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The Night Watchman

It's a jungle out there. Even my pets know that. When they go out for a run, if I can't go with them, I've got one eye out the window keeping watch for them. Thankfully, they're not fond of strangers, but there are other dangers, traffic, half-wild strays. I don't really start to worry until it starts to get dark. Aside from the greater perils of dimly lit streets for pets who may get lost, my job starts when the sun goes down. I work security.

I'm one of the lucky ones. My own neighbourhood is my beat - through the park behind the house, across the street to the school, back up around to the north end of the subdivision, down to the south end and back up to the park to start the route over again. It takes me about an hour to do the whole thing, but I'm not the only one out.

I give one last pat to Jack and Babe, and let Jack open the door for me. I taught him that. I hear the automatic lock click as the door closes behind me. They'll be safe now. I hop over the gate at the end of the walkway and head for my first checkpoint - the park.

I glance up. A full moon, I notice with a sigh. Maddog will be out then. With luck, he'll find something useful to do - like chase parked cars.

The paved walkways of the park are shadow-dappled, quiet in this first hour after dark. The trees whisper to themselves in the slight breeze. I approach a huge rhododendron. The rustling of day creatures settling down for the night ceases abruptly, restarting only when I'm safely past. I chuckle.

I hear a light step behind me. A vagrant breeze, wafting the strong odour of fish, helps me identify the individual before I complete my turn.

"Nice to see you haven't gone soft, Bowie."

I snort. "Not likely, Boss. Mind you, that 'Eau de Mackerel' you wear isn't exactly subtle."

Boss shrugs. "When you get to be as old as I am, you can afford to indulge yourself once in a while."

I sniff, amused now. "Fishing for compliments now, Boss? I know for a fact that you're only a few months older than I am."

Boss grins and we walk in silence for a while.

"Maddog out?" I ask.

Boss shakes his head. "Stupid bugger fell down the stairs yesterday and broke his leg."

"You're kidding!"

"So Tabby says. She went and saw him this afternoon."

Yeah, Tabby would be the one to beard Maddog in his own home. No sense of propriety, that girl.

Almost as if he can read my thoughts, Boss says, "Maddog's okay, Bowie. He's a bit odd, but he makes our job easier, passing on information the way he does."

That earned Boss a derisive snort. "Tell me that one again after Maddog trees you for three hours before someone hauls him off."

Boss nods. "He didn't know you then, Bowie. He thought you were here to cause trouble."

"Whatever," I grumble. The issue is still a sore spot with me.

Boss gives a huff of laughter. "Well, he was right about one thing."

"What's that?"

Boss' eyes twinkle. "Just stay out of trouble tonight, Bowie." With that parting line, he's gone, fading into the shadows like a panther into the jungle.

I sigh. One of these days he'll believe me when I say I don't go looking for trouble. It just sort of follows me around like a stray mutt. It's humiliating. I square my shoulders. But it's nothing I can't handle.

Confident, I head towards the fountain in the centre of the park, my eyes peeled for danger.

A shadow detaches itself from a nearby tree. The sashay is familiar. "Hello, Kitty," I say.

"Hello yourself, stranger," she purrs. "Got time to play a few games?"

I let out a long breath. Kitty has that effect on me sometimes. "Not tonight, Kitty. I'm on duty."

She pouts seductively, weakening my resolve. "Not even one little, itty-bitty game?" She comes closer and I can smell her scent, musky, desirable, dangerous. One nail flicks at my ear. "Not even..." Her soft voice fades away suggestively.

I gulp, shake my head and try to gather my scattered thoughts. "Not even," I say as firmly as I can.

She giggles and gives me an honest smile. "Okay, then. Maybe next time."

I smile back. "It's a date," I say, but we both know that nothing will ever happen between us. Kitty's like the kid sister I never had.

As I turn to walk away, she stops me. "Be careful, Bowie. Rumour has it that The Rat is back and looking for you."

I hide my eyes by giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, kiddo. You're not getting out of our date that easily."

Kitty doesn't smile.

I tap her chin. "I'll be fine, kiddo. You just make sure you keep yourself safe, okay?"

"Okay," she says in a small voice.

"So where's my smile?"

She manages a weak one.

"Good girl. See ya 'round." I walk on, looking as unconcerned as I can for Kitty's sake, but I'm thinking furiously. So The Rat is back, is he? He's a cheap hood with a mean streak wider than he is. I sent him up the river a while ago, keeping a chunk of his ear as a souvenir of that fight. He did mention something about getting revenge, but I took that to be more of his hot air. The problem is that the only way to stop a sleazebag like The Rat is to play the game like he does - dirty.

I can tangle with the best of them and win, but I don't like having to resort to violence. It makes me feel like I should be chasing wooly mammoths or something equally Neanderthal.

I continue my patrol, keeping a sharper eye on the shadows. One of The Rat's favourite tricks is to ambush his opponents.

I make a circuit of the school. By the well-lit main doors, a figure waits for me. I can't see the face until I'm within whispering distance. I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. It's only Tabby.

"Bowie," she says in a low voice, "Maddog says that--"

"The Rat is back?" I interrupt.

"Yeah. How'dja know?"

"Kitty just told me."

"Oh, okay. Boss says you can--"

"I'm not going into hiding just because some idiot let that lowlife back on the streets, Tabby."

She stomps one foot. "Will you let me finish? Maddog didn't see The Rat. He heard him, heard him tell someone else that he'd hit you where it would hurt the most and then kill you. Boss says last time The Rat threatened that, a guy's wife got killed while The Rat held him down to watch."

I shrug. "I'm not married, so that's no big deal."

"That's because no one in their right mind would have something as stupid as you are," Tabby snaps. "The Rat knows where you live."

My eyes widen as I make the connection. I've had Jack and Babe since I was a baby. They're the closest thing I have to family, but they're getting old. They're not fast enough to escape The Rat, not now. "Tell Boss I'm going home," I shout over my shoulder as I race across the school-yard.

Jack knows how to open the front door, but he's not stupid. He wouldn't open the door for a stranger. Not this late at night.

I groan inwardly. Not unless he thought it was me checking up on them! I run faster, my heart pounding with fear. I round the last corner to see the front door start to open. There's a shadow that shouldn't be there!

I put on a burst of speed, clear the fence with inches to spare and rush past a surprised Jack. I'm just in time to see the shadow disappear up the stairs. I follow, taking the steps four at a time.

The only door open is to the room where Babe prefers to curl up for a nap. I charge in, a rolling dive that makes me harder to hit. The rug slides under me, propelling me under the bed. I notice Babe sitting up, confused but unharmed. I have to find The Rat before he gets to Babe.

Three doors, all ajar, lead out of the room. He's not in the hallway, that I know. Either the bathroom or the walk-in closet then. My eyes narrow as I choose my target. Since the bathroom doesn't have any hiding places...

I roll out from under the bed, half rise to my feet and dive for the closet.

The fight is messy. We slam into storage boxes, trip over shoes, and rattle the clothes on their hangers. The end, however, is inevitable. The Rat is fighting for his life, but I'm fighting for something more important - my loved ones.

"You're dead meat, Bowie," The Rat snarls, sitting astride me for the killing blow.

"Like Hell!" I heave.

The Rat sails off me and slams up against the closet wall. Hard. His eyes glaze over and he slumps, out cold. I can hear Babe and Jack just outside the closet door. I'll take care of The Rat after I calm them down.

"... the Black Bombshell?" Jack is asking as I come out of the closet.

Babe points to me and shrieks. Jack shakes his head. "You'd be a more believable dust bunny killer if you didn't have them all over you, old son," he says, laughing.

I calmly wipe the lint from my whiskers and settle down to wait for their merriment to subside. Cats are known for their patience with their human pets.