Zephyr, an Onboard Mystery – Part 2

 

Sunrise gilds the Utah desert and tints the far mountains a dusky rose. My curtains open all night, I wake slowly, watching faint tracks winding to a spill of water, another shelf of tumbleweed and scrub, the hawk motionlessly surveying all…

And then I wake suddenly. Zephyr! What are we going to do? It’s not like we ever came up with a rescue plan. And how long till Grand Junction?

I scarf my breakfast, and hurry to the lounge car, but of course, despite confused dreams of cats and conductors, neither of us has any new ideas. The rest of the cat crew still asleep, we decide that all we can do when we get there is act as independent observers, play it by ear.

“And if we have to, somehow save her.” We both sigh. Yes, somehow.

The Book Cliffs…

Ruby Canyon…

Fruita…

And then the endless rail yards that mean we’re there.

Detraining, my fellow cat champion from coach and I from sleeper, we scan for Humane Society officers, head toward the crew car. Now what?

The first conductor we ask seems, strangely, to know nothing about a cat. Not good. But the second has excellent news. “The stationmaster here decided to take her home.”

He’s going by right now, in fact, Zephyr’s carrier balanced on the seat next to him in the cart.

“Thank you!”

“That’s so great!”

Before long, the whole cat crew has converged in the station to say their goodbyes.

Except…

From the receiver of the station phone as the stationmaster holds it away from his head: “You are NOT bringing another cat home!”

Oh. Fifteen minutes till departure. We all look sadly at each other, then back at the sleeping cat.

It’s another crew change, apparently, Salt Lake City engineers heading toward their rides, and new ones arriving. A conductor checks in at the wicket, and as we study her, it’s as if we’ve been inspired en masse.

Zephyr is lifted out of her carrier. “Did you hear about her yet? Look at how sweet…”

“With us since California!”

“Isn’t she gorgeous?”

Conductor Spaulding leans in closer. “She certainly is a pretty one.”

“We named her Zephyr.” I think we’re all holding our breath.

“Maybe when I get back from this run, I can ask around for a friend who could take her.”

But in the meantime?!

She continues to pat her. “Or at least get her to a no-kill shelter.”

Not a happy ending after all? But then as if by miracle, the cat finds her way into the conductor’s  arms just as a quick-thinking fan says, “Right, so, we named her Zephyr Spaulding.”

Time slows down, then speeds up, and when the whistle suddenly sounds, Conductor Spaulding carefully sets Zephyr back in her carrier. “Okay, I’m crazy but I’m going to keep her. Ready to go, girl?”

Zephyr Spaulding closes her eyes and seems to smile as she boards her namesake once again, for Nebraska, Iowa and parts east…

‘BOARD!

 

Zephyr, an Onboard Mystery – Part 1

…California Zephyr, eastbound…

Swaying back to her seat from the baggage area, she hears faint cries, but no, it would be somebody’s tablet, another passenger without headphones. Never mind.

Patches of almost-Christmas snow in the Sierra Nevadas, and then

Truckee…

Reno…

Sailing through Sparks…

No, wait, that was definitely a meow. Make that much meowing. Where’s it coming from?

Dark falls over the desert. As she pulls suitcase after suitcase off the luggage rack, the yowling becomes more urgent. Other passengers circle. It is a cat. Trapped in a soft carrier beneath three layers of bags. Black. Wide- and golden-eyed. Whose?

Word spreads. “Couple in the next coach had a cat out at the last stop.” Ah. Thank goodness. But not. The couple, finally located, is surprised, even offended. “Our cat’s right here. It’s not like we have two.”

Cold night in Winnemucca…

By now it’s a whole convocation track-side—coach and sleeping car passengers, assistant conductor, car attendant, then the conductor, who’s sought the owner from dining car to locomotive, and drawn a blank. And so?

“Wish I could keep her.”

“I’ll take her, seriously.”

“Unfortunately, she’s not Amtrak property, so we couldn’t release her.” The assistant conductor sighs, pats her again.

“Are we positive somebody didn’t fall asleep, and they just haven’t heard us?”

“But she was meowing way before Reno, so it’s been, like, at least five hours!”

“Hey, there’s a can of food in her carrier. Can we feed her?”

“Of course.” Next thing, the conductor’s back with a bowl of water. “We’ve radioed management. We’ll have to follow their lead.”

By the time we reboard, word is that someone from the animal shelter will be meeting her in Elko.

Meanwhile, the cat posse takes things into their own hands: an entire parade through the coach cars, cat protesting in the forefront, and no passenger unquestioned. But nothing.

Elko…

Nobody there to meet the cat. The shelter’s already closed, so now our newly-named Zephyr’s been taken to the crew cab for the night; she’ll be picked up instead tomorrow in Grand Junction. But now we’re worried.

Tête-a tête in the lounge car till well past midnight… What will they do? Is it a no-kill shelter? Google says not. We can’t let that happen! What if one of us went to the new crew getting on in Salt Lake City and said, ‘Man, I just woke up and I can’t find my cat!’ Or else, let’s see, if the clearly elder of us played the memory loss card, and…

No, we’re getting way too overtired here. Nothing we can do. The only plan is to meet here again just before Grand Junction, and hope for inspiration…

~ To be continued ~