In Which We Run In Of Time

The Higgenbottom Manor was just as quaint as Miss Fidelia had remembered it to be as she approached the estate; well, at least from the outside. Unassuming yet immaculately well-kept, the brick country house stood proudly on the corner of Cherry Street as its breathtakingly enormous cathedral windows granted any passerby with just a teasing glimpse into their urban legend Miss Higgenbottom’s inner world. A polished cherrywood piano stood upright and close to her well-loved writing desk, in which she would religiously pen a letter or two mid-afternoon as her young assistant dutifully filled the room with beautiful music.

This day, the room was occupied by someone entirely different. This someone scoured the modest room as though it had something to hide, frantically making quite a mess of things as she carelessly crumpled up bits of stationery she didn’t seem to find important. If she meant to out herself as a person who most certainly did not belong, she was making short work of it with her black catsuit and a mask to match, making plenty of noise and performing conspicuously beside the tall windows. Already the neighborhood was beginning to watch as though they were witness to a play, the whole thing was such a spectacle to behold. Calling the authorities hadn’t yet occurred to anyone; and yet, she had counted on this reaction all along.

“Blast and damn,” muttered the woman as she stood in the center now, surrounded by spilled ink and letters both old and new, the parchment blotched to an almost indiscernible degree. The rest of the room had somehow become involved in her perpetual hurricane; the picture frames turned sideways, and every stature, every mantle piece, knocked about every so slightly. Lingering for just a few moments, she shook her head impatiently as her eyes darted about with paranoia at the slightest details of the dainty little drawing room. “What on earth ought I tell the boss now?” she continued, shaking her head in panic. “He will have my bloody head for this.”

“Surely you would rather I have you for lunch instead?”

The woman dramatically pressed her hands to her chest as she spun and met her master’s gaze. She couldn’t help but smile sheepishly at him, his eyes still searching the room masterfully even as he spoke. “And just where on earth have you been, Abernathy! You got me in such a tizzy here, I’ll have you know.” Out the corner of her eye she noticed a young woman with primly curled chestnut hair and eyes that couldn’t help but glitter with curiosity as she stepped slowly into to the room. “Well now, I see you brought someone new,” she said with a devilish smirk. “Is she the…you know, the new new?”

“Well, as it happens–”

“Miss Higgenbottom’s letters!” the new new herself gasped involuntarily as she beheld the disaster before her, stepping forward with indignation. “Do you have any idea what Miss Higgenbottom will do once she sees the mess you’ve made?!” she scolded, pointing in the masked woman’s direction.

Two policemen began knocking on the door and shouting for them to surrender. Stunned and confused, Fidelia stared desperately into the woman’s eyes. “Relax, kid.” Snapping once with her fingers, she began rubbing her index and middle fingers together as though they were kindling. Moments later, the world seemed to move around them without their being directly involved, as though it were part of an alternate universe slowly traveling backwards. The quicker the woman’s fingers moved, the quicker the sequence as Fidelia stood in shock. Seconds later, they were standing in a perfectly situated room, apparently untouched since Miss Higgenbottom’s…well, rather conspicuous absence, as it happens. Usually she is at home around this time, tending to her garden, Fidelia thought.

Having lost his patience, Abernathy put his hands on the woman’s shoulders and spoke gravely. “There is no time, Victoria. The day we feared has come. Let’s have lunch, all of us. Your abilities will help us enormously here, and in fact will play a vital role. We will go incognito, so that no one may find us.”

Suddenly, the phone began to ring. Answering immediately, Fidelia was surprised to learn that it was, indeed, Miss Higgenbottom. “My dear,” she began urgently, “I’m in a spot of trouble that I’m not…quite sure how to get out of, now. But you and what I am sure has to be a total of three people beside you by now can assuredly assist me.”

In Which a Statement Is Made

“Well splendid! If it isn’t the old devil himself!” Nathaniel dashed past Augie and into the hallway which already contained a classically impatient house guest, scanning the floors with a stern grimace.

Considering carefully, the detective leaned against the proceeding banister and gazed on with a bemused moment of silence. He had always admired the thorough intensity in Abernathy’s work on a professional level. Of course, of course of course. Who wouldn’t? In fact, quite naturally, he would be a rogue among his colleagues if such a thought were one he did not indeed think! Absurd not to think it!

Even if this gangly-in-a-handsomely-aged-sort-of-way-with-those-dark-brooding-eyes just so happened to be such a gifted detective who certainly knew everything there was to know about the room right down to the last detail, including Nathaniel’s unconsciously quivering breath and slightly quickened heart beat.

Abernathy was now crawling along the marble tiles, springing from one specific place to another, stepping onto it firmly and poking it with his bony, shaking index finger– all in perfect seriousness. Looking up suddenly, the interest completely vanished from his eyes as he at last addressed Nathaniel’s presence. At this, Nathaniel took his hip from its resting point at the top of the staircase and welcomed Abernathy heartily.

“Did you draw the same conclusion I made about the marble tiles?” He then bluffed, curious about what Abernathy might have so quickly decided.

“Unless you were looking too, perhaps not. But!” came the pointed reply as the lanky fellow now sat on the floor; the two were now looking at one another face to face, exchanging looks of sly skepticism. “At least one of us now knows where you lost your marbles all those years ago.” A beat. Then, as per usual, came the mutual grins and reverent kisses on one another’s foreheads.

“All those years ago, buddy,” Nathaniel spoke, his voice wavering somewhat. “It sure is good to have you back.”

At that, his old friend’s face darkened suddenly. With a mad dash into his fanny pack, Abernathy thumbed through  what could only be described as a mini traveling filing cabinet with far more papers than what seemed possible to fit. At last snatching up the paper he was looking for, he handed it soberly to Nathaniel’s padded hands.

“The situation has gotten well out of my control, I’m afraid. And the mission must be complete tonight. And Nathaniel,” he added with a murmur at the end, watching as the contents of the mysterious paper was read, “recruiting and training her is absolutely imperative now. I hope you know what the stakes will be, and how much must change. How much she must change. And Miss Fidelia,” he called, keeping his head forward, “I know you’re listening to us, and that is certainly for the best considering how little time we have to lose. Come, and let us be off. I will explain on the way.”

As if under a spell, Miss Fidelia obediently followed the imploring voice. The two men in front of her were already clacking their shoes hastily down the marble halls. Where they were headed didn’t matter; for now, it was an excuse to be away from the office, and that’s all that mattered. She could decide for herself when she was in too deep, and that would be that. An excuse would be made for the delay, and life would go on.

But there would be no turning back of any kind, for Miss Higgenbottom had an entirely different problem at the exact moment: two policemen had shown up at her doorstep and had already proceeded to pound at the door, shouting for her to surrender.

In Which We Discover New Urges

“Yes, good, good!” beamed Mr. Wickles, enjoying the classic moment of shock after the transformation takes place. It only gets better every time, he thought to himself with a chuckle, quite pleased with himself. “Stare with a touch more brooding and dramatic mystery; it’ll help you get into character.”

Both versions of Patches scoffed in unison and cast their eyes to the ground indignantly, serving only to further please an already gleeful creator. “See? You were born to fit this role.”

Ignoring Mr. Wickles’ comment, Patches tried turned his mind to business. His mind was certainly in an unbearably irritable malaise; visions of home and a warm snifter of milk pleased him more with every passing moment. In his burgling years, his stamina was indeed trained to bear long work hours such as these, yet even so, he could feel his feline form begin to long desperately for a nap. Looking upon the newly-created vampire creature, he wondered what thoughts might have been passing through the sparkly teen’s mind. Were they precisely comparable, or were they being compromised by this— this creature? Fascinated by the boy’s sudden interest in the room around him, Patches watched uneasily after his darting gaze.

Ignoring Mr. Wickles’ comment, the vampire turned his mind to more important matters: where on earth might there be some blood around this place? Surely it couldn’t be far, being in a laboratory and all, he considered with impatience. Trying to remain calm, Patches tried in vain to persuade himself that it was all in his head. Starving now, his eyes became quite suddenly wild and darted here and there. Pulsing and twitching with enormous energy, the boy easily found in himself an urge to hunt as his heightened sense of smell had a mind of its own. Never had he felt so alive, so primal.

Sighing, Mr. Wickles tossed a bag filled with a red liquid to the vampire, the contents of which were suckled with haste and without even a touch of ceremony— much to the horror of Patches, who watched on with disgusted indignation. “There you are then, deary! You must keep your strength up for what is shortly to follow.”

As Mr. Wickles ushered the vampire from the laboratory, eager to launch the plan at last, Patches looked on at the spectacle, unsure of how to proceed. Was he even interested in watching this nonsense as it played out? Knowing this without even so much as turning, Mr. Wickles smirked at the poor feline’s predicament. “Come now, burglar,” he called to him, adding a hint of foreboding as he left the room. “You will not wish to miss this.”

Dramatics and Daring Escapes?

With a mighty exhale, the dragon changed the appearance of the room in one fell swoop of his nostrils, taking poor Finnegan with the billowing mass of confusion. “Don’t either of you worry,” called he as he flew through the air rapidly yet with remarkable calm, “for this fellow occasionally has his night terrors, and with them come the wind storms, y’know.”

“‘S not all, mate,” Decca warned in a whisper, but his companion had already set his gaze on the matter and hid himself quite immediately, tail unconsciously flopping in displeasure. The dragon was sniffing for something, and not in the way a slumber may ever bring. He was not inconspicuous in the slightest, because indeed, in all his fury and might, why might he ever have an occasion to? Decca lowered himself slowly and placed himself close to his companion. “Well right then. What are we blokes to do?”

Before the feline could reply, he was quite abruptly interrupted by a ferocious clashing of pots and pans along the eastern wall. The tidal wave seemed never to end, the metal clanging over and over enough to make the toughest of men cower. “Ah, don’t you worry, my friends! Old Finnegan’s been through much worse, he has, and this sort of thing is just like ‘im. Temper in his sleep, that is, least that I can make out.”

Even as the indigo man flit right back to where he was before, he remained just as calm as ever before. There were obvious bruises even along his darkly-feathered skin, a dragon sniffing the air and moving about quite freely, shaving cream splattered about every corridor, pots and pans still managing, even a minute later, to fall from dark upper corners, and a serenely determined man with a can of cream still clutched firmly to his person.

“You see that, lads? How’s that for dexterity eh? Still got some girth in me yet!” He looked about the room and scratched his head. “Now, just where did those lads run off to?”

“Follow my lead if you care to free yourself unscathed from this place,” whispered Patches just as loud as he dared. “Now!”

Slow and steady was not the order of the day, and Decca regretted his lack of limbs suited for running. He learned quite well how to carry himself in battle, aversion his forte, but his legs were a veritable challenge. So it was that Decca remained quite far behind as Patches dashed forward quite efficiently and eloquently onto the single plaited rope leading directly into the vents above, all without a second glance. Realizing his error, Patches cursed at his rotten fortune; he hated having to work with others, and now he had to suffer the consequence of retrieving his straggling companion—whatever that meant in this unlucky scenario.

Blindly, Patches followed the voices below. Wishing sorely that a grating may appear, he tried the best he could to make out what he could. By the tone, it was at least clear that the hunt was still on. Finnegan patiently and whimsically called out to his newly-gained friends over and over again, the names a blur that seemed to all but lose meaning.

Sighing wistfully, Finnegan finally gave up when the cream bottle lost its remaining contents. “Aw, but I liked our little team. Oh, my small wee lads! I do sorely hope ye have not wandered far!”

“OH BELIEVE ME, MY DEAR FRIEND,” he heard from behind a loud, booming voice, “THEY’RE CLOSER THAN YOU MAY REALIZE, AND I DO BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE THEM TO ME.”

Aulde Acquaintance

Mind awash with the previous hours’ malaise, Patches could feel himself slipping. It was certainly the first time he had ever gone this long without sleep,  and right now, nothing else mattered more. It was easier to focus on his own needs in this moment, even as he gingerly crossed and dismantled the several invisible security lines; nay, especially because of this detail in particular. Even in such a sleepless state, he could easily have done this with his eyes closed. He was in his element; this was how his clients found themselves wrapped about his sharp, voracious claws.

Leaping effortlessly to the Egypt room, he gazed with a brief admiration at the five items he was to procure. They seemed particularly fragile and pristine somehow; the golden light shone radiantly upon each individual glass cube encasing in an otherwise frozen, silent darkness. The entire scene felt decidedly dream-like in nature as he tried in vain to recall how he let himself get caught up in this predicament. Never had he left himself so vulnerable to manipulation, and yet…

“Now remember, honey-lips,” he heard the transmitter whispering into his ear, shocking him swiftly back into reality with a baited breath, “you grab what you came for within two minutes, no more, and no less, and perhaps I shall make it worth your while.”

It was more than any gentleman feline could endure. He would need to move fast.

The glass cubicles were no more than Patches had previously handled; he was used to moving past hard-to-reach locales. What was really on his mind wasn’t the stone sculptures but how he would get out of this predicament. There were goons surrounding every door to ensure his steadfast obedience, all equipped with magical abilities he dared not predict. They stared purposefully forward into the cold winter air, their controlled gaze a giveaway of the type of reward they would faithfully receive. Their Mistress shan’t ever be disappointed.

The one stroke of good luck was the removal of the collar earlier that day; it would have been much too risky dealing with the invisible yet present reality of moving about a high-security building such as this one. “And trust me,” Patches wisely assured her as dusk fell, his ego fleetingly stroked as he watched the cool, unfettered expression, “You need me because of the way I work. And the sooner you understand this, the better: I work under no restraints.”

Smiling to himself now, he knew what he had to do. Get the artifacts, naturally, because he wouldn’t dare leave this mess without at least a token ransom. The rest was simple, really: all he would need to do is find a different exit, but where? And how would he simultaneously manage to retrieve the money?

The statues were removed with ease, and a clean-cut circle of thick glass was all that remained. Placing them gently into his bag, he promptly surveyed his options. He was disguised in all black as a proper cat-burglar might, and thus remained beneath the radar no matter what the dozens of cameras may reveal. But he would still need to cover his tracks so that he would not be followed. It was a tricky operation, but…

And that’s when it happened. A warm breath beside his neck caused him to spin in sudden alarm to reveal a worn and blood-caked face, staring desperately into his eyes with cold sweat. “Help me,” came the muted words, trembling hands grappling his paws with painful ferocity.

It was Mr. Johnson, back from the dead.