Here is an opportunity for everyone to catch up on the last draft section of Puddles and Whiskers before I plunge deeper into the story. This is also a chance for me to reset the titles from “New #” to titles similar to Menagerie; Puddles and Whiskers, (insert cooler title than new). Mostly, this is a chance for everyone who enjoys Puddles and Whiskers to read the last 15 posts in order. I know, write stuff in order…if it only worked that way for me. Enjoy. 🙂
1 Making the Case
She watched the vid for a third time, tears welling up for a fifth time, while she watched the vid she absentmindedly swiped back and forth through the case file, never looking directly at the pages on the tablet. Whiskers did his best not to react to the stench of despair emanating from her. He understood her pain.
“You have our sympathies,” Whisker said quietly.
She looked away from the vid to stare at him with tear-filled eyes and anguish all over her face.
“Thank you,” she mumbled before returning to the vid.
“As you have seen, your husband is meeting regularly at Love Buy The Hour with…”
“My best friend,” Camile interrupted with some anger.
Whiskers sat back, allowing Camile to process the information. Anything else he said would only make her situation worse. Puddles peeked her snout around the corner, took one look, and returned to whatever busy work she could find.
Twenty-three minutes later Camile stood up, tears no longer falling, resignation and anger warred across her face. “Thank you. I mean, I’m not thankful for the news, but…you know… How much do I owe you?”
Whiskers stood up, offering her his paw to shake, a light shake of hand and paw, “Our fees have been sent to your financial institution. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
For a brief moment, Whiskers saw her potential request for violence and vengeance flash across her face, “No. Not that I can think of.”
Whiskers walked with her to her car, watching her leave he pushed thoughts of the past out of his head to focus on the rest of the work for the day. Returning to the office, he found Puddles at her side of the desk with a cup of coffee on his side, “Thought you could use a cup.”
2 Running Down Clues
“Interpersonal skills, my furry ass,” Puddles mumbled to herself.
For the third time in as many minutes, she looked at the data on the tablet. The address matched up; however, the holo of a storefront did not match the building she stood in front of, Medical Offices of Tablix and Aslan. Puddles leaned against the wall next to the front doors, making an inquiry on the tablet data appeared.
Doctor Tablix and Doctor Aslan licensed through the city, general practitioners, and recently moved their offices to the location she stood next too. Looking over the reviews, each one a glowing testament to their skills and affordability, too glowing the cynical side of Puddles screamed. Another data search more information, another image of each doctor to compare to their licensing images; at least she knew what they looked like. Nothing outstanding in any public record.
A vid-chat notice popped up in the upper corner of her tablet; Whiskers. Stepping away from the wall, she sat on a bench near the street and tapped the icon.
“What’s up?” She asked. “Stop looking you can’t see where I am at.”
“Camile left,” Whiskers said with a sigh.
“Something wrong? She didn’t stiff us did she?”
“The isstas are in the account.”
“Good. Then what is bothering you?”
“I do not like chasing down cheating spouses and delivering the news.”
“Neither do I, but we need the isstas,” Puddles replied watching two gangers enter the doctor’s office. “That’s odd.”
“Patients of the doctors don’t look like they live in the area.”
“How much longer do you need? We have a lot of work to do for Acid Chamber,” Puddles was positive Whiskers tone improved. What he heard in their music was beyond her.
“If you or Chuck don’t need me I’m going to spend a few more hours watching this place. Something is off.”
“So there was something of use in that file,” Whiskers said with a smirk.
“Yes, it does,” Puddles, mumbled.
“Meet us at the office when you are done.”
“Later,” Puddles touched the icon ending the call.
Looking around wageslave hell, Puddles spotted a coffee shop with a good view. Plenty of time to watch who entered and left the doctor’s office before a boring meeting. Taking an elevated walkway to cross the street, Puddles marveled at the sights; four lanes of flying traffic above and below the walkway, express elevators rushing up and down the sides of the buildings, and everywhere people working in offices or moving to work. Before entering the building with the coffee shop, Puddles took one last look up, nothing but more traffic, the Cloud, and buildings.
“Welcome,” greeted the overly cheery wageslave behind the counter. “What can I make you?”
Puddles looked at the holo-menu boards coming close to passing out from all of the choices. The coffee place near their offices had coffee and not much else. Someone behind her made an exasperated noise. Puddles shook her head.
“Coffee. Just you largest cup of coffee,” she finished before the cheery wageslave could launch into his prepared litany of types and sizes of coffee.
“Would you like something to eat, such as…”
“Just the largest cup of coffee,” Puddles interrupted ignoring the wageslave’s shocked look.
Giant cup of coffee in hand, Puddles navigated the room looking for a seat near the window with a clear view of the doctor’s office. Dozens of people of all species, the only unifying things, branded coffee and wageslave uniforms. After dodging the hundredth individual with their face in some electronic device ignoring the world around them, Puddles was thankful for the job she had. Spying an available seat, Puddles elbowed a wageslave out of the way, mumbled an apology, and sat down.
After the second pair of gangers entered the doctor’s office, Puddles began noting the times of their arrival and departure. From her seat, Puddles could not see any changes between when a pair entered and left. Maybe they all had a cold, she sarcastically thought. Every hour and a half another pair; never the same pair nor anyone before. All of gangers from two or three gangs, as best she could tell by their appearance.
Finishing her coffee, Puddles looked at her notes, several pages of information and images, this might be the lead to re-open the case; after Acid Chamber.
3 Not So Much Work
Looking over the manager’s itinerary and ever expanding list of roadies, hanger-ons, and media people Whiskers suppressed a shudder. Ding. Another update to the list of people. Two button pushes later, Chuck acknowledged receipt of the updated list. Sitting at her side of the shared desk, Puddles tossed her headset onto her pile.
“You call that music?”
“Better get used to that music, we are expected to attend all concerts including this one,” Whiskers flipped the tablet to show her the concert.
“Tomorrow, that is not enough time to get the noise canceling ear pieces,” Puddles sarcastically replied.
Taking a long drink from his Acid Chamber concert cup, “We should get over there to plan security.”
“Security for what? A bunch of drunks and…look at her,” pulling a half-nude image of a korogin woman flashing more than smile, “and this one,” another more exposed view of a human woman, “or this one,” three cymean males wearing questionable winter gear but willing smiles appeared. “Seriously, these are the crazed fans?”
“It can get crazy,” Whiskers mumbled.
“Yeah, I bet.”
4 More Work Than Expected
“Duck Chuck!” Puddles shouted, dodging a poorly thrown punch from some Acid Chamber fan in the bar.
Chuck ducked, fell on his rear, and began to back pedal away from the fight as a chair thrown from somewhere sailed overhead. Back against a wall, Chuck kneeled and took in the scene. Puddles fighting against at three different fans, all wearing Acid Chamber faux leather jackets with concert dates on the back. She kicked one in the knee, slamming his head against the bar and taking a shot to the chest for her efforts from one of the other two.
She was fine, Chuck thought. Looking for the clients, someone large slammed into Chuck causing both of them to stumble. A third jumped onto both of them swinging wildly, clipping Chuck across his left ear. A bottle or glass shattered near his head splashing all of them in drink and glass. Everyone rolled off Chuck, taking a breath; he stood up and began kicking both of them.
“What is wrong with you people!”
Puddles rolled with a punch to her face, snapped a quick chop followed with a knee to the ribs to another fan. How many fans were in this bar, she wondered for a second, before dodging down the bar. And where was Whiskers?
“I see what you mean,” Whiskers replied to Onhomgha or Blaster, lead singer of Acid Chamber.
“Just another night out with Acid Chamber,” he shouted.
Glancing at his watch, Whisker said, “Perhaps we should get you out of here. Your car has arrived.”
“No way! I want to see what you guys can do for me,” Onhomgha replied eyes on Puddles and Chuck.
“I see. Stay here,” Whisker commanded.
“Get ‘em Chuck!” Puddles yelled.
Leaping off a table Chuck landed on top of two fans dropping both them to the floor. Rolling with his leap, Chuck snapped off a sharp kick to the face knocking one of the fans out. The other stood up as Chuck did, flexing his arms he took a well-known gromathi fighting stance.
“Had some training?” Chuck asked sarcastically, “Don’t throw the ni-ghar and follow with a spinning sutohat.”
A brief flash of confusion on the fan’s face; Chuck struck punching the fan square in the nose. The crunch of bone and splatter of blood. However, instead of falling the fan’s eyes looked down Chuck’s arm, pure rage. With a single step, the fan picked up Chuck over his head.
Leaning against the bar, the last of her fans out cold under her feet, wiping blood off her fur with a towel, Puddles shouted with a laugh, “What are you doing Chuck?”
Whiskers stepped up to the fan’s back, jammed the stun rod into his ribs and held the button down. As expected, the fan fell down, Chuck landing on top of him. Rolling off the fan, Chuck gave him two kicks to the ribs before looking around.
“That is how we handle things,” Whiskers said to Blaster.
“Not bad. Night is still young, let’s go.”
5 Fan Appreciation
Pointing with the neon orange chopsticks over his bowl of noodles, Chuck said, “How do you know?”
“Pointing with chopsticks is bad luck,” the human woman said.
Shrugging, “Given my luck I’ll take bad.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” she said with a dazzling smile. “These are the individuals we have had issues with before,” she said sliding her tablet across the yellow and pink neon table a holo of a korogin woman popping up and rotating.
Pulling the tablet closer with one paw and taking another long slurp of noodles off the chopsticks, Chuck read the data; finishing both around the same time. Tsal-or, wageslave for Brookshine Legal, self-professed number one fan of Acid Chamber especially the lead singer; legally number one crazed fan. Several break-ins, typically found in some state of undress in someone’s room. When confronted tended towards outbursts and breaking things.
Chuck tapped the screen, the holo changed to two identical faces. Making an appreciative noise, “Orin fans?”
“We get all kinds, these two are trouble.”
“Read on,” she said.
“Ebon and Ivory, seriously?”
Orin, twins like all Orin, children from a wealthy family. Paid to have their skin altered to match Acid Chamber’s number one hit from several years ago. Chuck watched a short vid of the twins “dancing;” punching and kicking people nearby while their skin flickered and flashed to the beat of the music and lyrics randomly appeared. Kicked out of numerous concerts for violence and inciting violence. Arrested three times for fighting members of Acid Chamber or individuals working for Acid Chamber.
“Okay, so they are uber-fans. We can handle them.”
Tapping the screen again, the angry, screaming face, of a korogin woman greeted him. Knowing the answer, Chuck read. Aka-hallar, mother to recently deceased Ka-hallar, daughter who died during a concert. Chuck watched another vid of Aka-hallar screaming in rage blaming Acid Chamber for her daughter’s death and vowing to make them pay. Chuck looked up.
“Still think you can handle this.”
6 Another Night Out…
“Why are we doing this again?” Puddles whispered to Whiskers.
Sitting across from Whiskers in the limousine, Chuck made his “what” face; good ear cocked to the side and eyes wide open complete with “what” gesture with his paws. Puddles waved him off and returned her attention to Whiskers head bobbing along with the extremely loud music sitting next to Blaster. When Whiskers did not response, Puddles grabbed his arm and shook, immediately he shot her a look.
“What is that about?” She hissed, inching closer to angry.
“I heard you the first time. I was ignoring your question because the answer is obvious. We were hired…”
“To watch them. Watch!” Puddles shouted over the music.
“And we are,” Whiskers replied with a wink.
Frustrated and furious, Puddles slammed back into her seat and pulled out her phone. Chuck, looked concerned, again she waved him off. A few swipes and a click, new frying pan ordered. That made her feel a tiny bit better…still, looking around the limousine she only saw trouble. Paying trouble, but trouble that they could handle in a different manner. She hopped over to sit next to Chuck.
“Everything okay?” He asked.
“Fine,” she replied shooting a glare at an oblivious Whisker, “Are we set?”
“Is security in place? I don’t want another bar scene.”
“No, we are not set. I haven’t had time to set up security; we are always out with these two.” Concern and irritation written across Chuck’s face.
“I know,” Puddles sighed. “Can you do that tonight?”
“When? I’m in here,” Chuck gestured at everyone.
“Next stop, get out, and get security established. I saw the same files you did…”
“Trouble,” Chuck finished.
A short time later the flying limousine came to a stop, passenger doors opened automatically, neon light flooded the darkened passenger space, followed closely by music even louder than inside the car. Whiskers exited street side, standing near the door looking for trouble. Puddles and Chuck exited curbside finding themselves surrounded by dozens of nude dancing holos welcoming all inside and the garish front door of the Glassland Exotic Club. Chuck stared, all around him flying exotic hover vehicles, shining lights, neon, and best of all no Cloud; for a brief moment Chuck was happy to be among the elites. Puddles sighed and shook her head.
“This is the place!” Blaster shouted as he exited.
The rest of the band and their hanger-ons exited the limousine on both sides forming a loose group outside the front door. Some of them continued to drink, most of them made lewd comments to or about the nude holos, and all of them waited for some direction.
“Lets go tear this place up!” someone shouted, as one the group entered the club.
After the last hanger-on entered, Puddles turned to Chuck, “Get to work. Contact me when you have security in place and make sure a team arrives here within the hour.”
For a second Chuck looked surprised at Puddles.
“This is a new you is all,” Chuck began, “I like it.”
“Don’t get used to it,” Puddles replied grabbing Whiskers as he walked past, “This is still HIS job.”
“Get your head out of your inshall,” Puddles hissed at Whiskers, “We have work to do. Chuck is leaving to speak with security. I am NOT going in there. I will be around.”
“Everything is under control,” Whisker replied.
“No, not at all,” Puddles responded irritatedly, “You go in there and watch. We will work out here.”
Whiskers stood there for a second, staring at both of them. Chuck broke eye contact to summon a ride and then began phone calls to Acid Chamber’s security. Puddles gave Whiskers a last look before crossing the elevated street on the other side she shouted to Whiskers, “Go on watch.”
7 Watching Trouble
Despite the loud music that caused him to fold his ears. Despite the drinks. Despite the nude and semi-nude dancers all around him, Whiskers fumed. He never relaxed, always on the job, and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to protect his favorite band. Puddles accusation that he was not on the job got under his fur more than he wanted to admit. Being near Acid Chamber was a bonus, not his goal, he thought angrily. How many times had Puddles caused trouble on a job, his anger built as he silently vented.
Seductively walking towards his table, her tail waving in come-hither manner, her yellow and brown fur sparkling from glitter, a cat dancer approached him, interrupting his anger. He gently pushed a dancer away from the table he sat at alone. See, he thought, I am on the job. He took a moment to watch her walk away, sometimes the job sucked, he thought.
From his seat, he watched Blaster and his entourage behave like animals. Most of the patrons left after Trukk, a “friend” of Blasters’, hopped on stage and announced the “take over by Acid Chamber.” The manager seeing an opportunity closed the doors and made tonight all about Acid Chamber. Whiskers laughed at the memory of the first dancer trying to dance to Acid Chamber, she gave up and threw her costume at the band in exchange for an influx of isstas. Another crash, more breaking glass, more laughter, more Acid Chamber at bone rattling levels, and the shine of being around them wore thin.
From her seat at ‘ffine, Puddles watched the front door of the club, the holos continued to dance, although their smooth motions changed to jerky, almost spastic, dancing shortly after the manager turned the sign from open all night to closed for private event. Picking at her muffin and sipping her coffee, Puddles waited to hear from Chuck or for trouble.
In the cacophony of noise, Whiskers missed the first sign of trouble. So was the second and third. To him, everyone looked like they were having a grand time drinking, dancing, singing, and fighting. Fighting? Standing to get a better view of the dance floor, Whiskers could not tell if they were dancing to Acid Chamber or fighting, the difference between the two more subtle than expected. Two bouncers jumping off the stage and more rushing in from the side sealed the deal, a fight.
Pushing through the cluster of dancers and drunk hanger-ons, Whiskers came face to face with a very angry and very large human bouncer pulling back a chromed fist holding Acid Chamber’s bassist off the floor with his other chromed fist. Without thinking, Whisker snapped a kick at the bouncer’s knee, instantly regretting not thinking, his foot striking hard and the bouncer unmoved. A single punch snapped the bassist’s head back; the bouncer dropped him to the floor, and turned to Whiskers.
When the security team arrived, Puddles was waiting outside the club sipping the last of her coffee. Glancing at her watch, she mentally noted to give Chuck a bonus for the fast work. A six-man security team exited the truck and waited for direction.
Inside the club, Whiskers shoved another table in the bouncer’s path, while ducking another powerful punch. He backed into a knot of people fighting and took a powerful punch to the ribs when he glanced away. Fumbling for his stun stick, Whisker took another punch that knocked him to his knees, then down to the ground when the knot of people fighting fell on top of him.
Another glance at her watch surprised Puddles, all this time and no trouble, maybe this would be a quiet assignment after all…the front doors crashed open, an Acid Chamber song blasting from inside, the jerky holos vanished, as the first of entourage landed on the ground. The security team looked at Puddles for direction she waved them off. In ones and twos members of the entourage and band were forcefully ejected from the club by bouncers. Landing simultaneously Whiskers and Blaster.
8 Show Time
Concertgoers packed together, no room to move, breathing as one just to breathe. The noise level deafening and the concert had not started, just the noise of that many people in one enclosed space. Whiskers, standing on the right side of the stage wearing sound dampening earplugs folder his ears down to muffle the noise more. Excited to witness one of his favorite bands, Whiskers strained to keep from bouncing up and down with excitement and to pay attention to the sea of faces in front of the stage.
A week of listening to practice and borrowing a few of Whiskers’ Acid Chamber favorites and Puddles still did not get his obsession with this band or their music, if the noise they made could be called music. From his vantage point backstage Puddles watched the last few roadies on their watch list. Titanic and his crew worked feverishly to get the final details ready for the show; unlikely to cause trouble, but Puddles job was to ensure they did not, so he continued to watch.
Crushed against a barrier in front of the stage, elbowing to overly enthusiastic fans in the ribs, Chuck wondered if he really did get the best part of the job. He brought in the data on everyone working for Acid Chamber, assisted in tracking down the few trouble spots, set-up security for the concerts, and all he wanted was the best part of the job; work from the concert floor. Another elbow to clear some breathing room.
A low thrum, felt more than heard, seconds before the lights in the hall went out, the crowd silenced. In the silence, the low thrum heard and felt, slowly ramping up in volume and intensity. Backstage roadies and stagehands moved to ready positions, Acid Chamber assembled, and Whiskers nearly bounced out of his fur with excitement. Puddles moved to another, quieter vantage point backstage, able to see the roadies and stage. Chuck stomped on a foot, elbowed a rib for breathing room, while keeping his eyes on where the stage was in the dark.
Backstage, Acid Chamber in all black, moved onstage.
On stage, Acid Chamber silently took their positions and began the opening notes to their number one quadstomp song, Anthem for the Dying.
To the right of the stage, Whiskers swayed with the opening notes, hoping nothing ruined the concert.
In front of the stage, the crowd surged forward, Chuck eyes still on stage, made room as best he could. Two pin-prinks of green light bobbed and flowed in the dark across the stage, appearing and disappearing to the beat. The opening notes reached the high point and crashed down creating a wave of sound, stage lights illuminated the Acid Chamber playing their instruments, the holo-green flames on each of their outfits dancing in rhythm. The lead singer, green augmented eyes a blazed roared out the lyrics over the roar of the crowd.
Two hours of non-stop music and Puddles had reached her limit, even with noise canceling ear plugs, her ears folded flat, and in a quieter vantage point, the noise reached her and irritated her. Titanic and his crew did their job without any incident. Whiskers spent the entire time enjoying himself, feeling the music move his fur and feet. Chuck, stopped fighting the crowd and moved with the crowd, exhausted he found a place to sit and drink water after most of the crowd exited the concert.
9 After Party
“Does the ringing ever stop?” Whiskers head in paws mumbled to the table.
Chuck slid further down in his chair, pulling his sweat soaked shirt off his chest, “The cool breeze feels great.”
“What?” Whiskers asked.
Puddles flicked one of the earplugs across the room, smiling when the plug bounced off one of the hanger-ons and into a can of alcohol. Fighting exhaustion and a deep desire to be anywhere else but at the after party, Puddles satisfied herself with the knowledge that Acid Chamber was leaving soon.
Nudging Whiskers, “How much longer do we have to stay?”
“How MUCH LONGER DO WE…”
“My ears are ringing, I’m not deaf,” Whiskers shot back.
Rubbing his stomach, “Anyone else starving?” Chuck asked.
“Great job tonight!” Blaster shouted.
Whiskers sat straight, Chuck stopped fanning his shirt, and Puddles glared at Blaster and his lead bassist holding large bottles of beer standing next to the table. A korogin woman grabbed the bassist by the arm and pulling him back to the party. Blaster sat down.
Shoving Whiskers, “Have a good time? I know you did. This was our best time here.”
“Concert was awesome,” Whiskers replied.
“I know. Next time we are in town you are our first call.”
“Thanks,” Puddles sarcastically replied.
Two korogin women approached Blaster, one of them whispering in his ear, pushing back from the table, “Enjoy the after party,” gesturing at the women, “I have fans to…you know.”
“NiHo’s?” Chuck asked.
Standing up, “We should let Blaster know we are leaving,” Whiskers said.
“Go ahead, I’m with Chuck, food is a necessary thing.”
“I’ll get us a cab,” Chuck said heading to the door.
Half an hour later, comfortably seated at their table, hot bowls of noodles in front of them, one by one each of them let out a sigh.
“After a long night, nothing better than a bowl of NiHo’s,” Chuck announced around a mouthful of noodles.
“What?” Whiskers said hoping the ringing would stop.
10 First Try
Whiskers took another sip of his coffee and stared out the window at the Medical Offices of Tablix and Aslan. Puddles positioned her tablet to record the front door. Chuck finished off his doughnut in one bite and began adjusting his eyepatch.
“Chuck, you’re up,” Puddles said to Chuck.
“Are you getting the feed?”
Whiskers looked down at his tablet with two vid-windows open, “Yes. Stay out of trouble.”
Chuck gave both of them his best “me, trouble look,” with his folded ear and eye patch looked more like “definitely trouble” and headed out of the coffee shop, tail swishing lazily to match his swagger.
“He’s going to get neutered,” Puddles said to Whiskers.
“I heard that,” Chuck’s voice came from Whisker’s tablet.
They gathered around the vid-feed, coffees in hand, and waited.
Chuck stepped into the minimalist decorated waiting room and looked around, an exaggerated half-circle motion to get the entire room on vid. Blank tope walls, six office chairs against the walls in sets of two, one office table in the middle of the room, a reception desk with a solid door to the right; first impression, no long term visitors, Chuck thought as he turned to face the receptionist.
“Can I help you?” the korogin woman wearing blue nursing scrubs behind the low counter asked in a gruff voice.
Standing in front of her, Chuck tilted his head to get the room behind her on vid.
“Excuse me! Can I HELP YOU!”
Chuck slowly looked at her, while tilting his head, and put on his best “yes you can smile;” all teeth and whiskers, “I need to see a doctor.”
“We don’t take walk-ins.”
“I have an emergency,” Chuck replied, turning his head and leaning forward over the counter.
Standing, she put one hand on his chest and pushed him back, Chuck stumbled back a step.
“We don’t take walk-ins,” she enunciated each word carefully.
Chuck clutched his stomach, doubled over, and screeched. He stumbled towards the desk, still screeching, and clutching his stomach, “Please let me see a doctor,” he said between screeches.
At that moment, the front door opened, two red-hand gangers walked into the waiting room. Clutching his stomach, Chuck gave the receptionist his best please look his one eye wide-open and sad look on his face, and screeched in pain.
“You two toss him out,” the receptionist commanded.
“What?” Chuck blurted out.
Before Chuck could bolt for the door, the two gangers grabbed him by his arms, dragged him to the door, and shoved him outside. Chuck rolled with the toss landing on his feet. Wageslaves walking past moved around him, some making noises or comments about rif-raff, most ignored him altogether. Chuck heard laughter, a few seconds looking around before he realized the laughter was Puddles and Whiskers over the commsystem.
“No wonder you had so much trouble with Lorika,” Puddles said between laughs.
Dusting himself off, Chuck stormed back to the coffee shop, tail lashing. He tore the eyepatch off, tossing the eyepatch at Puddles.
“You think you can do better?”
Whiskers set a fresh cup of coffee and doughnut in front of Chuck, “No, you cannot. None of us is going to get past the receptionist. We are not the right patients.”
11 Second Try
“It’s here!” Puddles shouted with excitement.
Whiskers walked into the office to find Puddles, excited look on her face, holding a large brown box and Zippy Delivery driver exiting. Before he could ask, Puddles tore the top of the box open and reached inside scattering packing peanuts all over her side of the desk; nobody would notice he thought. With a flourish and explosion of more packing peanuts, Puddles brandished a frying pan.
Eyebrow raised, “That was fast,” Whisker said.
“I had them shipped express.”
“I ordered a set of them. Figured I might need more than one.”
“You could give your Mother one of them.”
A thoughtful look flashed over Puddles face, “I could.”
“But you will not,” Whiskers mumbled returning to get his coffee.
The loud metallic crash informed Whiskers that Puddles had dropped the box from her side of the desk onto the floor. Returning to the office with a cup of coffee he was not surprised by the mess. Sitting down, he flicked several packing peanuts onto her side of the desk.
“Who do we know that could pass as a patient?” Whiskers asked.
Puddles stopped practice swinging her frying pan, “Who don’t look like us? Nobody.”
“What the tonnan!” Chuck shouted from behind the front door Puddles struck with an errant frying pan swing.
Puddled put her frying pan down and held the door open for Chuck, “Sorry.”
Whiskers waved a greeting and returned to the computer, clicking through their contacts. Puddles leaned over to look at the list.
“Nobody what?” Chuck asked on his way past the desk to get coffee.
“Whiskers thinks we need someone who looks like a ganger to get past the receptionist.”
“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Chuck shouted from kitchen. “Have you tried Eth?” he asked returning with a cup of coffee.
“Eth is cymean and so not a ganger,” Puddles sarcastically retorted.
Shooting her a glare, “Not as a ganger, because he knows gangers.”
“Excellent suggestion,” Whiskers said.
12 Making Arrangements
“Why noodles?” Eth asked as he pointed at his bowl of noodles with his neon pink chopsticks.
“What’s wrong with noodles?” Chuck retorted around a mouthful of noodles.
“Don’t point with chopsticks,” Puddles said while pointing at Eth’s chopsticks with her chopsticks.
“I said, what’s wrong with noodles,” Chuck repeated after swallowing.
“Not that,” gesturing with his chopsticks Eth said, “the chopstick thing.”
“Heard it somewhere,” Puddles answered.
“I like noodles,” Whiskers spoke up setting down a neon orange with red swirled cup.
“Every time?” Eth asked. “Every single time we meet, we meet at a NiHo’s. Why?”
Puddles slurped down a chopstick load of noodles, Chuck looked to Whiskers, and Whiskers took another sip of tea, “Cheap, healthy, and best of all who is going to come here to listen in on any conversation?”
Looking around, “Good point,” said Eth.
Returning to his bowl of noodles, Eth ate in silence for a few moments.
“Anyone want to share some dumplings?” Chuck asked.
Puddles held up her chopsticks. Using the tabletop holo-menu, Chuck ordered dumplings. Eth set down his chopsticks and put his hands together in front of his face, thoughtful look on his face.
“What is on your mind, Eth?” asked Whiskers.
“Shouldn’t that be my question to you?” gesturing at them with one hand Eth responded.
“You look like you have something to say is all.”
“Number two dumpling platter,” the waiter announced to the table as he set a large steamer full of dumplings in front of Chuck.
“Thank you,” Chuck mumbled around a mouthful of noodles.
“I need you to do something for me,” Eth said talking over the waiter and Chuck.
Looking up from her bowl of noodles, Puddles said, “From us.”
“In exchange for what?” Whiskers asked.
“My usual fee.”
Puddles, Chuck, and Whiskers exchanged looks, “Must be important to you,” Puddles said.
“It is, but not just for me, some friends. Deal?”
“Deal,” Whisker responded.
“Great what do you need from me?”
“Just two? Not a whole gang?”
“Just two and they need to want mechanical augmentation.”
“Long story, we need to get into a doctor’s office. They only take gangers who get augmentation…or at least we think. We can’t get inside.”
Whisker slide his tablet across the table, “Our information.”
Eth spent a few minutes reviewing the information before sitting back, hands in front of his face. “I think I can find a few gangers for you. It will take a day or two.”
Puddles said, “That’s fine. What do you need from us?”
“I need you to find Red Twist,” he said with some finality.
“Head of the Red Hands?”
“Still no clue,” said Puddles.
“Wait, the bike gang?” Chuck asked.
“Is he lost?” Whisker asked sarcastically. “I would think you would be able to find him,” he said to Eth.
“He’s hiding from some friends of mine…”
“And you owe them,” Puddles interrupted.
“Something like that,” he shot back.
“We just need to find him?”
“That’s all, find him, and keep an eye on him until my friend arrives.”
“Since we have a couple of days of waiting, we can get right on that,” Puddles said looking to Whiskers and Chuck.
13 One Hand At A Time
“Can you see this?” Chuck whispered into his phone.
Sitting in Whiskers’ car the vid-feed from Chuck’s camera displayed across the interior of the windshield. The feed panned to the right, a battered front door with a sign in gromathi, followed by piles of garbage and a shot down the alley.
“Clear feed,” Whiskers replied.
In the passenger seat, Puddles fiddled with her new frying pan, glancing at the feed every few seconds.
“Did you find a spot to hide?” she asked Chuck.
“I think so, moving there now.”
On the windshield, the feed bounced and moved erratically as Chuck moved. Chuck reached for another handhold in the wall of the building across the street, finding a handhold he pulled himself up onto a ledge. Nice to see the City keeping up on buildings and repairs in Lower Stroud, Chuck thought sarcastically looking around at the debris, exposed wires, pipes, and garbage on the ledge, every building he could see, and in the alley. Chuck spotted a better observation spot a few feet to his right.
The feed stabilized and centered on the alleyway and door.
“Now we wait,” Whiskers said.
“What’s our next step?” Puddles asked Whiskers.
“We wait to see who goes in and out of the chop shop.”
“No,” she began with an irritated tone, “not this favor, with finding the fake Doctor Marlowe.”
“Eth should come through for us,” Chuck whispered.
Puddles shook her head, “Don’t blow your hiding spot, Chuck.”
“Chuck is correct, after Eth finds some gangers to do the work we need, we follow the trail.”
“So…” Puddles paused for effect, “you don’t know any more than I do.”
Two hours passed, “I can’t feel my feet,” Chuck whined for the fifth time in the last few minutes. “I know don’t move,” he finished testily.
“You ready ang?” a rough voice asked somewhere in the alley.
“Come on the doc is down here. He does all our hands,” another rough voice said.
“Hurt?” finished the first rough voice. “What do you think?”
“If you are lucky he will soak your arm in ice first.”
“Ice!” the third voice exclaimed.
Laughter boomed down the alley.
Three gromathi, spiked heads, walked into view on the feed. Two of the gromathi, as they walked into view wore Red Hands leather jackets made for gromathi, spaces over the shoulders for their spikes to show. On the back of each jacket the Red Hands logo, a bloody fist clutched and unclutched with each step they took. Both of the Red Hand gangers had the gang’s trademark mechanical augmented red right hand. The third, obviously younger gromathi wore a red shirt and spent a lot of time looking at his right organic hand.
“Alright kid, we will wait for you in the waiting room,” the first rough voice said as they walked into the building.
“Did you see that,” Chuck whispered excitedly.
“We saw it,” Puddles responded.
“If Eth’s information is correct an hour from now, they should leave,” Chuck said, “Can one of you take my place?”
“I will be there in a few minutes,” Whiskers replied.
14 An Hour and 10 Minutes Later
“Ready?” Puddles asked over the comm-system.
“I feel better,” Chuck replied.
“Not about your bathroom break!”
“Quiet!” Whiskers commanded. “They left and are almost out of sight.”
Leaning over the edge, Whiskers watched the three gromathi gangers continue down the alley.
“Chuck bring the car around and see if you can find an upper floor exit,” Puddles ordered.
“Will do,” Chuck replied. “This place looks pretty self-contained; I don’t expect to find anything.”
“I will remain outside in case any clients arrive.”
“Sweet, let’s do this,” Puddles said with glee.
Whiskers watched Puddles stride into the office, cup of coffee in one hand, frying pan hanging from her belt, and holstered pistol on her hip. Whiskers dropped into the alley ready if she needed assistance.
The largest, ugliest, and very unconvincing receptionist sat behind a prefab desk covered in the “appropriate” amount of office supplies. Security she thought to herself, approaching the desk. The only other thing in the room than the desk, offices supplies, and “receptionist” a door she hoped lead to the doctor. Hopefully the doctor had the information they were after, she thought.
“I need to see the doc,” she said.
At least he pretended to type on the holo-keyboard. Puddles was positive she could see the gears in his head turning, very slowly. Setting her coffee on the desk, she leaned forward and coughed, twice. He turned, did she hear gears grind as his head turned she thought with a smirk, and glared at her.
In a deep voice he said, “There are no available appointments.”
“But,” coughing again, “I’m sick.”
“You can make an appointment for another day,” he replied not missing a beat.
Coughing again, Puddles turned and took a step towards the door, “I’m sure the doc can see me. It’ll be quick. We’re old…”
“DO NOT,” he emphasized each word and stood up, “take another step.”
“Fine have it your way,” Puddles replied pulling her frying pan off her belt. “I hope the doc can see you afterwards.”
15 Tracking Down Leads
The frying pan, bent in the middle flew across the room when the mook shook his mechanical-augmented arm.
“I just bought that!”
Puddles was positive she heard him form a metallic fist. Ducking under his powerful swing, Puddles rolled past the mook, popping up she fumbled with her holster. The mook pivoted much faster than she expected, wired to the gills no doubt she thought, and kicked her in the chest, knocking her against the wall. Her breath explosively left her lungs, leaving her holding out a paw, the other wrapped around her chest, and gasping for air.
The mook did not wait; grasping her outstretched arm, with a single yank he threw her to the opposite side of the room over the desk, scattering office supplies. Rolling to a stop amongst office supplies and her cup of coffee, Puddles tried to stand, still gasping for air. With two long strides he grabbed the desk and threw the desk at her, his aim off the desk exploded against the wall, showering her with desk parts. Puddles scrambled away from the wall, fumbling with her holster and looking for something, anything to give her an edge.
Mook grabbed her ankle, but before he could get a good grip, Puddles slipped her foot out of the boot and rolled onto her back as she drew her pistol. Her first shot blew her boot up; that he reflexively threw at her, her second and third shots put large holes in his thigh and gut. With a monstrous backhand, he knocked her pistol out of her paws. Puddles scooted backwards as he fell to one knee. Her paws landed on the familiar shape of her frying pan she swung with as much force as she could, cracking the mook across the face rocking his head to the side.
For a brief second she thought he was going to continue the fight; then he fell over onto his side. Puddles sat down against a wall. One breath, two, and three. Other than breath the mook had not moved. Standing, she retrieved her pistol and searched the mook; bingo, she mentally cheered pulling an identcase from a pocket. She waved his identcard over her watch accessing public data, nothing other than a name and top-level membership with emergency services. Before leaving the office, she punched in an emergency and dropped his identcard by his head.
“Figures,” she said to herself.
Looking at the frying pan, bent and nothing she could do about that, even better the person she wanted to see was gone. Empty office, at least this desk was intact, she thought ruefully. Puddles sat down and pulled up the holo-monitor.
“Let’s see what the good doctor was hiding.”
16 Emergency Boots
“Office is clear,” Puddles informed Whiskers and Chuck.
“A coffin rocket is roaring in your doing?” Whiskers asked.
“Yeah, can you intercept them?”
Closing the office door, “Chuck meet me in the doctor’s office I need your help searching his files.”
“On my way.”
Jumping down from his observation post Whiskers waited next to the door. Lights flashing, backwash scattering loose garbage and debris, a gold and white colored extraction bus landed. Before the bus had settled, three technicians leapt out, the technician in the lead following the identcard signal.
“Over here!” Whiskers shouted waving his paws. “Over here!”
Whiskers opened the door, “He’s in there!”
“What happened?” The lead technician asked.
“I…” feigning shock “I found him when I got here for my appointment.”
“How long ago was that?” Lead asked, consulting information on a holo-wrist display.
Behind them, the other technicians started urgent care.
“Maybe five minutes ago,” Whiskers stammered, allowing his tail and ears show his “shock.”
A non-committal grunt from the lead, “Dispatch have emergency ready, include an augment team.”
The two techs rolled the secretary onto a collapsible hoverboard shouting medical jargon into their comms as they rushed out of the office and down the alleyway. Without another word, the lead tech followed. Less than two minutes later, the extraction bus roared off.
“All clear,” Whiskers reported.
“Good, get in here,” Puddles replied.
“I think I found the files we are looking for,” Chuck interrupted.
Stepping over discarded medical waste Whiskers entered the doctor’s office, “Any luck?”
“Take a look,” Chuck said triumphantly as he spun the holo-display to face Whiskers.
Puddles stepped past Whiskers. Whiskers touched her arm as she passed, “You okay?”
“Sore, missing my boot, and looking for coffee.”
“You won’t find any of them in there,” Whiskers replied. “Copy the data and we’ll get coffee.”
“New boots too.”
Chuck flipped the screen back and started the copy process.
“Looks like the surgery was completed two weeks ago,” Chuck announced. “I have an address for the doctor, a number of his supplier, and checkup appointments.”
“That makes sense, but he isn’t going to have them here,” Puddles said returning with the remains of her boot.
“File saved,” Chuck said.
“Coffee and boots,” Puddles announced heading for the door.
Merging into Lower Stroud flying traffic a few minutes later, Whiskers read the data on the windshield display, “Who wants first shift watching the doctor’s office?”
“Why bother?” Chuck asked from the driver’s seat.
“Because there is a chance he will return and we can follow him from there,” Puddles replied from the backseat. Checking over her body, she winced at a few sore spots and picked some bits of desk out of her fur.
“Oh. I’ll take first watch.”
“I will watch his house. Puddles you get some rest.”
“After boots, right?”
Whiskers sighed, Chuck laughed, “Yes, after boots on the company card.”