This is a story written by Lawrence Taylor about Annie the cat.
It was a pathetic little thing. A tiny, filthy creature, mostly bones and matted orange-and-white fur and not a lot of that. Half of its face was covered with mange, and fleas ran wild. Its stomach, bloated with worms and parasites, ballooned out from the fragile skeleton. The insides of its ears, made comically huge from a skull emaciated by starvation, were black with mites. But its eyes….
In the middle of that sad, suffering little kitten’s face were two large, impossibly blue eyes. The vivid, clear, bright blue of a dark sapphire. The crystalline deep blue of a glacier. Painfully, heart-breakingly blue. The perfect blue of innocence.
The kitten, barely five weeks old, walked slowly, listlessly down the hot, dusty alleys of Acapulco’s outdoor market, its back sagging and a ratty orange tail dragging low behind.
It shivered in the heat.
The busy world went on around it. Brown-skinned men and women walked by with bulging shopping bags, and the kitten scurried away from their feet, hiding among goods set out on the street for display. A merchant absently kicked at the animal, and it again moved away, too weakened by hunger to run. Men from the local barrios sat at nearby tables outside of a cafe, eating lunch, drinking beer, laughing with their friends. Hesitantly, hunger having overcome its fear, the little orange kitten approached one of the tables and sat down next to it in the alley. It looked up at the men silently, the beautiful blue eyes pleading. A sound came up from it throat, a high, fragile, plaintive meowing.
The men continued laughing, ignoring the kitten.
Eventually, it stood up and slowly walked to the next table. Again it sat and waited, its eyes on the men and women eating and talking at the table above. Again she was invisible to the people. And again, the sad meowing plea for a scrap of food, any food. A man reached down and swatted at the kitten.
“Vaya, gato!” he muttered. “Vaya!”
It fell away from the hand and, less in retreat than resignation and fatigue, slunk across the alley to a puddle of muddy water and garbage. It licked at the muck for a moment, then sat down next to it. The kitten began to lick itself, then stopped, as if it was too tired. Or no longer cared.
Down the twisting alley, a woman stepped out of a store, an American tourist about 50 years of age. She had short blond hair, a pretty and fair-skinned face with laughing blue eyes. She pointed at some brightly-painted wooden bowls on the ground outside of the store.
“Here!” she said, looking briefly back through the door. “Look at these.” Then she leaned down and picked up one of the larger bowls.
“Not more bowls, Carol!”, another woman said, laughing as she stepped out of the store.
The second woman had blond-streaked brown hair that fell almost to her shoulders, a petite, fine-boned face with smooth, taut skin slightly olive in complexion. Although 57 years of age, she had the face, figure and radiant vitality of a woman much younger. Deep, dark olive eyes glowed with a sultry intelligence. There was a strangely mid-eastern beauty in those eyes, an exotic sensuality that reminded one of an ancient Egyptian princess. And yet there was a fresh, child-like quality about her.
Her name was Judy.
She stepped out into the alley, looked down at her friend examining the colorful bowls. She laughed. Then, for no reason, she looked up the alley. And saw it.
In that moment, that brief, fateful, shining moment, lives were changed forever.
She said nothing, just stood there staring at the sad, little creature, clearly in its last hours of life. Then, as she watched, the kitten staggered to its feet and walked down the alley toward some men and woman sitting on the edge of a grass area, eating their lunch. The kitten sat, looked forlornly at them, then uttered a single, quiet meow. A heavy-set woman in a bright scarlet and gold sarape swatted at it, and the kitten backed away and began to walk slowly to another group of people sitting and eating. Judy walked over to the kitten. Very slowly, she kneeled down.
“Hello, pretty kitty”, she said.
The kitten looked at her for a moment, then began to back away.
Judy reached into her pocket, pulled out a small foil packet of cat food she carried with her everywhere. She tore open the packet and set it down on the ground. Then she backed up slightly.
The kitten sniffed the air, carefully stepped forward. It put her nose close to the moist, gravy-covered food, sniffed again. Then it began to eat, lunging at the food, gobbling it down, her eyes darting up at Judy every few seconds.
Judy inched forward, slowly extending her hand toward the kitten. The kitten quickly backed up.
“Ok,” Judy said, withdrawing her hand. “That’s ok. Go ahead and eat, little kitty.”
The kitten returned to the food, this time eating more quickly, snapping at it, gorging the food down as fast as possible.
Carol walked up. “Judy’s found another lost soul!” she said with a smile. “What a scroungy little thing! But, god, look at its eyes!”
“It’s not going to make it,” Judy said. “I’ve got to find it a home, I’ve got to get it to a vet.”
Judy watched until the kitten was almost finished. Then she reached toward the kitten, tried to grab it. But the creature quickly backed off. Judy got up from her knees and walked toward her, but the kitten turned and quickly walked up the alley, looking back every few steps.
Judy gazed sadly at the emaciated little figure for a moment. Then she turned away.
“You’re not going to leave it, are you?” Carol said, surprised.
“I can’t catch it”, Judy said. “There’s not much I can do. And anyway, even if I could, Larry won’t let me keep it in our room.”
Judy looked back at the kitten .It was still standing by the side of the alley, watching her with those stunningly blue eyes. Then Judy turned and walked away, a small sickness growing deep inside.
The next day, Ricardo drove Judy and Carol back to the same alley in the mercado. This time her husband had joined the two women. And this time she was carrying a cardboard box.
“Ah, senora,” Ricardo said, walking with the three Norteamericanos, “I think so maybe el gatito is no more there. I think maybe so.”
“I’ll find it,” Judy said.
“This is it, Larry”, Carol said. “This is where I got the bowls.”
“Yeah,” Larry said as they walked up the alley.
“See, there, over there, they’ve got more of them.”
Larry walked over to the brightly painted wooden bowls in the alley outside of the store. He was a tall man, balding and in his late fifties, with a growing gut but broad, powerful shoulders and a narrow face with a large, thin nose and narrow hazel eyes.
“Yeah,” he said. He picked up one of the bowls, examined it.
“Where’s the cat?” Carol asked Judy.
Judy looked up the alley.
“There’s no way you’re going to find that cat again,” Larry said. “This market goes on for blocks, it could be anywhere. From what you say, it may be dead by now.”
“No,” Judy said simply.
“Well, even if you found it, then what? We can’t take it back to the villa. And we sure as hell can’t take it back to the states.”
“I know. But if I can catch it, we can take it to a vet. And Jose said he’d give it a home.”
Larry shook his head. He recalled Judy’s conversation the previous evening with their houseboy. “Can’t you think of anyone, Felipe?” Judy had pleaded. “I’ll pay for everything, the vet, food, whatever it needs for the rest of its life.” Protesting ignorance at first, Felipe had finally recalled that his brother Jose had a cat and might — might — give him a home. Later, he, Judy and Felipe had visited the brother, who had tentatively agreed.
But there was little if any chance of finding the feral cat in this jungle of alleys, and little chance of catching it if they could. It was ridiculous, like looking for a needle in a haystack. And then what? Would Jose take the cat? Judy had put him on the spot, and he could hardly say no to the wife of her brother’s gringo boss: Was he saving face or would he really go through with it? And were they really going to spend the last couple of days of their vacation running around to veterinarians?
Larry felt the frustration rise again, the anger. Why did she do these things? Why couldn’t she see? Why couldn’t she understand the futility of it? What chance was there of finding this wild animal? And if they did, what difference would one mangy cat have?
But Larry knew his wife. He remembered the starfish story she had told him, the story of the man who walked down the beach and, seeing a starfish stranded in the sand by the receding tide, picked it up and carried it out into the surf. A stranger watching came up to him. “There are millions of starfish”, the stranger said. “How it could it possibly make any difference?” The man answered, “It made a difference to that one”.
Larry knew that Judy would try no matter the cost, no matter what the odds. Sadly, he also knew what those odds were. And how painful it would be for her when the kitten could not be found. Or, worse, the animal was found but not a home. Or it died. Or….
“There!” Judy suddenly yelled. “There it is!”
The mangy, emaciated little creature was walking slowly down the dusty alley, head drooping. It looked up, walked over to a table where a man and his wife were eating, sat down and stared up at them. After a moment, the heart-breaking meow rose from its throat.
Judy whistled, then walked quickly toward the kitten, stopped. Carefully, she knelt in the alley, placed the cardboard box next to it and reached in. The kitten backed up a few steps and watched. Judy lifted a small dish from the box, set it down. Then she reached again into the box, this time producing another foil packet of cat food. She tore it open and carefully emptied it out into the dish. Then she waited.
The kitten continued to study her, then seemed to recognize the packet and the food. After a moment, it walked to the dish and nibbled at it. And then, suddenly, gorging the food down as quickly as it could.
Judy inched toward the creature, reached carefully for it. To her surprise, the kitten did not back away but just kept greedily wolfing down the food. Tentatively, Judy touched it. It kept eating.
Judy looked up at her husband. He was standing outside of the pottery store with the store’s owner. The owner was talking, but she noticed that Larry was not paying attention. He was staring at the kitten. It was not a look of disapproval or even resignation. Instead, strangely, there was no expression on his face at all. He was just staring, as if trying to understand something.
Very carefully, she lifted the dish of food in one hand and grabbed the kitten by the back of the neck with the other. It continued to gulp down food from the dish as Judy placed both into the box. The kitten never looked up as Judy folded the top closed.
Judy looked up at Larry with a happy smile. He lifted the top of the box; put his hand in for a moment. He seemed to be studying the little animal.
“You’re a pathetic little critter,” he said quietly.
Later that night, back in their room at the villa, Judy was sitting on the bed, holding the kitten close to her. The kitten was not resisting. Judy held her up.
“Its a she,” Judy said, putting her back down. She and Larry had fed her, then tried to wash some of the filth out and comb away some of the fleas. But she was still a sad sight.
Judy had gotten two dishes from the cook, then filled them with water and more food. The kitten had immediately attacked the food. By now, her stomach, already swollen with worms and parasites, was growing ever larger. It would have been a comical had it not been so tragic: The little animal’s scrawny skeleton seemed hardly able to support the hugely distended belly.
But the kitten was showing some life. She purred now when she was held and stroked, but she was weak. She ate, then slept. Then ate some more.
“We’ve got to take her to the vet first thing tomorrow,” Judy said.
“And then to José’s.”
“Well,” Judy said, “what do we call her?”
Larry shrugged. “Evita, of course.”
Judy smiled as she remembered another starving little kitten they had rescued in Cuba….. Like this one, it was orange-colored, about five weeks old and in a near-death state. They had seen her staggering around their hotel’s swimming pool. Like this kitten, she had limped from one group of people sitting in their chairs around the pool to another, stopping at each and staring up with a heart-breaking look. And, as in Acapulco, everyone ignored her. Everyone but Judy.
Judy had taken the kitten to their room, given it food and water, and tried to clean it up. After a couple of hours, Larry told her she had to take her outside: The animal was too mangy and flea-infested to stay in the room any longer — and she was clearly suffering from diarhea. Heart-broken, Judy took her back to the pool area. When she finally came back, she was in tears.
“I can’t,” she sobbed. “She doesn’t understand. I was walking away, and she kept looking at me. Just looking at me. She just can’t understand why we’re leaving her. It was all better, she was finally home and everything was going to be ok, and then….”
“Where would we put her, Judy? She’s loaded with fleas and god knows what else, she’s shitting all over the place, she….”
“I’ll clean it up; I’ll take care of her. Please, Larry, please, please. I can’t do this, I can’t. Please!”
Larry sighed deeply. “Christ.”
“Please,” she begged, her arms clasped in prayer.
The kitten spent the night in the room. More accurately, she spent it in bed with Judy and Larry. Her stomach filled, she spent most of the night coiled up between the two of them, sleeping. But Judy woke in the middle of the night. In the darkness, on the bed next to her, her husband and the kitten were playing together. The kitten was purring.
Judy eventually found a home for the kitten. The young assistant manager of the hotel agreed to take the animal. Happily, his wife was a veterinarian. But for years after, it was a favorite memory of Judy’s, her husband and the scrawny little kitten quietly playing on the bed in the middle of the night. They had named her Evita…..
“How about Yoda”, Larry asked. “You know, from Star Wars, the little guy with the big ears. I mean, look at those ears!”
Judy laughed. The kitten’s ears were huge, dwarfing the mangy little face.
“Or maybe Maggie,” Larry said. “She looks like a Maggie. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. A name doesn’t come to me.”
“Well…anyway, I guess it’s up to Jose to name her.”
“I guess so.”
Later that night, when Judy and Larry were lying under the covers, the kitten curled up between them and slept, comforted by the warmth of their bodies, the beat of their hearts. Periodically, a tiny sound came from her voice. She was purring.
The next day, the kitten was still weak, still eating and sleeping. When Larry and Judy left the room, members of the villa’s staff came up to look at the kitten, speaking softly to her in Spanish, petting her, giving her bits of food from the kitchen.
It was the day the kitten was to go to her new home in the hills above Acapulco. It was a good home, with another cat and a cat-friendly dog already in residence. And Judy had paid Jose for enough food for a year and more, and had given the veterinarian enough to care for the kitten and José’s other cat for a long time. The kitten would be well taken care of.
“You know,” Judy said to Larry as the time came to drive to José’s, “we don’t fly back until Saturday. That’s still three days away.”
“Yeah?” Larry said, knowing what was coming.
“There’s no reason we can’t keep her here until Friday. Is there?”
Larry shook his head slowly. “It’s just going to be more difficult when you have to let go.”
“Couldn’t we……” Judy said tentatively, “I mean, have you thought about — ”
“Uh-uh,” he replied quickly. “No way. No. We’re not taking that cat back to the states. That’s crazy. There’s no way, even if we wanted to — and I don’t!”
“Judy, the paperwork alone would be overwhelming. Dealing with the federales, and all of the medical certificates, and transport on the plane. And that’s the easy part: Even if we get to L.A. with her, Customs and Immigration — they’re never going to let in a sick, mangy cat from Mexico with god knows what diseases. And then what? They confiscate her and….”
“I know,” Judy said sadly. “I know.”
“She’ll be happy here, at José’s. She’s a very lucky little cat.”
Judy nodded. Then, “Can we at least keep her until Saturday?”
Larry shrugged. “Sure. Saturday.”
That afternoon they took the kitten down to the outside lounging area, overlooking the Pacific Ocean beyond the tropical jungle surrounding them on the side of the mountain. The kitten continued to eat and sleep, usually sleeping in Larry’s or Judy’s lap or arm. Occasionally, though, she would waken and begin to show signs of life — gently grabbing a Larry’s finger, chewing lightly on it, even weakly raking it with tiny razor blades in her rear paws. Judy and Larry didn’t realize it at the time, but these were early signs of the kitten’s high energy and love of fighting. For now, though, mostly she would eat, she would sleep. And gain strength.
“Annie,” Judy said.
“What?” Larry was holding the kitten on the table while the veterinarian inspected her for the second time. The kitten did not resist as a nurse injected another needle into her.
“Annie. Her name should be Annie.”
“She looks like an Annie.”
Larry looked at the kitten. “I like it. Like in Little Orphan Annie. She’s an orphan. And her hairs orange.”
The veterinarian looked up. “It is what you call, I think, senor, mange,” he said. “Si, and muchas pulgas — many fleas.”
“Pobrecita“, the nurse said. Poor thing.
They had already gotten the lab tests back from the earlier visit. As expected, the kitten had worms and other parasites, and had been given pills. She was also clearly starving and badly dehydrated. As before, the nurse’s shots were a water solution to get fluid back into the kitten.
“Annie,” Larry repeated.
“Well, I guess its up to Jose.”
Judy and Larry woke early on Friday morning — with a little help from Annie. They played in the bed with her for awhile, laughing at her antics. Although she still looked pathetic, she was growing stronger now and was beginning to discover the world of play. She was already showing her propensity for attacking, for biting and clawing with her tiny sharp claws; in her mind, it was clear, she was a lioness stalking prey out on the great African plains.
It looked to be another beautiful Acapulco day, but Judy and Larry were quiet as they got ready to go down for breakfast. They carried Annie down with them and put her on the ground as they sat down with Carol and Jay. As usual, the table was already set up for breakfast, with flowers, fruit juices, warm bread in a basket and a carafe of coffee in the center. Two of the staff came in carrying trays of food fresh off the stove: huevos rancheros, huevos americanos, ham, tortillas…
“Well, one more day,” Jay said. “Then back to reality.”
“Yeah,” Larry said, putting Annie down on the ground. He fed her a piece of ham. She studied it, sniffed, then attacked with a small growl.
When breakfast was over, Larry and Judy sat down in the lounge area. Annie followed them, running and playing in the plants surrounding the couches.
Larry studied the kitten. “I wonder if it would be possible….”
“What?” Judy said, suddenly excited.
“Well, I was just wondering if….if we could get her back into the states.”
Judy jumped up from the couch, fully energized. “Yes, yes!” she said, almost shouting. “We can do it.”
“No, I mean, I was just wondering. I didn’t say –”
“Let’s do it! Let’s do it!”
Larry said nothing, continuing to stare at Annie.
Judy stood in front of him, excited now. “Let’s get going! We’ve got to see the vet, get the paperwork done. Call the airlines….”
Larry smiled, shaking his head. “Jesus.”
“We can do it, Larry!”
“Its Friday, Judy. We’d have to get all the paperwork from the vet, and then go to the federales and all the bureaucracy and paperwork and bribes that means. And we don’t even know if it’s legal, if the government will let us take a cat out. And then there’s the airlines, getting a ticket, buying a cage, trying to get her aboard the flight back. All of this before the flight leaves at noon tomorrow. It just can’t be done.”
“You know what the nuns say.”
Larry snorted. “We don’t even know the procedures, or what offices to go to, or where they are.”
“Ricardo does! Or he can find out.”
“We’re leaving in 24 hours, Judy.”
“We can do it,” she repeated, more quietly this time, more confidently.
“And then, even if we do pull off the miracle and get her out of the country, what are the odds of getting her into the states? I mean, this is a sick, mangy little critter, a feral Mexican cat with god knows what diseases. What are the odds of getting her through Customs?”
“We can do it, I know we can!”
“Ok, Judy, and what happens if we can’t? What happens if we get to LAX and they stop us there? Are you ready to have them take Annie away from us? And then what? You know what they’ll do with a mangy Mexican cat?”
“I’ll take her back,” Judy said stubbornly. “I’ll just turn around and take her back.”
Larry shook his head again.
“Please, Larry! Please, please. You know its the right thing.”
Larry looked at her for a long moment, saying nothing. Then he sighed.
“Let’s go,” Judy said enthusiastically. She grabbed the kitten. “C’mon, Annie. We’ve got a lot to do.”
Ricardo drove the Chevy Suburban faster now, weaving his way through the downtown traffic. Larry was in the front seat, his right hand gripping the side door tightly. Judy sat in the back, the small cage on her lap with Annie in it. She was quiet.
Ricardo’s cell phone rang.
“Digame,” he said into the phone. “Si…..Si……No…..Mierde!….No, gracias, adios.”
Larry looked at him, waiting.
“Senor,” he said, “The news, it is not so good, I think.”
“It is Friday, si? And la oficina federal, it close a las seis.”
“Six o’clock, the federal office closes at six.”
“Si. No. The office, it close at six, si….but no today.”
“Si, no today. Today, a las once….Eleven.”
“At eleven!” Judy almost yelled.
Ricardo nodded. “Si, senora.”
“But…but its 10:00 already!”
Ricardo nodded again, sadly. “Si, verdad, senora.”
“And we’ve still got to get the paperwork from the vet before then,” Larry said. “How far are we from el veterinario?”
“Muy proxima….Near, we are near. Maybe one minute, maybe two.”
“And from there, how far to the federales?”
“I think, maybe, siete o ocho kilometros.”
“Six or seven kilometers. Four miles.”
Ricardo nodded. “But, senor, es al otro lado…the other side of the city. Is busy, mucho vehiculos.”
“Heavy traffic. How long would it take from the vet’s?”
Ricardo thought for a moment. “I think so, una hora, maybe.”
“But…” Judy said. “But we have to try.”
“Judy,” Larry said, “the vet has to examine Annie, give her the required shots. Then there’s the paperwork, the documents. By then, who knows what time it will be. And its another hour, assuming no traffic jams.”
Ricardo nodded sadly as he pulled into the two-car parking area outside of the vet’s office.
“We can do it,” Judy said, not quite as confidently as before. “We’ve got to try.”
They got out of the Suburban and walked into the small building, Larry carrying the cage. The nurse and receptionist inside the small, largely barren office welcomed the three warmly. This was the fourth visit and by now all were familiar with thegringos and the little kitten. And Ricardo had called ahead and prepared them for what was needed. He now explained to them the time problem.
The receptionist immediately began preparing paperwork, while the nurse hurried to get the veterinarian. He quickly came out, his tall frame barely clearing the doorway, and shook hands with everyone. Again, Ricardo explained, and the doctor began examining the kitten.
“The papers will be ready in a moment,” he said in English. “But there is a problem.”
Larry sighed again.
“I understand the procedures. The American authorities want a certificate of good health. And I can do this, even though….well, she is not in such good health, really. But….”
“Yes?” Judy said.
“She must also have a certificate of vaccination, three vaccinations.”
“But you’ve given her the vaccinations.”
“I have given her one, all I can give her now. The others I can’t give until she is two months old.”
“Two months?” Judy repeated quietly.
“Yes, Senora,” the doctor said, “But I will give you the certificate.”
“You will?” Judy said, excited. “You’ll say she’s had all of her shots?”
“But,” Larry said, “Annie is only five weeks old.”
The doctor nodded.
Larry looked at Judy. “And when we get to LAX, the customs officials will see that there is no way a five-week-old kitten could have had all of the shots.”
Judy stroked Annie as the kitten stood on the examining table.
“I am sorry, senora,” the doctor said.
“We have to try,” Judy said once again.
Ricardo frantically weaved and honked his way through the traffic, gritting his teeth and cursing under his breath. He looked yet again at his watch.
“How much farther?” Larry asked.
“I think media hora, maybe more.”
“A half hour?” Larry looked at his own watch. 10:50. Ten minutes until the federal offices closed.
“I think so. I no think we are there at eleven.”
“I’m sorry, Judy,” Larry said.
In the ensuing silence, Ricardo pulled out his cell phone, dialed. He spoke to one person, then another, his voice warm, friendly, ingratiating. Finally, “Gracias, senorita, muchas gracias!”, and he shut the phone.
“She wait until las once y media,” he said triumphantly. “11:30.”
“We can make it?” Judy yelled.
“Maybe,” Ricardo said. “Very nice lady. Maybe, I think.”
Ricardo pulled up in front of the federal building. Soldiers and police officers stood outside, one of them carrying a submachine gun. They looked at the Suburban suspiciously.
They got out and Ricardo walked over to one of the soldiers, spoke to him for a moment. The soldier shrugged.
“We park here, only short time,” he said to Larry and Judy. “Senora, I think you must stay in car, si? Es necessario. Is necessary.”
“Ok,” Judy said reluctantly. She got back in next to Annie in the cage.
The soldier studied Larry and Ricardo, still suspicious, as they went into the building. Ricardo found the directory, read it for a moment.
“El piso cuarto,” he said. Fourth floor.
Larry looked around the darkened foyer for the elevator. There was none, only an old wooden staircase. He checked his watch. 11:35. Would the woman keep the office open just a little longer? He and Ricardo quickly started up the stairs.
When they reached the fourth floor, Larry was winded and started to turn down the hallway.
“No, senor,” Roberto said. “Es piso numbero tres. Una mas.”
Oh yeah, Larry thought to himself. In Mexico, the first floor was the next floor above the ground floor. The fourth floor would be the fifth floor up. They started up the stairs again. When they got to the next floor, they walked down the hallway, looking for the room number. At the end, they turned and walked toward the other end. There it was: 416. Ricardo opened the door.
The room was empty. No people. No furniture. Nothing.
They went back outside, where Roberto stopped a woman in the hallway.
“Por favor, senorita.”
“La oficina para exporto extranjero, donde esta?” Where is the foreign export office?
“Ah, si. Esta en el piso segundo.” Second floor.
“El piso segundo, bueno. Muchas gracias senorita.”
The two men started back down the stairs. When they reached the second floor, they looked both ways. Five or six employees were walking in different directions. Again, Roberto stopped one, asked him where on this floor the office was located. The man shook his head.
“Cerrado,” he said. Closed.
“Si, si, entiendo,” Ricardo said. “Pero, donde esta?”
The man pointed up. “Cinco.”
Again Larry and Roberto began climbing up the worn staircase, this time for the fifth floor — or sixth, depending upon how you looked at it. The distances between the floors seemed to be getting longer, Larry’s muscles weaker. On the fifth floor, they turned left. The floor was deserted. Roberto knocked on one door. No answer. On a second door, there was a voice from within. Roberto opened the door and they went in. A woman stood next to a desk, apparently getting ready to leave. Robert asked her where the foreign export office was. She thought for a moment, then looked in a small booklet.
“Cuarto primero,” she said. “Numero cien trece.” First floor, number 113.
“Gracias, senora, muchas gracias.”
The two men left the office, again descended the stairs. On the first floor, they turned and walked until they came to 113. The door was locked.
“Shit,” Larry said.
“No es la oficina,” Roberto said, pointing to a sign next to the door. In Spanish, the sign said “Accounting.”
“Los federales,” Roberto. “We ask the guards.”
They walked down the last flight of stairs, then to the street entrance. Roberto asked one of the armed men in uniform where the office was. He shrugged. Another man in a business suit stopped, said something to Roberto.
“Gracias, senor,” Roberto said, then turned to Larry. “Este hombre conoce, dice piso cinco, numero cinco ciento veinte. Pero dice esta cerrado.” This man knows: the fifth floor, number 520. But he says its closed.
Larry sighed deeply, and they once again started up the stairs. When they finally reached the fifth (sixth) floor, Larry was sweating through his clothes and his muscles were aching. They found number 520. Roberto knocked tentatively.
No answer. Roberto knocked again, more loudly.
“Si, por favor,” a woman’s voice replied from within.
They entered. An attractive young woman stood up from behind a desk. There were three other desks in the room, but all were unoccupied. She was alone.
“Senora Gomez?” Roberto asked hopefully.
“Si,” she said with a smile.
Robert sighed, returned the smile.
Larry laughed, shook his head. “Muchas gracias, senora, por hace la oficina abierto para nosotros. Es muy importante para mi y mi esposa.” Thanks for keeping the office open, this means a lot to me and my wife.
“Por nada, senor,” she replied. You’re welcome.
Roberto and Senora Gomez began talking rapidly, Roberto occasionally pointing toward Larry. Periodically, she nodded.
“Los documentos de veterinario?” she asked.
Larry handed the veterinarian’s sworn statement of health exam and vaccination documents to her.
She took them, then sat down at her desk and began filling out some papers.
“Y el gato,” she said, “donde esta?” And where is the cat?
“En el coche, a la calle.”
“Es necesario ver el gato. Pro favor.”
Roberto looked at Larry.
“I understand,” Larry said. “She’s got to see the cat.” He smiled at the woman, held up one finger. “Uno momento, senora,” he said, then turned and quickly walked out of the office.
Yet again down the flight of stairs. Six floors. But it was the six floors coming back up that Larry was thinking about. Carrying the cage.
When he finally reached the ground floor, he walked out into the sunshine and to the parked Suburban. Judy was standing outside. Two of the armed soldiers continued to study him.
“Is everything all right?” Judy asked, worried.
“Annie,” Larry said, breathing hard as he reached for the cage. “They need to see her.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I don’t think so, not so far….She’s very nice….Trouble finding office….Lot of stairs.” He wiped some sweat from his brow, then turned and, holding the cage, walked quickly back toward the building. The soldiers looked at the cage now with even greater suspicion.
By the time Larry finally got to the fifth/sixth floor, the sweat was pouring down his face and body, his clothes soaked. His leg muscles were screaming, and he was sucking for breath.
He opened the door, walked in with the cage and put it on the woman’s desk. He smiled. “Annie,” he said to Senora Gomez.
“Annie?” She looked back at the paperwork, confused.
“Lucky,” Larry said quickly. “I meant Lucky”. When the staff at the veterinarian’s had made out the paperwork, they had used the name on their records from the first visit. The kitten had been given the name “Luky” by the staff because, they explained, this was a very, very lucky kitten.
The woman nodded, then smiled as she looked at the kitten. She opened the cage door, reached in and pulled Annie out, stroking her as she held her close. “Pobrecita,” she whispered. Then she put Annie back in the cage.
“Esta bien,” she said, looking up at Larry with a smile.
Larry signed some papers, then paid her the government export fees. She gave him a receipt, along with the veterinarian’s documents. And a surprise: a real Mexican passport for “Luky”!
Larry picked up the cage and thanked her again. He pulled out some pesos, about fifty U.S. dollars, and handed them to her.
She shook her head. “Gracias, senor, pero no es necesario.”
Larry nodded, again thanked her. Senora Gomez and Ricardo walked toward the door. Lagging back, Larry placed the pesos under a paperweight on her desk, then joined them.
Moments later, the two men emerged from the building. Still carrying the cage and pouring sweat, Larry grinned at Judy and lifted a thumb in victory. Maybe they would get Annie back after all, he thought to himself.
Back at the villa, Larry was on the telephone with Alaska Airlines. “Yes, one kitten, right, tomorrow’s flight to Los Angeles.”
He looked up at Judy as he waited for the reservation clerk to respond. She was sitting on the outdoor couch holding Annie. He smiled. Then his attention was back to the phone.
“Nothing?” he said into the phone. “You mean there’s no room in the whole airplane, not for one little kitten?”
“Not even in first class?….Yes, we are in first class.”
Another pause as he looked at Judy, both worry and determination on his face. In two minutes, the voice on the phone returned.
“Yes, good,” Larry said. “Yes, one first class ticket. One way….Yes, I understand, under the seat….Yes….Yes….I understand, at the airport, yes….Thank you.” He hung up, looked at his wife.
“We can do it,” he said.
Judy and Larry settled back in their seats on the airplane, relief slowly beginning to settle over them as the cabin doors closed. Annie was in a new, smaller cage on Judy’s lap. Ricardo had found the cage and brought it to the villa in case Judy and Larry wanted to use it rather than the larger metal one. The couple had thought about it, then decided to use the smaller cage. And that small cage proved to be possibly the luckiest thing yet in a long string of lucky breaks for the kitten, as the couple was about to discover.
“You’ll have to put the animal under the seat,” the flight attendant said.
“Can’t I just keep her in my lap?” Judy said.
“Regulations,” the woman said stiffly. She was middle-aged, with an obvious authority complex. She was to prove a continuing source of irritation during the flight, just as the other attendant, a young gay man from Los Angeles, was to prove a delight.
Judy and Larry struggled to push the cage under the seat.
“If it doesn’t fit,” the woman said, “we’ll have to take it off the plane.”
Finally, the cage barely slid under the seat. Another close call. An extra inch and Annie’s trip would have proved a short one.
“Thanks, Ricardo,” Judy said quietly.
The rest of the flight was uneventful, save for occasional unpleasantness from the female attendant and witty conversation from the male attendant. Annie was surprisingly well behaved, sleeping and eating most of the way home. At one point, the cage suddenly developed a distinct odor about it. Fortunately, there were no other passengers in first class, but Judy and Larry knew that the wicked witch would find a way to create a scene.
They looked around, discovered that she was in the coach compartment. Judy quickly pulled the cage out from under the seat and carried it to the toilet. A few minutes later, the toilet light went off, the door opened and Judy stepped out with a clean cage.
Larry carried the cage as he and Judy walked down the twisting corridors of LAX leading to the U.S. Customs and Immigration checkpoints. The airport seemed deserted. Being in first class, they had been first off the airplane and the stark corridor ahead of them was empty.
Both were silent. Both were thinking the same thing.
It had been a long voyage in a very short period of time, a long and perilous voyage. Against seemingly impossible odds, they had gotten Annie out of Mexico with official documentation and safely arrived with her in Los Angeles. It had been a constant struggle, with a lot of kindly people — many of them strangers — working to help them clear imposing hurdles. And they had made it. Thanks largely to Judy’s tenacity, they had done the impossible: Annie was in Los Angeles. Or, at least,Los Angeles Airport.
Larry held the cage holding Annie in his right hand as they walked; their passports and Annie’s documents tightly in his left. All of it meant nothing, they both knew, if they couldn’t clear the last, the biggest hurdle. All of it could end here. Annie could end here.
Just ahead, Judy and Larry saw the government officials waiting for them, a man and a woman in uniform. They were talking to each other, then saw the approaching passengers. The motioned to Judy and Larry. Larry walked up, set the cage down on a table, handed the man the documents.
The woman looked inside the cage, then smiled. The man glanced at the documents without reading them, then also looked inside the cage. He stood up, handed the documents back to Larry without reading them.
“Cute cat,” he said. “What’s her name?”
“Annie,” Judy said with a grin. “Her name is Annie”.