Little Fuzzy – Day 61 of 77

They sent the car up, and while all three of them circled about, they went up the ravine on foot, calling: “Little Fuzzy! Little Fuzzy!” They found a footprint, and then another, where seepage water had moistened the ground. Gerd was talking excitedly into the portable radio he carried slung on his chest.

“One of you, go ahead a quarter of a mile, and then circle back. They’re in here somewhere.”

“I see them! I see them!” a voice whooped out of the radio. “They’re going up the slope on your right, among the rocks!”

“Keep them in sight; somebody come and pick us up, and we’ll get above them and head them off.”

The rental car dropped quickly, the corporal getting the door open. He didn’t bother going off contragravity; as soon as they were in and had pulled the door shut behind them, he was lifting again. For a moment, the hill swung giddily as the car turned, and then Jack saw them, climbing the steep slope among the rocks. Only four of them, and one was helping another. He wondered which ones they were, what had happened to the other two and if the one that needed help had been badly hurt.

The car landed on the top, among the rocks, settling at an awkward angle. He, Gerd and the pilot piled out and started climbing and sliding down the declivity. Then he found himself within reach of a Fuzzy and grabbed. Two more dashed past him, up the steep hill. The one he snatched at had something in his hand, and aimed a vicious blow at his face with it; he had barely time to block it with his forearm. Then he was clutching the Fuzzy and disarming him; the weapon was a quarter-pound ballpeen hammer. He put it in his hip pocket and then picked up the struggling Fuzzy with both hands.

“You hit Pappy Jack!” he said reproachfully. “Don’t you know Pappy any more? Poor scared little thing!”

The Fuzzy in his arms yeeked angrily. Then he looked, and it was no Fuzzy he had ever seen before—not Little Fuzzy, nor funny, pompous Ko-Ko, nor mischievous Mike. It was a stranger Fuzzy.

“Well, no wonder; of course you didn’t know Pappy Jack. You aren’t one of Pappy Jack’s Fuzzies at all!”

At the top, the constabulary corporal was sitting on a rock, clutching two Fuzzies, one under each arm. They stopped struggling and yeeked piteously when they saw their companion also a captive.

“Your partner’s down below, chasing the other one,” the corporal said. “You better take these too; you know them and I don’t.”

“Hang onto them; they don’t know me any better than they do you.”

With one hand, he got a bit of Extee Three out of his coat and offered it; the Fuzzy gave a cry of surprised pleasure, snatched it and gobbled it. He must have eaten it before. When he gave some to the corporal, the other two, a male and a female, also seemed familiar with it. From below, Gerd was calling:

“I got one, It’s a girl Fuzzy; I don’t know if it’s Mitzi or Cinderella. And, my God, wait till you see what she was carrying.”

Gerd came into sight, the fourth Fuzzy struggling under one arm and a little kitten, black with a white face, peeping over the crook of his other elbow. He was too stunned with disappointment to look at it with more than vague curiosity.

“They aren’t our Fuzzies, Gerd. I never saw any of them before.”

“Jack, are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!” He was indignant. “Don’t you think I know my own Fuzzies? Don’t you think they’d know me?”

“Where’d the pussy come from?” the corporal wanted to know.

“God knows. They must have picked it up somewhere. She was carrying it in her arms, like a baby.”

“They’re somebody’s Fuzzies. They’ve been fed Extee Three. We’ll take them to the hotel. Whoever it is, I’ll bet he misses them as much as I do mine.”

His own Fuzzies, whom he would never see again. The full realization didn’t hit him until he and Gerd were in the car again. There had been no trace of his Fuzzies from the time they had broken out of their cages at Science Center. This quartet had appeared the night the city police had manufactured the story of the attack on the Lurkin girl, and from the moment they had been seen by the youth who couldn’t bring himself to fire on them, they had left a trail that he had been able to pick up at once and follow. Why hadn’t his own Fuzzies attracted as much notice in the three weeks since they had vanished?

Because his own Fuzzies didn’t exist any more. They had never gotten out of Science Center alive. Somebody Max Fane hadn’t been able to question under veridication had murdered them. There was no use, any more, trying to convince himself differently.

“We’ll stop at their camp and pick up the blanket and the cushions and the rest of the things. I’ll send the people who lost them checks,” he said. “The Fuzzies ought to have those things.”

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