Read Pet Noir Online

Authors: Pati Nagle

Tags: #mystery, #science fiction, #humor, #cat

Pet Noir (21 page)

BOOK: Pet Noir
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Holy crap.

I cut off my beat, making a beeline across the rotunda for Ling-Ling's.

Dead
Cygnius sedonai
would be just as useful as live birds to a clone artist. If it weren't for the purists' disdain for clones, those damn birds could be as common as puke in Molly's restrooms on a Saturday night.

And cloned
sedonai
feathers would presumably be as valuable as original feathers to the drug industry.

I dashed into Ling-Ling's kiosk and jumped up on the counter, ignoring the dirty look I got from a gate guard having lunch in the nearest seat. Ling2 was still playing hostess. No sign of Ling-Ling.

I sniffed open-mouthed at the smells wafting out of the kitchen, but they were only ginger and peanut oil, soy-beef and shrimp that made my mouth water. I was willing to bet that the birds were not back there.

That was something of a relief, but where had she taken them? And how had she got them past us? And was this really a lead, or was I full of it?

Ling2 turned around with a tea carafe in her hand and saw me. “Oh, no Tux! Get down!”

Not wanting to get her in trouble, I hopped down. I had seen what I could from there, anyway.

She refilled the gate guard's teacup and then brought me a couple of fried shrimp tails. I sat crunching one, debating whether to try to sneak into the kitchen while Ling2 stroked my back a couple of times before going back to work. Felt good.

Hosehead wandered out of the back, saw me and came over. I hastily snapped up the second shrimp tail.

“You here mooching again?” he said, and sat down to scratch his head with his hind foot. When he straightened up, the stupid blue bow was dangling to the left.

The stupid blue bow. He had not been wearing it at the customs gate. Holy, holy crap!

I swallowed the half-chewed shrimp tail, which went down rough and scratched my throat. “Hosehead, where's Ling-Ling?”

“I dunno. Probably over at the big kitchen.”

“Right. Thanks.”

“Why?” he asked, blinking his watery eyes at me, but I was already on the move.

He was even more clueless than I'd thought. That's why he hadn't noticed me at the customs gate. Whatever dog that was—if it was a dog at all—wasn't Hosehead.

I dashed across the rotunda toward Molly's, looking for Devin. No sign of him, and I didn't want to waste time running him down. I ducked down an access corridor and pulled out my com, but the battery was dead. Cussing, I headed back out for the main lifts. On the way I passed Tammy's, where I saw Butch still up on the stand. I paused and thought, what the hell.

“Butch!” I called, trotting into the tea shoppe.

A familiar gagging blend of perfume assailed my nostrils. Elsa and her pal were standing at the front desk, paying for their tea and chatting with Tammy, who frowned at me over her filigreed glasses. I ignored her, circling back toward the rotunda and calling over my shoulder.

“Come on, Butch! Got a hot lead, and I want your help.”

He needed no further encouragement. He took off from the stand and landed with a meaty thump on the carpet not a meter from where I stood.

“Cuddles! Come back here,” cried Tammy, but we were already out the door.

By silent agreement, we both broke into a run. I ducked into the corridor and Butch took the corner right behind me, paws scrambling for traction on the slick surface. I slowed to a trot again, trying to plan the next move.

“I think I've sussed out the birds, but I've got to prove it,” I told him.

Butch panted a little as he kept up with my longer stride. “Where are they?”

“Not sure, but I think I know who's got them. I only hope we're not too late.”

“May I be of help, cher?” purred a voice to my right.

I glanced down at Leila, serenely trotting beside me. She had her eyes partly lidded and was looking smug.

“Sweetheart! How'd you get loose?”

“Mamzelle was distracted by some shouting. Very wrong for a tea shoppe. The proprietress was in great distress over something, I can't imagine what.”

Butch laughed. “She'll live.”

“OK, hang on,” I said, stopping just around the corner from Ling-Ling's main kitchen.

I had a half-baked plan for catching Ling-Ling red-handed. It sucked, pretty much, but it was better than no plan.

“Leila. You move pretty smoothly. Slide in there and help me find Hosehead. I mean—not Hosehead, but something that looks like Hosehead. Might be another dog, but I'm thinking it's an animatron. I think Ling-Ling used it to sneak the birds past Huey.”

Leila gave one forepaw a dainty lick. “Cherchez le chien. I understand.” She stood up, walked to the corner, then with a coy over-the-shoulder look at me and Butch she sidled around the wall out of sight.

“Butch.” I dug one of the mocked-up feathers out of my shoulder pouch. “Find Devin and show him this. He should get the message and follow you back here.”

“Got it.” Butch took the feather in his mouth. “God, it tasses tewwible!”

“I know. Go.”

I watched him head back toward the rotunda, then took a deep breath. Hoping that Devin would come soon, I went around the corner at a casual prowl.

The kitchen was huge, all shiny white and steel. It was full of exotic and enticing smells, heaps of colorful vegetables and fruits and containers of god knows what waiting to be made edible. Full of cooks, too—all chopping and stirring away—and a lot of them looked related.

I wondered how many clones Ling-Ling had commissioned. The thought sent a shiver along my spine.

I saw the tip of a dark tail curving out of sight beneath a work table. I was too big to go under there, and I didn't want to blow Leila's cover, so I slunk around the edge of the kitchen, sticking close to the wall and hoping no one would notice me. All the while I was smelling every cupboard and shelf I passed, looking for the birds. I came across a basket of the gigantic purple-spotted eggs Ling-Ling had brought through customs, but no sign of the
sedonai
.

Leila emerged again at the far end of the work table. She glanced over her shoulder and caught my eye, then gave a little shrug and moved on to the next table. I had to admire the way she slunk between the legs of the cooks. A little sable Burmese shadow.

I heard a brisk, high-heel-clicking footstep behind me. A glance told me it was Ling-Ling, coming to check on her crew. I grabbed a cupboard handle, yanked it open, and dove inside, hoping she hadn't seen me.

I pulled the door almost closed and peered out through the crack. Ling-Ling started giving her crew rapid-fire orders in Chinese. Leila emerged again, and I felt my neck fur start to stand up as I watched Leila hop from floor to counter right behind Ling-Ling.

She leapt from counter to shelf, then shelf to top of the upper cupboards without a sound. None of the cooks saw her, or if they did they ignored her. I held my breath as she began slinking around up there, sniffing at boxes and crates. She stopped at a huge, blue and white ginger jar, the lid of which was ajar.

I nearly yowled as Leila put her forepaws on the neck of the jar and sniffed intently at whatever was inside it. She nudged the lid, and it slid off.

It missed landing on the cupboard top, falling all the way to the floor where it shattered with an ear-splitting crash.

Ling-Ling stopped talking and whirled, staring up at Leila who sat frozen, wide-eyed, with her paws still on the edge of the jar. Ling-Ling's eyes went wide, too.

“Get that cat!” she shouted.

Leila dropped to all fours, started to jump down, then thought better of it and ran along the cupboard top, dodging between boxes and baskets. Ling-Ling and all the cooks went after her—you never saw so many cooks scrambling up onto a counter. Food went flying, pushed aside as they tried to grab Leila.

I knew they had her trapped, and I did the only thing I could think of. I pulled the fake
sedonai
feathers out of my shoulder pouch and stuffed their ends in my mouth.

Never have I had such a wretched taste in my mouth, and I have eaten some pretty weird things. Those feathers might smell like horse glue, but they tasted more like horse piss.

God, I hope Devin shows up soon, I thought as I shouldered open the door of my sanctuary.

Ling-Ling was standing on a box, on her way to climbing onto the counter. I trotted up and planted myself in front of her, feathers dangling artfully from my jaws, and said, “Mrow?”

She stared down at me for a full second, then let out a shriek worthy of your worst nightmare. She made a grab for me but I managed to evade her and ran down the far side of the kitchen away from Leila. The cooks were still doing their circus act on the counter. Ling-Ling shouted at them to catch me, and the place turned chaotic as pots and pans and bowls of stuff I don't want to mention hit the floor.

A foot-long butcher knife buried itself in a cupboard door a split second after I'd passed it. Ling-Ling was right behind me with murder in her eyes. I put on speed.

I risked a glance up at the cupboard top, but Leila was nowhere in sight. Everyone who'd been chasing her was now after me, and I decided to lead them away from the hot spot.

I dashed out into the corridor and put on full speed for the rotunda. Where the hell was Devin? If he didn't show soon I'd wind up on the menu at Ling-Ling's fancy do.

I could hear her behind me, cussing in Chinese, or so I assumed. From the excited jabbering beyond her it sounded like we had the cooks with us as well. I dodged a clot of cits coming home with full shopping bags, and prayed that they would slow Ling-Ling down. Beyond them, a familiar orange shape was speeding toward me.

Butch! I could have cried with relief, except my mouth was full of feathers.

“Whewe's Devin?” I yowled.

“Right behind me,” Butch called back, panting.

So he was, stretching out those lanky legs in a run. He saw me and started to slow down. I howled at him, not wanting to risk speech but trying to communicate that I would like him to please rescue me from the homicidal restaurateur behind me.

His gaze rose. “Ling-Ling,” he said, sounding surprised. “What's the problem?”

“That cat! Get that cat!” she screeched.

Devin swiveled his head to look at me. “That cat?”

I paused, wishing I could get Devin alone for just ten seconds to explain what was going on. He raised an eyebrow at me, then said, “C'mere, kitty.”

I growled, which between him and me means Hell, no.”

Ling-Ling lunged for me and I ducked. Her fingertips caught at my fur.

“Hang on, take it easy,” Devin said. “What did the cat do?”

Ling-Ling crossed her arms, looking pissed as hell. “He ate…”

Devin looked at her. “Yes?”

“Something extremely valuable.”

“Ah—looks to me like he ate a bird.”

“Never mind, I just … never mind!”

She turned abruptly and stalked back toward her kitchen, heels clicking sharply on the floor. The cooks looked confused, but they turned and trooped after her.

I caught Devin's eye, then dashed around the cooks, past Ling-Ling, and back toward the kitchen. I had to get back there before Ling-Ling did. If we were very, very lucky, the birds were in that ginger jar and still alive.

“There he goes!” yelled Devin. “I'll get him for you!”

On this clever excuse he ran after me, and Butch came along. When we got to the kitchen I turned and spat out the disgusting feathers.

“Close the door and seal it, Devin!”

He punched the control. I glanced around belatedly to see if any other humans were in there. Fortunately not.

Butch started investigating the many items of interest that had hit the deck in our earlier adventure. I headed up toward the top of the cupboards, calling to Leila.

“Leila? You all right? Answer me baby—”

“Hey, Leon, what gives?” Devin called from the floor. “Where are the
sedonai
?”

“Up here, I think,” I told him. “Don't let anyone in.”

“OK.”

Devin pulled out his security card and started tinkering with the locks, while I leapt up top of the cupboards and made my way toward the ginger jar. Halfway there I found Leila crouched behind an industrial-sized tea caddy. Her eyes were very wide and she was breathing shallowly, staring at the kitchen floor as if expecting a broom to come out of nowhere.

“You all right?” I asked her.

She focused on me finally, blinked, then sat up and started to groom. “Leon.”

“The birds—are they still in the jar?”

“I don't know. I never saw them, though I smelled them.”

She looked like she needed a minute to compose herself, so I slid past her toward the ginger jar. With the lid gone, the birds might well be gone, too. I hoped they had been frightened enough to stay inside.

A pounding commenced on the outer door. I glanced down at Devin.

“Better check for other entrances,” I called. “Lock all the doors into the restaurants.”

“I sure as hell hope you know what you're doing,” he said, starting through the kitchen. “Jesus, what happened in here?”

Not bothering to answer, I climbed over a fifty-kilo sack of rice and reached the ginger jar. I sniffed at it and caught a definite whiff of
sedonai
. My heart started racing.

I crept up to the jar, slowly, silently. Flattening my ears so they wouldn't be a tipoff, I cautiously looked over the edge and saw two large black eyes staring back at me.

“Crap!” I shouted, jumping away.

“What?” yelled Devin.

“It isn't the birds. It's—oh.”

I realized that the eyes I'd seen were Hosehead's. I took another look in the jar. Sure enough, the little creep was in there, or rather his bowless double was. I watched for a few seconds. The thing wasn't breathing.

“Dev. Come and get this jar down.”

BOOK: Pet Noir
7.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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