The Night Watchman
It's a jungle out there. Even my pets know that. When they go out for a run, if I can't go with them, I've got one eye out the window keeping watch for them. Thankfully, they're not fond of strangers, but there are other dangers, traffic, half-wild strays. I don't really start to worry until it starts to get dark. Aside from the greater perils of dimly lit streets for pets who may get lost, my job starts when the sun goes down. I work security.
I'm one of the lucky ones. My own neighbourhood is my beat - through the park behind the house, across the street to the school, back up around to the north end of the subdivision, down to the south end and back up to the park to start the route over again. It takes me about an hour to do the whole thing, but I'm not the only one out.
I give one last pat to Jack and Babe, and let Jack open the door for me. I taught him that. I hear the automatic lock click as the door closes behind me. They'll be safe now. I hop over the gate at the end of the walkway and head for my first checkpoint - the park.
I glance up. A full moon, I notice with a sigh. Maddog will be out then. With luck, he'll find something useful to do - like chase parked cars.
The paved walkways of the park are shadow-dappled, quiet in this first hour after dark. The trees whisper to themselves in the slight breeze. I approach a huge rhododendron. The rustling of day creatures settling down for the night ceases abruptly, restarting only when I'm safely past. I chuckle.
I hear a light step behind me. A vagrant breeze, wafting the strong odour of fish, helps me identify the individual before I complete my turn.
"Nice to see you haven't gone soft, Bowie."
I snort. "Not likely, Boss. Mind you, that 'Eau de Mackerel' you wear isn't exactly subtle."
Boss shrugs. "When you get to be as old as I am, you can afford to indulge yourself once in a while."
I sniff, amused now. "Fishing for compliments now, Boss? I know for a fact that you're only a few months older than I am."
Boss grins and we walk in silence for a while.
"Maddog out?" I ask.
Boss shakes his head. "Stupid bugger fell down the stairs yesterday and broke his leg."
"So Tabby says. She went and saw him this afternoon."
Yeah, Tabby would be the one to beard Maddog in his own home. No sense of propriety, that girl.
Almost as if he can read my thoughts, Boss says, "Maddog's okay, Bowie. He's a bit odd, but he makes our job easier, passing on information the way he does."
That earned Boss a derisive snort. "Tell me that one again after Maddog trees you for three hours before someone hauls him off."
Boss nods. "He didn't know you then, Bowie. He thought you were here to cause trouble."
"Whatever," I grumble. The issue is still a sore spot with me.
Boss gives a huff of laughter. "Well, he was right about one thing."
Boss' eyes twinkle. "Just stay out of trouble tonight, Bowie." With that parting line, he's gone, fading into the shadows like a panther into the jungle.
I sigh. One of these days he'll believe me when I say I don't go looking for trouble. It just sort of follows me around like a stray mutt. It's humiliating. I square my shoulders. But it's nothing I can't handle.
Confident, I head towards the fountain in the centre of the park, my eyes peeled for danger.
A shadow detaches itself from a nearby tree. The sashay is familiar. "Hello, Kitty," I say.
"Hello yourself, stranger," she purrs. "Got time to play a few games?"
I let out a long breath. Kitty has that effect on me sometimes. "Not tonight, Kitty. I'm on duty."
She pouts seductively, weakening my resolve. "Not even one little, itty-bitty game?" She comes closer and I can smell her scent, musky, desirable, dangerous. One nail flicks at my ear. "Not even..." Her soft voice fades away suggestively.
I gulp, shake my head and try to gather my scattered thoughts. "Not even," I say as firmly as I can.
She giggles and gives me an honest smile. "Okay, then. Maybe next time."
I smile back. "It's a date," I say, but we both know that nothing will ever happen between us. Kitty's like the kid sister I never had.
As I turn to walk away, she stops me. "Be careful, Bowie. Rumour has it that The Rat is back and looking for you."
I hide my eyes by giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, kiddo. You're not getting out of our date that easily."
Kitty doesn't smile.
I tap her chin. "I'll be fine, kiddo. You just make sure you keep yourself safe, okay?"
"Okay," she says in a small voice.
"So where's my smile?"
She manages a weak one.
"Good girl. See ya 'round." I walk on, looking as unconcerned as I can for Kitty's sake, but I'm thinking furiously. So The Rat is back, is he? He's a cheap hood with a mean streak wider than he is. I sent him up the river a while ago, keeping a chunk of his ear as a souvenir of that fight. He did mention something about getting revenge, but I took that to be more of his hot air. The problem is that the only way to stop a sleazebag like The Rat is to play the game like he does - dirty.
I can tangle with the best of them and win, but I don't like having to resort to violence. It makes me feel like I should be chasing wooly mammoths or something equally Neanderthal.
I continue my patrol, keeping a sharper eye on the shadows. One of The Rat's favourite tricks is to ambush his opponents.
I make a circuit of the school. By the well-lit main doors, a figure waits for me. I can't see the face until I'm within whispering distance. I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. It's only Tabby.
"Bowie," she says in a low voice, "Maddog says that--"
"The Rat is back?" I interrupt.
"Yeah. How'dja know?"
"Kitty just told me."
"Oh, okay. Boss says you can--"
"I'm not going into hiding just because some idiot let that lowlife back on the streets, Tabby."