VOLUME INDEX



For anyone who has ever lost their pet and ran through hell, high water, and smog to find them—placking up posters and going through every listing in the lost and found on the web...





 
 
 




“Young cat,” the woman commented, taking the photo. “This location already gets some strays but we just opened and we’re not completely set-up. Have you checked our West facility?”

“Yes. That’s not the only reason I’m here. Do you also field sightings of wildlife? Big cats?”

“We do.” Melinda frowned and nodded to herself. “If you don’t mind continuing this conversation while I finish up my rounds for the night, I could consult the records when I’m finished.”

“Not a problem.”

Melinda led Vex further into the building. Many of the lights were turned off, giving it the eerie, hollow quality that many empty buildings held; but at the same time sounds of rustling, movement, and the occasional animal noise broke the silence. Glass windows on either side of the corridor held caged critters, mostly dogs and cats, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, many sleeping. One small, black lab puppy—awake but falling rapidly asleep—looked up at her from his glass cage and wagged his tail so hard it looked like it might break off. Lonely.

The corridor opened into a room that contained columns that created small glass rooms. Several of the rooms contained numbers of cats. Vex looked into one enclosure and saw that all the cats were lounging on carpeted miniature buildings and other climbing equipment. One fluffy black number stared lazily at her with green eyes, reaching a paw out, it stretched its claws and yawned. Vex got the sense it was a she.

“Do you have any pets?” The cats did notice when Melinda opened the door to their enclosure. Even the fluffy black one with the green eyes came down from her comfortable perch to rub up against Melinda’s legs as she stepped into the enclosure. Gentle meows followed her entry. “You can come in.”

“Uh, no,” Vex said. “My mother had a bird when I was growing up…but not now. I live alone. Small apartment. You understand.”

“Sounds very lonely.”

Almost reluctantly, Vex stepped in behind Melinda. Most of the cats were all black, with a tortoiseshell or two among them, so Vex guessed their fur might not show too badly on her outfit.

“We picked up these little guys from an illegal pet store a few weeks ago,” Melinda said, stroking the sleek fur of one of the torties. “They’re about to go to foster homes to open up more room, but they’re available for adoption…”

The extremely fluffy cat prowled around Vex’s boots, alternately sniffing and rubbing her face against the laces. Vex reached down to rub it’s chin. I see what you did there, she thought to herself. But it wouldn’t do, adopting a pet, she really didn’t have room or time or money or a fixed schedule. And especially not now, she needed to keep her resolve about trapping the cat she was currently hunting—and if necessary to kill it before it killed someone else.

“I’ll let you introduce yourself while I go check the records for your missing cat.” Melinda dropped a small white bag into Vex’s palm. “Here’s some treats. Make some friends. We’re trying to help socialize them.”

“Uh, sure.” Six pairs of jewel colored cat eyes stared up at her, tail tips twitching.

It didn’t take Vex long to start doling out the treats to the waiting mouths—anything to stave off a cat mutiny. For the most part, they were well behaved; the treats were chewy and after nipping one up the given cat ran off to some private part of the round room and snarfed on it. Everyone except for the black cat that had noticed her initially; she stayed at Vex’s feet and devoured the treat loudly.

In the time it took Melinda to come back from her research, the cats had won. Vex was sitting on the floor with two in her lap, and two more demanding the attention of her hands. And, in spite of the mostly black fur among the group, she’d found a number of white hairs scattered on her pants—and no telling where else. Tonight, she realized, Mr. Lintbrush would be receiving a workout.

“You’re in luck—or, well, maybe,” Melinda said, screwing up her expression. “There have been quite a few sightings of big cats over the past few days, especially in north Scottsdale. Cougars and coyotes, they can prey on household pets… Your friend’s cat, is it microchipped?”

I pity the coyote that tries to eat that kitty, Vex thought. A full grown man, armed and able to handle himself hadn’t even stood a chance.

“No. The cat’s not chipped.”

Melinda tapped the photograph. “That might make it a little more difficult. But, I’ll add this to our board.” She glanced at the picture. “Oh, this is Augustus, right? Mrs. Taylor beat you to us – she calls every morning. We’re keeping an eye out.”

“And I’m glad of that.” Vex moved the fluffy black cat out of her lap. She’d fallen asleep there and when Vex set her on the ground, she stretched and glared at Vex as if she’d kicked out of a warm bed out into the rain.

* * *

Night had fallen over the place he was hiding. The sound of footsteps and traffic rushing far away, and even the thunder was muted through the thick masonry of the building. Fear crossed him in a chilling wave, his muscles fluttered and spasmed with shivers. Fear. Fear of the hunger. Fear of returning home. Fear of what he could do to the girl.

The hunger mounts. The storm grows.

Eyes reflected like green marbles in the dark as the stars peeked through the clouds for once in the past three days.

In that dark, Augustus mewled sadly—too hungry to sleep, too tired to hunt, he tucked his head under his tiny housecat paw.


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