Princess was proud of the fact that he’d made it to the office on time that morning. He strode jauntily into the squad room to find Director Shadow talking with Crusher.
“Word’s gotten out that we have a serial killer,” he was saying. Crusher bowed his head and then lifted it.
“None of my cats have put it out,” he said. Princess nodded. That’s what made Crusher a good leader; he stood up for his team.
“I’m not saying they did,” Shadow said. “I’m just saying that cats are scared. They will panic if we don’t get this cat and get him soon. Do we know how he’s choosing his victims, yet?”
“No sir,” Crusher said.
“What do we know?” Shadow said.
“All we know,” Crusher said, “is that he seems to be targeting females with more than two colors in their coats.” He paused to sip from the dish of coffee on his desk. “We don’t know if he’d target males, too, because there are none in the area. Tricolored males are rare. It might help if you told the media that only tricolored cats should be concerned, but I can’t say that it would. The killer is someone who appears trustworthy.” Mittens came into the squad room and went to his desk. Sassy came in letting a gust of wind in with her. The director rose from his haunches and walked towards his office.
“Get this cat, Crusher,” he said, “before the cats of the city panic.”
Crusher stood watching until the director was in his office with the door closed. Then he turned to his team.
“You heard the tom,” he said. “What do we have?”
“Four tricolored queens, dead,” Princes said promptly. “All the cats were killed just as if they were prey, then ripped to shreds, but not eaten.”
“At least, not by the killer,” Mittens took up the story. “All four victims were beautiful, young and well liked.”
“None were dating,” Sassy chimed in. “All were apparently good queens with no records. None of their friends appear questionable.”
“What else?” Crusher demanded.
“I wanted to check into Brownie, Callie’s alleged tom friend,” Princess thought fast. “I think he was lying about that.” Crusher nodded.
“I’ll go over the four victims’ social dealings again,” Sassy said. “There may have been something I missed.”
“I’ll look into the backgrounds of all the tom friends of the victims,” Mittens said. Crusher nodded again.
“Well,” he said. “Princess, take Mittens and interview all the toms who are witnesses.” Princess frowned. “Start with the first murder and move on to the latest. See if any of them remember anything. That way, Brownie won’t think anything of a second interview.”
“Yes, Boss,” Princess’ voice joined that of his colleagues.
Princess and Mittens walked into the park. It was a large grassy area in the middle of the human city. There weren’t many such green areas in the city. The two agents walked up to the large fountain in the center of a large circular patch of cement. This was where a tomcat named Dirty Joe found the body of Cuddles, the first victim.
Dirty Joe lived in the park, keeping the rodent population down. The sun was shining thinly through a haze of fog. The grass was damp from the quickly dissipating fog. Princess hated wet paws. He couldn’t wait until he could clean his feet.
“There he is,” Mittens indicated the bedraggled gray cat with green eyes and a white shirtfront sitting beneath a park bench washing himself thoroughly. Princess strode forward.
“Dirty Joe?” he said. “I’m very special agent Princess of FCIS.” The scruffy tom looked up at him.
“Eh?” he said. “Thought you were done with me.” Princess forced himself to smile.
“We just have a few more questions,” he said.
“Killed another one, didn’t he?” Dirty Joe was being a wise guy. Princess didn’t like him, but couldn’t show it. There was no evidence that Dirty Joe was involved in the death of any of the victims, but he’d been the one to find the body of Mardi Gras, the first victim.
“We’d like you to go over the day you found Mardi Gras’s body,” Princess ignored the question. The guy had to know they’d found more bodies, cats were already upset and frightened.
“It’s a serial killer ain’t it?” Dirty Joe wasn’t going to let it go.
“Yes,” Princess said impatiently. “And right now, you’re a suspect.”
“Ain’t no killer,” Dirty Joe crouched as though ready to spring. He relaxed back onto his haunches. “Just unlucky, that’s all.”
“How so?” Princess glared at Mittens. He was supposed to be quiet and let Princess handle the interview.
“Found a body, didn’t I?” Dirty Joe glowered. “Involved now, ain’t I?”
“Well,” said Mittens. “If you help us now, you could get uninvolved as soon as we find the real killer.” Princess noted, with unwilling admiration, that Mittens hadn’t mentioned the inevitable, lengthy court case that would follow the killer’s capture.
“Yeah,” he said. He didn’t want the probie going back to the Boss with the story that he, Princess, had not backed Mittens. Besides, Mittens’ strategy just might work. Dirty Joe sighed loudly.
“Found ‘er over there,” he said. “Under that park bench. Ripped apart and bloody – I knowed her was dead. Didn’t need no coroner to tell me that. Told ya already.” Princess suppressed the urge to bite the dirty cat.
“Are you sure that there was no one else around?” he asked. “There’s no one else who might have seen anything?”
“Don’t got me a lady cat,” Dirty Joe grinned with a sly look. Princess could well believe that. No self-respecting queen would let this specimen anywhere near her.
“You didn’t scent anything unusual?” Mittens persisted. Princess wished he could head-paw him. “Or maybe hear anything unusual?”
“Nope,” Dirty Joe got to his feet. “Told ya all I know. Are we done?”
“Got someplace to be?” Princess demanded.
“Yep,” Dirty Joe grinned again. “Hamburger place throws out its old meat every day about this time. Get me some good food.”
“If you think of anything, let us know.” Princess turned away. Mittens paced alongside him.
“Think he was telling the truth?” Mittens asked.
“Probably,” Princess replied. “It’s not word for word what he said before, but it’s close. Let’s go to Brownie next. I know he’s been lying to us.”
“Shouldn’t we see Buster first?” Mittens asked. “He found the second victim, Athena.” Princess stopped dead. He turned to his companion.
“We don’t have to see them in order, Probie,” he said. “We just have to interview them all again. We can see Blackie with Brownie and then go on to Buster and Tom Tom.”
“I guess,” Mittens followed Princess as he started walking again.
“Besides,” Princess continued. “It’ll save us from backtracking.”
“Now that makes sense,” Mittens said. Now what did that mean? Princess wondered.
The big black tom was still in the basement of the apartment complex when they entered.
“About time someone got back to me,” he said. “Can I rent out that nest space yet?”
“No,” Princess said shortly. “We have more questions. Have you ever seen anyone bothering Callie?”
“Not that I recall,” Blackie said. “She would have told me if someone was bothering her though.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m kinda the security around here,” Blackie replied. “I make sure no one hassles any of my tenants. It’s an added service included in the rent.”
“And just how much is the rent?” Princess asked.
“Two mice a day,” Blackie replied. Princess looked surprised.
“That’s a good living,” Mittens said.
“I get by.” Blackie shrugged. He sure did, Princess thought.
“Tom friends?” he said. Blackie glared. His body tensed up. Princess suddenly realized how his question had sounded. “Callie’s, I mean.” Blackie relaxed.
“Never saw her with anyone,” he answered.
“What about a tom named Brownie?” Princess asked. “Did you ever see them together?”
“Nope,” Blackie said. “Did Brownie say they were a couple?”
“He might have,” Princess didn’t want to give away anything away. Blackie was nodding.
“He would,” he said. “Brownie had it bad for Callie. He’s nothing more than a kitten. He might have thought he had a chance, but there was no way. She saw him as a kitten, like a little brother or something.”
“She was more into someone like you?” Princess asked. Blackie laughed.
“I wish,” he said. “No, she wasn’t into me either.” His regret was patently apparent to Princess.
“Know where we can find Brownie?” he asked.
“He likes to hang out by the fish market,” Blackie said. “I think he has hopes there too.”
“Thanks,” Mittens said.
“No problem,” Blackie said. “Let me know when I can rent out that nest space, ok?”
“Will do,” Princess said.
“Blackie doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Brownie said. “Me and Callie were going to mate.”
“She ever take you back to her nest?” Princess asked.
“Plenty of times,” Brownie said. Princess moved in close, face to face with the younger tom.
“How’d you do it?” he asked.
“Spend a lot of time at Callie’s nest without leaving a whiff of scent?” Brownie wilted. His cocky attitude slid down his legs, making him look as though he was about to pass out.
“Oh,” he said. “You checked on that.”
“We checked on that,” Princess said. “Lying to investigators isn’t very smart. It makes us think you have something to hide. Do you?”
“I’ve never been with a queen,” Brownie said miserably. Princess sighed.
“That’s it?” he said. “You never…” Brownie’s abject misery stopped him. “It’s not the end of the world, kid. Give yourself time. You’ll get with a queen, eventually.”
“All my friends have,” Brownie fired back.
“Sure they have,” Princess laughed. “Just like you got together with Callie.” Brownie stared at him, astonishment all over his face.
“You think they lied?”
“I’d bet on it,” Princess said. “Come on, Probie, we’ve got more toms to interview.” He waved a paw at Brownie. “You. Don’t go lying to investigators again. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble that way.”
“What do you think the Boss expects us to find here?” Mittens said as he and Princess entered the park where Patches’ body was found.
“No idea,” Princess said. “Anything we can find, I would imagine. Let’s spread out. We don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to.” They spread out and began looking over the ground around the place where Patches’ body had lain as they searched for anything they might have missed.
“Excuse me,” said a soft little voice at Princess’ rear. “Are you investigating Patches’ death?” Princess turned to look the tom who spoke. He was a thin, black tom with large gold eyes.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m Special Agent Princess. Who are you?”
“St. Peter,” the tom answered.
“Come again?” Princess knew that St. Peter was a human who waited at the gates of the human heaven. Princess supposed that he was a ghost.
“I’m a companion cat,” St. Peter shrugged. “My human called me that. I am forever explaining it.”
“Can’t be any worse than a tom named Princess,” Princess couldn’t help grinning. The black tom smiled in return.
“No,” he said. “I suppose not.”
“What do you want from us?” Princess said.
“I’m afraid that it’s more something that you may want from me,” St. Peter said. “Patches and I were very close friends.” Princess stared at him. “I know things about her.”
“What sort of things?” Princess asked.
“Who she was seeing,” St. Peter said. “She talked to me. I think I may have been her only true friend, although she had several friends, I was closest. She may have thought of me as a brother or possibly a father. She was seeing no particular tom, but she did break up with one last month. He didn’t take it well, but I don’t think he killed her. He followed her around for a while and then, out of the blue, he introduced her to his promised mate. He wanted her to know that he wasn’t holding a grudge. In fact, he wanted them all to be friends.”
“What was his name?” Princess asked.
“Killer,” said St. Peter.