Back at the office, Princess found Crusher in Snowball’s lab.
“Definitely from the same cat,” she was saying. Princess waited as patiently, since he didn’t have anything to add to their knowledge except that Killer was inaptly named. “The scent, the colors, everything matches. Hi Princess.”
“Hi Snowball.” Princess smiled at the bubbly lab technician. She was worth more than all their weights in gold; she was so good at her job. “So we know the killer’s scent now.”
“No,” Crusher said. “I’m not fond of coincidence, but I don’t rule it out either.” Princess stopped smiling.
“Of course, Boss,” he said. “Killer’s a washout. No way he killed our victims. He admitted that he couldn’t catch a bird.”
“You believe that?” Crusher looked skeptical.
“I read him like a book, Boss,” Princess said. “He’s not our tom. In fact, I’d say that his name doesn’t fit him at all.” Crusher frowned.
“So we have no suspects,” he said. “Again.”
“I’ll keep digging into his background,” Princess said. “But I don’t think we will find anything out that we don’t already know.”
“I thought you could read him like a book,” Sassy’s voice came from behind him.
“Just being thorough,” Princess told her haughtily.
“We have the killer’s scent?” she said.
“These two tufts of fur,” Snowball said. “They came from two of the four crime scenes.” Sassy leaned to sniff the fur.
“I see,” she said. “It’s familiar. I think I interviewed this cat.”
“Where’s Mittens?” Crusher asked. “We should all get this scent.”
“He’s at lunch with his queen-friend,” Sassy said.
“Probie going to dump her?” Princess said. “She sounds like bad news.” Sassy gave him a superior look.
“He’s going to talk with her,” she said. “He doesn’t have to break up with her, just let her know that she’s going too fast for him.” Princess shook his head and chuckled.
“No real tom will admit that,” he said. A paw struck the back of his head.
“Can we get back to the case?” Crusher’s voice had an edge on it. “Sassy, you’ve caught this scent before?”
“Yes,” she said, suitably chastened. “I don’t remember where.”
“Keep at it,” Crusher said. “I want this tom.” He strode from the room, tail ramrod straight.
“Director must be riding him,” Princess said. He was still smarting from the reprimand. He glared at Sassy who smirked back at him. Princess consoled himself with the thought that at least the Boss had kept his claws sheathed.
“There’s a serial killer loose in the city,” Snowball said. “Anyone could be next.”
“Not anyone,” Princess said. “Queens with three colored coats.” Sassy stared at him.
“You’re right,” she said, slowly. Princess was surprised. She didn’t normally agree with him, on principal. “Why didn’t we see that before?”
“It just hit me,” Princess said, “when you said anyone could be next.” He frowned. “I think we should pull every tom connected to the case in and let Snowball sniff them. It’s the easiest way to eliminate suspects once and for all.”
“Suggest it to Crusher,” Sassy said. “He might agree.”
“I just thought of something I need to do,” Princess said. “You suggest it to Crusher and get going on it. I’m going back to the park. I think I may have missed something.”
The sun was going down as Princess arrived in the park. He prowled the crime scene. Something niggled at the back of his mind, like a flea that he couldn’t reach. He moved slowly over the area they’d searched twice, unsure what he was looking for. He moved slowly towards a thick growth of juniper, his attention focused on the ground. Was that the same scent as the tuft of fur? He moved closer.
Something erupted from the bush and hit him. Princess had a confused sense of a tom a little bigger than he was and then he was solely focused on defending himself. This tom was out to kill him. The scent of the killer filled his nose. Bast, why hadn’t he brought backup?
He desperately tried to twist onto his back, the better to rake his claws into the killer’s belly. The larger cat pinned him down. He could feel the teeth tearing into his neck.
“I’m going to die,” Princess couldn’t do anything. He hurt and hurt bad. He heard a voice from a long way off. Suddenly the weight of the killer was gone. Princess could barely see. Where was he? Why had he let Princess go?
“Are you all right?” the voice was familiar, but distant. Princess tried to focus on the speaker. A gentle tongue washed his face.
“Agent Princess?” the voice was insistent. “Can you hear me?” Princess closed his eyes; couldn’t he leave him alone? He was hurt and so very tired. “Agent Princess!” he opened his eyes again. St. Peter stood over him.
“Did you see him?” Princes gathered enough presence of mind to ask the important question.
“Not well,” St. Peter said. “How badly are you hurt?” Princess tried to take stock of his condition.
“I’ll be all right,” he said. “I think.” He struggle upright. “I have to get back to the office.”
“I think you should take it easy,” St. Peter shook his head. “Don’t go too fast.” Princess stood up, threw up and sat back down. The world swung violently around his head, which was still ringing. He couldn’t be down now. He had to get to the Boss. He tried to stand up again, his feet spun up over his head, or seemed to, while the world spun around him at the same time. He barely managed to stay on his feet.
“I don’t think you should go alone,” St. Peter stated. “I’ll go with you, make sure you get there safely. Although, I think you should see a vet.”
“I’m all right,” Princess insisted. “I have to get to the office. I have to talk to my boss.”
“All right,” St. Peter still seemed doubtful. “I will take you to your office.”
“I’ll be all right,” Princess said again. “You don’t have…”
“Your boss will want my statement anyway,” St. Peter said reasonably. “I might as well make it easy on him. I’ll also tell him that you need to see a vet.”
“Ducks’ll take care of me,” Princess said. If he were truly honest with himself, he’d admit that he was grateful for St. Peter’s support as they made their way out of the park. He felt himself falling and everything went black.