The following morning Jason woke up too late for Millie’s, and rushed to get to work on time. He hastily showered and dressed, and pinned the beautiful wings to his chest. For the duration of the subway ride, he polished them and his boots, garnering stares from fellow passengers. He smiled back at everyone who looked his way, be they glowering or nodding approval, or merely raising a curious eyebrow. Jason had always been a touch uncomfortable with the subway. He eagerly anticipated the day his grandfather, Drey Whiskers, would deliver the car he had long been promising, but that was always a blur on the horizon.
He departed at the usual stop and double-timed his steps to reach Enforcer HQ, the looming, massive building which he still needed to learn to navigate. In the main concourse, which was absolutely enormous, there was a gigantic television screen displaying an image of the commander. Speakers everywhere boomed with his strident commands, and Jason felt the vibrations of sound in his empty stomach. The lobby section was crowded with other new Enforcers – hundreds more than at the graduation because of the noncom training academy – who were all shouting, attempting to be heard over the echoes of the words to which they should have been attentive.
Jason walked into the melee with reservations, but soon, out of the corner of his eye and far in the distance, he spotted the amazonian Officer Feral. She looked as strong as ever, talking with her fellow officers; but she seemed to Jason to be just the slightest bit paler than usual. She saw Officer Whiskers approaching and for the briefest of seconds, in her weakened emotional state, allowed a relieved smile to cross her face. He saw it and grinned slyly, but then he saw the serious expressions on the other kats’ faces.
“Problem?” he asked casually, looking at Felina’s dark eyes.
“Huge. Hadn’t you heard? There was a gruesome mass murder last night. We just got wind of it but the Commander hasn’t assigned anyone to it yet,” said a nondescript sergeant.
Jason’s eyes widened slightly. “Any details?” he asked.
“None yet; just that it was done at the Good Ole Days Rest Home, and that there were no survivors,” the sergeant added.
“Old kats? Who would kill OLD KATS?” Jason asked, incredulous and sorrowful.
“Someone sick,” said Felina. “I don’t know about you, Officer Whiskers, but I’m going to see to it that whoever did this gets what he deserves.”
“Count me in,” said Jason. “Really?” she said, raising an eyebrow. Then she lunged and grabbed his arm. “Come with me.”
She took off running with Jason in tow. He wasn’t quite sure where they were going.
“Officer Feral, what – I mean, I have to report for duty!”
“Don’t worry about it – and what happened to *Felina*!” He smiled; they rounded a corner. “Just try to keep up!” Felina tore up to an elevator that was closing and jumped through just in time.
Jason followed, wriggling through as the space narrowed. The other kats gave them nasty looks. Felina gave them only a toss of her hair. She pushed the button for the 30th floor – the helicopter pad and Feral’s office.
“Felina…” Jason began.
“What, Officer Whiskers? Don’t you WANT to take this assignment?”
Jason shook off disbelief. The elevator rose. “If Commander Feral -”
She cut him off. “He will.” She turned to the other kats. “You got a problem?”
They looked embarrassed.
“Then we’ll be partners,” Jason finished.
She smiled and flashed her teeth. “Is there something wrong with that?” She had her arm up against the side and she was facing him. He could tell from her expression what she wanted him to do.
“Nothing at all,” he said, putting his paw up next to hers and adopting the same bent stance. “Unless you mind.”
“Now why would I mind?” she replied, her smile widening.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe you wouldn’t.”
Her eyes went to the display lights for a brief instant. “Maybe.”
His smile widened, too, and he closed his eyes, drawing his face nearer to hers as the elevator came to a stop. Stupid him, he had his paw on the door. He fell to the ground with a startled cry and a reddened face.
The other kats got out.
Felina laughed. “Just because you won the gold doesn’t mean the trophy is already yours,” she said, and extended her paw to help him up.
He took it humbly and stood; then the door slid shut and they were on their way to the top.
* * *
“FELINA! What do you think you are doing here!” From the mouth of Ulysses Feral there were no questions, only orders. He would not allow his niece, loved as she might be, to interrupt him unwarranted.
“I heard about the murder. I want to be assigned to the investigation team.”
Feral nearly coughed up a hairball. “That’s absurd! This is a sensitive case; the Enforcers will handle this.”
“And just what do you think we are!” she demanded. Felina was not weak; she was not about to play games. Not when matters were so important.
Feral rose. “You may be Enforcers, but you lack the experience to -”
“Sure, Uncle. You just don’t want us out there. You know as well as I do that the only way to get experience is to be out there, but you say I can’t go because I’ve never been! This is my life, Uncle, I can’t allow you to hold me down like this!”
“*You can’t allow*?! I can’t have you charging ears-first into situations you can’t handle!”
“CAN’T HANDLE?! I’m a silver-class Enforcer with a full year’s experience! He’s a gold-class Enforcer – if we can’t handle this, then who can! I don’t see anyone else around to pick up the pieces but us. Who were you thinking of assigning?!” Feral glowered. She was right. “MacAbee and Winthrop.”
“MacA- Uncle, those two are -”
“Perfectly good Enforcers.”
“But not as good as me.” The Commander stiffened. “Felina, the media is all over us. MacAbee and Winthrop are experienced in the field of criminal investigation; the katizens are familiar with them but NOT with you. If I send you out there, what will they think?”
“This is about your reputation?!! A slew of murders and all you can think about is public relations?!!”
“And what would you do in my place?”
“I’ll tell you. I’d get up off my lazy rear and get down there myself – and if I somehow couldn’t get there, I’d send my best officers in my place, not some lousy schmucks I dredged out of the third floor for the sake of NAME RECOGNITION!” Felina finished, breathless, shuddering, seething. She had ended up at the edge of the commander’s desk, leaning on it, supported by her fingertips. She breathed deeply to calm herself as the commander began to pace about behind her. “I see,” was all he could manage, and this at length. “You see,” she repeated quietly. “If you think you can take on such responsibility… the forensics team has already been dispatched. There are experts in all fields on the scene whose data needs to be collected, organized, and analyzed. They have been clamoring since -” Feral looked at his watch “- an hour ago for a leader.”
“That means you two are late.” Felina grinned. “I’m on my way,” she said. “And Whiskers?” said the commander. “Welcome aboard.”
“Thank you, sir.” The two turned to leave the room. “I’ll tell MacAbee and Winthrop to forget about it,” said Feral, returning to his paperwork. Felina whirled to look at him, but bit her lip and said nothing; and the two continued out to their first assignment together.
* * *
“To the scene of the crime!” said Jason as he and Felina climbed into the helicopter.
Jason didn’t understand.
Felina looked at him as though he were a naughty puppy. “We just took somekat’s assignment! We had better do a darn good job or both of us will be looking at stacks of paperwork for the next year. Don’t you see? If we don’t make sergeant for this one, it’ll be a long time before we ever see another chance.”
Jason looked at the pilot’s seat. “Ummm…” he said.
It wasn’t going to be easy to decide who would fly, but eventually they decided to play “rock, paper, scissors.”
“Ready?” Felina was slightly hunched over, concentrating intently. “One… “Two… THREE!”
Their fingers whipped out to form: two pairs of scissors.
Felina hit herself in the head. “Try again. One… Two… THREE!!!”
“This is going nowhere. One… Two… THREE!”
“Here, I’ll make this simple. When I count to three, I’m going to make ‘paper.’ You will respond accordingly, okay? One… Two… Three!”
Felina was filled with rage and she balled her paws into clenched fists. She felt her body become tense and she closed her eyes. As soon as she did that, Jason sat down in the pilot’s chair. Felina grumbled something completely obscene and sat down in the gunner’s seat.
The two flew over the city to the outskirted section wherein was contained the scene of the previous evening’s crime. Jason landed the chopper nearby, and both were silent as they approached the building, and the throngs of reporters that surrounded it.
Ann Gora, ace reporter, ran up to them. “Enforcers! Can you explain this terrible turn of events?”
“Sorry, I didn’t major in criminal psych,” said Jason, and Felina laughed.
The uniformed pair moved easily through the crowd.
“Jonny! Follow me…” muttered Ann. “Let’s see if we can get inside.”
Jason and Felina approached the building.
A diminutive evidence kat was watching them. “Hello!” called the E kat. “Wait – you aren’t MacAbee!”
“No, we’re not.”
“And you aren’t Winthrop.”
“Nope.” The E kat shook his head. “Whoever you are, it’s good to see you. We’ve rounded up most of the evidence – and there isn’t much. No fingerprints, no fur, no whiskers, nothing. There don’t even seem to be signs of a struggle.”
“Nothing?” said Jason. “There must be something! Did you check the security systems – is there a videotape?”
The kat led them up to the door. “The video systems were switched off. This here is the locking mechanism. It’s encoded. As far as we can tell, the kat either didn’t come this way, or he had access.”
“Any evidence he used an alternate mode of entry?” asked Felina.
“None,” said the E kat, scratching at the back of his neck. “No breaches of security are indicated. Even the video shutdown was authorized.”
“We are dealing with a class A cretin,” asserted Jason.
“Would you like to see the bodies?”
‘Not particularly,’ Jason thought.
“I think we can go it alone from here, Evidence. Get the rest of the data from the other forensics team members and have it sent to my office. We’ll just be having a look around,” Felina said flatly.
The E kat nodded and strode off.
“*You* have an office?” asked Jason.
Felina shrugged and smiled. “It’ll find me.”
The two kats entered the building and were struck immediately by the smell. The bodies had been removed, for the most part; their outlines were all that remained, drawn in tape or chalk.
Felina approached the spot where the night watchman had landed, slumped out of his chair with a bullet hole in his chest. She scanned the area. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Jason wasn’t quite so sure. There was something about the air. “No,” he said. “There’s something.”
Felina huffed at him. “What would that be, o wise Sherlock?”
He looked around the room, his eyes falling upon the digital thermostat. “I thought it was cold in here. Look at this.”
Felina looked. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
The air conditioning was on and had been on all night, despite the chilly weather. However, the heater was set to turn on once the temperature inside the building dropped below 50 degrees F. It was 51.5 degrees as they spoke, and 9:52 in the morning.
“I’m not too sure about that. Shouldn’t the heater be off entirely?”
“You’re really reaching there, Whiskers.”
“I don’t think so – has anyone investigated the basement? We should get everyone out of here and send someone down to look.”
Felina looked at him and felt a strange sensation stir within her. Normally she laughed off crazy notions like this, but this time, with this kat… “I’ll get someone on it,” she said. Something had happened to her. She turned and walked off, in search of an evidence tech.
* * *
Ann Gora was glad she’d gone on that diet. Not only had it dropped her weight down below the 105 mark, establishing a new personal best, but it enabled her to crawl through still smaller spaces. She opened a heating duct on the side of the building and climbed right on in.
“Are you sure about this, Annie?” asked her cameraman. It was one of his first few days on the job, and he didn’t want to lose his boss (she was kind of cute).
“Of course I’m sure, Jonny. I have to know the truth!”
“I can’t follow you in but I can establish an audio link. Do you want to go live?”
“I always do.” He passed her a headset and she affixed it to her ears. “Testing.” He gave her the thumbs up and she crawled back into the shaft, pawing her way up and deep into the heart of the building.
“Ann Gora, Kats’ Eye News, with a special live audio report. I’m here on the scene of the most heinous crime in recent years – the murder of each and every one of the residents at the Good Ole Days Rest Home in lower MegaKat City. While the Enforcers are currently withholding details, we here at Kats’ Eye News are dedicated to bringing you the best coverage possible. I am currently navigating an air shaft in the building, in search of a way inside – I found it!”
Ann pried back a panel. She was over the basement, where an Enforcer technician was investigating the furnace. He walked around it at first, then sat down on a box (left by Derek Whitepaws).
Ann turned up the sensitivity of her transmitter to pick up his voice as he mumbled to himself.
“Nothing here… pressure normal… feed stable… fuel tank full… gauges reading normal… wait…”
Ann gasped in spite of herself. “Something’s wrong with the furnace!” she whispered.
“What?!! Annie, where are you? Get out of there!” shouted a worried Jonny.
The techie turned to her direction. “Who’s there?!” he demanded, and she scurried away as noiselessly as possible. “Now for this hair…”
“Hair!” repeated Ann. “There IS something wrong with the furnace – I think it’s going to blow!”
“Ann, you’re going to start a panic! Calm down!” called Jonny.
She ignored him and hastened to the exit, jumping out through her old entry point just as the entire building exploded. She and her cameraman were tossed twenty feet, to land one on top of the other in a patch of grass.
It was exactly 10:15 a.m..
* * *
It seemed Jason and Felina got out just in time.
“I got you your techie,” said Felina.
“No need to thank me, of course.”
“Mmm.” Jason was lost in thought, examining the bullet in the evidence bag he held before him.
“I said, ‘no need to thank me.’”
Felina grunted, turned, and stormed out.
“Felina, look at this…” he said, and realized she was walking away. ‘I should have realized I need to give that girl more attention!’ He turned to follow her, and she went faster.
They were running now. It was 10:14.
She kept going and he ran after her, catching her and grabbing her by the arm. “I’m sorry! What’s wrong with you!”
She opened her mouth to answer just as the building blew up in the background. Suddenly emotive issues didn’t seem as pressing anymore.
“Oh my God!” shouted Jason, and the two ran back to the scene. “My God!”
Felina was inclined to agree.
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