Why was this guy knocking on my door at nine o'clock on a Sunday night?
I warily peeked out my living-room window. He looked like a jogger. I asked him what he wanted.
"There's a cat across the street," he said, "and it's drowning! I was jogging by and I heard it crying! It's trapped in one of those irrigation things! Up to its neck in water! Hanging by one paw! It's gonna drown!"
"Huh?" I replied, weighing the possibilities of another rip-off. I've been robbed twice recently and have adopted a siege mentality in this middle-class neighborhood on Tenth Street just north of Camelback.
Sounded like the old Drowning Cat Ploy--just an excuse to lure me outside, brain me, break into my house and steal what's left.
But Jogger's desperation seemed real, and I ran across the street with him to a neighbor's front yard. Sure enough, a black-and-white kitty was hanging onto life by one paw.
What a weird situation. Kitty was trapped in a pool of water inside a strange hole, a narrow opening above the underground irrigation channel that runs through our neighborhood. One paw hugged an iron bar that bisects the six-inch-wide concrete hole.
Was Kitty scared? One look at Kitty's dilated, bulging eyes told that story.
The best anybody could figure was that Kitty had fallen into a Salt River Project irrigation channel and had been washed along underground to the hole, where it somehow had reached up in desperation and grabbed onto the bar.
There was no escape for Kitty. Because of the sturdy iron bar, the hole was only three inches wide, too narrow for Kitty to squeeze through. It was so small, Kitty didn't have enough room to grab onto the bar with both paws.
A horrifying thought: Irrigation was scheduled for early the next morning. Water would gush up through the hole to flood the yard. Kitty would drown. This was assuming that Kitty could survive the night by hanging onto the bar.
A small group of neighbors gathered around The Hole. There was lots of head-scratching going on. We couldn't figure out what to do.
"It's just like Baby Jessica," one woman said, referring to the little Texas girl who was plucked from a well a few years ago. In Kitty's case, however, no one was talking about movie rights. Yet.
The iron bar was Kitty's savior, but it also made The Hole a prison. Cut the bar. Free Kitty. I ran home to look for my hacksaw. Couldn't find it.
Remember those good ol' days, when friendly firefighters climbed your trees to rescue your cats? Forget it. Firefighters haven't done that sort of thing for years. I called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society. No dice.
A few more neighbors showed up to cluck-cluck at Kitty's plight. This was becoming an Event. We were coming together as a Neighborhood. Amid the hubbub, I thought of my colleague Cap'n Dave.
The Cap'n is Mr. Fixit around his west-side Phoenix homestead. I just knew he'd have a hacksaw. I called him to confirm, and he told me to come and get it.
Twenty minutes later, I was back at The Hole with the hacksaw. By now, more than a dozen people were standing around Kitty.
I sliced through the crowd and started sawing away at the thick iron bar. Kitty hung doggedly to the bar, even with the blade only a few inches away. Now and then, I'd accidentally nick Kitty, and Kitty would moan.
A few of us took turns sawing. It was slow, slow going.
A burly, bearded man drove up in an SRP truck.
He aimed the truck's spotlight on The Hole, creating a tableau of shadowy tension.
Could this be Kitty's rescuer?
We stopped sawing.
"You've seen this kind of thing before, haven't you?" a woman asked him.
"Sure have," Mr. SRP answered. He paused. "Trouble is, the cats always drown."
We started sawing again.
Mr. SRP suggested that we slather Kitty with WD-40 or grease and try to slide it out. I handed the hacksaw to Jogger and ran to get my WD-40. Another neighbor fetched some Mazola. When we returned, however, we concluded that the opening was just too small.
We kept sawing.
Then, Irrigationmeister horned in.
"Who's gonna be responsible for paying for the damage?" he asked. This guy seems obsessed with the very idea of irrigation. He often walks around in hip boots when our neighborhood is scheduled to get its water. That's why we call him Irrigationmeister.
"I don't think you should do anything until you find the owner of the cat," Irrigationmeister said. "They'll have to pay for all this. That cat ain't gonna make it anyway."
I gave the hacksaw a breather and stared up at Irrigationmeister.
"Why don't you go find the owner while we try to save Kitty?" I told him. "Where are your priorities, man?"
Irrigationmeister shrugged and muttered. Another neighbor who recalled having seen Kitty before had already decided to knock on doors at a nearby apartment complex.
The neighbor returned with a young woman named Sherri.
Sherri reached down and petted Kitty.
"It's Azriel," Sherri said, stunned. "Oh, God." She broke into tears.
A new sense of purpose washed over us. We sawed faster.
The crowd continued to grow. Mr. SRP decided to help, grabbing a crowbar and a large pipe from his truck. Another neighbor brought over a pair of bolt-cutters.
The bar was half-sawed and weakened. A big guy had at it with the bolt-cutters. Suddenly, the bar snapped, and Kitty found itself grabbing at air. Big Guy snatched Kitty by the scruff and yanked it through The Hole.
The crowd issued a collective sigh, then cheered as Big Guy handed soggy Kitty to Sherri. Sherri cried.
"Just like Baby Jessica," the neighbor woman repeated. "You guys are heroes."
Sherri told us: "You guys must feel real manly."
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Sherri rushed Kitty to an emergency animal hospital.
The vet gave Kitty a shot and a clean bill of health. The vet gave Sherri a bill for $60.
She carried Kitty up to her second-floor apartment.
Before they retired for the night, Sherri heard a familiar "meow" at the door.
She looked outside.
It was Azriel. The real Azriel.
Azriel looked at Kitty. Kitty looked at Azriel. Sherri stared at both of them.
She looked at Kitty and said, "I can't believe it!"
Then she turned to Azriel.
"You little weasel!" she told him.