Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Cat With Its Head In The Clouds

It was a wet Wednesday morning in January, 19-, when Officer Harry Kowalskiy came across the cat with its head in the clouds. How it got there he didn't know, and if you ask him today, thirty years on, how that ragged ball of fluff had managed to climb 176 stories (that's well over 2000ft folks) through pounding rain and winds that reach up to 100mph, to the very peak of Hughes' Heights, he'll give you this answer: "Beat's me!"

"It was just another day. I was on foot patrol. I turned a corner, and there she was," recalls Harry. "Just standing there, as close to me as you are now, but still I could barely see her because of the mist up there. She didn't seem scared or frightened but the little girl was covered in mud and dirt, and soaking wet. She was so thin! I picked her up and she was freezing cold. There was always a strong wind blowing that high up and in winter, with the wind chill factor and all, it never got above freezing."

Harry remembers putting the cat inside his thick woollen jacket (he had to wear two when he was outside of an insulated building or vehicle, as well as gore-tex gloves, a specially designed balaclava and goggles), turning up his collar against the fierce January gales, and hurrying back to the small block of crumbling buildings which acted as 'District' headquarters half a mile up in the New York sky.

"I got back inside," says Harry, "and rushed to show my partner Marge just what I'd found." Officer Margery Scott had been Harry's partner up there for five years - there was not a hint of romance between them Marge assured me with a shy smile (I had to ask!) - and never in their time working together had they seen an animal. Pets were forbidden and birds still keep away; some say because of toxic materials, but the state governor will never admit to it.

In fact, it was because of state law that Harry and Marge were up there in the first place. Every tourist spot of "exceptional value to the nation" must be properly policed, and due to its sheer size (you could fit a football pitch on the roof and its designers did- along with a theme park, a hotel and a mall complex!) it was necessary to station a permanent police presence. Accommodation was built for the live-in policemen and women of 'District 13', and most rarely left their sky-top homes. They soon became tourist attractions themselves.

Hughes' Heights was the frenzied dream of Texan billionaire Howard Hughes; aviator, film director, playboy and famed eccentric. Constructed in 19- from 150,000 tons of steel, there were as many as 5000 men working on it at any one time. 25 workers died in the ten years it took to complete. Financial troubles, bad press, and some say the eccentricity of Hughes (he refused to install elevators, insisting people walk the 3,465 steps from street level to roof) doomed his tower to failure, and it remained largely empty.

Bought by NASA in 19- it was to be used as launchpad for a new generation of future shuttles, but cutbacks derailed the project, and somehow the men and women who served before Harry and Marge were forgotten about. Rumours abound that the roof of Hughes Heights' is now a garbage site for nuclear waste, but this is vehemently denied by the state government, and Harry will not be drawn on the matter. "We're not supposed to talk about that," says Harry, "But tell me this: if there was toxic waste up there, then why would Rube have climbed all that way?"

Rube, of course, is none other than our intrepid explorer and indefatigable cat. After she turned up on that cold January morning, Harry quit the force and moved back down to earth where he got a job as a nightwatchman. He took Rube (newly christened) with him. Every evening he would walk to work at New York Harbour near the mouth of the Hudson River with Rube by his side. "She followed me everywhere, from the day I found her. No matter where I went she was always there. I never married; I suppose I just never found the right person. Rube kept me company I suppose." It almost sounds like she climbed all that way just to find you I say to him. "Beat's me." says Harry, with a shake of his head. "Beat's me."

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