SPATCH -- CAT BURGLAR

The back streets and alleys of London team with life, little of it human. Nature hates vacuums almost as much as dogs; where a niche presents itself, some sort of ecology moves in. Rats make their nests in the alleys, and their natural predator, the feral cat, is never far away. These cats are nobody's moggies, nor ever could be, but they make their living from the garbage that humans leave for the dustman... and the vermin that live in it.

The feral cats don't like the two-footed humans; kind or nasty, they don't trust as easily as their fetted moggy brethren. Yet one creature that walks erect has their trust and ocasionally their help. More than once when some ex-army officer steps into a by way to silence the sex-wails of alley cats, he's heard a feline growl behind him and turned in time to see two yellow eyes ignite in the gloom; a cat's paw the size of a bottle swat the pistol from his hand; a fur-covered foot rushing towards his stomach, a paw-fist before his jaw... and awoken next morning just inside his doorway, his wallet missing and some valuables gone.

Day or night was the same to Spatch when he was invisible; all black and silvery, like moonlight. That was how he liked things, too, not splashed with the colours he saw when he was visible. Perched now among the bells of St. Beau, he watched the Great City of London shift again from the furtive rushing and glancing of night life to the push and swagger of the day. Barely autumn, it was light enough for the lories to do without lights as they started off to the markets. Spatch despised the cockneys as humans, but loved their spirit; he'd long ago taken it for his own. He gave them a sharp-toothed grin for luck, although anyone below would have been very surprised to see a cat's grin with no cat attached had they seen it.

The bells would ring soon, and Spatch had no desire to be there when they did; the bells of St. Beau, within whose chime all cockneys lived, was too loud for a cat's ears up close! He slipped behind a pillar and looked over his swag. He'd kept that old boy's pistol and the money from his wallet, but tossed his identification; it could be traced too easily. He'd left the fellow's unit ring, (again, to easy to trace), but nicked a few nice items from his wife's dressing table. He faded into view to check the colour for fakes; the browns and oranges of his tortoise shell fur went nicely with his dark gray tweed vest and trousers and cap, but his cream chest and tummy fur clashed a bit. With a practised eye he sorted the fine jewelry from the fake, put the goods in a small paper bag and the rest in his pocket.

A pigeon approached him. "'Ullo," he cooed, "come for your breakie?" Smiling gently, Spatch took a crust of bread from one of the many pockets in his trousers and broke it in pieces, tossing them to the bird. It took a bit from his outstretched fingers and he gently touched it's beak. The bird hardly reacted, merely took the morsel and walked calmly away. Spatch took another crust from his pants and left it in a crevice near the floor. "'Ere Mickey," he called, softly, "look what I got yer." The mouse did not appear, but it would in time. Then Spatch heard a soft creaking behind him. He turned and saw a bell clapper moving. He made himself invisible once more, called to mind the image of a flat he knew, then gave a *push* and was gone.

He reappeared near Chalky Kellums flat rather than in it; every so often his fence would set some sort of trap for him, always having wanted to see the mysterious thief. Spatch climbed the outside of the wooden wall and peered in through a window. Sure enough, there were lines like fishing silk along the bare wooden floor and more along the joints of the window. Chalky was thorough, give 'im that. And more, to be sure, thought Spatch. He appeared in the fence's room, right on his bed where there'd be no lines, and lept silently to the desk where the fence kept his money. Long practice told him how to open the money drawer without setting off the alarm, or the shotgun shell, and how much he could take without getting the fence's bosses mad, something Saptch was not anxious to do; they had a chance of doing something about him, something Chalky Kellums was too stupid for.

Money in his pocket and stash in the drawer where the fence could put it where he pleased, Spatch lept to the bed once more, heavily enough to rouse the human. "Chalky," he called, softly. "Chalky." The human's eyes had barely opened when he took a slap to his cheek hard enough to knock it from the right shoulder to the left. "Ye'll never learn, will yah?" said Spatch, and *pushed* once again, leaving his fence cursing impotently behind him.

This time Spatch re-appeared in a major dust-tip outside London, not far from a landfill site, where he emptied his pockets of fake jewelry. The money he kept aside, in case he ever found a use for it. He'd steal his supper later. For now he walked the distance to a junk yard near the tip. Anyone looking would have seen the lid lift all too quietly on a rusty, old dumpster, then just as silently close. They wouldn't have seen a double glazed window set in place to let the light in but keep the cold and wind out, nor a piece if cardboard put over that to keep the light of a very nice colour telly in. Firkin Pheasant ale did Spatch for his breakfast as he watched the morning news. His theft from the night before hadn't made the report, although King George did. It seemed that he was going to retire at last and let Princess Elizabeth take the throne. "And about time 'e did," Spatch muttered, "'E's been workin' 'ard enough keepin' Commons from takin' wot roights the common man 'as left fer years. 'Liz is a good old luv, she'll do a roight job."

The news ended and Coronation Street came on. Spatch watched for a time, then turned it off with a violent stab at the button. Still he stared at the blank screen for a time. For all they were a~lot of bastards, the humans had each other. He finished off his bottle and opened another, downing it in three good pulls. Sleepy at last from the alcohol, he pulled out a blanket and crawled under it. "Please, God," he muttered, "don't let me 'ave that nightmare."

(c) 1992 Allan D. Burrows