Chapter III – Hamster Wheels are Turning
I streaked around the house, a blur of tiger stripes, once, twice, three times for luck, then did a wind sprint along the fence wall and leapt into Eben’s backyard. I find streaking and leaping to be the best way to get my brain up to speed with my feet before starting a serious investigation. Just to be on the safe side, I ran around Eben’s backyard a few times too, knocked over a bird bath, scaled the stucco walls and leaped onto the raised deck. No one was there, so I sat perfectly still on the picnic table and waited for my heart to stop bouncing in my ribcage like a rubber Superball. Then I washed my face until I was extremely pretty and then I started to hunting for clues.
The raised deck was littered with little human tools; plastic pastel ponies, little metal trucks and buckets and shovels from the green plastic turtle full of sand that sits out back and which is NOT a litter box. I have been told this several times. A waste, if you ask me, but the Humans will not budge. Weaving my way through terra cotta pots along the railing, I patrolled the perimeter of the deck, then hopped down to the back door. I stopped to sniff at the flip-flappy cat door at the bottom. It smelled like Eben’s door, all right, but it also smelled like something else. An oily smell, mixed with something musky and sour. The Human’s trash cans were lined out on the street, waiting for pick up, so I wasn’t picking up that smell. No, someone or something greasy had been here recently.
Even though it’s extremely bad manners, I stuck my head slowly through the cat door. ’Desperate crimes sometimes call for desperate exposures,’ I told myself and hoped Eben would understand. The room was still a mess: piles of crushed cereal, ripped open boxes of pasta, and smears on the floor, just as Eben had said. There was a bang of closet doors and suddenly a Human walked back into the room with a bucket and a mop. I leapt out backwards so they wouldn’t die of shock at the sight of a Tiger coming in through their back door.
Quick as a gazelle being chased by a leopard, I leapt back on the deck railing and hid behind the pot of basil, all mysterious and stealthy-like. When I was sure no one had seen me, I crept to the corner where the railing ran into the back wall of the house. I sat outside an open window, just above the desk where the hamster’s cage had been. I had forgotten about this window. It was the perfect place to sit and watch that little rodent run and run and run on his wheel. That little guy sure could fly. I often thought little sparks would fly out and the wheel would bounce out of the cage, roll down the hallway and out through the front door. I wouldn’t have let him get very far, that’s for sure, but I liked to think about it.
When he wasn’t running, it was still easy to find him, at the top of the tubes in a little round “observation deck.” He would burrow into a blanket of bedding that moved up and down as he slept, breathing heavy and fast like he was dreaming about running on the wheel. But now, pressing my head against the screen, all I could see was hamster bedding and empty sunflower seeds spilled all over the desk, the computer keyboard and on the floor. The Hamster’s wire cage had been knocked sideways onto a desk chair. The hamster wheel swung back and forth, empty and upside-down.
I looked at the cage again and realized the lid to the hamster’s observation deck was wide open. The lid was smooth and round, except for a little indentation that you pulled open with a finger. It was a tricky latch; so tiny that I had sometimes seen the Humans struggle to open it.
The back door banged open and Eben’s Human Mom dragged out a trash bag. I was about to leap away when I realized one of my claws was stuck on the screen. I didn’t breath and I didn’t move as she fumbled and grumbled with long yellow rubber gloves. They were stuck on her paws just like I was stuck on the screen. She peeled the gloves off, threw them in the trash bag too, and marched back in the kitchen without even so much as a glance my way.
I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to unsticking my claw when I noticed something else. There was fur stuck in the aluminum flashing along the bottom of the window sash. A big filthy mat of long orange fur.
I leaped into my driveway and squeezed under the fence and back into my yard; my brain now running faster than a hamster wheel. I now had two new pieces of evidence to submit in my friend’s defense: Eben did not have fingers and Eben was not orange.