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Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Seven: Case File No. 10-322

black cat Gus sitting on the plow end of the excavator next to the "caterpillar track" on one side.

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Where We Left Off:

The Mantid cocoons were accidentally ripped out with the weeding chore by The Grumpy Old Man. However, a new baby mantis was discovered.

The Trench:

New Jersey began to melt under the oppressive heat and humidity that rears its villainous visage every summer. All one has to do is walk outside and stand still for the sweat begin dripping. I feel bad for outside workers, but I guess they know how to handle their hydration and take breaks. Supervisors should certainly give more breaks when it’s like this.

Speaking of outside workers and supervisors, Oliver and Gus had a new project to oversee. After a storm rained six inches down on us, The Cook discovered an unfortunate situation. Her bathroom had flooded. The cellar had as well, but there’s a sump pump down there. All of us hoped it was a one-time incident, but the next night it rained again. Same result. We needed experts.

At this point in our renovation schedule, the new generator required yet another visit by the electrician. That project used up all its float days weeks ago. It’s finally finished and the propane tank should be full if I’ve understood correctly.

So now we had this flood problem to deal with and The Grumpy Old Man was on top of the project. He called a friend who actually showed up! Yeah, that doesn’t usually happen. Sometimes it’s years before one of his friends or lodge brothers get their ass over here to look at a problem and leisurely make decisions. You can’t imagine how many times they’ve told him he could do the jobs himself. “Could” doesn’t mean shit. He’s not supposed to be doing certain things like lifting hundred-pound rocks.

black cat Gus sitting on the plow end of the excavator next to the "caterpillar track" on one side.

The cats wanted answers. Why was the water leaking into the house? Why had nobody listened when Gus pointed out many times that mice were using the spot at the end of the back porch as a convenient entry point? The easiest thing to do is blame it on “This Old House” and get to solving the problem.

The man with the Kubota excavator showed up. I have paused to wonder why they aren’t called backhoes anymore; but now the digger end can move around and be anywhere with the cab not on the back. Backhoe is still fun to say. Gus loves to inspect big machines when they are not running. Oliver opted to stay above all the work and look down from his observation area. I felt like Gus and I would not have a good time trying to feed the birds with a dump truck and excavator making noise and digging trenches. I took a gamble and loaded him into the car for a hike at the highest part of the mountain I heard was accessible to the public.

Gus gets motion sickness. I looked at the map and had two miles to drive. Would I be able to get there without his stomach spewing his breakfast inside his backpack? I had already wrapped the removable “floor” piece of the backpack in layers of paper towels. I knew he was hating the drive, but we made it! I took out all hiking paraphernalia and Gus in his backpack. I loaded myself up like a Mt. Everest Sherpa except it was the hot, humid climate of Jersey instead of air so cold it can kill you.

The one piece of equipment I decided not to bring was my parasol. I figured there was no way I could manage it with everything else. I regretted that decision instantly. The sun came out and my wide-brimmed mosquito hat did nothing to keep the sun off of me. I ignored the scorching of my skin as best as I could (the sunscreen was likely dripping off me with my sweat).

We got on the trail which is nothing more than a mowed path through a meadow filled with dragonflies, bees, birds, and ticks. I tried to take a photo of a passing red-tailed hawk, but it was faster than my ability to focus. I didn’t realize when I snapped the camera that a red-winged blackbird was in the shot too.

I spotted something colorful land in the meadow and was delighted to see a yellow bird. Then my eyes were caught by other movements of a small bird in the same area. They were a male and a female common yellowthroat warbler which were both first time encounters for me—lifers, as the bird watching community calls it when you see something for the first time and can put it on your Life List.

It was time to release Gus from his backpack and see how he felt about exploring this new location. Short version: he did not like it.

This trail was incredibly peaceful. No one else was there. A farm is across the winding, narrow, and unpainted street. Except for not being in the shade of trees, I was loving it, but Gus was not. He loves the hiking area that he fully believes should be his turf (where we used to go). He spent years becoming familiar with every tree and rock. Here we were in a strange place and he had to keep stopping to gnaw at whatever was nipping his skin (probably ticks—I found one in his backpack). The poor guy would even try to outrun the parasite as if it would fly off like stuntman in a cop show letting go of the hood of a suspect’s car. No such luck for Gus.

Amber holding up a black trash bag from picking up litter at the park.

I’m not sure how long we stayed, at least 30 minutes. As soon as he began panting, I knew it was time to head back. I have an expandable dish for water, but when I lowered the backpack to the ground, he tried but failed to get in through the circular sunroof. We were not far from the parking area anyway. I let him get in the car and blasted the air conditioning. He relaxed on the back seat while I picked up all the litter from the parking area—people are assholes.

Within a couple of days, the small trench going in one direction was filled and a longer trench appeared going from the house to the well. The Grumpy Old Man told me they would be installing a hydrant. I thought, “Wow! How cool is it to have a fire hydrant in the backyard?” That is not what he meant. It’s a tall pipe with a nozzle that fits a garden hose. Kind of a let-down.

The Artifact:

While Oliver was overhead supervising the workers, they unearthed a unique artifact! It’s a pair of hands forged from metal. The palms are open upward and slightly cupped. A small bird sits on one of the thumbs. The backing of the sculpture is jagged showing that it was ripped apart from a decorative mounting. We speculate that it was used as a small bird feeding station. I’ve placed it on top of the cinder block wall around the fern garden and put seeds into the palms. I can attest that it doesn’t hold much, merely a snack for critters. It was obviously once a beautiful ornament, but no one remembers it being attached to the house or any of the trees nearby.

Case Findings:

As of this writing, there is still a trench bisecting the yard. I think it could be widened and make an interesting water feature like a moat. Maybe the wildlife would love it. Gus and Oliver watched the installation of pipes as much as they could stand (it’s not exciting and Ollie often napped during it). They determined that the rain water might actually be navigated away from the house, but the mice still have plenty of access points. The building is not secure from intruders of that size and determination. As for the bathroom flooding, we’ll have to wait for the next storm to see if this worked.

We also found two piles of interesting poop evidence. I did not bag them and bring them back for research. One pile did have bones in it that were easy to see without digging into it.

Case Status: Open

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