Read Pet Noir Online

Authors: Pati Nagle

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

Pet Noir (6 page)

BOOK: Pet Noir
3.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I hopped back up onto the seat, and she leaned across Devin again to set the saucer down for me.

“There you go, Tux! Good kitty.”

I purred, then started on the milk. Devin sipped his beer and chatted a little more with the waitress, whose name was Candy. It sounded like he was working up to asking her for a date.

Human courtship in action. I'd seen it on the feeds, but never live. Jill had a boyfriend at home and he didn't come to the lab, so I'd never been around humans in this condition before. They gave off the weirdest vibes. I actually looked up from the milk.

“Gonna watch the glowball championship?” Devin asked.

“Oh, I dunno,” Candy said. “It's not so much fun watching it alone. My girlfriends aren't into glowball.”

“We could watch it together.”

The grin on Devin's face was unbelievable. Granted, I'd only known him a day, but his usual cool was completely supplanted by what I had to assume was hopeful lust. He looked like an idiot.

“You got a nice holopad?” she asked.

“Uh, well…”

“We could watch it at my place.”

“That sounds great! I'll bring the pizza.”

Grinning ear to ear, Devin raised his beer to her and took another swig. She gave him a lazy-eyed smile and sashayed away.

“Why do you humans pretend you want to watch a glowball game together when what you really want to do is mate?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

“Uh, that's just the way we do it,” Devin whispered. “It's safer.”

“Seems like a waste of time to me. She obviously likes you. Why don't you just ask her to mate?”

“Because that's a good way to get my face slapped.” He glanced down at me, frowning. “Look, don't try to understand human mating rituals, OK? You'll just hurt your brain.”

I was offended. I'm expressly designed to be able to understand humans. Devin was insulting my highly engineered intelligence. I lapped up the last of the milk, then hopped down to explore Molly's on my own.

The view from under the tables was probably not the place's best side. I'd been raised in a spotless lab at Astara. This place was not so carefully maintained.

There was grime in the corners and an overall smell of grease, faintly tinged with something less savory. I found a French fry under a back table but it was petrified. No telling how long it had been there. I left it alone.

Peering out of the shadows, I saw that the waitress was back at our table, chatting up Devin again. They would definitely end up in the sack after this glowball game, or maybe earlier than that. I felt lonely, watching them.

My attention was distracted by a couple of other customers coming in, two of those big orange guys with the four arms. They shoved themselves into a booth toward the front of the bar, and Candy went over to take their drink order. I watched, noting her posture was very different with them than it had been when she was talking to Devin.

More customers started arriving. Must be the shift change crowd. I amused myself by trying to decide which of them would be the best to hit up for a share of their dinner.

Then Fish-face walked in, with both of his grunts. I pricked my ears and watched them walk toward the back of the bar. They sat in the last booth, next to the table I was under. I waited until Candy came over to get their order, then slipped underneath their table.

There were a lot of legs under there. I picked my way through them and tucked myself into an empty spot against the wall, then settled down to listen.

At first they talked about ordinary, boring stuff. Lots of griping about the late Nu-Delta transport. Some talk about glowball. Candy brought the drinks and took their food order. When she left again the tone of the conversation shifted.

“That transport doesn't show in the next day or two, we'll have to make other arrangements,” said Fish-face in a low voice. “We've got to get that stuff to the Fringe by next Friday.”

“Won't that look kinda strange?” piped up one of the grunts. “I mean, Stratoma products don't go bad. Why rush them out there?”

“Ever been stranded on a prospecting base without personal hygiene products?”

“Uh— No.”

“Nobody'll question it. We've just got to find a ship going that way that has room for our stuff. Either of you got any contacts?”

They didn't. There was some waffling around about people they might call, but it didn't sound promising.

I began to wonder if maybe the chief should set up a transport, do a sting. It would be a way to find out where the enhancers were ending up.

A party of four women sat down in the next booth, and the Stratoma guys shut up about their cargo. Started talking sports instead. I decided I'd heard enough, and when Candy brought their burgers I slunk out and made my way back down to Devin's booth.

“There you are,” he said around a mouthful of burger. “I was starting to get worried.”

I hopped up on the seat and glanced significantly at the empty milk saucer. Devin took the hint and pulled a chunk off his burger for me, setting it on the plate. I dug in.

“So, hear anything interesting?” he asked softly.

I nodded, chewing. The cheese was sticking to my teeth.

“Well, what?”

I gazed slowly around, then gave Devin a flat stare, indicating the growing crowd of people in the bar. He looked disgusted but didn't press me any more.

We both gobbled down his burger, then he waved to get Candy's attention. She came over with a tray of dirty dishes on her shoulder, looking harassed.

“You're busy,” Devin said. “Just put the bill on my tab, OK?”

“Yeah, OK.”

“What time should I come by for the game?”

She shot a glance toward the bar. “I gotta go. I'll flash you a message.”

“OK, bye. Thanks,” Devin called after her.

He pulled out a handful of credit chits from his pocket, fished through them and picked out enough for a generous tip, dropping them on the table. He was frowning slightly. He glanced at me.

“Flowers, maybe?” I suggested in a whisper.

The frown deepened. “Come on, let's go.”

~

Back in Devin's apartment, I gave him the scoop on the Stratoma guys. He agreed that setting up a transport to the Fringe might be a good idea.

“Why can't you just look in the containers?” I asked, sniffing around the floor under the cupboards in Devin's kitchenette. Some interesting smells there, worth following up.

Devin leaned back on his unmade bed and shoved a pillow behind his head. “We could, and we could make a bust, but it would only get us these three guys. We want to kill the pipeline, which means we have to catch whoever's originating these shipments from Stratoma.”

“Oh. Well, then the transport sting won't help.”

“It might. If we can find out where the enhancers are ending up?”

“End-users. Small fry. You want the big bosses, you go direct to Stratoma.”

“Yeah. Trouble is, that's out of our jurisdiction. Stratoma's based at Jupiter.”

“Time to call Interstellar Police?”

Devin chuckled. “You watch a lot of feeds?”

I looked up from inspecting Devin's mini-fridge. “Everyone keeps asking me that.”

“Interstel doesn't give a rat's ass about our problems. We're too far out, too small. They're understaffed, they can't even handle everything that goes on in the Solar system.”

“Oh.”

“We're on our own. If we want to kill this enhancer run, it's up to us.”

“Oh. Gee. Well, sorry I couldn't be more help.”

“The transport sting is a good idea. We can talk it over with Chief Wright.”

“Is there some kibble in that bag? I'm still hungry.”

He got up and went to the kitchenette counter where he'd dumped the carryall of my stuff. “Yeah, there's some kibble. You thirsty, too? Want some water?”

“Yes, please.”

I purred and stropped against his legs. It usually got me an extra handful of kibble from Jill, but Devin just frowned down at me as he ran water at the sink.

“Here.” He set two dishes down on the floor, my water bowl and my food dish.

My own food dish. The special red one with “Leon” on it in spectrum-glitz letters. I frowned at it, suddenly not hungry for the kibble.

“When can I go home?” I asked.

Devin shrugged. “Search me. Better ask the chief.”

“Can we go talk to him now?”

“He's off duty by now. Have to wait until morning.”

Things felt very wrong. I started pacing, roaming the walls of Devin's one-room apartment. I paused at the door, sniffed underneath it, scratched at it. Intellectually I knew that getting it open wouldn't solve anything, but my instincts told me I was trapped and I couldn't help myself.

“Hey, what's the matter?” Devin asked.

“I want to go home.”

His face took on a troubled expression. “Sorry, buddy. Afraid I can't help you there.”

I paced some more. It felt good to be moving around, even if it didn't make me any happier.

“Listen, you want to watch the feeds?” Devin asked. “We can find a good movie. I'll make popcorn.”

I went under his bed. There was an old sweatshirt under there and some socks. Ordinarily I would have enjoyed checking out the smells, but I wasn't in the mood.

I heard him rummaging in the bag of stuff Jill had sent. A second later one of my toys appeared on the floor at the edge of the bed, a wand with a tuft of feathers on the end. One of my favorites. He wiggled it for a while, but I declined to play.

“Leon? You OK?”

I didn't answer. I figured it was perfectly obvious that I was not, in fact, OK. I went back to the farthest, darkest corner and curled up with my back against the wall.

“Ma,” I called softly. “Ma.”

3. The Cold Truth

I woke up when Devin's alarm went off. I was on my feet in an instant, hair on end, totally confused. Overhead I could hear Devin grumbling and fumbling around, then the alarm shut off. By then I remembered where I was.

Gamma Station. Rats and sleazy Molly's and enhancer smugglers. Hell, pretty much.

Devin snored, back asleep. This, I decided, was not acceptable. It was morning, so we could talk to the chief now, and I wanted to go home.

I came out from under the bed, hopped up on it, and climbed onto Devin's stomach. Unfortunately I didn't weigh much, being little more than a kitten physically. He kept snoring.

“Devin. Wake up.”

Snore.

I moved onto his chest, extended a paw toward his nose, and very carefully drew a delicate line down the side of it with one claw. He jumped and opened his eyes, sort of, momentarily.

“Wha?”

“It's morning. We need to go see the chief.”

“Ungh.”

“Please get up, Devin. This is very important to me.”

He opened one eye. It glared at me blearily.

“Talgingcat. Canblevit. Why me?”

“I beg your pardon?”

He let out a heavy sigh and began to move. I stepped off his chest and waited while he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and sighed again.

“OK. Go see the chief.”

“Good. Thank you.”

I hopped down from the bed and went over to the door, but it became apparent that Devin wasn't going to open it right away. He dragged himself out of bed and stumbled to the kitchenette, where he zapped a cup of coffee and stood drinking it, blinking.

I deduced that he wasn't a morning person. I sat down by the door and groomed while I waited for him to pull himself together.

He had slept in his underwear. The one-all lay crumpled in a corner. Instead of putting it on he extracted a rumpled pair of pants from another pile of clothes and took a blue clingshirt out of the closet, which he pulled over his head and left on the loosest setting.

Frankly, he looked like a slob. I didn't say anything. I figured the chief already knew about Devin's shortcomings, and was willing to overlook them.

“OK,” he said. “Let's go.”

“I appreciate this, Devin.”

“No problem.”

We walked down the curving corridor outside his apartment and took the lift to the rotunda. Devin stopped at Zip Fix for a breakfast sandwich. The smells were good, but I was focused on getting off Gamma Station, so I didn't bother trying to yowl my way into some breakfast. I was more anxious than hungry at that point.

Still, when he tore off a chunk of ham and a bit of bread for me, I ate it. I didn't want to be rude.

Station Security Headquarters, tucked in the back of the rotunda's outermost inner ring, looked a lot more impressive now that I'd seen some of the humbler parts of the station. I trotted in at Devin's heels, past the front desk where the duty guy glanced up and gave Devin a nod.

The guy looked like a perfectly normal human except that his skin was a pale aqua color, and his blond hair was tinged slightly green. Fashion choice or different species? I wasn't sure.

It didn't matter anyway. In a few hours I hoped to be back home again.

We went to the chief's office and Devin thumbed the doorpad to request access. I could hear the chief talking inside. After a minute, the door slid open. Chief Wright waved us in, still talking to someone on holo, the screen shield turned so we couldn't see who.

Devin slouched over to a chair in front of the chief's desk and flopped into it. I hopped onto his knee, then onto the desk from there.

The chief looked sleek and dapper in a slate blue clingsuit, set on medium. His hair was perfectly groomed. The contrast between him and Devin, who hadn't done anything to his hair since rolling out of bed, was striking.

The chief signed off on his conversation and pushed the screen shield aside. He looked from Devin to me.

“Good morning. Any new developments?”

“Well, sort of,” said Devin.

The chief tapped his keyboard and the door slid shut and locked itself. “Go ahead.”

BOOK: Pet Noir
3.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Death of Yorik Mortwell by Stephen Messer
The Sheik's Son by Nicola Italia
The Seduction Game by Maltezos, Anastasia
Scratch by Brian Keene
Rock 'n' Roll Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Bloodstain by John C. Dalglish