Speak Easy

Story by Searska_GreyRaven on SoFurry

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Written as a request for a good friend, Seht. https://-seht.sofurry.com/

Request story, and one I really enjoyed working on. Alternate 1930's Chicago is a fun sandbox to play in. ;)

Speak Easy

Korestai © seht

Story © Searska GreyRaven

It was a quite night at Dean's. Or rather, the speakeasy below the restaurant was quiet. The diner upstairs was doing brisk business. When Kore had passed through the kitchen on his way to the bar earlier that evening, Biff the cook had been swearing something fierce. He must be up to his eyeballs with orders by now.

But the bar was far too quiet for a Thursday, at least in Kore's opinion. And if it had been any other place, the blue and yellow dragon's opinion would have meant something. But he wasn't openly New York's youngest aristocrat when he was at Dean's. The passing of the amendment to make alcohol illegal made his presence here a potential scandal. And normally, that potential scandal was worth the entertainment he found here. If it hadn't been for the intriguing creature sitting at the far end of the bar, Kore would have left after his first brandy.

A strange feline was sitting on the furthest barstool looking good enough to eat, if one liked a little danger with their meal. Something about the curve of his shoulders, the flick of his tail, said trouble with a capital "T." But damned if Kore couldn't put his claw on exactly what it was that made him think it. The cat wore black slacks, black shoes scuffed at the edges, and a white shirt, rolled up to his biceps. The first couple of buttons were undone, and a blue tie hung loosely around his throat. His whiskers were long, almost dainty, and well trimmed. His pointed ears twitched every now and then with the sound of clinking glass, but he otherwise sat still, scribbling in a small moleskin notebook with a stub of a pencil.

Kore sipped from his tumbler and flicked his tongue out in a quick reptilian motion. Brandy with a chaser of feline. And definitely not a feline I've ever seen before. Cash or check, handsome?

Kore was just about to ask about the cat, when the bartender, Hoagie, leaned over and beckoned with his hand. Kore leaned in to listen, but didn't take his eyes off the cat.

"Jimmy's place down da block was raided last night. Word is, an undercover dick'd been watchin' da joint," Hoagie'd whispered to Kore. His voice had just a touch of Chicago accent to it. "Watch yourself. Wouldn't want you gettin' mixed up in it. I appreciate your business, but I want it to keep coming, if you catch my drift." The bartender was a big man, though well-groomed. Crisp white shirt, black vest, and a steel pocket watch. He was nearly bald with ice-blue eyes and four fingers on his right hand. Rumor was he'd lost his pinky to Capone himself and had to run from the WindyCity. They said he didn't stop running until he hit the coast of the Big Apple. His eyes sifted through the crowd as if he expected the Mob may be able to track him even here.

Kore caught his "drift," as he'd said. But even on a slow night, Dean's was better than spending an evening with several hundred of the richest people in New York, noses in the air as they sipped the finest sparkling wine from over-priced crystal flutes. Kore sighed. Since that damned Temperance movement, there hadn't been a decent high-class party. Some of those snobs were only bearable when they were zozzled. Being forced to interact with them sober _all the time_was very quickly getting on his nerves. Even if Kore himself seldom drank to inebriation, watching the upper crust do so had been...diverting.

It wasn't easy for a high-class dragon to find a place like this, either. Oh, he could have done it in short order, had one of his trusted staff sniff out speakeasys, but Kore had wanted to do this himself. He needed the mental challenge. And after weeks of careful questions and concealed messages, he'd found Dean's.

Kore had been coming to Dean's for a month now, and still found the place to be interesting, if a little crude. Strangely enough, it reminded him of home, though he'd sooner swallow glass than admit it openly. The company might have been a bit heavy on the female persuasion, but he could still appreciate a gal with a good chassis, even if he had no desire to check under the hood. One such bird was crooning into a mic on the stage, and Kore vaguely remembered the name of the song. "Cry Me a River" or something. She had a voice like honey, and skin the color of fresh cream. Her hair was pinned back by a gauzy black and red veil which matched her skin-tight red dress. Rhinestones flashed in the spotlight as she swayed to the piano's gentle warble. She wasn't bad, for a human. The few humans in the bar were leaving puddles below their jaws, eyes blank with lust as they stared, but the rest of the patrons listened with only half an ear.

It was another thing he liked about Dean's. The company leaned more toward the fur, feather, and scale variety. And with the Temperance Movement turning its attention to those "born different," finding a sanctuary for those of furry persuasion was running a tad bit thin of late. Furs didn't always congregate in places like this, but every one that catered to or tolerated his sort seemed to get targeted a heck of a lot more often than human-only speakeasys.

Kore turned his attention back to the end of the bar. The strange male feline had put away his notebook, and was nursing what looked like absinthe, tracing one finger pad along the edge of the glass and scowling. The moleskin notebook peeked from his back pocket, and Kore used it as an excuse to further eye the feline's physique. Kore guessed the feline wasn't much older than himself, but hard times seemed to have aged the cat beyond his physical years. He looked rather wiry, lean as an alley cat. If it hadn't been for the fur, he would have sworn the cat was a cheetah. But cheetahs had spots, and this cat was coal black. At least, as far as he could tell. Kore had a sudden thought regarding curtains and carpet, and couldn't help but wonder if this cat had a matching set.

What are you, my enigmatic feline?

The cat's glass was half-empty. He scowled at the glass and slid it away from him. But at the last moment, the cat took it back and quaffed the remains in a single reckless gulp. He reached into his black slacks and pulled a few bills from his wallet, slipping them under his now empty glass as he shrugged into a long duster. He leaned against the wall near the door as the Green Muse wormed into his muscles and caused him to wobble. Just before the feline pushed his way out the door, he turned and looked in Korestai's direction.

Their gazes locked, and something tangible seemed to pass between them. Something that was almost a flavor, partly an instinct, and all feeling settled in Kore's loins. But before Kore could get to his feet to introduce himself, the cat stepped outside and disappeared.

He heard the bartender make a tsking sound in his throat. "Never did get dat cat's story."

"What do you know about him?" Kore asked, reluctantly turning his attention to Hoagie.

Hoagie raised an eyebrow. "Nada." he replied.

Kore slid a bill across the counter to him, its face hidden from view. "When did he start showing up, Hoagie?" He asked.

The bartender palmed the bill, glanced at it, and slid it into his apron. "Bout a week ago whiles you was busy with dat fly-boy from Connecticut. Orders a Green Faerie, only has one, and either takes it to a booth and writes da night away, or takes it at da bar and listens to da conversation."

"Green Faerie? So it was absinthe. Isn't that illegal?" Kore asked. Hoagie gave him a look.

"Ain't it all now?" He snorted.

Kore raised his glass in acknowledgement. "You've connections, my good man."

"Flattery from da tree-letter-man," Hoagie laughed and poured himself a gin and tonic. "Don't tell me you've taken a shine to skinners, now?"

"I think you mean 'three-letter-man,' my friend."

"If ye don't like my accent, you can shove it up yer ass, dragon," Hoagie said with a wink.

"The question is, what am I shoving?" Kore returned the wink and slid another bill towards Hoagie. "You said he writes. Is he a journalist?"

Hoagie took the bill and turned toward the register. Kore just caught the flick of the bartender's wrist as he dropped the money into his apron. The man could be a magician, if he put his mind to it, Kore thought. If he hadn't been looking for the movement, he never would have seen it. After a minute, Hoagie slid another tumbler of brandy towards Kore. "Sometimes."

"Does he have a name?" Kore asked.

Hoagie scowled. "Certainly, but dat's not for sale. I'm not going to do all_your homework for ya. You'll have to get dat on your own. But he comes in every Thursday and Friday night, right around seven. Seems to find a way to weasel in right before da rush begins. He's the only one dat drinks dat green shit. I'm surprised dat coffin varnish hasn't sent dat cat to the morgue or da mad house. But he tips well, and in spite of his profession, knows da meaning of de word 'discretion.' What can I say? He's a good kid, just needs a lucky break. It's _d'only reason I keep stocking that green shit for him."

Kore slid one more bill across the counter to settle his tab, tipped back the last of his brandy, and left the bar for the night. He'd be back tomorrow, just before seven, and see if he could get a better fix on this enigmatic black cat.


The evening rush was just stretching its legs when Kore walked into Dean's. Hoagie looked surprised to see him.

"Yer early. Keeping an eye out for dat cat?" He asked.

Kore nodded. "If you see him, say his drink is on me, please."

Hoagie chuckled and shook his head. "Any other orders for da night, sir?" He gave Kore a mocking (though good-natured) bow.

"A glass of the usual, please."

The night was in full swing before the cat showed up. He shrugged out of his jacket at the door and sauntered to the bar, right past Kore. He was wearing almost the same thing as the night before. The only difference was the color of his tie. Tonight, it was a deep red, and it spilled down his white shirt in a slick stream. Hoagie saw the approaching cat, and gave Kore a subtle wink. Kore watched as the cat stepped up to Hoagie, ordered his drink, and looked surprised to see the bartender wave away his money. And when the cat looked at Kore (Those eyes! Were they grey or silver?), he saw the play of expressions race across the cat's features. Surprise, confusion, gratitude, trepidation, and finally interest.

"That was mighty kind of you to do for a cat like me," he said. His voice was laced with a smooth, high-class Southern accent.

"I would have done it for you last night, but you left before I had a chance to introduce myself," Kore replied.

"Bit on the unusual side, for a man to buy a drink for another man," the feline gave Kore a strange sidelong look and raised an eyebrow.

Kore chuckled. "Luckily, I'm not a man." He winked and took a sip of his brandy. The strange feline snorted and nodded, pulling up a stool next to Kore.

"Ain't that the truth," he said. "So, what brings someone of your stature to a place like this? Isn't it a bit...low brow for a fella who's...well,you?"

Kore inclined his head, confused. "And what am I?"

The cat leaned in and dropped his voice to a sliver of a whisper. "Heir to a not-so-small fortune, unless I miss my guess. Though I'd wager it's rather hard to forget a face like yours."

Kore recoiled and blinked. "You know me then?" He said, recovering his composure.

The cat smirked and nodded. "Know_of_ you, that's for certain. One can't be in the business and not know your story. Or at least, the public parts of it."

"Oh really? And what business is that?" Kore inquired, raising an eyeridge and taking a sip of his brandy for his nerves. Just my luck, I get recognized by a journalist.

"I'm a writer, mostly. Been doing some work for The New Yorker, of recent."

Better and better, Kore thought wryly. If I'm not careful, this could end badly. Tomorrow's headline: New York Aristocrat Korestai found in Illegal Establishment!

"Oh really? What do you write?" Kore asked.

"Not what I want to, that's for sure," The cat muttered. "But then, there's no market for that sort of thing. All people want to hear about is people, it seems. No interest in what those of a certain furry demeanor have on their minds. I say, if the editor knew my hide wasn't skin, he'd probably reject me out of hand. And while I'm not opposed to a certain other form of bum rush, being thrown out of my only income is not something I'm willing to accept just yet."

Kore nodded, resisting the urge to draw his lips back in a sly smile. The cat was flirting with him. Kore relaxed slightly.

"Since it seems you know me, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage," Kore prompted.

"Ah, pardon my rudeness, sport. Call me Sinclair." He held out his right paw, smiling. "Free-lance writer, journalist, and black cat extraordinaire."

Kore took his paw in a firm handshake. Sinclair's paw pads were rough, but the fur well groomed. He had no doubt that Sinclair kept his claws in as good condition.

"You're a far way from the South, Sinclair," Kore said. "Do you travel much?"

"It's the accent, isn't it? Sorry kid, I hardly remember my time there. My family moved north as soon as I had legs to walk on, and lived in Illinois the rest of my childhood. But my mother never lost her Southern tongue, and I inherited it from her. To answer your question about traveling, I came to New York after I graduated from NorthwesternUniversity, hoping to make a name for myself here. The barkeep, Hoagie, hired me for a few months until I got my first break." He frowned. "So far, all I've done is prove that getting anything out of the Big Apple but worms is a tall task."

Kore nodded. "It can be, unless you have connections. But even then, it's a harsh place for a out-of-towner like yourself."

Sinclair took a sip from his glass. "That a fact? Well then, how does a body go about getting these marvelous...connections?" He gave Kore a half-smile.

A glass tumbler whistled between the pair and dismantled itself on the upper shelf behind the bar. Hoagie swore. A shout echoed across the room, and a ball of skin and feathers rolled across the floor. A moment later, Hoagie was in the thick of it, trying to tear what looked like a gryphon off a human male and cussing to make a wounded pirate proud. The gryphon lashed out, knocking Sinclair's stool out from under him. Sinclair leapt up and only just managed to keep his feet.

"I think, my friend, that I may have a quieter location for such a conversation. If you are interested, of course." Kore said. He finished the last of his drink and left a generous tip for Hoagie.

Sinclair tossed back the last of his drink. "Friend," he said with just a trace of slurring to his voice. "It would be an honor."

As the pair made their way to the door, neither noticed that Sinclair's back pocket was empty.


Kore had a standing reservation at a hotel not too far from Dean's, for the nights when Kore met someone he wanted to privately "entertain." The walk was pleasant, as warm as could be expected for a mid-May evening. Sinclair continued to tell Kore about the people he'd met and the stories he'd covered while in New York. Kore, in turn, spoke of his life at Harvard, how he met his benefactor, and life at the top of the social pyramid.

The hotel lobby was mostly empty. Plush blue carpeting covered a thin strip from the door to the grand staircase, and a crystal chandelier glowed softly above. Kore walked up to the counter and requested his usual room. Sinclair sat next to a reflecting pool and gazed (Kore thought longingly) at the koi. After a quick transaction, Kore led Sinclair up to the top floor of the building, to a room that overlooked the ocean. It was spacious, luxurious, but Sinclair had eyes only for the balcony. He pushed open the French doors and beheld the coast.

"What a view," Sinclair murmured, staring at the sea.

Kore shrugged out of his thin overcoat and watched the cat's face as he looked at the ocean. "I thought cats didn't like water?" He teased.

"Most cats," Sinclair replied. "God broke me the mold with me, or so my mother said."

Kore came up behind Sinclair and gently rested his claws on the cat's shoulders. "You don't appear damaged to me," he murmured into his ear.

In the moonlight, Kore could see Sinclair smile. He turned around and faced Kore, his paws tracing down his shirt, slipping the buttons through the holes as he went. Kore undid Sinclair's tie. It tumbled into a crimson pool next to the night stand, followed by Kore's shirt.

Sinclair's fur was softer than it looked, and Kore wanted to run his fingers through every inch of it. Kore bent his head, felt Sinclair's whiskers skim along his throat. Sinclair's paws were gently drawing down Kore's suspenders, his bass purr thrumming against Kore's ribs, as they backed toward the bed. Suddenly, Sinclair lost his balance and the pair tumbled onto the bed. Kore caught him, but Sinclair's weight pulled them both down and Kore ended up laying on top of Sinclair.

"Sorry, sport. You've got me forgetting which way is up," Sinclair chuckled. His voice dropped an octave, and he murmured into Kore's ear, "Now, would you kindly show a body what sort of...connections you had in mind before I have a mind to forget how to speak?"

Grinning, Kore proceeded to "show" Sinclair exactly what he meant.


Dawn crept over the horizon, spreading a red stain across the sky. Kore yawned and rolled over. He reached for Sinclair but realized the cat was no longer in bed beside him. Alarmed, Kore glanced around the room.

Sinclair hadn't gone far. He was standing at the window, planted in the same spot as he had been the night before. He gazed out at the ocean, gripping the railing as if it was all that kept him anchored to the balcony. He was wearing his pants, but not his shirt. The fur along his spine stood on end, and his back was arched.

"Sinclair?" Kore murmured, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

Sinclair's shoulders tensed at the sound of his name. Without turning around, he spoke. "Where is my notebook, Korestai?" he asked coldly.

"Notebook?" Kore echoed. He shoved the sheets aside and wrapped himself in a green bathrobe.

Sinclair whirled around. "Don't play me stupid, scalie. My notebook. The black moleskin one I carry with my everywhere. Where is it?" A hint of emotion threaded through his voice, low, angry. Hurt.

"Sinclair, I don't..." Kore backpedaled.

"Were you just supposed to take the notebook, or were you supposed to silence me too?" Sinclair continued.

Truly lost now, Kore just stared at Sinclair blankly. "Have you lost your mind? I have no idea what you are talking about. Maybe the notebook fell out at Dean's. I'll give Hoagie a call and see if anyone turned it in." Kore reached for the phone, and suddenly Sinclair was beside him, his paw wrapped around Kore's wrist. Kore felt four distinct pricks along his arm. Sinclair had unsheathed his claws, and was a hair's breadth from slicing them through Kore's hide. Dragon skin was tough, but as thin as a human's near the joints.

"Sinclair," Kore looked Sinclair in the eye and said, as calmly as he could, "I have no idea what has gotten into you, but I swear to God I don't know where your notebook is."

Sinclair narrowed his eyes, and for a moment it looked like he wasn't going to believe it. Finally, he relaxed. He withdrew his claws, but not his grip.

"You honestly have no idea what was in that notebook?" he asked, quietly.

"Sinclair, I was more interested in your derriere than your pockets. And the last good view I had of your hind side, there wasn't a notebook in the way. That was after we'd left Dean's." Kore said bluntly. "On my honor."

Sinclair swallowed and nodded. His fur smoothed, and he suddenly looked much smaller. "I'm sorry, I...I have got to find that notebook. I'm a dead tom if I don't find it."

Kore stared at him. "What was in it?"

"I--" Sinclair bit back his words. "Kid, I'd tell you, but somehow I think you're a bit too attached to your hide to get involved in this."

Kore looked at Sinclair, wondering how far he should push the issue. With a sigh, he finally nodded. "I'm going to call Hoagie now, and see if anyone turned in your notebook."

Sinclair nodded, and ran his paw through the fur behind his neck. His paw shook visibly.

Kore phoned Hoagie, who said that someone had turned in a black moleskin notebook matching Sinclair's description.

"Hold onto it for me until we get there, please." Kore said.

"I'll keep it up front with Charlie. Dat ok with you?"

Kore hesitated. "That should be fine," he said. "We'll be there in an hour."

Kore hung up and began to pull on his pants. Sinclair was already dressed and standing near the door.

"Sinclair, hold on a moment, will you? It's there, it's not going anywhere."

"I'm not worried about it going anywhere. I'm afraid of what will happen if curiosity gets the better of Dean's man," Sinclair said.

Kore snorted. "Honestly! It's a notebook. What could possibly have in there? State secrets?"

"Something like that," Sinclair said evasively. "I don't much care what happens to me. I'm a writer and I accepted that I can get myself into trouble putting my nose in places a wise body would leave well enough alone. But I can't abide by someone else getting harmed because I got careless."

Kore finished dressing while Sinclair spoke. "Well then, let's be quick about it."

It was still early, and the streets were more or less abandoned. Sinclair walked a step or two in front of Kore, paws in the pockets of his coat and his collar flipped up against his neck.

Kore was just reaching for the door handle of Deans when they heard the first shot. Sinclair shoved Kore aside and darted in the door before Kore could so much as grab him. The lock slammed home, leaving Kore outside.

Swearing eloquently, Kore bolted for the alley behind Dean's. There was more than one way into the speakeasy.


Kore had a moment, just before he slipped into the back room, where he thought to himself, What am I doing? I should be getting the police, I shouldn't be getting involved in this.

But after the way Sinclair had reacted back at the hotel, Kore didn't think it would be a good idea to get the authorities involved. If Sinclair was in trouble, Kore was going to have to help without tipping off the police.

If the gunfire hadn't already, Kore thought.

The kitchen was dark, though enough light made it through the window to the diner that Kore could see enough to walk by. Since Dean's wouldn't officially open for another couple of hours, the place was deserted. A thin needle of light came from under the door to the speakeasy below. Kore looked around and found a heavy skillet hanging above the stove. He hefted it experimentally. It would have to do. He couldn't risk searching for a knife. The noise may alert whoever was downstairs. He slid against the wall and slowly descended the stairs. The door open a sliver, and Kore chanced a peek inside.

At first, he couldn't see anything. A gas light had been lit, but the flame was kept low. It was barely brighter than the kitchen.

"Where is it, Sinclair? Does dis guy have it?" A voice demanded from out of view. Kore blinked. He knew that accent, if not that voice. His stomach seemed to drop out of his belly. The accent was nasal, inflected just like Hoagie's.

"I don't know nothin' from nothin', and from da looks of things, neither does this fella. Now, would you put that damned gun and the Chicago typewriter away, and screw?" Hoagie growled. "Kitchen's closed."

A sharp retort of gunfire screamed, and Kore instinctively ducked. "Jesus man!" Hoagie said. "I told you, we don't know nothin'."

"And I told you, we ain't leavin' without dat notebook. Throw de puss in de chiller. We'll deal wit' him later."

Footsteps. Kore swallowed and ducked behind the center island counter. The door slammed open a moment later, and a brute of a bear stomped through, dragging an unconscious and bleeding Sinclair behind him. A Thompson sub-machine gun was slung over one shoulder.

Chicago typewriter indeed. Let's hope I can keep it from writing Hoagie's and Sinclair's death warrants, Kore thought. The bear pulled open the freezer and unceremoniously threw Sinclair's prone body inside.

"Don't die, pussy cat. The boss is gonna want a word wit'chu after he's finished with that bar man. Chill out here for a bit. Maybe the cold will bring you to your senses." The bear laughed and slammed the door, jamming the lock in place with one massive paw.

Kore swallowed and held his breath as the bear stomped back out to the diner. As soon as the door downstairs shut, Kore burst from his hiding place and fumbled at the lock. He had it open in short order.

"Sinclair?" He hissed. "Sinclair, are you ok?"

"Kore...?" Sinclair's voice came from the far end of the freezer. "Kore, is that you? You gotta get outta here, kid. Any minute, they're going to finish with that Hoagie and come back here looking for me. And you don't want to be anywhere near this place when they come back."

"I heard a gunshot," Kore said, feeling his way towards Sinclair's voice.

"Yeah, that would have been for me," Sinclair groaned. "Damned bastard couldn't even kill me proper."

Kore's claw slid on something, still warm and slick despite the chill in the air. "Sinclair, how badly are you hurt?"

"I don't know. But I'm getting mighty cold for living in a fur coat." He said grimly.

Kore felt damp cloth. He slid his claw up what he discovered was Sinclair's leg. Sinclair made a strangled noise of pain.

"Kid, I know I was a bit short with you earlier," he said between gasps, "but I didn't think I was rude enough to require a dragon's weight leaning on a fresh bullet wound."

"Did it go through?" Kore asked, feeling around to the other side of Sinclair's thigh.

"Clean," Sinclair replied. "Kid, I...I need you to take this." He pressed something flat into Kore's claws.

"Is this--"

"Don't say it. Just take it and scram. Get outta here, kid. Trust me, what's in that notebook is more important than my life."

"Sinclair, I can't--"

Another muffled gunshot echoed from downstairs.

"Go kid! Get outta here before it's too late!" Sinclair shoved him away.

Kore bolted, clutching the notebook to his chest.


Sinclair listened to Kore's retreating footsteps and nodded. At least the notebook was out of their reach now. Not more than a minute later, he heard the lights in the kitchen flick on, and the freezer door opened.

In stepped a short human, flanked by his bear enforcer. The human was dressed in grey pinstripe slacks, a matching suit jacket, and a red silk tie. He glanced at the floor and frowned.

"You had someone in here wit'chu, Sinclair," he said. "Spill it, boy, and I'll give you a quick death. Where. Is. That. Notebook?" he said. The bear grabbed Sinclair by the throat and lifted him off the ground.

"Gone," Sinclair gasped. "Probably...halfway to DC...by now."

"You're lying. You had a little bird in here wit'chu. I see claw prints in your blood. But a little bird can't fly far if it has a broken wing. Drop him." The bear let go of Sinclair, and he crashed to the ground with a yelp.

"Find our little bird," the human ordered. "I'll see if I can get our puss to sing for us."


Kore didn't get far. He watched as the bear sniffed closer to his hiding spot behind the desk of the diner's manager, currently a position held by--Hoagie, according to the name plate. From the looks of the in-box, he hadn't been in here in quite some time. Alright dragon, you need a trick, or you're bear meat. Think, Korestai. Think!

He looked around, and noticed a scuff mark next to what looked like a book case. Carefully, he nudged the shelf aside and noticed a hidden trap door in the floor.

Hoagie, my man, Kore thought to himself, you need a better hiding place for your stash. A quick look around revealed it to be a small cellar, filled with barrels slung low to the ground. The hole would easily accommodate a large barrel.A large barrel...and maybe a large bear?

But how to get the bear in there?

Kore suddenly had a horrible idea.

The door to the office swung open. Kore glanced back at the open trap door, and made his move.

"Hey! Furball!" Kore shouted at the bear from behind the desk. "Your father wears a tutu and your mother was a poodle!"

The bear roared and charged. Kore quickly rolled to the side, out of the way and behind the false book case. The bear knocked the desk aside. He saw the open trap door and dove head-first into it.

"Immina tear your tail off, lizard!" he snarled. Kore darted out from behind the book case and gave the bear a swift kick to his ursine butt. The bear was swallowed up by the hole and landed with a heavy thud. Kore slammed the door shut and pushed the false book case over the trap door.

"Uneducated cretin," Kore muttered. "I'm a dragon, not a lizard."

Kore dusted off his hands and admired his handiwork. He was just about to push the up-ended desk against the book case when a yowl of pain came from front of the kitchen. Grabbing another skillet on his way, Kore turned toward the freezer.

When the yowl was sharply cut off by another gunshot, he started running.


"Baby Grand will find your birdy, Sinclair. And he's gonna pluck it naked in front of you, feather by feather, until you tell me where dat notebook is," the human said. He carefully loaded a pistol as he paced in front of Sinclair. "I could stop him, all you gotta do is tell me where da notebook is."

"Go to Hell, Benny," Sinclair gasped. The pool of blood he was sitting in was getting gradually larger. "I know who you work for."

The human Benny frowned. He knelt in front of Sinclair, pressed the barrel against his temple and pulled the trigger. Sinclair winced, but nothing happened.

Benny laughed. "Only half de barrel is loaded, Sinclair. You got lucky dat time. Probably not so lucky de next time." Benny spun the cylinder, snapped it back into place, and pointed the gun at Sinclair again. "Now, where is dat notebook?"

"What notebook?" Sinclair asked, his voice thin and dreamy.

Benny stepped heavily on Sinclair's wounded leg. Sinclair yowled in pain.

"You know which one, street cat. Where is it?" He shouted.

Sinclair writhed in pain. "I don't--"

Benny aimed at Sinclair's other leg and fired. A red flower burst into bloom on Sinclair's other leg and melted into his blood-soaked slacks.

"I'm only going to ask you one last time, Sinclair. Where is dat notebook?"

Sinclair looked up, his eyes focusing on something behind Benny. He quickly averted his gaze, took a deep breath, and began to sing.

"Swing low...sweet chariot...Coming for...to carry me home...Swing low...sweet chariot..."

Benny gave him an annoyed look, raised his pistol. "You are a fool Sinclair. Isn't it always curiosity dat gets de cat killed?"

There was a loud bong, followed quickly by a second and a third. Benny crumbled to the floor, and a blue shape kicked the gun out of his limp hand.

"Only if there isn't a blue bird to save his ass," Kore said, smirking. "Are you alright, Sinclair?"

Sinclair looked up, smiled weakly. "Never doubted you for a moment, kid. Never...doubted you...for a moment." Sinclair's eyes flickered, closed, blinked open, and finally shut. He collapsed just as Kore skidded to a halt next to him.

"Sinclair? Sinclair!"

The world slowed down, and took on a hazy veil of unreality. Heavy footsteps came through the kitchen, raised voices, and Hoagie pushed into the freezer. Kore barely heard the sirens, barely remembered the strong hands that pried Sinclair's still body from his arms, and barely registered that Hoagie was lifting him up and pulling him into the diner.

All he could see was Sinclair, being taken away in an ambulance.


Three weeks later...

Kore stood over the grave, a single red rose clutched in his claw. He laid it against the granite tombstone, touched its face gently, and swallowed back a lump in his throat. He traced the lettering with one claw and whispered just two words.

"Thank you."

He sat down heavily, leaned against the headstone. The sun was shining, and blue jays called loudly from a nearby pine tree. Kore pulled from his pocket a familiar, battered moleskin notebook and thumbed through the pages.

"Guess I should return this to its owner, hmm?" He swallowed. "He still doesn't know I have it." He put it back into his coat pocket just as the gate for the cemetery opened.

A black Cadillac pulled into the graveyard, and a slender human stepped out of the drivers side. He opened the door to the back and nodded to Kore. "Ready when you are, sir." He said. Kore nodded, and picked himself up off the ground. He glanced at the grave one last time before slipping into the cab.

And felt the slide of soft fur against his arm.

"Good to see you again, sport," Sinclair said, smiling. "They just deigned to release me this morning."

Kore smiled. "Good to see you up, if not walking."

Sinclair inclined his head and shrugged. "I'll walk again, they said. But it's going to be a few more weeks before they want me doing anything _athletic_like." He made a wry face.

"I'll keep that in mind," Kore said, grinning.

Sinclair sobered. "So...you...still have it, right? My notebook?"

Kore pulled out the notebook, and handed it to Sinclair.

"Did you read it?" He asked.

"I flipped through it. Or tried to. I can't read your chicken-scratch," Kore said wryly. "And it doesn't help that you've written it in a code I can't seem to crack."

Sinclair laughed, flipping through the pages of his notebook. "I suppose I should take that as a compliment."

"So what does it--"

"Who'd you leave the rose for?" Sinclair asked.

"Ah." Kore looked out the window, at cemetery. "That would be the grave of my benefactor. Are you ever going to tell me what is in that notebook?"

Sinclair smiled. Kore had seen that smile before. He'd seen it on the faces of alley cats and house cats alike. It was a purely feline smile, that meant everything and nothing all at once.

"Yeah," Kore said. "I figured as much."

Sinclair shook his head. "I'll tell you, kid. I owe you that much at least. They're notes, coordinates. For something that's hidden in the ocean. I don't know what it is, but after this business, I think I'm content to leave well enough alone. I'm going to be on the run for a while until this blows over. They may have arrested Benny and his accomplice, but I have a feeling there will be more where that came from."

"Ahh...Yes, well, about that..." Kore took an envelope from a folder under his seat. "I don't think they'll be looking for you any time soon."

Sinclair opened the envelope and laughed.

Inside was a death certificate, with the name "Jackson Sinclair," dated three weeks prior.

"Well! I reckon I'm the most lively dead cat in New York."

"I haven't had any official documents made for your new identity yet. I figured you wanted to name yourself." Kore said.

"You've thought of everything, haven't you?" said Sinclair.

Kore smiled. "It's what a Harvard education and connections do for you."

"And how!" Sinclair said.

"What do you say we talk more about this someplace else?" Kore asked.

"Kid," Sinclair said with a grin, "it would be an honor."

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