Just Another JobBrutus, tail wrapped over his nose and purr engaged, was preparing to take a nap when someone pounded on the door. The humans jumped, and the female got up and opened the door.
A man stood on the front step, hat pulled low and collar turned up, his face effectively hidden in the dim light. “If you wish a job, be at the abandoned house at the end of Dead Man’s Drive at midnight,” he said in a rasping voice. He turned and vanished into the darkness before anyone could ask a question.
“Well!” said the female, looking at her watch. “It’s 10:00 now. Do we go?”
“No way!” Brutus yowled.
“Of course,” said the human male. “A job’s a job. What could go wrong?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all,” Brutus said. As usual, the humans failed to understand. Idiots. They never could understand his speech, which forced him to do a lot of complex stuff to save their bacon and solve their cases. Brutus curled back up for his nap. He’d need it, if they were going at out midnight.
The team stopped on the walkway in front of the old house. The overgrown yard and wrought-iron gates gave even the humans pause. Brutus took one look, arched his back, and spat.
“It looks pretty spooky,” agreed the male.
“It looks like they need a gardener, not a sleuth team,” said the female.
Brutus prowled forward, tail expanded and nose working overtime, sniffing for trouble, and sure to find it in a place like this. The yard reeked of ghosts, trouble, and…what was that? Brutus sniffed again, but the smell was unknown. Alien.
“What the heck?” That yowl got the attention of the humans, and even they seemed to understand Brutus’s confusion and uncertainty. They hesitated. Then—
“Well, we’re about out of cash. There’s really no choice. If we don’t take this job, we won’t be able to buy any more cat chow.”
That convinced Brutus. His tail remained bristling and erect, but he led the way through the garden to the front door, which swung open with a long creak, just before the male touched it. Worse, they were only steps past it when it swung shut behind them with a slam.
“Uh-oh,” the three chorused. The female turned back and tried the door. It didn’t budge. She and the male looked at each other, looked at Brutus, and shrugged.
They continued down the hall, illuminated only by the tiny flashlight on the female’s key chain, and hesitated in front of another door. Another exchange of looks, another shrug. The male opened the door and stepped through.
Lights blazed on, blinding them, and a voice Brutus almost recognized announced, “We have our second set of competitors! This intrepid duo—”
“Trio,” Brutus yowled, but the voice went on, unheeding.
“This intrepid duo will battle the team of gumshoes from Gotham City, for a grand prize of…” Static overrode the naming of the prize, but Brutus had a bad feeling. A prize of cat chow seemed unlikely. And what did the losers get? Maybe he’d keep quiet and slip away. He could always find new humans.
“Round one: mental arithmetic.” Brutus had the voice pegged. It was the same voice as had delivered their invitation, without the rasp.
Brutus heard the male sigh in relief. “We’re set,” he whispered to the female. “You’re good at this.”
She nodded, and stooped to pick up Brutus. Across the room, a pair of very tough-looking men, in plain clothes but with the scent of cop about them, stood and watched, arms crossed and identical cynical smiles curving their lips.
The voice began to boom out questions, difficulty and speed mounting with each correct answer. At first, Brutus had time to study the room. He could sense the presence of something in the one corner that wasn’t well lit, and knew it was the source of the alien scent. He wanted to follow up, but about then, the questions got harder, and the female began to need his input. This was the one place she seemed to pick up his brain waves or something, because he could solve the problems, think the answers, and a moment later she would brighten with her own matching answer.
The questions were beginning to worry Brutus when the gumshoe faltered, offered an answer, immediately changed it, and, “You lose!” boomed from the loudspeaker. “Round one goes to the amateurs from Littleville.”
Brutus’ keen ears picked up the gumshoes’ mutters of “what’s mental math got to do with crime-busting, anyway?” but no one else seemed to hear.
Logic problems came next, and this time the male took the lead in answering. He lasted quite a while, but as the pace picked up he began to sweat, and eventually the others were declared the winners.
“Well,” the male whispered to the female, “so far this doesn’t seem so bad. Even if we lose…”
“Next round: physical combat!”
“Uh-oh,” the three chorused once again. Brutus didn’t listen while the voice droned on with the rules and instructions. He leapt down from the woman’s arms, and prowled off to the edges of the room. Out of the range of the lights, he began to sniff his way toward the unknown controllers.
“I object!” The female made an attempt to stop this. Looking right across at the men from Gotham, she said, “Why on earth should we fight just because some, some TV announcer,” she put a world of scorn into the words, “says we should?”
The gumshoe on the left laughed. “Weren’t you listening? Two people get to leave this house alive, girl. Sorry, but it’s going to be us.”
“Why should we believe them? I don’t even see anyone.” That was the male. Brutus willed him to continue. If they were debating, they weren’t fighting, and the alien presence behind the lights was distracted. Brutus kept moving.
The gumshoe on the right spoke. “Because they’ve already proven they can enforce their will. How do you think we ended up here?”
“I don’t know? Answered an invitation, like we did?”
The man laughed. “Not exactly, sweetheart. We’ve traced four murders to this house. We’re apparently the third episode in their little reality show.”
The male and the female said nothing while they thought about this. The announcer said, “If you are done with fruitless debate, we’re on a schedule here. Unarmed combat will begin in three…two…”
The announcer screamed as teeth and claws sunk into his—its?—head. Brutus yowled as the taste of alien blood—truly alien blood—set his mouth on fire. The cameraman, if you could call a tentacled creature from an unknown planet that, lurched forward into the light, cat clinging to its head.
The female screamed. The male dove at the creature and wrestled it to the floor. The left gumshoe dove for the cables that powered the lights. Sparks flew.
Brutus, spitting and yowling, leapt for the other alien, the one with the weapons, followed by the right gumshoe. As soon as the creature went down, Brutus yowled, “Time to go!” For once, the humans seemed to understand. Left Gumshoe in the lead, they crashed through the door, back into the dark hall. A glow from distant streetlights outlined a window, and Left Gumshoe pulled his trenchcoat over his head and dove through, followed closely by the male, the female, Right Gumshoe and, trailing behind because the alien blood made him cough and gag, Brutus.
They all scrambled away through the underbrush, as the house behind them burst into flames. Brutus found some grass to bite and chew, then a clump of mint. Even better. He was still cleansing his mouth when the female scooped him up.
“There you are, Brutus! Good work. Looks like this job was a bust, but at least we got out.”
“No kidding, girl.” That was Right Gumshoe. “I’m just hoping there won’t be anything of those creatures left after the fire. This is one case I don’t want to have to explain to the chief.”
Everyone turned and looked back at the house, where the flames were an interesting shade of purple.
“I never liked reality TV,” the male said.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016