“Princess,” Princess looked up at Mittens who stood beside him. Where had he come from? Mittens looked ill at ease. “I heard what happened.”
“You mean when the killer got away from me again?” Princess was very conscious of the shaved area of his throat where the Vet had stitched him up. He’d been lucky. He didn’t need anyone to tell him that.
“Yes,” Mittens seemed reluctant to let it go.
“It made me realize that I never thanked you,” Mittens said.
“For what?” Princess stifled a yawn. No one would see him act tired. He was not tired. He was determined about that.
“You chased the killer away from me,” Mittens said. Oh for heaven’s sake, what was the Probie on about there?
“You mean the second time I let him get away from me?” Princess said. “You know, I’d almost forgotten that? That makes it three times that he got away from me. Thanks for the memory, Probie. That almost makes me regret saving your butt.” Mittens smiled sheepishly.
“He got away from me too,” he said.
“That’s different,” Princess said. “No one expects you to catch him.”
“We’ll get him, Princess,” said Mittens, “as a team.”
“Damn right we will,” Crusher said from behind Princess. “What are you doing here?” This last was directed at Princess.
“Paperwork, Boss,” Princess replied. “Just paperwork.”
“Go home,” Crusher said.
“I want to get this guy, Boss,” Princess said. “He’s ripped me up twice and got away from me three times. I am going to be in on getting him.” Crusher grunted.
“All right,” he said. “But you stay in the office until Ducks says you can go back out into the field. Clear?”
“Yes, Boss,” Princess turned meekly back to his paperwork. The dog that guarded the junkyard where Crusher lived must really be taking a beating lately. The Boss was always furious on this one. That’s why Princess respected him so much. He didn’t take anything from anyone and he looked after his cats.
“Princess!” Princess turned to look at Mittens following in his wake. “Where are you going?” He trotted up to Princess. “Don’t you live the other way?”
“I’m not going home, just yet,” Princess said. “I’m going to walk around the area of town where most of the killings took place. It is where I think I will most likely come up with his trail.” Mittens fell into step with him. What did he want?
“Alone?” Mittens sounded almost concerned, bless the Probie. Princess faced the probie.
“Boss would never let me do this,” he said.
“He’d be right,” Mittens said. “You shouldn’t do that alone.”
“You’re not going to talk me out of it,” said Princess. “I’ve been doing it for the last couple of evenings and I am fine. No trouble at all.”
“I still say you need backup.” Mittens kept pace with Princess as he walked slowly towards the park. It looked as though Probie would be joining him. Princess supposed that it was better than his going on his own, which was probably for the best.
“Then come on,” he said. “Since you seem to be coming along anyway.”
“Ok,” he said. He sounded happy to come along.
The two agents walked along the street towards the park, detouring to view the crime scenes. Suddenly Princess stopped.
“Hey!” he yelled. “What are you doing there?” he started down the alleyway toward a shadowy cat figure that was tearing at something. He was going to feel stupid if he was wrong, but he was almost certain that was the killer. The shadowy cat jumped up and started running from Princess. Without waiting for Mittens, Princess ran after the killer, barely aware of the bloody bundle of fur even as he ran past it. The killer ran through the alley, Princess behind him. Just as Princess was about to catch up with the fleeing tomcat, the cat raced insanely across the busy street. He narrowly avoided becoming road-kill as he dodged the human machines that made the road so dangerous. Princess stopped, panting. He was out of breath as well as losing his quarry. Defeated, he walked back to the alley where Mittens was crouched beside the victim.
“She’s dead,” he told Princess. “You didn’t get him.”
“Does it look like I got him?” Princess snapped. He sucked in air. “I missed him again.” He crouched beside Mittens. He was so very tired. “She’s not as ripped up.”
“If we’d just gotten here a few minutes earlier, we might have saved her.” Mittens stared down at the dead calico. Princess sighed.
“Yeah,” he said. He looked at Mittens’ woebegone face. “We can’t dwell on this, Probie. We can’t be everywhere and we can’t protect everyone. Keep that in mind. It’s Rule twenty-seven. Did you call the Boss?”
“Yes,” Mittens said. “He’s on his way along with Sassy, Ducks and Mr. Paddy. Did you get a good look at the cat?”
“Yeah,” Princess said. “At least one of us knows what he looks like. Actually we all do, we’ve interviewed him.” Mittens stood up.
“We have?” he said. “I thought that scent was familiar. Who is he?”
“Homeless cat,” Princess replied. “Name is Tomtom or something like that.”
“I remember him,” Mittens said. “He didn’t seem the type. Too timid.”
“Serial killers blend in, Mittens,” Crusher’s voice startled both agents. “Let’s process this scene and get back to the office. We have a killer to catch.” Oh, oh, Princess thought. The Boss was mad.
“Shouldn’t we try to pick up Tomtom?” Mittens asked.
“He is unlikely to return to his current nest,” Sassy said. “We will have to weasel him out.”
“She means ferret him out,” said Princess. Sassy shrugged.
“Weasel, ferret, they are similar animals,” she said.
“Can’t argue with that,” Princess said.
“How about processing the scene?” Crusher said.
“On it, Boss.” Princess ducked his head and began looking for evidence of the crime.
The office was alive with activity when Princess entered it after leaving his load of evidence with Snowball. Crusher stood talking with the Director. Neither of them looked particularly happy.
“We have a reliable description from Agent Princess,” said Shadow. Crusher nodded. “We need corroboration.”
“Doodles, the only victim to survive,” Crusher said. “We could try to get a description from her. In the meantime, we look for all the cats that fit Princess’ description so that we can be clear on our suspect.” He lifted his head and raised his voice a notch. “Listen up.” Princess, Sassy and Mittens came to attention.
“Princess, take Mittens and get a description of her attacker from Doodles.”
“On it Boss.” Princess turned to leave, Mittens following him, radiating reluctance.
“Sassy,” Princess strained to hear her assignment. “You and I will go bring in as many gray and white tomcats as we can for a line up.” So that was the plan. Test Princess’ identification of the killer with a line up. Well, it was probably good procedure, but Princess knew it was Tomtom.
Out on the sidewalk, Princess strode forward.
“You should do the talking to Doodles, Mittens,” he said. “You already have a relationship with her. I’ll take the friend, Tabitha. She might have seen something.”
“Uh, I’d rather you did the talking to Doodles, Princess,” Mittens said. Princess stopped dead and turned to face Mittens.
“What?” he said. Mittens sat down and began nervously washing his paws.
“I let her down, Princess,” he said. “I didn’t protect her.” He stood up again. “How can I face her?”
“We can’t be everywhere, Probie,” Princess said. “You will face her like you would any other victim. It’s as simple as that. Now you will interview Doodles and I will interview Tabitha.”
“I don’t know, Princess.”
“Be a tom, Probie.”