Agnes took my hand in hers, her eyes desperate and pleading. “You’ll look for him on your meter route?”
“Of course,” I assured her. I laid my free hand on hers and patted. “I promise.”
“And you think you’ll find him?” she asked eagerly.
I took off my cap, ran a hand through my hair, and chose my words with care. “Agnes, I read every electric meter in town; I see every back yard. It’s just a simple matter of timing, I need to be in the right place at the right time.”
She blinked. Then, she sniffed and nodded, her eyes shimmering. “I know you’ll do your best,” she whispered.
“I’ll talk to everyone I see,” I assured her. “He’s a distinctive little cat and someone’s bound to see him. If you don’t mind, I’ll take a picture of this photo with my phone. It will give me something to show people.”
She nodded and said without hope: “That’s a good idea.”
I held my phone where she could see it. “See? It’s really clear. Anyone who has seen Mr. Chester will recognize him from this picture. Do you have any social media accounts?”
She sighed. “My daughter set something up for me but I couldn’t figure it out. I don’t use it.”
“Well,” I said, “I’ll post this picture and a description and ask my friends to share it. This town isn’t that big. There are only so many places a cat can hide, especially a Persian like Mr. Chester. I’ll post it on the village hall’s page and a few others too. Posters would be good too but…”
She looked up at me. “But what?”
“Well,” I said, uncomfortable. “Posters cost money.”
She blinked again. “Money? Oh, don’t worry about that. Harold left me well taken care of.”
“Ok, good,” I said. “I don’t think they’re too expensive. Probably $100 would buy a bunch of them.”
She dismissed this with a wave.
“You said he went missing how long ago?” I asked.
“Tuesday,” she said with a feeble smile. “Tuesday at dusk.”
Three days. “No time to lose,” I said.
Suddenly, a light dawned in her eyes and it animated her whole face. She smiled big and hopeful. “A reward!” she said. “I’ll offer a reward for Mr. Chester!”
I took her hand and patted it as I spoke. “That’s the best idea so far. Now, I don’t want you to get your hopes too high but nothing motivates people to do the right thing quite like money. How much were you thinking?”
“I don’t know,” she said, her eyes round. “I wouldn’t have the slightest idea. How much are most pet rewards?”
“I think it depends,” I said. “Some people spend twenty bucks and some can afford more. I imagine if Kim Kardashian lost her cat, she’d cough up a hundred grand without a second thought. It’s really up to you.”
“Ten-thousand,” she said.
“Ten-thousand. I’ll offer a ten-thousand-dollar reward.”
My mouth was dry. “For – for a cat?” I stammered.
She gave me a look. “Not just any cat. Mr. Chester! Ten-thousand dollars and I’ll hand it over joyfully.” She added: “And I’m paying you for your time; don’t think for a second I’m not.”
I shook my head. “Agnes I’m not helping you for – ”
She waved me off again. “Tweet Mr. Chester’s picture on your computer Face-business and let me think of the details for the posters.”
I nodded and got to work.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Print Shoppe and passing out flyers of the cat. We hung them in the post office, grocery store, village hall, library. Nobody had seen Mr. Chester. By the time we got back to Agnes’ house, it was getting dark out. She was despondent.
I stood with her under the porch light and said: “Tomorrow’s a new day. We’re not licked yet.”
She smiled and thanked me with sad eyes, went inside, and pulled the door closed softly behind her.
Later, when I opened the door to my apartment, the stench nearly bowled me over. I gagged my way to the living room to find my roommate, Jersey, sprawled out on the couch, watching a game show in a pair of green underwear.
“Have you even moved since last night?”
“’Sup?” he asked the television.
“It’s on for tomorrow,”
He sat up now, suddenly interested. “Yeah?”
“You won’t even believe it.”
“How much?” he asked, rapt.
He stood up and bawled: “Ten-thousand!”
“Dead serious,” I said. “You haven’t fed that thing, have you? We want him mangy and malnourished like he’s been wandering for days.”
“Oh, he’s mangy and hungry, don’t worry about that,” Jersey said. “Nasty little bastard.” He held out his arm. It was crisscrossed with ragged, bloody scratches.
I held out a poster. “Tomorrow morning take this and that stinky rat over to the old lady’s house and tell her you found him behind the laundromat. She’ll probably bake you a cake.”
Jersey snatched the poster away and , for an instant, I didn’t like the look in his eyes. I said: “You know, I’m splitting this with you right down the middle even though I did all the work.”
He stared at the poster and didn’t reply.
“Don’t get any cute ideas about taking it all,” I said. I started down the hall to my room and added over my shoulder: “And clean that raunchy litter box before the health department raids us.”
I padded into my room, shut the door to keep the stench out, and stretched out on the bed. “I think I’ll blow off the meter route this month,” I told myself with a smile. I reached over, clicked off the lamp, and fell asleep.