Everything would have worked out fine except for that damned cat.
I hate cats. They are, as my brother Solly once said, our perfect enemy. Boring-as-toast Solly, who’s never liked being part of the Cleanup Crew. “Too much risk, Bella,” he tells me every time a hunt comes up. I kind of wish I’d listened to him this time. No, scratch that. There’s no kind of about it.
Anyway, back to the cat.
It was easy enough to get inside the house—you’d be surprised what you can pull off when you’re a pert blonde with blue eyes and a snub nose, five-one in ballet flats, begging them to buy magazines so you can help starving children in Africa. Or whatever other dodge I can think of that fits the locale. We knew we had the right place, of course. Solly had worked his techno-magic from back at home base and pinpointed our quarry. That there was a when along with the where this time came as a nasty surprise. This particular body-jumper was either damned lucky or she’d planned her crime incredibly well, displacing someone with access to a prototype time disc. Body-jumpers do that—displace the souls of their victims, walking around in the poor sap’s body unless one of us gets too close and they jump again. Or we stop them first, lock them down and force them into a cloned body where they can’t do any harm, and then trace back the mess they’ve made of God knows how many lives until we find everyone they’ve displaced and put each soul back where it should be. Hence, the Cleanup Crew.
This jumper, though, had set an ugly precedent. With time as well as space to roam through, she could easily do more than displace a soul or three. She could disrupt the timeline, depending on who she picked to inhabit. The thought made me shiver, but I couldn’t let it faze me or we’d be in real trouble.
So here I was, on the porch of a McMansion circa 2006, right before the Great Housing Crash they teach about in history books. I rang the doorbell and snuck a last look at the old-style photo in my wallet. Fortyish, mousy hair, nondescript face. Our quarry’s last known appearance. She’d look different now, of course. But I always know when a jumper’s around. That’s why I go fishing for them. I provide the whammy, Solly provides the search engine. Between us, we’ve nailed more jumpers than I can count. My job now was to nail this one. Walk in, set and activate the damper that would keep her inside whoever’s body she’d stolen last, then fade away and let the Cleanup Crew do the rest.
The woman who opened the door surely did look different. Seventy at least, flyaway white hair and wire-rimmed spectacles, and a fluffy pink shawl that put me in mind of Miss Marple. I’ve always loved old paper books. “Yes? May I help you?” Not-Miss-Marple said with a charming smile.
I launched into my spiel. She invited me in. Then she wanted to look through my magazines, so we sat on her living room sofa. I played chatty salesgirl for all I was worth, all the while looking around for a spot to leave the damper. Someplace out of sight where it wouldn’t be found right away.
The living room was no good, obviously. Ditto the hallway, where a huge gray cat prowled. My body-jumper sense was tingling, pins and needles across my scalp. Not surprising, given that she was right there in the room with me. I kept a certain distance between me and Not-Miss-Marple. All the literature says they can’t jump in if they touch you—you have to initiate the contact for the soul-transfer to work—but I figured better safe than sorry.
Not-Miss-Marple was eying the cover of Knitting Today when inspiration struck. “Can I use your bathroom?” I asked.
“Of course, dear,” she said. “Down the hall, second door on your left.”
“Thanks.” I passed the cat on my way out. It favored me with a stare, an unsettling gleam in its tawny eyes. That’s one of the things I hate about cats, that look they have like they’re smarter than you. Even though they poop in a sandbox, cough up gobbets of their own hair, and fall for the string-across-the-floor trick every damned time.
The bathroom was so pink it made me squint. A dish of soaps sat on a corner of the vanity. Perfect. I slid a hand into my pocket, eased the damping device out, and set it among the little white soap rosettes. A walnut-sized oval of what looked like white plastic but wasn’t, the damper blended in beautifully. Once activated, the energies it generated would disrupt any attempt the body-jumper made to leave Not-Miss-Marple and possess anyone else. Me, for example.
I was about to thumb the activation switch when my body-jumper sense shot from tingle to burn. Something large and furry brushed my calf. The cat, twining between my ankles, pushing hard enough to knock me off balance. I braced myself against the sink edge and reached down to shove the creature away.
One brush was all it took. One brush of my palm against that soft gray fur and I was stuck fast as if my hand had fused to the cat’s back. The damned beast was looking at me again, golden eyes glittering with far too much intelligence.
I’m sorry, it said inside my head. I can’t let you take my freedom. I’ll give your regards to your brother before I go. And then I was falling, first into those tawny cat eyes and then into darkness.
So now here I am, stuck in a jam of my own making. Four-footed and gray, with a craving for tuna and no idea where my own body’s got to. Or what use the jumper is making of it. No way to warn Solly or the Cleanup Crew. Worst of all, knowing I miscalculated and my quarry got away.
Damned cat. Our perfect enemy. And from where I sit right now, my perfect hell.
A regular contributor to The Write Room Blog, D. M. Pirrone writes mystery/suspense, horror, historical and general fiction. You can find more of her work at her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes (http://www.wordnrd.wordpress.com) and her website (http://www.dmpirrone.net).