The return of the human that called himself Cyrus was heralded by a profuse ringing of the door chime. Zay could tell that Jane became flustered by his presence, her pulse increasing as she smoothed her dress in preparation for opening the door. He watched as the woman checked through the peephole and obviously recognizing the caller, sung out in a honey sweet voice, “Who is it?”
“Cyrus from Collector’s magazine…” the response was far less affected. “Come to view those hats.” As she opened the door leaving the heavy chain in place a camera was thrust in Jane’s face and a rather greasy looking little man clicked the shutter.
“I’m here with Cyrus to take photos. Can I get all of your collections?” he held up an official looking press card in a shiny black leather case. “I’ll start outside.”
Apparently satisfied by the photographer’s identification, Jane removed the chain and opened the door allowing a blustery looking Cyrus to enter. Zay ran under the sofa while Jane led the man to her living room. “Would you like some tea?” her voice still had the lilting tone of an aging actress trying for a leading role.
“I’d love some…if it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” the older man’s gravelly voice was in stark contrast to Jane’s. He smiled with what Zay thought was an artificial pleasantness. Zay had seen this man twice before, once at the crash site and later allegedly looking for hats… He had no doubt the human male was hiding true intentions. Remaining hidden, Zay gathered information.
“What are you afraid of?” Sheldon rasped from behind him. Zay had jumped nervously at the sound of the cat’s meow.
“Nothing,” trying to cover his obvious worry, Zay pretended to yawn and stretch.
“Can’t fool me that easily. I saw you startle.” The cat smiled broadly his stripes stretching across his face with the expression.
“Shhh,” Zay lifted a claw to his lips. “I can’t observe with you distracting me…”
“Oh!” Sheldon drew out the meow. “So that’s what you are doing…observing.”
“It’s that same human and he must be here for a reason,” they both followed the man around the room keeping him in clear view, but staying out of his sight.
“What do you think he’s looking for?” the cat squinted up his face as if trying to see the room from a human perspective.
Jane had planned for Cyrus’ return trip to view her collection of hats. She had spent an extra amount of time fixing her hair and ironing her dress, even trying to stay clear of the obligatory cat hairs that might lessen her appearance. She was assured that she looked the picture of… as she glanced into the hall mirror, the old woman that returned her stare seemed like someone else. For a long moment she simply stared at the stranger. “How did I get this old?”
When the doorbell rang, she tried her best to achieve the right state of happy hostess. The unexpected photographer she took in stride. Never once did Jane consider these two men were here for purposes other than viewing her vast collections.
Putting on the tea kettle, Jane laid out a tray of her finest homemade cookies. She had been saving the jam filled delights for a special occasion and the arrival of the two strangers qualified. Smiling like a schoolgirl, she set out three cups.
“Tea’s ready!” Jane called out as she returned to the living room to find Cyrus peering intently into her turtle aquarium.
“Oh, oh let me help you with that,” Cyrus lifted the tray from her hands and placed it on the coffee table. “Do you mind if we photograph everything?”
“I thought you were here for the hats…” Jane paused. Cyrus seemed like such a nice man! “But you can take as many pictures as you like. I have some amazing collections.”
“Yes, amazing,” there was a note of sarcasm in his voice that made her frown. “No I mean it,” he caught himself. “Wonderful!”
The older couple sat for tea while the assistant pranced around the room snapping photos of just about everything. “How do you take your tea?” Jane glanced at the younger man.
“Huh?” he was focusing on something in the fish tank.
“Tea? You are having tea, yes?”
“Oh…yeah. Sure.” The boy scratched at his head like he might be thinking. “I like honey.”
“I’ll get you some.” Jane smiled and headed back toward the kitchen. She turned to ask if he might also like some spices and saw the two visitors reaching into the aquarium. “What on earth are you doing?” her hands went to her face in dismay as Cyrus, who had climbed up on a stool and reached in up to his elbow, twisted to respond and fell on his rear.
It would be hard to explain away the dip Cyrus was planning into the hat woman’s aquarium, but a stone in view had to be examined. He had not expected her to turn right around…or to find himself on the floor — his step stool having betrayed him. Sputtering at a loss for words, the scientist tried to collect himself. His glasses had vacated their proper position on his nose landing who-knows-where and his back hurt. There was a furry face close to his on a…cat? Cyrus tried in vain to focus his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” he heard Jake say, “but we wanted to straighten the shells that were all out of line for a shot.”
“What sort of cat are you?” still on the floor, he mumbled more to himself than the creature. The animal appeared to be staring at him with unusual green eyes. He did not remember a species of domestic short hair that resembled the small beast so near his head that he could reach out and… “Ouch!”