~ 3 ~
The stairs ended at the edge of a long hall of stone. Following the dim beam of the flashlight, the four cats proceeded down the corridor, keeping close to one another.
"Usually we have it lit down here but since we don't have any customers tonight it would just waste electricity. I'll hit the lights once we get inside. Ow! Jeez, Rocky, that was my foot."
"Sorry, Miss Pepper," he apologized, "I just don't like it when it's dark down here. Rather spooky place, ya know? I reckon there's more than a few ghosts wandering down here."
"Please tell me he is kidding," Missy whispered, keeping her voice low from any ears lurking in the dark.
"Not at all. Lots of poor folks have passed away down here. In fact, a few weeks ago we had a bit of a raid down in these caverns and three pig farmers got iced-"
"Do we really need to talk about this?" Calvin's voice cut in, quiet but sharp.
"Pig farmers?" Missy questioned, glancing in the general direction of the cousins' faces.
"Let's just say bootlegging is a very competitive business," Rocky concluded. Missy decided not to question what pig farmers had to do with bootlegging and why Calvin sounded so irritated.
"Please, Rocky, there's no such thing as ghosts," Ivy argued though the quiver in her voice didn't sound too convincing.
"You don't know that, Miss Pepper. There could be one here right now, waiting to spring at the right time."
"Whatever." Ivy rolled her yellow eyes. But Rocky wasn't done yet.
"Watching," he continued, narrowing his eyes and glancing side to side dramatically. "Just waiting for the right moment to jump out and yell BOO!"
"AAAH!" the girls screamed at once. Ivy leaped back and dropped her flashlight, plunging the group in darkness. Missy stumbled and collided heavily with the person behind her.
"Vhat is going on?" she heard a voice bark in the gloom. With a loud click, the lights around them flashed on, temporarily blinding everyone. Down the hall and approaching fast was Viktor, not looking too happy. It was becoming a very permanent look for him.
He glanced over at Ivy clinging to Rocky's jacket while the idiot tabby just cackled over his practical joke. Freckle looked a bit ruffled but was recovering quickly. In his arms was Missy, caught during her fall and still in shock.
"Vhat happened?" Viktor sighed, seeing no one was hurt.
"Rocky thought it would be funny to tell ghost stories in the dark," Ivy exclaimed, punching Rickaby in the shoulder. "You bimbo."
"Hey, who doesn't like a good scary story?" he asked, rubbing his arm. "Besides, you're the one who dropped the flashlight."
Having gotten over the scare, Freckle helped Missy back to her feet. "You okay?"
"Other than a minor heart attack, I'm fine. Nice catch by the way," she smiled. This caused the orange cat to blush more and glance away embarrassed.
Just then, Rocky suddenly appeared between them, a mischievous grin plastered on his face.
"Aw isn't that cute," he mocked, making kissy faces at them. "You two snugglin' in the dark. Want me to hit the lights again?"
"I just fell," Missy objected, crossing her arms.
"Sure. A convenient fall, eh?" he hinted, nudging her with his elbow. With an annoyed huff, Missy turned away and strolled over to where Ivy was talking with Viktor. As she walked, Rocky studied her like a critic admiring a work of art.
"Not bad, McMurray," he muttered, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Got yourself a nice doll there and she's only been in town a few hours. I'm impressed."
"W-what?" he younger cousin spluttered, having no idea what Rocky was talking about.
"Oh come on. You and Miss Burke there taking advantage of the dark. You cad. Better be careful, though. Don't know if Miss Ivy's going to enjoy the competition."
Before Calvin could argue, Rocky had leapt back to the rest of the group. "We gonna keep this little tour group movin' or what?"
"You're staying in front this time," Ivy grumbled, shoving his shoulders from behind.
The others followed until the tunnel opened into a large empty cavern. There was a loud click as Viktor hit another switch and the remaining darkness was banished.
Gold light fixtures illuminated the once ordinary gray cave. Marble support columns stood in rows, reaching from the tall ceiling to the carpeted red floor below. Between them were velvety gambling tables and a space set aside for dancing. To the left, an elegant stage was set up for the band with lounge chairs arranged about the floor. On the opposite side of the room sat the bar, its once fully stocked shelves looking bare and dusty.
"Wow," Missy gasped, hearing her voice echo back in the empty space. As the group ventured inside, she could see the Lackadaisy clover displayed proudly on the back wall. In all, it was an astonishing sight that left her speechless.
"So what ya think?" Ivy asked, skipping further into the room with an eager grin.
"It's amazing," the tabby breathed after a moment, walking slowly to follow the other cat, glancing this way and that with each step.
"It's a lot nicer when there's a crowd." Ivy frowned at her own words before taking a seat on the bar. Viktor stalked around to stand on the other side, watching the small company with his arms crossed.
"Don't worry," Missy encouraged. "As soon as we start getting regular shipments up here, customers are sure to follow. Just watch, soon we'll have this place swinging bigger and better than ever."
"Speaking of which, Miss Burke," Rocky cut in, raising a hand for her attention. "When are the shipments supposed to start?"
The new supplier turned to him with a sly grin. "Tomorrow at midnight; east riverbank. You boys think you'll be ready?"
"Yes ma'am!" the gray tabby saluted dramatically. An elbow to his cousin coaxed a small nod from the quiet cat.
"Good. Miss M said she'll be coming to make sure everything runs smoothly. Pick us up a quarter to twelve and we'll see how it goes."
"What about me?" Ivy piped up. "I want to go!"
"Well, Miss Pepper, I don't think it would be wise for you to go. It's dangerous," Rocky tried to convince her but Ivy wasn't buying it.
"Missy's gonna be there. So is Ms. M. Besides if we run into trouble, Freckle will protect me, won't you?" she asked, latching onto Calvin's arm again. He shied away from her embrace, trying to put some space between him and the clingy cat.
"Well yeah…uh…I guess…" he mumbled, glancing around nervously for an answer.
"And wouldn't be oh so sad if he got shot because you were distracting him," Rocky sighed, wiping a fake tear from his eye. "Oh how tragic. And all because you wouldn't listen to us."
Ivy rolled her yellow eyes. "I'm better with a gun than you are, Rickaby. Remember what happened last time?" She gestured to his nicked ear.
The cat groaned dramatically and flailed his arms. "It was one time!"
It was already late evening by the time the boat finally pulled up to the St Louis dock. Grabbing his luggage, McLoughlin quickly followed the other passengers to solid ground. As he separated from the crowd, a brown and white tabby in a police uniform spotted him and waved him over.
"Mr. McLoughlin?" the officer asked as the detective joined him.
Jack gave him a skeptical look. "That's me. And you are?"
"Officer Abe Davis at your service, sir." Giving McLoughlin a quick handshake, he took the suitcase and stowed it in the waiting car. "The chief sent me to pick you up. Said you might be tired after your trip so he'll talk to ya first thing tomorrow. 'Til then, there's a nice hotel just down the street from the station you can stay at and get some shut eye."
"Sounds nice," the black cat mused as they both stepped into the car, "but I would prefer to get started immediately."
Officer Davis looked at a loss for a moment. "So…to the station then?" he eventually asked.
Jack nodded, his green eyes gleaming with a small grin. "Good plan, Abe."