The Messenger

Could the charming but destructive Major Tom turn out to be Oliver’s best friend… in more ways than one?

Having worked out a cunning way to hide a dwarf’s treasure trove, Oliver’s work as a computer game designer was finished for the day. And working from home meant his commute was over too, simply by walking to the kitchen.

He had just lit the gas under his dinner when a noise at the back door brought a smile to his face.

He yanked the door open.

“Major Tom,” he greeted the ginger cat sitting on the mat. “Perfect timing as usual. Trout tonight,” he said as the cat sniffed the air approvingly.

Bending to stroke Tom’s thick fur, he suddenly stilled. For the first time, the cat was wearing a collar – which meant his new friend was not a stray after all.

Oliver’s disappointment was out of proportion.

Not knowing anyone in town, and with his solitary job in front of a computer, Major Tom’s visits had become the highlight of his day. He’d actually been on the brink of putting up some lost cat posters while secretly hoping he didn’t get any response.

“I suppose I’d better find out where you belong,” he said glumly after sharing his meal with the cat. He peeled a yellow sticky note off a pad.

I’m afraid I’ve been feeding your cat, he wrote. Sorry. I thought he was a stray. Hope this hasn’t caused any problems.

He signed it “new guy on the street,” rolled it up and tucked it under Tom’s collar. When he opened the door, the cat shot off without a backward glance.

At teatime the next day, Tom returned. This time his collar bore a pink note.

And here I thought he was off his food! Your timely admission saved me and Gascoigne – Oliver looked at the cat and raised an eyebrow before continuing – from an expensive and ultimately unnecessary visit to the vet so thank you. But please don’t feed him any more, no matter how much he begs.

It was signed “K.”

Tom wove around Oliver’s ankles, giving his best impression of a starving cat.

“I can’t, buddy,” Oliver said.

That the note was pink suggested that Gascoigne’s owner – Gascoigne? Seriously? – was a woman. Or was that sexist?

He fretted about making assumptions while he and the cat watched TV, delighted that his friend had stayed even without food.

Later, Oliver composed a reply to K.

I call him Major Tom. He paused. Would it sound crazy if he explained that was because Tom’s visits were a major part of his day? Probably. Not feeding him is hard. He has a gimlet stare. Would you prefer if I didn’t let him in?

This time he signed it “O.”

The next day he was delighted to find another note.

I work evenings and I worry that he’s lonely, so if you’re happy to have him visit, so am I. At least if he’s with you he won’t be annoying my neighbour who is not so tolerant.

This one was signed, Katie.

Oliver read the note three times. She sounded nice. Friendly, too.

Would it be very wrong to try and meet her?

He wrote a quick note saying he promised to send Gascoigne home at a respectable hour, signed it “Oliver” and tied it to Tom’s collar before opening the door. Tom strolled out, looking back, practically inviting him to follow.

“I’ll get my keys,” said Oliver, but by the time he came back Tom was gone.

The notes continued back and forth for a few days. Oliver put together an image in his head of a Katie as a young, professional woman with a gentle sense of humour. He hoped he came across as witty and charming but wouldn’t bet on it.

One day Katie’s note read, No treats for him today! He’s in the doghouse. Or should that be cat house? I’m talking serious carnage to some seedlings. I scolded him and now he’s sulking.

Yes! Excitement coursed through Oliver. Presumably Gascoigne didn’t live far away. All he had to do was go for a stroll and look for a newly vandalised garden.

That wasn’t at all stalkerish.

Quickly he drove to the garden centre and bought a random tray of seedlings. Driving home he parked the car and set off on foot.

As luck would have it, he found a garden at the end of a cul-de-sac where the area under the bay window was newly turned over, complete with a heap of wilted plants.

Unable to believe his luck, he knocked.

A elderly man peered out. “Yes?”

“Er…I’m looking for Katie?”


Oliver thought quickly.

“Actually I live down the street and I er… saw your poor seedlings…”

A movement caught his eye and Tom leapt onto the wall beside him.

The man followed his gaze.

“That’s the culprit right there. Diablo. That’s what I calls him. Now, what do you want, young man? Pointless is just coming on the telly.”

“I thought you, er, might like these.” Sheepishly Oliver handed over the tray.


“Um, because it’s neighbourly?”

The old man nodded.

“Marigolds and petunias. Thank you.” He took the tray and made to close the door.

“Wait!” said Oliver. “Do you know where the cat lives?”

He pointed into the cul-de-sac. “He belongs to her down there. That lass thinks bringing me freshly baked scones can make up for the chaos her animal causes.” He shut the door.

Well, at least Oliver had a bit more information. He glanced at Tom.

“I don’t suppose you want to show me which house?”

Apparently not. Tom hopped a fence and was gone.

Oliver’s sister was waiting in her car when he got home.

“Out with friends?” she asked brightly. Mandy knew how solitary his life was since he’d moved here after splitting with his girlfriend.

“No.” He explained where he had been. “I really want to meet her. Should I ask her round for a drink?”

Mandy’s eyes had widened as she listened.

“Of course not! You could be an axe murderer!”

“But I’m not,” said Oliver.

“I know that. But single women don’t just go to strange men’s houses.”

“You think she’s single?” he asked hopefully.

Mandy rolled her eyes.

“I’m guessing yes since she has been corresponding by cat.

“Olly, you don’t know anything about her. What if she is a little old lady?”

“I don’t think so,” he said confidently. “Her neighbour called her “that lass.”

Mandy sighed. “OK. If you really want to meet her, invite her to dinner. At a restaurant. But be prepared to be disappointed.”

The next day when Tom came, Oliver wrote the invitation quickly, before he could change his mind, naming the top rated restaurant he had found online.

He signed it “Oliver,” attached it to Tom’s collar and let him out.

And then he waited.

It was ridiculous how much Katie looked forward to her notes from Oliver. Working as a chef, her evenings were long but being currently single, her days were even longer.

Her correspondence with Oliver was the closest thing she had to a social life right now.

Her heart skipped when she read his note inviting her for a meal at – wait. What? Her own restaurant?

“What’s he saying?” asked her aunt who was staying for a few days and had been following the notes with interest.

Katie told her.

“A date with Cat Man?” Aunt Beryl snorted. “You do know he’ll be weird.”

“Mmm, I don’t think so,” said Katie. “I kind of like him.”

“In that case,” said Beryl, “a date at your own restaurant is a bad idea, with everyone watching. Invite him round here tomorrow. I’ll give him the once over and if he’s not an obvious axe murderer I’ll come up with some excuse and give you some privacy.”

So that was what Katie did. It would be nice to get to know Gascoigne’s friends.

My aunt is visiting so why don’t you come for dinner tomorrow night? She added a time and her address.

Then, with shaking fingers she tied it to Gascoigne’s collar and watched him slip through the gap in the hedge.

When Tom finally arrived back at Oliver’s later that evening, he was not wearing a collar!

No collar meant no note. Oliver was distraught. Had his note offended Katie somehow? Or had Tom just lost his collar?

Why hadn’t he planned for such an eventuality and bought a spare collar? Or ten? Could he tie something else to Tom’s neck?

Apparently not. The four deep gouges on his arm soon testified to that.

Oliver got down to Tom’s level.

“You have to help me. One bloke to another. Please, help me find Katie.”

He was prepared to scramble over walls and crawl through shrubbery but to his relief, Tom kept to the pavement, trotting in front, his tail in the air as he led Oliver straight to the cul-de-sac.

A young woman getting into a car stopped when the cat ran up to her. She picked him up, crooning.


She hadn’t noticed Oliver. Now she did.

“Oliver?” she asked warily.


She was beautiful. Green eyes and red hair. A bit like her cat – though maybe he wouldn’t say that.

“Sorry. I hope my invitation didn’t offend you.”

“Offend me?”

“Well… you didn’t respond.”

Her face cleared. “You didn’t get my note, then? Inviting you to dinner?”

Oliver only just resisted punching the air.

“No… I think Gascoigne lost his collar.”

“Again?” She kissed the cat on the nose before letting him wriggle free. “I’m off to work but yes, I invited you for dinner tomorrow night. I live there.” She pointed.

“I accept.”

The next night, Katie went all out.

“You’re pleased with yourself, aren’t you?” she teased as Gascoigne wound himself around her ankles. “Well, so you should be. He seems really nice. Thank you.”

At seven o’clock the doorbell went. She glanced at Aunt Beryl, took a deep breath and pulled it open to see her neighbour, Mr Brown.

“Am I early?” he asked.


He thrust a pink note at her and she saw her own handwriting.

My aunt is visiting, so why don’t you come for dinner tomorrow night?

“Cat brought it,” he mumbled. “He’s a nuisance all right, but, well, afternoons he sometimes comes and joins me in the garden. Keeps me company like.”

Katie didn’t know what to say.

“Wife used to say I’d a tendency to be grumpy,” continued Mr Brown. “Happen she was right. She usually was. Anyways, thank you and Diab… your cat for the invitation. It’s right nice of you and I don’t deserve it.”

He handed Katie a bottle of wine.

“So your aunt? She the fine-looking woman I’ve seen coming and going in that little red car?”

“Er, yes.”

Katie took the wine just as the gate opened and Oliver walked up the path. He, too, carried a bottle.

His step faltered when he saw she had company.

Mr Brown acknowledged him.

“Aye, lad.”

“Hello again,” said Oliver.

Katie suddenly snapped to attention.

“You know each other? Good. Come in.”

“Your aunt in here?” Slicking down his hair, Mr Brown stepped past her with alacrity.

Oliver looked at Katie and raised an eyebrow. “Everything OK?”

“Yes.” She laughed. “Though I can’t decide if my cat is throwing a dinner party or running a matchmaking service!”

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