For Starters

Joseph Vaughn

"Looks like another slow day," the uniformed wolf started suddenly. "Not much for your training, but I should be able to find something for you to do."

The young cheetah looked up as he finished tying his shiny shoes. "Not washing more windows, I hope"

"Nah, we need to keep some variety in your training."

"Oh joy," the cat droned.

"If you don't want to be an officer, you can leave now. We don't need any lazy brats that are going to shirk their duties."

'I'll do what I need to. I just want to get to some real police work."

"This is all real police work. What do you think I am?"

The cheetah held his jaw shut tight and stood up facing away from the wolf's gaze. He pushed his first response back down his throat and turned back to his partner. "Okay, I'm ready to go."

"About time," the wolf muttered and turned with a huff towards the door. "We're covering the west side today. There's a new doctor on Cole St. We'll pay him a visit and make sure he feels welcome and comfortable talking with police. That way, it won't be so much trouble getting his cooperation when something happens around there."

"When do we get to walk the east side?" the cat asked as they walked around the front desk.

The wolf snorted, "When it comes our turn."

"And exactly when is that going to be?"

"When you're old enough to stop asking these stupid questions."

The cheetah fell silent and followed his partner outside.

The sun had not yet cleared the trees as they made their way west. The cat looked everywhere for something wrong, hoping for a little action today. Since he finished the training camp and started his street walks, he had done nothing but study manuals and clean. Even a litterbug would be something.

As they turned onto Cole St., the wolf started again, "Since you want to talk about the walks, let's see how well you've studied. What regions is the city divided into and how are officers distributed among them?"

The cat rolled his eyes at the back of his partner's head. He was tired of these drills, but could not do anything about them. If he wanted to make it through his street training and get to some action of his own, he had to deal with anything the wolf could come up with. A bad report would keep him with his babysitter for another year, send him back to camp or even drop him all together.

He had wanted to be an officer since he was a kitten. The red-gray uniform and the thought of taking down criminals made him drool. He wanted to be a hero. He wanted everyone to know who he was and respect him. He wanted to have some fun kicking butt, but he had not found any of that yet.

"The five regions are North, South, West, East and Central. Officers are paired into teams and two teams are assigned for each region. Not including the special gang teams that cover mainly the east side or the two animal control teams that cover the whole town."

"Good. And no young blood in the east."

"Why?" the cheetah trotted up beside his partner to look at him quizzically.

"For starters, you lack the experience to handle that neighborhood. We've had a couple brats get hurt and killed over there. We've also had low profile gang members slip through training camp just to get out there to help their friends." The wolf stopped and turned quickly to glare at the cheetah. "If you turn out to be an eel, I'll wring your neck myself."

"I'm no gangling," the cat stuttered in surprise.

"You better keep it that way," the wolf snarled and turned to knock on the door of the doctor's office.

The sun peeked over the roof of the building at the end of the street and sent their shadows stretching along the sidewalk. After a moment, the door opened and a young rabbit peeked out and blinked in the bright sunlight.

"Good morning, officer."

"Morning, we're just here to welcome you to the city and introduce ourselves."

"Ah. Well, I spoke with a pair yesterday."

"Yes, sir. Each team will be coming by as they walk your street until you have met everyone. It is a policy to let the merchants and residents know who is protecting them, so you can feel more comfortable coming to us if you have any problems. We are here to serve you, but we need your help. If you see anything wrong, let us know and we will jump to it. We can't be omniscient, but with your help, we can keep this city a safe and pleasant place to live and work."

"Sounds like you have had to explain this quite a lot," the rabbit quipped as his wife pulled the door open wider to peek around his shoulder. He looked back at her then smiled at the officers. "This is my beautiful wife, Kistaya."

The wolf nodded a small bow, "How do you do ma'am?"

"Won't you come in?" the doe inquired.

"Thank you, ma'am, but we need to stay on the streets."

"Yes, yes, of course. I shouldn't distract you from your work," she apologized.

"Well, thank you for coming by, officers," the young doctor smiled. "It was a pleasure meeting you both."

"Remember, we are here anytime you need us," the wolf reminded.

"Yes, of course. Good day."

The wolf turned to his charge as the door closed slowly. "You need to study the policies and procedures until you are comfortable enough to explain them smoothly like I did, without sounding like you're reciting them from a manual."

The cheetah swallowed a laugh and tried not to show it, "Yes, sir." He was just thinking a moment ago how drone his partner sounded. "Where to next?"

"Now we head out to the edge of town and work our way back in." The wolf paused a moment, "Why am I telling you? You studied procedure; you should know what to do next. Get moving, brat."

The cat turned and snorted a quiet chuckle under his breath as he strolled down the sidewalk. He followed his shadow down the street, still looking for something to happen. The wolf waved a good morning and a smile to everyone he spotted. The cat tried to follow suit, but got bored of being friendly to people he did not know.

Suddenly, as they neared the edge of town, they heard a gunshot. They both froze a moment and looked around. They soon heard another and the wolf took off down the road out of town, "Come on!"

The cheetah eagerly followed, happy to be seeing some action. They followed the shots until they stopped. They came to a postbox labeled Barnes with a Keep Out sign nailed to it. The wolf ran down the path and around the house. The cat paused a moment, remembering everything he had heard about Mr. Barnes, and wondered what he would find out here.

Mr. Barnes had always been an antisocial fellow, but things got worse after he got married. He owned a large tract of land on the west side of town where he kept a few animals. He held a lot of sway in town and nobody ever wanted to be on his bad side. Everybody knew it was a marriage of money. She inherited a plot of land when her first husband died. It was said that he actually liked her, but that she felt nothing for him. This became obvious when she died in what appeared to be an attempt to murder Mr. Barnes. This betrayal sent Mr. Barnes over the top and instead of just being antisocial and merely running trespassers off his land, he grew violent and even shot a wanderer last year.

The cheetah followed his partner around the house and saw the wolf speaking with a small dirty badger. He could hear Mr. Barnes yelling at the officer about not doing his job, how he has to keep vagrants off by himself and why he should not pay taxes if they are not doing him any good.

"Yes, Mr. Banes, we came as soon as we heard."

"You weren't fast enough. I had to shoot one of them myself."

"You shot someone?" the cat asked.

"Pay attention, twit, so I don't have to repeat myself. They crawled over the fence and into the woods. The one I got couldn't have gotten far. Get your asses out there and do your jobs."

The wolf started across the field and Mr. Barnes followed. The cheetah jogged to catch up and walked with them to the fence. His partner leapt the fence easily and turned to help Mr. Barnes crawl through the rails. The cat pulled himself over the fence, not quite so eager anymore. He paused at the edge of the woods while his partner and Mr. Barnes went in looking for the trespassers.

The wolf sniffed and scanned the trees. Soon he heard something and his ears perked up. He listened closely and followed the sound. He knelt and pushed aside some undergrowth. At that moment the cat heard footsteps. He turned and recognized the young doctor he met earlier with a fox running behind. He herded the doctor to where his partner had knelt. The doctor pushed aside the wolf and dropped down beside a porcupine in the bushes. The officer noticed the fox and began interrogating him.

"What are you doing here?"

Mr. Barnes leaned around a tree to get a look. "That's the other one!" he pointed.

The fox stood motionless as the wolf walked over to him.

"Why did you come back?"

"He's my friend."

"Where are your other friends?"

"What other friends?"

"Don't play dumb with me. You and your gang have been terrorizing the east side of town for months."

"It's just me and Billy and we just got here."

"Sure, and my feathers are molting," the wolf sneered

The cat chuckled at that.

The wolf continued his interrogation, "So, is Billy the name of your leader?"

The fox pointed at the porcupine, "That's Billy."

"So this is the leader. Good shot Mr. Barnes."

The badger grinned greedily, "Is there a reward?"

The wolf kneeled down in front of Billy. "Where is the rest of your gang?"

The fox stepped forward in protest, "We're not a gang!" but the cheetah grabbed him to hold him back.

"Shut him up!" his partner snapped and the cat clamped his paw around the fox's muzzle.

The porcupine spoke up; wincing in pain, "Stop it…. We're not a … gang. We just walked in from… Harstelin last night. …. We have no place to go. We didn't hurt anybody. Don't …"

The doctor hushed him. "Calm down. You're just making things worse." He looked up at the officer and spoke softly.

The wolf nodded and rose. He walked towards the fox and waved aside the cat. "What are you doing here?" he asked calmly.

The fox blinked in surprise. "We're just passin' through until we find someplace we can stay. Is Billy going to be okay?"

"No, and you are in a lot of trouble yourself," the officer replied.

The fox stared at his friend a moment with a look of horror on his face before pushing past the officer and dropping to his knees. He looked pleadingly up at the doctor. "You have to help him."

"There's nothing I can really do for him. Its hard enough working around his spines, but this injury is serious. If we try to move him, it could kill him, but if we don't he will probably die anyway."

The porcupine reached out for his friend, "Its too late, … I know I won't make it. … This isn't how I wanted to die, but … I don't have much choice in it. … Don't give up on yourself because I'm gone. … Keep going."

"You're not gonna die. You can't. We're not done yet."

"You can do it."

"Not alone. I need your help."

"You will find help … or it will find you. … Remember when we first met? … Neither of us was looking for a friend, … but just when we needed help, … it found us." Then he simply smiled at the fox and stopped breathing.

The cheetah stood motionless. He had not expected this part of being an officer. He was looking forward to fighting crime, sniffing out injustice and saving innocent lives. Now, innocents are being slaughtered and he has to serve their murderer.

"Is he dead, yet?"

The cat broke from his trance and stared at Mr. Barnes.

The doctor looked up and replied, "Quite dead."

The fox screamed, "No!"

"Good. Now, let's take care of the other one, so you can get off my property and I can get back to my life" the badger quipped.

"If you will come with us into town, we can file the paperwork to charge him," stated the wolf.

"You can shoot him right here, for all I care. It would be one less vagrant sucking the life out of this world," Mr. Barnes spat. "He deserves it, too, for messing with my horses."

"Your horses?" the fox spoke up then turned to the officer, "His horses look like they haven't been cared for in weeks. Their oats are soggy, their stalls are filthy and their fur looks terrible. They're probably better off just from the company."

"And how would you know about horses?" Mr. Barnes snapped back. "My stable boy walked out last month and I can't be expected to get out there myself."

"Hold on now," the wolf intervened. "I can't just let you two fight it out right here in front of me. If you would like to press charges, Mr. Barnes, you can come down to the station house with us and fill out the paperwork."

"Take him away. The chief will take care of it for me."

The cheetah was flabbergasted. How far would this go?

It seemed the fox was, as well. "What kind of town is this? He kills my friend and admits to it and I get in trouble?"

The wolf stopped Mr. Barnes, "You were trespassing. He has a right to defend himself."

"He shot him in the back. We were leaving, not attacking him. You'd have to be crazy to think that some one could shoot someone in the back while they were attacking them."

"Be quiet, save it for the chief."

"This is insane."

"Muzzle him."

The cheetah hesitated a moment, then, motivated by a stern glance from his partner, pulled a muzzle from his belt. The fox put up little fight and was soon muzzled and cuffed.

"We will send someone back to get the body," the wolf said over his shoulder as they led the fox back to the road.

"You better. I don't want this corpse rotting in my woods," Mr. Barnes chided.

The doctor gathered his things and followed the officers. They walked in silence back to town. The rabbit left them when they passed his office on Cole St. and the officers continued to the station house without a word.

When they arrived at the station house, the clerk gave them a surprised look. "Muzzles this early in the morning?"

"Anytime, Mitch, anytime," the wolf retorted, then took the slip Mitch handed him, without stopping on his way back to the chief's office with the fox and cheetah in tow and knocked on the door.

"Enter," boomed the voice from inside.

The wolf opened the door and let the rookie lead the prisoner in.

"What's this?" snapped the turtle behind the desk.

"He was out on Barnes' farm. Mr. Barnes shot his partner and wants this one charged," the cheetah reported.

"Is the other one still alive?"

"No, sir."

"Where is Mr. Barnes?"

The wolf stepped up, "He told us you would take care of the paperwork for him."

"Damn that old boar!" The turtle pounded on the desk. "When is he going to figure out that I can't keep cleaning up his messes? One of these days he is going to end up with someone's foot so far past his tail he'll have claws marks on his chin." The chief sighed, "Why is he muzzled?"

"Because he's loud and may bite."

The cheetah looked at his partner quizzically and the fox squeaked an objection, but both were ignored.

"Alright, take him down and leave him bound, at least until I get the report," the chief acquiesced. "And Goldsmith."

The cheetah looked back at the chief.

"I want a full report, no shortcuts."

"Yes, sir."

The wolf directed them out and closed the door behind them. "Take him downstairs and show this number to whoever is at the gate."

Goldsmith took the slip of paper.

"And don't lose it or he'll be lost."

"Yes, sir."

"Don't say that to me. It only makes you stand out as a rookie. Now, get moving, brat." The wolf turned and headed for the workroom.

"I can see where this is headed," the cat mumbled as he led the fox down the stairs. "You're going to disappear and I am going to take the fall for it, all to save Mr. Barnes' lousy hide. I joined the arm help fight against this kind of thing and now its exactly what is going to kill my future."

"Oh, a feisty one, eh?" the gatesman chortled.

"Not really," the cheetah responded as he handed over the time slip.

The panther filled out his paperwork and called a buck over, "Would you be a dear and escort this gentleman to his room?"

"Oh, you're a barrel of laughs," the buck scowled.

The panther laughed raucously at his own joke.

"Are you finished?" Goldsmith interrupted.

"Here," the gatesman shoved the time slip back at the cheetah. "Nobody appreciates good humor anymore."

Goldsmith sighed, "Take good care of him, he's getting a bad wrap."

"Aren't we all, aren't we all?" the panther laughed as the cheetah climbed the stairs.