Marked Territory – Snippet 05

I glanced over and saw a bright orange tabby lounging on a stack of boxes just beneath a hot air vent. Her coat was thick, but it had that rough look that told me she took care of it mostly on her own. Her eyes were a sparkling green, and when she stretched I could see she still had all her claws. I also noticed she wasn’t wearing a neck belt or its accompanying bling.

“Just passing through,” I said. “Heading down to Mayaro.”

“You going to see Ringo?” she asked. Her posture didn’t change, but I noticed how her shoulders relaxed, and her back end bunched. Ready to run or pounce, as the situation demanded.

“I am,” I said. “That gonna be a problem?”

“With those shoulders of yours, probably not,” she said, shifting her weight slightly. “Though you come strutting up with that scowl on your face, you’re likely gonna make some of the boys nervous.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said. “How many are down there today?”

“Oh, they’re all over,” the tabby said, with a dismissive flick of her tail. “Digging through the dumpsters, posted up in the trees, making a show of things. There are a dozen little crews doing their dailies around these parts… as to how many are at the park? A handful, probably. But that handful can get real big real fast if someone starts yipping for help.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “Anybody in particular I should keep an eye out for?”

She chewed that one over, and for a few seconds I thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then she shrugged, crossed her front legs, and rested her chin on her paws.

“There’s this big one named Bear,” she said. “He’s never gonna win any races, but he knows his business. There’s another one, doesn’t look like much, but he’s always at Ringo’s side. I can’t remember his name, but there’s something wrong with his left front paw. Gives him a nasty limp, and he’s real protective of it.”

“Anyone else?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Probably gonna be a few looky boys posted around the edges. But they swap out pretty regular. Stops any one crew from getting too comfortable and letting their guard down. Ringo likes it when his boys are on their toes.”

“Good to know,” I said. “Any good turns I can do you?”

“Just watch that tail,” she purred. “Be a real shame if something happened to it.”

“I’ll do that,” I said, continuing on my way.

The tabby wasn’t kidding when she said Ringo’s people were out in force. The closer I got to Mayaro, the more raccoons I noticed. One was curled up under a bench, eating some fallen French fries. A pair of them were in an alley, one rifling the trash while the other played lookout. Another one lounged in a tree, his feet up, keeping an eye on what was going on. There were others, maybe a dozen or so, that I passed by. None of them were conspicuous on their own, but the numbers added up once you really took note. All of them kept an eye on me, but none of them tried to hassle me as I walked, and I made it to the edge of the park without any major incidents.

I crossed over near the basketball courts, crunching over brittle grass that was still mostly yellow to get to the blacktop. It was warm under my pads, which was a pleasant change from the sidewalks. There were two kids with gloves on trying to dribble a ball and having one hell of a time with it. The handball court was deserted, unless you counted some wadded up burger wrappers left in a heap. I walked past, ears and eyes open wide as I came.

I made it all the way to the edge of the playground equipment before trouble came looking for me. A pair of raccoons stepped out from where they’d taken cover, one under the slide and the other around the side of a tree. Both of them headed my way, their fur bushed out to make them look bigger, showing me their teeth in wide, humorless grins.

“Hey now,” the one on the left said, hunching up his shoulders as he looked me over. “What do we have here, Swipes?”

“Looks like a kitty cat who done lost his way, Scraps,” Swipes replied. Swipes was a little older and a little bigger. He made sure he took the lead, walking right up to me. “Maybe you don’t know where you are, friend. This here is Ringo Longtail’s private perch. So you might want to scarper back the way you came and go around.”

“My business is right here,” I said, giving Swipes a yawn.

“You hear that, Swipes?” Scraps yipped, taking a few steps closer. “He thinks he can just go wherever he pleases!”

“Maybe you’re just hard of hearing, friend,” Swipes said, stepping into my personal space. “This is Longtail turf. So do your health a favor, and walk around.”

I could have let it go and walked back the way I’d come. I could have trotted back to the sidewalk and come in from the other side of the park so I wouldn’t have to deal with these two. That was probably the smart thing to do. But when Swipes put a paw on my shoulder and pushed, I shifted my weight so he slid to one side, his balance going out from under him. Before he could catch himself, I swiped him across the muzzle. Two of my claws dug in, tearing bloody lines across his nose. He yelped, stumbling back and reaching up to the gouge. I gave him a second swipe across the belly, raking four bloody slashes.

Scraps finally shook himself out of his shock, and came at me in a charge. He was all teeth and nails, but he didn’t expect me to duck as he leaped. He scrabbled at my back, but I came up with all four legs and sent him tumbling. He landed hard on his back, bouncing over onto his side. I turned to Swipes and fixed him with a hard look. He was mad, and he was hurt, but he wasn’t stupid. He half-turned to make a run for it, and I was on him. I shoved him hard to the ground, my paws on his back. He struggled, but when I pricked him with my claws he stopped.

“Tell the kit to stay where he is,” I said. “I don’t want to hurt him.”

“Scraps, stay there,” Swipes said. “I’m just going to –“

I saw the move he was going to make just before he made it. Swipes braced his front paws, and he was just flexing his back to try to throw me off. I clamped my teeth at the base of his skull and gave him a squeeze. His muscles turned to water, and I felt him go limp. Swipes whimpered. I glanced up and saw Scraps out of the corner of my eye. He was up, but not moving. He was looking past me at someone else. I swiveled my eyes and followed the kit’s gaze.

Huffing across the playground was one of the biggest damn garbage grizzles I’d ever seen. The raccoon’s fur was thick and scraggly, and he was so round that he lumbered as he came. He was easily twice the size of Swipes and Scraps, and he might have had a pound or two on me. I took my teeth off Swipes’ head and felt him shiver again. I stepped off, one paw at a time, then sat down and waited.

“What’s all this, then?” the big raccoon panted.

“Your boys were lacking manners,” I said. “I happened to be passing by, so I thought I’d teach them.”