A Personal Carrier

Patches fumbled for an explanation. “A pokemon is…well…you know, a pokemon.

“No, dear, I’m sure I don’t,” Eugenia said, pursing her lips in reproach. “Honestly, I don’t know where you come up with your far-fetched ideas.”

No further explanation seemed necessary though, as the pokemon-like creature lifted up in flight, stretching out wings that must have been concealed behind. It soared over the sea below, and swooped toward them. As it neared them, Patches saw it also carried a small chest in its clutches.

It landed on its feet right in front of them, and Patches saw that the trunk was ornately decorated with pearls and copper inlay. However, this did not distract from the redolent odor of orange blossoms that pervaded the creature.

“Ah, dear, just in time. Patches, darling Decca, please meet Farahellon, my personal carrier.”

Farahellon chirped out a squeaky greeting that didn’t resemble any of Patches’ known languages.

“Carrier?” Patches asked, thoroughly confused.

“Of course, darling, doesn’t everyone have someone to carry their valuables? Can’t be too careful, especially in a world full of Fontanellos and,” she shot Patches a pointed look, “other rascals.”

As Patches marveled that Eugenia seemed to have a creature simply for the purpose of carrying whatever valuables she may own, Decca gave a greeting. ” ‘Allo, mate.”

Not wanting to appear churlish, Patches echoed a mumbled greeting, and Eugenia reached for the chest. “Thank you, my sweetest gem. Would you be a doll and stick around?”

Farahellon nodded exuberantly, and stood straight as a sentry awaiting instruction.

Eugenia rifled through the chest, at which Patches sidled over to get a better look. A coarse rope of no apparent value appeared, as well as a tattered pamphlet written in a Cyrillic language, but Eugenia swiftly pulled out what she needed and closed the lid, locking it with a dexterity that surprised Patches.

“This should do the trick,” she said triumphantly, holding up a…was that a taper?

He blinked. “Um, Eugenia. How in heavens name is that supposed to help us?”

She nodded at Farahellon, who snatched up the chest and leapt from the ground. Within the space of 30 seconds, he became no more than a speck on the horizon. Patches dearly would have loved to know what else was in that chest, but really, only one problem at a time could command his attention.

Eugenia’s lips spread into a closed-mouthed grin, from which fangs slid neatly. “Well, dearest, to combat Fontanello, we need to fight fire with fire, don’t we?”

 

An Unusual Explosion

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.”

“Need a Hand?”

The stream of profanity suddenly halted. A solution flashed in his brain, and Patches grabbed Mr. Johnson by the wrist. The cold, flaccid flesh repulsed Patches, and he immediately released the dead man’s hand.

“Mr. Johnson! It’s her! She’s behind it all!” Patches unconsciously rubbed his hands on his chest, as if to wipe away the scent of death. Despite that motion, his body trembled with the joy only an epiphany can provoke.

Mr. Johnson swayed. “Her? Her who?”

“Angeline!” Patches remembered the miniature toadstools scattered across the back floorboard of her car, which at the time he had dismissed as more of her witchcraft nonsense. “She has cast a Mediocris charm about you–” Patches interrupted himself. “Nevermind. There’s not enough time. Follow me!”

Patches darted through hallways, stopping every so often to wait for the shambling Mr. Johnson. He’d have offered to carry the corpse, but the idea so offended his sensibilities he restrained himself, channeling his reserves of patience. After what seemed like an unpardonable length of time, they finally reached a wing labeled “Amazonia.” Patches left the walking corpse behind as he headed straight for the weaponry. He brushed past the spears and went straight for the blow guns, under plastic cubes no doubt rigged with sensors. Extracting a small pocket kit of delicate tools, Patches used the them to dismantle the alarm. He gently lifted the cube, and plucked the slender tubes from their pedestal. Stuffing them in his pocket, he then made for the windows, praying that the cameras didn’t reveal too much beyond a fuzzy black shadow.

“Stay here,” he commanded over his shoulder as he lifted the sash.

“Where would I go?” Mr. Johnson replied, standing stock still in the doorway of the exhibit.

“Right.” Patches hauled himself through the window, landing with his usual lightness on the soft earth below. He crept to the parking lot, avoiding the goons stationed at the front entrance. Seeing Angeline’s sleek sedan surrounded by burly men, Patches hissed to himself. He needed those toadstools, as well as a few items from the black valise, to formulate the antidote. The dart gun would make a nice mode of transport.

The woman herself leaned against the hood of the car, her back towards him. She seemed focused on something in her hands, but Patches couldn’t see it. He hoped to God it wasn’t another spell.

Using the shrubbery and cover of an overcast sky with no moon, he made his way around to the back of the car, now about fifty feet away. He racked his brain, thinking of ways to distract the guards and Angeline for a minute, when a nearly silent voice whispered from under the brush.

“Oy, mate, need a hand?”

Shadow on the Stoop

“Now, snoochy- bear, this is how it’s going to play out,” Angeline purred, after abruptly ending her string of highly inventive profanity with a shake of her pretty curled head. He could feel the hearts bubbling above his own, filling him with a blinding affection for her. Didn’t he just make a mistake? A fog of purple love-mist clouded any thought beyond whisking her away somewhere with warm beaches and drinks with tiny umbrellas.

“Yes, my popple?” he asked. He thought he might slit his own throat if she requested it of him.

“We are going to go ahead and stage this heist, and pull one over on ol’ Mr. Johnson-Frogface-Gall-and-Worms.” With a snap of her fingers, she demonstrated the ease with which she expected this to happen. “First, we must dispatch with this love spell, or you’ll blow the whole thing with your sugar-talk.”

This time when proceeding with the spell-breaking ritual, she included some crystals placed around the perimeter and a tiny fire, over which she balanced a miniature cauldron filled with some kind of aromatic herbs. They smelled like mothballs and cardamom. In the back of his mind, Patches wondered about the differences in the spell-breaking process this time, but dammit! Angeline’s eyes sparkled and her skin glowed as if lit from within—all he could do was gaze upon it and resist the impulse to brush it with his fingertips. The last time he tried it she bit his fingers, and they still smarted.

After throwing some powder in the cauldron, which made a loud popping and fizzing, Patches felt the hearts above his head burst like bubbles, and immediately he felt lost and sort of nauseous. Where was he? What had happened?

It came flooding back, and he realized what she’d done.

Control spell.

He felt the invisible collar around his neck, which she gave a mischievous tug.

“There now,” she said with an impish smile. “I think we’re ready to give Mr. J a taste of his own medicine.”

“Angeline…please…” he begged. Patches greatly disliked begging, but his inner feline liked this collar even less.

“Quiet now, schmoopsy-poo. Mama’s got to to plan a heist.”

She tugged him back to the cab, all the while pulling either a raging feline or a full-grown male. When kerfuffled, Patches couldn’t help the shape-shifting. He hissed at her.

“Come now, what about our honeymoon after?” she pouted as she sped in the general direction of her home.

“Balls to your honeymoon!” he spat out, trying to calm himself so he could think of a way out of this.

Angeline whipped through traffic like it was the Isle of Man TT. As she pulled in front of her palatial townhouse, skidding to a stop, she whispered, “Holy fuck.”

For there, on the steps, a cloaked shadow sat. “Wait here,” she commanded, and Patches felt himself chained to the seat, unable to so much as wiggle.

She glided over to the shadow, who stood as they both spoke in hushed tones. Angeline waved her graceful hands now and again, as if in restrained agitation. Then, she walked toward Patches and leaned in the window.

“Darling-heart, there’s been a change of plans.”

A Summoning of the Spirits

“You know, I really have somewhere to be,” Patches said while his new…love, he guessed…grabbed a fistful of rose petals from her handbag.

“Could we perhaps make this ritual quick?” His eyelids felt heavy as he considered the past few hours, and the need for rest overwhelmed him. He must be refreshed before attempting the job in front of him.

“Darling heart, I have no earthly idea how long this will take. You can’t rush magic, sweetbottom.” With winsome frolicking she began sprinkling the luscious petals in a loose circle around the perimeter. The hearts bobbed above her as if tied by an invisible string; in this light, they looked almost cartoonish.

When she had scattered the last rose petal, she went back to her handbag and pulled out a large metal pair of shears. She also included a deck of cards and a handkerchief, which upon closer inspection Patches saw to be his. “Where did you…” he began, then realized the he had been filched. She must have been very skilled, indeed, to have done it without drawing his notice.

“Okay, sit in the center, rufflecake,” she demanded, gesturing with the shears. They looked dull with age, save for the blades, which gleamed with a recent sharpening.

“You aren’t going to do anything…unseemly, are you?” he asked, cocking his head back and raising an eyebrow.

“Not it you aren’t offended by a little summoning of the spirits, dimple cheeks,” she said waving the cards in front of him. He saw from the box that they were tarot cards, and he cautiously sat where she pointed, reserving the right to change forms if the situation progressed in an unsatisfactory manner.

“Ah,” she breathed in deeply, seating herself across from him. As she began pulling the cards from the deck and shuffling them about, he saw they weren’t like any tarot cards he had ever seen. They glowed with electric paint, a rarity he had only seen in the most unusual of circumstances, ordinarily in the hands of supernatural creatures…

After shuffling them thoroughly, she began fanning them out in a half-circle, muttering under her breath as she arranged and rearranged them. The muttering grew louder, into atonal singing of what sounded like nonsense words. Patches, however, understood Rubiconion, a dialect of a certain coven who wished to mislead those who would accuse them of illegal sorcery. She repeated, in varying non-melodies, a loose translation of “We are one, we are done, we are lovers no more.” Translating Rubiconion doesn’t always work, Patches knew, so he couldn’t be exactly certain.

She lifted the shears and pointed them at Patches. He inhaled a tad deeper than necessary as he looked down the blade. Just as he was about to abandon the entire enterprise, she deftly halved the handkerchief. He expelled a sigh of relief.

Lifting the linen halves up in the air, she released them, and they, along with the hearts above her head, dissolved. Just as Patches regained inner composure and began believing that a quick nap might indeed become a reality, he looked into his now-ex-lover’s eyes, and felt panic wash over him.

A Narrow Escape?

Before even a minute had passed, Patches knew it had been a mistake to invite the turtle along. For one thing, he worked alone. Always. For another, escape from the doctor’s back room would have been much easier if he could slip into his feline form. Unfortunately, the turtle was neither agile nor fast enough to make it through the window, and much too cumbersome for a cat to deal with.  He now sat in the crook of Patches’ arm, while Patches considered his options.

The door was no good. He’d have to walk by the doctor again. Could he scale the wall outside with the turtle in tow? Or maybe he simply needed to dispatch with the doctor. A careful swipe of a claw could do it…

Decca interrupted his thoughts. “Y’ might have luck with the fire escape, mate.”

Luck, as Decca pointed out, was on his side. Glancing out the window,  he saw that the rusted fire escape remained intact.

“Thanks, mate” Patches whispered. Perhaps the turtle would come in handy after all. Patches needed more rest, and a second set of eyes to keep watch might be just the thing. He tucked the turtle into his coat pocket, hoping he’d remember to take care and not squish him.

Unfortunately, as Patches swung his legs out the window, the door creaked open slowly.

“Better run for it!” Decca shouted squeakily.

“Hey there!” Dougal yelped. “Doctor, come quick!”

Patches flew down the stairs of the fire escape with catlike grace. He didn’t hear anything behind him, but did not give in to the temptation to look back. He was much too experienced for such an amateur mistake.

He jumped the last flight and landed squarely on both feet, crouched and ready to spring. Seeing a fence on one side and an alley on the other, Patches broke into a  sprint. He rounded a corner and skidded to a halt at the sight of a tall shadow in a coat and hat. The garb obscured his face, but Patches wasn’t taking a chance – he pivoted on one foot and ran the other way…

…smack into the doctor.

“Leaving so soon, my guest?” the doctor said, wiping his scalpel on his already quite bloody coat. His tone belied his face, which played with a toy of a smile in one corner. “What a shame. I had arranged for some company to amuse you.” He gestured to the figure behind Patches.

Instead of turning to look, Patches lithely bolted sideways down the alley, back the way he came. There was no way anyone could catch him, he felt. He had never moved so fast. His legs hardly felt like they exerted any energy at all. He flew to the fence, intending to hop the chain link.

In mid-leap, however, he felt something powerful yank him backwards.

 

 

 

Patches gingerly opened the door. Eugenia flew in and, in tripping over the stoop, shot headlong into Dustin. Not seeing this accidental attack coming, Dustin toppled to the ground, along with the table and candles by the door. All tangled limbs, Dustin howled in surprise, scrambling to free himself. In such an intimate heap, though, the vampire couldn’t resist the scent and warmth of the boy’s flesh.   She sunk in her teeth as if into a ripe peach.

“Eugenia! No!” shouted Patches, jumping in to pull her off the boy.

The damage had been done though. Despite Patches’ efforts, blood spurted from the punctures in his neck, and he screamed maniacally, grasping at the ragged wound. “She bit me! She bit me!” he shrieked over and over, sounding rather like a gramophone. Patches rolled his eyes. So much for keeping the neighbors out of his affairs.

Eugenia, meanwhile, skulked in the corner, wiping her mouth and looking wistfully at the writhing body on the floor.

“You’ll be fine, kid,” Patches offered. “Now quiet down. We can’t have the neighbors inquiring!”

The caterwauling didn’t stop, though, and unable to think of a better plan, Patches knocked him over the head with the fallen candlestick. Silence descended once again over the tiny apartment.

Eugenia stared. “You realize if we leave him, he’ll begin wasting?”

Patches turned, snarling. “You utter fool! I warned you about this sort of thing! Now, I’m going to have to dispose of a body. Great, just great. As if I haven’t enough to get done!”

“Body?” the vampire’s eyes widened.

“Yes, body. I can’t let him waste, so what choice did you give me?”

Eugenia shrugged, looking away coyly. “You could let me finish him off…”

“Absolutely not!” Patches replied. “Just what I need, another thirsty vampire on my porch.”

“We’re not all that bad.”

“No.” Something in the ferocity of Patches’ face told Eugenia not to further press the matter.

“So…you’re…” she started…

…but Patches bent over and snapped the young neck. Just like that, one problem solved, another created – not to mention the blood pooling on the filthy floor.

“You owe me, Eugenia,” he said. The way he enunciated each syllable informed her he wasn’t joking.

The vampire nodded furiously, her eyes wide.

“So you’ll help me dispose of this, correct?”

She continued nodding, her hair whipping in punctuation.

“Excellent. I’ll get the tarps , you get the mop. In the pantry cupboard.

Eugenia ran into the other room. Something in his eyes told her not to waste a moment.

Even still, by the time she had located the cleaning supplies and returned, the body – and Patches – was gone.