“How did this happen?” Director Shadow stalked from one end of the line of agents to the other and back again. Princess had his head down. He and Mittens had definitely screwed up. There was no getting around it. Director Shadow’s tongue-lashing was nothing compared with the one the Boss hadn’t given them yet. Princess knew Mittens was worried. He was always worried about provoking the Boss into firing him. His tail lashed back and forth as he waited for an answer.
“Director,” Crusher said, “my agents did their best, but Tom-tom managed to elude them.” He shot a look at both Princess and Mittens. That look told Princess that he wasn’t going to hear the last of this.
“Uh huh,” the Director looked skeptical. He turned away. “Find that tom.”
“How did it happen?” Crusher’s voice was even. He didn’t show any anger, the way the director had.
“Fast,” said Princess. “It happened fast. I should have been more alert.”
“It’s my fault,” said Mittens. “I took my hold off him for a minute.”
“It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there,” Snowball said.
“I should have been there,” Sassy said.
“I don’t care whose fault it is,” Crusher snapped. “Get out there and find him. Bring him back!”
“On it Boss,” they all ran for the door, except Snowball. Snowball would be fine. The Boss doted on her. Princess wasn’t so sure about the rest of them. He might decide to feed them to his neighbor, the junkyard dog. That was a big dog even if it was terrified of Crusher. That dog was why Princess hated going to the Boss’ home for any reason.
“Where did you find him, Princess?” Sassy asked.
“Behind the Fish and Chips place,” he replied. “But I doubt he’ll go back there.”
“Unlikely,” Sassy agreed. “But it is a place to start.”
“He might figure we’d think he wouldn’t go back there,” Mittens suggested. “We could get lucky.”
“And mice might fall from the sky,” said Princess, “ready to eat. Tom-tom is cunning, I’ll give him that, but he’s no mastermind.”
There he was, the leader walking out of the junk yard. He was heading into their office. Once he was gone, Tom-tom would have his power and those other agents would not be able to stop him. He’d found Crusher’s home but the dog had scared him off. How powerful was Crusher that he could subdue such a vicious brute as that very large dog? Now Tom-tom stalked the sleek gray tomcat. He was almost to the FCIS office. He had to strike now.
He pounced. Crusher reacted with incredible speed, rolling under Tom-tom’s onslaught and raking Tom-tom’s belly with his hind claws. Tom-tom struggled to keep his grip. Crusher was a very powerful tomcat.
“Boss!” Agent Princess ran across the street, nearly under the wheels of a passing car. Tom-tom leapt free of Crusher and dashed into the street himself. Tires squealed as a car swerved to avoid hitting him. It collided with another car and the humans emerged, shouting at one another. Tom-tom took advantage of the human melee and darted down an alley and racing up a tree to the roof of a house behind the businesses that lined the street. He leaped from the roof of the house to another tree and down to the ground beside a rarely travelled road, running. There was a stream on the other side of the next row of human houses. He ran towards it, and raced into the water, running upstream. The water would wash away his scent. They would not be able to track him now.
“Are you all right, Boss?” Princess gave up trying to get across the road. Even though traffic had stopped because of the collision, there were too many people around.
“Fine,” Crusher clipped out his words. “I suppose you lost him.”
“Didn’t manage to see where he went after the alley,” Princess admitted. “I couldn’t get back across the street fast enough.”
Princess and Mittens went to the place where Princess had captured Tom-tom in the first place. They had a number of agents out looking for the escapee, but so far, they’d not had much luck. Princess frowned at the sidewalk. How had he and Mittens allowed the tom to escape? He’d analyzed the incident in his head so many times that he wasn’t sure he was remembering it as it actually happened. Had there been anything they could have done?
Not without Snowball getting hurt, that had been the deciding factor in letting Tom-tom escape – the danger to their forensic scientist. What had the killer meant when he’d referred to Snowball as the Pure One? That thought was nagging at him as well. He walked on, keeping an eye out for the fugitive, hardly aware of Mittens walking beside him until Mittens halted suddenly.
“I think that was him,” Mittens said. Princess came fully alert.
“He just went down that alley,” Mittens indicated a trashcan filled alley between a bowling alley and a coin laundry. “I know that alley, there’s no way out.”
“Unless he climbs to the roof,” Princess said. Mittens shook his head.
“There’s no way a cat can reach the roof from that alley,” he said. “If that was him that I saw, he’s trapped.” Princess made a lightning decision. They had to get back up. If the Probie was right, they had their tom trapped. If Probie was wrong and they summoned help, they’d have egg on their faces. Which would be worse?
“Egg on our faces,” Princess said, “letting the killer escape again, I vote the latter.”
“What?” Mittens showed his puzzlement.
“If we call for back up and you are wrong, we’ll have egg on our faces,” Princess replied. “On the other hand, if you are right and we don’t send for back up, we could lose him again. I was trying to decide which would be worse. I say go for back up.” Mittens nodded. “You go, I’ll stay.”
“Maybe I should stay,” Mittens said. “Let’s flip for it.” Princess lost the toss.
Princess hated flipping for things. He nearly always lost. He picked up his pace and wondered if Mittens had a double-sided coin. He increased his speed. Whether the coin had been double-sided or not, Tom-tom was not a cat that one agent could handle on his own, not now, anyway. Princess had had the advantage of surprise when he’d taken him. He was also an experienced agent. The Probie was not. He should have insisted that Probie go for back up while he watched the alley entrance.
The problem was that the Probie felt he had something to prove, and maybe he did have something to prove, even if only to himself. Princess was no psychologist. He had no idea what drove the Probie even to want to be an agent. He’d die before admitting that he liked Mittens and considered him a friend, though. It wouldn’t do to let Mittens know that. He would not be able to live with himself if something happened to Mittens while he, Princess, was running for help. He summoned more energy and increased his speed to a fast run.
Crusher and Sassy were just coming out of the office when Princess reached it.
“Boss,” he gasped. Wow, he was really out of shape. “We found him, we think.”
“Alleyway, downtown,” Princess said between gulps of air. He needed to get to the gym more often. “Left Mittens watching it. Back up.”