Are you curious?
About the past?
As the old saying goes, "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." But what if the history is good? What if pleasant happenings occurred in the past? Is it such doom to want to experience such things again?
To want to relive the moments where a friendship was born? A friendship that could have never been? A friendship made stronger through the passage of time?
November 2nd, 2006.
At the dead of midnight he waited, his black Audi sports car parked in an alleyway as he leaned against the driver's side door, dressed in a black business suit. An African-American man in his late forties, he was still in his prime, but he knew he was close to reaching past it. One of the reasons why he shaved his head bald, though his beard hasn't shown any touches of grey just yet. Only a matter of time, he reasoned.
How much longer can he keep up this kind of pace? After all, he wasn't getting any younger... not like her.
He smirked as he remembered her. The most courageous, noble person he had ever had the pleasure of meeting. And while she'd deny ever wanting to be called a person, in his eyes that was exactly what she was. She could deny it all she wants, but it doesn't change the fact that was clear to him, as clear as the day itself.
She's a hero.
And from what he had heard what happened in a small town a couple of days back, her actions proved that. But then, everything she had done up to this point has proven what he knew about her.
She is a bonafide hero.
The car shook slightly with the inertia of something landing on its roof. He paused for a moment, then smirked as he pushed himself off of the door, turning around to face a figure draped in a brown hooded cloak perched before him.
"... Pagan," he greeted.
"Agent Taggart..." she greeted back. Then smiled under her hood. "Your scent stinks."
"It's my cologne, girl."
"Your cologne stinks."
"Hey, I'll have you know I've been wearin' this since high school. And my Dad's been wearin' it too."
"Makes you easier to track down, that's for sure. I caught your scent several miles away."
"Hmph." Agent Stan Taggart shook his head, opening the door to his car and pulling out a small paper bag, a bottle inside. "Heard what happened up in Perry Creek, Pagan. Good work." He pulled the bottle from the bag, tossing it to the cat-girl, who effortlessly caught it with one hand. Glancing at the bottle, her gold eyes lot up with joy as she recognized the whitish contents, and she purred happily, hugging the bottle.
"Crrrrreeeeaammmm..." she cooed cutely.
"Yeah, yeah... you gonna hug it or drink it?" Taggart smiled.
"Oh... right..." Pagan giggled and opened the bottle, quickly proceeding to drink the cream eagerly and thirstily.
"Quart quart quart, gallon gallon gallon..." Taggart chided playfully. "You drink that cream down like it's a matter of life or death, girl! You should at least taste it, first!"
"Pppprrrrrrrr..." Pagan swallowed the last of the cream, the stuck her tongue out at Taggart. "I'm aware of the taste, Agent Taggart."
"Really? Tell me then."
"... Mmrrr..." Pagan thought about it only for a moment before pegging down the flavors. "Cinnamon vanilla creme."
"... all right, you win this one..." Taggart relented, to which Pagan giggled again. Then she paused, turning her head to see a skinny-middle aged man, whiskey bottle in hand, clearly inebriated as he struggled to keep standing, staring straight at Pagan as he tried to figure out what he was looking at. "Agent Taggart..."
"Yeah..." Taggart nodded, looking to the drunkard, who continued to stare, confused, at the two in the alley. "Well? What?" he called out to the man. "Haven't you seen a well-dressed black man and a cat-girl before?"
"Mmnn..." the drunkard continued to stare, then just shrugged it off, walking away to wherever he perceived to be his home.
"Eh... don't worry about him, Pagan..." Taggart said, looking back towards the cat-girl. "Odds are he'll either forget this little exchange or he'll chalk it up as an alcohol-related delusion."
"If you say so..." Pagan sighed. "Sometimes I don't understand you humans and your need to drink something that can potentially harm you in the end."
"What?" Taggart smirked. "Don't tell me you don't indulge in a little catnip here and there."
"Catnip makes me sneeze uncontrollably. I think I might be allergic to it."
"Heh... right..." Taggart chuckled.
"Do you remember when we first encountered one another, Agent Taggart?"
"Hm?" he turned to face Pagan, an eyebrow raised. "Yeah, 'course I do. Don't forget a day like that... what brought this about?"
"Mmrrr..." Pagan shook her head, pulling down her hood to expose her lightly-furred face to the night sky. "... just felt... reminiscent, is all. Much has changed, yet much has remained the same since that moment. For one... back then you had hair on your head and not on your face."
"Hey, the beard makes me look distinguished, okay?"
"It looks nice. I wasn't complaining."
"Yeah yeah yeah..." Taggart shook his head, leaning against his car as he looked up at the stars. "I remember it... the day something like you came along. Never forget a day like that..."
Kansas City, Kansas.
April 5th, 1995.
He was a proud member of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. In his late thirties, he had already seen his share, done his part for his country. And he was ready to do more;
Sporting a nice fade haircut, his face, for the most part, clean-shaven, he inspected his light gray business suit for any discrepancies as he say behind the wheel of his sleek BMW sports car. First impressions meant everything after all, as he proceeded to open driver's side door and exited the car, proceeding onward into the Kansas City Police Department, walking directly to the front desk.
"Mornin'," he greeted the pretty young secretary on duty, showing his badge. "Agent Stan Taggart, FBI. I believe the chief's expecting me?"
"Ah yes, one moment, Agent Taggart..." she pressed the intercom button. "Chief Swafford, Agant Stan Taggart of the FBI is here."
"Very good, go ahead and send him on in," a voice replied.
"All right, you're free to go in, sir..." the secretary said to Taggart with a smile.
"Thanks..." he waved slightly, and walked past towards the office of the KCKPD's chief, James Swafford. Upon entering it, Taggart was greeted by Swafford, who smiled politely at the FBI agent, his hand offered.
"Agent Taggart, good morning..." Swafford greeted, as Taggart shook his hand. "How was the flight from D.C.?"
"I flew, no big deal..." Taggart replied, as the two men sat down in their respective chairs. "We spoke over the phone..."
"Yes, the incident at City Park two days ago..." Swafford nodded.
"Not much so far... just what you and I and most the city already know. Steamroller got outta control while construction work was going on on the road, careened into the park. Japanese exchange student was in its path and she would've died for sure, but then this person in a brown hooded cloak came from outta nowhere, tackled the girl away to safety. Then they moved, faster than anyone's ever seen, jumps on the steamroller, manages to shut it down. No fatalities, no one got hurt, thank God."
"Brown hooded cloak... hmm..." Taggart rubbed his chin in thought. "And no one got a good look at who was under it?"
"Nope... movin' too fast. Though witnesses say they moved almost like a cat." Swafford handed Taggart a file. "Your best bet might be the girl that they saved..."
Taggart opened the file, looking over the records, mostly in Japanese, a photo of a cute Asian girl with short dark brown hair. "Hmm... Eriko Hiroshi... 12 years old..."
"She hasn't spoken with any officers... she's still a bit traumatized. Almost getting ran over by a steamroller'll do that, poor girl... but if you want to give it a shot, be my guest. Don't know how much luck you'll have but you're welcome to it."
"My Japanese is a little rusty... but I'll do that, thanks..." Taggart stood up, file under his arm as he shook Swafford's hand.
"Don't mention it..." Swafford replied. "What do you think it all means, anyhow?"
"I was just told to investigate the situation, is all... your guess is as good as mine."
"Well, if you find whoever's under that cloak, let 'em know... if it weren't for them we'd have a family overseas mourning their daughter's death. We got a hero in the makings here. Tell 'em I said that."
"If I find anything? Yeah, I'll tell 'em that." Taggart nodded.
Taggart returned to his car, entering it, but before starting it up, he placed Eriko's file on the passenger's side, picking up another file also on the seat. Opening it, he looked upon three photos depicting what seemed to be genetically, evolutionarily impossible.
One photo was showing its considerable age, given it was taken in 1882; it said so in the lower left hand corner. The photo showed a middle-aged gunslinger in the desert, holding in his arms what resembled a baby, but it was covered in fur, a tail sprouting from its spine, claws on its fingers and toes as it looked up at the man curiously. The photo was entitled "RELUCTANT PROTECTOR," taken by a photographer named K.D. Wayne. It would be the first ever photographic evidence of this strange part human, part feline creature.
Another photo, this one taken in 1941; it also showed its age, with scratches and scrapes. It showed a pre-teen cat-girl, roaring right at the camera, claws outstretched in an attempt to scare away the photographer; this photo was taken in the swamplands of Louisiana, hence the words underneath with the date; "Louisiana Cat-Girl."
The third photo was more recent, taken in the early nineties; the Louisiana Cat-Girl, this time looking like she was in her late teens, sitting almost cat-like on a stool in a cabin. The photo was labeled, "Pagan."
Taggart frowned. The whole thing felt like some kind of episode of the X-Files, only he was neither Mulder or Scully, but a side character who didn't know what the hell was going on until it was too late and then, BAM, off-screen death, cut to commercial about twenty minutes into the episode.
Naturally Taggart couldn't tell Chief Swafford he was tracking a cryptid that may or may not exist. But these photos... they existed long before Photoshop. And despite the age of at least two of these photos, they looked too clear to be considered fakes.
Maybe this cat-girl IS real... Taggart thought to himself. Let's hope the stories of her are just as real, too.
Taggart recalled the legend of the Louisiana Cat-Girl he memorized during his research of her; the first sightings of her were actually in De Baca County, New Mexico, where she was found and taken in by a gunslinger named Casey McCormic, who named her Katherine, after his dead daughter. For eleven days he raised her, teaching her the rights and wrongs of life, until a lynch mob came for her, believing her to be a demon from the pits of Hell. Casey defended her to the death, and Katherine escaped... months later, sightings of a half human, half cat infant were seen in the swamps of Louisiana, and thus the legend of the Louisiana Cat-Girl was born.
And for over a century (one hundred ten years, to be exact), that's where she remained, aging slower than a human... reverse cat years, apparently... until the early nineties. Sightings of a cat-like creature in Akron, Ohio were reported; piquing the interest of the President at the time, George H. W. Bush. The order at the time was to keep tabs on appearances of this creature, to make sure she didn't pose any kind of threat to the United States; it wasn't known if she was the first of many cat people, or if she was some kind of evolutionary offshoot, or some kind of hoax. President Bush didn't want to take any chances. So he had Taggart specially assigned to handle the situation, though for a few years she had seemingly dropped off the radar, and whatever sightings that were reported were either clever hoaxes or misinterpretations.
But this time. This time it was neither of those. Pagan was indeed back. And President Bill Clinton gave Taggart the order; confirm the existence of the Louisiana Cat-Girl, and determine if she posed any kind of threat to US Security.
Right... the only lead I got is the Japanese girl. So let's see what I can get out of her.
Taggart placed the files off to the side, then switched on the ignition to his car's engine, shifting it to "D" and pulling out to the road, driving towards Eriko's surrogate home.
It wasn't a long drive from the KCK Police Department to Eriko's adoptive home, which was around North 6th Street and Oakland Avenue. Pulling up to the driveway, Taggart parked the car in neutral and exited, walking towards the door. Before he could knock on the door or ring the bell, the door abruptly opened, revealing the twelve year old girl in question. Behind her was a younger girl, five years younger than Eriko, possibly her sister; she certainly looked the part as she stayed close to Eriko, clinging to her as she stared up, wide-eyed, at the imposing man before her.
"Eriko...?" Taggart queried. "Eriko Hiroshi?"
She nodded slightly.
"I'm with the FBI... my name's Stan." he smiled politely as he showed his badge as proof. "Are your guardians in right now?"
She shook her head. "He said you would come," she said, her accent thick.
"Who? One of your guardians...? Did Chief Swafford call ahead?"
Eriko shook her head. "The man in black said. Tell me to wait for man of great authority. And to tell what happen."
... man in black? The hell...?
"Anata wa nekomimi nitsuite kare ni tsutaeru tsumoridesu ka?" the younger girl asked in her native language.
Taggart paused, recognizing part of what she said. "Neko... cat."
"My little sister... she was there when steamroller attack..." Eriko explained. "She saw what I saw... the cat-girl who save me. That what man in black tell me to say."
"So it WAS her!" Taggart smiled. "Can you tell me anything about her, Eriko? Any clues?"
"You... not going to hurt her, are you?" Eriko asked.
"No... no, I just need to confirm some things, child... ain't gonna wanna hurt her if I can help it."
Eriko remained quiet for a moment, looking away. She the sighed softly, nodding. "... she wore red. Eyes like gold. Fur soft... smelled like mint and earth. Kind face... full of love. Good. Gentle."
"You know where she went, Eriko?"
"No... man in black say she still here in city..."
"Where exactly in the city? Please, if you know, tell me."
"... he said... to find the eight hundred thirtieth child of meat..."
"... the what now...?" Taggart raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"That what he tell me..." Eriko said, shrugging. "I no get it either, and my English no so good."
"... well... let's see..." Taggart rubbed his chin in thought. Then walked back over to his car, opening the passenger's side door and then the glove compartment, pulling out a map.
"What you doing?" Eriko asked, as she and her little sister left their house, approaching him.
"That 'man in black' left you a riddle, I'm willing to bet... the eight hundred thirtieth child of meat, huh? Yeah, that's cryptic enough..." Taggart unfolded the map, looking it over.
"That a map of Kansas City?"
"Sure is, Eriko. Now, let's see... 830... street address, it's gotta be..." Taggart studied the map carefully. "All right, there's an 830 Kansas 5 highway... and..." he paused, glancing upward as he smiled. "Bingo."
"Bingo?" Eriko repeated, cocking her head.
"830 Kindleberger Road," Taggart solved. "'Kind' being German for 'child.' And 'berger' sounds like 'burger,' which is meat."
"Oohhh..." Eriko grinned. "You smart!"
"Well, most days, I guess..." Taggart mussed up Eriko's hair. "Thanks, Eriko. I got this from here."
"If cat-girl in trouble... you help her, right?" Eriko looked up at Taggart with pleading eyes. And Taggart sighed softly, folding the map back up and putting it back in the glove compartment.
"I'll see what's what... do what I can..." he finally said. "It's all anyone can do, Eriko."
"You... you good man," Eriko said with a bright, cheery smile, before bowing to him respectfully and turning to return to the house. Her little sister also bowed quickly, then followed Eriko back inside.
"... yeah..." Taggart replied under his breath. "... I try to be."
830 Kindleberger Road lead Taggart to the warehouse districts of Kansas City. Of course there'd be a warehouse. Wouldn't be a paranormal whatever-the-hell-this-all-is without one, right?
Pulling up in front of the International Transit Storage, he got out of his car, and pulled out his M9 pistol, checking its clip to make sure it was full and ready, just in case. Holstering it, he glanced to his left to see some warehouse workers doing their daily routines, carrying product either by hand or by forklift.
Don't know if she's here, he thought. There's a lot of people here... would she risk hiding out here if she knew she could be spotted? Or has she gotten to the point where she doesn't care if someone sees her? Certainly looks that way, the way she reacted back at City Park saving Eriko...
"Excuse me..." a crewman approached Taggart, a questioning look in his eyes. "Is... there something I can help you with, sir?"
"Yeah, I think so..." Taggart flashed his badge. "Agent Taggart, FBI. Notice anything off lately around here in the past few days?"
"Off? How off?"
"Glimpses of red here or there... maybe some missing food stock if you got any..."
He raised an eyebrow, then gave the question some thought. "No... no, I don't think we-"
"Hey, Clarence..." another crewman approached him. "C'mere..."
Clarence looked back at Taggart, and then took a few steps away from him to speak with his fellow crewman. Taggart cocked his head, crossing his arms as he attempted to focus in on their hushed conversation.
"... there WAS something weird goin' on yesterday..."
"... dammit, Bobby... we don't need this right now...!"
"... about a pound or so of fish patties ended up missing, Clarence..."
"... worry about it later, Bobby... just get back to work already...!"
Clarence broke away from Bobby, and went back to Taggart. "Sorry about that, Agent Taggart... bit of an issue with maintenance, nothing to worry about... now what were you saying?"
"... notice anything out of the ordinary around here, Clarence?"
"Nope... nothing strange here, sir... sorry..." Clarence shrugged.
Taggart raised an eyebrow. "Hmm... well, sorry to trouble you then... I'll let you get back to work."
"Thanks, Agent Taggart... you take care now..." Clarence waved dismissively as he turned to leave, walking with Bobby as the two began arguing.
Well, isn't that interesting... Taggart mused. Clarence done lied to my face... not a smart thing to do, especially to me. He's hiding something... Pagan, perhaps? No... I don't think he knows about her. Might be something else going on here... but I'll have to worry about it later, my primary concern is Pagan. Now that Bobby kid... he might be someone to talk to. Just gotta find him away from Clarence so I can get a word with him.
Taggart turned and got back into his car, starting it up and pulling away from the warehouse, driving it away to the road, towards the dead end, then U-Turning back down Kindleberger Road, back towards the International Transit Storage. As he had hoped, he didn't have to wait long; he spotted Bobby driving a forklift as he was carrying product towards a storage unit. Stopping the car, he rolled down the window as he peeked out.
"Hey! Bobby, was it?" Taggart called out. "Y'got a minute, kid?"
"Hm?" Bobby slowed the forklift to a stop, and got out, walking towards the FBI agent. "Oh, it's you... what's up?"
"Overheard you talking with you buddy Clarence... something about missing fish patties, right?"
"Aw, Christ... you heard all that?" Bobby sighed. "Uhm... yeah, yesterday about a pound or so of fish patties that were gonna be shipped to McDonald's ended up missing. Kind of a headache filling out the report on that when you don't know what happened, exactly..."
"Yeah, well..." Bobby scratched the back of his head. "That's the thing... that wasn't all that was stolen. I counted inventory this morning and I found that we were missing a bottle of cream."
"Yeah... coffee creamer, y'know. And this was the good stuff... cinnamon vanilla creme flavored. Now, here's the freaky part... I heard someone drinking that down and... I heard purring!"
"Not like a housecat purring either... this sounded like a big cat purring, like a... a cougar or something... and it was comin' from right behind a stack of pallets."
"You call for help or the police?"
"Nah... I guess I was being a little stupid so I grabbed a crowbar and I went over... figured I could knock out whatever was there, y'know?"
Taggart crossed his arms. "Not a smart thing to do, Bobby. If it was a cougar..."
"That's just it! Now that I'm tellin' you this I... I don't know WHAT it was! 'Cause when I got close enough I... I swear I could hear someone giggling... like a girl, and then WOOSH, I see this blur of red leap up! Knocks me right on my ass and before I could get a good look I see someone high above the rafters running away... looked like someone was wearing a... I dunno, like a cape or cloak or something."
"No shit... how high up are those rafters?"
"I dunno, man... I'm guessin' maybe... thirty, forty feet? Maybe more... there was a chain up there too but that was about twelve feet above the ground..." Bobby grew concerned. "You know what the hell's goin' on?"
"Workin' on it..." Taggart rubbed his chin. "Say, Bobby... show me where all this happened, will ya?"
"Yeah..." Bobby turned towards another crewman. "Leon, can you take over for me?"
"Yeah... sure thing, man..." the crewman, Leon, approached the forklift and got in, flashing Taggart an uneasy gaze before he started up the rig, and drove it towards it's intended destination.
... what was that all about... Taggart wondered.
"C'mon... follow me..." Bobby ushered Taggart towards another storage facility towards the left. "I'll show you where all that happened."
The two entered the facility, and Bobby proceeded to tour Taggart about its surroundings. "See... right over there behind the pallets... that's where it all went down."
"Hmm..." Taggart approached the stack of pallets, moving behind them and glancing down, spotting an empty bottle of cream. "Well, isn't that interesting..."
"Nothing... at least not yet..." Taggart knelt down to pick up the bottle, looking it over. "Hmm..."
"What's this all about?" Bobby asked.
"Kid, I might need your help on this..." Taggart stood up, bottle in hand. "Looks to me you got a straggler roaming around these parts. And we gotta flush her out into the open."
"'... her...'" Bobby raised an eyebrow. "You're after someone?"
"Someone, something... not sure yet..." Taggart looked around, as if he could feel a pair of unseen eyes staring down at him. "Not here, c'mon..."
Bobby shrugged, and moved to follow Taggart out of the warehouse. "What do you need me to do?"
"We're gonna do this at night. Least amount of people. All you gotta do is make sure I'm the only one at that particular warehouse there because I'm sure that's where she's localized. I can take it from there."
"You after some sorta criminal?"
"I'm after someone... or something, and that's all I can say on the matter. Everything else is classified. FBI business. Got it?" Taggart cast Bobby a stern look. "I can promise you'll be compensated for your help in this but I'll need to do this shit alone. Got it?"
"... Y-yes sir..." Bobby nodded. "I'll do my best!"
"Good man," Taggart nodded back, as he got into his car. "I'll be back tonight, at midnight. I'm countin' on you, got it?"
"Got it!" Bobby nodded.
Taggart smiled, and started up the vehicle and drove off onto the road.
Yeah... tonight may end up being one hell of a night... he mused.
Night came, and Taggart returned to the International Transit Storage, two bags sitting in the passenger's seat next to him; one bag had the slightly dark stains of grease on the bottom, the McDonald's Golden Arches logo prominent on the side, while the second bag was more slender, generic, than the former.
Taggart pulled up to the warehouse where Pagan was reported to have been spotted. Taking the two bags, he emerges from his car, looking around cautiously. If Bobby were to be trusted, he and his fellow crew workers should either be away or at home by now. It was also a long shot that Pagan was still around the area, but Taggart was willing to bank on that she was; with so much free food for the taking all over, was there any other reason why she wouldn't stay?
Taggart walked into the warehouse, looking around quietly. The lights were off, of course, so he pulled a flashlight from his back pocket and switched it on, moving the shining beam about, looking for the light switch. Finding it on the right hand side near the door, he made a note in his mind that it was there, and looked towards the product.
"I know you're in here somewhere," he called out. "I'm not here to hurt you... I just want to talk!"
Taggart frowned. "We've been doing our best in tracking you ever since Akron," he continued. "You drop off the map for a few years and then all of a sudden you show up here in Kansas City? For something called the Louisiana Cat-Girl you sure get around a lot... not stayin' in that one spot... why the wanderlust all of a sudden?"
"Hope you haven't eaten yet..." Taggart held up the bag of fast food. "Two Fillet-O-Fish, fresh outta the basket... figure fried fish patties'd taste better than raw, pre-cooked ones, right?"
Still more silence.
"I know you can smell 'em... you got one keen nose, I hear. Better than a bloodhound's."
Even more silence.
"All right, I get it... you don't trust me, right? All right..." Taggart placed the bag of fast food down on the ground, stepping away from it with his back to the wall, close to the light switch. "Go ahead... take it, it's okay..."
"All right... guess you leave me no other choice..." Taggart reached into the other bag, pulling out a bottle of off-white liquid and holding it upward. "I understand you like... cream... don't you?"
Silence... but somehow it felt like an uneasy kind of silence.
"C'mon, girl... you know you want it..." Taggart chided. "C'mon down and talk, and I'll give you this cream. How's that sound?"
A sudden sound alerted Taggart towards his left. He turned his head for a moment, then heard the sound of a paper bag being seized. He blinked, then turned back towards where the bag of Fillet-O-Fishes once was.
"... all right..." Taggart raised an eyebrow. "You're clever... AND fast. Not bad, girl... I'll give ya props..."
"You're not the first hunter to try to trap me with food," a new voice, female in tone, echoed about the warehouse.
"So you CAN talk..." Taggart called out. "Your voice sounds human enough... but really, what makes you think I'm a hunter?"
"If you're not a hunter..." a pause, followed by the sounds of the swift devouring of a Fillet-O-Fish. "... then what are you?"
"An agent... I work for the FBI. The Federal Bureau of Intelligence."
"I've never heard of it!"
"That I don't doubt... there's a lot about the outside world you don't know, do you?"
Silence, save for more sounds of devouring of the other Fillet-O-Fish.
"My name is Taggart... I'm not out to catch you, Pagan... you prefer being called Pagan? Or Katherine?"
"... whatever you like... they're both my names. And if you're not here to catch me, then why are you here?"
"Truth be told, I'm here to confirm that you exist. I've been asked to discover if you pose any kind of threat to the U.S. Government and if there's any more like you."
"There is nothing like me..."
"How do I know you ain't lying to me?"
"I don't lie. I can't lie... it's not in my nature to lie."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. It's so."
"So what you're saying is that you're the only one of your kind and that you've been alive for over a century?"
"Has it been that long? Then yes... that's what I'm saying."
"Why're you outside your comfort zone then, Pagan? Why leave the Louisiana Swamps?"
"... I am curious..."
"Yeah? You know what they say about cats and curiosity, right?"
"I'm not dead yet."
"Yeah... that's true... so tell me..." Taggart looked around the warehouse to try to spot any motion anywhere he could find it. "That girl you saved back at City Park... why did you save her?"
"Why ask such a question? I did it because it was the right thing to do. Because all children are precious. They must be protected from all manners of threat, by any means necessary."
Taggart smiled. "Now that. That's the right answer."
He stepped forward, and lowered the bottle of cream to the ground, taking a step back towards the wall. After a moment, a cloaked figure dropped down from the rafters in front of the bottle, a near silent drop that barely even registered to the contents of the bottle, with nary a simple impact tremor. Taggart hesitated for a moment, then turned around, reaching for the nearby light switch.
Taggart stopped himself. Turning back around, he saw Pagan standing before him, the bottle of cream in hand. The darkness and shadows hiding his appearance, with only a glint of eyeshine peering from under the hood of her brown cloak.
"Why not?" Taggart asked. "I just want to see what you look like."
"I'm... not sure..."
"I already know you exist. And you let Eriko see you... that's the girl you saved, by the way... her name. If we're gonna be friends we have to at least trust each other."
"What if I don't want to be friends?"
"I'm here to help you, Pagan. That's all I want to do. I want to make sure you stay alive."
"I've stayed alive this long already without anyone's help..." Pagan took a step towards Taggart, sniffing at him cautiously. Then paused, turning her head to sniff around. "Mmmrrr..."
"What is it?" Taggart asked.
Pagan looked back at him, the shadows hiding her face but her eyeshine seemed to stare right through Taggart, before she suddenly leapt back, twisting around to leap onto the opposite wall, springing off of it, and back up to the rafters.
"Hey, wait!" Taggart shouted. "What's going on-"
A heavy thud sounded all around his head, quickly silencing him. And the last thing he could recall before slipping into immediate unconsciousness was the way he hit the floor, followed by a man's voice.
"Tie this asshole up..."
And then, darkness.
"... urrgh... the hell..."
Taggart slowly opened his eyes, and immediately realized his hands were bound behind him. His feet was also tied together, as he found himself tied to a chair.
"Hey, Clarence!" A bearded black man called out. "FBI man's awake."
"All right, Joe..." Clarence approached Taggart, flanked by three other men, all dressed as crew workers at the warehouse. "Agent Taggart, was it? You just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?"
"What the hell is this all about..." Taggart muttered, glaring at Clarence.
"Don't play dumb with me, asshole!" Clarence shouted.
"Kinda hard when I don't know what the hell is goin' on now, is it?"
Clarence reached behind him and pulled a gun from his back pocket, aiming it directly at Taggart's head.
"Emil..." he said without a hint of emotion. "Go get Bobby, will you?"
Emil, a middle-aged man with short red hair, nodded, a sick smirk on his face, as he turned towards the main office of the warehouse.
"Bobby..." Taggart recalled the young man who had helped him. "He in on all this shit?"
"No... he ain't got a goddamned clue..." Clarence replied. "I was happy to leave him oblivious to what we were doing but you had to involve him, didn't you? Shame... he's a good kid, really."
What the hell ARE you doin'?" demanded Taggart.
"Huh... y'know, I don't think he DOES know..." a black haired man remarked.
"Maybe, Leon... but the fact remains... just what ARE you doin' here, snooping around in our affairs, FBI man?" Clarence stared at Taggart, the barrel of the gun now pressed to his temple. "Tell me, or so help me-!"
"I'm trackin' something..." Taggart confessed, his steel demeanor not leaving his face.
"'Something,' he says..." Clarence chuckled as his cohorts laughed with him. "All right... just what ARE you tracking, FBI man?"
Taggart smirked. "Believe me... you wouldn't believe me even if I told you."
"This ain't a time to joke as I got a goddamned gun upside your head!" Clarence threatened.
"I made my peace a long time ago..." Taggart said, his resolve still strong. "You're threatening the wrong man."
"That so..." Clarence turned, seeing Emil drag a bloody and battered Bobby from the office. "Well that ain't a problem 'cause here's the RIGHT man to threaten!"
"... shit..." Taggart cursed, as Clarence approached Bobby, Joe and Emil holding him up by his arms. He looked so limp, nearly lifeless, as Clarence cocked back his pistol, aiming it at Bobby's temple. "Last chance, Taggart! Tell me EXACTLY why you're here or Bobby's gonna fly with the goddamned angels!"
"All right, all right... no need to kill the kid, I'll tell you!" Taggart relented. "... I'm... I'm tracking a cryptid."
"A what now?" one of the accomplices, an Asian man, queried.
"Cryptid, Steve... like Bigfoot..." Clarence raised an eyebrow at Taggart. "You shittin' me?"
"No sir, I am not..." Taggart replied, then glanced upward, noticing a hint of movement from the rafters. "In fact she's right here. Up in the rafters, watchin' us... and I can damn well guarantee that she ain't gonna like whatever you're plannin'."
"Well, maybe I just don't give a shit..." Clarence looked to Bobby, an evil smile on his face as his finger began to depress the trigger.
Suddenly, a hooded cloaked figure dropped down from the rafters, right in front of Clarence, causing him to pause.
"... what the hell...?" he exclaimed, staring at the crouched down figure, which let out a low, inhuman growl.
"... told ya..." Taggart chided.
And Pagan bared her fangs, her claws out, as she belted out a fierce, deafening roar, akin to most lions.
"Shit-!" Joe staggered back, eyes wide with fear, as he, released Bobby's arm to turn tail and run. "I didn't sign up for this shit!"
"Yeah... s-screw that!" Steve quickly followed Joe as Clarence looked back at his two fleeing cohorts.
"Get the hell back here! It-" Clarence looked back towards Pagan as she stood upright, seeing the eyeshine glint off her pupils from under her hood. "... it's gotta be some sorta trick..."
"Let him go..." Pagan demanded, pointing at Bobby. "NOW."
"SHOOT THIS BITCH!" Clarence shouted, as he pulled his gun. But before Clarence could get a shot off, Pagan suddenly leapt forward, face-to-face with the criminal leader as she smiled at him, showing her fangs.
"Wrong animal," she stated.
"SHIT-!" Clarence fell backwards, landing on his backside as he fired wildly. Emil let go of Bobby's other arm as he pulled his gun, as did Leon, and opened fire on Pagan, who detached her cloak and dashed away, letting it get riddled with bullets as she charged around the warehouse on all fours. Clarence grimaced as he fired two rounds at Pagan, but she had swiftly hopped to the side, as if dodging the bullets somehow. Before he know what was happening, Pagan had pounced on Clarence, tackling him down to the ground.
"You smell toxic..." Pagan hissed. "I don't like your scent."
"SHIT!" Clarence shouted. "LEON, EMIL! GET THIS FREAK OFF OF ME!"
Emil and Leon quickly aimed their guns at Pagan and opened fire. But the cryptid cat-girl was quicker, and hopped up to her feet, hands still on Clarence as she picked him up with her, and Clarence spasmed as the bullets fired struck him in the back.
"I would say I'm sorry..." Pagan said coldly. "... but I know what you've done. So I'm not."
Pagan let Clarence collapse, dead, to the ground, then looked to a shocked Emil and Leon, dead seriousness in her gold eyes.
Emil and Leon looked at each other. Then did as Pagan demanded, turning around and running away as fast as they could.
"Damn, girl..." Taggart said, looking to Pagan with awe. "... that was good."
Pagan turned back towards Taggart, her cold demeanor shifting to a more warm, friendly face. "I'm sorry for letting you get captured... I didn't know if you were with them or not. Now I know for sure you're not."
"... yeah... that's all well and good... you wanna untie me?" Taggart asked.
"In a moment..." Pagan approached the unconscious, badly beaten Bobby, kneeling down and touching him, cocking her head as she grew concerned. "... mmrr..."
"... is he okay?" Taggart asked.
"He's still breathing... his heart's still beating. So he probably is."
"Yeah... but judging from those bruises and contusions he might not be for much longer. So untie me so I can call an ambulance and some backup."
"... right..." Pagan stood up, pulling a gleaming steel machete from the scabbard on her back. "Hold still..."
"Whoa, shit... that's... that's a hell of a knife there, you know how to use that?"
"Yes... now stay still." Pagan walked behind Taggart, and raised the machete up and over her head.
"Ah shit..." Taggart. "Better not miss or my wife's gonna get pissed at you..."
One quick swipe later, and Taggart's hands were freed, the ropes tying him to the chair severed. Letting out a sigh of relief, he knelt down to untie his feet next, then stood up, pulling out his cellphone. "... one thing though..." Taggart looked to Pagan. "... just what were these guys doing here?"
"Selling toxic things," Pagan replied. "Selling them to children, making them sick."
"... toxic..." Taggart paused. "... you mean drugs?"
"They're in the next warehouse over. Hidden in dolls." Pagan picked up her hooded cloak, looking at the holes the bullets made in it for a moment.
"... really..." Taggart stared at Pagan as she adorned herself with the hooded cloak, then he smiled softly. "... you're a regular ol' hero, ain't ya?"
"... no. Not a hero..." Pagan replied, looking to Agent Taggart. "... I just try to do what's right."
And with that, Pagan turned on a heel and dashed away, leaving the warehouse as she ran away on all fours. All the while Taggart kept on smiling, shaking his head.
"... damn, girl..." he said softly. "... that's exactly what a hero does."
The authorities were called in shortly after. Evidence was found and confiscated, and arrests were made on the fleeing criminals. Bobby was sent to the hospital and Taggart was praised for his quick actions in breaking up the drug racket that was going on in Kansas City.
Though behind it all the real hero was nowhere to be found. And Taggart still had things to do.
The first thing? Call in a progress report.
Taggart pulled out his cellphone and dialed in the number. "Code word, please..." a baritone voice spoke over the receiver.
"Country dweller," Taggart replied.
"Confirmed. What have you to report, Stan?"
"I've made contact with the target. Target is not hostile. Repeat, target is not hostile. Target is not a threat to homeland security."
"Acknowledged. New instructions, Stan. Find the target again and plant a tracker on her. Your call on how you do it."
"Acknowledged. Will maintain radio silence until the objective is carried out."
Taggart hung up the phone and put it back in his coat pocket. He then sighed softly as he leaned back against his car. All right... plant a tracker on Pagan. Bell the cat. So what're the chances of her already left the city after what happened here?
Taggart lowered his head, deep in thought as he rubbed his chin. Maybe lower than I figured, he contemplated. Dunno how she thinks just yet, but I'm willing to wager she's sticking around just because of me. She's probably curious about me. Wondering just what my angle is. If that's the case, maybe all I need is to draw her out one more time...
Guess it's back to McDonald's for more Fillet-O-Fish.
The next night.
Agent Taggart was parked at the outskirts of the city. A McDonald's branded bag containing three Filet-O-Fish were in one hand, a bottle of cream in the other, as he got out of the car, walking to its hood as he set the food down upon it.
"... hope your nose is good enough to pick all this up..." he said to himself.
The car suddenly bounced slightly, something landing upon its roof.
"It is," Pagan's voice replied.
"Heh..." Taggart smirked, and he handed the cat-girl the food, which she promptly took, then hopped backwards from the car, landing on the trunk and proceeded to begin eating. "... you got here way too quickly, Pagan... were you followin' me?"
"... Mmrrr... yes..." Pagan replies in-between bites into the sandwich.
"Figured as much..." Taggart said with a smile.
"I'm not a threat to your homeland security... I just want to see the world and what it has to offer. I'm curious."
Taggart paused. "... good ears, girl... you heard all that last night, huh?"
"I did..." Pagan turned around, looking to Taggart with her eyeshine glinting. "... track me. Why? You already know I'm not a threat."
"You're not a threat, true... but if what you say is true, about being the only one of your kind-"
"I don't lie."
"Right right, sorry... all I'm sayin' is that that makes you a critically endangered species. If anything should happen to you, then that's it. You're extinct."
"Hunters have tried to kill me before... they've failed, all of them..." Pagan smiled confidently. "I survive. It's one of the things I do best."
"And what if one of them ends up succeeding?" retorted Taggart. "Look, you don't have to be alone in this. I wanna be your friend... I wanna look out for you, just in case."
Pagan remained silent, her tail swaying from under her cloak as she stared at Taggart; despite her human shape she seemed to act very much like a cat, as still as stone, as if thinking about accepting his offer... or bolting away from him, never to be seen again.
"... you're not the first human who has offered help to me..." she replied finally.
"How many before me?" Taggart asked.
"... five. Three of them are dead. Two from old age."
"So two are still alive... not bad odds." Taggart crossed his arms. "All right, tell ya what. I can forgo the tracker they gave me. But you gotta promise me, Pagan... check in with me every so often. You gotta give me your word on this."
"What word should it be?" queried Pagan with a cute cock of the head.
"No, it... it means, just promise me we'll see each other, okay?"
"I'll think about it..." Pagan finished her first Filet-O-Fish, then looked to Taggart with a small smile. "... I may accept if you keep offering food."
"Heh..." Taggart smirked. "Well, if it's so I can keep seein' your face, guess I got no other choice, don't I?"
"No, you don't." Pagan grinned.
Pagan kept smiling.
"All right, all right... every two months, Pagan. We'll meet in a predetermined spot, and I'll bring the fish sandwiches and cream. How's that sound?"
Pagan squeed. "Deal!"
"Mind wearin' the tracker?" Taggart held the small tracking device up in his hand, and Pagan stared at it for a moment. Eventually, she took the tracker and placed it inside one of the pouches in her belt.
"Good?" she asked.
"Better than clipping it to your ear, I bet." Taggart smiled at her. "Just don't lose it, okay? Those things cost money."
"I'll do my best."
"It's all I ask, Pagan."
The Louisiana Cat-Girl smiled, and proceeded to gulp down her bottle of cream before devouring the final Filet-O-Fish.
"Gonna be one interesting relationship..." Taggart remarked with a smirk, crossing his arms. "Yep... very interesting..."
"And here we are... eleven years later, wow..." Taggart shook his head. "Feels a lot longer to me."
"Not to me..." replied Pagan, as she cocked her head.
"Well, you age slower so your concept of time is probably faster than mine..." Taggart paused. "... or is that supposed to be the other way around... huh..."
"Time moves no slower or faster for me, Agent Taggart. Only when I'm having fun." Pagan smiled. "And I love having fun."
"Hell, who doesn't?" Taggart shrugged, and moved to his car. "Well... in two months we'll check up on each other again."
"Where shall we meet?" asked Pagan.
"New York City sound good?"
"All right," Pagan nodded. Then murred softly as she walked across the car, from the roof to its hood, then jumped down off of it before standing upright. "I think I'll go to Sacramento next."
"Any reason why?" Taggart asked.
"Yes..." Pagan turned to face Taggart with a bright grin. "Because it's there."
"Heh..." Taggart smirked at Pagan's high spirits. "G'wan, get outta here."
"Bye!" Pagan chimed cutely, before backflipping up onto a fire escape above Taggart's car, climbing up it effortlessly to the building's roof as the FBI agent watched on with a proud smile on his face.
"Yeah... go get 'em, girl."
And Pagan rushed away, leaping from rooftop to rooftop effortlessly, cloak billowing behind her as she smiled happily, her curiosity continuing to guide her. She sought the next train leading into California, and through patience and determination, she knew she would find it. Because nothing was going to stop her from exploring. Her curiosity would not wish for anything less.
Life is an adventure.
Pagan would live that adventure, and she would not want it any other way.