Patches cringed at the voice he hadn’t heard in decades, and quite frankly, had hoped he would never hear again. It was not a voice one would ever forget. Ordinarily cool under pressure, he glanced around frantically trying to locate the body behind the voice and get his bearing before it was too late.
Mr. Johnson’s predecessor had the deep basso that operatic singers coveted, even envied, and it reverberated through the cavern with quaking familiarity.
“INDEED, THEY ARE QUITE CLOSE.”
His name was Count Fontanello, and he had run the city’s premiere underground ring for as long as Patches could remember. One day, he simply vanished, and it had been speculated that he was behind every unsolved crime in the world. The entire world.
Including one that could possibly mean the end of Patches.
The cat whispered nearly silently to Decca, “Not a sound.”
Decca nodded, his eyes round with fear.
“Stay here,” he mouthed.
He jumped to an outcropping with characteristic feline grace, grateful to be deep in the shadows. From here, he could see the Count, an outline silhouetted in the dim light: familiar broad shoulders, sweep of the trademark cape, top hat, lengthy tail. Patches suppressed a shudder at the memory of that tail and how it had nearly contributed to his end.
He also knew that the Count’s excessive volume was a show, meant to flush them out. Patches had worked with him for too long to know better. The Count could hum quietly if he really needed to.
Finnegan had ceased his babbling at the Count’s first appearance, but now he resumed calling out, his cries taking on a desperate, shrill manner.
“CEASE! OR I WILL END YOU.”
The tail curved outward, and Patches, knowing what would probably come next, leapt noiselessly out of sight. He didn’t want to try reason with the Count – or really even speak with him again – so he returned to the turtle.
Before he could instruct Decca on how to proceed, the thunderous voice hummed menacingly below, presumably instructing Finnegan on how to proceed. There wouldn’t be much time now. The Count knew things.
“Hold on!” Patches hissed, swinging Decca on his back. He nimbly climbed, searching for the way out that had to be there.
Just then, an explosion of shaving cream burst forth, coating everything. Everything. As if the entire cache had detonated.
As Patches wiped it from his face, the light reflected off the creamy white, and he saw it – a place where the cream had waffled. A way out.
Unfortunately, a voice from below boomed.
“SEE, I TOLD YOU YOU’D FIND THEM FOR ME.”