WHAT'S NEW PUSSY CAT

By Aeiu

"McCormick's acting strange," thought Judge Milton C. Hardcastle, "Not let's hunt leprechauns in the garden strange but something definitely off-kilter." He estimated it was about two days ago when McCormick started walking around with a guilty air around him. It had been followed with a generally panicky disposition and a tendency to look around nervously when being spoken to. Given it was McCormick; the problem could be almost anything and would, usually, be more trouble than he could handle on his own.

As he collected the morning mail, Hardcastle thought back on the scene from breakfast. McCormick always liked to leave early for his morning classes and was usually gone after a quick cup of coffee. Instead he had found McCormick half-crouched by the kitchen table whispering some nonsense words with an intense look on his face. When he realized that he was being observed, McCormick had shot up and claimed to have dropped his car keys which he, subsequently, discovered were still in his pant pocket. McCormick had displayed a reluctance to leave for his classes until the last possible minute. Definitely odd behavior, thought Hardcastle.

Hardcastle considered the best way to handle the situation. He could bring McCormick into the den and attempt to question him about the strange behavior. This would lead to a series of denials, general babbling, and attempts to steer the conversation away from the matter at hand. It was unlikely to lead to a confession. He could conduct his own investigation by searching the gatehouse for clues. But McCormick was a first year law student and he had completed his parole. He hated to invade the man's privacy without actual proof. Or he could wait for whatever it was to blow up in McCormick's face which, given his history, was the most likely outcome.

Hardcastle pulled out the seat to his desk and began to sit down to send out the monthly bills when his judicial buttocks came in contact with the unseen soft furry bundle which slept in his chair.

"Phftt!" went the cat, angry to have been disturbed from its nap.

"What the…" exclaimed Hardcastle as he rose in time to avoid the furry paw of fury which had taken a swipe at his posterior. He turned and took a closer look at the small interloper. A cat. Makes sense, he thought as he remembered the recent missing can of tuna he had planned to use for lunch the day before. But what're you doing here?

The cat was obviously well fed with long blue-grey brushed hair and a pushed- in face which caused it to drool slightly. It appeared to be in some kind of cleaning frenzy as it vigorously licked its fur back into place. As it finished, it gave the judge one hard glare before it settled down back in the chair to continue its nap.

Too namby-pamby to be McCormick's. Not a rescue cat. Must belong to a girlfriend. Some doe-eyed girl conned him into watching her cat and he lost it, decided the judge. Now what am I going do with you? As the cat continued to sleep, oblivious to its surroundings, Hardcastle began to grin.

As McCormick quietly pulled his car into the garage, he was thankful that he had been able to leave the study group early. The day had crept by slowly as he waited for the inevitable discovery. All through his classes, he half-expected the doors to be flung open as Hardcastle marched up to him and demanded to know why a cat was living on his estate. But so far his secret appeared to be safe.

He still didn't know how it had happened. One minute the cat had been sleeping in the gatehouse and the next minute it had streaked past him into the main house when he went in for morning coffee. Then it had disappeared like a ten dollar bill at the race track. He had been trying to find the hairy fugitive when Hardcastle had appeared. He knew the judge was suspicious and it was only a matter of time before he would be brought into the den for the third degree. He had his banter prepared but hoped the cat would be gone before Hardcastle was ready to start asking questions.

McCormick sneaked into the kitchen and pulled a silver tin from his back pants pocket. "Here kitty, kitty. I got a nice treat for you," he whispered as he began to open the tin.

"Hey, McCormick!" said Hardcastle as he burst into the kitchen and turned on the lights. "I thought I heard you drive up. You're home early tonight. No studying?"

"Just taking a little break," said McCormick as he straightened his back.

"What's in your hand?"

"Oh, this?" said McCormick as if he had just noticed the silver can. "Just a snack."

Hardcastle plucked the tin from the young man's hand. "Barbary Coast Sardines in Spring Water. This is the good stuff. You know I've been having a hankering for some fish ever since yesterday's lunch."

"Really," asked McCormick with his eyes fixed on the sardines.

"Yeah. Remember to pick up some tuna when you go grocery shopping this weekend. Grab some crackers and we can have these during the movie." Hardcastle said as he carried the fish out of the kitchen.

With an air of doom McCormick gathered the crackers and carried them into the den.

The pungent smell from the sardines assaulted his nose and senses as the scent spread throughout the house. Hardcastle had generously supplied him with two of the offending finny monsters atop a small cracker. The small fishes seemed to stare at him accusingly as Hardcastle placed the rest of their brethren on the table on the far side of his chair.

"Just smell these babies," said Hardcastle as he took a healthy bite. "There's nothing like a snack of sardines. I thought you were hungry?"

"Maybe later," said McCormick with the sick realization he might have to actually eat the hapless minnows.

The movie was one of his favorites but he couldn't concentrate on it. His eyes continued to stray to the door of the den. He knew it was just a matter of time before the hungry animal would appear.

As if on cue, the cat appeared in the doorway, its tail flicking in anticipation. To McCormick's horror, it began a slow stalk into the room. He mouthed the word no and tried to shoo it away but was forced to turn the motion into a yawn and stretch when Hardcastle turned to face him.

"Are you okay?" the judge asked with a concerned voice.

"Yeah, just a little tired." McCormick realized in that short period of time, the cat had advanced to Hardcastle's chair and was eyeing the fish tail which dangled from the judge's mouth with glee. The cat went down into a crouch and hunched its shoulders as it prepared to leap for its dinner.

"Bad kitty!" shouted McCormick as he flung himself out of his chair. He landed face down with a thud. He could hear the faint sound of chuckling above him. He turned onto his back and looked up at Hardcastle and the cat who stared down at him with amused grins. "You know about the cat?" asked McCormick.

"Yeah," answered Hardcastle as he fed the hungry feline a few of the sardines. "Want to explain what's it doing here?"

McCormick sat up and faced the judge. "I don't know who he belongs to. I was getting ready to leave campus a couple of days ago and found him hiding under my car. I coaxed him out and looked around but no one knows who he belongs to."

"Why didn't you take him to the pound?"

"You mean the Big House for Animals," McCormick said with an offended voice. "He didn't do anything to deserve that. He's obviously well fed and belongs to someone. He's got a collar but no address."

"What will happen when she has her kittens?" asked Hardcastle.

"Kittens!" exclaimed McCormick as he stared aghast at the cat's plump tummy and imagined it exploding into a room full of cats.

"Don't worry, sport. He's not having any kittens."

"Are you sure?"

"I checked. His all male. What's his name?"

"The collar says Bilbo."

"Bilbo," snorted Hardcastle. "No wonder he ran away. What kind of name is that for a cat?"

"It's from Tolkien. Bilbo Baggins."

"Bilbo Who 'sit?"

"You know, the hobbit from Tolkien's book, The Hobbit."

"What's a hobbit?"

"A small mythical man that lives in Middle Earth."

"I knew there had to be one of those someplace in this story."

Meanwhile on the other side of town, two men were talking.

"You're lucky, Tank. It appears the cat's been found. I don't need to tell you the consequences if it'd been lost."

"It was not my fault, Mr. Grace. The animal was supposed to be sedated; instead when I opened the car door, it jumped out. Before I could grab it, a car honked its horn and it was gone."

"Our bosses don't accept failure. We'll need to retrieve it."

"I'll go to the guy's house tonight and take it before he realizes what he's got."

"Don't be an idiot," said Mr. Grace as he swatted the back of his associate's head. "Right now we've got a guy who's found a cat and wants to return it. We will simply go there and collect the animal."

"Want me to go tomorrow?" asked Tank.

"No. It's possible its a trap. We'll send someone to pick it up for us. Get a hold of Cheri. She'll get the cat."

Meanwhile in another part of the city, in a government building, two men were finishing up a similar conversation.

"We'll go tomorrow?" asked Agent Babbington.

"No," answered Senior Agent Franklin. "We'll send someone not connected with the organization. Contact Mary Brown and have her report to me."

McCormick pulled the third roll of masking tape from the grocery bag. Hardcastle swore it was the best thing to remove offending cat hair from furniture and clothes. And Hardcastle found the hair offending. McCormick wondered how anything could lose that much hair and not be running around completely bald. He hoped there would be a response to the flyers he had plastered over the campus about the found cat. Between masking tape, litter, and cat food, Bilbo was proving to be an expensive roommate.

He finished putting away the groceries, and heard the front doorbell ring. It had been several weeks since the gate alarm had shorted out. Given the type of thugs and weirdoes that frequently tried to gain access to the estate, he hoped it would be fixed soon. He approached the front door with a mixture of caution and curiosity.

As he opened the door, his interests were immediately piqued by the scent of an exotic perfume. McCormick's mouth gaped open as he saw the woman who was wearing the perfume. She had a rich mane of red hair, long beautiful legs, and an A-1 centerfold body which made Vonna Westerlake look like a high school girl. She looked up at him with deep green eyes and pursed lips which seemed to beg to be kissed. He briefly wondered if she had the same aversion to clothes as Vonna.

"Hi, my name is Cheri, with an 'I'," she said in a breathless manner which caused her breast to heave hypnotically in her low cut sweater. "Are you Mark McCormick?"

McCormick gave silent thanks that his name was, indeed, Mark McCormick. He nodded yes and gave her his best smile. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"I heard you found my cat," she said as she reached out and touched his arm. "I've been so worried and I'd be so grateful to get her back."

As she smiled back at him, his body tingled in a delightful way. Many glib and romantic responses sprung to mind but the one that won out was the small cynical voice of experience which warned him that he was never this lucky.

"Um," said McCormick as he tried unsuccessfully to suppress his doubts. "How did you know where I live? It wasn't on any of the flyers."

Cheri pulled back, surprised that any male would doubt her. She deepened her smile as she leaned forward and said, "I shouldn't say anything but my sister, Bambi, has seen you on campus and she has a bit of a crush on you. Once she and her friends followed you. She's going to be so disappointed; she didn't get a chance to meet you. But I'm sure I can make it up to you." Cheri began to softly stroke his arm. Cheri leaned even closer and whispered, "We're twins and we don't mind sharing."

The vision of Cheri and Bambi, together, in his dreams, successfully silenced all doubts as he led the willing beauty to the gatehouse. He attempted to continue the conversation but only received her slightly bored smile in response. The voice of cynicism, again, began to nibble at the back of his mind.

As they entered the gatehouse, they saw Bilbo asleep on the couch. Cheri gave a small shriek of greeting and rushed to grab the small animal.

"Bobo. Mommy's missed you so much," she cooed as she hugged him close to her, oblivious to the cat's attempts to free himself. McCormick watched as Bilbo's contortionist moves finally overcame the attempts to hold him. Bilbo planted his back paws against her ample chest and pushed off leaving bright red marks. An ugly mask of fury fell across her face as she watched him crawl under the couch. But the mask was replaced with her sweet inviting smile as she noticed McCormick's look of suspicion.

"Bobo must be mad at me," she cooed. "She's being a bad girl."

Bobo? She? , questioned the voice of cynicism in his head. Something's not right.

"Miss, could I see some ID?" McCormick asked out loud.

Cheri straightened her back and stuck out her chest as she eyed him in surprise. A look of understanding appeared on her face. "Oh, you want a reward," she said as she pulled up her purse.

"No," denied McCormick. "Just some ID."

"I've got it right here," she said as she placed her dainty hand into her small purse and pulled out a particularly large and ugly looking gun. She pointed it at his head and her smile hardened. "Now get the cat, curly."

This is more like it, thought McCormick as he dropped to his knees and tried to persuade the unwilling cat. He spent several long minutes trying to coax the reluctant animal out. He flipped the couch up and grabbed Bilbo, earning a long scratch along his forearm.

"Take her to the car," Cheri ordered as she motioned with the gun.

McCormick walked slowly in front of Cheri as he tried to calm the anxious animal. He knew he needed a distraction but none came to mind. He neared the passenger door of her car when she ordered him to stop.

"Open the door and put the cat in."

Both looked up at the sound of Hardcastle's honking truck. "What's going on?" Hardcastle yelled from the open vehicle window as he eyed the gun in Cheri's hand.

Cheri hesitated, unsure whether to keep the gun pointed at McCormick or this new threat. McCormick used the moment to throw the cat directly at her pretty face. Bilbo cried out as Cheri raised her arm to swat it away. Her finger instinctively tightened on the trigger and the bullet shot through the trees.

Before either man could react, Cheri threw herself into her car and hit the accelerator. She quickly turned the vehicle and barreled out of the drive, barely missing Hardcastle as he tried to exit his truck, weapon in hand. Bilbo took advantage of the confusion to run back into the gatehouse.

Hardcastle memorized the license plates of the fleeing vehicle and turned to face McCormick. "What happened here, sport?"

"I lost another shot at twins," sighed McCormick. "Are you hungry?" he asked as he turned toward the main house. "We got tuna."

Hardcastle shook his head and followed the young man into the house.

McCormick put the finishing touches on the tuna salad as he explained his recent encounter with the wayward redhead.

"Cheri with an 'I'," laughed Hardcastle. "And you fell for it."

"Hey," explained McCormick, "the sweater was real convincing. And when she started talking about Bambi ..." McCormick's eyes began to glaze over as a far-away smile appeared on his face.

He shook himself out of the pleasant fantasy and looked back at the judge. "Should we call Frank?" he asked referring to their friend with the Los Angeles Police Force.

"And tell him what? That someone wants to shoot you over a pussycat. What we need to do is find out what's so special about it that someone is willing to kill for it."

McCormick nodded as he bit into his sandwich. He looked up as he heard the doorbell ring for the second time that day.

"You're sure you didn't put your address on any of the flyers?" Hardcastle asked.

"I'm sure."

"Let's check it out," said Hardcastle as he pulled his gun out. "Cheri with an 'I' might have come back with friends."

"Maybe she came back with Bambi," McCormick grinned as he led the way to the front door.

Hardcastle stood behind and slightly to the side as McCormick opened the door.

"Do you have my cat, Mister?" asked the small blonde girl with impossibly large blue eyes that gazed trustingly up at him.

"I'll find out, honey," said the older woman as she patted the young girl's shoulders. She looked up at McCormick and said "Hello. My name is Mrs. Betty Smith. I heard you found a cat and we're hoping its Krissy's cat. May we come in?"

McCormick stared at the two females who appeared to have walked out straight out of a Norman Rockwell drawing. He opened his mouth to respond when he felt the hand of the judge on his shoulder.

"Don't just stand there, McCormick," said Hardcastle as he slipped the gun into his pocket. "Invite them in."

McCormick simply stood to the side and motioned them in. Hardcastle lightly took Mrs. Smith's arm and led her into the den. McCormick followed with Krissy who continued to stare at him with her soulful eyes in a way which made him feel vaguely guilty. He sat Krissy in a chair by her mother and continued until he was standing by Hardcastle who was seated behind his desk. McCormick eyed Smith's purse with suspicion. If Cheri could carry a .38, this lady could have an Uzi in hers, he thought.

"Now what can I do for you ladies?" Hardcastle asked.

"Krissy and I were at campus, visiting her sister, when our cat got loose. We looked everywhere. Then we heard you might have found it. Krissy will be so happy to get him."

Krissy's eyes got even larger as she bit her lower lip and clutched the small doll in her arms. "I really miss my kitty."

Oh, brother. Laying it on a little thick, Krissy, thought McCormick.

Krissy's eyes turned to McCormick as she added. "My daddy gave him to me."

Betty's eyes began to mist. "We lost Bill, her father, a few months ago. The cat was the last thing he gave her."

McCormick leaned over and whispered in Hardcastle's ear, "They're going to be crying in a minute."

"Why don't you take Krissy in the kitchen and get her some ice cream. Then you two can go in the gatehouse and find the cat," directed Hardcastle.

"Are you sure, Judge?" asked McCormick.

"Yes, I'm sure. Would you like anything, Mrs. Smith?"

Mrs. Smith smiled prettily and declined. She watched as an eager Krissy and a reluctant McCormick left. Hardcastle cleared his throat as she turned back to face him.

Hardcastle fixed a friendly stare at the young widow as his hand dropped to the gun in his pocket. "Now Mrs. Smith, do you want to tell me what's really going on here?" he asked.

"I don't know what you mean," she said taken aback.

"Okay, we can play it that way. What's the cat's name? Describe the collar and which paw has six toes?"

Mrs. Smith's smile faltered for a moment then reappeared as a sly grin. "They said you were smart. I think I need to show you something," she said as she opened her purse.

Hardcastle pulled out his gun. He set it on the desk with his hand lying lightly upon it. "Bring it out slowly," he ordered.

Mrs. Smith pulled out an official badge which she handed to him. Hardcastle examined the badge and read it aloud. "Agent Mary Brown. FBI. So who's the kid?"

Agent Mary Brown's smile took on a guilty hue. "She's my daughter, Krissy."

"You brought your daughter on a case?" Hardcastle asked incredulously.

"She always wants to help out and I just needed to pick up a lost cat from a couple of civilians. I didn't think there would be any problem. Your government really does need you to turn over the cat."

"Want to tell me what this is all about?"

Mary sighed. "What I can tell you is some people at the university that Mr. McCormick is attending are doing some research for our government. We received some information that there was a mole involved in the project. The cat belonged to him. He collected the information and placed it onto a microdot which he injected under the cat's skin. He turned the cat over to his handlers who planned to take it out of the country as a family pet. They plan to retrieve the information and sell it to the highest bidders."

"If you know who's been stealing the information, why don't you question him?"

"He must have known we were getting suspicious. Before we could bring him in for questioning, he committed suicide. That cat is the only way to find out how compromised the project is. Now it's a possible link to the spy ring."

"Let me make a few calls. If your information checks out, you can have the cat."

Mary's full smile appeared back on her face. "Thank you, Judge Hardcastle. By the way, which paw does have six toes?"

"None of them," he answered as he smiled back. The smile turned into a worried expression as he heard a gun shot ring out from the back yard. "Call the police!" he ordered as he grabbed his gun and ran out of the den. Mary Brown pulled a similar gun from her purse and followed behind him.

"Look, man," said a worried McCormick to the large bulk of a man who held Krissy prisoner. "Put the gun down. I know you're serious but I can't find the cat. Just let her go."

"I need the cat," said Tank as he pulled the squirming child closer to him. "So you need to find the cat. Go get it."

Hardcastle and Mary ran out of the house with their guns drawn. Tank pushed the muzzle of his gun into Krissy's temple. "Stop and drop your guns!" he ordered. "All I want is the cat."

"He's gone!" shouted McCormick. "He took off as soon as you busted the door down."

Hardcastle cast a steely eye at the kidnapper. "The police have already been called. Let the girl go before this gets worse."

Tank considered his options and began to drag the girl to his waiting car. "You got two hours to get the cat and bring in to 'The Brown Derby', in a carrier. Bring the cat and you'll get your daughter back."

"Daddy!" Krissy cried. "Don't let the man take me."

McCormick and Hardcastle paused in confusion. "Don't worry, honey," yelled McCormick finding his voice first. "Daddy will get you."

Without another word, Tank threw the girl into the cat and peeled out of the drive leaving behind a cloud of dust in its wake.

"Judge," said a confused McCormick. "What's going on here?"

"Leave it to you to find the only spy cat in the country," answered Hardcastle.

"Why did she call me daddy?"

"Because at the moment, you're just a man who found a cat," answered a worried Mary. "If they knew we were after the cat that man probably would have just shot everyone who got in his way."

"Who's we?"

"The government, McCormick," said Hardcastle. "Our government," he added. "Come on, Mrs. Brown, we better call your team."

"Mrs. Brown?" mouthed an increasingly confused McCormick.

Mary Brown's worried expression deepened. "We can't do that. My team wants the information and the spy ring. I'm afraid they'll consider Krissy expendable. If I want to get her back safely, I'm going to need the cat."

McCormick looked over at Hardcastle who nodded that they could trust the distraught mother. "I'll find him," he sighed.

It took a few minutes to find Bilbo who had hidden himself amidst McCormick's dirty tennis shoes at the back of the closet. The cat was unceremoniously dumped into a cardboard box where he made his displeasure known. Hardcastle brought McCormick up to speed as Mary brought a strange looking device from her car.

"I keep a tracer on Krissy whenever she's helping me on a case," explained Mary as she shook her head. "I really didn't think we would have any trouble but there's always a chance."

"How can we help?" asked Hardcastle as McCormick nodded in agreement.

Mary looked up at the two men. "It could be risky," she said.

"We're used to risk," said Hardcastle.

"I know," she smiled. "They've probably taken her to their headquarters. That might mean they won't let her leave. If it is their headquarters, the F.B.I. will want to get in there. But I want to make sure Krissy's safe. If we can find it, maybe McCormick can break in and get her out before the team arrives."

"What do you mean McCormick can break in?" asked McCormick.

"I've read your file Mr. McCormick. I know you're probably better than me at breaking and entering. You're the best man for the job and I need you to free my daughter."

"I don't know why I'm surprised you read my file," mumbled McCormick, "everyone else does. I'm surprised it's not on the best seller list somewhere."

"Get your gear, McCormick," ordered Hardcastle. "We've got a little girl to rescue. Don't worry; we'll get her back, Mrs. Brown."

"Please call me Mary," she said. "You're doing so much for me."

"Mary, it is," responded Hardcastle.

McCormick grabbed his kit and mentally reviewed the plan. Hardcastle and Mary would lead the way using her tracers unit. He would follow in the Coyote. If they could locate Krissy within the next hour, he would enter the building while they set up a perimeter. If he could free Krissy without detection, Mary would call in the Feds to close down the ring. If he got captured, Mary would call in the Feds. If they couldn't locate Krissy using the tracer, they would meet the kidnappers and try to rescue the girl there. Someone would stay behind to notify the Feds; either after Krissy was returned safe or the kidnappers decided to get rid of all potential witnesses. McCormick followed Mary's vehicle at a discrete distance. Being from the old school, Hardcastle had initially insisted on driving the car but when he saw all of the state of the art technology and added extras, he had been demoted to cat sitter. McCormick thought back on the low guttural howl Bilbo had made when it was first driven to the gatehouse, and he was glad the cat was with Hardcastle.

After about twenty minutes of driving which included numerous turns around the same neighborhood, Mary signaled for him to pull off to the side. McCormick exited his vehicle and met up with Mary and the judge. He noted the disgusted look Hardcastle threw at the back seat of the car where Bilbo waited impatiently.

"I'm pretty sure the signal is coming from that warehouse at the end of the street," said Mary. "We're lucky it's a dead end street. Milton and I can set up a perimeter here and give you a chance to get in."

McCormick's eyebrow arched at the use of Hardcastle's first name as he scanned the area and made a mental plan on the best way to enter the building."

"Mr. McCormick," said Mary as she touched arm, "I want you to know that you don't have to do this. You don't owe me or Krissy anything and it could be dangerous."

"Don't worry about McCormick," said Hardcastle, "He does things like this all the time. He'll get her out."

"Yeah, what Milton said," smirked McCormick as Hardcastle's turned his disgusted glare on the ex-parolee.

McCormick began a slow drive to the warehouse. Hardcastle and Mary were parked about a block and a half from the building. If anyone left the building, using the street, they would be seen and followed. He parked his car about a half a block away. Hopefully the kidnappers still thought of him as a distraught father who wouldn't attempt a rescue attempt.

There were a couple of cars parked in the front of the decrepit building; one was the car which had driven away with Krissy. Experience taught him that most criminal minds tended to think in a direct manner. If a building had two doors, all security was focused on the two doors. This left the middle unprotected. He approached the building on the blind side and chose a likely window. He quietly pulled up an overturned garbage can, climbed up and looked into the window.

Luck was with him this time as the room appeared to be empty. His luck continued as the window was not latched. McCormick slid open the window and climbed inside. He went down into a crouch as soon as his feet hit the floor and he listened for any sounds which would tell him who might be in the building.

As he opened the door into the hallway, he could hear the sound of men arguing at the front of the building. There were several closed door on both side of him. If his luck continued, Krissy would be locked in one of the rooms. Otherwise, he would need the back-up.

He tried two doors by giving each a small knock and whispering Krissy's name before he got an answer. The room was locked but it was no match for his skills and tools. As the door opened, he motioned for her to remain silent and follow him. As he led her back to the open window, the sound of the arguing men increased.

"But Mr. Grace, she didn't see anything," Tank explained. "I had her blindfolded the entire way."

"It's too much of a risk. I've put too much into this set-up to lose it because of your mess-up. When you get the cat, kill the girl and her dad. Take Barney with you, in case anyone else shows up. Then go back to the house and kill anyone that might have seen you."

Krissy's eyes widened when she heard the order to kill her and her mother. McCormick tried to smile reassuringly but they both knew they were in a desperate situation. At the open window, McCormick tried to lower Krissy onto the trashcan but she was too small and her feet couldn't reach. Stretched out as far as he could go, McCormick released the girl's hand. Krissy's feet hit the side of the can causing it to tip. Both she and the can fell to the ground with a loud crash.

"Run, Krissy!" shouted McCormick as he climbed out of the window. He watched as Krissy jumped to her feet and looked around for a safe place to run. "Toward the red car!" he said.

McCormick leaped from the window and landed hard on his right ankle. A sharp pain shot through his leg but he knew they did not have any time left. He bit hard on his lip as he rose and ran after the fleeing girl. He could hear the sound of the angry men as they exited the building he had left. They were shouting orders which were better left ignored. As he caught up with Krissy, he swept her into his arms and carried her the last few feet to the waiting Coyote. He threw her into the front seat of the vehicle with an order to belt up. McCormick followed her into the car and started the engine. He executed a two-point turn as he noticed several men get into the two cars parked at the warehouse. McCormick hoped that Hardcastle and Mary had called for back-up.

Mary and Hardcastle had watched as McCormick had climbed into the warehouse. After waiting many long minutes, she decided it was time to take other action.

"It's been too long," she said. I'm going to have to call for back-up."

Hardcastle was forced to agree. He had hoped McCormick would have already been out with the girl but he knew their lack of information about the set-up of the warehouse and the spy ring had made a dangerous situation even worse. He watched as Mary whipped a small aerial from her capacious purse and slapped in onto the roof of the car. He listened as she called Headquarters for the needed support.

"Headquarters, this is Mama Bird," said Mary. "I have located the Base Alpha and I'm on the perimeter. Be aware there are two civilians in Alpha. Trouble and Baby Bird. Repeat, Trouble and Baby Bird."

"Wait!" shouted Hardcastle as he saw McCormick try to lower Krissy onto the trashcan. He flinched as he watched the Krissy crash to the ground followed by McCormick's less than graceful leap. He could see McCormick was in pain as he raced after Krissy.

"Trouble and Baby Bird have exited Base Alpha," Mary said in a breathless tone as she watched her daughter being thrown into the car. "Three-no, four men have exited Alpha Base. Weapons are visible. Send back up to 13th and Cotner, ASAP."

Mary and Hardcastle watched as the Coyote sped past them and made a sharp right turn at the end of the block. Mary attempted to turn her vehicle as two chase vehicles followed after McCormick. She started after them while relaying information about the small but deadly convoy. As she reached the end of the block, she heard Hardcastle yell for her to stop.

"There's Krissy!" shouted Hardcastle.

They watched as the small girl crawled out from under an abandoned car parked on the street. She looked scared and alone. Mary braked the car with an audible shriek as Hardcastle raced out and carried Krissy to the car.

"He told me to get out and hide," explained Krissy as put on her seat belt and Hardcastle got back in the car "He said you'd come for me. Mommy, they were shouting at him. They were shooting at us, she said as tears began to appear in her eyes.

"Don't worry, we'll help him," Mary said as she restarted the chase. She picked up the radio and reported, "Baby Bird is back in the nest. Trouble is being followed by two vehicles, headed north from 13th and Cotner. We are continuing the pursuit."

"Here," Hardcastle said as he thrust the boxed Bilbo into the little girl's arms. "Take care of Bilbo. He's scared."

Krissy's tears began to subside as she spoke softly to poor animal.

As he heard the bullets ping against his vehicle, McCormick was glad that he had taken the precious time to get Krissy to safety. He did not know the neighborhood and suspected the men from the warehouse were trying to box him in. He knew help must be on the way but a lot of bad could happen in a few minutes. McCormick cursed out loud as he was forced to make another turn and found himself on a dead end street. He got out of the car and tried to limp to safety as two long black vehicles pulled in behind him.

Mr. Grace motioned for his two associates to search the shiny red car as he and Tank chased after the fleeing man. Tank grabbed McCormick and shoved him. McCormick could feel the blood begin to flow from his nose as he was pushed against the brick wall of the alley.

"She's not here, Mr. Grace," yelled one of the goons. "Neither is the cat."

McCormick was roughly turned to face the angry men. The back of his head struck the wall as a gun was shoved under his chin.

"Where is she?" demanded Mr. Grace.

"Darn, I knew I forgot something back there," said McCormick was his best false bravado voice.

"Kill him," ordered Grace. "Then go back and find the girl; she couldn't have gotten too far. Then we'll go back to the punk's house and start killing people until we get that cat."

McCormick closed his eyes and pulled in one ragged breath as he waited for the final shot.

"Drop your guns and put your hands up!" said an impersonal voice from the far side of the alley.

McCormick opened his eyes and saw a small team of armed men pointing their guns into the alley. He could see Hardcastle and Mary among the crowd with their guns drawn. "Another last minute rescue," he thought as he sighed in relief.

Mr. Grace waited several moments as he accessed his chances of escape. Finally he nodded his head and his men dropped their guns to the ground as the team of federal agents swarmed into the alley.

McCormick pulled up a tired grin of relief and victory as he saw the worried Hardcastle run up to him through the crowd. He tried to hobble over to meet with him but two Feds grabbed him by the arms and shuttled him off demanding he make his statement.

Hardcastle watched as the federal officers took McCormick away. He knew they would want to get statements as quickly as possible but he objected to the hostile manner in which they handled their potential witness. He felt a soft touch on his arm and turned to face the friendly face of Mary Brown whose other arm hugged her crying daughter.

"I'll talk to them. He'll be okay," she said.

Hardcastle sighed as he thought back on the harrowing rescue scene. "Trouble?" he questioned.

Mary smiled. "That's Mr. McCormick's code name. I told you we read his file."

"Oh. And what's my code name?" he asked.

"I'm afraid that's classified," she said with a small laugh as they went to rescue the harassed law student.

Lieutenant Frank Harper of the Los Angeles Police Department was tired. He had clocked out for the night when the call had come in. Despite being off-duty, he decided he should check it out. The reports included a wild car chase with shots fired with additional reports of a captured spy ring and a posse of federal agents which seemed to have descended upon the city.

As he approached the alley, he could see the action was over and the cleanup had begun. Harper blinked at scene before him. There were handcuffed men lying on the ground of the alley with various weapons being collected by a team of professionals. The Coyote was parked haphazardly in the street. A young girl leaned against it as she clutched a distressed cat. Two officers were arguing with McCormick who was valiantly trying to stop the flow of blood from his injured nose. Nearby Hardcastle and a woman were arguing with another officer. Harper rolled his eyes, shook his head, and tuned away.

"I'll just watch it on the six o'clock news," he thought as he walked back to his car.

"So much for being the hero of the hour," thought McCormick as he stifled a groan and carried his books across the school campus. He had left Hardcastle dithering over whether to wear a tie to his scheduled lunch with Agent Mary Brown who had confessed to being divorced. He could have sworn the judge had blushed when he referred to it as a date. Hardcastle had growled back that it was only a thank you from one professional to another. However Hardcastle had practically ripped off his shirt when he noticed a small stain on the sleeve. "The Lone Ranger gets the girl and Tonto gets the bruises," McCormick sighed to himself. He stopped when he heard the shout behind him.

"Hey," called a soft female voice.

McCormick turned and blinked at the twin visions of loveliness who ran up to him.

"Your name's McCormick, isn't it?" questioned the short-haired brown-eyed beauty on his right. "My name is Lori and this is my sister Patty," she said as she pointed to the identical girl on his left.

"We were wondering," explained Patty in a sweet musical voice, "if you ever found the owner of that missing cat.

McCormick thought back on the moment when he and a grateful Hardcastle turned the Bilbo over to Krissy, who claimed that her mother had always promised her a pet and how much Bilbo needed her. With the microchip removed, the cat was of no use to the government and in need of a home with a loving family.

"Yeah. He's with a little girl who loves him very much."

"That is so nice of you to find the owner of that poor animal," gushed Lori.

"Yeah," added Patty. "So many of the other guys around here wouldn't take the time." She smiled up shyly at him. "You know, I love a guy that loves animals. We were getting some coffee between classes if you want to join us."

McCormick smiled back but the small voice of cynicism began to sound the warning bells. "Think. Cheri, Bambi, Mary, Betty, Krissy, now Lori and Patty. E, E, E! Every female with an E sound at the end of her name has been trouble. And you, get twins! No way! Just say no!" it warned.

McCormick looked down at twins' soft curves and friendly faces. "Ah, what do you know?" he answered as he followed the girls to the nearby café.

THE END