Moon Madness - 21, Copyrightę 2001-2006 By
Larry K. Hockman, "All RIGHTS RESERVED"
was surprised to hear the guest shower running when her alarm went off. She was pleased the agent had taken her seriously about getting up early. Over dinner the previous night, she had learned his name in spite of his futile attempts to remain anonymous. Shawn Bowman was the young man behind the FBI's identity screen. Stacey thought it a nice name. It would fit in well with her plans to offer him some measure of legitimate cover while he was assigned to her protection.
One by one, the cats greeted Stacey as she meticulously laid out an expensive array of tailored business attire complete with matching accessories. She wished to look her best while acting as the boss at work and settled on a light gray crepe blouse over a medium length, basic black skirt. A smart, matching gray and black coat with padded shoulders completed the ensemble.
Pleased with her choices, Stacey punched on the speaker phone along with the code number from her personal directory for Vera's home phone. She had stripped for the shower by the time Vera answered. Stacey instructed her to send the limo for her and a new personal chauffeur, as well as a black suit to fit someone with Rex's approximate build and height. The driver who delivered the car and clothes was to have a car follow to take him back. Her new driver would then take over the limo from her house. She asked Vera to repeat the instructions back to her for verification. As usual, Vera's efficiency lacked for nothing and promised Stacey the order would be filled within the next hour. Stacey thanked her and headed for the shower.
Stacey managed to accomplish the transformation from a relaxed Texas gal to a prim and proper corporate executive in slightly less than an hour. She emerged from the bedroom fully prepared to engage her company's business with the confident attitude nurtured constantly during her training by Anna.
The limo arrived as if on the unspoken cue of her mental command. To say the least, Shawn was duly impressed with Stacey's style and charisma and slid into the chauffeur cover role without a second thought. His superiors thought highly of the ploy when he explained the practicality of Stacey's arrangement by allowing him the luxury of close contact without the inherent danger of being too obvious. She arranged for him to have a beeper when they arrived at the institute which she would summon him with when he was needed. Since her office resided on a secured floor, there was little need for him to be with her while she worked. He would have the free run of the establishment to mingle with the other employees and students to pick up any possible clues relating to the suspect car or its driver.
Moon, Crip, and their kittens were given freedom to roam the complex at their discretion and Stacey suggested that Shawn could tag along in their wake in order to be instantly accepted by anyone on the premises, since Moon's family was highly trusted and respected among their human benefactors. Stacey told him she would meet him at the feline research lab with Midnight in a couple of hours if he desired to witness a radio collar test fitting she had ordered for the leopard as a prerequisite to his ultimate release back to the wild. Shawn said he would like that and hurried to catch up with the other cats as they padded silently down the long hall. Stacey and Midnight proceeded up to her office via the elevator.
The entire layout of the vast complex impressed Shawn, but on a smaller scale compared to the friendliness and attitude of the employees and students as well. Most of
the people he encountered truly loved their jobs and the variety of animals they worked with. He noted that the animals were treated as though they were people, each with their own special name, usually indicative of some physical aspect of the species or some odd personality quirk.
Shawn felt it a special privilege to have the benefit of Moon's family as his escort. Everyone seemed to love a visit by them as though it somehow escalated their prestige among their corporate peers. The student section showed the greatest affection for the kittens. He figured the reason to be the fact that Moon and Crip allowed the kittens to roam at their leisure while they simply watched or napped from the vantage point of someone's desk top while each kitten's playful personality traits invariably surfaced to somebody's delight. Occasionally, Moon and Crip would leave the kittens in the care of the student babysitters while they roamed to the other parts of the complex where other friends waited to greet them, both feline and human.
This particular day proved to be one of those times. As Shawn watched the inquisitive antics of the kittens, Moon and Crip simultaneously bolted unexpectedly for the open door! They stopped momentarily to meow in an effort to get his attention. Bewildered, he looked to the lady at the front desk to explain. She suppressed a snicker as she informed him that the cats were waiting on him to follow. He asked her if they were always that impulsive. She replied that they only acted in that manner when they got a call on their pager! When Shawn stated that he saw no pager of any kind, she politely informed him that Moon and Crip had been born with theirs, sufficiently confusing him all the more. He dropped the subject and followed them out the door and down a long corridor. Patiently, the cats waited for him at every new change of direction as they made their way to the feline research center where Stacey, Midnight, and several resident scientists awaited his arrival.
Stacey greeted him with, "Glad you could make it, Mr. Bowman. I trust Moon and Crip have kept you entertained?" He replied, "Very. They are amazing animals. They were paged and I was so engrossed with watching their kittens that I didn't even hear it!" Stacey chuckled, "Don't be alarmed. Nobody else heard it either. I would have called you, but you wouldn't have known where to come, anyway. Besides, it is rude to disrupt the concentration of students in a classroom with the beeping of a pager." Shawn interrupted, "How did you know we were in the student section?" She offered no explanation other than a simple, "Moon told me."
Shawn watched with interest as the technicians measured the leopard's neck under the supervision of Stacey. Normally, they would have sedated the great cat, but it proved unnecessary as long as Stacey was around. Her prowess with any cat on the premises was highly respected by her subordinates and they trusted her judgment without question.
Within the hour, the new, non-restrictive collar had been permanently installed and a short-range field test had been conducted. The new FM transmitter had a much longer range than the previous AM models; however, obstacles could block the signal easily. For this reason, the unit also had an AM receiver as well, to be used in the ground search after the cat had been located to a specific area from the air. Each had a separate power source to enable them to operate as a back-up system in case the other failed for some unforeseen reason in the wilderness.
Stacey informed the radio crew they would be conducting a long-range test of the unit that afternoon. Any anomalies in tracking efficiency were to be monitored closely and recorded. Details of the test would be explained by Vera in the conference room at 1 PM sharp. They acknowledged the orders, assuring her they would be ready to prove the superiority of the new design. On the way out, Stacey told Moon and Crip they could stay to mingle with their friends and they silently padded down the hall in the direction of the kittens.
Shawn followed behind Stacey and Midnight, not wishing to crowd the cat's space. He silently marveled at the grace with which the two moved down the hall in perfect unison, the leopard matching Stacey's every step with two of his own.
Midnight paused at the elevator entrance to inspect the confines of the walls. Even Shawn could see that Midnight wasn't at all fond of tight places. Stacey felt his uneasiness and turned to Shawn, "For Midnight's sake, we're taking the stairs today. He's had rather a bad experience having spent most of his life in a cage. I do not want him to lose his trust in me." Shawn agreed with her earnestly, "Well I can assure you, Miss Holden, that I certainly don't want him to lose faith in you." She giggled as he added, "And I'm even carrying a gun!" Stacey warned, "I'm not sure I would flaunt that fact in front of him. He doesn't approve of them."
At the top of the stairs, Stacey led Shawn to Vera's desk and introduced him as her temporary driver. She then told him to make himself comfortable, motioning toward the coffee pot and the chairs in the waiting area.
The women disappeared into Stacey's private office so she could instruct Vera on the test details. Midnight was left outside with Shawn. He was a bit nervous with the arrangement until the beast plopped down on the carpet and began to give himself a tongue bath like an ordinary house cat. Only then did Shawn sit down to enjoy his coffee.
Several minutes passed before Stacey and Vera emerged. The elevator doors opened about the same time. A small, oriental man wearing thick glasses stepped out smiling. He handed Stacey a small black box about the size of a pager. She asked him how long it would last and he told her four hours. Stacey had a sly smile on her face as she thanked him, "I owe you one, Chang." He grinned broadly when he replied, "No problem, Miss Boss. You very slick. Should have been born Japanese!" He shook his head in laughter as he disappeared into the elevator.
Stacey turned her attention back to Shawn and Midnight, "You two ready to go play Hide-and-Seek after lunch?" Shawn answered, playfully mocking Chang, "I suppose so, Miss Boss!" Stacey pitched the black box to Vera with a reminder, "Don't forget. Two hours, max, and I want it on film. Give my regards to Doc." She called Midnight to follow and Shawn brought up the rear.
Shawn was surprised to find another driver in the limo when they reached the parking lot. He recognized the man as the driver who delivered the suit and car that morning. He asked Stacey if she had fired him. She informed, "No. It just wouldn't look good in the public's watchful eye if I were to be seen dining with my chauffeur, my pilot, yes, but not the chauffeur. You'll take back over when we leave the restaurant. Till then, relax and have a drink if you want."
Shawn politely refused the drink. Instead, he questioned her about the black box. Stacey poured herself a glass of burgundy wine before answering, "It is a decoy, Mr. Bowman. Vera will place it on a black leopard nearly identical to Midnight located twenty miles north of here in a public zoo run by an associate of the institute. Meanwhile, Midnight and we shall travel approximately 30 to 40 miles south. The radio crew will have two hours to locate and positively identify the right cat from the air and record the find on film along with a detailed electronic record of the entire search procedure. Our technicians pride themselves on getting things right on the first try. They are very confident in their equipment as well. This game is designed to test the efficiency of said equipment and the perception of its operators. They know nothing of the other transmitter or the cat. The only major difference between the two cats is gender. Dr. Sledge's animal is a female. Other research facilities often use tagging transmitters tuned to the same frequencies ours use. I have no intention of releasing my cat back to the wild until I have proof positive he can be relocated under adverse circumstances. Through normal search techniques, the other cat should be located first. I personally hope they do not mistake the female for Midnight. It would be unfortunate for me to have to unsheathe my corporate claws!"
Shawn weighed his words carefully before speaking, "Don't you think that's a little harsh considering you're trying to trick them in the first place?" As Anna would have, Stacey was quick to defend her decision, "Not in the least, Mr. Bowman. You haven't done your homework. Midnight and I have each saved the other's life from the same fate. We share a special bond which I cannot explain to you. Nonetheless, I can't tolerate incompetence where his life is concerned. Mistakes are much more costly than the extra
time and effort necessary to do something right the first time. Wasted time and money are completely irrelevant when the spiritual essence of life is destroyed over some simple mistake. I don't expect you to understand that, Mr. Bowman, but you can safely bet your gun and badge that the people on that search team do!" Shawn said he wanted a glass of wine after all in an effort to change the tone of conversation to something less touchy. Stacey said nothing else on the subject during the remainder of the trip to the restaurant, her thoughts obviously immersed in some far away pool of memories.
The pair enjoyed a lavish lunch at a rustic restaurant patterned after a weathered fishing pier. Midnight, safely isolated in the passenger compartment, rode with the regular limo driver to the local butcher shop to fetch his dinner, a twenty pound assortment of raw chicken, beef, and pork! Stacey had ordered the large meal to help keep the cat content for the duration of the test period. The car was parked in the same spot it had occupied previously when Stacey and Shawn came out of the restaurant.
Out of normal context, the driver opened the passenger front door for Stacey, and politely offered the keys to Shawn. Shawn waved as he strode stiffly back to a waiting
car and sped off. Shawn just shook his head when the man completely ignored his friendly gesture and slid into the driver's seat. Somewhat puzzled with the man's attitude, he asked, "What's eatin' him?"
Stacey replied, "Probably the fact that you are doing his job and driving what he considers to be his car. Anna tells me he is rather eccentric and takes great pride in his job."
Satisfied with the explanation, Shawn asked, "Where are we going, Miss Boss?" Stacey grinned, "Fishing, Mr. Bowman. We are going on a short fishing trip. Head south on the coastal highway for about thirty miles and I'll tell you when to turn off. The test will start about the time we reach the boat."
A half hour of road time had passed before Stacey directed Shawn through an iron gate she unlocked, leading to a short pier behind a small beach bungalow. A large cabin cruiser rocked with the breakers, nudging the tire bumpers each time a wave strained its moorings to the pier.
Stacey kicked off her dress heels, jumped out, and opened the door for Midnight. He was more than grateful to get out and stretch his legs. He was hungry as well. In typical feline fashion, he tested the wind from each direction, his keen nose homing in on the package of meat in the front floorboard. Stacey snatched it up, trotted down the ramp and hollered, "All aboard!" as she cleared the side of the boat with a springy jump. Midnight followed close at her heels while Shawn locked the limo. Stacey had the engine warming up when he boarded, scanning the boat's sleek lines with obvious admiration.
Shawn could not help commenting, "Nice boat. Is it yours?" Stacey grinned slyly, "Not right now, but it might be part mine someday. It belongs to my boyfriend, Rex. He and Vince, Anna's husband, do a lot of tarpon fishing when Rex is off work. I go when I can, but it's tough to find time between school and my job."
Midnight sniffed the package of meat on the deck and rubbed against Stacey's leg. She glanced at her watch and turned to Shawn, "You want to open that for him while I cast off? The team should be getting airborne about now and we need to get under way. We'll just idle out until Midnight is through eating and takes a nap. Then, maybe we can catch a tarpon or marlin before they find us."
Shawn was already handing the massive cat a five pound roast before the boat started moving against the waves. Midnight eagerly devoured it in less than two minutes.
Shawn handed him a fryer chicken for the second course, which disappeared even faster. Midnight slowed down halfway through a pork roast long enough to flop down on the deck and stretch before finishing it, his hunger having been partially satisfied. Shawn pitched him the final course, a large portion of calf liver, which he caught before it hit the deck. The great cat ate it very slowly, as if savoring every bite. After finishing, he licked himself clean along with the scattered drops of blood on the deck, and rolled belly-up to stretch out in the warm sunlight.
Shawn went forward to see what Stacey was up to. He was surprised to find her trolling an artificial shrimp jig over the side while she steered the boat. A small mackerel nailed it before he could ask what she was doing. Stacey handed him the rod and told him to make himself useful. Awkwardly, he reeled in the fish and managed to swing it into the boat. It flopped frantically when it found itself out of the water and Shawn finally pinned it against the bait well to remove the jig. Triumphantly, he held up his prize asking, "What now?"
Stacey giggled at his lack of fishing knowledge, "You don't do much fishing, do you?" He nodded, slightly embarrassed. Stacey informed, "Now you use the little fish
to catch a big fish, a marlin hopefully. I'll rig you up as soon as I lock down the wheel."
Stacey expertly rigged the mackerel in a hook harness behind a teaser bait while Shawn watched and asked questions. Soon, the bait skipped along behind the boat as Stacey increased their speed. Vera called while they waited on a strike to let Stacey know that the search had team been in the air for thirty minutes and locked in on the bogus signal. Stacey crossed her fingers, hoping the crew discovered the fraud and continued their search.
Another hour passed through idle deck chatter when Stacey noticed a marlin chasing the bait. She told Shawn to sit in the harness chair and fastened the straps. The fish missed the bait twice before tagging it hard. Stacey hollered for Shawn to set the hook as the fish took off on a sizzling run. She ran forward and shut down the engines to idle so she could relax and watch the show. Yard after yard of line stripped off the reel before the marlin turned and jumped frantically in a futile effort to shake the hook.
Stacey wished she had brought a camera to film the fight. Shawn obviously was having the time of his life, laughing and hollering like a school boy. Between the noise he made and the idle of the engines, Stacey did not notice the helicopter hovering off the port bow a hundred yards out!
The team had located their target and were quite content to film the wild fishing action unnoticed. They casually made their presence known after the feisty marlin made a spectacular, headshaking leap and managed to break the line just above the steel leader. The telephoto lens which the crew filmed with aptly captured the disappointment on Shawn's face while he watched the fish jump twice more on its way back to freedom in the open sea.
Stacey patted Shawn on the back as the chopper sideslipped into their view. At the sight of it, Stacey jumped up and hollered, "Yes!" in triumphant exhilaration and gave them both thumbs up to signal a job well done.
Stacey left Shawn in his moment of failure to get on the boat's radio and congratulate her crew with an invitation to dinner on her after work that evening. A wild cheer from the crew blared through the speaker as she waved them on. Stacey's only regret was that Rex was not flying the chopper. She missed him terribly but tried not to let it show. Instead, she cheered up Shawn somewhat by telling him she didn't get her first marlin in the boat, either, and let him drive the boat back in, another new experience
for the neophyte.
Stacey recounted the events of the day on the way back. Her first day had turned out successful in spite of the absence of her friends. She wondered what Vince and Anna were up to at that particular moment and where the pilots were, secretly wishing they could all be there to share in her muted glory.
Halfway to the institute, the limo's phone rang, startling Stacey back to the present world. She was delighted to hear from Vera that Rex had called to say that he, Andy, and Earl would arrive back at the airstrip around midnight. Also, a dozen long-stemmed roses had been delivered to her office. Vera had put them on her desk along with a card which had her name embossed in gold lettering on the envelope. Stacey thanked her and invited her to attend the crew's celebration dinner. She accepted the gesture, asking only the place and time she should arrange for the reservations. Stacey told her to pick a place she enjoyed and hung up the phone. Anxious to get to her office, now, she rolled down the window between her and Shawn and told him to not to waste any time getting back.
Shawn needed no more encouragement than simply her verbal command. He was having a good time playing chauffeur and nailed the throttle as he figured Stacey would have, had she been driving her car. The stretch limo accelerated effortlessly towards 100mph before he coasted back down to 90 and set the cruise control. He glanced in the rear view mirror to catch Stacey's reaction to the unorthodox move. To his surprise, she was smiling as she spoke, "You learn quickly, Mr. Bowman. I'll keep you in mind if I ever need a permanent driver. Go ahead and blow the soot out of it if you want for a few miles. I'm sure it needs it the way it is normally driven, and quite frankly, I'm used to a tad more speed than this!"
Shawn chuckled, "You got it, Miss Boss!" just as the four barrel opened up to suck in more fuel and air. A mere thirty seconds ticked by before the car's speedometer needle disappeared from sight as the car reached its top end speed. The big car was straining at this point so Shawn let it coast back down to the speed he set on the cruise before. Stacey nodded her approval of the performance nonchalantly, "Not bad for a big, heavy car with no aerodynamic advantage whatsoever!" Shawn offered no reply but kept up the speed until they neared the business district.
Stacey told Shawn to stay with the car and catsit Midnight while she went up to her office. She only had to clear up a few details with Vera concerning the dinner that evening and she would be right back down. She heard the radio come on as she walked up the steps, eager to read the card in privacy which had come with the roses waiting on her desk.
This space RESERVED For LATER USE--LKH
Author's Note: Feel free to copy/paste the text contained herein to build your personal copy of "MOON Madness". As this is COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL by ME, the ORIGINAL AUTHOR, please DO NOT copy for UNAUTHORIZED DISTRIBUTION in any form or fashion. "ALL RIGHTS RETAINED & RESERVED" by Larry K. Hockman! Please don't hesitate to E-Mail me for permission to use my works in the classroom, etc. ThanX for Visitin'! I hope you enjoyed the story and pass it on to your friends. LKH
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