Jeffrey has been feeding the stray. He's the nice, talkative fellow who lives mid-way down The Run. He works from home and spends his mornings sitting at the enormous oak desk he's set against the window so he can look out on the golf course and the squirrels which congregate in his tree, conspiring new and inventive ways to attack the bird feeder he's hung there. The stray is a cat, sleek and dark with stubby little legs and a suspicious saunter who has taken up residence on my end of the complex. She appeared suddenly––and dramatically––last winter by announcing her presence with the murder of one of the little grey and brown birds Duncan chases through the shrubs. I worried about her in early February when the temperatures dropped down below zero but discovered that good-hearted Jeffrey had set up a small box with a blanket inside on his patio, a heat lamp and a dish of food for her. Since then I've spotted her slinking across the parking lot, usually just after the sun has set or early in the morning before people begin walking their dogs, always crouching low and staying close to the cars of the bushes, slinking here and there, cautious and careful in that way that professional strays have perfected.
This morning Duncan and I headed down The Run, as we do every morning. I'd left his collar on but removed his leash so he could run free behind the buildings, sniffing the trunks of the trees, nosing along the fence line, chasing the squirrels, which has become a well-established part of our morning ritual. The hot spot has always been outside Jeffrey's apartment where Roo has been known to tree up to thirteen squirrels at one time, leaving them crowded in the rather small crab apple tree raining a litany of squirrel-curses down on his head.
This morning our routine took an unexpected turn when Duncan burst onto the scene, leaping over the bushes and straight at the squirrel that was not a squirrel. The stray, minding her own business, perhaps watching the squirrels in the tree overhead, jumped into the air, hissing and sputtering, hardly able to comprehend what happened to her morning, her little legs struggling to catch onto anything. She came down on the air-conditioning unit but Dunc, still operating under the assumption that he'd found the biggest, gnarliest-looking squirrel on the Front Range, chased after her. She dodged right, feigned left, leapt through the patio bars, climbed Jeffrey's screen door then the brick around it, jumped back down, ran right past Duncan into the shrubs and vanished across the parking lot.
Roo stopped and looked at me his eyebrows cocked in an expression that could only translate into "What-the-hell-was-that???