Before Sam sent his e-mail to Alice, Buck, with his own solution in mind, had led his small band of felines to his apartment at the end of level two. The four young men had been living in Buck’s tiny domicile, while Drew Connors had his own apartment across town. Unfortunately for Buck and his gang, the side windows for the living room, unlike Sam’s place, were locked tight. While Sam and his new friends ate heartily and rested in the safety of his apartment, Buck and his gang tried unsuccessfully to slide a window open after tearing a hole in the screen.
“This is just great!” groaned Jim, “I need food! Let’s go back to Sam’s.”
“Sam’s got enough problems without us,” Buck spoke with resolution now. “I know of another place we can go.”
“Sam’s place is fine with me,” Tom said eagerly, “let’s go back to Sam’s.”
“Yeah, I’m starving,” Ed declared dismally, “I could eat cat food right now.”
“I wanna big thick steak!” pouted Jim.
“No, I gotta better idea,” Buck said, scampering down the hall.
Unable to keep up with the fleet footed ex-athlete, the other three grumbled and hissed as they tried catching up, then froze in their tracks when he stopped at a familiar door.
“Whoa there, Bucky-boy,” Jim called out shakily now, “this is India Crowley’s apartment. We’ve got no business in there!”
“Listen, guys,” Buck implored, “we gotta check out the witch’s apartment before the cops return. Maybe we can find a book with her spells in it or something. I’m sure she’s got something yummy to eat!”
“Hah!” Jim retorted, holding firm, “she probably eats witches food: snails, lizards and toads.”
“Yeah,” Tom nodded in agreement, “what about that witch whats-her-face in the Land of the Dead who ate dead people?”
“Come on Tommy,” Buck was becoming frustrated now, “that was a B-grade horror movie. I’m sure she eats normal food like us.” “Besides,” he took on a crafty look, “I got something else in mind too!”
The other cats sat there in various poses of incredulity or rebellion: Jim with the closest thing to a frown he could muster, Tom facing the opposite way and Ed distracted by a tiny ant. In spite of these typical feline responses, Buck began working at India’s living room window screen by himself until the material was finally torn. When Buck grew tired, Tom and Ed felt guilty enough to take turns, themselves, until a gaping hole was created by the constant action of their paws.
“After grabbing a bite,” Buck explained as he climbed through the hole, “we’re gonna have some fun!”
“This is a dumb idea, Tom shook his head as he watched Ed follow Buck in. “It would be much easier to hole up at Sam’s!”
“I’m not going in there. I’m going back to Sam’s!” Jim decided, looking with terror at the hole.
Suddenly the remaining two cats froze in their tracks then broke into the characteristic spooked cat pose of humped back and upright frizzled tale, hissing at the sound of a human voice.
“All right, team,” someone shouted at the top of his lungs, “let’s secure this area and call it a day!”
With no apparent witnesses, the investigation of India Crowley’s accident had been brief. The investigation team, which had combed the grounds for evidence and questioned several more tenants, now responded to the lieutenant’s order as factory workers to the whistle, retreating in bored detachment to their cars.
“I’ll catch up later,” Detective Randolph called to his partner, “I wanna ask a few more questions.”
“Get your asses in here!” the two laggards heard Buck cry into their heads.
Without further argument, Jim and Tom followed Buck and Ed’s example up and over the ledge, through the screen and onto the carpet below. Jim landed with a thud, while Tom landed lithely on all four paws. The big gray Maine coon, though timid, cut the most handsome figure of the four.
“We got to do this caper today,” Buck said conspiratorially to them now. “I think trashing India’s apartment is a good way to keep our minds focused on what we are: humans, not cats.”
“Look at us boys!” he hopped up on a chair and inspected himself in the living room mirror. “We can’t make love properly in this form. We can’t do foreplay. We were gonna hump two female cats until Sam stepped in. Pretty soon we won’t even like human food. We’ll be chasing rats and birds, like Ed!”
“Disgusting!” Jim spat. “It makes me sick!”
“I never chased no rats and birds, only bugs,” Ed replied defensibly, wagging his chocolate tail.
“Well, it’s not normal,” Tom joined in scornfully, “you’ve got to show more control!”
“The point is,” Buck redirected sternly, “we’re human underneath this fur, not beasts. We gotta stay focused on our enemy: India Crowley. We’re gonna show that bitch what we do to witches here at Shadowbrook Arms!”
“Yeah,” Tom nodded with approval, “humans don’t stay mad; they get even! Let’s kick ass!”
“I’m hungry.” Jim said, collapsing in a multicolored heap.
“You puto! You need a bath!” Ed’s voice growled inside Jim’s head.
Jim jumped up and hissed: “You disgusting bug-killer! You dare criticize me? At least I don’t act like a cat!”
“No,” Ed challenged, “you act like a pig!”
Rising up with his back humped, Ed seemed ready to do battle. Buck came between his two friends immediately, shocked by what he saw. Tom joined him now to form a united front.
“You see what’s happening Ed? You too Jim!” he challenged. “You’re acting like beasts —both of you! Stay focused on the enemy: India Crowley.”
“Jimbo, my old friend,” the top cat transmitted gently, after taking the portly cat aside, “Get this into your thick skull: the enemy is the Shadowbrook Witch, not Ed. You should feel sorry for poor Ed. He’s sinking fast. Look at him. You guys used to be buddies. Let’s stop acting like spooked-up cats and try to figure out how we can break India’s spell. Let’s not fight amongst ourselves!”
“Sam will help us.” Jim suggested, looking forlornly around the room. “Let’s go back to his apartment where there’s food and it’s safe!”
“In due time,” Buck promised, surveying the scene. “Weeeeee, this is great!” he scampered across the floor. “What shall we do first?”
“What do you suggest?” Tom asked thoughtfully, as Buck ran aimlessly around the room.
“Let’s shit on her carpet,” Jim offered, squatting on a likely spot.
“Let’s piss on her furniture,” Ed walked over to the couch and raised his leg.
“Very good,” Buck nodded, marking a few zones, himself, “we’ll stink the place up first then get down to some serious destruction before we leave.”
“I’m going to tear up all her clothes and soil her bed,” Tom said gleefully scampering into the hall.
“I’m going to find some food,” Jim said, looking back proudly at his mess. “Wow, that’s worst than human shit!” He wrinkled his pudgy nose.
The four male cats proceeded to befoul and damage India’s apartment, the greatest stroke of mischief coming from Buck who managed to tip over her fish tank and, with the help of the others, kill all her fish. It occurred to Tom, the most civilized of the foursome, how cruel this act was. Buck, who began having second thoughts, himself, also looked on in horror, when Ed, as expected, ate several of the hapless fish before it was time to leave. Buck, who, as Tom, was trying to hold onto his humanity, was having no more success than the others, and yet he felt a pang of guilt now. He knew that this was wrong even though he ate one himself.
“Jesus,” he drew back and shuddered, “I don’t believe we’re doing this. We just killed a dozen of these poor little bastards. Enough already. Let’s get out of her bedroom. This makes me sick!”
“Ed ate four fish! Ed ate four fish!” Jim pointed his nose accusingly. “This guy’s out of control!”
“Well, I didn’t eat any!” Tom said self-righteously, trailing behind the others. “I’m going to get me some human food!”
Once more Ed hissed at Jim, and Buck again moved as a buffer between the two cats, again counseling Jim to be more patient with his more feral friend. They had to be careful, he explained to them both, and not make a lot of noise. A catfight would draw attention to their gang and bring animal control down on their heads. For several moments, to everyone’s delight, they gorged themselves on lunchmeat from India’s refrigerator and slackened their thirst from India’s toilet, lapping the water up with their rough little tongues.
On the way back to the living room, Buck suddenly remembered why they came here and began looking around for a special book.
“Wow,” he remarked, rummaging with his nose and paws through the clutter on her desk, “she’s messier than me! Here’s an apple core. Look at this; it looks like a cigar!”
“What are we looking for?” Tom inquired, scanning the bookcase above. “I’ve never seen so many books on witchcraft and Satan worship! Where do we begin?”
“Spooky books, with witchy titles,” Jim answered his friend.
“Yes, and ones with weird pictures, like this one,” Buck found a large, beautifully scrolled volume with the title “Sanctum Regnum” on the cover. With a great deal of effort, Buck opened the book. A circle of naked woman were portrayed on the title page dancing around a steaming pot.
“Whoa, this is more like it,” he crowed, literally drooling onto the page.
Unfortunately for Buck, it was impossible to turn the page. He attempted several times to flip the gossamer paper, tearing pages and, at one point injuring a nail, until he drew back, hissed at the infernal book and let out a loud meow.
“Oh what’s the use!” he groaned in despair. “We don’t know what were looking for. I can’t function with these stubby paws.”
“What do we do?” Tom looked up expectantly at his leader.
“Let’s take a nap,” thought Jim with a yawn.
After thinking about it for a moment, Buck again displayed his characteristic resolve. Hopping off the desk, he scampered down the hall, disappearing in a flash through the screen. One-by-one, the cats followed as before, Jim barely making it this time through the hole. When the group emerged in the corridor outside, they rallied around their leader, overstuffed, drowsy, and ready for a nap. Buck was thinking again about killing the Shadowbrook Witch. He didn’t know exactly how to accomplish this feat, but his mind was now set.
The sudden return of humans in the courtyard below, however, sent them scurrying back as frightened, hissing cats down the hall. Voices, at first unintelligible, echoed throughout the complex as two gardeners, finished with their chores, walked through the corridor below.
The four cats recognized the language spoken, laughing hysterically amongst themselves. Ed was immediately ordered by Buck to decipher what they said.
“They’re talking again about what happened,” Ed translated swiftly, perking up an ear, “…. Manuel, the landscape supervisor is telling Pedro, one of his men, about the woman’s accident…. Manuel said the woman is a witch… she was shot by one of the tenants… but she’s alive… They could find no identification on her and no one would talk about it…. Most of the tenants pretended they were not home until the detectives arrived and made them answer their doors.”
“That’s incredible.” Buck wanted to slap his forehead in disbelief. “All the mischief she’s done, and she’s admitted as a Jane Doe!”
“We’re John Does” Jim uttered a bitter laugh. “It’s like we don’t exist.”
“Shhh! There’s more,” Ed interrupted, tip-toeing to the rail. “…. Manuel just told Pedro that the woman, because of her injuries, must be in a deep coma.”
“But she still might live.” Tom shook his head in dismay. “What if she recovers?”
“Yeah.” Jim nodded. “Witches have special powers.”
“She’ll come after us, guys.” Buck groaned. “I’m telling you; we gotta kill the bitch before she wakes up. We gotta pull her plugs!”
“Hold on a minute,” Ed shushed them, “I hear Frank Harper talking to one of those detectives. He heard the shots.”
“Detectives?” Tom wrinkled his snout. “I thought they left!”
No longer needing Ed as a translator, the four cats stuck their little heads through the bars of the balcony, their fuzzy ears angled forward for maximum reception.
“Mister Harper,” uttered the detective, “we found the weapon in the bushes in front of your apartment, only a few feet from where she fell.”
“Don’t know about no weapon,” grunted Frank. “Just heard shots—four or five maybe. Thought they were fire crackers at first.”
“Mister Harper, after all that commotion, you didn’t think to look out your window or front door?”
“Mind my own business,” the old man said in a deadpan voice. “Them kids is always running amuck!”
Detective Randolph, the last member of the team to depart, walked away to join his partner, laughing under his breath. The four cats shared the detective’s mirth. Because none of her neighbors had come out to investigate, India Crowley was emitted to ER as a Jane Doe. Giggling uncontrollably a moment, Buck felt light-headed yet filled with purpose as he scampered toward the stairs.
“Lets go men!” He called back cheerily. “We know what hospital she’s in. We know what we gotta do!”
“We’re going to the county hospital?” Jim’s thoughts shot into his head. “Are you nuts? That’s clear across town!”
“You’re not seriously thinking of going there now?” The slits of Tom’s feline pupils widened with alarm.
Jim and Tom backed away in dread. Ed, anticipating Buck’s next move, had already began running toward Sam’s when he was called back with the others now.
“Ed! Jim! Tom!” He transmitted shrilly. “You want to be cats the rest of your lives?”
“No,” Jim and Tom both replied faintly, “we want to live!”
“Then, if you want to live as humans and not cats,” Buck beckoned, “follow me. I’m going to kill the Shadowbrook Witch! I’m not going to wait around for some bimbo to step in like Sam’s doing. All my instincts tell me that this is right. We got to do this ourselves!” “Are you with me?” He challenged them now. “So help me, if I have to, I’ll do it myself!”
By now, he had at least fired up Ed, the most feral of the four. As Buck scampered down the staircase, the little chocolate Havana raced passed Jim and Tom, quickly materializing by his side. The remaining two, shamed by their own frailties, followed at a distance, until Buck and Ed, pausing at the edge of the parking lot, allowed them to catch up.
As a pack once more, they scampered down the sidewalk. Together, they ran across the intersection when the light turned green: four small members of the species felis catus, on a crusade to kill a wicked witch, who held all their fates in her comatose hands.