Back downstairs, Arnold half-heartedly pointed at the crumpled form with the broken nose. “That’s Weston. Hopefully he can let you know where they were going.”
Bookworm was only too glad to cuff one of the suspects; there would be time to question him later. When she finished, she looked back up at Arnold. “We need to figure out what to do.”
“He will shoot her. It reeks of blood up there.”
Bookworm blanched. “But if you go up there, you’re dead, too.”
Beatrixe’s warning of the raven tormented the cat, like a noose had been placed around his neck, but he couldn’t let Beatrixe die for him. It seemed Kalfoo had been right about him.
A knock at the door caught everyone by surprise. Bookworm went to see who it was, while Lisa gestured frantically for Arnold’s attention from the office. Bookworm called softly through the closed door, “Who’s there?”
“Errrr… it’s me, Miss Book, was wonderin’ how Tenderpaws was–” Another shot rang out from above. Arnold stared at the ceiling, horrified that Cortman had killed Beatrixe without waiting for him long enough.
Bookworm came to the same horrific conclusion. “Tepic, we have a hostage situation here–you must leave!”
“Errrr… all right. Errr… should I tell anyone?”
“Take a message to Militia headquarters, but tell them to be *very* careful about approaching here!”
While Bookworm was giving Tepic his order, Lisa whispered into Arnold’s ear, “We could use my friends as a diversion. If he wants a cat, let’s give him more than he bargained for.”
Arnold considered it a moment. The cats would catch Cortman by surprise, and they needed any kind of shock they could get for Bookworm to get her shot before Cortman could duck or shoot back. His gun would be faster to aim and fire compared to her rifle. He nodded and went back to Bookworm, and pointed at her weapon.
“Good with that?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ll open the door, you shoot him. He shouldn’t see you behind me… especially with a distraction.”
“Distraction?” Bookworm asked, but Arnold had already moved towards the stairs. “Just leave the door open,” he said.
Bookworm blinked, but nodded as they made their way up, expecting to find Beatrixe dead against the bars. But she was alive, and smiling. She raised a finger to her muzzle. “Shhh. Everyone is sleeping.” What had Cortman been shooting at, if not her?
Downstairs, Lisa quietly opened the door. Fourclaws came running when he saw her, and she bent quickly to him. “Gather as many of the Folk as you can, and come inside. We need your help.”
Fourclaws turned and yowled once. Almost immediately, cats began appearing–from around the corners, from hiding places nearby. Lisa stepped back as cat after cat entered the asylum, waiting silently in the hallway. When over a dozen cats had entered, Lisa closed the door again, then knelt down and spoke to them in Feline.
“Mad Growler M’an is upstairs, threatening someone unless Beryl goes in to him. Beryl is going to go–we need the rest of you to run in directly after him, and distract Mad Growler M’an. But be careful–he can hurt you with the noisy iron he has.” The cats arched their whiskers forward in assent, and silently ran upstairs.
Bookworm, waiting out of sight of the cell block entrance, was startled to see a silent stream of cats coming around the corner from the staircase. She watched, amazed, as Arnold gestured to them to stay against the wall. ‘*This* is their distraction?’ she thought. She barely even had time to wonder how they’d been summoned, when Arnold deliberately scratched his claws on the floor as he moved toward the barred cell block entrance.
“Is that you, cat?” came Cortman’s gruff voice.
Arnold nodded, though Cortman was still out of sight. “I’m right here.”
Cortman moved so he could see Arnold barely, but kept his gun trained on his hostage. He coughed twice roughly and called out, “Come inside, cat; face your death like a man.”
Bookworm stayed out of sight behind Arnold as the cat moved forward. As he was turning the key, he froze, seeing a definite problem with their plan.
Beatrixe was standing up now, oblivious to the fact that she could be in the line of fire of Cortman or Bookworm. He could try to grab her and throw her out of the way, but Cortman would retreat and grab another hostage, possibly shooting at them both while he did it. That would make the situation even worse.
He didn’t have time to revise the plan with Bookworm–he had already let Cortman know that he was here. He could still hear Beatrixe’s warning, ‘The raven is coming for you, mister.’
He looked at Beatrixe for a moment longer, his heart racing and his body frozen in inaction. Once again, she made a shushing gesture. He made his choice and gritted his teeth as he turned the key, leaving it inside so that the barred door would remain open. He strode inside on two legs, slowly, so as not to startle Cortman.
“Step back for a moment,” Arnold said clearly and loudly, as he pushed Beatrixe gently to the side, and then turned back to Cortman and stretched his arms to either side and waited, unmoving. Cortman, seeing this, very slowly came out of hiding to get a better shot at him, raising his gun to aim squarely between Arnold’s eyes. He scratched at the floor with his feet and braced himself. “Just hurry up.”
Everything seemed to happen at once. The cats, letting out a massed battle cry, swarmed into the room, leaping for Cortman, trying to sink teeth and claws into him, Fourclaws even making a prodigious leap for his outstretched arm. Bookworm ducked in on their heels, rolling to one side for a clear shot and raising her rifle.
Cortman was shocked by the sudden sea of cats racing at him, as if to protect the larger cat. His gaze was drawn away from Arnold, and even as his startlement caused him to squeeze the trigger, he tried to back away. He never even saw Bookworm, who, a split second later, fired at him.
Cortman dropped to the floor, a bullet between his open and now-lifeless eyes. Bookworm blew out the breath she’d been holding and turned, only to see that Arnold was lying on the floor next to Beatrixe, a pool of blood growing from the wound in his head.