Dr. Lawrence Jacobson finally took a turn with the time machine. He poised ready to do the sequence quickly so he wouldn’t lose his nerve. The time travel team was assembled and ready to go.
“It’s a simple run,” said Ronald. “What do you have to do?”
“When I get to the faculty lounge closet, I crack the door. I should see your fifteen-hundred-dollar-tailored-gray-suit on a hanger dangling from a the coat hooks.”
“It’s my fifteen hundred dollar tailored Italian suit,” said Ronald.
“Right. I wait until the thief comes in, then use the night-vision camera to photograph him stealing your suit.” Lawrence held the camera in front of him, about the size of a fig newton, with a wrist strap attached.
“Just the suit jacket,” corrected Ronald.
“Then I return.”
“Easy Peasy,” said Daniel. “Ron, are you positive March twenty-first is the day?”
“Positive. Someone vandalized the chem lab that day. The police report is by your elbow.”
Daniel shuffled through the papers. “All right. I believe you.”
Ronald started the cycle to prepare the machine. Lawrence took several deep breaths, reviewing the steps for locking in the time and engaging the time machine for the trip. He was scared to death, but he was determined, and he was slightly more afraid of the humiliation if he chickened out. He waited for his cue.
There was a hiss and a high-pitched growl. “What the hell?” said Harvey. “How’d this cat get in here?”
“Get rid of him,” said Ronald.
Lawrence concentrated, finding it difficult to ignore the disturbance because of his fear of cats, worried that it could rattle him and make him abort.
“It’s running underneath the shelves.”
“Get him,” said Ronald. “Go!”
At the word ‘go,’ Lawrence jumped into the time machine. He was already pressing the buttons before he grabbed the door and pulled it. Just before it shut and latched, right as he pushed the go switch, the cat slipped into the time machine and ran wildly around the chamber, spitting and screeching.
It was too late. His colleagues’ yelling faded as the time machine started to travel. He kicked toward the cat, a big orange-striped furball with razor teeth. It growled, ferocious eyes staring Lawrence down from the corner. “Good kitty,” he said meekly. “Stay.” The cat sprang at his feet and bit into his ankle.
“Aaaaaah!” Lawrence kicked to throw it off, but it dug it’s claws in and gnawed on the back of his knee. He pulled at the latch, which finally gave as the time machine stopped, and the door popped open. He fell out onto the floor, dropping the camera. The cat batted at the wrist strap, then released Lawrence’s leg to grab the strap in its jaws and scamper away.
It was a big closet, but Lawrence couldn’t see anything in the dark. He was afraid to move because the thief might get spooked at the slightest noise, but maybe that didn’t matter now. He was only certain of one thing—the anachronistic camera could not be left behind, nor, probably, should the cat. He felt around, but couldn’t find a light. He did, however, hold on to a broom to help deal with the cat.
He groped around trying to find it, afraid of getting his hands clawed, but if he got it moving, perhaps he could direct him back into the time machine by sound. But he couldn’t find it.
There was a dim light coming under the closet door, and he was going to have to open it to find the beast. He cracked it a little, then a little more, then a lot. The cat’s eyes shone from a hip-high shelf. It sprang for the door, which Lawrence closed just quickly enough to catch the end of its tail and cause it to scream. Lawrence threw the door open just in time to see it zip out the lounge door into the hallway, camera dragging on the floor.
Lawrence chased after him with the broom, heading down the hallway and rounding a corner. It slipped into a room, and he followed.
It was a chemistry lab with shelves of beakers and other glassware. The cat had turned around to growl at him, it’s teeth clenching the camera strap. Lawrence approached slowly to get the broom over and behind to push it back out the door, but the cat jumped onto the counter, then onto a shelf, knocking over beakers, some falling on the counter and breaking, others bouncing and rolling onto the floor with a crash.
Lawrence jabbed with the broom to get behind the cat and knock him off the shelf, but it dropped to the counter and his broom plowed through another foot and a half of glassware. “This is a disaster,” he moaned. Ronald would ban him from traveling for life because he goobered things up in the timeline.
He chased the cat around the room, knocking more things over, and scattering the stools. After several minutes, the cat finally fled out the door, and as luck would have it, scuttered back toward the faculty lounge.
Gasping for air, Lawrence pursued at a sprint. The cat was nearing the lounge and was about to turn down another hallway, so Lawrence flung his body forward and slid on the polished linoleum like a baseball player stealing second. The cat dodged him and ducked into the lounge. Lawrence scrambled behind, and slammed the door shut.
The only light inside was a clock on a microwave, but it was just enough to catch the kitty’s movement. The time machine’s door stood open, so he held the broom like a hockey player and went after the critter. They went back and forth and around the room, until Lawrence finally leaned against the wall in exhaustion. The cat seemed tired, too, because it remained motionless as long as Lawrence stayed put.
Lawrence ran his hand over his bald spot and brushed upon a large, smooth cloth along the wall. He chuckled. He pulled at it, and it came away, something clattering on the floor. He found two corners and held it in front of him, about the size of a bath towel, but uneven.
“This is it, kitty-cat. You’re coming with me, whether you like it or not. He crept slowly toward it. The cat didn’t move until he was a few feet away, then darted toward the closed door, but Lawrence lunged in the same direction and covered it with the cloth, bringing his arms together to envelop it.
The cat screamed and growled and thrashed, the cloth becoming a sack of convulsions. Lawrence gripped the edges together, earning a few scratches on his fingers to get it done, securing the thrashing animal inside. He carried it into the time machine, bent over to hold it secure and to free a hand, shut the door, and punched in the return sequence. While the machine traveled he had the sudden happy thought that he didn’t change the timeline—the lab had been vandalized that night, so he fulfilled the timeline. He might retain his privileges after all.
When the door reopened, Lawrence released his hold, and the cat scrambled from the cloth, out the door, and into a net held by a man from animal control.
“Thank God,” said Daniel.
“You’re a complete wreck, Dr. Jacobson,” said Ronald. “What happened?”
Lawrence brushed himself off, then realized what he was holding. He held up a shredded gray suit jacket. “I found your thief.”