This little adventure takes place before the events in Kent Coast Oyster Obliteration. I had the idea in my head long before I started writing the book, anticipating Rex’s reaction to returning home after so many weeks away to find his garden filled with the neighbourhood cats.
It didn’t fit in the main story, but that didn’t matter because it gave me a chance to add a bonus at the back of the book. Like reaching the bottom of a box of chocolates only to discover another layer lies beneath, this unexpected extra is a gift just when you thought you were done.
Gary collects Albert and Rex from Blackpool at the end of the previous book, driving them back to Kent to arrive in the afternoon. The main story picks up the following morning.
Are you ready?
Rex’s Garden Invasion
The second his paws hit the pavement outside his house, Rex knew. He didn’t need to see, his nose told him everything. Where once his human’s property was a cat-free zone, in Rex’s absence, they had returned.
While Albert paid the cab driver and dug out the house keys from his backpack, Rex pictured how it might have gone down. It would have been slow at first, the cats, always willing to push their luck, would have been daring each other to venture farther and farther into the garden.
It probably started with the black and white tomcat from number forty-two. He was young and impetuous still, the kind of cat who would say something thrilling to impress the females and then do something stupid and almost get himself killed.
Rex had chased that tomcat from his garden more than a few times before he learned to stay away.
However, the slow, careful inspection to confirm Rex was no longer there would not have lasted much more than a couple of days. They would have gotten braver, the more cautious ones forcing themselves to overcome their fear so they would not look weak against their peers.
Then there were the strays. They always wanted to show off how independent they were – not soft and flabby like a house cat. No, the strays would poop in a dog’s garden just to show they had no fear.
Albert’s keys jangled in his hand as he fiddled with them to find the right one.
He laughed. “Do you know, Rex? It’s been so long since I opened my own front door, I’ve forgotten which key it is.”
Rex looked up at the old man. “Come on, will you? Can’t you smell them? They’re in the garden right now.”
Albert had his tongue poking out of his mouth and his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose as he squinted at the bunch and counted off the keys.
“This one is for the shed. That one is definitely the back door. This is for Mrs Willis next door; she wanted me to have a spare in case she ever locked herself out.” Albert settled on two possibles from his bunch and tried the first. “Ah, there we go.”
The door opened a crack and Rex rammed his head through the gap. Albert still had hold of the key and almost snapped it off in the lock when Rex’s skull catapulted the door back a foot. There it wedged, not that Rex slowed down. He shot through the gap and turned immediately left, his paws scrambling for purchase on letters and junk mail strewn across the hallway carpet.
“Whoa! What’s the hurry, Rex? There’s no food waiting for you in there.” Muttering under his breath, Albert collected his small suitcase from the ground where he had placed it and followed Rex inside.
Rex was already at the back of the house. He hadn’t gone to the door – he knew he couldn’t get out until Albert opened it. Instead, he’d raced through the house to the dining room adjacent to the kitchen. There, he carefully placed his front paws on the windowsill and looked out.
His blood boiled with rage. There was a cat in a flowerbed right now. It was hunched over and doing its business right in front of his face.
Worse yet there were six other cats that he could see all within the boundary of his garden. Unable to stop himself, Rex’s top lip peeled back, and he began to growl.
Albert, stooping to scoop the mail and tutting that so little of it was anything of interest, frowned when he heard his dog’s warning. Curious, he dumped the mail he’d already gathered on the dining table and went to see what had Rex so worked up.
“Ah, cats,” he observed. Then he saw the one in his flowerbed and uttered a colourful word.
Rex shoved off with his front paws. Twisting in the air to land facing the right way, he bounded through to the kitchen and stood poised with his nose against the back door. His human was following hard on his heels, happy to have Rex keep his garden free of unnecessary intruders.
With a grin, Albert gripped the door handle and said, “Sic ‘em, Rex.” Then he swore and went to get his keys. “Sorry, boy. Won’t be a moment.”
Rex’s heart was beating hard, and it was all he could do to keep his need to bark inside. His muscles were all aquiver with his need to get outside to defend his turf.
Albert came back through the house moving as fast as he could while concentrating on his keys to have the right one ready.
“Get out of the way, Rex,” he begged as the dog danced around in his haste to get out and in so doing prevented Albert from getting to the lock. “If you would just move …”
Rex rammed the door with his head, testing to see if he could just go through it instead.
“Oh, for goodness …” Albert grabbed Rex’s back end to keep it still, then put his legs either side of his ribcage to hold him in place while he fought to get the old Chubb key into the hole. With a twist, the lock rotated, and the door opened.
Unfortunately, it opened inward, and Rex was very much in the way. The first glimpse of daylight peeking through a tiny gap as his human tried to get the door open was too much for Rex. His heart was banging against his ribcage and his whole body was tense, so when he saw the green of the grass outside, he jerked forward.
His head hit the door again, this time slamming it shut.
Albert harrumphed loudly, yanking Rex away from the door with one arm around his chest. Then, with a foot braced against the wall because Rex was still trying to go through the door rather than wait for it to be open, Albert snatched at the handle and yanked.
Rex exploded from stationary to full flight so fast it was impossible for the human eye to track him. It reminded Albert of an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man he’d once seen. Steve Austin had to run so fast that to a security camera he would be effectively invisible. Rex had just done the exact same thing.
Barking insanely, Rex flew across the stone yard and onto the garden.
Cats, basking in the late autumn sun and oblivious to the danger until Rex announced himself, were jolted from sleepily content to panic-driven alertness in the space between heartbeats.
Two fell from the garden fence as they jumped to their paws and lost their footing. The one in the flowerbed had not finished his ‘task’ but fearing for his life, ran for the nearest fence. I could write that he scaled it like a cat, but that would be redundant and also fail to capture the nature of his ascent from the ground to safety.
It was a good thing the pooping cat moved fast because Rex had plans to remove his tail and keep it as a trophy. Rex’s teeth snapped together a nanosecond after the cat launched itself from the fence top into next door’s garden.
Disappointed to be denied his prize, Rex was however pleased to hear the cat swear in terror when it discovered Angus, the West Highland Terrier, was lying in wait mere yards from where he landed.
While the pooping cat ran for its life, Rex turned his attention to the squirrels. Two of them were in a hawthorn bush and close enough to the ground that he stood a reasonable chance of getting them.
Chittering in terror as they went, the annoying balls of fluff leapt from the bush to the ground, bolted across the lawn, and threw themselves at their oak tree. Rex arrived a moment too late, the squirrels just out of reach as they sprinted round and around the thick trunk in a helical fashion like they were scaling the slide of a helter-skelter.
Rex dismissed them and ploughed onward, heading for the very far end of his property where he gave some consideration to knocking down a fence panel he knew to be weakened with age. How surprised would the cats in the alleyway beyond be when he crashed through and continued his pursuit?
Albert watched from the kitchen, looking through the window above the sink as he filled the kettle for a cup of tea. Chuckling contentedly, he made a note to get the fence fixed when he saw Rex slam into a panel at the bottom of the garden.
Rex had used it to bounce off and reverse direction, but the panel and the posts to which it was attached, all wobbled. Pressing the kettle into service and selecting a mug from a cupboard in the corner, Albert thought about where they might go for dinner. They had been away for almost two months and were not stopping at the house for more than a couple of nights, Albert suspected – he really wasn’t sure how long he might be home, but didn’t want to start filling the refrigerator.
Realising with a frown that he didn’t have any milk to put in his tea, Albert turned the kettle off and placed his mug back in the same spot it had quietly occupied in his absence.
The local pub was a nice walking distance. They could serve him tea.
Then again, they also had beer.
Rex heard his name and twisted his head to see his human hanging out of the back door. Rex’s front paws were back on the trunk of the oak tree, his body at full stretch even though he knew the squirrels were bright enough to stay well out of his reach.
With his attention now on his human, an acorn bounced off the tip of his right ear, thrown by an angry squirrel with surprising accuracy.
Albert called, “Rex, come on. We’re going to the pub.”
Rex dropped down to the ground and thought about what he wanted to do. Panting heavily, he felt as though he had done a decent job of reminding the cats and squirrels whose garden it was.
“Are you back now, Rex?” barked Angus from his side of the fence.
Rex stopped panting to consider the question.
“I’m back for now,” he replied, unsure what his human’s plan might be.
Glancing over his shoulder like a batsman about to steal a base, Rex spotted the black and white tomcat from number forty-two. Its head was appearing over the fence. With a grunt of effort, Rex pushed off with his back paws, angling his body back down the garden.
The tomcat’s eyes flared in panic and its head vanished from sight once more.
“Nice one,” said Angus, trotting back to his house to get a drink of water.
Rex narrowed his eyes and looked around, checking a full three hundred and sixty degrees before accepting that there was no one left to threaten or chase.
Hearing his name again, and satisfied that he would get a chance to repeat the task again later, Rex trotted back down the garden path toward his human.