Missing Mercenary Mystery, Part 3

by Maureen Wynn
Copyright © 1997

OK, OK, times:
MMM, Part 1: real-time April (during road-trip from hel.. um, er, Williamsburg.) Yes, I know that part was/is supposed to be part of the script-time, but what can I say? You want logical consistancy, you've come to the wrong universe, babe!

MMM, Part 2: real-time late May

MMM, Part 3: real-time June, just prior to the beginning of the season premiere shoot. (follows directly after "Idle Hands")

Maureen was muttering. She had been muttering for a while. Although she didn't realize it yet, she was going to have a whopper of a sore throat tomorrow, between the muttering and the snarling (you wouldn't believe what snarling on a regular basis does to the average human throat).

"%$#@*&^% car rental company! No cruise control, no tape deck, and now the radio is on the fritz! Friggin' AM radio — what a waste! That's the last time I get a car from Rent-A-Wreck — not that I had much choice, since Hertz won't rent to me anymore. Gee — crash one car, and they get all bent out of shape! It's not like it wasn't covered by the insurance." Absently, she rubbed at her chest, where the worst bruising had been from her New Year's Day crash, and unconsciously started her mantra, "Thank Ford for seat belts, Thank Ford for air-bags, Thank Ford for seat belts, Thank Ford for air-bags..."

She spotted a parking spot on Crawford, and pulled in. She turned off the car, and just sat for a minute, resting. It had been a long, hard, drive. She'd had the spooky feeling every now and then that she was being followed, but she had finally just put that down to her ever-present paranoia (not that paranoia is necessarily a bad thing for a mercenary). She actually started to nod off, when she was awoken by a yowl from the back seat.

"OK, cat-face, keep your fur on. You'll be out of the carrier in just a little while." Maureen got out of the car, and took the cat-carrier (containing one very annoyed cat) from the back seat. She collected a few more things from the back seat and the trunk, and juggling it all in her arms, headed up the front stairs of the house that was serving as Merc Central. She knocked on the door, then leaned against the wall, and, closing her eyes, waited to see if anyone was home tonight. The door suddenly flew open, slamming against the inside wall with a BANG, and Maureen jumped back from the wall, dropping everything she was holding. Against all hope (considering that her brain really wasn't awake), she landed in a reasonably balanced cat-stance, facing...

... her fellow mercenary, Dianne. They stared at each other for a moment, in shock. Then Dianne's lips twitched, and she started to giggle, which turned into helpless laughter at the look on Maureen's face, and then the two of them were leaning on each other, laughing like mad-women, unable to stop. The angry cat-howls emanating from the up-ended cat-carrier only made them laugh harder.

"Oh, lord, Maureen, the next time you knock on a door in War-time, stand in front of the peep-hole, will you?" Dianne said, still laughing.

"We aren't nervous, are we?" Maureen responded between giggles.

"Not at all, not at all! That's how I always open the door, didn't you know?"

"Oh, sure, it's a great way to scare away the Jehovah's Witnesses."

Fighting back giggles, the two started to pick up the assorted things Maureen had dropped in her zeal to defend herself. Bringing them inside, Maureen opened the carrier and tried to sooth the tiger-striped tabby inside. Ophelia was not to be soothed so easily, however, and stalked away, tail high, to find a secluded spot in which to lick down her rumpled fur. Dianne looked after the departing cat and said, "What is it with Mercenaries and cats, anyway?"

Maureen replied, with more emotion than sense, "Well, they all have claws, don't they? Lots in common." She started to walk toward the living room, when she was stopped short by the sound of more cat-howls — multiple cat howls. She closed her eyes and sighed, "Speaking of claws..."

Dianne said, "You knew there were cats here already, didn't you?"

"Yeah, I did. That's why I brought Ophelia along — I figured they'd be able to keep each other company while I was out on assignments."

Dianne looked uncertainly toward where the yowls had diminished to low, muttered rumblings, with the occasional meow. "I don't know if they all want company!"

"Don't worry, cat-face has never permanently disabled another cat before — she just needs to go through the standard dominance/submissive setting up exercises with them. Once the head-cat has asserted herself, they'll settle down."

The two mercenaries collapsed on chairs in the living room, and grinned at each other. "So, where the he— heck have you been, Maureen? Jen was just about to sound a Red Alert!"

"It's a long story," Maureen replied, frowning slightly. "And it may not be over yet. I'll fill everyone in tomorrow, as soon as I can get back on-line," she said, opening up her lap-top. "I also need to get some advertising out on the net. Now that my big job is kaput, I need to start drumming up some more business." She looked around vaguely, and asked, "Where's a phone line that I can plug this thing into?"

"We have computer central set up in the library. A temporary ethernet line that connects us directly to the internet through the University. There are also several phone lines, if you need to use your lap-top for special secure communications."

Maureen's eyes widened at this news, and she asked, "How did we get all that?"

"Oh, one of our Guild members called in a few favors," Dianne replied smugly. "We have better computer communications than anyone... except maybe the cousins," she added wryly. "After all, they have LaCroix to fund any expenditures they feel necessary."

At the mention of the cousins, Maureen winced slightly. Dianne noticed, and raised one eyebrow in question. "Um, just so you know... I may be having a few problems with the cousins, so you might want to maintain that, um, special door-opening technique that you've perfected."

Dianne said, "Are there open hostilities, or is this more the 'dagger in the dark' kind of problem?"

"Well, there actually aren't any hostilities yet," Maureen weaseled, "But I wouldn't be surprised if some didn't start real soon, so watch your back." She got up off the oh-so-soft couch with a groan, and said, "I've been in that danged car for the last three days — I'm going to take a hot bath... with bubbles... and then collapse for a day or two. Are there any open beds? Or do I need to get my sleeping bag out of the car?"

"Up the stairs, turn right, second door on the left." Dianne looked around the living room for the orange and brown striped cat, but didn't see her. "Don't you want to find your cat before you go to bed?"

"Oh, Ophelia's not my cat — we're equals, travelling together. If she wants me, she'll find me," Maureen murmured, heading up the stairs, toward the heaven of warm bubbles that awaited her, and the peaceful slumber... safely behind a locked door.

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