The Lost Cat

by Crystal Jones
© 2013 All Rights Reserved - 3814 words

It was early in the morning and Daisy was listening to her new client.
“Dear Miss Hamilton. You simply must help me find my cat!” A rather heavily made-up woman of about twenty-seven apparently tried to put on the charm for Daisy’s sake. She opened her mouth widely showing a lot of teeth when she smiled, but her eyes looked spiteful.
“Your cat? No, I’m sorry, we don’t look for lost animals,” Daisy winced as she remembered a case she had investigated once. She had to admit to herself that the woman sitting opposite her, in spite of the fact that she seemed a rather unpleasant person, was very good-looking and well turned-out.
“But I’ll pay you as if it were a human being, if you like. I’m so fond of… er… cats, and other animals, it may be in the hands of a wicked person – oh, I can’t bear the thought!” Miss Woolcote sniffed as though she were trying to stop herself crying.
Daisy was not fooled by this but remembered she was unable to pay the telephone bill. “Very well, let’s see. Er… Miss...?”
“Woolcote - Daphne Woolcote. I’ll tell you the whole story. My fiancé Gareth Launders - you know, the son of the late Ian Launders, the steel magnate...” Miss Woolcote raised her eyebrows and waggled her shoulders as if to emphasise the fact that simply everybody knew who he was. “Well - Gareth and I were getting engaged last week and a couple of days before he sent me a gorgeous cat as a present! That is, he sent it and I never received it! This is the mystery you must solve, Miss Hamilton: what happened to the present from my fiancé.”
“You say ‘sent’ you a cat – what do you mean by that?” Daisy asked.
“Well, I really don’t know exactly, you’ll have to ask him that, he was the one who was supposed to be sending the cat to me!” Miss Woolcote retorted.
Daisy wondered why Miss Woolcote’s fiancé hadn’t come along to her office as well.
“Fine,” Daisy replied, “I’ll take the case on. I’ll make you out a receipt for a hundred pounds.”
Usually Daisy asked for thirty pounds, but as she needed seventy-five desperately and didn’t like Miss Woolcote not even a little bit, she gambled her chances.
“A hundred pounds! That’s a bit steep for an advance payment, isn’t it?” protested Miss Woolcote.
Daisy limited herself to just looking at her.
Miss Woolcote wrote out a cheque with pursed lips. “Here you are, but I want quick results, you know! If I’m not in, leave a message with my maid. This is my address and mobile number and you’ll also need my fiance’s address and telephone number. Here it is.” Daphne Woolcote pulled a sheet of paper out of her crocodile handbag and gave it to Daisy.”
Daisy got up as if to say the interview had finished. Miss Woolcote looked surprised but gathered up her crocodile bag and left Daisy’s office. As she did so, she nearly tripped up over Machiavelli, the sleek black cat who regularly roamed the staircase, whose home was the warehouse on the ground floor. Miss Woolcote started letting out ugly epithets expressing her utter dislike of cats and other pets in general.  

Daisy didn’t like the practice of rushing to the bank to pay in cheques as soon as she received them, but as she needed the money urgently she decided to do so. When she presented the cheque, however, the bank clerk replied he couldn’t clear it. Daisy immediately telephoned Miss Woolcote for an explanation.
“Well, you haven’t found the cat yet – what do you expect?” Miss Woolcote replied defensively. “I really don’t know why I even came to you in the first place! My fiancé should be the one to pay, not me! He should have come to see you, it’s not my business at all,” and put the phone down. Daisy was fuming, “I thought as much. She’s rude, doesn’t like animals and she’s dishonest too. I’m not going to let her get away with this!” said Daisy to herself before telephoning Gareth Launders asking to see him.

Daisy had only once visited such a beautiful historic residence in the heart of the countryside – by paying a ticket to get in!
Daisy drove around Avalon Abbey’s extensive grounds before coming to the main entrance. It was a magnificent building and seemed to have many, many rooms, judging by the amount of windows that there were. Daisy thought it had been restored with great taste and she wondered what it must be like to actually live there and perhaps not even know how many rooms there were or what they were used for!
“Could I speak to Mr. Gareth Launders, please?” The rather elderly and stiff butler showed Daisy into a beautiful sitting room which was lit by the morning sunshine. He paused a moment and stared at her for a few seconds. Daisy was surprised at this. She was sure he didn’t normally stare at people as he appeared to be a polite sort of person. Daisy noticed a pile of leaflets on a small mahogany table which were about helping to build wells in the poorest regions of Africa. “I bet Daphne Woolcote isn’t into this sort of thing,” she thought.
After a short while Mr. Gareth Launders came into the room and introduced himself. He was a pleasant-looking young man of about twenty-six with curly red hair and a rather naïve expression.
After shaking Daisy’s hand and asking her to sit down on a Georgian chair the young man smiled at the butler, “Owen, could you bring us some refreshments please, some coffee perhaps? Miss Hamilton, I’m really pleased to meet you. Daphne told me she was going to a private detective but she hasn't rung me yet to tell me what happened – she’s coming over this afternoon anyway.”
Daisy realised that Mr. Launders didn’t know about the bounced cheque yet and decided to bide her time.
Owen brought in a tray with coffee and biscuits on it.
“I’m rather upset, you know. A family heirloom, and all that.” Mr. Launders seemed quite distressed.
“A family heirloom? A cat can’t be a family heirloom!” remarked Daisy.
“Ah, didn’t Daphne explain to you? You see, there was a collar around the cat’s neck with a precious ruby ring on it. It’s a family ring. My mother gave it to me when my father died and she asked me to give it to the woman I would marry. So it’s a sort of official thing in my family that I won’t marry until I have put that ring on my future wife’s finger!”
Mr. Launders sipped his tea and continued, “Knowing Daphne loves cats, I was sure she’d adore Smokey, this wonderful grey fluffy cat I bought for her. I thought it was rather an original way of asking her to marry me, but I can see now it was a very stupid idea.”
“How did you plan to send Smokey to your fiancée, Mr. Launders?” Daisy asked.
“Well, we had him put into this cardboard box with lots of air holes in it and Owen, my butler, sent someone around to Daphne’s with it. Well, the box arrived but when Daphne opened it in front of Arthur - the messenger boy - there was no cat to be seen, only a thick blanket the cat was supposed to be lying on and, of course, no ruby ring either! It’s all very baffling. We asked Arthur – he works for us – whether he’d heard the cat miaowing or anything, but he replied that he hadn’t and thought it had gone to sleep. It’s a complete mystery to me!”
“This is all very strange, Mr. Launders. I imagine that you want me to investigate the matter…”
“Oh, most certainly! Please do whatever it takes,” he replied.
“I’ll do my best but I would need an advance payment!” At this point Daisy pulled Miss Woolcote’s cheque out of her bag and handed it to Mr. Launders.
“I’m afraid they refused payment on this cheque!” Daisy remarked casually.
Gareth Launders’ expression changed and he looked very embarassed, “It must be a mistake – er – I’ll make you out another cheque at once!”
“Thank you,” replied Daisy. “Do you mind if I have a look around the grounds?” 

Daisy took almost three quarters of an hour to complete her reconnaissance around the grounds surrounding Avalon Abbey and then went back to her office.
Daisy reflected over the morning’s happenings while she had her packet of tuna fish and salad sandwiches. “Mr. Launders is really naïve, he doesn’t even realise Daphne hates animals. Who knows what else he still doesn’t know about her!”
An idea formed in Daisy’s mind and she decided it was time to act.
She got out a map and pulled down a cardboard box from high up in her cupboard. It was full of samples of beauty products with no labels on them she had been given some time ago by a friend who had a cosmetics factory. Using her computer Daisy printed out some decorative coloured labels with ‘completely natural products’ written on them and a fake trademark. Now Daisy set off to Daphne Woolcote’s house, remembering that Mr. Launders had said his fiancée would be visiting him in the afternoon.  

Daisy sat outside Miss Woolcote’s house in her car and waited for her to leave home to go and see her fiancé. As soon as she saw her drive away Daisy rang the door bell armed with a large bag containing her set of samples as though she were a door-to-door saleswoman. The maid answered the door. “I’ve got some free make-up samples for you, madam,” Daisy said as though she thought the maid were the owner of the house.
Cups of coffee were being drunk as Daisy plied the maid with free samples.
“Actually the Mistress is out, mm... she could well afford your products. She looks after herself in every way, if you get my drift.”
“She spends quite a lot on herself, you mean? I don’t want to pry of course,” Daisy lied.
“She is so tight-fisted - she always pays me late and makes me account for every little thing - and now she’s in a terrible mood since she never received her boyfriend’s cat, even though - between you and me - he’s not her only boyfriend!”
“Really?” replied Daisy pretending to look scandalised.
“You should see the amount of jewellery she’s collected since I’ve been with her!” added the maid

“Oh, I can’t believe it!’ exclaimed Daisy, “she’s practically engaged to someone and she... well, it’s totally disgraceful!” 

Back in her office, Daisy had worked out a possible solution to the mystery of the missing grey fluffy cat which entailed making a surprise visit to the manor. In the morning she had noted that, luckily, no dogs were on guard and that some men, who had been working on upgrading the security of the manor, had parked their van just outside the tradesmen’s entrance, which had a very high iron gate with an ancient lock on it.
Daisy had brought with her a set of keys – they were actually a real ex-burglar’s set of keys - and arrived at midnight outside the grounds of Avalon Abbey dressed in black from head to toe in a warm jacket, woollen trousers and a black beret which hid her hair. In her pocket she had the usual whistle and chocolate bar. Daisy took only a few minutes to unlock the iron gate with her special set of keys.
She was now inside the manor grounds and decided to have a look around. She crept cautiously to the front of the house. Small animals moved in the bushes and whisked about over the lawn, and there was no sign of human presence. Daisy noticed that there were no lights on in the bedrooms upstairs and as she continued her walk around the perimeter of the manor she saw a light being put on in the kitchen.
As she approached the kitchen window she could hear a voice talking to somebody who wasn’t answering. Daisy peered cautiously in through the window.
“Smokey, come on,” the voice said. “I’ve poured your milk into the saucer.” As ‘Smokey’ appeared, he rubbed his beautiful tail affectionately against the butler’s leg.
Daisy rapped on the window and called out, “Excuse me, Mr. Owen.”
Mr. Owen started as he saw her and his eyes almost seemed to pop out of their sockets. Daisy immediately regretted scaring the aged butler.   
“Oh Miss, you gave me such a fright,” he said opening the window. “I remember who you are. You’re the young lady who came about Daphne Woolcote. You’re a private investigator, aren’t you? You have caught me at it, as they say in detective books.”
Daisy acknowledged, “Well, it certainly looks like that!”
“Please don’t judge me,” the butler said taking control of the situation, “if you don’t mind coming in and sitting down for a moment I’ll explain everything to you. I’ll make you a hot cup of cocoa, you must be feeling cold roaming around in the dew. There’s a rigid temperature tonight.” 

“Mm, lovely...” said Daisy as she sipped her hot drink.
“Oh Miss Hamilton, if you only knew!” sighed Owen shaking his head in disapproval.
“You clearly don’t like Miss Woolcote, do you, Mr. Owen?”
“Indeed I don’t – even though it’s not my place to say.”
“You have been hiding Smokey all this time – but what happened to the ring? I can see it’s no longer on Smokey’s collar!”
“Indeed not - I’ve put it in an envelope adressed to my employer in my drawer - if my time should run out - it would easily be found. You see, Mr. Saunder’s mother had given him this ring, and he was going to propose marriage to… Miss Woolcote,” he said with disdain. “I knew I couldn’t allow that! I realised that if I managed to cause a delay  – even a brief one – Mr. Launders would have more time to see what she was really like!” 
“So you made sure they were not going to find the ring - or the cat...”
“Yes Miss. As soon as the cardboard box arrived with Smokey in it, I substituted the cat with a thick blanket so that Arthur wouldn’t think the box was empty. Then I sealed it up once again and gave it to Arthur telling him not to wake the cat up. Now I keep Smokey in my room during the day and at midnight I come down to the kitchen and let him out and feed him. The irony is, as you know, that Miss Woolcote hates cats and has always lied about it - she lies the whole time to worm herself into the family. She pretends that she loves my employer, which she certainly doesn’t...”
It seemed that Daisy and the butler had the same opinion about Miss Woolcote. “By the way, the cheque she gave me for a hundred pounds bounced,” she added, “but fortunately Mr. Launders wrote me out another one!”
Daisy felt she had to play the part of the devil’s advocate. “Mr. Owen, are you sure you aren’t just prejudiced against Miss Woolcote?”
“Prejudiced, Miss? Indeed I am. My employer is well-off and has had a long run of money-grabbing women trying to marry him, but Miss Woolcote is the worst of the lot. You see, I’ve been employed by this family for fourty years and I’m very fond of Mr. Launders. He’s a really decent person but tends to see only good in other people. Even if I tried to tell him the truth about Daphne Woolcote, he wouldn’t believe me. He’s in love with her!”
“I understand. But at this point I must do my duty and inform Mr. Launders of what has happened. He’s my client and I owe it to him.”
Owen sighed, “Don’t worry Miss. I’ll tell him myself!”
Slowly a plan was forming in Daisy’s head. “No, Mr. Owen,” she said putting her mug of cocoa down on the table and reaching for a piece of fruit tart. “I’ve got a much better idea!”

Early next morning Daisy set off to the local supermarket, went over to the baby and toddler section and selected an item. She then went back to the office and telephoned Gareth Launders.
“I’ve solved the mystery, Mr. Launders,” proclaimed Daisy. “Could you come round to my office at eleven-fifteen this morning? No, I can’t explain now as I’ve got a client here with me!” and then, as if it were an afterthought, “Please don’t tell your fiancée – I want it to be a nice surprise for her!”
The client was Mr. Owen, the butler, who was in the back room looking for a suitable place for the receiver unit of a baby monitor whose transmitter had already been put behind a vase of artificial flowers on Daisy’s office table. “Ok, can you hear me, Mr. Owen?” said Daisy trying out the transmitter. “Yes, Miss, loud and clear,” answered the butler from the back room.
Everything was in place and Mr. Owen went off on his next mission while Daisy telephoned Miss Woolcote.
“Er... hello,” Miss Woolcote sounded as if she had been sleeping up to one minute ago.
“This is Daisy Hamilton speaking. I’ve solved the mystery!”
“Oh, really,” replied Miss Woolcote hardly able to believe that Daisy was even telephoning her after the terrible way she had treated her. “All right, I can come round about twelve…”
“No, I’m busy at that time! If you come here at eleven thirty punctually I can fit you in for five minutes!”
Miss Woolcote seemed surprised and shocked at Daisy’s bluntness but protested relatively little. 

At eleven-fifteen Gareth Launders arrived and was ushered into Daisy’s back room. “Mr. Launders, do you mind waiting here for just a few minutes while I speak to a client who is coming up the stairs? In the meantime would you like some coffee?”
Mr. Launders looked a little baffled but complied with Daisy’s request.
At eleven-thirty Miss Woolcote pushed the already unlocked door open without ringing the bell and sat down. “Well, where’s the cat – have you found it or not?” she demanded.
Daisy smiled and asked her about the weather.
“Are you going to tell me if you’ve found the damned cat or not?”
Daisy nodded silently.
“And what about the ring, which is really what interests me?”
Daisy nodded again.
“So give it to me then!”
“It’s still on the cat’s collar,” said Daisy calmly.
“Then take it off and give it to me!” replied Miss Woolcote raising her voice. “You can keep the cat if you like!”
“But you love cats – and animals, Miss Woolcote,” Daisy pointed out deliberately. “Isn’t that why your fiancé sent you…”
“Look, I hate pets. How he could have dreamed up such a stupid thing I’ll never know! Once we’re married, no animals will be allowed in our home, ever!”
At this point Daisy got up and opened her office door signalling to Mr. Owen who was waiting outside with Smokey in his arms. The butler came into the office and let Smokey free who swaggered around looking as though he owned the place.
Miss Woolcote let out a shriek, “Oh no! Don’t let that bloody cat come near me – take it away immediately!”
This was the moment Daisy had been waiting for. She opened the door leading to her back room and beckoned to an astonished Mr. Launders to come into the office.
Gareth Launders, obviously extremely upset, walked up to Miss Woolcote and looked at her as if he were seeing her for the first time.

You can keep the cat if you like… Daphne – how could you...?”
At that point Daisy picked up the baby monitor transmitter from behind the vase of artificial flowers on her office table and switched it off. Seeing this, Miss Woolcote realised that everything she had said had been heard in the back room by her fiancé and that any explanation was superfluous. So she just shrugged her shoulders and walked out without a word.
After Miss Woolcote left, Daisy got Gareth Launders and Mr. Owen to sit down and have a good chat. “As you now realise, we fixed up the baby monitor receiver in the back room so you could discover the real truth about Miss Woolcote. Now as regards Smokey…”
Mr. Launders picked the cat up and discovered there was no ring on the collar around its neck.
“Don’t worry Mr. Launders, your ring is safe,” assured Daisy.
Now Mr. Owen took over the conversation and admitted he had hidden the cat and the ring. “I know you will ask me to leave your employment. I’ve served and loved your family for forty years but I would do the same thing again! I’ll collect my belongings and I’ll be out of Avalon Abbey before evening,” explained the proud butler getting up from his chair.
Mr. Launders gestured towards him seeming to come out of a dark tunnel. “No Owen. Stay with us. I’m in need of an old friend like you! I understand why you did this.”
“Very well sir. I’ll stay then,” Mr. Owen replied allowing himself a faint smile.
Mr. Launders seemed to be recovering from the shock. “Thinking about it in the light of what happened, all this isn’t really so unexpected. After the business of the cheque, well, Daphne didn’t give me a proper explanation, and she was so negative about you, Miss Hamilton, whilst I had had a very good impression of you. Actually I can’t thank you – and Owen – enough. I’ve been an idiot, I know!”

A couple of years or so later Daisy was filling in her tax return when there came a knock on her door. A delivery boy handed her a letter and a parcel. As Daisy opened the expensive envelope she gasped with surprise. It was an invitation to the the wedding of a certain Cynthia ffoulkes-Smith and Gareth Eustace Launders and in the parcel there was a small box with a card from G. E. Launders. On the card was written, ‘As a token of my respect.’
Daisy opened the box and saw a beautiful Georgian silver snuffer tray inside. She telephoned Mr. Owen to ask him to fill her in on the latest news.
“Oh Miss Hamilton, I’m so happy to hear from you,” replied Mr. Owen. “I gather you’ve received the invitation? Miss Cynthia is such a nice young lady. Actually she’s a doctor and has been doing voluntary work in Africa for the late Mr. Launders’ charity of which Gareth is the director. They make such a beautiful couple! As regards Smokey, he’s found a nice “wife” too and is the proud father of three kittens!”


Finished on 10th July 2013.