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...





 
 
 




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The local authorities couldn’t do much else for her, so Vex knew that she would have to check in with her own animal expert, who worked with far more exotic critters than cute kitties and puppies. Vex grumbled when her call to him once again rang through to a busy signal. As a self-styled paranormal Crocodile Hunter, Kirk lived and breathed cryptozoology; of course, this meant that he often found himself in equally cryptic places. Last year it was the mountains of Tibet. A month ago the mountains of California. And as of a few days ago: New Zealand.

If only he had been in town a few days earlier, Augustus would have been his problem and not hers.

It was well past ten PM when he finally picked up.

“Took your sweet time!” she said.

The sound of steel drums played melodically in the background. “Vex! Baby, honey, doll,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“Get a plane ticket to Phoenix.”

“So soon?” He murmured something she couldn’t quite hear and there was the sound of glasses ringing together. “But I just got here. The locals have some interesting legends about a half-man, half-fish that haunts the crystal blue waters right off the shore of some extremely idyllic islands. You don’t want to steal an old friend away from paradise, now do you?”

Just like him to play it dumb. She lowered her tone. “Night out? Think you could tear yourself away for just a moment?”

“It’s five o’clock here, I just got off work. I’m having a drink,” he said, then sighed loudly. “You want to talk business. Your feline?”

“Yes. I could really use you… I have a claw, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”

“If you really have an Egyptian felis megamorph, you have one nasty critter on your hands,” he said. “Last time we spoke you said it’d killed someone? The body count should be rising by now.”

“That’s the thing, though. It hasn’t. He’s only killed one person, and that guy was real scum of the earth. That was three days ago. You’d think we’d be hearing about more by now.”

“I expect we will.” The music and bustle had muted somewhat. Apparently Kirk found manners enough to move into a back room. “It won’t end until you stop this animal. Sphinxes aren’t happy campers. It shouldn’t even be in America. I’m shocked that the girl wasn’t the first meal.”

“Right. Last time we talked you told me you’d come straight back if I could prove it. I have proof. With you back here in Phoenix maybe we can capture it and send it to a reserve or something.”

“Getting soft on me? The last time we worked together you went in spells-blazing when it came time to do the deed.”

“That was a nest of monster scorpions!”

“And this pussycat can go from adorable purring to ripping your lungs out in a heartbeat. Maybe, maybe, if I had known about it before it killed someone, I might have been able to do something about it. But now… It will eventually succumb to the hunger that drives its demon half. It will kill more people.”

“Alright. I get it. How are sphinxes usually controlled?”

“There’s a sect of ailurophile monks in Egypt who raise them from kittens to protect ancient catacombs from intruders. The monks don’t so much control them as befriend them and train them. Sphinxes are rather intelligent and unsympathetic, so they make excellent guard dogs. As you may guess, they also get underestimated by intruders.

“The sphinxes are formidable enough under the guidance of the monks, but nothing like when they go feral. Back in ninety-eight I went on a hunt for a feral sphinx. It slaughtered five people before we caught up with it. It took me, two monks, and three tame sphinxes to bring it down.”

Kirk’s voice became low and urgent.


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