Logan and Py sat together in Logan’s parked cruiser as dusk settled over the city. They’d been there a few hours, long enough for the romance of Py’s first stake out to wear thin.
“How long before you think we’ll see some action?” Logan asked, sipping coffee that had long ago gone cold. Py had rigged the built in dash display to stream video of several ground-level perspectives, featuring various alleyways within a few blocks of the car. Py watched the screen intently while his companion, despite the question, seemed more interested in his dinner than anything showing on the bobbling feeds.
“I’m not sure. I’m not convinced the attacks always happen near sunset, given our own experience.” Py was leaning in close to the display, his eyes straining to see detail in the dimming light. ”This just happens to be when the cats are most active. They’re crepuscular, you know.”
“Swell.” Logan murmured through his sauerkraut soaked bratwurst.
Py looked up from the screen and rubbed his eyes, focusing back on Logan as the man washed down his sausage with yet another drag of corner-store swill.
“How do you sit here all day and drink coffee without needing to piss?” Py asked, fidgeting as the pressure from his bladder increased as he watched Logan swallow the bilge water.
“I just pee in one of the empty coffee cups.” Logan replied in a very matter of fact way. “Crime waits for no man.”
“Did you pee in one of these cups!?” Py, looking around at the mess of Logan’s never ending appetite.
“Do you smell pee?” Logan asked.
Py gave the air a tentative sniff. The car had a smell about it, Chinese food and hot dogs, burnt coffee and bad bourbon. If urine was present it was difficult to pick out from the molestation of other smells.
“...not really, no.” Py replied.
Logan gave a shrug. “Then don’t worry about it. Go wiz. I’ll hold it down.”
“I’ll stick it out a while longer.” Py squirmed.
“Just don’t piss in my car.” Logan warned.
“You have!” Py shot back.
“Years of training.” Logan sipped loudly at his coffee, causing Py’s bladder to pulse uncomfortably. He decided it was best to focus on the screen.
The video feeds bounced along gracefully as the cats made their way about the city. Py split his attention between the three feeds, captivated by the wide assortment of cat behaviors: the grooming, the hunting, the playing with the unlucky rat or bird, the seemingly random instances of affection or violence against each other, and so on.
“I kinda feel like we’re making a documentary about cats.” Logan muttered through his dinner. “Do you think this is what it’s like to make a documentary, cause if so, I think I’d be a pro.”
“I hear the bitch is in the editing.” Py mumbled, scanning the feeds for anything strange.
“Solving a murder’s about the same.” Logan continued. “Except the bitch is in the paperwork.”
One of the camera feeds had gone still as a cat maneuvered under a dumpster. The poor lighting in the alley made vague shapes of the surrounding area, but Py could make out the silhouette of a man’s legs as they slowly moved backwards into view.
“Wait! What’s this.” Py leaned in, pointing at the screen. Logan moved his head to get a better angle on the monitor while Py tapped the feed to bring it full screen. The audio from the on-board mic began to come through as the video expanded.
The legs had stopped moving and the man crouched over something that couldn’t be seen on the stream, his back taking up most of the shot. There was the muffled sound of fabric chafing and some general rustling, but otherwise nothing.
“You think that’s our guy?” Py asked, intent on the monitor.
“Don’t know.” Logan said. “Likely just some bum on about his business. Can you switch this thing to night vision? I can’t make out shit in this lighting.”
“Computer, switch camera settings to night mode.” The view was a little better. Bright whites and greens blazed to life on the feed, giving them a more defined, if not more illuminating view of the same broad backside.
Py sighed in frustration. “Best I can do. We’ve just got to wait for a better perspective.”
“Here’s the problem with this plan, you can’t steer a cat. Fuckin’ things have their own agenda.”
“That’s the point you know.” Py said, absently rubbing the recent scratches on the backs of his hands, never taking his eyes off the screen. “We need them to act naturally.”
Or as naturally as something acts with a camera strapped to its head.
It had been a bitch, that. Py found cats were as persnickety and difficult as stories told, though he had to admit, if a giant creature appeared and cinched a piece of machinery to his head, Py wouldn’t have been in best mood either, and the fresh wounds on his hands were the price he’d paid for his trespass.
“I understand the premise, but I still think this whole thing is a wild-goose chase.” Logan said, frowning at the poor quality image.
“I opened the floor for suggestions after saying my piece. Not one of you had a better idea, and I’ve had about all the whining I can take.” It was true. Brian and Logan had griped and moaned over Py’s plan, but had provided not an ounce of constructive criticism. The Doctor thought the project was inspired, easy for him to say, since he wasn’t doing any of the work. In the end Py had found some likely participants from local animal shelters, attached cameras to their heads, and set them loose in what Alice’s data predicted was the likeliest hunting grounds for their titular ‘Third Man’.
Rapid clicking noises from the monitor interrupted any response Logan might have formed. The video feed jostled as the cat scrambled backward at the approaching sound. Another set of legs appeared, these ones sporting heels. A voice came through the speakers, the dulcet tones of Britain hanging on his tongue.
“Easy there, love! What’s got you in a tizzy?”
“I...jus...just saw…a spider. Size of a house! Climbing up a building about a block down.” It was clear the woman was frantic. Py could hear the abject panic in her voice, but what was more concerning was that the shift of the man’s frame had allowed the camera to see past him and just a foot or so in front of him was the dull outline of a body.
“Oh darlin’, I wish you hadn’t seen that.”
The feet began to shuffle around. The woman screamed and disappeared out of frame and the legs of the man took a few unconcerned steps and vanished as well.
“Fuck!” Logan shouted, throwing on the siren, the cruiser flying backwards out from behind a car and away from the curb. “Where is she!?”
“I’m on it, I’m on it!” Py started frantically pounding on the dashboard, navigating away from the feeds to the real time overlay of the cat’s locations.
“Got it!” Two blocks south on 23rd and Pine!
Py was thrown against the door of the cruiser as Logan spun the wheel and brought the car around. Old Town became a blur as Logan slammed his fist to a button on the dashboard.
“This is Officer Maxwell, requesting immediate backup on 23rd and Pine! Suspect is considered armed and dangerous! Repeat, requesting immediate backup on 23rd and Pine! Suspect is considered armed and dangerous!”
Blood flew from Jack as he twinkled in the haze of vanishing twilight. Cartwright hadn’t come here looking for sport, but he figured he might as well make the best out of an unexpected situation. He was a glass half full sort of fellow, and this stray was his squealing, blood soaked silver lining to an otherwise monotonous disposal.
Cartwright froze as a siren blazed in the distance. Force of habit, really. Sirens were a point of anxiety for him. You didn’t get as far as Cartwright had without a healthy paranoia of the authorities. Despite that he was rather content. His little diversion wasn’t going anywhere, locked away in her own special delirium.
The siren sang into the night, coming his way at ferocious speed. Cartwright expected to see the vehicle fly past in a flurry of lights and sound. Instead the lights came up short, the alternating red and blue glare flashing from around the corner as Cartwright heard the unmistakable sound of car doors flying open.
A large man came flying around the corner, gun raised. Cartwright recognized him. It was the officer he’d knocked out after the man had so rudely interrupted his playtime, and here he was again, determined to stick his nose in where it didn’t belong!
“Stop right there!” The officer shouted at Cartwright. “Drop the knife and put your hands on the ground!”
It was clear this time that Logan had caught his culprit completely by surprise, about 20 meters away in the heart of the alley. He was a big man, almost as big as Logan, his square jaw sporting a day or two of scruff that highlighted the cocky half grin plastered on his face, equal parts exhausted and condescending. The man didn’t look worried at sitting on the wrong end of Logan’s firearm, on the contrary, he seemed mildly annoyed, like Logan was the gabby neighbor he’d bumped into at the grocery store.
“Fuckin’ hell.” The ghostly man murmured. Squaring up with Logan and his gun.
The shadows of the alley began to darken, extending to obscure the madman and his victim. Logan was certain now. He didn’t know how the man was twisting the world, but it wasn’t enough to disguise his intent. The sick deeds were unmistakable; a young woman clinging to her life with a smiling psychopath attentive to her every move, a bloody knife gripped tightly in his hand.
Logan always gave a perp time to comply. Better to take them alive and without a fight when he could. It was part of his training, every good cop knew the rule, but in this instant a moment was all the time it took for the maniac to take control of a deteriorating scenario.
“I consider myself a patient fellow.” Logan watched as the suspect reached behind his back, producing an old fashioned revolver. “But you’ve had your chance.”
The gun was decades old, long before the incorporation of biometrics into the triggers, almost impossible to trace and deadly serious. It was a big gun, maybe a 44 or a 357. Big enough to decorate the walls if a bullet found its mark.
Logan had his eyes fixed on the man, his gaze set firmly on his target, but the darkness in the alley continued to thicken. The walls of the alley began to morph, dripping and twisting into impossible shapes, fading into an impenetrable miasma, closing in until Logan could see only a few feet in front of him.
“Oh, hell no,” Logan muttered, firing three shots dead ahead, the place where he’d last remembered his assailant. Logan winced as the shots rang out with the unmistakable sound of a ricochet, bullets bouncing off of bricks or pavement. When he heard the sound he knew immediately that he’d shot a wall, or worse the ground, where Py or the injured women could easily become unintended targets.
Suddenly an opposing shot boomed in the alley as a large caliber bullet flew just past Logan’s head.
“Py get down!” Logan bellowed as he heard the shot ring out, fearing his friend had been the intended target of the powerful lead projectile. Blindly rolling for cover, Logan ducked in the desperate hope he might find his way behind a dumpster or something solid enough to obscure him from sight.
“Fuck!” Logan heard a few rushed steps and the dull thump of Py running headlong into a wall while searching for cover. “I don’t think I’m having fun anymore.”
“No shit,” Logan replied, helplessly unloading another round and hearing again the telltale sound the his bullet impacting a nearby wall.
“There is a possible means of exit directly to your left, Py.” Alice spoke, her calm voice ringing clearly in the dark.
“Say that again?” Logan heard Py ask in the darkness, the sounds of panicked scrambling merging with the shaking voice.
“The area to your left is currently unobstructed.”
Logan heard another shot tear through the air, closer this time. He turned sharply, trying to orient himself to the sound, but the echo form the tight walls obscured the true location and again his counter shots found only brick and mortar.
“Alice can see^” Logan heard Py mutter, sounding far away and a little confused.
“Shit!” Py spoke again, this time with a resounding sense of urgency. “Logan! Alice can see!”
“Great,” Logan moaned, another bullet whizzing past this time connecting with a nearby wall, showering Logan with tiny bits of concrete. “I don’t suppose she’s much of a shot.”
“Alice,” Py yelled at his pen “the shooter, where is he?”
“Officer Maxwell is 2 meters to your left?” Alice said, her voice irritatingly calm.
“No, dammit. The other shooter.” Py called out in frustration.
“South by southwest.” Alice replied.
“Not helping!” Logan screamed back.
“Left.” Alice clarified.
“My left?” Logan called again.
“No Officer Maxwell, my left.”
“Do you even have a left?”
“My left corresponds to Py’s left.”
“Ahggg, enough! Ten O'Clock!” Logan shouted, firing his gun slightly to his left. “Two O’clock!” He called again, firing to his right.”
Logan felt another shower of rubble flying at his face and into his eyes as another shot sailed past him.
“You’re a terrible shot by the way!” Logan screamed furiously, “You fucking asshole!”
“Seven.” The calm voice was so distant that Logan wasn’t even sure he’d heard it.
“Seven^” he whispered to himself, puzzling at its meaning.
“Wait, seven!?” Logan asked, baffled. He hesitated for a second, when finally, in a moment of desperate trust, he turned around, firing three rounds into the wall just behind him. The bullets flew effortlessly through the bricks at his back, piercing the illusion and flying into the space behind it.
The alley fell silent. Logan held his position, wondering if he’d understood the meaning of the soft, cryptic message.
“You cheeky fucker…”
Logan heard the voice coming through the darkness. It was impossible to tell from exactly where, but this time he didn’t hesitate, firing another small barrage.
The slide on Logan’s gun locked open as his magazine expended its last round. Logan sat back to reload as another bullet boomed through the alley, this time throwing him to the ground as it blasted into his chest a few inches beneath his collar bone.
Logan fought his way back to his knees, his body so bloated with adrenaline he couldn’t feel anything but the pulse of his heart pounding in his ears. He couldn’t feel his wound or anything else. His only vague, lightheaded thought, the need to retaliate before it was too late.”
“Three!” Py screamed, his voice sounding increasingly desperate. “Logan, three O'clock!”
Logan shifted his gun and began to fire. Round after round his finger pulled the trigger, spewing lead from the freshly loaded magazine as fast as his body would allow.
The alley began to unwind. The dripping walls crawled back together, reforming their euclidean arrangement. Logan watched with relief as reality returned, but somehow the darkness persisted. Actually, if anything, the world was getting darker...