Black Market Catnip

london_temperance_hospital_3The boys looked up and, hovering above them, above the narrow, cobbled street, barely higher that the warehouse guttering, they saw a small, cigar shaped, bronze coloured airship; the canopy was banded with aluminium straps, it had a single broad-bladed propeller, slow-turning as the engine idled, and a compact gondola from which dangled the precarious ladder.   In the open hatchway stood an impossibly tall, slender tortoise-shell in bottle green chauffeur’s uniform.   She had exotic golden eyes, kohl rimmed and cosmeticised to emphasise their mesmerising effect.

“Please come up Mr Boz… It will be alright.”

“I’ll see you back at the pad.” said Boz, beginning to climb.   Dangly pilot ladders are not the easiest things to negotiate for anyone but the most practised of pilots and Boz didn’t really do climbing.   However the dirigible had descended as low as it dare and eventually, somewhat puffed, he was allowing himself to be helped aboard by the torti chauffeur.    The cabin interior was fitted out in midnight blue velvet plush edged in gold cording, a large chandelier hung from the deck-head, a half open, panelled door with brass fittings led through to the flight deck.

“Good morning, so at last I get to meet the famous Mr Boz.”   A tabby cat wearing a red white and blue rosette sat in a deep tub chair holding a large brandy glass,   “I’m sorry, do sit down” he indicated towards a similar, but vacant seat.   “I am Larry from Number 10.”

Boz sat.

“Barrymore, see to a drink for Mr Boz, would you.”   The airship had ascended, turned west-nor’westward and was flying above the City.

“Is she driving AND waitressing?   Is that safe?”

“Let’s not worry about Barrymore, very competent young lady.   Let’s talk about you.   You’re still looking for the recently deceased Mr McGoogs.”   It was not a question and Larry did not seem to be expecting any form of answer.   “You appear to suspect that Mr McGoogs is some sort of secret force for good, with a plan.   He is not.   He is a despicable profiteer and we are better off with him dead.”

Boz was feeling very uncomfortable.   The cabin was warm, he had not slept, the brandy gently burned in his stomach and the cat he now faced was terrifyingly confident.   “How do you know all this?   Did you have him killed?”

“People tell me things, Mr Boz.   And I don’t kill… as a rule.

“We are on our way to make a hospital visit.   There’s something I want you to see.   Do agree to come along.”

They were crossing above the seeming random tangle of railway lines that lead into the rear of Euston Station and soon began a descent into a tight courtyard outside the entrance to an apparently abandoned hospital.   Larry took Boz by the arm and led him into the building whilst Barrymore tethered the craft.   Above the faux-Grecian portico, decorative brickwork spelled out ‘London Temperance Hospital’.  Within, the entrance hall was deserted, fallen plaster littered the marble floor, but deeper into the interior, along a tiled corridor things began to bustle.   Crisp nurses came out of doors striding efficiently in starched pinafores and black stockings, hurried past, plunged down hallways or clip-tapped up stone stairs.   Businesslike chatter emitted from curtained alcoves and intimidating side rooms.

Larry opened a door and encouraged Boz into a long Nightingale ward with two rows of identical, cream coloured, iron beds.   On the edge of almost every bed sat, motionless, a cat in striped winceyette pyjamas; most stared vacantly beyond their inner space into the vacuum of eternity, some shook.   In the centre of one bed was a bulge under the bedclothes that twitched uncontrollably.   Another cat stood to attention at the bottom of his bed, in a frozen salute.   Larry ushered Boz towards him, but they were waylaid by the ward sister.   Boz could not take his eyes off her chest, where she had pinned a wonderful little upside down watch.

“Best leave him.  He will settle eventually.”

Larry turned to Boz, “These are all here because of your Mr McGoogs.   All they needed to help them cope with the stresses of catlife was a little catnip at a timely moment, something to layback the troubled soul, hush the cacophony.   And what did they get?   Krapola.   Honestly, that’s what it sells as, Krapola Katnip, and it’s rubbish. It’s force grown under artificial lights in vast sheds in Milton Keynes, it’s thin and weedy with virtually no psychedelic properties, and it’s not even cheap   He’s flooded supermarkets and pet shop chains with the stuff and it affords no relief.   All these cats needed was a little break from reality and McGoogs denied it to them – for profit.”

The nurse kissed Boz lightly on the forehead, “The monster is dead, and good riddance.   Go home and forget about him.”

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