Sharing A Pint With Séamus O’Neill, Cat Investigator

Cheers, mate. I beg your pardon? Yeah, I’m the one. You must’ve seen our ads on the telly: “Murphy and O’Neill, Cat Investigations.” We’re the ones with an 80 percent success rate.

But that 20 percent, those are the cases that haunt me…

Sorry, got lost there for a moment. Blokes like me, we live in a dark world and we’ve seen it all. Then the phone rings, and we see one thing more.

Barman? Two pints, please.

I never set out to be a fellow who finds cats for a living — but then the calendar pages flipped and there I was, wearing a fluorescent vest with chicken nibble treats in the pockets. Back before the pandemic hit, I was a used book buyer at Moby Dickens Bookshop. Then business went south and the shop had to close down. Two weeks later, I saw a job listing for a “Cat Detective” on a bodega bulletin board.

“Surely this is a send-up?” I thought. “Who advertises jobs in a bodega?”

I called the number on a lark, and Murphy, bless his heart, hired me straightaway. After I finished the two-weekend academy coursework, he regretted that decision. I was the classic new detective. Ambitious. Cocky. Thought I could find any cat in the world.

And make no mistake, this lockdown’s been hell on cats. Moggies just aren’t used to being cooped up with their owners all day, getting their secret routines disrupted. It’s bloody awful, so if someone leaves a door ajar? Out the cats go.

And that’s where I come in.

As you’d imagine, this gig’s made me an adrenaline-junky. Take this week, for instance. Monday, we found a Siamese in a storm drain. Tuesday, it was a tabby in a hedge. Wednesday, I had to wriggle into a crawlspace to retrieve a tortoiseshell from a rescue trap. But I guess the real question is, do these cats really want to be found?

Murph doesn’t like me asking that. He calls it a Cat-22. But that’s the question that keeps me up nights. Or one of them, anyway.

When this Friday rolled around, it looked like Murphy & O’Neill might finally run the table and solve all of our week’s cases. The mission looked like the same soup, reheated: an indoor cat had given a retired grocery clerk the slip. Murphy briefed me on the case on the ride over.

“Be on the lookout for a polydactyl Russian Blue with no collar,” Murphy said, taking the corners slowly. “His name’s Fyodor.”

“How litter-ate,” I deadpanned, and Murphy gave just the barest wince.

After arriving at the pensioner’s address, I hit the street. Most missing cats are found close to home, and more often than not, they’ve been imprisoned by helpful folks posting “Does anyone know whose cat this is?” photos online without ever bothering to check with the neighbors.

So I started knocking on doors, but after an hour, I had nothing. I took a break on a street corner, and as I lit my cig, I spotted Fyodor. That Russian Blue had his eyes fixed on a taco truck — and he was absolutely magnificent. I’ve never seen anything, person or animal, look so alive. Fyodor had spent his life trying to make sense of a world through a window pane. But now, he could race over grass and cobblestones, dodge cars, hear bird calls, and even threaten squirrels without ever quite working up the nerve to maul one.

I immediately tried reaching Murphy on the walkie-talkie, but no dice. Its maximum range is 100 yards, and he must’ve been chasing a distant lead. He might’ve been 110 yards away.

Maybe further.

I was going to have to do this alone.

A kid on a skateboard dropped his fish taco. Disgusted, he cursed and rolled off — and Fyodor pounced on that taco, then glanced up. Our eyes met.

My walkie-talkie squawked. “O’Neill, you see anything? Over.”

It might sound silly, but I swear that cat took stock of me. He saw that I was nothing more than an errand boy sent by a clerk to collect a Blue. And an understanding passed between the two of us.

I pushed the send button on my walkie: “Nothing here, Murphy. Over.” Then I gave Fyodor a slight nod — and in a flash, he was gone.

So was the taco.

And that’s when it hit me. It isn’t the cats who are lost.

It’s me.

It’s you.

It’s all of us.

What’s that? Oh. Sure, you can look at my walkie-talkie. Just be careful with it.

Barman? Two more pints, please.

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