“But Augustus is still out there! In the rain…” Tears were
streaming down Holly’s cheeks. “He’s getting wet and he’s probably terrified!
He needs me.”
“Honey, honey.” Mrs. Taylor hugged her daughter close and
stroked her hair. “Augustus is a cat. Cats are pretty smart. He’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? He doesn’t know the outside.
He thinks the weirdest things about people. He doesn’t know about cars…” Her
words quickly dissolved into sobs.
“I’m sure,” Mrs. Taylor said. “I just got off the phone
with that wonderful lady at Maricopa and everyone there is looking out for
Augustus. She’ll call me if any kitties that look like him show up at the
Vex drained the last of the hot cocoa. “Never fear,” she
said. “I’ll get the rest of those posters up myself. Print more for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, you stay dry.”
* * *
Thunder. Rain. Stay hidden.
Stay dry. Can never go home again.
* * *
“Have you found your hellcat yet?”
On the radio, one Elaine Mercer, Vex’s geeky friend who
happened to have the resources to print out hundreds of lost cat posters—thanks
to ASU’s vast bank of color printers. And the best part: she could do it for
free. Along with that assistance she had also thrown her brains and computer
expertise into the search.
“It’s not a hellcat; it’s a sphinx.”
The rain beat a staccato rhythm against the hood of the
cab as Vex stared out into the storm. The sphinx—really not a sphinx, but
called one anyway, a misnomer based on the fact that they were an Egyptian
breed—would probably not show up at an animal shelter, yet she still had Elaine
searching Internet sites that listed strays. Many of the area shelters,
especially Maricopa County, posted found strays daily.
“And you’re out taping lost cat posters to every flat
surface in sight because some kid lost her magic cat?”
“Have you found anything?”
Static issued forth from the radio, punctuated with the
crunching rattle of keys on a keyboard. “Nothing matching your criteria.”
“I thought computers made life easier.”
“Why don’t you just fire off a spell, hocus pocus, and blamo!
Vex rolled her eyes. “Because then it would know I was
coming. No, the sphinx has an affinity for Holly. So Holly is going to have to
“What…happens when you find it?” Elaine said.
The answer to that was all too obvious.
“This monster has killed a human being,” Vex said. “I’m
going to have to disappoint Holly.”
“That seems a bit callous. Even for you.”
“Tell that to the dead guy.”
* * *
Rain pinged a soft percussion against the coffee house’s window
as Vex watched it fall; sunlight, breaking through thinner clouds in the
distance, played across the greening sides of the nearby rocks, “mountains” by
desert dweller standards. Most of the year they had a grey and brown hue, but
with the monsoons, grass and brush exploded in sudden overgrowth.
“Did you get me what I wanted?” Vex asked the man who slid
into the booth across from her.
“I have it.” James Vega, a journalist with the East Valley
Tribune, rested a small brown paper bag on the table with a well-muscled arm. “I
had to pull a favor for this one, so I expect something in return.”
Vex reached for the bag before James completely let go of
it. Their fingers brushed for a split second. She noticed that his fingernails
were manicured to an extent that almost made Vex jealous as she sipped at her
hot cocoa and tried to ignore the scuffed state of her own nails—a hard day’s
work putting up lost posters for the sphinx had not done well for their current
coat, jet black, as usual.
She’d known James since high school, and he’d always been
a slick operator. He started out as the assistant editor of the school paper,
currying favor with both the faculty and the student body by writing articles
just clean enough to make the principal happy and just edgy enough to make the
kids smirk. Editors came and went, but James stayed with it until graduation.
It was no surprise that he was now paying his way through a journalism major at
ASU by working at the East Valley Tribune. He specialized in writing stories
about the seedier side of Phoenix.
Vex thought his job did him well; he’d managed to upgrade
his already sharp fashion sense from high school to the metrosexual style of
the corporate ladder, expensive shirts and designer jeans. Sometimes she
wondered if he spent more time on his outfits than she did on hers. They both
loved to dress up, but for different reasons. She chose her costumes to send
two messages for two audiences: for most ordinary people, the message was screw
off, for a select audience, the message was do not cross me. Jason
seemed to choose his costume to grease the wheels of society and business. Judging
by his current outfit, which included a shirt that showed off his trim abs and
toned arms, he was either on his way to a bar or wanted to soften his request
Whatever the case, she did enjoy the view.