THE WINCHESTER-NABU DETECTIVE AGENCY

Cats photoshopped as noir detectives
AMBER LOVE 05-SEP-2017 My work is supported by the generous backers who tolerate my cat stories at Patreon.com/amberunmasked and they also get first access to what’s happening with my books and podcast.

ADVENTURES WITH GUS – CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: ESCAPE IN THE FOG

Where we left off…

Detective Inspector Guster Nabu and his primary human caregiver, Amber Love, were caught in the middle of a possible assassination attempt.

EXTERIOR. DEEP IN THE WOODS OF THE WINCHESTER-NABU ESTATE.

It was the beginning of September and New Jersey was hit by a day and a half of rain — probably the distant remnants of a hurricane that devastated the Gulf of Mexico. Temperatures swayed from crisp to humid within hours. A blanket of fog smothered the land. Visuals were limited. Sounds of the birds carried differently on the thick, moist air. Crickets didn’t know day from night and chirped in a constant cacophony.

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A couple of days prior Gus was in the mood for more than a perimeter check. He led me up the Kitty K-2, the steepest hill we know of in the back 40 trails. So far we’ve been unsuccessful getting to the top. That particular Saturday morning I didn’t want to go up there because I needed my endurance for the New York Renaissance Faire all day. Gus got his way of course and up we went.

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The rainfall that followed meant he had over a day to rest up. Since the trail appeared to be mowed somewhat recently, I didn’t balk as much as normal about a steep climb. We had already gone around the entire perimeter of the lower acre. My feet were soaked just from that. Gus’ entire belly was too. He was soggy up to his shoulders and then some. With every pass under a dreary stalk, he got his top half wet and entered SEAL mode. Like Navy SEALs and actual seals in the oceans, it meant Gus could weave through prickly bushes of thorns without a bother. His leash, not so much. The leash and I got caught on everything. So much for those cute galaxy leggings I got half price.

Gus tree climbing

What is it about fog that makes every crunch and crackle sound like a monster is only a few feet away? Gus was always on alert for squirrels and birds. The last time we were on that trail, he darted after a bushy-tailed critter and tried climbing a huge tree. It’s funny because before spotting the squirrel, he lacked confidence. This is how it normally goes. He hesitates at the base of trees — doesn’t matter the size of the trunk — but after he has incentive to go up, he experiences a few seconds of fearlessness. Then getting down enters into play and sometimes he cries for help. If he’s high enough up or trapped by branches, I’ll go to his rescue; most of the time, he figures it out while give him directions and let him know his harness is secure.

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We weren’t sure if it was the changing of the seasons or something bigger that the animals could sense, but we hadn’t spotted any rabbits for several days. It was unusual. We were treated to a delightful and rare close-up opportunity when a white-tail deer surprised the crap out of us and bounced across the driveway a few days prior. Gus and I stared for a few minutes in disbelief. When he realize how close we came to being accidentally trampled, he turned tail and swiftly headed back down the hill.

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A deer we spotted in August.

 

On this particular day, Gus was acting unsure again. He didn’t show interest in going further up the hill. For a moment I even thought he was finished exploring and ready to go home. It was as if he wanted to make damn sure I understood he was not finished by heading for some trees. There are several trees not far off the trail and not terribly difficult to reach. That was a blessing considering his fondness for every kind of thorny shrub. I decided it was fine to leave the comfort of the trail and go about twenty to thirty feet so he could practice tree climbing.

Midsomer Murders

It may make you wonder, what kind of detective has so much going on in the rural suburbs of New Jersey, an 80-minute trek to the New York City borderland known as the Hudson River waterfront (longer by train). Don’t forget about Jessica Fletcher down east in Cabot Cove, Maine. I think of the great European investigators like Hercule Poirot, Agatha Raisin, or DCI Tom Barnaby. Cases are not always in the metropolitan centers like Paris or London. Sure, Poirot had a bit of a jet-set life while solving crimes in cities like Cairo. Yet, the mysteries of the countryside, no matter the continent, are the stories that become legends. For some reason called “urban” legends though not usually urban/city-based at all.

Gus on boulder

This brings us back to Detective Inspector Nabu’s sudden momentum. He didn’t stop at those trees just off the trail. He gave each one a good sniff and kept going. Every few seconds I’d remind him, “Hey, Gus, maybe we shouldn’t go so far. Hey, Gus, how about if we go back to the trail?” A scent of some unknown origin had him hooked and anything I had to say about the detour didn’t matter.

He hopped up onto a dead tree and quickly walked across. The rotted wood was darker than Mississippi mud and wet completely through. Emerald green moss covered it on top. Gus was near the end when I stepped up to follow. Immediately my clunky, heavy boot went right through to the ground. Half of the log was pulverized by my weight. I didn’t have time to think about it and hustled behind the cat. Soon we came to another log. By the sight of the color, it was drier and not dead as long as the previous one. I made the call to walk along side of it instead of on it which left me subjected to even more thorny stalks.

Alongside of that second log, something caught my eye. It was hard to get Gus to pause long enough for me to bend over and pick it up. I found an antler, a little rough at the end, but it appeared to be in complete condition. I had no time to stand there and keep thinking. Gus was on the move.

winchester-nabu antler

The next thing I knew we were overlooking the rooftop of the highest house. Through the trees I could see the white of the residence where a couple of centenarians still live. I didn’t want them to see us, though I doubt they could. The wife is almost completely blind by this point. She’s the nicer one. We were pretty high up and I think my grey flannel shirt blended in with the landscape.

I managed to get Gus to pause so I could stand on a buried boulder for a minute. I looked down and found another treasure, but that’s a story for another time. I collected it and kept moving.

Gus and I came to a border of sorts. It’s the remnants of a rock wall. He wasn’t slowing down. Pursuit continued and we paused at another felled tree. This time though all we could see of it was the upturned roots and the hole it left. We were between antiquated power line poles about seven or eight feet tall and the rocks. Before us, the only trail to speak of was a sea of tall green weeds following the power lines. I believe they go up to another well house, but I honestly haven’t been that high up the mountain since I was teenager.

By this point, Gus and I had recovered two artifacts and we had been gone over 90 minutes. He absolutely did not want to head back to the house, but I made the executive decision to veto his plans. I scooped him up, balanced the artifacts, my phone and him in my arms. I had to walk like that down the steep hills. He squirmed. I tried putting him down when we reached the trail, but he only wanted to head up. I scooped him into my arms again and continued to aggravate my knees on the way down. Somehow I managed not to fall on my ass in the wet weeds.

We got back home and it was time for research. First thing first — peel out of those wet clothes. I scrubbed the treasures then took my own hot shower. Once I was comfortably dry, I sat at the computer. Gus got some treats, but per his usual routine, Oliver was given a briefing which means a lot of sniffing and wrestling first. Then Gus was able to relax.

Theories about the first treasure found by Guster Nabu coming up next in Adventures with Gus – Chapter 18!

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