CJ’s Corner is a post written exclusively by Adelle’s rabbit.
The moment I arrived home from vacation, I knew something was up. The whole backyard was in some sort of excitement. I had barely started to unpack when Callie (my whitetail doe friend) paid me a visit.
“Have you heard what the birds are saying?” Callie leaned forward earnestly. When I shook my head, she went on. “There’s been a string of burglaries up on the deck of the house. The first night birdseed was strewn all over the deck. After that, the whole chunk of suet went missing with no other signs of anyone being there! And last night, they found the suet slathered all over the floor and railings and stepped in, just like it was out of spite. No one knows who did it.”
My curiosity was immediately piqued. Paw prints, but nobody can identify them? Strange. And who would want birdseed beside birds?
“Have you asked Adelle and the others inside?”
Callie gave me a disdainful look. “That’s up to you, and you only. You know that.”
I tried again. “Are the paw prints gone? Did anybody see the culprit?”
“What are you, a private detective all of a sudden?”
I grabbed my fedora and notepad. “Why not?”
The people who had first been on the scene the first two nights (a squirrel and a white-breasted nuthatch) didn’t have much to say besides what Callie had told me. But the cardinal who had been there the third day had a little more.
“It was very early in the morning,” she squeaked. “I came to get a bit of energy breakfast before my morning 5K flight. Someone had messed with the suet and taken out bits of it from the feeder; it was like they had frosted the deck and run straight through it.”
I made a note of that. “What were the prints like?”
The little bird narrowed her eyes and leaned towards us. “Like a cat’s paws, I tell you. I’d swear it.”
I decided not to write that down. “Thank you for your time,” I told her.
She kept talking. “I’ll tell you who did it. I’ll tell you who it was all three times. I’m sure it was that new cat from across the street; the black one that just moved in.”
I pretended not to hear. I was going to solve it on my own, and not listen to gossipy neighbors. But the cats in town were worth paying a visit to.
Callie had to have supper with her folks across the creek, so I went it alone. I wasn’t sure where to find Shadow, but I decided he must be close. I didn’t have to look long.
“Heard you’re looking for me.” I couldn’t help flinching. I had blinked, and there he was. Gray and white and very satisfied with himself.
“Yes, and I have a few questions. I hear you’re out a lot at night. Perhaps you’ve seen the culprit for the burglaries on the deck?”
“You’re considerate for not suspecting me first.” Shadow sat down and started laboriously licking one paw. “And no, I haven’t been around that house in ages. I’ve been taking care of a territory feud down the street.” His green eyes winked lazily in the sunlight.
I’d already figured he’d been in a fight. He had fresh scars on his shoulder, and his left ear matched the right. I wrote down his comments. “There’ve been rumors that the black cat across the street knows something about the burglaries. Do you know if that’s true?”
He cocked his head. “Oh, Midnight? Nah, he’s just a kitten. A rumor, eh?” He stared at me unblinkingly, then narrowed his eyes. “Lemme tell you one thing, Cottontail, and get it straight. Whether the kid did it or not, there’s an unwritten feline law. A cat doesn’t rat on another cat.” With a flash of gray, he was gone.
That shook me up a bit. I went home to put my feet up and drink a cup of coffee (Even though I detest coffee, I thought it might be a sort of detective thing to do) while I looked over the clues so far. It wasn’t much to go on. When Callie and I discussed it later, she had an idea that scared me out of my fur.
“I think I know someone who might have been a witness,” she said thoughtfully. “You know the old owl who roosts in the poplar tree? We should go ask him.”
I froze. “Callie, are you forgetting I’m a rabbit? He’d snatch me up like finger food!”
Her confidence frightened me. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there. Besides, there’s still more daylight left. He’s not very active right now.”
Trembling so hard that my ears vibrated, I followed close at Callie’s heels. When we reached the towering poplar, she cleared her throat and called out for the Professor. A few minutes passed and he did not appear and we thought he wasn’t home. (I, in all honesty, was very relieved.) But no such luck. He fluttered from branch to branch till he was just above us. I cowered at his piercing yellow eyes.
“I don’t appreciate being woken up so early,” he croaked, clicking his beak groggily.
“We had a few questions,” said Callie, stepping aside so he could see me.
He narrowed his eyes. I choked on my fear, swallowed it down, and smashed my hat down bravely. “Professor,” I said, “We thought you might have—”
“Eh? What’s that?” He turned his head and leaned forward.
I spoke up, my voice wavering slightly. “We thought you might have seen the burglaries that have been happening up on the deck of the house. Since you’re out a lot at night and you have a good view.”
He chuckled. “A good view,” he repeated. “Whiskers, I can’t tell you if what I did see even happened. My eyes have been going on me for the last six years! But since you look so cute n’ chubby from here, I’ll tell you what I saw. It’s been every night this week. I keep seein’ this dark blob on the deck, runnin’ all over the place, tail, four legs, a head of some sort. Black, or gray, could’ve been blue or green for all I know. Maybe a dark maroon.”
I scribbled it down and hurriedly said goodbye and thank you. He held up a talon. “Wait a minute, kid, lemme tell you something.” He looked straight at me. “If I had a few less years off my bones, and if I had a few less hours of sunlight in the day, you would be a very unfortunate little rabbit.”
That was when I bolted. Callie found me trembling in the darkest corner of my bedroom. She apologized and we went over the evidence. Callie sighed. “I hate to say it, CJ, but everything is pointing to Midnight. The Professor described a dark, small animal with a tail and four legs. The cardinal told us about the paw prints, and you said even Shadow avoided directly answering you about it and sounded defensive. Should we take a trip across the street?”
“Callie.” I flopped back into the hay. “He’s got no motive. And the folks around here really seem to jump to conclusions.”
“Well then, you need to pay him a visit and prove the conclusions wrong.”
“They’ve got dogs, otherwise I’d say okay. Perhaps you’d come with me?”
“I’ve got to go down the creek with my family for the rest of the evening, so you’ll have to ask someone else. I’d say one of the hens would go with you, but they roosted early tonight.” She wished me well and bounded into the woods.
I wondered if Adelle would approve of my investigation. She’d be concerned that I’d taken such risks, but if only she would take me across, I could answer some crucial questions. I was forming a plan to confirm or deny the rumor, and the only person that could help now was Midnight himself.
The sun wasn’t too far from the horizon. I had to get it over with, or something might happen again that night. I hopped up the driveway and looked both ways, breathing hard.
“Miss? You planning to go it across alone?”
I looked up and my breath caught. There was the ethereal mockingbird Dusk and his beautiful sister, Dawn. These were the mysterious birds that serenaded the sun’s rising and setting, the birds that gathered the respect and envy of the whole forest. I couldn’t believe they were here, talking to me.
I almost forgot to reply. “Uh—yes, I guess so.”
Dusk dipped his head gracefully. “Allow us to escort you. It’s far too dangerous for a young lady alone.” I obliged, and they waited in a dogwood while I inched up to the house.
There were the dogs, a big brown and a small black. I almost turned back, but I had to close this case once and for all. But before the dogs could scent me, Midnight streaked across my path. I jumped three feet in the air and nearly screamed.
“What’dya want?” he snarled. He was bigger than he looked from my hutch, but as Shadow had said, he still had the gangly paws and slender body of an overgrown kitten. Behind the scowl he had fear in his eyes.
I got to the point. “I’ve been doing an investigation around the neighborhood, about the burglaries and vandalism that’s been going unchecked on Adelle’s deck. I’ve done a lot of asking, and—”
“And what? All the evidence leads to me, is that it?” His voice cracked. “Lady, I didn’t do it. Everybody’s been hounding me all week, never facing me, just following me like I’m some ex-con nobody trusts. Just because I’m new around, and they think the paw prints were mine, and I’m some dark blob at night, or whatever, doesn’t mean I would go vandalize somebody else’s deck and eat some birdseed!”
What he said made sense—except for one thing. “How did you know what the Professor and the cardinal told me?”
Midnight rolled his eyes. “Perhaps you haven’t caught on to this neighborhood’s system of gossip.”
He hadn’t even said anything to trigger it, but it was there—I got a brilliant idea. “There seem to be a lot of gossipy people around here. I guess it’s their overactive imaginations?” He looked surprised. I leaned on one hip and nodded my head graciously. “Tell ya what. How about we prove’em wrong, and try a—a stakeout of sorts. If something happens, we’ll have reason to believe you. If nothing happens, I’ll have to take you to the backyard police.”
He cocked his head with a half-smile. “Okay,” he said slowly. “It’s a deal. We might as well try it tonight.”
I, personally, believed him. Midnight was a gangly teenager, new to the neighborhood, and being a black cat, he could be pinned for many different crimes or pranks. From his attitude, it seemed like that had been his trouble before. Dusk and his sister took us back kindly, but I was disgusted at the suspicion written on the faces of creatures we passed. They stood in huddles, whispering and leering at us. Several songbirds squawked at me, asking why I was harboring such a shady character, demanding that I turn him in right then and there. A squirrel followed us across the road, scolding as fast as his tail twitched. One audacious little chipmunk got right in Midnight’s face and squeaked, “Thief!” His timidity must have gotten the better of him, however, because with one look from the cat he scampered back into the bushes. But Dawn and Dusk must have been on our side, because once the bystanders started getting bolder, the mockingbirds started dive-bombing them for crowd control.
Midnight and I took refuge under the hutch until the day-creatures found their roosts. Not many others were out. I had thought of asking the bats of what they had seen, but then realized I might not have much luck with them. Callie found us around half-past eight. I took her aside and explained my plan, adding a warning to keep in mind not just the evidence convicting Midnight, but also the evidence defending him. She eyed him warily, but was polite. We quietly discussed a plan of action and found convenient spots around the backyard to watch the deck. I was, unfortunately, unsure of what we would do if we caught a culprit. The “backyard police” wasn’t exactly an official police force. What if we caught a bear or something and had to rely on some robins with worm-ropes to tie his paws behind his back? Or maybe we’d call in an army of squirrels armed with nuts? For that matter, would the police even be awake?
I straightened a bit, unkinking my stiff neck and stretching my paws. Partner check. There was Callie, hunkered down behind the forsythia. I snickered as I watched her head nod lower and lower. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a black tail disappearing between the piles of wood opposite me. I was situated behind the propane tank under the deck. Well, there was nothing to do but pull up my collar and wait. I shivered as a cockroach scuttled under the leaves. Never could get used to those things.
The cool air of Indian summer ruffled my fur. I wasn’t in the cleanest of places, and my small white paws weren’t in the best of conditions. Perhaps I should occupy myself while I wait. Soon my forefeet were properly groomed, but I couldn’t help but continue and get my ears done. Then again, my coat was getting rather untidy. And maybe I should touch up my face while I’m at it?
A rustle made me whirl around so fast I nearly got whiplash. My heart caught in my throat. Had Midnight taken advantage of my distraction and Callie’s nap? I didn’t want to believe that the dark form sneaking around in the shadows was the cat. Before I saw him in the moonlight very well he had clambered up a post and disappeared over the edge of the deck. I had no idea of what to do, but I knew I wasn’t about to climb up there after him. I signaled Callie to stay quiet. Some detective I was.
I heard scuffling above me, and then a muffled crash and more scuffling. What was he up to this time? It seemed like forever until I started to see him inch back down.
Holy mackerel! That was no cat! His body was rounder; his tail was bushier. His legs were skinnier, and his face was—masked!
“Where do you think you’re going, Mister?” Thank heavens, Midnight got there before I did. He stood, legs apart, in the way of the crook. The raccoon’s paws were covered in potting soil, and a sprig of an herb was stuck behind his ear.
He curled his lips and snarled defensively at the cat. “Get out of my way!”
Midnight’s eyes narrowed, and he arched his back the slightest bit. “Make me.”
All at once the raccoon cut n’ ran. I’d never seen one of his kind move so stinkin’ fast! But he skidded to a halt in front of the forsythia bush. Callie flashed out in front of him and had her head lowered. A hind hoof stamped.
With a twitch of his ringed tail, the bandit whirled and ran in the opposite direction. Hardly moving from my hiding place, I hopped out and coolly tipped my hat. We had him cornered.
The coon growled and sputtered a string of nasty curses. Then he faced all three of us, one by one, with a frightening look on his face. “Just three little critters. Nothing I cain’t take care of.” He chuckled menacingly. “A coon ain’t never gone down without a fight.”
In that moment his claws looked very sharp.
“Police, freeze!” In a split second, all of us jumped at the blinding new light from the garage door. Two figures stood there, all the lights on behind them, high-powered flashlights each pointed into the face of the raccoon.
I nearly broke right down. Adelle!
She and her dad had no trouble stuffing the dazed creature into a wire cage. Adelle confronted him as he came to his wits.
“Game’s over, Bobby Coon. Well, what’ve you got to say for yourself?” she asked casually.
His only answer was a jumbled mix of snarls, growls, shrieks, and muttered threats.
“Don’t you worry, buster. We’ll call somebody in tomorrow morning and before you know it, you’ll have a nice peaceful home somewhere out in the country.” She plucked the herb from his fur. “Hmm, wonder if I’ll be repotting plants this weekend. How many crimes can a coon think up?”
Adelle left him in my care for the moment and went inside. I had my courage up again and Midnight, Callie and I approached him. I had just one question. Looking him straight in the eye, I asked “Why did you do it?”
He threw himself against the wall of the cage in a show of frustration. “It’s the two-leggeds in that house. Missie, you hadn’t arrived when they did it. They locked up my brother! My own brother Bertie! They tricked him! They set a trap, and stuck a big can a’ tuna in there! Bertie hadn’t eaten in days! When I saw him in that trap, I vowed never to let them two-leggeds forget it! They took’im away! I had to run for my life or they might’a found me then, too. Only now have I come back. But my brother, he made me promise! So I did! I did!”
I backed away from the crazed animal as Adelle and her dad took him to the driveway to await morning. There was a quiet moment. “Thanks a whole lot, Callie. He would have gotten away if you hadn’t been right there.” Her shy self was back, and she ducked her head smiling.
“And Midnight,” I said, “I’m so awfully sorry for all the trouble this has caused you. I think in the morning you’ll be getting a few apologies when the day-creatures see who’s in the driveway.”
He stood. “Yeah—and thanks.” That was all. He was gone.
I let Adelle scoop me up. “Did you know what I was doing that whole time?” I asked her incredulously.
“Sort of. A little bird—or two—filled me in this evening.”
I chuckled to myself, a little embarrassed. Dusk must have known a rabbit, a cat, and a not-quite grown deer couldn’t stop whatever mischief-maker had been sure to appear that night. How sweet of him.
“I’m not sure who was more surprised to see you; us or the coon. Thanks.” I tried to wriggle down, but we weren’t to the hutch yet and I guess Adelle wasn’t taking any more chances. I’d been running around all day and Mommy knew it was time for shut-eye. So I flopped in her arms and obliged to be carried to bed. She tucked me in snugly with wisps of hay and I gave her a nuzzle good-night.
“G’night, Detective,” she teased, ruffling the whorl of fur between my ears. “Love you bunches. Sweet dreams.”
Callie had virtually disappeared when Adelle put me to bed, but when the garage door closed and the porchlight flicked off, she tip-toed back. “CJ,” she whispered through my peep-hole. “You asleep?”
“Not anymore,” I mumbled.
She giggled. “Sorry. And thanks for letting me in on this whole thing. By the way, you don’t normally let Adelle carry you. What’s with that?”
I’d surprised myself, too. “It’s after midnight… I’m bone-tired. I didn’t really have a choice.”
“Makes sense. Well, Holmes, I’ll let you sleep.”
So ends what I’m calling the Cranky Coon Caper. I’ve figured detective work isn’t my strong point, now, and I’ve put the fedora and notepad aside. As for Midnight, he’s started a real police force for the neighborhood. He’s garnered quite a following. Shadow seems to have become a deputy of some sort. I even hear tell that Annie, the snow-white cat down the street, has been hanging around the new officers quite a lot. Midnight has already come to me once for dating advice.
I had a very long, deep sleep that night, but it was cut short around nine the next day when Adelle’s laugh rang out beside me. I jumped.
She had both doors open, and was holding something small and white in her hand. She couldn’t seem to stop laughing.
I stretched and gaped an offended yawn in her face. “Yes?”
She held up my fedora. “What on earth is this?”
Adelle sure needed to read up on spy stories. “It’s a fedora. I was using it.”
“Really?” She managed to get her laughter under control. “Can I ask where you got it?”
My face colored. “Uh, well, when you took me inside that last time—I found it.”
She snorted, then started laughing again. “If—uh, you’ll excuse me, I need to go return this. My old American Girl dolls seem to have misplaced it. So long, Sherlock!”