Our room is a lovely blue colour with sunlight coming through a window high on the wall, so we must be in a cellar somewhere. Four beds, two in a bunk bed, and two separate, round beds are present. There are two litter trays at opposite ends of the room, along with a large, round white bowl full of fresh, brown kibbles. There are photos of sunflowers on the walls and some fresh flowers in a vase lend a perfumed smell to the room.
Miep smiles at us as we admire our surroundings.
“Kitties, my understanding is that you can understand what I’m saying, somehow, so I live in there,” she pointed through the door into another room, “and I will be around most of the time to take care of you. A crow will tap on the window soon, so you can go outside and meet him as there’s a flap for a cat in the door.”
We both miaow in thanks. Miep leaves us be and we both use the facilities and eat a snack.
“It seems nice here,” I say after being respectful towards the Dutch kibbles.
“Yes, it does, and a cat flap is such a luxury,” replies Gemma who has reclined on the top bed of the bunk beds, “I wonder what that Euro Crow or whatever it’s called will give us for a first assignment?”
“Well, it should be a straightforward one, shouldn’t it, to ease us into our surroundings? As we are in unfamiliar surroundings,” I reply. I jump onto one of the round beds. It’s springy to the touch. I head to my carrier and pull out my books and the blue blanket, draping it over one corner so that it acts like a floppy roof. I can have some privacy when reading my books as though I’m reading under the couch at home.
I admire the bookshelf and see that our friends in Holland have been incredibly thoughtful regarding the books they’ve provided us.
“Gemma, come and see these books. They’ve provided us with some wonderful volumes.”
She jumps down and scampers over to the shelf.
“Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, all stoic philosophers, no Nietzsche that’s good, can’t stand him, Dante’s Inferno, The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – I will read one of the philosophy books now. I will leave the books on the siege of Stalingrad and the battles of the Crusades until later.”
I was about to reply when there was a tapping at the window. A crow with a metallic tag on its claw was pecking at the glass and waving at the same time. Quite a feat of balance, if I say so myself, especially on a window ledge.
Gemma turns: “Well, that looks like the Euro Crow, Freddie, showing off for our benefit, providing a show as a welcome.”
“We should say hello. His name is Henk, so I’m going to say hello to Henk and not call him Euro Crow.”
I trot out of the room and down the sunrise yellow corridor to the red cat flap in the green door – someone in this house like bright colours – and then position myself to go through it. I’ve not done this before, so I head butt the flap gently and then push with my front and back paws at the same time. The flap shoots up and then hits me on the head on its way down, but I get through just the same. The flap swings a few times and then Gemma appears, looking at me with a squint.
“It’s better to use your paw, Freddie, not your head. You might hurt yourself if you’re not careful. You did it the dog way.”
When Gemma mentions me in connection with dogs, it’s not a compliment, so I smile ruefully and accept her advice.
The crow flies down to meet us. He looks at me.
“You are Freddie, yes?”
“Hello, yes, I’m Freddie. How are you?”
“I’m fine, as you say in England, unlike your weather, but I’m thrilled to meet you Freddie. I’ve seen many of your videos. And you must be Gemma.”
Gemma does quite a good job of appearing only a little icy, like a large ice cube or an icicle hanging from a gutter. “Yes, I’m Gemma. How many of my videos have you seen?”
I watch her quizzically, as I wasn’t aware she’d appeared in any.
“I have seen none of your videos. What videos do you do, exercise videos, you seem fit?”
A glacial stare appears on Gemma’s face, so I ask,
“Gemma was joking. It’s Henk, isn’t it? I’m curious which videos you’ve seen of mine because I wasn’t aware of appearing in any.”
“What? You’re joking, Freddie, you’re in the top 10 in Holland…”
Gemma puts a paw up to her mouth. I think to suppress a smirk – so that IS why I will have to be dyed another colour.
“…the one with the crows on the bench, the one on the swing, the one on the slide, and the one where you are encouraging a squirrel on a slide. He’s good, a genuine celebrity in the Vondelpark, because of the way he keeps landing on his face in the soil, but gets up again and has another go. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again and he does and lands on his face again. Amazing…persistence you refer to it as in England.”
“Or stupidity,” says Gemma, looking at the wall in the garden with a creeper clinging to it like it owned it.
“Is the squirrel here?” asks Henk.
“It’s not, no,” says Gemma. “It’s perfecting its flying technique daily in its local park.”
“Tell him to come here. We have a longer slide in one of our parks. He’d fly a lot further.”
“But still land on his face, though,” says Gemma, almost smiling.
“Right, well Henk,” I say, “what’s the plan for tomorrow?”
“Well, the plan for tomorrow is straightforward, orientation tour in the morning with you in the basket of Miep’s bicycle and then the first assignment in the afternoon, to follow a diamond courier who we suspect of giving diamonds to the mafia.”
“Oh mafia, straightaway, that’s a nice, easy start,” says Gemma, looking at me with slight concern, “are these the mafia who could make us an offer we can’t refuse?”
“The plan there,” says Henk, “is that no one will know you’re following anyone until the 2nd or 3rd day, so we should get some of the more sensitive targets out of the way first, as they won’t know they’re being followed by a pair of cats.”
“Makes sense, I suppose,” I say. “What information should we report back to you, the address, and what else?”
“The address and any other information, such as how long the meeting took, how many people were at the meeting or in the house, any names you overhear, we know you are very good at listening at windows Freddie, so we feel sure you’ll provide information that humans couldn’t provide as you operate by stealth, is that the right word?”
“Yes, stealth is a good word for that, but how do you know about me listening in at windows?” I ask.
“The word goes out around the crow network about things like this and we crows are good at listening, but we seem to be more conspicuous somehow and people notice us. Plus, we aren’t able to keep silent for as long as you English cats.”
“Yes, that’s right,” says Gemma. “We cats can lurk for hours, can’t we, Freddie?”
“We blend into surroundings well,” I say, “and our markings help, like a sort of camouflage, and as you say, people often see cats on window ledges and think very little of it.”
“That’s great,” says Henk, “I will leave you to rest after your journey and I will see you tomorrow.”
“How will we get back here from wherever we end up tomorrow?” asks Gemma.
“We will ask you to wear a collar with a locator on it and then come and pick you up and debrief you when we come back here. Or if you are very good at directions, you could come back here on your own.”
“It depends on the time,” I say, “and where we end up. Is it possible we could have to catch a train or a tram?”
“Well, a train I doubt, as we reckon all these diamonds stay in the city, but a tram is a possibility, so you might have to take that into consideration when following them. Stay close when there’s a stop nearby and always be aware of where the tramlines are.”
“Do these couriers ever use bicycles?” asks Gemma.
“We don’t believe they will,” says Henk, “but again you can’t rule it out in a city of bicycles, in which case you will have to follow as best you are able.”
“Yes, I’m sure we could scamper after them. It would just make it obvious that we were following them, at least I think it would,” says Gemma.
“But how many people think a cat is following them?” asks Henk. “You’d have to be paranoid to think that, plus most people wouldn’t notice, especially if they were carrying a valuable quantity of diamonds with them.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I reply. “If it was me carrying diamonds, I’d have them in front of me at all times on a bike, perhaps in the basket.”
“That would be very sensible, Freddie,” says Gemma, “and I suppose they wouldn’t be travelling far, these couriers. The other thing is that we’d see bikes outside their office, wouldn’t we?”
“We would, but there’s a free bike sharing system in Amsterdam, isn’t there Henk, so we’d have to watch out for these racks of bikes too.”
“Yes, Freddie, that’s right. Thank you for bringing up your concerns. You’ve obviously been studying things closely. It might be beneficial if we assign a parakeet to you who can show you where the courier goes to if you can’t keep up with them because they take a bike or a tram. You can then take over from the bird. Arnie would be best. He likes English football.”
“A parakeet?” says Gemma, “isn’t that a fancy name for a budgie?”
“The budgerigar is a species of parakeet,” I explain. “They came here as pets but settled in the wild as the city offered enough food for them to thrive, even during cold winters.”
“Really?” says Gemma with a hint of irony.
“Arnie sounds like a wonderful addition to the team, Henk,” I say without a hint of irony. “We might not need him, but he’ll add a different perspective to events.”
“Credit to you two for coming up with these concerns,” replies Henk, “you are educating us already. Is there anything else you would like to talk about?”
“Not for me,” says Gemma. “I want to have a sleep now. It’s been a bit tiring today.”
“That’s everything for now, Henk,” I say. “We’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
“OK, sleep well, Freddie and Gemma and I feel sure you will enjoy the orientation tour tomorrow on Miep’s bicycle. She will go nice and slowly, so you get a good view of everything.”
With that, Henk flies off and we trot back inside with Gemma showing me how to negotiate the cat flap with a minimum of fuss and impact on my cranium, for which I thank her profusely.
Back in our room, more kibbles and books have appeared, and the litter trays have been cleaned. Gemma and I look at each other and are impressed. She jumps onto the bottom bunk and falls asleep almost immediately on top of the blue quilt. I carry the blanket from her carrier and place it over her so she won’t be cold. I am glad she is here, as I would feel vulnerable without her.
I inspect the new books and admire the selection from Gogol to Alexander McCall Smith. This is exciting. First though, I must finish Whose Body by Dorothy L. I try to like books. I really do, and I try to have a good word to say about them. With this book, it’s a bit too much like Bertie Wooster being a detective, with a similar background of wealthy people, privilege, and well-connected friends. The actual murder is contrived, as is the way they placed the body where it’s found. I don’t understand why a murderer would go to all the trouble, carrying a dead body over rooftops, and placing it in someone’s bathroom via a window. Also, the murderer must have had superhuman strength and nimbleness to do this like an orangutan. The confession at the end just covers up the fact that no one could deduce how this murder was committed. Having the murderer explain their modus operandi is a lazy way of writing. This is my opinion. I’m pleased to say there are no mystery books in the bookcase, so I hope to provide more positive book reviews in two or three days, depending on how challenging our observations of the Amsterdam underworld turn out to be.
With this, I curl up under my new favourite blanket and fall asleep.