Author: Chris Cook
Willow glared around, sniffing the air, and her gaze settled balefully on a pile of discarded wooden planks stacked in one corner of the roof.
"Amy!" she growled.
A nervous-looking rat peeked up from behind a plank, and gingerly edged its way towards Willow.
"Um, hi," the rat said tentatively. Tara blinked at the rat, then looked to Willow, confused.
"Amy," Willow growled, "what've I told you about following me around?"
"Me? Nonono, that's not it," Amy the rat protested quickly, "not following you Will, honest!"
"Oh, okay," Willow said, stalking closer to Amy, "so you just happened to be here, hiding, watching a rooftop when we came along?"
"Yeah! No," the rat admitted, "but Will, I saw you heading this way - just coincidence, me in the area, nothing more - and I was worried, that's all! Worried about you, and I thought I'd keep an eye on you, make sure you're okay, right? Friendly, see?"
"You're friends?" Tara asked Willow quietly.
"Let's not go that far," Willow replied sidelong. "We've known each other since I was a kitten and she was a ratling, so for old times' sake I restrain myself from eating you," she finished, glaring pointedly at Amy.
"Haha, nice one Will," Amy laughed nervously, glancing at Tara, "she's a joker she is, yeahyeah, no, she wouldn't eat me, I'm a friend from way back-"
"Who's been told not to hang around me when I'm on the prowl," Willow pointed out, "there's plenty of other cats in this town who don't have my enlightened views about not eating anything that talks, and I don't need the headaches of fishing your sorry tail out of trouble. Remember what happened with the Siamese?"
"Oh, Will was brilliant," Amy offered quickly, "there I was, big Siamese about to pounce, and she jumped down between us and stared him down while I reached a more advantageous position-"
"Ran for it," Willow translated, turning to Tara, "she's annoying, but I'm used to her being around. But," she added darkly, fixing her attention back on Amy, "what's this about keeping an eye on me? Since when do I need a rat watching my back? I'm not some helpless house cat." She'd said it before she realised, and offered an apologetic look to Tara.
"Yeahyeahyeah," Amy nodded vigorously, "you're tougher than any cat I've seen, I know Will, I know, but... well, I saw you headed this way, towards the big letter house, and... and that's not safe."
"I've been in there before Amy," Willow said patiently, "I know my way around."
"You haven't heard?" Amy asked, a worried frown creasing her furry brow.
"All the rats are talking about it."
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not a rat..."
"Um," Amy hesitated, giving a nervous grimace, "thing is... I haven't seen him, but this is what they say... they say, that's where Spike's gang is."
"Spike?" Willow asked.
"Big rat," Amy explained, "very big, all the rats are afraid of him, very strong gang. They say - this is just what I've heard - they say, they're not afraid of cats."
"Why not?" Tara asked sharply, making Amy cringe.
"Th-they say," she replied, "Spike's gang, they can take a cat on... and win. They say Spike's a cat-killer."
Tara's eyes grew wide with fear, and Amy twitched her nose at her.
"What's up?" she asked. "Will?"
"Her little sister's in that building," Willow said darkly.
"Not for long," Tara declared, turning and sprinting towards the edge of the roof facing the mail building, descending out of sight as she made the jump down to an awning below.
"Tara!" Willow called, to no avail. "Amy," she said quickly, "come on."
"Right Will," Amy nodded fervently, "whatever you say, where're we go- Will!" she called out, as Willow followed Tara.
"Come on!" Willow demanded, jumping the edge of the wall.
"Yeah right, but... ugh!" Amy twitched her tail in dismay, and scuttled after Willow.
Willow quickly followed Tara down to the street, via the building's awning and a convenient drain pipe that proved sturdy enough to scramble down. She worried Tara would try to go straight across the road, and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the other cat turn and sprint to a crossing, prowling back and forth impatiently while the traffic passed as she waited for them the beeping box on the lamp-post to beep.
"Tara!" she called out as she approached, "wait up!"
"What for?" Tara demanded. "Miss Kitty's in there, and she's in danger! I'm going to help her." Willow was impressed by her determination - Tara was certainly a cat of no little courage, no matter where she came from.
"No argument," she said, "but, wouldn't it be better if we both went to look for her? Safety in numbers, and all?" Tara looked surprised, then twitched her nose nervously.
"You don't have to come," she said hesitantly, "you've shown me how to get here, like you said you would... if there's this dangerous rat in there-"
"Then you'll need an experienced street cat to help you get in and out safely, won't you?" Willow finished, just as the box beeped and the passing cars slowed to a halt. "You coming?"
"Yes," Tara nodded, swishing her tail happily as she followed Willow across the road, "thank you."
"You're welcome from me too," Amy grumbled as she scuttled along in the two cats' wake, glancing nervously at the waiting cars.
"This way," Willow meowed quietly as they approached the building.
"Not down there?" Tara asked, looking towards the ramp the van had vanished down. Willow shook her head and led Tara instead beneath a row of bushes lining a pathway alongside the building.
"Last time I was here," she explained, "the people had these strange things, like boxes with eyes on the front... I know, I know," she shrugged as Tara gave her an incredulous look, "believe me though, if you walk in front of one, the people know you're there. There's a couple down there, and no way to hide from them - I got spotted by one and had to spend half the day hiding under cars when a pair of the building's people came to shoo me out. They didn't get me, though," she added with a touch of pride.
"So, where're we going?" Tara asked.
"Away from here, for preference... just a thought," Amy finished meekly, as both Willow and Tara glared back at her.
"There's another way in," Willow explained, "through this big place where all the letters get moved around by big... moving platforms, and hoists and things. People send some big letters to each other, big boxes sometimes. There's a way in through there, down to the place where the vans rest before they go out again."
"No 'boxes with eyes'?" Tara asked, with her ears slanted mischievously forward.
"Hey, no teasing the experienced street cat," Willow shot back, though she did so with a grin. "No, no boxes with eyes... I think they're really to keep other people from getting in, and the way we're going, it's too small for a person anyway, so I guess no-one bothers watching it."
"Why would they want to stop people getting in?" Tara wondered.
"They probably steal each other's letters," Willow guessed with a noncommittal shrug.
"What... people steal from each other?" Tara asked, shocked.
"Yeah, pretty much all the time," Willow said, "it does seem to be a kind of preoccupation they have. Just between you and me, I don't think people have worked out the whole territory thing too well. A lot of them go around behaving like they're in open ground, even when they know they're in someone else's territory."
"That's terrible!" Tara exclaimed.
"Shh!" Amy hissed as a person walked nearby. "Keep your meow down!"
"Sorry... that's terrible," Tara whispered, "my people... no, I can't imagine them behaving like that. It must just be some people... bad people? Are there bad people?" Willow glanced at her in surprise, then nodded.
"Yeah," she said grimly, "there are."
"Where'd you find her Will?" Amy squeaked quietly. "She's not smart like you."
"She's smart," Willow snapped, "she's just... she hasn't lived out here like we have, that's all. Quiet now... the coast is clear, follow me."
Willow scuttled stealthily out of the bushes and around a corner, leading Tara beneath a stone step into a narrow opening, with Amy following nervously behind. A few steps inside the shaft there was a steel grille, slightly ajar, which Willow nudged open and slunk underneath, using the end of her tail to hold it up for Tara and Amy. The trio emerged in a corridor inside the building, one side of which was filled with boxes stacked to the ceiling.
"Okay," Willow said, glancing to the right, "that way, we don't go - lots of people that way during the day, that's where they do their business. This way," she turned to the left and began walking, "the letter sorting area - very few people, even in daytime. We can get down to-"
"Don't move, cat!"
Willow and Tara both crouched defensively, tail to tail, with Amy cringing behind them up against the wall, as half a dozen rats appeared from the gaps between the boxes.