HEART OF THE TIGER

Night time. It was always loudest when it was dark. Clark Hennersy took a sip from his polystyrene cup of coffee, and cursed under his breath. The dratted stuff was always so bloody hot. Why was it that the drinks machine could only manage two settings - ice and fire? Either your drink was cold enough to risk giving you hypothermia, or it was so hot you wound up with scorched lips. He wouldn't have minded if it tasted alright, but he wasn't even allowed that small comfort. It tasted like the sawdust that lined the cages around him.

It was the cages that were the source of the noise. He had hoped to be used to it by now, but after four months of patrolling these corridors he was certain that he was never going to stop jumping at every snarl. His pulse quickened every time one of the creatures hurled themselves against the bars of their cages, and every time he heard a claw scratch on concrete he wondered if this was the time - if tonight was the night he had been dreading. One night it was going to come, he was sure of it. Someone would be careless at feeding time perhaps; or maybe one of the animals would just prove to be too strong for the bars. Either way, one of them would be free; free to prowl up and down these long, endless corridors, between row after row of metal cages. It would come closer and closer to him, without him even knowing that it was free; without him even knowing that time was running out. There would be nowhere for him to run to, even after he had realised his predicament. Starved of decent meat for so long, it would pad nearer and nearer, teeth bared...

The lights slammed on, making Hennersy jump violently. He leant against the nearest piece of wall, trying to get his breath back. Animals didn't go for the lights. An escaping tiger or leopard, eager for the kill, would not search out the main switch before coming after him. He managed a shaky smile at his own stupidity, before setting down the coffee and drawing the gun at his belt. Best look alert, even if he didn't feel it.

Footsteps clicked their way closer to him, ringing out loudly on the bare concrete of the floor. Down one row, up another. He started off towards them, ready to challenge the intruder. It was sure to be Mr Powers, but he had to check. That was what he was paid for after all.

"Hennersy!" The voice rang out behind him, and he jumped again, then turned slowly around. The whole place was like a rabbit warren. It was hopeless to try and second guess where somebody was coming from. The first night he had worked here he had been lost for half an hour, just trying to find his way back to the door. Row after row, passage after passage, of cages both full and empty. They hemmed him in, confusing him.

"Yes Mr Powers?" He holstered the gun, straightening his collar. "Can I help you, sir?"

"I think so." Powers came towards him, half-hidden by the thick shadows along one side of the aisle. There seemed to be something wrong with his face... but the darkness hid it. Here, where the boxes and equipment were piled highest, the light was dim. "My friend here is looking for something. A tiger. I believe we have one somewhere?"

"Yes sir." Two in fact; a breeding pair. Not that they ever bred - at least, not anything that survived. There had been a small cub in Hennersy's first weeks in the job - a tiny, pathetic excuse for a tiger, which had mewled pitifully for half an hour, and then given up the ghost. A man in a long, white coat had taken it away, its tiny body not even filling up the small carrier bag he had wrapped it in.

"Then lead on." It was the second man who spoke; Powers' guest. Hennersy got a fairly good look at him as he walked past, taking up the lead. A tall man, with a powerful build; broad shoulders and a wide chest. He had streaks of silver and white in black hair, and he wore an expensive grey suit. He looked about sixty, although he carried himself like a much younger man. Hennersy wondered who he was, then decided not to care. He came, like all of the others, to look at the animals. He might buy one or two, maybe put in an order for a few more, then he would leave. The day staff would handle his order, and Hennersy would not see him again. By the time he came in for work the next night, the animals in question would have gone. He had wondered, at first, where it was that they went to. Laboratories sometimes, private zoos occasionally. Some of the men who came were hunters, others dealt in furs. They could get anything here - any animals at all, regardless of law and international convention. The rarest breeds, the most endangered of species; all neatly caged up alongside more familiar types.

He led them quickly along the rows, heading for the tiger cage. It was small, as were all of the cages. The tigers paced relentlessly during the day; with no more room than three steps in any direction they marched without pause, throwing themselves against the bars from time to time. At night they were quieter, staring through the bars with malevolent eyes. Hennersy couldn't blame them. Much though he had come to hate them, with their intense gaze and their bad tempers, he couldn't help feeling sorry for them. The other animals were easier to ignore, but he had always rather liked tigers as a kid. They had bright fur, proud bearing - beauty enough to make them rival the lions for the title of King Of The Jungle. These animals bore little resemblance to those picture book creations of his youth. Their coats were faded and shabby, their muscle tone spoilt.

"Hmm." The big man stared through the bars of the cage, nodding thoughtfully. "It may be something to do with the inferior stock, of course... Perhaps if we could get something fresher. In better condition?"

"We'd have to go out there; to India." Now that Hennesy thought about it, there was something different about his boss's voice, too. It was more hoarse than usual, more grating. He frowned, but made no comment.

"Not necessarily. There are zoos, private collections, sanctuaries. I'm sure we can find a few animals somewhere, if we put our minds to it." The stranger turned, beaming benevolently at Hennersy and Powers, his teeth gleaming in the light. One of the tigers made a swipe through the bars of the cage, but it missed him. He didn't so much as miss a beat.

"So." Clapping his hands together, the big man turned on Hennersy. "Where would you go, if you wanted a tiger in good condition?"

Hennersy gulped. It wasn't often that the clients spoke to him. He shrugged. "The local zoo?" No, even that wasn't ideal. The tigers there looked pretty miserable too. It was hardly surprising; New York wasn't the warmest place in the world, and it hardly compared to the jungles of India. "Or there's that guy just outside of the city... Mayle. Frank Mayle. He runs a sanctuary for exotic pets that get abandoned."

"Really?" The big man looked interested. He sauntered forward, throwing an arm around Powers' shoulders and steering him out into the light. "What do you think, Tony?"

"It had better work." Powers' voice was definitely wrong. Hennersy turned towards him. His boss was a big man, a little above average in height and build, with a shock of black curls and a heavy beard. Tonight there was not a trace of any of that.

He stood, slightly bent, the fingers of his left hand curled like claws. His suit was torn down that side of his body, and the leather of his left shoe was split. The tangle of black hair on his head had changed... become smoother, less curly. There were streaks of another colour in it too. Orange marks swept through the black, and white splotches broke the surface of the beard, reaching up, growing almost to his left eye. That eye gleamed at Hennersy now, flashing in the light, yellow and catlike. Its long, black pupil, narrow and slitted, glittered with an almost demonic fire. Hennersy took a step back.

"Don't run from me." There was no plea in the words, just authority. Powers took a step forward. When he spoke, Hennersy could see the teeth in the left side of his mouth. They seemed to be trying to escape; too long for his human mouth, too curved and wicked to belong to him at all... Hennersy stared at them, stared at the bristling hairs erupting in their black and orange glory from the back of his boss's left hand. He shuddered. Powers grinned.

"How do you like my new look? I think it's gonna be all the rage..."

**********

"It's good of you to help me, Jonathon." Throwing a forkful of straw into the back of a pickup truck, Frank Mayle wiped the sweat from his eyes with an over-large handkerchief and took a moment to stretch the muscles in his back. The handkerchief, a giant gaudy affair emblazoned with at least eighteen different species of sub-tropical flora, waved in the air like a flag. "I'm getting a little old for all of this stuff. I should be inside with my feet up, reading the newspapers and writing my memoirs."

"And dying of boredom." In striking contrast to his companion, the tones of this second man were unmistakably British - English in fact, and quite refined. "The day you hang up your pitchfork is the day that I become a Trappist monk."

Mayle laughed. "If I had any idea what it took to become a Trappist monk, I'd challenge you on that one." He stuck his pitchfork into the ground and breathed a long sigh. "Come on. We've done enough of the hard stuff for now. I have a new bottle of wine that I'd like your opinion on; that's if you've got the time to spare."

"I have." Jonathon left his own pitchfork quivering in the earth.

"No murderers to chase? No conferences to attend? No lectures to give?"

"Nope. I'm all yours until tomorrow morning." Jonathon grinned. "Barring major disasters, that is."

"Naturally." With a dry smile Mayle began to lead the way towards a large house, of almost mansion-like proportions, which was just visible in the distance. "I'm glad, actually. I need somebody to help me fix the tiger enclosure, and nobody else will dare go anywhere near it." He shrugged. "Sorry to invite you up here and then give you so much work to do, but..."

"It's okay." Jonathon dismissed the man's apologies with a wave of the hand. "I'm happy to be of assistance. A project like yours needs volunteers, and I'm always happy to help out." He frowned. "Tiger enclosure, huh? Is there some reason why nobody else will go near it?"

Mayle grinned. "They're old zoo animals, from a private collection just outside the state. They were badly treated and they don't like people. I can't say as I blame them too much. When I see the condition half of the animals here are in when they arrive, I don't like people much either." He shrugged. "I don't like to ask, but you might be of some assistance."

"A little of the psychological approach?" Jonathon grinned at him. "Pseudo-hypnosis, they call it at the university. I'm still sure that half of the other professors there think I'm some kind of charlatan."

"You can't argue with results, John. I saw the way that you dealt with the circus lion that escaped in Time Square two years ago, and that's good enough for me." He laughed at the memory, although he seemed to remember that at the time he had been doing anything but. The lion had broken in through the picture window at the restaurant where he had been enjoying a little late lunch with his wife. A great, gold and brown, snarling beast, with a mighty black-crowned mane hanging around its head. The police had been yelling, firing wildly, too scared to strike home - kids mostly, trying to deal with the situation while they waited for somebody with more experience to turn up. Then suddenly, out of the blue, this extraordinary young man had appeared. Mayle remembered looking up, seeing him step out of the back of the restaurant. He had looked so immaculate in the middle of all the chaos; so calm and quiet in the face of all the noise. Mayle had shouted at him, telling him to get back, but the crazy fool had just stood there, staring at the lion. It had stood there too, staring back at him, tail swishing madly. The man had spoken, far too softly for Mayle to work out the words. All that he had been certain of was the calm, gentle tone of the voice; the confidence and utter certainty behind the man's demeanour. And he had watched, amazed, as the lion slowly calmed down, slowly stopped lashing its tail about. It had lain down, right in the middle of the restaurant, and begun to purr.

And then some fool in a clumsy looking flak jacket had shot it, right through the back of the head. Mayle had stared, horror-stricken - completely unable to move through shock. He had heard a yell - fear, anger, sorrow, he had never been sure - and had seen the young man utterly transformed. The calm front had gone, his eyes had seemed to flash, he had thrown himself at the policeman. There had been a brief struggle, grossly unequal, before a handful of other police officers had dragged the young man off. Mayle had tried to get to him then, to speak to him, but there had been so many people, so many voices. He had heard shouts of indignation, and had watched the young stranger try to free himself; had recognised the English accent and had wondered at it. He had seen the anger and the grief in those startlingly bright eyes - catlike eyes, he remembered thinking. There was something wild about them, something of the animal, despite the intelligence that they displayed. Then the young man had gone, dragged away to the local precinct. Mayle had followed, bailed the kid out, taken him to a nearby bar for a proper talk. He'd introduced himself, and the stranger - amazingly - had known all about him, about his place just outside the city, about his project - everything. They had talked for hours, before finally they had gone back to Mayle's own house. He had introduced his new friend to his animals; seen the amazing power that the Englishman seemed to have over them. They came to him quite naturally, bonding with him almost instantly, trusting him even when they hadn't trusted any other person before. Mayle knew that a lot of people were unsure about Jonathon Chase, and about the research he supposedly conducted; about the lectures that he gave. They said that it was all unproven nonsense. Mayle knew different.

"Ah yes." A small smile didn't quite mask the flash of sorrow in the eyes. Chase still felt bad about that lion. "That was an entirely different situation, you know. That lion was looking for human interaction. People were all it had ever known. I can't say the same about your tigers."

"You'll get along like a house on fire. I'll introduce you after lunch." They were nearly at the house now, Mayle finding it hard to keep up with his companion's long, measured strides. Was he really getting that old, or did Chase just walk superhumanly fast? He decided to believe the latter.

"Jolly good." Jonathon turned as Mayle opened the front door, looking out across the expanse of cages and enclosures. Not exactly the same as real freedom for the animals, but for those that would never be capable of self-sufficiency it was the best they were ever likely to get. He turned back as the door opened, watching as Mayle swung it wide and stepped into the wood-panelled corridor beyond. He stepped in after, and felt the unmistakable touch of a gun barrel rest lightly between his shoulder blades. A soft, menacing voice whispered into his ear.

"Be very still, and very quiet, and we're going to get along just fine."

**********

"You can't do this." They were standing by the tiger enclosure, watching as a large man armed with a tranquilliser gun brought the two magnificent beasts inside to their knees. The male glanced up as he fell, his bright eyes staring at Mayle, as though holding him responsible for all this.

"We are doing it. Feel privileged Mr Mayle; your animals are going to serve a greater good." The big man checked the load in his gun. "Just be glad you're not going with them."

"Those animals are protected by international law." Standing off to one side, almost forgotten by the intruders, Jonathon spoke in his usual, soft voice. The semi-conscious male tiger flicked his eyes to face him, blinking at the young professor.

"If I gave a damn about international law, I wouldn't have come here in the first place." The big man let the barrel of his tranquilliser gun rest against Jonathon's chest. "Don't tempt me. These things can have a nasty effect on humans."

"So I've heard." They could have a pretty nasty effect on tigers too, but it was too late to avoid that now. "May I ask what 'greater good' it is that--"

"No." The gun thumped against his ribs, warning him into silence. "You can't." Large men dressed in off-white overalls were loading the now unconscious tigers onto a large truck which stood idling nearby. There was a large sign painted on the side, which somebody had tried to hide with a liberal coating of paint. Jonathon's eyesight was rather better than most, and he could read the words clearly. He frowned. He had never heard of Anthony Powers before. Maybe Brooke knew something.

"You won't hurt them will you?" Mayle sounded frightened for his charges, looking as though he wanted to go to join them. The big man with the dart gun grinned at him.

"I don't know." He seemed utterly unconcerned, and blissfully merry about it. "I'm not the scientist - just the delivery agent. Tell you what." His voice slid a notch, as though to a more confidential volume. "When my boss has finished with them, if there's anything left, I'll bring it back. Personally." He patted Mayle on the shoulder. "All part of the service."

"All finished here." Another man, this time younger, less barrel-chested, poked his head around the side of the truck. "We'd better get underway."

"Right." The big man glanced from Mayle to Jonathon. They were a long way from the house here, they had no telephones, no vehicles, no weapons. He shrugged off his concerns and climbed onto the back of the truck, keeping his tranquilliser gun carefully levelled at them. Mayle was fuming, his companion looking rather more calm. There was something very unsettling about the intensity in the Englishman's eyes, but the big man wasn't intending to let it get to him any longer. He banged on the side of the truck with the flat of his free hand.

"Get us out of here!" Immediately the engine gave a roar, almost knocking him loose from his perch. He clung grimly on, wishing that he could lower the gun and hold on with both hands. He caught sight of Jonathon, staring after him with a measured, calculating gaze; then they had rounded a corner and were leaving the sanctuary behind. Finally lowering his gun Clark Hennersy breathed a long sigh of relief. For a moment there he had almost believed that things were going to get nasty. Animal nuts, eager to protect a pair of tigers whatever the consequences. Something wrong with people like that - had to be. They were only tigers after all. He stole a glance through the back window of the truck, and stared down at the slumped, sleeping forms of the two tigers. They were beautiful, he had to admit. Proud, even when drugged. He thought about the other two, back at the Powers estate, and wondered, just for a moment, what these two new animals would look like in a month or two. If they lasted that long. He broke the thought off, and turned his mind back to staying on the back of the truck. He was the delivery agent, just like he'd told Mayle. The rest of it just wasn't his concern.

"Call Tyrone." Staring after the truck with a grim expression on his face, Jonathon didn't waste time turning to look at Mayle.

"Why?" The older man frowned. "Why don't you just--" He broke off. "Jonathon, don't even think it. You can't follow them on foot!"

"I can run pretty fast." This time Jonathon did spare him a glance, and there was a teasing glimmer in his eyes. "Just call Tyrone. Tell him what's happened, and tell him I've gone after them." He took a step forward, then paused as if remembering something. "Oh, and tell him to ask Brooke if she can find out anything about a man named Anthony Powers."

"Anthony Powers?" Mayle's eyes opened wide. "Jonathon, I--"

But it was too late. His friend had already gone, racing after the truck as fast as he could run. Mayle watched him for a moment, a slight frown crinkling the already wrinkled skin of his forehead; then he turned about and started the long walk back to his house.

**********

"But I tried, and I tried, and I tried and I tried! I can't get--" The ringing of the telephone interrupted Tyrone with such sudden, shrill intensity that he lost the rhythm of the improvised drumming accompaniment to his singing. One of the wooden spoons flipped out of his hand and promptly vanished behind the oven. He sighed.

"Hello?" Still humming the tune along to the - on reflection, perhaps slightly too loud - radio, he grabbed the receiver and almost had to shout a greeting above the music. He recognised Mayle's voice immediately and made a swipe at the radio to turn the volume down. He knocked the tuning control instead and was rewarded with a burst of static, then finally managed to turn the little machine off. "Hi Frank. Everything okay?"

"Ty." Mayle sounded tired and strained. Maybe even a little frightened. "Listen, we've had some trouble. Can you get down here?"

"Trouble?" Instantly on the alert, Ty was nodding hard, despite the uselessness of this gesture during a telephone conversation. "What kind of trouble?"

"Some people came. They had guns. They took my tigers." The strain was showing even more clearly in Mayle's voice. "Jonathon went after them, but there's no way he can hope to keep up on foot. He'll probably want you to pick him up. Is Brooke there?"

"Brooke? No, she's at work. I'll call her if you'd like."

"Thanks. Jonathon wanted her to do some checking, but I don't know that there's any real need. I think I probably have all the information that he'll want. Er, Tyrone?"

"Yeah?"

"Hurry. Please?" The man sounded older than Tyrone was used to hearing him, and he frowned into the receiver.

"I'll hurry." He hung up without waiting for the other man's farewell, then tapped the counter in thought. Brooke. That was easy enough. He dialled the number quickly, almost cheering when she answered on only the second ring, and spoke quickly without giving her a chance to speak herself.

"Hi, Brooke? Trouble, and Jonathon's in the thick of it. You know Frank Mayle's animal sanctuary? Well meet me there, pronto. No time to talk right now. I'll see you there." He hung up to the sounds of her protests, then ran for the door. Somehow, just lately his life seemed filled with thoughts such as speed is of the essence, or got to be quick! Always one crisis or another; one madman or another. He smiled slightly, trying not to remember how boring his life had been before, then grabbed his car keys and pulled the door shut behind him.

"Okay Jonathon," he muttered to himself, as he climbed into the car and pressed the remote to open the garage door. "Let's see what it is you've got us into this time."

**********

The eyes of the black panther flashed in the sunlight as it watched the two tigers being unloaded from the truck. They were dumped unceremoniously into a dirty looking cage in the middle of a concrete compound. There was no shade, no food, no water... The panther's tail twitched vigorously, showing signs of clear displeasure.

"Careful with those animals." The big man who had threatened Jonathon with the tranquilliser gun shouted rather ineffectually at his compatriots. Nobody seemed inclined to pay him any attention, and he turned away. The panther watched him go, still twitching its tail. It wanted very much to go after the big man, but it had no desire to be spotted. Instead it gave a low growl, the sound rumbling through its throat. The big man froze, listening intently, his whole body suddenly tense; then he gave a small shiver and quickened his step.

With slow and easy grace the panther stretched, flexed its muscles, and changed. Its sleek, black body mutated back into the recognisable features of Jonathon Chase, and human once again the professor ran a hand through his hair and stood up. He needed to have a look around, and for that it was probably best to be human. He didn't want to get shot full of tranquilliser and dumped in a cage because somebody thought he was an escaped prize.

He straightened his collar, looked left and right, then started purposefully across the compound. Busy with the tiger cage the men around him did not seem to notice his presence; or if they did they didn't care. He ignored them just as they were ignoring him, and focussed instead on the big man vanishing rapidly into the middle distance. He seemed to be making for a house, nearly as big as the mansion belonging to Frank Mayle. Jonathon ducked into the cover afforded by a selection of trees and crept closer.

The big man did not knock at the door of the house, but merely walked straight inside. He left the door wide open - somewhat considerately, thought Jonathon - and promptly vanished into the darkened interior. Jonathon followed. He found himself in a long corridor, with whitewashed walls and a thick scarlet carpet on the floor. It dulled the sounds of his footsteps and made the going far easier than it had been on the hard concrete and gravel outside. He listened carefully, but the only audible sounds were those of his quarry's faint footsteps up ahead. He heard the steps go on, then hesitate, then go on once again. There was the sound of a door handle being turned, then voices. He quickened his step, edging closer to the open door that he could now see. He wondered how close he could get before the risk of discovery became too great.

"Hennersy!" The first voice was deep and jovial. "Did everything go according to plan?"

"More or less." The second voice belonged to the big man whom Jonathon had been following. The professor recognised it, and his eyes narrowed in grim satisfaction. It was always good to be able to put a name to a face. "We got the tigers. They're in the cage out front."

"Excellent!" The first voice again, filled with what sounded suspiciously like false good cheer. "What do you say, Tony? The project will soon be back on track."

"Huh." The third voice sounded bitter. There was a hoarseness to it, a rough edge that almost made it more of a growl than a voice. "I don't want the project. I don't give a damn about the project. I just want to be human again." This time there was no mistaking the growl which burst its way through the words. "You tricked me, Tanner. I won't forget that."

"Nonsense." A hard edge lined the cheery tone. "The experiment was as much your idea as mine. You said it yourself; if some guy fifty years ago could do it, we can do it even better now."

"That's easy for you to say." The third voice cracked, as though the throat forming the words was unbearably dry. "You're not the one with fur on your hands, and teeth that threaten to cut your tongue in half each time you breathe. You're not the one with claws instead of fingernails." There was a short, almost threatening pause. "You use those tigers, and you find the secret, and you cure me. Or I swear I'll use the new instincts I can feel inside me, and I'll cut your throat to ribbons."

"Now that wouldn't be terribly sensible." The voice was sibilant now; smooth and soft and yet filled with pure poison. Jonathon heard footsteps, as of somebody's agitated pacing, and he flattened himself against the wall. The temptation to peer around the doorframe and see what was really going on was almost unbearable.

"Don't try to threaten me, Tanner." There was real fatigue in the third voice. Jonathon frowned. The man sounded dangerous despite his clear exhaustion, and danger from one of these men could only mean danger for the two tigers; not to mention any other animals that might happen to be in the grounds. He hesitated, almost able to hear his thoughts click and whirr their way through his mind. Perhaps he should try to reach a phone, and call for backup. Mayle would have got in touch with Tyrone by now, and his friend would be finding it hard to follow him. Much of the ground between Mayle's place and this one had been too dry and hard to leave any real tracks. He stared down the corridor, hoping that a workable plan would present itself to him, then froze. He could hear footsteps.

"Hey!" The shout was loud and forceful, but it came in the opposite direction to the sounds of approaching footsteps. Groaning, the professor glanced back, seeing a large man blocking the way to his right. The footsteps coming from his left broke into a run, alerted by the shout. He heard scuffles in the room behind him, where the three men he had been listening to were still ensconced. Great. Just great.

"Grab him!" He recognised the voice as that of the man called Tanner, but he didn't wait to see the man himself as he erupted out of the room. Instead he made a grab for the nearest door handle, twisted a bit desperately, and almost fell into the room beyond. He slammed the door shut again, scrabbling for something to use to keep it closed, then took a second to glance about at his surroundings. A large-ish room, tiled floor, occasional rugs; oak panelling around an impressive stone fireplace. The walls were lined with shelves of books, and much of the floor space was taken up by a massive desk. The legs were flamboyantly carved, and the surface was a mass of books. Books on animals, books on evolution, books on zoology and biology and medical science - all were strewn about, many standing open on certain pages. Some passages were underlined, others marked with startlingly bright highlighters. Photographs both in monochrome and in colour also covered the space on top of the desk. He saw close ups of ribcages and thigh bones, skulls pictured from every conceivable direction, skeletal hands and the feet of animals. He picked one picture up, intrigued, and saw what appeared to be a human torso, partially covered by the coarse, dark hair of some non-human species. He frowned.

"Give yourself up!" The shout startled him and he looked up, just in time to see the door shake violently as a powerful force slammed into it. He wondered how many people were outside the room, waiting in the corridor, and he thought of the half-human picture he had seen. He remembered the threats of the man called Tony; the words he had said suggesting that the picture still grasped in Jonathon's hand had been of him. The professor almost shivered. That was definitely not the kind of person that he wanted to run into, especially when he was a trespasser on land that seemed very likely to be the property of some kind of criminal gang. He ran to the window and pulled it open, just as another mighty crash shook the door. Glancing back he swung up onto the windowsill and prepared to lower himself down to the ground below. He stopped. Looking back at him with a triumphant smile on his face was a man in a security guard's uniform. There was a powerful looking gun in his arms, pointed straight at Jonathon.

"Get back inside," the man told him, just as the door finally gave in. The professor heard it burst open, and the tension in his muscles slowly relaxed. He stared down at the man with the gun, then turned to face the new arrivals. They were all armed.

"Hello," he said, hoping that he sounded more confident that he felt. "Can you direct me to the nearest post office? I seem to be lost."

**********

Detective Brooke McKenzie climbed out of her car and surveyed the grand front lawn of the Mayle mansion with raised eyebrows. She had become used to Jonathon's less-than-basic lifestyle, but somehow she didn't think that she would ever get used to the grand ways of some of his friends. She heard a whistle from behind her, where another car had just drawn up.

"How the other half lives, hey Brooke?"

"Yeah." She smiled. "Come on, lieutenant. I'll introduce you."

"Do we have to use the service entrance?" Lieutenant Nick Rivera, Brooke's friend and immediate supervisor, was only half joking. Brooke smiled dryly. Even if it had been expected for them to use a side door, she knew very well that Rivera would have marched right up to the front regardless. She led the way there now, up to the large, studded door with its ostentatious brass bell. Rivera had almost been looking forward to pulling the long, shiny bell chain, but before they had stepped into the porch the door opened. Tyrone Earl, looking uncharacteristically flustered, ushered them inside.

"Brooke. Lieutenant." He nodded at them both. "Thanks for coming."

"Hey, if Jonathon's in trouble I'm here, you know that." Brooke glanced about at the walls that now surrounded her. Although she knew Mayle well, she had not previously been inside his house, and it was strange to see it now. It was the kind of place you expected to find an English lord residing in, not a modest and self-effacing saviour of animal-kind. Large paintings in expensive looking frames lined the walls, and the carpet alone looked as though it had cost several thousand dollars.

"Nice." Rivera's eyebrows raised in appreciation.

"Thankyou." Frank Mayle stepped out of his study directly behind the detective, but to his credit Rivera did not jump. Instead he smiled and held out his hand.

"Mr Mayle I assume."

"Frank, please." Mayle frowned. "And you'll be Lieutenant Rivera of course. Jonathon mentioned you." His brow creased suddenly in worry. "Have you heard anything?"

"We don't know anything, Mr Mayle." Rivera gestured back into the study. "Shall we?"

"Oh. Yes of course." Mayle wandered back in and sat down almost immediately on a tapestried easy chair. "Please take a seat."

"Thankyou." Nick and the others sat. "Now, er... I gather there's been trouble?"

"You could call it that." Taking over from the clearly distraught Mayle, Tyrone stretched out his long legs and looked intently at the two officers. "Jonathon and Frank were working here today, and they were attacked by a group of armed men who stole Frank's two tigers."

"I hadn't long got them," Frank interjected, looking nervous. "They're very restless. They were treated badly, and they need specialist handling. Otherwise I'm not sure what the consequences could be."

"That's probably the least of our concerns." Brooke turned back to Tyrone. "And Jonathon's gone after them I suppose?"

"Right first time." Tyrone shrugged. "I followed his tracks for a bit, but the ground's just too dry. The trail petered out barely a mile from this place, and I'm all out of ideas." He glanced back at Mayle. "All except for a lead Frank here might have, but we needed our favourite detective to give us a little more to work from."

"What is it?" Interested, Brooke sat up straight. Tyrone looked expectantly at Mayle, who obediently took up with the story.

"Jonathon got a name from somewhere. Anthony Powers. It didn't mean anything to him, but I know the name very well. Anthony Powers is an animal dealer with a very bad reputation amongst conservationists and the like. He treats his animals abominably, and he's known to have dealings with groups that use animals for the worst of reasons. He was called to answer charges of involvement with a gang of poachers not so very long ago, but he was able to escape without further action being taken." Mayle shook his head, clearly incensed. "I know that he's involved with some pretty shady characters, but I never thought he would stoop to a move like this one. Word is he's been buying up a lot of animals recently though. I had a run in with him once. He was selling to a furs company." The ageing man smiled in semi-embarrassment. "It was during my wilder days. A group of us staged a sit-in. We didn't stop anything, but we did cause chaos for the best part of a week." He shrugged. "After that Powers wised up. I tried to watch him, to keep an eye on his business dealings, but he was too clever for me."

"Then he's definitely a nasty piece of work." Brooke shared a concerned look with Tyrone. "I wonder how Jonathon's getting along."

"He won't be in any trouble. He was on foot and he went after a truck." Mayle smiled, although there was worry behind the amusement in his eyes. "He probably lost them ages ago, and now he can't find his way back here."

"Probably." Brooke smiled too, but her eyes showed no humour. Given her knowledge of Jonathon's special abilities, she was too aware of the likely truth to be able to relax. It was very likely that Jonathon had easily followed the truck - but on four feet instead of just two. He could be miles away, without back up and almost certainly unarmed. She stood up. "I'll make a few calls, see if we can come up with an address for this Powers guy. I'd like to get over there, just to make sure that Jonathon hasn't got himself caught up in something that he's going to need our help to get out of."

"No need. And Powers' various hangouts aren't usually known to the police anyway." Rivera stood up as well, at the same time reaching for a notebook in his jacket pocket. He scribbled something on a page and handed it to her. It was an address. "That's where Powers works. It's a warehouse; big place, plenty big enough to hide away a couple of tigers." He smiled. "And even an animal behavioural scientist if necessary. You and Tyrone get over there and start asking some questions."

"Sure." Surprised and impressed, but determined not to ask where he had got the address from, Brooke handed the slip of paper to Tyrone. "Where will you be?"

"Over at Powers' house. I'd like to get the chance to talk to him myself." Rivera caught the look in her eyes and smiled. "I was at school with Anthony Powers. I know just the kind of creep he is - the kind who used to pull the legs off spiders and push smaller kids over in the playground. I've kept up to date on his little comings and goings these past few years, and he knows it. I'll call you in a couple of hours with an update, okay?"

"Right." Brooke and Tyrone left, and Rivera smiled encouragingly at Mayle. "Everything will be fine Mr Mayle. We'll get your tigers back for you."

"Thanks." Mayle didn't look entirely convinced. "Be careful lieutenant. Powers isn't the kind of man who takes kindly to people snooping around and asking awkward questions."

"I'll bet." Rivera's smile turned to one of almost animal cunning. "But I'm looking forward to this a very great deal."

**********

"What on Earth possessed you to bring Rivera with you?" As they climbed out of the car at the address written on their piece of paper, Tyrone shot his companion a faintly amused glance. "If Jonathon's tracks had been easier to follow it might have taken some explaining. 'Er, yeah lieutenant, Jonathon has these shoes that look just like panther tracks. They're all the rage back in London'."

"He was bored, and he was with me when I took the call. What was I supposed to do?" She shrugged, waving the slip of paper in the air. "Anyway, he turned out to be useful after all."

"I guess." Tyrone looked up at the imposing warehouse, taking in the concrete walls and heavy metal doors. There was a desolate feel to the place, and he felt sure that, had Jonathon been present, his friend's powerful instincts would have been screaming for attention. He could almost smell death in the air; could feel it in the breeze. "Charming place."

"Yeah." Brooke took a few paces forward, then stopped and sniffed. "What's that awful smell?"

"That, my friend, is the smell of something very unpleasant." Striding ahead, Tyrone hammered on the doors, then swung back around to face Brooke. "How d'you want to play it? Are we reporters? Or can we be international smugglers?"

"How about if we try the police-detective-and-civilian-assistant angle?" She sighed at his almost crestfallen expression. The police angle never worked anyway. "Okay, how about spokesperson for a fur trading company - and the strong and sinister bodyguard of course."

"Cool." Tyrone raised his eyebrows, sinking his hands into his pockets. "But I don't think they're gonna buy you as a bodyguard. No offence."

"Very funny." The door slid open on wide, greased rollers and Brooke opened her mouth to speak, only to be beaten to the draw by Tyrone. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and flicked it open.

"Kent Marlborough, Hong Kong Medicines and Alternative Therapy." He smiled broadly and glanced past the large, thickly muscled man who had opened the door. "Is Mr Powers in?"

"Mr Powers is working from home for the foreseeable future." The man at the door sounded as though he had been forced to learn the words by rote; and clearly had had trouble doing so. He frowned, apparently trying to work something out. "Are you regular clients?"

"Sure hope to be, bud. Sure hope to be." Tyrone indicated Brooke. "This is my secretary, Miss Tillsdale. Miss Ivy Tillsdale." The guard had already been paying rather more attention to the pretty detective, and the introduction gave him even more reason to gawp. "Maybe you can help us. We sell a range of Eastern medicines based on animal by-products, and Mr Powers has been very helpful in the past to some of our business rivals."

The big guard nodded, still gazing at Brooke. "He sells animals."

"Jolly good." Beginning to think that he was wasting his patter on a man who wasn't capable of understanding it anyway, Tyrone tried another, even wider smile. "I need..." He patted his pockets and produced a leather bound notebook, which he flipped open to a pre-marked page. "Ah yes. I need tigers. Male or female, either will do. Can you supply us with tigers, Mr...?"

"My name's Cooper." The guard grinned at him. "Gary Cooper."

"Right Mr Cooper. Can you get us tigers?"

"Sure." The big man shrugged. "Haven't got any right now, but the boss can get anything." He frowned. "We had tigers. Had lots of them. I liked them, they had nice stripes. They've all gone now though."

"Who bought them?" Brooke asked. Cooper smiled at her.

"I know that," he announced proudly, although he failed to elaborate. She smiled patiently back at him.

"Who?"

"Tanner, his name was. That's what Mr Powers called him. He bought up all the tigers and the bears, and a couple of lions too. And a panther. The panther was my favourite."

"Do you know his first name?" Tyrone asked. Cooper frowned.

"The panther?"

"No." The patience becoming a trifle strained, Tyrone managed to keep on smiling. "Tanner's first name."

"Oh. Mr Powers just called him Tanner." He shrugged. "They always turned up together though, so I figured they worked together at the other office."

"The other office?" prompted Brooke. Cooper nodded again.

"Mr Powers' house." The trace of a frown crossed his forehead. "Say, you ask a lot of questions."

"We like to know who we're doing business with." She reached out and patted his hand. "Thankyou. You've been a lot of help. Can we look around now?"

"Not allowed in." There was cold certainty on his face, and Brooke almost flinched. The change from amiable klutz was almost frightening.

"We want to order our tigers," she pressed, but he shook his head firmly.

"Not allowed in."

"Mr Powers wouldn't mind. Maybe you'll even earn a commission on the sales." Tyrone tried to push past the big man, but a heavy hand knocked into his chest and he stumbled back.

"You're not allowed in." Cooper's voice had risen several decibels, and he looked even more solid than before. "I'll tell Mr Powers you called. Goodbye." The door slammed shut.

"Boy. Touchy guy." Straightening his jacket, Tyrone raised his eyebrows. "So what now?"

"I suppose we'd better report in." Brooke shrugged. "Unless you want to risk the wrath of Gary Cooper that is. We might be able to find a window to climb through."

"Breaking and entering, detective? Without a warrant or a writ?" Tyrone clicked his tongue in mock disapproval. "No point. I think we can believe our friendly gorilla back there. If the tigers were here they've gone now. Maybe they were never brought here at all."

"But if they were, Jonathon could still be here."

"No, I don't think so." It was a worry that Tyrone could not entirely dismiss, but he was reasonably sure that it was unfounded. "My bet is that they're all at Casa Powers."

"With Nick." Brooke looked uncomfortable. "I'd better call him."

"You do that." They climbed into the car and Tyrone stared up the engine. It had already roared into life before he frowned across at Brooke. "Say, do you know where Nick went?" Brooke blinked back at him. Rivera had never bothered to tell them the address of the house that he would be going to.

"I haven't got a clue." She threw the radio microphone back onto its shelf beneath the dash and sighed. "And he's not answering the radio."

"He seemed to think that the address wasn't on police files." Tyrone sighed, looking back at the warehouse. "I guess we're going to be looking for that window after all."

"I'll keep watch." They climbed out of the car, looking about at the open expanse of concrete around the warehouse, and Brooke smiled. "This is where you really want to be able to turn into something less obtrusive, isn't it."

"Tell me about it." Tyrone marched up to the nearest window and tested it, then moved on to the next one when the first failed to open. "Jonathon would be inside by now, doing his Cheta impression." The second window opened with a loud creak, and he shot his companion a fatalistic glance. "Hold the fort."

"Be careful," she told him. He smiled.

"Careful's my middle name. I'll be back before you know it." With that he vanished inside. Brooke leant against the wall by the window, trying to keep in the shadows. Somehow it was hard to be confident and positive in this place. The smell of death was too strong; the sensation of primal unease and overlying fear hanging onto everything. She glanced at her watch. Five minutes, and then to hell with police procedure. If Tyrone wasn't back out in the sunlight by then, she was going in after him.

**********

"For the last time." The big man with the grey-flecked hair - Tanner, Jonathon seemed to remember the others calling him - leaned close to the professor's face and dropped his voice to a sinister whisper. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"

"I keep telling you." Keeping his voice calm Jonathon tried a tentative smile. "I wanted to talk to Mr Powers."

"He must have followed you." Fixing Hennersy with an accusing stare, Powers snarled softly. His teeth flashed in the sunlight streaming through the window. Hennersy looked extremely nervous.

"He can't have done, Mr Powers. He didn't have a car anywhere near where we left him, and he didn't come here in our truck."

"Then how did he get here?" The growls filled the man's voice, threatening to swamp his words altogether. Hennersy shrugged.

"I don't know."

"That hardly matters anymore." Lowering himself onto the edge of the nearby desk, Tanner rested his hands on his knees and stared at Jonathon. The professor allowed himself to relax, determined not to show any signs of unease. He was extremely uncomfortable, bound as he was to a chair, the ropes far too tight and beginning to cut his skin. His head hurt from the manhandling he had received earlier, at the time of his capture.

"Now." Sounding infinitely patient, which in many ways was worse than the forcefulness of before, Tanner pressed a smile onto his face. "Who are you?"

"Peter Jones, from the Telegraph. I'm here to do an exposť on your experimentations on animals." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Powers take a sharp intake of breath. He sounded as though he was not going to be keeping his temper for much longer.

"You're no newspaperman." The half-human mutant leaned close, his breath rank, his matted fur tangled and dirty. His clawed hand reached out to cup Jonathon's chin in its painful hold. "Now who are you, and why were you at Frank Mayle's place earlier today? Why did you follow my men?"

"I like tigers." Jonathon managed a smile, but the claws were starting to dig in and it hurt to move. Powers released him with a growl of disgust.

"Feed him to the lions," he muttered, turning away. Tanner threw him a look of faint disgust.

"Don't be a fool. I want to know what he knows." He folded his arms. "What animal experiments were you referring to exactly?" Jonathon's eyes travelled to the inhuman shape of Powers in answer, and Tanner laughed.

"Ah yes. That. But you didn't know about that until you came here, did you. Your motives for coming here rested solely on your concern for the two stolen tigers. You're no newspaperman, just as my friend here has already observed." He smiled his sinister, mock-friendly smile once again. "What are you - a zoologist? A naturalist? You must be something like that to have been with Frank Mayle earlier today."

Jonathon sighed. He didn't like being second-guessed by unpleasant characters like Tanner, but to conceal his identity seemed fairly pointless when they had already worked out so much. He could not see it doing any harm to tell them the rest. "My name is Jonathon Chase," he admitted finally. "I'm a specialist in animal behaviour, connected with one of the local universities. I was concerned with the welfare of the tigers you stole."

"Jonathon Chase, huh." Tanner nodded, throwing a small, very self-satisfied smile at the half-human Powers. "Small world."

"I'm sorry?" Jonathon frowned. "I don't follow you." Tanner merely grinned in answer.

"Your father was a bit of a wildcard in the world of nature and conservation, wasn't he. Wrote some fascinating work. I came into possession of some of it myself a while back." The big man's eyes drifted back towards Powers. "Some of it was missing though. And I have a funny feeling you might be able to fill in some gaps."

**********

Nick Rivera climbed from his car and stared up at the imposing front door of Anthony Powers' huge house. The sounds of animals were everywhere; screeches and growls, snarls and roars. He had seen none of the animals themselves, and he wasn't sure that he wanted to. Powers had never been known for being an animal lover, and given his history of dodged maltreatment charges, Nick imagined that he was himself better off trying to forget that he could even hear the sounds which surrounded him. He knocked on the door.

"What do you want?" The voice came from behind him, and he turned to find himself confronted by a security guard carrying a heavy rifle. The gun was not pointing at him, but its presence was a very real threat. Nick chose to ignore it, and pulled out his ID.

"Lieutenant Rivera, NYPD. I'd like to speak to Mr Anthony Powers please."

"Mr Powers ain't in." The guard sounded as though he was lying, and Nick answered with a thin smile.

"Just tell him it's Nick Rivera, and that I'd like a word." He folded his arms, trying to look immovable. The big guard shrugged.

"Sure. But he still ain't in." He hesitated for a moment, weighing the gun in his arms, then stepped into the house. "Stay here," he shot back as a parting comment, and promptly vanished into the darkened interior of the front hall. Nick followed almost immediately. If he was impressed by the house he did not show it as he followed the guard. His eyes travelled over the paintings and the huge photographs which dominated the walls. He saw men in turn-of-the-century clothing standing over the bodies of lions and tigers and leopards; men in nineteen fifties safari gear leaning against piles of ivory tusks; proud looking men in more modern costume posing beside the bodies of sharks and small whales. The dead black eye of a Great White stared accusingly at Nick from one large, framed photograph, and he found himself staring at it in sorry fascination. He had seen one from a boat once, huge and magnificent in the water. This one in the photograph just looked sorry and sad, and about as dangerous as a goldfish. He shook his head, feeling very angry and very, very tired.

"I told you to wait outside." Making his way back along the corridor, the guard was now pointing his rifle at Nick. The lieutenant glared at him, and the other man's aim wavered slightly. Nick pushed the gun aside.

"Don't do that. Arresting you isn't really why I'm here." The guard shifted uncomfortably, as though just remembering that the guest was a policeman.

"Mr Powers is in, but he can't see you right now. He said to send his apologies."

Nick nodded. "And Professor Chase?" he asked. The guard frowned.

"Professor Chase?"

"Yeah." Nick was working on nothing but a hunch now, but he still thought that it was a theory worth following. He had not seen Jonathon on the way over, and he had seen no sign of him since. Maybe that was irrelevant, but all the same his suspicions had been aroused. "Young guy, light hair. Talks with an English accent. Mr Powers asked me to come over and have a word with him." He sighed. "Look, it's really not my problem. I come all the way out here from the heart of the city, through all that traffic and all those jams, just to find out that your boss is too busy to talk to me. Well fine. I don't care. Just tell him I won't jump nearly so promptly next time." He turned as if to go.

"Wait!" The guard frowned, glancing back along the corridor as though struggling with a difficult choice. "Mr Powers really sent for you to deal with this Chase guy?"

"Yep." Nick's eyes narrowed. "Then you've seen Chase?"

"Sure. Mr Powers and Mr Tanner are with him now. I didn't realise you were on the payroll." The guard sighed. "Look, truth is I didn't ask Mr Powers about you. He just said before that he wasn't to be disturbed, and it's more than my job's worth, you know? But if he really did send for you, I guess it can't hurt. They're in the business room, three doors along the next corridor on the left."

"Thanks." Nick clapped him on the shoulder. "You'd better get back out on patrol. If Chase got in, somebody else might make it in too. I wouldn't like to be in your shoes if that happened."

"Yeah, you're right." The guard flashed him a grin. "I'll see you."

"Sure." Nick watched him go, then breathed a sigh of relief and hurried on along the corridor. Doors passed him by, all imposing and bedecked with huge studs. One door had been broken open recently, and he glanced inside. Books lined the walls, burying the huge desk under their weight. There was a model of a human skeleton - he hoped it was a model - hanging up beside the door, and a similar model of a tiger skeleton arranged on a stand nearby. Some bones had been painted in different colours, and others had been marked with black tape. Intrigued, Nick wandered inside, glancing about. The desk attracted his attention as a likely source of information, but when he began to go through it he found the piles of books too high to search through, and the photographs and reams of scientific data too unintelligible. Only one book stood out from the others; a small, thick affair that looked much like a diary. When he opened it he found that it was filled with pages of hand-written notes, all jumbled up and apparently out of order. He had been rifling though it for some time before he came upon what should have been the front page. It was stained with what looked like old mud and possibly blood, and was yellowed around the edges. It looked as though it had got very wet once or twice, and had dried stiff. The ink was blurred in places, and hard to read, but he could make out one word very clearly indeed - Chase. He rifled through a few more pages, choosing a paragraph at random:

"I travelled for days through the jungles, using paths untrodden by all but the hardiest of explorers. My guides refused to travel with me any longer, and I left them behind at the escarpment. I walked on alone, through undergrowth so thick that I could barely walk - through trees so close together that it took me hours to walk just a few hundred yards...

"It was many days before I found the hidden city, and many more before I was able to converse, after a fashion, with the people that I found there. They were suspicious of me, and I, I must confess, was suspicious of them in turn... Only after a great deal of time did we manage to come to an understanding, and then only after I had happened to save the life of a child, who had fallen into the muddy waters of the river that passed by the walls of the city...

"The people told me great things; gave me new goals to aspire to within my great adventure. I will endeavour to chronicle all of that which transpires, in the event that I myself do not make it home. I fully intend, of course, to be able to tell my family of my travels in person, but if that should not happen, I now bequeath this journal to all of them, in the hope that they will understand my need to explore further..."

Nick stopped reading and gave a low whistle. He had heard Jonathon speak of the journeys taken by his father into the world's most impenetrable jungles. He wondered if the book might be the work of that very man - the previous Chase, who had trekked so far and wide in search of new knowledge and understanding. If so, then the book belonged to Jonathon by rights. He tucked it inside the inner pocket of his jacket and headed once more for the door. Voices interrupted him as he did so, and he ducked into the shadows behind the broken door.

"You really think this guy knows something?" It was Powers' voice, he was sure, but it sounded different somehow. Another voice answered it, older, smoother and infinitely superior.

"If you made discoveries like the ones Chase was rumoured to have made, would you have taken them to your grave? You'd tell them to your son, wouldn't you - to your first born son even if to no one else." There was a pause. "He knows something. His reaction to your... condition. It wasn't the panic or the disgust that some would show. It was almost as if he knew what was wrong."

"You hope." Powers spat the words out, a low growl rumbling in his throat behind his voice. "Not that you want to use him to help me."

"Of course I do. It's hardly in my best interests to leave you in your current state, is it. Oh we'll find you your cure, Tony, don't you worry. We'll find you a way out of this. But we'll also find all the other answers that we're looking for. Like how our good Professor Chase managed the things our sources tell us he did; and whether or not his son knows any more about it." The voice faded away down the corridor, and Nick had to strain to catch the last few words. "Our guest is going to tell us everything, or your lions really will get their first decent meal in a fortnight." The voices died away completely, and if there were further words Nick could not hear them. He frowned, staring into the muted light of the room around him. It was a good job that the book had distracted him, or he would very likely have walked straight into the two men; and the excuse that he had used to gain entrance to the house would hardly have worked with them. He thought of Jonathon, and slipped quickly from the room. Better to find his young friend before Powers and his companion returned. It was easy to find the door of the room that he sought, and finding it open a crack, he peered carefully around it. He could see a uniformed man holding a gun, but there did not seem to be anything else in the way of guards. Drawing his own gun, he stepped into the room.

"Don't move." He kept his voice low and calm, one eye on the guard and one on Jonathon. The professor was bound to a chair at one side of the room, and although he looked a trifle ruffled, he did not appear to have been hurt. "You okay Jonathon?"

"Fine, lieutenant. Thankyou." The young professor watched with predictably cool disinterest as his friend disarmed the guard, and showed no sign of impatience as he hunted for a knife to cut the ropes. "How did you find me so quickly?"

"Old familiarity with our dear Mr Powers." Nick finally managed to find a knife, and he set to work on the ropes, keeping both eyes firmly on the guard. Jonathon frowned.

"You've seen him?" he asked. He sounded surprised, or maybe even a little hedgy, which surprised Nick enough to make him miss a beat as he sawed at the ropes.

"As it happens, no. I heard him though." He tugged off the last of the ropes. "Why?"

"Nothing." Standing up, Jonathon gestured for the guard to take his place. With the ropes in pieces, the unfortunate guard was compelled to give up his own tie in order to secure his wrists to the back of the chair. He didn't look too happy about it, but Jonathon merely tightened the knots, gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder, and then turned to Nick for advice. "What next?"

"I was counting on a smart getaway." The police lieutenant went over to the window to look out. "We could try the front door, but I wouldn't put much on our chances. That only leaves the window."

"Fine by me." The professor joined him in looking down at the ground beneath them. It was not far, and the fall would be practically negligible. "After you?"

"You're so kind." Rivera climbed awkwardly up onto the windowsill, wishing that he had some of Jonathon's natural grace. The younger man was catlike in his agility, so much like so many of the animals that he had devoted his life to studying. The lieutenant tried not to dwell on the twinges in his back and the protests in his shoulder muscles as he lowered himself to the ground; and tried not to wince too loudly when his shin scraped painfully on a jutting piece of stone. He tripped over the edge of the flowerbed he had landed in, and looked up at Jonathon. The professor jumped down beside him.

"Where now?" he asked. Rivera shrugged.

"How did you get here?"

"By a method I wouldn't recommend the pair of us trying." Jonathon glanced about. "Didn't you come in your car?"

"Yeah, but I'm willing to bet that security is keeping a watch on that by now. They're bound to have realised that I'm not supposed to be here, even if they don't know that I'm with you." The yelling of the guard that they had left tied up in the room above them cut into his concentration, and he groaned. "And I'm betting they'll figure that bit out pretty soon too."

"You may have a point there." Jonathon glanced back up at the window. "Remind me why we didn't gag him?"

"Just shut up and run." Rivera grabbed his arm, pulling him along in the shadow of the wall, to where overhanging bushes provided some cover. "Okay, what's the layout of this place?"

"Gardens mostly, and a compound facing east where they keep all the animals." Jonathon's eyes drifted unbidden towards the compound in question. He could not hear the sounds of the wretched animals in his current position, but he knew that they were out there. He could still remember the looks in so many pairs of eyes, all locked behind rows of bars and trapped in filth and squalor. "Frank's tigers are there, plus a lot of other animals. I--"

"Jonathon, I appreciate your concerns, but we'd better get ourselves out of here first, okay? That is unless you plan to ask all those animals if they'll follow us back to headquarters like nice little pussycats. We'll call in the animal people once we're safe."

"Of course." They glanced about, looking for inspiration, but there was little cover of note and no vehicles within sight. A shout echoed across the grass from somewhere behind them, and there was the sound of booted feet, moving closer at a run.

"We can't stay here." Rivera drew his gun, checking it over automatically. His spare ammunition was in his car, so he would have to make what shots he did have count. "When I say run, we split up and head for some kind of cover. Any cover. Just stay low and don't worry about anything else. Don't look back. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly." Jonathon glanced over his shoulder. So far he could not see anybody, but he could hear the booted feet on the other side of the wall as well as outside the building. It sounded very much like they would soon be surrounded.

"Good." Rivera took a deep breath, wondering exactly why he had accepted the promotion to lieutenant if it meant that he still had to run about and get shot at. Surely the whole point of being a lieutenant was getting to sit behind a desk all day and send other people out to do all of this stuff? Next time, he told himself, he would let Brooke go alone, no matter how bored he was. "Run!"

They broke cover at the same moment, sprinting across the thick, springy grass. Rivera heard a shot ring out behind him, and saw a plume of earth and pieces of turf fly into the air to his right. He changed course slightly, beginning to weave.

"Freeze!" The voice behind him reminded him so much of himself. He had yelled that very word at so many different people over the years. He had never really wondered before, about what went through their minds when they ran. Now he was beginning to get an idea. He changed direction again, trying to make it harder for his pursuers to get a decent aim. Jonathon was far ahead now, running easily, and almost out of range. If he ran a little faster, Nick thought, maybe he too could put enough distance on his side. The shots from behind seemed to be getting closer and closer, though, and he was starting to tire.

When the final shot rang out he almost dismissed it from his mind altogether. He felt a sudden, burning pain in his leg, but for a few seconds it barely registered. He ran on for a pace or two more, not thinking about the pain, not realising. Only when his leg began to crumple beneath him did the truth sink in. He fell to the ground, head light, leg fading into spasmodic numbness. He could see black flashes before his eyes, and a hot, intense whiteness that wiped out the colour in his vision. Up ahead, almost as if he had sensed something, Jonathon slowed and turned round.

"Run!" Nick's voice sounded strange, even to himself. He waved desperately at Jonathon, telling him to run on, telling him to get away. Instead he saw the younger man running back towards him. "No! Dammit Jonathon, get the hell out of here. I told you not to look back!"

"I never was any good at following instructions." Jonathon was beside him now, checking the leg, grabbing his arms and hauling him to his feet. The world spun in an unpleasantly dizzying fashion, and Nick felt his whole body beginning to lose touch with itself. He felt like a dead weight in the professor's arms.

"Let go of me," he muttered, trying unsuccessfully to force his friend into saving himself. Chase seemed to have gone selectively deaf. "I said--"

"I heard you." Jonathon's voice was suddenly very soft. "But I rather think it's a moot point now anyway." Slowly Nick raised his head. His vision snapped back into focus for only a few seconds, but it was enough for him to see the men who now surrounded them. A ring of weaponry was pointing straight at the fugitive pair, and the biggest gun of all seemed to be resting in the arms of a tiger. Nick almost laughed. The tiger took a few steps forward - what was it doing on its hind legs, anyway? - and growled menacingly in the back of its throat.

"You were a fool to try and get away, Professor Chase," it snarled, apparently in the borrowed voice of Anthony Powers. Rivera tried to focus on it. Tigers weren't supposed to talk, and particularly not in the voices of wanted men. Instead of snapping into clarity, however, the tiger began to spin, breaking apart into five or six identical forms. After a second, the lieutenant couldn't even see that much, and his body went limp. Jonathon almost dropped him, struggling to keep the weight up.

"You worry about those tigers so much, maybe now you'll get the chance to spend some time with them." Powers stepped up close to Jonathon, his long, discoloured teeth dripping something that looked suspiciously like blood. "And then maybe you'll answer a few of our questions."

"I don't know anything about your condition." Jonathon kept his voice even, but Powers merely laughed. He clicked his fingers and two of his men stepped forward, dragging the unconscious Rivera from the professor's arms. Two more men grabbed Chase himself, pinning his arms behind his back.

"Now that really is a shame." Powers reached out, the claws of his mutated arm hovering bare millimetres from Rivera's throat. "See, I was really hoping for some answers - and this time, I think we have a proper way of making you talk."

**********

"You know, I really can explain this. You see, I'm not really who I said I was. I'm actually here as a representative of the New York Police Department - Civilian Support as it happens - and I was hoping to speak to Mr Powers about his usual donation to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund. Well, actually it's not Widows so much these days... not exclusively anyway. It's more... well, the Bereaved and Orphans Fund I guess. Not that I'm saying that orphans aren't bereaved, just that..." Tyrone let his voice trail off. "I'm sorry, am I babbling?" Cooper stared down at him, impassive, arms folded, and Tyrone took that as a sign that it didn't much matter whether he babbled or not. It wouldn't have had any effect if he was a twenty foot high albatross with pink feathers, Cooper still wouldn't have cared about his motives for being here right now. All that he cared about was following his orders; and no one was going to get past him.

"I'll only be a second." Stealing a glance towards the door marked, without regard for subtlety or taste, with the huge, black legend Anthony Powers, Tyrone tried a new tack. "He won't even know I'm in there. I only want his home address."

"No." Cooper took a step towards him. "Mr Powers said nobody got in or out, and that nobody was to know where he is. You're not going into that office."

"What about if I threaten violence?" Tyrone flashed him what he hoped was an irresistible smile. "I'm very determined."

"I don't care if you threaten to blow the whole building up. You are not going into that office." The emphasis that he placed on each word turned the statement itself into an ultimatum. Tyrone sighed. He hated it when there was no alternative. He took a step forward - and knew almost at once that he was going to regret it. A huge, meaty hand swung towards him with admirable speed, and he dodged it only just in time. A second hand followed the first, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck. Cooper's handgun pressed itself painfully into his throat, threatening to blast his Adam's apple out through the back of his head. He managed a nervous smile, and began to wonder, for at least the fourth time that month, exactly how he managed to get himself into these things. Cooper's eyes flashed in ill-suppressed anger, and Tyrone wondered how many pieces he was going to be in by the time he was ejected from the building. One was a very, very optimistic estimate. So, probably, was three hundred and thirty-six.

"Don't move." The voice was very calm, very cool and very welcome. Tyrone stared at a point about three inches to the left of Cooper's large, muscle-bound shoulders and managed a weak smile. Brooke rested the cold, hard muzzle of her official-issue .45 against the big guard's cheek. Slowly his arms relaxed and Tyrone pulled free.

"Thanks." He flashed her a breathless grin, but Brooke ignored it. Instead she pressed the gun a little harder against the hairy cheek, and introduced herself in the way that, on reflection, she probably should have done a whole lot earlier. "Brooke McKenzie. Detective. New York Police Department." She could sense Cooper's legs beginning to wobble, and decided that there was no time like the present to push a decent advantage. "Now, Mr Cooper. About that address."

**********

"Okay, run this by me again. Your father discovered what in a jungle?"

"Enlightenment - I think. The details are a little sketchy. To be honest he never really dwelled on it." Jonathon shifted his position slightly, and tried to ignore the fact that his legs were threatening to cramp. "He was an adventurer, very much of the old school, following in the footsteps of a similarly inclined father. One man and a jungle, that sort of thing. He decided to go as far into the interior as he could, and to learn from the people that he encountered. Rather than try to convert them to Christianity, or teach them to read and all that sort of thing, he learnt from them. He came home with all sorts of fascinating snippets of information. For instance, did you know that in a particular region in Central Africa there's a large plant with red flowers that--"

"Jonathon? I very much doubt that these people have us tied up in a large animal cage so that they can talk to you about your father's fascinating contributions to the catalogue at Kew Gardens. Could you get to the point please?"

"Oh yes. Certainly." There was a long, quite infuriating pause. "He discovered the means by which to morph his body into that of any type of animal that he chose. Not the usual sort of holiday souvenir, but then he never was a postcard and 'wish you were here' sort of chap. Appears to be an inherited skill, although I have to confess that my own abilities were never as smooth as I might have liked at first. He picked it up over night, as far as I can tell from his journals, but then he always was a little prone to exaggeration. The thing is, it would appear that some of his work has fallen into the wrong hands, and your old chum Powers is having a bit of difficulty trying to pick the skill up himself. Clearly he's tried to turn himself into a tiger, and has... well... got stuck." There was another long pause. "That's about the size of it."

Rivera closed his eyes, trying not to dwell on the fact that he seemed to have been locked up with a raving lunatic. The fact that his life depended on Powers and his friend Tanner getting some sense out of Jonathon was even less inspiring. He tried to steal a glance over his shoulder to gauge the professor's mood, but they were tied back to back and it was quite impossible. His leg screamed at him in response to his movement, and he closed his eyes, trying to force himself to relax. He had no wish to lose consciousness again. In the meantime, however, he was hearing things that were beginning to make him think that he was still in the Land Of Nod.

"Your father turned himself into animals?" he asked, aware that his voice sounded horribly flat. There was a long silence.

"After a fashion. I'm sorry lieutenant. I had rather hoped that you wouldn't need to find out. It's not exactly the sort of thing one mentions around the dinner table at parties."

"The fact that you can turn into another species? No, I'd imagine not." Taking a long, deep breath, Rivera closed his eyes for a brief moment. How could he have been so wrong about Chase? The professor was young, admittedly; but he had always seemed steady enough before. If Nick had had to describe Jonathon prior to today he would have thought of words like 'responsible' and 'collected' and 'totally reliable'. Now he was beginning to think that 'deranged', or possibly even 'mad as a hatter' would have been rather more fitting. "Jonathon, does your doctor know about this?"

"My doctor?" There was a smile behind the words. "You think I'm crazy, don't you. That I'm imagining all of this." A low laugh echoed tinnily about the bars. "I'm not delusional, lieutenant. Not in the slightest."

"And I'm expected to believe that?"

"Oh really Nick. And here he is, pouring his heart out to you." The sound of Powers' voice, coming from so close by, and with so little warning, made both prisoners jump. They turned as one towards the source of the voice; to where the mutated form of their captor waited, half-hidden in shadow. His yellow left eye glinted brightly, in stark contrast to his grey, human right eye. The stooped figure came closer, running his claws across the bars. "So, Professor Chase. You've confessed to knowing everything. I knew that you would, if we left you here for long enough. Didn't want Nick to find out in any other way, did you. Well now he knows, even if he doesn't believe it. So." He reached up, unlocking the cage door with feverish fingers. "Now you can tell me. You can give me the secret."

"I don't know the secret." Jonathon kept his eyes on Powers as far as he was able; but the other man was behind him, standing closer to Nick than to the professor himself. Jonathon could see him only as a vague and indistinct shadowy shape. "My father was the one who learnt the mechanics of it all; all about the breathing exercises and the mental conditioning. All that I know for sure is that I can do it. I never did understand how."

"Then you'd better learn." Powers was right behind him now, his breathing hoarse and punctuated by growls. "I want to be human again, and until I learn what's happened to me, I can't do that."

"I can't help you." Jonathon kept his voice as steady as possible, hoping that he could impart some of his own inner calm to the other man. "Listen to me Mr Powers, I--"

"Listen to you?" A clawed fist grabbed his shoulder, and a twisted, fanged head snarled at him from horribly close quarters. Jonathon felt a trickle of blood beginning to run down his arm. "Why should I listen to you, when all you give me is lies? You have the power of metamorphosis, and I want it. You'll give it to me."

"Or?" Jonathon tried tentatively. The hand released him, pushing him back so that he almost rolled over. As it was it was only the weight of Nick Rivera tied to his back that kept him sitting upright.

"Or you watch Nick here get digested by one of those tigers you came so far to rescue. And when it's finished picking the last of him out of its teeth, I'll feed you to the other one. Little piece by little piece. Understand me?"

"Perfectly." Jonathon's eyes travelled involuntarily over to the next cage along, where the two tigers lay together in a pile of dirty straw. They were awake now, although not entirely back to their former glory. Four bright eyes stared back at him, almost as if the tigers blamed him for their current predicament. "But I am telling you the truth, Mr Powers. I don't know what's wrong with you. Not really. All that I can imagine is that you weren't ready, physically or mentally, for the metamorphosis that you attempted. Perhaps you should have started small, or with a less arduous task? The first time I did it was in desperation, and it was a long time before I could actually choose what animal I wanted to be. That first real choice was a chimpanzee, as I recall. I got a little excited, and nearly got myself nabbed by London Zoo." He tried a smile, but Powers did not respond. "Perhaps if you were to untie us, and let the lieutenant here go, I could work with you. You have a study full of books. There might be something there, or in my father's work. Even a trip to the jungle itself might dig up a few answers. Of course I'm not entirely sure which particular jungle it was that he found the secret in, but there aren't all that many these days. It's always possible that--"

"Shut up." The claws made a swipe at his throat, and although Powers had been aiming to miss, the tips of his talons still scratched at the fabric of Jonathon's shirt. "I'm not interested in your jokes and your games, or your little attempts to stall. I just want answers. And if you won't give them to me, I see no reason to keep you around." He clicked the fingers of his good hand and there was the sound of badly oiled wheels screeched across the compound. He gave one final, feral smile, then jumped out of the cage and moved away from the door. Jonathon could not see what was happening, but Nick, who was almost exactly facing the door, went suddenly rigid.

"What's going on?" Jonathon tried to turn his head around to take a look. He managed to catch a glimpse of a large something on wheels; a crate? a cage? He couldn't be sure.

"Tell me that's not what I think it is," Nick whispered. His voice sounded very much as though his throat was dry.

"What do you think it is?" Still unable to see, Jonathon tried to twist himself around. His only answer was a low, rumbling growl. "Oh."

"It's a lion." Rivera spoke very quietly. "It's a bloody lion. And I think I'm allergic to cats."

"Does it look hungry?"

"How in Heaven's name am I supposed to know that?"

"Just keep calm, lieutenant." Jonathon gave up trying to look behind him. He was thinking hard. "If you keep very still it may lose interest."

"It doesn't look like it's planning on losing interest. I thnk it can smell the blood on my leg, and by the look of it it hasn't eaten in a week." Nick stared back into the bright, wild eyes before him, and wished, yet again, that he hadn't followed Brooke that morning. "Maybe it's a vegetarian." There was the sound of deep, intense breathing behind him, and he tried to look back. "Jonathon, hyper-ventilating isn't keeping calm. Practice what you preach." There was no answer. "Jonathon?" Abruptly he felt the ropes that bound him to his friend go slack. "Jonathon?!"

His only answer was a long, low growl.

**********

The car screeched to a halt at the end of a long, winding drive. They covered the rest of the distance on foot, unwilling to risk being spotted. It was far easier to remain unseen when it was just them; just the two of them, quiet and stealthy. The drive was empty, save for one, solitary car - Nick Rivera's. Abandoning stealth, Brooke ran over to it, and tested the hood. It was cold.

"Damn." She looked about. "Where do we start?"

"A house this size could take all day to search." Tyrone turned in a circle. He didn't like the fact that there was no evidence of Jonathon's presence. He was sure that his friend was here somewhere; there was nowhere else for him to be. He clapped his hands together. "That's it!"

"What's it?"

"The animals. Jonathon came here for the animals, and they're not going to keep them in the house, are they. Come on." He took off at a run.

"Where are we going?" She followed him, almost tripping on his heels.

"Round the back." He took off at speed, leaving her behind, and she had to double her pace to catch him up. By the time that she reached him, he was standing in the partial cover of a large bush, watching a series of figures moving about within a concrete compound. Cages of animals stood about, unattended, the animals themselves looking ill from neglect. Flies rose in clouds into the air every time one of the unfortunate creatures moved. The stench of damp and sickness and death was horribly like that of the warehouse that Tyrone and Brooke had just left.

"What's going on?" Anxious to keep undercover, Brooke peered cautiously around the bush. She could see a group of men standing around a cage on wheels, watching as a large, moth-eaten lion walked slowly into another, larger cage. There was something in the middle of the second cage; something that appeared to have four legs.

"Jonathon." Tyrone's voice spoke the name which had caught in her own throat. She felt herself reaching out for his hand, and he gave her fingers an encouraging squeeze. "Don't worry. He's been in tighter corners than this."

"But that lion..." She didn't know what else to say, or what to do. Tyrone was almost hurting her hand now, he was holding it so tightly. She barely noticed.

"Watch." Even as they stood there together, staring down at the cage, there was a flurry of activity from the previously inert heap that was Jonathon and Nick - or, at least, what appeared to have been an inert heap from such a distance. Seconds later there was no longer any Jonathon and Nick - just Nick, backed up by a large, growling lion. Its muscles showed strong and powerful, in contrast to the wasted creature produced by Powers. Jonathon's lion showed its teeth, growling, snarling and then opening its mouth wide in a long, loud roar. It stepped forward. The first lion growled, anxious to hold its ground, staring towards the still helpless Nick and clearly desperate for a meal. It was weighing up its chances, wondering whether or not the food it so needed was worth the hassle. Finally, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, it turned and slunk back into its own cage. Surprisingly, Powers slammed the door shut.

"Very good." He was grinning at Jonathon's lion, which stood by the door of its cage, lashing its tail and growling softly. "Very good. So good in fact, that we won't be needing your playmate anymore." He pulled his gun from his belt, pointed it at the first lion, and fired. A single shot rang out, the lion gave a surprised yelp, and its tawny head flopped onto the floor of its cage.

With a fearsome, angry roar, Jonathon's lion hurled itself forward. The door to its cage crashed shut with a powerful echo, just as the lion cannoned into it. A paw scrabbled through the bars, reaching for Powers, claws extended and scratching for their mark. Powers laughed, easily keeping out of the way.

"What's wrong, Professor Chase? Don't like seeing one of your own get taken out?" He pointed the gun at the professor, aiming right between the wild, yellow eyes. "I guess that makes an even better insurance than my good friend Nick over there. You tell me everything that I want to know, or I'll shoot every single animal in this compound, one by one." His answer was a furious snarl. "Yes or no, Professor. Will you help me - or do I start with your friends the tigers?" The lion gave another, quieter snarl, then withdrew its paw. Slowly it sank to the ground, its shape blurring and diminishing. Soon there was just Jonathon, the fur seeming to retract back into his body, the mane vanishing back into his head. He slumped against the bars, apparently exhausted, resigned.

"I'll help you," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. Powers grinned, what was left of his mouth twisting into an unpleasant caricature of a smile.

"Oh good," he said without pleasure, and gestured at his men to bring the prisoners along as he turned to walk off across the compound.

**********

Tyrone and Brooke entered the compound together. The baleful eyes of the captive animals stared at them as they passed, but none of the creatures gave them away. Brooke had drawn her gun, taking the lead in typical 'Brooke-in-police-officer-mode' fashion. Tyrone followed on, watching their rear. The guards had dissipated after the incident in the cage, and there were few of them about now. There were none at all watching the building where Powers had taken his two unwilling guests. Brooke peered cautiously through the first window that she came to, hoping to catch Nick's eye. He wasn't looking at her. He was leaning against the wall, one leg bandaged rather cursorily, and he looked both shocked and unsteady. A single guard was covering him, armed with what looked like a big game rifle. A necessity, presumably, in case one of the animals got loose; although so far Brooke had seen no evidence of animals healthy enough to need shooting. They couldn't possibly be much threat to anybody. Even the clearly starving lion that Powers had attempted to set on Jonathon and Nick hadn't looked strong enough to have killed even one of its proffered targets, let alone both of them. She waved a hand as much as she dared, but Nick still did not look up. He was staring at Jonathon, and she could see the shock in his eyes. She felt sorry for him. It had been a hell of a way to find out about the professor's abilities. She remembered when she had first found out, and how he had tried to cover it up - all of the talk about a family penchant for science fiction. She had wanted to believe in the truth though; had loved the idea of knowing someone able to morph into some other form. Nick Rivera wasn't quite as open-minded as she was. She turned her eyes to watch the professor, spying him standing in the midst of flickering shadows cast by an oil lamp, and she wondered if she could catch his attention instead. He wasn't even facing the window, but was standing beside a large table, apparently studying a collection of photographs. Powers was yelling at him, and she almost recoiled in horror as she got her first proper look at the man. She steeled herself, beginning to realise something of what was going on. No wonder Powers had wanted to steal tigers. Maybe he thought that their physiology could tell him something about what was going on within his own body. She shuddered.

"What is it?" Tyrone asked her. He was keeping watch, and had not yet looked through the window.

"I think our Mr Powers has been trying to develop his own version of a certain Chase family trait." She frowned at the number of guards in the room. Not great odds. "He's got stuck by the look of it. Either trying to turn into a tiger, or trying to turn back. He looks dreadful."

"And he wants Jonathon to help him." Tyrone shook his head. "So what do we do?"

"Create a little havoc? We have to get some of those guards out of there or we can't do anything."

"We could let a few animals loose. Jonathon can get them back in their cages later."

"And in the mean time they'll have us as appetisers. I think we'll move straight onto Plan B." She sighed. "Once I figure out what it is."

"You don't have to." Tyrone was grinning. "Keep an eye open."

"What?" She frowned, turning back from the window to look at him. He had gone. She just caught a glimpse of a booted foot moving past her eyeball, then Tyrone was up on the roof and moving towards the centre. She lost sight of him then, and concentrated on watching out for patrolling guards instead.

Tyrone made his way carefully across the roof, anxious to be as quiet as possible. He reached the skylight without incident, thanking the stars that there had actually been a skylight to reach. Without one his plan fell rather short of expectation. Slowly and carefully he began to lever it open.

In the room down below him, nobody paid any attention as the skylight eased open and a face appeared in the open gap. Tyrone stared almost straight down at the table, where a spattering of photographs stared back at him. He frowned at the sight of dissected and semi-dissected animals. Everybody else was staring at the photographs too, and he took advantage of that, pulling the skylight open wide.

"Now what?" Brooke's voice coming from beside him took him by surprise, and he nearly fell into the room below. He glared at her, but she smiled back, unrepentant. "Shall we go in shooting?"

"I was hoping for something a little more subtle." He reached out for her gun, taking it straight out of her hand. "Get ready to go for cover."

"Of course. What are you planning?" Her only answer was a brief grin. Her companion turned away, back towards the skylight. She watched him take careful aim at something inside the room, found herself holding her breath, and heard a shout from below. Somebody had seen Tyrone. It didn't matter. Almost immediately there was a gunshot, a crash of broken glass, and then a shout of fear.

"Come on!" Tyrone was already slipping his way across the roof, and she followed suit.

"What did you shoot?" she asked him. He flashed her a breathless grin as he jumped to the ground and helped her down.

"Oil lamp," he told her, sounding very pleased with himself. "Terrible fire hazard."

"Clearly." They reached the comparative safety of the cover provided by an empty cage, and looked back towards the small building. For a second nothing seemed to be happening, then the window through which Brooke had earlier been watching burst apart as a tongue of flame shot through it, reaching for the outer world beyond. Almost immediately the door burst open and a handful of men tumbled out. A second later Powers followed, accompanied by a few more guards with Nick and Jonathon. Jonathon glanced about, clearly looking for Tyrone. One of his guards gave him a hefty shove, and he almost fell; then he whirled about, knocked the guard's gun flying, and dashed for cover. The guard chased after him; only to stop abruptly as he came face to face with a large, well-built tiger. It stared back at him, making unpleasant growling noises in the back of its throat. The guard gulped, then turned and fled. The tiger roared.

"Nice diversion Jonathon." As the guards scattered in a panic, Brooke rose up on one knee, taking her gun back from Tyrone. She fired three times, quickly and with precision, and dropped three guards. They struggled to carry on escaping, hugging punctured arms or legs, but the fight had clearly gone out of them. Tyrone threw himself at the nearest of them, using a diving roll which took him below the line of fire of the nearest uninjured guard. He grabbed the gun from the man on the ground beside him, took aim at the man still shooting at him, and put a bullet into his shin. The man went down and made no attempt to get back up.

"Come back!" Shrieking in almost hysterical anger at his scattering guards, Powers raised his own gun into the air. He shot down one of his own men, but none of the others showed any sign of returning to him. He turned instead towards Nick.

"This is all your fault." He pointed his gun straight at the lieutenant. Rivera stared down the barrel, his wounded leg too stiff to allow him to run.

"Freeze!" Almost right behind Powers now, Brooke could not have missed if she had tried. "Throw down your gun! I'm a police officer."

"My dear woman." Powers half turned to look at her. "Do you really think I care?" He turned back as if to shoot Nick, then at the last second spun around and fired a shot straight at Brooke. She fell aside just in time, and Nick leapt at Powers. The pair of them rolled across the ground, struggling for control of the gun, fighting, both desperate. It came as no surprise when the weapon went off. Both men went limp.

"Nick!" Brooke ran forward, staring horror-stricken at the two men. She dropped to her knees beside the lieutenant, reaching out to check for a pulse, just as his eyes flickered open. He smiled up at her.

"Hi."

"You--" She smiled. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." They helped each other up. Tyrone bent to turn Powers over, staring down at the half-human face. As the three watched, the tiger went out of him, fading back into humanity.

"He's dead." Tyrone closed the wildly staring eyes, then straightened up. "Hey lieutenant. You feeling okay?"

"Far from it actually." Nick glanced around. "Where is our illustrious Professor Chase?"

"Over here." The voice was noticeably not Jonathon's. All three of the friends turned, to see Tanner and Hennersy, Jonathon held firmly between them. There was a gun against the back of his head.

"Mr Powers is dead," Hennersy said, by way of a rather pointless announcement. Tanner nodded.

"So I see. I confess to being rather annoyed about that. I had a lot of time and money invested in that little experiment, and now it's gone to the wall without giving me any return on my investment. That makes me feel much less inclined to be charitable."

"What do you want?" Nick asked him. Tanner smiled.

"A man who gets straight to the point. I like that." He tapped the muzzle of his gun against the back of Jonathon's skull. "I want him. I want the secret of his abilities, and I want to control them for myself. It's not a lot."

"It's too much." His voice level, Jonathon did not try to look back at his latest captor. "It's just not as simple as you all seem to think. You can't just think of an animal and become it. It's about mind and soul acting as one. It's about your heart being one with the heart of every creature in existence. You can't control it unless you have it. And I can't give it to you."

"Oh but you will." The voice was little more than a soft hiss, a whisper like that of a snake. "Have you any idea how much money this is going to make me? Enough to make it a mere drop in the ocean for me to kill your three friends here, and the whole of the rest of the New York Police Department if I have to. You will give me what I want, Professor Chase."

"No I won't." Jonathon's own voice was just a whisper that his friends barely heard. Tyrone took a step forward.

"Yes you will John." He was smiling, making his voice as even and as reasonable as he could. "After all, remember Saigon."

"Saigon?" Jonathon's sharp, bright eyes flicked over to stare straight at Tyrone. For a second his face was impassive, then slowly he smiled. "Oh yes, of course. Saigon."

"Meaning?" Hennersy asked him. Jonathon shrugged, as far as he was able.

"Meaning that I'll do anything that you ask. My friend is right. There are so many things more important than secrets. There's sunshine and daisies and bluebirds."

"Huh?" Hennersy frowned, taken aback by this outburst, and Jonathon took full advantage of his distraction. Without warning he lifted his legs off the ground and pitched himself forward, his weight, thrown suddenly into the arms of his captors, taking both his adversaries enough by surprise to break their grip. Tanner's gun went off, the shot missing the professor altogether, and instead hitting the lock of the nearby tiger cage. With a badly-oiled squeak, the door swung open.

"Uh oh." Tyrone grabbed Brooke by the arm, pulling her back into the shadows. She followed him willingly enough, although they both knew that darkness would be no protection from a hungry tiger. The animals moved forward slowly, cautiously, out of their cage and into the open compound. They looked around, clearly scared, then made a sudden move for the nearest likely escape route; which just happened to be right by Tanner. The big man let out an involuntary yell, and raised his gun to get a shot off at the animals. There was a snarl from behind him and he half turned, only to be borne to the ground by the sudden weight of a third tiger that crashed down on his back. The tiger knocked the gun from his hand, standing over him, growling and baring its teeth.

"Jonathon, look out!" Tyrone's voice made his friend look up, seeing the other two animals drawing close to him. He sprang out of the way as they leapt, and ran for cover into the shade of the nearby building. The other tigers followed, the male letting out a long, loud roar in challenge.

"Jonathon!" Panicked, Brooke ran forward, but Tyrone held her back. He shook his head.

"Don't worry. He'll be fine, but he won't be if he has to watch out for you too. We have to handle things here." As if by demonstration he made a dash for Tanner's fallen gun, but Hennersy beat him to it. They crashed into each other, rolling across the ground in combat. Tyrone struggled to get the upper hand, but Hennersy was a lot stronger than most, and easily held him down. He laughed unpleasantly.

"You're tiger food," he hissed. Tyrone drove a punch straight into his nose.

"Not today." Hennersy fell sideways, but not clear, and the two fought on. Behind them, somewhere, they heard a growl.

"Chase." Tanner took a step towards the newly returned tiger, eyes bright with anger and malice. "I'm going to kill you."

"Jonathon?" Brooke frowned at the tiger. Somehow it didn't look right.

"Come on Chase. Turn back into a human. You and me. We'll see who the better man is." He took another step forward, and the tiger showed off its impressive teeth. There was something frightening about it, and Brooke paled. If this was a joke, it wasn't funny anymore. She took a step forward.

"Jonathon? I really think--"

"Don't." He stepped out of the shadows of the burning building, and brushed her hand with his own as he went by. "Tanner!"

"What?" The big man turned, looked at him, looked back at the tiger. His eyes widened. Nearby Hennersy and Tyrone paused in their struggles, themselves transfixed. Jonathon stepped forward, determined to put himself between man and beast; but Tanner either didn't notice this attempt to save his life, or he had no faith in it. He dove for his abandoned gun, once more fallen into the dust beside his cohort's battered and battling body. Tyrone tried to twist away to prevent his enemy from rearming himself, but Hennersy dragged him back into the fight, pulling him away from Tanner. The big man swung around to draw aim on the tiger, just as it, spurred into action by his mad dash, gathered its strength and leapt. It flew towards him and he got off one good shot, before the tiger pulled him to the ground. He saw a blur of fur and teeth, and heard the gun go off once, twice more. A shout echoed through his mind, but whether it was his or somebody else's, he never found out. His world faded into red.

"Oh no..." Brooke walked forward mechanically, but Jonathon held her back. There was nothing that anybody could do for Tanner now. Instead the professor turned his attention to Tyrone. His old friend lay on his back, looking decidedly stunned. The heavy body of Hennersy lay face down across him, felled by one of the wild bullets of his own commander. Jonathon grinned, and helped the other man to stand up.

"Thanks." Tyrone glanced over at the bloody remains of Tanner, and winced. "Shouldn't we... You know."

"I don't think there's any point. Once it's finished with him I'll get it back into the cage. It shouldn't be too difficult." He wandered away from them, back around the other cages, emerging seconds later with the second tiger purring at his heels. "You know, Frank Mayle said they were dangerous." He scratched the creature between its ears, and its purring resounded around him like the buzzing of a thousand contented bees. "I think I might take this one home."

"You'd never get a permit for it." Suddenly feeling like a policeman once more, Nick Rivera wandered over and tentatively stroked the stripy beast. It purred its pleasure. "And speaking of which, Professor Chase - where exactly do we go about getting a permit for you?"

**********

The bar was quiet and almost deserted, the afternoon crowd having dispersed, with the evening crowd not yet arrived to take their place. Nick placed a tray of drinks on the table, and passed them around.

"You don't mind too much then?" Brooke asked him. "About being left out I mean. I feel a little guilty."

"About what?" Rivera sat down, taking a sip from his beer. "To be honest with you I probably wouldn't have believed it, if things hadn't happened the way they did. Seeing Powers the way he was... If it hadn't been for all that I'd have thought I was imagining things." He smiled. "Maybe I still believe that."

"We would have told you earlier," she insisted. "It's just... not the easiest of things to explain."

"You can say that again." Fixing the young professor with his best police interrogation room look, Nick frowned. "Run it by me again. Exactly how does it work?"

"All that I can tell you is what my father told me; which was vague at best. You have a place within you, a place of calm and certainty. You introduce an animal into that place, and..." He shrugged. "It probably helps to be a little schizophrenic."

"Then why couldn't Powers do it?" Tyrone asked him. Jonathon shook his head.

"If it was that easy, we could all do it. There's more to it than mental preparation and determination. There's... there's heart and soul. Maybe you have to have a little of the jungle running through your veins. I don't know." He shrugged again. "Still, what does it matter?" He raised his glass. "To the lieutenant, for being so understanding."

"It's not a question of being understanding. It explains a lot. All those tip-offs, all those stakeouts, all those pursuits that I never really believed were possible. Now I finally know how you managed it. You're a useful man to have around, Jonathon."

"I like to be valued." The professor grinned, and Nick raised his own glass.

"Good. In that case, to Jonathon and Tyrone, and the reason why they've been so bloody invaluable to me these last months." The honoured pair shared a secretive grin, and he frowned. "There's nothing else I need to know is there? You don't fly, or have x-ray vision, or super-strength or anything do you? No more little secrets?"

"Only the one." Jonathon looked vaguely uncomfortable. "They'll only stay a week or two, lieutenant. I promise. It's just that Frank couldn't handle them alone, and so they're waiting for transport out to a special reservation in India. Only... well it hasn't been built yet, that's all. Not completely."

"You have those two tigers living in your apartment with you, haven't you."

"Would you be very angry if I said yes?"

"Only when the complaints start rolling in." The lieutenant sighed. In the space of a day he had gone from one bizarre revelation to another; and somehow the idea that his advisor on animal affairs was sharing an apartment with two fully-grown and untamed tigers was even harder to swallow than the idea that the same man changed into a variety of animals whenever the mood took him. He smiled. "I guess I can't do anything about it anyway. If I send in the pound they might end up taking you away, and leaving me with a real tiger for company."

"And that," interjected Brooke, "would make my life so much harder." She reached out to take Jonathon's hand, and he squeezed her own in return. Tyrone grinned, raising his glass high enough to drop a hint to the barman to bring refills over, whilst also serving the dual purpose of announcing another toast.

"To tigers," he said loudly, and the others echoed his salute. Jonathon leaned back in his chair, taking a sip of his beer and thinking his own thoughts. An image of the two animals currently residing in his living room passed before his eyes, and as if in answer the lights above the table flickered on and off, plunging the group into momentary shadow. For just the briefest of seconds a single pair of catlike eyes flashed yellow in the darkness; before the lights snapped back on and the world returned to normal.

And Jonathon Chase smiled.

THE END