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Authors: Mike Nicholson


BOOK: Catscape
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To Joy and Joseph for the great times

we’ve had together in Comely Bank


My thanks to all the family, friends and the writing group, Broadside, who encouraged me along the way.

Ever since he had first looked in the window of Crockett’s Watches and Clocks, Fergus Speight had known exactly what he wanted for his twelfth birthday. Looking beyond the carriage clocks and the padded velvet trays of shiny silver watches, Fergus’s gaze had come to an abrupt halt on the display of digital watches. Each of the watches had blinked at him as they counted time, but one in particular had caught his eye. It was spinning slowly around on its own little podium and a tiny plaque at the bottom declared that this was “The DataBoy.” A small card alongside proudly proclaimed that the DataBoy was “One Funky Watch with Twenty Funky Functions,” while a list below showed that these included a stopwatch, calculator, thermometer, light and a display of times in twenty-five countries around the world … and those were only the first five.

Since then, Fergus had tried to pass Crockett’s as often as he could. Each time he reversed his baseball cap so that he could get close enough to the window to see which of the DataBoy’s functions was on show. The previous week, one of the shop assistants had come outside to say that Mr. Crockett would prefer it if Fergus didn’t stand quite so close to the window, because he was steaming it up for the other customers.

With his birthday fast approaching, Fergus was pretty sure that his mum would get the DataBoy for him, but had decided not to say anything until she asked him what he wanted. He was basing this tactic on a particularly hard lesson he had learned on his last birthday. A year ago he had asked her so often for a DVD called “The Pyramid Maze” that she did buy it for him, but
also removed the plug from the DVD player so that he couldn’t watch it for three long days.

It seemed to take forever between Fergus’s first view of the DataBoy and Mrs. Speight asking him about his birthday. However, when she finally did they happened to be on Raeburn Place quite close to Crockett’s Watches and Clocks. Without a word, Fergus had taken his mum firmly by her coat sleeve, and had pulled her towards the shop window, narrowly avoiding a pedestrian pile-up with a dog, a woman with a pushchair and an old man with a walking stick, in his rush to get there.

“Are you quite sure that’s what you want?’ said his mum, smiling as she looked through the glass at the DataBoy while she tried to return her coat to its original shape.

“It does so many things!” Fergus said excitedly, “Twenty Funky Functions!”

“Is one of them tidying bedrooms?” his mum asked, leaning towards the window to read the information on the DataBoy.

“I could find out for you,” replied Fergus hopefully.

So when the morning of Fergus’s birthday arrived, just at the start of the summer holidays, it was no surprise that one of his presents was a long, slim rectangular package in shiny silver paper, about the length of a watch and strap. Fergus tore into the paper excitedly and opened the box to reveal the DataBoy, then spent most of the day staring at the gleaming watch on his wrist and testing all the functions. He checked the temperature inside and outside the flat using the thermometer, added up the items on an old till receipt on the calculator, and found out the time differences between Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.


The day after his birthday, Fergus was still finding ways to make use of his new watch. He and his mum had just been to the shops on Raeburn Place and were heading home with two bags of groceries. As they turned into Comely Bank Avenue, Fergus decided to time how long it would take to get from the
traffic lights to their flat at number 81. He was concentrating so hard on the DataBoy as they walked, that he didn’t anticipate the horror that was rapidly approaching until he happened to glance up.

Blue shoes, blue stockings, blue coat, blue scarf, blue hat and even a hint of blue in the steely grey hair underneath … Mrs. Scrimgeour was coming towards them.

Fergus immediately tugged at his mum’s coat, whispering, “Cross the road … quick!”

“Fergus, don’t be so rude,” said his mum who was clearly also trying to work out if dodging the traffic was worth the risk to avoid meeting Mrs. Scrimgeour.

Fergus groaned, knowing from previous experience that an encounter with Mrs. Scrimgeour would mean being trapped in a one-sided conversation for at least fifteen minutes. As Mrs. Scrimgeour spotted them she let out a loud “YOO HOO!” Fergus felt that he was about to be enveloped by a large blue cloud from which there was no escape.

“FIONA, FERGUS, LOVELY TO SEE YOU,” bellowed Mrs. Scrimgeour.

“Lovely to see you too, Beryl,” said Mrs. Speight.

Fergus switched off as Mrs. Scrimgeour launched into conversation, beginning most of her sentences with “AND HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE PEOPLE AT NUMBER …?”

He decided to continue to put his new watch to practical use by timing how long Mrs. Scrimgeour could speak without taking a breath. It was 11.33 am when he began counting the seconds. After a few goes, Fergus gave up, reaching the conclusion that Mrs. Scrimgeour must be like a frog and breathe through her skin, because as hard as he tried he couldn’t spot any gaps between the words when she might be drawing breath.

As his mum stood listening and nodding patiently while
Mrs. Scrimgeour droned on, Fergus began pushing a small stone around with the edge of his trainer. He moved it onto a metal manhole cover, and began nudging the stone backwards and forwards along its grooves. “Maybe by the time I get to the other side of the cover they’ll be finished,” he thought.

It soon became a race for Fergus to get the stone across the grooves when he heard his mum say, “We really have to get going now,” for what he thought was the fourteenth time, although he had lost count somewhere around seven.

“At last!” whispered Fergus, as they broke free and headed up the last bit of Comely Bank Avenue.

“She could talk the hind legs off a donkey,” said his mum.

Fergus decided that if this was true, Mrs. Scrimgeour probably had a large collection of donkey legs stuffed and mounted in glass cases around her house.


Fergus and his mum continued up the road until they reached number 81, where Fergus checked his watch again.

“No way!” he shouted.

“Fergus!” his mother said sternly as she put her key in the lock. “Don’t shout!”

“My watch isn’t working!” wailed Fergus.

Sure enough the DataBoy was showing the time as 11.26. It had lost seven minutes since he had last looked at it. Mrs. Speight glanced at the digital figures, and spotting the seconds ticking over said, “Well it seems to be working now. Isn’t it just a little slow?”

“But it was 11.33 a minute ago,” said Fergus.

“That doesn’t make sense. I know that it did feel as if time was standing still when I was listening to Mrs. Scrimgeour but I didn’t realize it was going backwards!” said his mum, laughing at her own joke. Fergus didn’t find this funny, considering the seriousness of his brand new watch being broken.

“Come on,” his mum said, “we’ll re-set your watch and see
how it goes. If there’s a problem we can always take it back to Mr. Crockett. In the meantime why don’t you use it to see how quickly we can put the shopping away?”

Throughout the rest of the day, Fergus looked at his watch just as much as before, although each glance was now with some suspicion as he checked closely to see if it was working like a new DataBoy should. All of the functions performed perfectly over the following few days and so Fergus began to forget about his new watch going backwards. Until … it happened again!

A week later, Fergus was heading down Comely Bank Avenue towards the corner shop, clutching a short list of things that his mum had asked him to get. Just before he got to the shop, he passed a lamppost, with a homemade poster tied loosely to it, fluttering in the breeze. He glanced at it as he wandered past and had gone a few more paces before the words sank in; “Reward, Lost cat. Black and white. Called Rainbow.”

“A black and white cat called Rainbow?” thought Fergus. “Someone has a great sense of humour.” He slowly registered that there was some other writing on the poster and backtracked to look more closely. In typed print under the cat’s description it said “£10 reward for information. £40 for safe return.”

“Wow, that would be useful money,” thought Fergus, not needing the calculator on his DataBoy to work out that £40 could mean a few CDs or a few weeks’ worth of sweets. At the bottom of the poster was a contact phone number. Fergus went into the corner shop to ask George, the shopkeeper, if he could borrow a pen and paper to take a note of it. He nipped back outside, wrote down the details and made up his mind to keep an eye out for a black and white cat called Rainbow.

After buying the milk, magazine and onions on his mum’s list, Fergus said goodbye to George and headed home. Outside the shop he noticed another “Reward” poster, this time stuck
to a postbox.

“£25 reward for the return of a Tabby cat called Tabby,” it declared. Fergus couldn’t help wondering what he would call a cat if he had one, but decided that Tabby and Rainbow would be fairly low on his list.

He went back to the shop to borrow the pen again. “I should start charging for this,” said George. “How about 10p for every word? Does that seem reasonable?” Fergus said that he would be happy to negotiate if he got one of the rewards.

Fergus set off for home for a second time, passing the manhole cover where he had been kicking the stone the previous week. Distracted from thoughts of lost cats and reward money, Fergus remembered that timing his journey home that day had been interrupted by Mrs. Scrimgeour. Deciding to have another go, he stood on the metal cover and set the stopwatch on his DataBoy. Suddenly Fergus blinked hard and stared at the watch. Surely he must be imagining things? He could have sworn that it had just jumped back a minute. Had it really just gone from 10.47 to 10.46? He stared even harder at his watch, trying desperately not to blink and break his concentration. Then after a minute had passed he saw what he had been waiting for. His watch changed to 10.45.

Something made Fergus look down at his feet. Was it just a coincidence that his watch had lost time twice when he had been standing on the same spot? The manhole cover he was standing on looked as normal as any other that he seen before, although Fergus knew that he couldn’t claim to be an expert in this field. As he bent down to look more closely he was unprepared for what happened next. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a movement just before impact occurred, and the next things he saw were the sky and his baseball cap flying past. Not realizing that he had been knocked off his feet and had whacked his head on the pavement he couldn’t work out why his left cheek was getting a big wet stripe on it every two seconds.
Opening his eyes he found that a small white dog was licking his face enthusiastically.

Fergus heard somebody say, “Heel, Jock, heel!” Looking round blearily from his prone position he saw a rather round boy standing a few feet away holding a Metro scooter, which Fergus reckoned must have been going at top speed until a few seconds before. The dog was now panting heavily beside the boy’s scruffy baseball boots. The boy was carrying a small but very heavy-looking rucksack and seemed to have come out of the incident remarkably unharmed.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you,” he said, scratching his head and looking a bit embarrassed.

“That’s good news,” said Fergus sitting up and brushing down his combats. “I’d hate to think it was deliberate.” The boy grinned sheepishly beneath a mop of curly brown hair. “My name’s Murdo and you’ve just met Jock,” he said pointing at the small Jack Russell. “What’s your name?”

“Fergus,” said Fergus, getting shakily to his feet, rubbing his short blond hair and finding to his surprise that he was not bleeding from anywhere. He picked up his baseball cap and it was then that he noticed Murdo’s bulging rucksack in more detail. There was equipment popping out of every pocket — a pair of headphones, a clipboard, a torch and pens attached to every available flap.

“What’s all that stuff?” Fergus asked. Murdo looked a bit embarrassed.

“Oh just some bits and pieces I use,” he said sounding like he wanted to avoid the subject. “What were you doing on that manhole cover anyway?”

“I … I was about to time how long it took me to walk home from there,” Fergus said unconvincingly. Murdo looked slightly puzzled by this explanation, but didn’t say anything.

At that moment Fergus realized that in the crash, he had not only dropped his small bag of shopping, but his piece of paper
with the details of the lost cats was also blowing away down the street. Spotting the problem, Murdo nipped over on his scooter and slapped the paper down with his foot. Picking it up and looking at Fergus’s scribbles he said cautiously, “Are you looking for the cats as well?”

“Ummm … well I thought I might have a go,” said Fergus.

“You’ve only got two on your list,” said Murdo, trying to smooth out Fergus’s rather crumpled piece of paper.

“I only copied them down five minutes ago,” said Fergus defensively, wondering about Murdo’s line of questioning. “Have you got a list?” Murdo hesitated, looked around as if to see if anyone else was watching, and then took off his rucksack and unbuckled the top. He pulled out a loose-leaf folder, which had bits of paper almost fighting each other to get out. Squatting on the pavement, he opened it, flicked through the well-thumbed pages and looked up smiling. Each page was a photocopy of a different lost cat poster. Fergus’s eyes widened.

“Wow … there must be about forty there!” he said. Murdo looked impressed.

“Forty-three actually,” he replied.

“Have you been collecting them over the years?” said Fergus.

“No, that’s just it,” said Murdo, the excitement rising in his voice. “These are all from the last three months and all from within two miles of here!”

Fergus eyes widened still further. He then started putting two and two together and began to come up with a very large number. “How much do all the rewards add up to?” he said trying not to sound too interested. Murdo pointed to a list on the inside cover of his folder which had every cat’s name and a number beside each entry. “£750 and five more which promise ‘a substantial reward,’” said Murdo with a gleam in his eye.

BOOK: Catscape
6.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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