Welcome to Ronald Tierney, author of many books, including the series featuring Indianapolis private eye Deets Shanahan. The first Shanahan case, The Stone Veil, came out the same time as my own Kindred Crimes. Ron and I were both nominated for the Shamus in the Best First Private Eye Novel category. Ah, well. That was the year Walter Mosley won the award for Devil In A Blue Dress.
Ron’s blog, Life, Death and Fog, is one that I enjoy and read frequently. In the Shanahan books, Deets has a great dog. And my private eye, Jeri Howard, has cats. So I asked Ron to write about cats and dogs. Here’s what he has to say.
My first exposure to cats was in a barn in Southern Wisconsin one summer when I was very young. Wild cats gathered around when the cows were milked. Jake, the man who handled the chores on my grandmother’s farm, would aim the teats and squeeze, shooting streams of warm, fresh dairy in their direction. It was obviously party time for the cats. They jumped and squirmed, wrestling each other for position — all trying to intercept the pass. Jake would leave them a pie pan full of fresh milk when he was done. Except for this twice-daily ritual, the farm cats stayed away from humans. They didn’t trust us. From what I learned about rural living, they had good reason. However, some farmers — like Jake — appreciated the fact that the feral felines kept the rodents away. The milk was a form of payment, I think, even though I don’t believe management and labor ever ironed out a contract.
My second experience with a cat was an all-too-short-lived experience with a beautiful little Burmese. I’d named him Chat and I fear that was about all the time we had together. It was Einstein who turned out to be my longest-lasting live-in relationship. Nineteen years. He, in his youth a lumbering, large gray tabby, is one of two beings that I have put in my novels who (and I mean “who,” not “that”) actually existed in real life. The other was Casey, who showed up one St. Patrick’s Day and stayed on. He was, as I found out later, a Catahoula, or Leopard Dog, 60 pounds of Louisiana cur, not often found outside the South.
The two of them are regulars in my Deets Shanahan mysteries. I presumed that room and board was enough to compensate them for my occasional theft of their private lives for public consumption. And, unlike humans, I knew they weren’t likely to sue if they thought I defamed them in some way.
In the mysteries, neither of them solves crimes, though they each have figured in small, realistic ways, in some of the stories. For the most part, Einstein, true to real life, wants to eat and, after that, looks for a spot of sun. Casey goes for a walk, plays ball. Sometimes, in real life, Einstein and I argued — usually about food. He and I both had a tendency to put on the pounds. Neither of us took attempts at diet restriction kindly. In his later years, he slimmed down on his own, became extremely polite and dignified. Unexcitable and bored with games, he welcomed visitors with the grace of an ambassador. It was clear I didn’t always measure up to his expectations. But then, I’m not always polite, dignified and welcoming.
Casey liked to tease me. For example, sometimes in the mornings, as I slipped into my jeans, he would wait until I had one leg up. At that one brief, awkward, teetering moment he’d nudge me from behind. Sometimes I’d catch my balance, sometimes not. You can’t tell me that dogs don’t grin.
If I’m permitted to anthropomorphize a bit more, Einstein was a proper sort (I don’t know how else to say it). There were rules. His rules, of course. One behaved in a certain way. And he would demand it, stubbornly. Casey, on the other hand, was more of a con artist. He’d pretend to go along, but when you weren’t looking he’d do what he wanted. There are stories to be told. The two of them never became close to each other. I don’t think Einstein took to Casey’s practical jokes. And I think Casey regarded the cat as a little stuffy.
Dogs don’t seem to mind work. For both the fictional Shanahan and the slightly less fictional me, Casey provided a sense of security. No one was likely to break into either Shanahan’s or my house without being smelled, seen or heard. Casey’s bark was an alarm, announcing unknown visitors of any species. It took a while for Einstein to take his household duties seriously. He only took his food seriously and perhaps his role as doorman. In the winter or on cold rainy days, field mice would set up housekeeping inside. Einstein let them walk around like they owned the place. They were too small for Casey to be interested and, besides, there is a time-honored division of labor. Casey was in charge of squirrel patrol outside. He kept raccoons and possums away as well, but mice? This was cat’s work.
One day a tiny, red-haired tabby with a clubfoot appeared. The cat (I thought it was a kitten at first, but the eyes showed a cynicism that could only come with age and a hard life) was apparently looking for a temporary place to stay. This little tyke, afraid of nothing and no one, came into the house through a loose screen in the kitchen. He didn’t stay long. Though I fed him, he wasn’t especially friendly. He seemed to regard me as one of the help at a roadside inn. As unlikely as it may seem, the aloof Einstein and the young ruffian intruder got along. During his stay, this tough little creature taught Einstein how to catch mice — a skill and a passion that Einstein never lost. The gentleman Einstein, who earlier couldn’t be bothered to keep the mice at bay, became a big game hunter.
The nice thing about all of this — I mean the inclusion of the real Casey and Einstein in my writing — is that when I return to writing a new Shanahan, I get to spend time with them. In the books, they, like the aging Deets Shanahan, are still going.