just a jolt of superfood add-ins, and the kids will be begging to come back to Rainbow Unicorn House of Smoothies. Pretty soon you have a national franchise empire on your hands, and the odd toddler you lure into a bead ‘n brownie emporium is multiplied a million fold.”
“So that was their insidious plan,” I said with barely-repressed fury. “To steal the march on honest, God-fearing manufacturers of consumer products who paid their good, hard-earned money to indoctrinate kids to develop dental carries and diabetes by eating their hyper-sugarized comestibles.”
“What did they need you for?” Rudolph asked.
“They’d brought me in as a familiar, a pacifier, something to keep the kids occupied while they did their dastardly work.”
“So what did you do?” Monday asked.
“I got the lay of the land after a while and figured out that I was just lap candy, that the real business of the place was getting kids hooked on high vitamin smoothies. Once I cottoned to their nefarious plot, I knew I had no time to lose. I hopped up on the first lap available and started purring and rubbing up against the kids, getting their attention.”
“And then?” I asked.
“When the cult leader came by with a tray of the lethal smoothies, I sprang into action. I leapt up and knocked it over—all of a sudden the place is in an uproar.”
“And then?” we asked together.
“The kids all start crying—no smoothies for youthies–and finally the parents can hear them. So they put down their compact mirrors and their iPhones and their BlackBerries and their tablets and say to themselves—‘Huh–I seem to recall we came in here with 2.3 children, but now we only seem to have 1.3.”
“So a sudden wave of consternation washes over them?” Monday asked.
“You got it. They’re cutting in line, saying ‘Where’s my Morning Glory Bliss Shake and me four-year-old named Courtney or Evan or whatever.’”
“Gosh,” Rudolph said. “They don’t even know their kids’ names.”
“That’s a hypothetical,” SWATsie said. “They know their kids’ names, just not their Social Security numbers. Anyways, there’s nothing like a screeching cat to alert the local militia to the need for armed resistance, so about the same time the dads are busting down the door and I’m running for my life from twenty screaming kids the local constabulary arrives to put the collar on the commune.”
“What’s the charge?” Monday asked. He’s like that; thorough, a real professional, an eye for the telling detail and the procedural misstep which, if taken, can undermine a prosecution.
“It’s a felony,” he said, licking his paws. “Contributing to the health of a minor.”
Available soon in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”