A T.U.F.F. Puppy fanfiction
by Bill K.
T.U.F.F. Puppy and all related characters are ©2012 by Billionfold Productions and the Nickelodeon Cable Network and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is © 2012 by Bill K. Parts of this story are based on the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Diary Of A Mad Cat".
The citizens of Petropolis turned at the sound of the eye-catching white sports car roaring down the street. Driving the car was a tall, sleek, elegant-looking cat with black hair flowing in the wind behind her. She handled the powerful vehicle with ease. She looked like she was capable of handling anything that might come her way.
Anything except for the muscular white dog in the seat next to her.
"I don't know why I couldn't drive us to work," Dudley Puppy muttered petulantly.
"Because we need to be on time for once," Kitty Katswell replied with thinning patience. "And you always stop in the drive-thru on the way. Every time we car pool, we stop in the drive-thru and we end up being late."
"WELL I'M HUNGRY!" Dudley bellowed.
"Try eating breakfast BEFORE you come to work," Kitty grumbled.
"I do," Dudley said, mystified by his partner's response.
Further debate on the subject was lost when Dudley's attention was caught by a billboard the car passed. It advertised the upcoming new film starring acclaimed singer and sex symbol Marilyn Meow. Marilyn Meow was tall, blonde and arrestingly curvaceous, and had a face that cameras adored. She had been a media sensation for several years now.
"Figures she'd be YOUR type," Kitty commented sourly.
"MY type happens to be French Poodle, as we both know," Dudley retorted with a haughty demeanor, scoffing at her assertion. "But you have to admit, that Marilyn Meow knows how to take a picture."
"Whatever," Kitty scowled.
"You know, if you'd stopped at the drive-thru for donut holes like I wanted, you wouldn't be so grumbly now," Dudley said with the same haughty demeanor.
At TUFF, Kitty sat down at her desk to catch up on the latest crime reports while Dudley tried once again to fit his arm into the vending machine through the dispenser slot and snag a bag of cheese-flavored dog treats. She hadn't been reading long when The Chief entered the room.
"Agents Puppy and Katswell!" The Chief roared through the speakers of his magnification vehicle. The grizzled, veteran flea rolled up to a spot near the overhead display monitor.
"Give me a minute, Chief!" Kitty heard as she headed over to the giant monitor. "I'm stuck in the vending machine again!"
"Agent Silverback," The Chief sighed. "Help Agent Puppy - - and don't be gentle this time."
"Heh," grinned Agent Silverback, a gorilla wearing dark glasses and a black suit.
"What's up, Chief?" Kitty asked.
"We just got a report that Marilyn Meow," and The Chief paused as all of the male agents in the room sighed in unison, "has been abducted." A gasp of horror from all of the male agents in the room swept Tuff.
"Wow, I think I left part of my arm back in the vending machine," Dudley mumbled, stumbling over to the others. "Any intel on who grabbed her, Chief?"
"No, Agent P-P-Puppy," Keswick informed him, stepping to the forefront of the overhead display and adjusting his glasses. "All we have are some tire tracks leading away from her t-t-trailer at the studio, and a ransom note demanding f-f-f-five hundred million smackers."
"The studio is willing to pay the ransom," The Chief added, "but I don't want to encourage this sort of thing in this city. If one criminal gets away with it, it'll be inviting more. I might even be next!"
"Yeah, like that's going to happen," mumbled Keswick sarcastically.
"Chief, maybe you better send someone else," Kitty suggested. Dudley looked over at his partner, surprised. He saw someone haunted by the past, something that was the furthest thing from the confident, gung-ho agent he'd partnered with all this time.
"Nonsense, Agent Katswell," The Chief replied. "You and Agent Puppy are the best we have and this case needs the best we have. You're just going to have to put your personal feelings aside."
"Kitty, what is it?" Dudley asked. "I know you're not a fan of Marilyn Meow, but I didn't think it could affect your work like this?"
"It runs deeper than that, Agent P-P-Puppy," Keswick told him. "Marilyn Meow is just a stage name. Her actual n-n-name is Melissa Katswell. She's Kitty's older sister, and they don't get along."
"KESWICK!" gasped Kitty. "Have you been hacking into my personnel file?"
"Of course not, Agent K-K-Katswell!" Keswick replied indignantly. "It would be a violation of both my personal ethics and my oath as a TUFF agent to perform such a betrayal of a fellow agent's trust."
"Then how did you find out about me and Missy?"
"The Chief told me over coffee and cinnamon rolls."
Kitty whirled angrily on The Chief.
"Uhh," the flea began. "There's no time to waste on this! You have forty-eight hours until the ransom drop. That's how long the studio needed to assemble that much moolah. Find Marilyn Meow," and he paused again while all the male agents sighed, "and arrest her kidnapper! I'll be in my office looking through the personnel files." And off on his magnification vehicle he scooted.
In the TUFF garage, Dudley sat in the TUFF-mobile watching Kitty mount her motorcycle. Kitty had on her black motorcycle jumpsuit with the white piping and her white boots and gloves. Usually that outfit, and the way it hugged her feline form, would catch his attention even though she was a cat. But now he was more concerned about the inside of his partner than the outside.
"You sure you want to split up, Kitty?" Dudley asked. Kitty held her motorcycle helmet in her hands and glanced at Dudley.
"I think we can cover more ground that way," Kitty replied. "I want to get a look at those tire tracks. Maybe I can extrapolate something from them. Besides, Keswick has a new device I'm been wanting to try. You get Missy's scent from her clothes and her home and do what you do best. We've got less than forth-eight hours after all."
"OK," he replied. "So what's up with you and your sister? I don't have any brothers or sisters, so maybe I'm missing something. But I thought sisters were supposed to like each other."
Kitty's eyes dropped to the cement floor of the garage. She expelled a small sigh and didn't respond for the longest time.
"I suppose I should," Kitty finally said in a tiny voice. "It's just - - she's always been pretty - - prettier than me - - even when we were kids. She was always Miss Popularity and she knew it. And she just couldn't resist rubbing my nose in it. She's always been so superior. And she was always Mom's favorite. All I ever heard was 'Kitty, why can't you be more like Melissa'? No matter what I did."
Kitty sighed again.
"And being pretty always got her things. She was head cheerleader. She was Homecoming Queen. She had a squad of boys following her around, doing everything for her. Even now: I risk my nine lives to protect everyone. All she has to do is be pretty and people throw money at her. Even that one time when she was driving high on catnip and ran her car up the back of The Mayor's statue, she just smiled and batted her eyes at the judge and he reduced her sentence to ten days in jail. That was a fourth class felony!" Kitty frowned. "I've had to work for everything I've got, and all she's ever had to do was be pretty."
"I think you're just as pretty," Dudley said, with that little-puppy innocence he could manifest at the strangest times. "And you're certainly just as good as she is."
A timid smile crept over his partner's mouth. "Thanks, Dudley," Kitty sniffed.
"Though maybe not at singing," Dudley continued, rethinking the question, "or modeling, or maybe acting . . ."
"You still haven't learned when to stop talking," Kitty muttered.
She popped her helmet over her head and, gunning her motorcycle, rocketed out of the TUFF garage. Dudley stared after her, surprised by her reaction.
"She definitely should have had some donut holes this morning," Dudley commented, revving the engine of the TUFF-mobile.
As she peeled down the divided asphalt ribbon headed toward the studio her sister was filming at, the place where she had been abducted, Kitty began to flash back to memories of her adolescence.
"Mom, I got straight 'A's!" young Kitty lisped through her braces, holding up her report card for her mother to see.
"That's nice, Kitty Dear," her mother replied, glancing at the card. "Now get changed. Melissa's performing in the school talent show tonight and we don't want to miss it!"
Her mother hurried off to shove her widening frame into a nice dress, leaving Kitty in the kitchen. Wonderful - - another chance to be reminded of how popular Missy was and how Kitty had more in common with a pencil than her own sister.
Back in reality, Kitty felt her eyes watering. She blinked the tears away.
"Mom!" fifteen year old Kitty exclaimed, running into the house. "I made the track team!"
"As what?" she heard Melissa from the next room. "A javelin?"
"My first event is this Friday in the long jump!"
"Are you sure that's something a girl should be doing?" her mother asked, her features colored with worry. "You could get hurt."
"Mooooooom!" groaned young Kitty.
"Why don't you take up something more ladylike, like Melissa? She's going to be head cheerleader for the third year running."
As she guided her motorcycle down the highway, Kitty swallowed down the lump in her throat.
"Mom, I made the squad!" cried young Kitty, now sixteen, newly freed of her braces but still gangly. "I'm on the cheerleading squad!"
"Head cheerleader?" her mother asked.
"No," Kitty replied, deflating.
"Well," her mother said, patting her daughter's shoulder, "keep working at it and maybe you can be as good as Melissa was."
The motorcycle echoed through the city's canyons of concrete and steel buildings that surrounded the movie studio. Kitty so didn't want to relive these memories, but like an aching tooth, she couldn't banish them with just a desire:
-the memories of Missy always acting so superior to her.
-the way she always had to one-up everything Kitty did.
-the time Missy came on to the boy that had taken an interest in Kitty, then cast him aside once there was no longer any chance between Kitty and him.
-the disdainful taunts and put-downs, devaluing everything Kitty was and everything Kitty did. Over her life, Kitty had come to truly hate two names: Katherine, her real first name, because the only time it was ever used was when her mother was about to punish her, and Braceface, Missy's favorite nickname for her even after that traumatic time of her life had passed.
Arriving at the studio, Kitty stopped her bike more harshly than she normally did and dismounted, ripping her helmet off. At once, she stopped and took a deep breath to try to calm herself. Passing studio personnel glanced curiously at her.
"Professional," the cat admonished herself. "You have a job to do. You may not like it, but you've had to do jobs you didn't like before." Fishing into the satchel she had attached to the bike, Kitty pulled out a handheld scanner developed by Keswick. "Don't think of it as rescuing Missy. Think of it as bringing another bad guy to justice."
Fortunately the crime scene was still taped off. Aiming the handheld at the pavement where tire tread residue remained from the getaway vehicle lurching forward at high speed, Kitty engaged it. As she read the display, her mind flashed back to Keswick explaining the device's function.
"I've discovered," Keswick said proudly, "that rubber, when mixed with certain chemicals or trace elements, can g-g-give off a unique spectrometer signal. Using this scanning device, a field agent may be able to track a tire print past the point where that print is visible to the naked eye. Of course, it isn't f-f-foolproof. Some spectrometer readings are too close to distinguish, and contamination from other t-t-tire prints may obliterate the readings."
"But a good agent uses every tool at her disposal," Kitty mumbled.
The handheld gauged the spectrometric reading from the tire print. Turning, Kitty began searching the rest of the pavement for a like reading. She didn't have far to look. Like invisible ink revealed by ultra-violet light, a tire print formed on the pavement just as plain as the black mark she'd originally investigated. A triumphant smile curled across Kitty's mouth, baring fangs.
Instantly hopping onto her bike, Kitty patched the handheld into a mobile power source mounted on the front and locked the device into a holding grip on the handle bars. Kick-starting her cycle, Kitty donned her helmet and pressed a stud on the side, which dispatched a duplicate of the telemetry readings from the handheld onto the visor of the helmet. Peeling out, Kitty rocketed to the end of the drive and made a hard left.
"This is AWESOME!"
"But Miss Meow's clothes and personal effects are in this closet," said Devin Maxwell, Marilyn Meow's personal assistant. She was a comely raccoon, a little tomboyish, but certainly attractive even in the casual slacks and blouse she wore. Sure, she was no French Poodle . . .
"HOW MANY CHANNELS ARE ON THIS?" Dudley exclaimed with unconcealed lust and excitement as he stared at the seventy inch wide screen plasma TV mounted on Marilyn Meow's bedroom wall.
"Are you sure you're a TUFF Agent?" Devin asked with mounting suspicion.
"Of course I am," Dudley replied confidently. He pushed the remote and the TV came to life. "Aw, nobody wants to watch soap operas!"
"I thought you were here to investigate Miss Meow's disappearance!" Devin fumed.
"Kitty's sister! Right!" Dudley nodded, snapped out of his reverie. The dog bounded over to the walk-in closet and began sniffing the hundreds of outfits hanging inside. Immediately he turned to the assistant. "These have all been washed."
"Of course! Miss Meow has an image to live up to!"
"Do you have anything that hasn't been washed yet! I have to get her scent! I can't get anything from this room because it's been cleaned!"
"Um," Devin scowled as she thought, "maybe today's laundry hasn't gone out yet. This way."
Leading the TUFF Agent down a curving flight of stairs and through ornately decorated living and dining rooms, Devin brought him to the back of the house. Sitting in a hall just off the kitchen and next to the back door was a canvas sack of laundry. Devin turned to Dudley.
"Luckily the laundry hasn't been by to pick up . . ." she began, then noticed Dudley staring entranced at the kitchen, his nose twitching. "Are you OK?"
"This place has everything," Dudley whispered reverently. "Where does she keep the chew toys?"
"Just get her scent and go," scowled Devin.
Dudley opened the laundry sack and pulled out one of the garments. Immediately Devin heard him giggling like a five-year-old. She turned and saw Dudley was holding a pair of silk panties.
"Lady things," Dudley chuckled, grinning at Devin like an idiot.
"Are you sure you're a TUFF Agent?" Devin asked again.
"Are YOU sure you're a personal assistant?" Dudley shot back.
"Of course I am!" fumed Devin.
"THEN WHY ARE YOU WEARING A MASK?" Dudley roared, pointing an accusing finger at the woman.
"Is this some sort of anti-raccoon bias?" growled Devin. "Are you one of those bigots who think every raccoon is a criminal because we have black fur around our eyes?
"Why would you wear a mask if you already have black fur around your eyes?" Dudley asked. Devin responded with an acid look. Undaunted, he jammed the panties to his nose and took a deep breath. Two smaller sniffs and suddenly he threw the garment to the floor. "I've got it," he smiled confidently. With a bold stride, Dudley walked to the door, flung it open and began to step out. "Don't worry. I'll find her," he said and strode out the door.
Then he poked his head back in and pointed at Devin.
"But I'm watching you," he added, and then disappeared out the door.
The handheld had worked better than hoped. The tire traces had led her to the back of a storefront in the business center of Petropolis. The van belonging to the tire traces was even parked out back. Her cycle idling three hundred yards away, on the side of a deserted alley that ran behind the storefront, Kitty observed every visible inch of the building through binoculars that were modified to include night vision, infrared and image transfer technology that could connect with the TUFF computers and analyze any image transmitted to it.
"The van is registered to Elegante Pastry," Kitty read the intel aloud, "which also owns the building. Hardly the place kidnappers would hole up with a captive. It's not remote, it's not abandoned - - are the owners hostages, too, or are they in on it? That van is my likely getaway vehicle. So unless it was stolen, somebody connected with Elegante Pastry may be moonlighting as a kidnapper."
Silencing the motorcycle, Kitty got off and stole as quietly as her agent's training allowed her to the van. Quickly she peered into the cab, shining a small light into the interior. There was no evidence of tampering with the steering column or hot-wiring, so the van likely hadn't been stolen. That meant there were likely hostiles inside the building. Drawing her TUFF issue blaster, Kitty eased up to the back door. It was a standard steel door found on the backs of most storefronts. Luckily for her, it was a door that could be unlocked from the outside by a key.
Taking care, Kitty examined every inch of the door, the door frame and the surrounding wall for signs of alarms or booby-traps. She found a standard burglar alarm designed to sound if the door was forced, but no other devices. Nodding, Kitty extended the claw on the first finger of her right hand. One of her unique abilities as a TUFF Agent was being able to open most locks, even dead bolt locks, with her claws. It was a skill she was proud of and had helped her on many missions.
Inserting her claw into the lock mechanism, Kitty fished around for the mechanism that would retract the bolt and open the door. Normally she would just blast it open, but this instance required stealth. It was one time she was glad Dudley was somewhere else, as stealth wasn't in her partner's vocabulary.
"Like moderation," she grinned.
Feeling her claw insert into the bolt mechanism, Kitty turned it to the right. Instantly a green cloud of gas shot out from a pinhole in the door right into her face. Kitty staggered back several paces, trying to avoid the gas, but it was too late. The strength flushed from her body and the cat sank in a heap before the door. She thought to signal for assistance, but she lost consciousness before her hand could struggle to her communicator. Moments later a dark figure opened the door, chuckled confidently and pulled the limp agent into the building. The door closed behind them with a sound of great finality.
"We're doing all we can, Mrs. Katswell," The Chief said over his speaker phone. "I've got my best agents on the case. We'll find your daughter."
"Is Kitty on the case?" Kitty and Missy's mother anxiously asked on the other end of the phone. Mrs. Katswell had a direct line to TUFF only because of Kitty's association with the agency. Mrs. Katswell had known of Kitty's job for several years, though specific incidents were classified. Previously she'd called twice, once when The Chameleon had threatened Kitty's life, and once to remind Kitty that she hadn't called in a while. The minute news of Marilyn Meow's abduction had broken, Mrs. Katswell had been on the phone to TUFF.
"Yes, Agent Katswell is on the case," The Chief answered. "I shouldn't be telling you this - - and you can't reveal that information to anyone."
"If anyone can find Melissa," the voice said, trembling, "it's Kitty." She sighed. "Thank you, Mr. Dumbrowski. Please keep me informed."
"Certainly, Mrs. Katswell," The Chief said, his voice still gravelly but at a respectful pitch.
But no sooner had he disconnected than The Chief got an incoming alert from the Situation Support Room.
"What is it?" he demanded.
"Agent Katswell's transponder just went off the grid, Sir!" came the report.
"WHAT WAS HER LAST LOCATION?"
"Southwest quadrant, Sir! Near the sports arena!"
"Send a backup team to those coordinates!" ordered The Chief. "And alert Agent Puppy!"
"Um, Sir," the Situation Support Room responded. "We found Agent Puppy's communicator in the vending machine this morning. It must have been pulled off of his arm when Agent Silverback extracted him."
"Oh, fine," muttered The Chief.
Consciousness flooded back into Kitty, but she kept still to allow herself time to reconnoiter her surroundings. She was in a room with a cement floor and sound-baffling paneling over cinder block. There were banks of overhead fluorescent lighting recessed in sound-baffling ceiling tile. A panel of buttons and a lever were set in the wall to the right of a steel door. Kitty could feel her wrists pinned behind her by strong bands, probably leather or some Mylar mesh. Her legs were similarly pinned at the ankle and knee, and a strap ran across her chest and behind her to pin her arms to her body.
And her acute hearing picked up the breathing of another in the room. She wasn't alone. Cautiously she turned to the sound, as there was nothing more to be learned by faking unconsciousness. The agent peered over her shoulder.
"Missy!" Kitty exclaimed.
"Are you here to rescue me, Braceface?" Missy scowled, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "Now I'm REALLY in trouble."
Squirming around to face her sister, Kitty saw that Missy was bound the same was she was. She was wearing a tight, plunging red satin evening gown that displayed her elegant shoulders and ample bodice to maximum effect. It was slit up to the hip on the left side, revealing perfect legs shorn in black hose and shod in red pumps with three inch heels. The gown was a vibrant red that contrasted with the thick, immaculately coiffed honey blonde hair bobbed just above her shoulders. Kitty could see that Missy was noticeably worse for her ordeal of captivity - - and yet she STILL looked gorgeous.
"Did you see who abducted you?" Kitty hissed, trying to keep her voice as low as possible and still be heard, in case their abductor was monitoring them.
"You haven't already figured that out, Little Miss Know-It-All?" quipped Missy. "I thought you were the straight A student."
"Missy, we can go back to hissing at each other AFTER we get out of here!" snapped Kitty a little too loudly. "Now how many kidnappers are there? What do they look like? What kind of tech do they have?"
"All right," huffed Missy. "I only saw one. But she's good. She had me tied up and stuffed in that icky van before I even knew what was happening." Missy shuddered. "It happened so fast. And the van was dark. And I was - - well, scared! Things like this aren't supposed to happen to people like me!" Missy took a couple of shallow breaths. "I-I think she had some sort of funny-looking gun."
Kitty nodded thoughtfully. "Can you describe what she looks like?"
"Scary," Missy said and Kitty could tell her sister was coming apart at the seams.
"Just breathe, Missy," Kitty advised her. "We'll get out of this. Now what species was she? What hair color? What was she wearing?"
"A trench coat. It was dark," Missy replied anxiously. "She had black hair. She looked a little like you - - except for the eye patch . . ."
Kitty sucked in air. It wasn't a sign that reassured her sister. Just then, the steel door to the room opened. Light flooded in from outside, silhouetting the figure in the door frame. Kitty twisted around to look at the figure as Missy whimpered in terror.
"That's right, Agent Katswell," the figure said as she closed the door behind her. "Madame Catastrophe."
"I told you she looked like you, Braceface," Missy said fearfully. "Same butch appearance, especially with that goatee. . ."
"IT'S A HORMONE CONDITION!" snapped Madame Catastrophe. Clearly it was a sensitive subject with the international criminal. "Deal with it!"
"Kidnapping? Isn't that a bit beneath you, Madame Catastrophe?" Kitty spoke up, trying to draw the villain's attention to her and away from her sister.
"I have to finance my schemes somehow," the villain leered. "And it's so much more cost-effective than robbing banks. But this isn't a simple abduction for ransom, Agent Katswell. I specifically targeted 'Miss Meow' here the moment I learned she was really Melissa Katswell. I knew TUFF would want to send their best agent to retrieve her and I knew you'd come anyway, in spite of your history. Why do you think I agreed to wait forty-eight hours to collect the ransom? Why do you think I left so many obvious clues behind as to where she was being held? So you would think it was amateurs at work and come here over-confident. I wanted you to know where she was, so you would come right to me in order to save your dear sister."
"I guess she hasn't heard about us, Braceface," Missy mumbled.
"Stop calling me that!" hissed Kitty.
"My main objective from the start was to eliminate you," Madame Catastrophe continued. "You've been a threat to my operations in Petropolis ever since I set up here. Your destruction, and the destruction of your partner, will cripple TUFF long enough to allow me to implement a plan I've been waiting years to proceed with." She smiled viciously. "And the bounty I collect for your sister will be a nice bonus."
"So why am I still alive?" Kitty asked, trying to stretch things out in the hopes that some opportunity would come up.
"There are things you know, Agent Katswell, which I want to know," Madame Catastrophe told her. She produced a circular band with printed circuitry inside from her pocket. "With the aid of this, I'll find those things out."
"What is that?" Kitty asked warily.
"You've heard of The Dream Inducer? It's the same concept," the villain explained. "With this, I can sift through everything you know, everything you've experienced and extract the precise information I'm looking for. It may take a while," and she grinned mirthlessly, "and it won't be comfortable. But it will get me the information I'm after."
"You'll never get away with this!" Kitty fumed.
"Wow, Braceface, cliché much?" mumbled Missy.
"Shut up!" retorted Kitty.
"Oh, you're sisters, all right," chuckled Madame Catastrophe. "The way you both bicker reminds me of the times I had growing up with my two older brothers. They would have been thirty and twenty-eight - - if I hadn't had them killed."
Leaning down, Madame Catastrophe grabbed Kitty by the collar of her motorcycle jumpsuit and dragged her along the floor to the steel door.
"Come, Agent Katswell," the villain said gleefully. "The sooner I get started, the sooner I can eliminate you. Oh, and don't depend on TUFF finding you. I have a device that deflects your transponder signal within a radius of a mile from this building. Right now they think you're at the sports arena. And I've got plans for your partner, too. Why do you think I set up operations beneath a pastry shop?"
Kitty struggled to pull free, but it was in vain. As she was dragged through the door, the agent glanced back at her sister.
"Kitty?" Missy said softly, panic painted on her face in vivid strokes. But Kitty couldn't tell if Missy was concerned for her or concerned that her only means of deliverance was slipping away.
"This is harder than I thought," Dudley thought as he doggedly followed the scent of Marilyn Meow.
His nose was pressed to the pavement and he lurched back and forth through the busy streets of Petropolis, knocking passersby to and fro.
"There are so many wonderful smells!" he continued. "That guy uses Brutal after shave. That lady smells like a garden of flowers." He passed a rather unkempt individual. "Oh, and THAT guy smells like a garden that forgot to have flowers! YUCK!"
By now most citizens were clearing a path for Dudley. He reached an intersection, momentarily losing the scent, and brought his arm up to his mouth.
"Come in, TUFF!" he said. "I'm momentarily stopped. Has there been any word from Kitty?"
When he received no answer, Dudley looked down and saw his bare wrist.
"Oh, no! I must have lost my communicator in the vending machine again!" he raged. "I knew I left something back there. Felt like my wrist, not my wrist communicator." He thought about the bag of cheese-flavored dog snacks that taunted him from the vending machine window. His eyes narrowed. "And I'd do it again."
Just then, the air current brought Marilyn's scent to his sensitive nostrils. Springing into action, Dudley bounded across the intersection without waiting for the light to change, after the scent.
It was nearly a half mile later that Dudley came within sight of the Elegante Pastry shop. His head popped up. His eyes narrowed. His nose twitched slightly.
"Bingo," he said with quiet confidence.
Sauntering into the shop with the air of someone trying desperately to look like they weren't scoping the place out and actually were just an innocent shopper, Dudley quickly surveyed the premises. The room had four glass and steel showcases extending like arms on either side of a single cash register. Each display case had enough pastry in enough varieties to give you high cholesterol just by looking at them. Behind each display case were glass shelves with mirrored backdrops and every shelf displayed more pastries. Dudley stood in the center of the room and stared.
"May I help you?" asked the clerk at the counter, a wiry young Siamese cat.
"Can you tell me something?" Dudley asked vacantly.
"I'll try," the Siamese grinned uncomfortably. "What?"
"Is this heaven?"
Pleased that she had him hooked, for this was an operative of Madame Catastrophe and she had been warned to look out for Dudley, the Siamese smiled with serene menace.
"We try to be as close to it as possible," she said sweetly.
"Can you wrap it up?"
"Wrap what up?"
"Everythingggggggggg," Dudley responded hungrily.
"Let's try to be a little more specific," the clerk replied with good humor. "You seem to be a donut man, from my guess."
"Wow! HOW DID YOU KNOW?"
"Um, the crumbs on your shirt," she answered. "Now over here we have a wonderful selection of donuts, donuts the like of which you've never tasted before."
As Dudley allowed the feline clerk to lead him over to a display case, a scent struck his nose. His attention caught, Dudley's head turned slightly.
"I smell cat," he thought as he walked with the clerk. "And it's coming from a different direction than this clerk." He sniffed again. "Smells a little like Kitty. But her sister's scent smelled similar to Kitty, too. Maybe she's here. Maybe both of them are here! Maybe. . .!"
All conscious thought stopped, overridden by the new scent in his nose. Dudley's head whipped around.
"You have BACON-FLAVORED DONUTS!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," the clerk purred, for these donuts had been laced with a powerful poison and kept specifically in case Dudley Puppy showed up in the shop. "Would you like to try one - - as a free sample?"
Dudley's eyes grew huge and watery. "Would you like to marry me?" he asked reverently.
Marilyn Meow, otherwise known as Melissa Katswell, huddled against the wall of the underground room. Restrained as she was, she found it difficult to do anything else but sit there and be afraid. The media star feared for her future. There was no guarantee that this Madame Catastrophe would release her unharmed even if the ransom was paid. And Melissa entertained little hope of escaping this frightening international criminal. After all, if someone like Kitty had fallen prey to Madame Catastrophe, what hope did she have?
She was tired, her body ached, she was miserable and on edge from fear and lack of sleep. How she longed for her heart-shaped satin bed in the ornate safety of her expansive, expensive mansion. Right now she'd settle for the back seat of Johnny Manx's car, and she had never felt safe there.
The bolt to the door sounded and Melissa felt her heart thud to a stop. The door eased open long enough for a dark silhouette to throw a limp form into the room. The door bolted again after closing.
"Kitty?" Melissa ventured with nervous trepidation. No answer came from the black-clad TUFF agent. Only the rise and fall of her torso told Melissa that her sister was even alive. "Kitty!"
"Not so loud," pleaded the vaunted Kitty Katswell in a soft mewl. "It feels like she split my head open and rummaged around inside."
"Kitty, we have to get out of here!" her sister exhorted.
"No kidding, Missy," Kitty muttered. "You always did have a wonderful grasp of the obvious."
"I'm serious! That's woman's crazy!"
"No," Kitty responded weakly. "She knows exactly what she's doing."
"Kitty, you have to get us out of this!" Melissa begged, her voice telling Kitty that her sister was close to hysterics again. "Come on! You're the only one who can! You have to help me!"
"I have to help you," Kitty sighed bitterly.
"Well I can't do it!" Melissa cried. "I'm just a pin-up queen! You're the one who got straight 'A's all the time! You were the big-time athlete! You were the one in student government, the one everybody picked to succeed, the one all of the teacher's liked best!" Melissa swallowed a sob. "You were the one who was always Mom's little favorite!"
"What?" Kitty asked, soft and toneless and at the same time incredulous. She twisted around with great effort and looked at her sister. Tears were streaming down Melissa's face, marring her pin-up features with rivulets of mascara. Melissa's lower lip, painted cherry red and glossed, quivered.
"That's all I ever heard growing up," Melissa whimpered as she cried. "'Why can't you be more like Kitty? She gets good grades. She doesn't party all the time. She's going to be something.'"
"Missy," Kitty began.
"You were always there, always better than me, always the shining example of what I wasn't! I was three years older than you and you were already better than me! The only thing I was ever better than you at was being beautiful!" wailed Melissa. "And ever since you blossomed, I'm not even that!"
"You're a world famous sex symbol!" Kitty huffed. "I can't even get a date with the bottled water guy! You've got a different gorgeous guy on your arm every month!"
"You know why?" Melissa asked in a voice similar to the one Kitty remembered her having as a child. "Because they think they're hooking up with Marilyn Meow. But they end up with Melissa Katswell. And she's not interesting enough to hold a guy."
"And all this time I've been jealous of you," Kitty marveled.
"All this time I've been jealous of you," Melissa admitted with embarrassment. "You save lives. You help people. You keep the world safe. I'm just paparazzi fodder. One day I won't be beautiful anymore, and then where will I be? I don't know how to do anything else."
"Well, maybe you could use some of the time you waste in cat nip bars to learn a skill you can fall back on," Kitty suggested. Melissa glanced at her, looking for the sarcasm in her sister's face and not finding it. "But we've got to get out of here first."
"Tell me you have a plan," Melissa asked desperately.
"I'm working on it," Kitty said, fighting through the fatigue. "But I'm going to need your help, Missy."
"I CAN'T DO ANYTHING!" Melissa wailed.
"One thing you can do is keep your voice down," hissed Kitty. She began squirming over to where Melissa was. "Madame Catastrophe clipped my claws. Did she clip yours?
"Then you're going to have to cut these straps on my wrists."
"But I might break a nail!" cried Melissa in horror.
"Dying will be a lot worse!" snapped Kitty.
If Melissa's hands had been free at that moment, Kitty thought her sister might try to end her own life right there. All of this had to be too much for a pampered civilian to deal with. The thought crossed Kitty's mind that she had pushed her sister too far. Then with a huff of helpless resignation, Melissa began wriggling around so she and Kitty were back to back. Kitty felt her sister's fumbling attempts to cut the strap.
"This really hurts," Melissa groaned.
"Keep at it. You're doing fine," Kitty encouraged her.
"I don't know," Melissa whined.
"Dig into the material," prodded Kitty. "Really push your claws through it."
"I can't do this!" sobbed her sister.
"You don't have a choice! Madame Catastrophe isn't going to leave either of us alive!" Kitty spat. "Come on, Missy! Pretend you're slashing at the thing you hate the most! Pretend it's Johnny Manx!""
Squeezing her eyes shut, Melissa Katswell clenched her teeth and slashed at the Mylar weave strap. Each slash became more and more violent. Kitty held her wrists still and endured the scratches from when Melissa would miss. This had to work. There was no other visible option to her.
Kitty's head whirled around when she heard the bolt on the door throw. She felt Melissa freeze behind her. With no other moves left to her, the agent pulled at her wrist binding with every ounce of strength left to her. Maybe it was the small whimper of terror she heard escape from Melissa that gave her the extra boost of strength, but she felt the strap part.
Drawing on reserves she thought were exhausted, Kitty shrugged off the strap across her chest as Madame Catastrophe entered the room. The villain was armed and Kitty knew she had no time to free her legs. In one fluid, athletic motion, Kitty threw the severed strap at Madame Catastrophe as she pulled her legs under her. Her foe reflexively ducked, giving Kitty time to launch herself across the void between them. With her legs hampered, Kitty saw her leap would fall short of her target. But as she fell, Kitty used the strap that had been around her chest like a whip and slapped the blaster out of Madame Catastrophe's hand.
Attempting to recover, the villain turned toward Kitty. But Kitty launched herself again, throwing her shoulder into the door and slamming it into Madame Catastrophe's face and chest. That took the fight out of the criminal and she quickly retreated up the stairs outside the door. Kitty fought with the straps around her legs and finally freed herself. Mounting unsteady legs, she started in pursuit.
"KITTY!" shrieked Melissa, still bound up against the far wall. "PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME HERE!"
She wanted to pursue Madame Catastrophe. The criminal was a threat to everyone, particularly now that she was armed with who knows what information she had sifted from Kitty's brain. But Melissa looked so small and terrified. Her sister needed her - - now.
And then Kitty heard it.
It was music to Kitty's ears. Dudley had found them. Confident that Dudley had Madame Catastrophe, Kitty shuffled over and knelt down next to her sister. A few tugs and the straps fell away. Melissa pulled up into a little ball and avoided Kitty's gaze.
"Thank you," Melissa whispered. "I thought - - after everything I've done - - you were just going to leave me here." She sniffed. "Mom was right. I should have been more like you."
Kitty gently stroked some blonde hair from her sister's forehead.
"And maybe I should have been a little more like you," Kitty offered.
Dudley drove them back to TUFF. Melissa was taken to a hospital for observation. Kitty gave her the number of a counselor TUFF had on retainer to help her deal with the mental trauma. Melissa responded by asking Kitty if she wanted to sleep over at Marilyn Meow's mansion this weekend. Kitty smiled and nodded.
What she wanted next was to get a relaxing massage from this handsome masseur she knew, then slide into bed and sleep. But TUFF demanded reports and she couldn't leave until they were done. So while Dudley stared longingly at the bag of cheese-flavored dog snacks, his nose pressed up against the vending machine window, Kitty began pecking at her word processor. She was only a paragraph in when The Chief buzzed her on her phone.
"Call for you, Agent Katswell," he said with a mellow timber to his gruff voice. "Don't tie up the line too long."
"Yes, Chief," Kitty sighed. She picked up the phone. "Agent Katswell."
"Kitty?" she heard her mother gasp. "You're all right! Is Melissa . . .?"
"Safe, Mom," Kitty grinned. "A little frazzled around the edges, but she'll be back to breaking every guy's heart in no time."
"Oh, thank you, Kitty!" her mother exclaimed. "Thank you for rescuing her! And thank you for coming back safe!" She paused and Kitty sensed she seemed a little embarrassed. "I have to admit, I wasn't sure you'd try . . ."
"I'm a pro, Mom," Kitty told her. "And Missy and I both learned a few things about each other because of this. It may not be totally smooth sailing from now on, but I think we can at least stop hissing at each other."
"That's good," her mother said and Kitty sensed that her admission meant a great deal more than her mother was letting on.
"One thing I'm curious about, Mom," Kitty began. "Why were you always telling both of us that we should be like the other one? It really messed the two of us up."
"I'm sorry about that," she responded penitently. "I guess I was just being selfish."
"Selfish? Selfish how?"
"I had two wonderful daughters," her mother explained, "but each one excelled at what the other one was weak at. So I figured if I could get them to be more like each other, I'd have two perfect daughters." There was a pregnant pause. "I guess I was wrong to think that, huh?"
"Well, you weren't wrong about a lot of other things," Kitty said, glad that her mother couldn't see the color in her cheeks over the phone.
After giving her mother the location of the hospital Melissa was in, Kitty resumed her report. But minutes later Dudley wandered up.
"Crapped out again, huh?" Kitty commented as she typed.
"Yes," Dudley said. Then his eyes narrowed. "But those cheese-flavored dog snacks WILL be mine."
"You never did get around to telling me how you managed to avoid eating those poisoned donuts at Elegante Pastry," Kitty redirected her partner's attention.
"Very simple," Dudley replied proudly, pointing to his nose.
"With you it would almost have to be," Kitty grinned devilishly as she typed.
"I can smell bad bacon anytime," Dudley continued, oblivious to his partner's shot. "Nope, can't get anything past this old nose. No-sir-ree."
Kitty stopped typing. "Since when has some food being bad ever stopped you from eating it?"
"Well, never," Dudley replied with a guilty look. "But then I heard you and Madame Catastrophe fighting. And then I heard your sister beg you to stay. And I heard Madame Catastrophe run up the stairs. And the clerk started to pull a blaster on me." He folded his arms across his chest proudly. "So I figured something wasn't right."
Kitty just shook her head. His methods might irritate her, but she had to admit he got results.
"AND I DIDN'T GET TO EAT THE DONUTS!" Dudley bellowed dramatically. Then he pulled a sack from behind him. "Luckily I found these in my desk."
"Those donut holes you got?"
"Wish you had one now, don't you?" Dudley taunted. Kitty's eyes narrowed.
"Dudley! Ball!" she shouted, pointing over his shoulder.
"WHERE?" Dudley bellowed.
With her partner distracted, Kitty's hand dived into the bag, secured a donut hole and popped it into her mouth. When Dudley turned back to her, all he saw was Kitty staring at him with a toothy grin. He examined her, eyebrow raised, for several seconds while Kitty struggled not to laugh. Then he threw his head back and downed the rest of the bag in one gulp.
"Wait a minute," Dudley rumbled after swallowing. "There was one missing!"
"Let me get right on that," Kitty smirked. She turned and resumed typing her report.