New text from Rufus: Get down here, now. Corner of Gibralt and Pine, heading north on Pine.
New text from Eddie: What’s going on?
New text from Rufus: Now. You’re not going to believe this, bro.
Eddie stopped at the end of the sidewalk, orienting himself as he caught his breath. Two signs—Pine Street and Gibralt Sreet—stood perpendicular to each other atop a metal pole. He looked down Pine Street in one direction, then the other. In the distance, beyond parked cars, stray walkers, and waves of rising heat, he spotted Rufus’ signature orange knit cap disappearing into an alley. Eddie jogged slowly down the street.
When he got there, Rufus was halfway down the alley. He knelt among shadows, watching a gray cat with white paws. Next to the cat lay a thick burlap sack. The cat stared vaguely into the distance.
“Hey,” Eddie said. “What’s the emergency? You know I have my shows.”
Rufus’ head whipped around. He was ordinarily a brooding sort of guy, thoughtfully pessimistic. Today he positively glowed, his weathered face cracking into a smile, his eyes glistening.
“Eddie Eddie Eddie… you know what this is?” Rufus laid a shaking hand on the cat, who ignored them both.
“Uh… a cat?”
“This is Chicken Pants, and he is our boat come to shore.”
Rufus flipped a hand at the cat. “It says it on the collar…”
Eddie glanced at the cat’s neck and saw one half of a tag: KEN PANTS.
“…and it’s not my cat, I just met him. And, you’re just in time. Watch. Watch!”
Chicken Pants looked like a cat on the litter; eyes unfocused, deep in thought. Eddie was wondering if Rufus had any left of whatever he was smoking when the air in front of the cat started to blur and twist.
Space coalesced into a bubbling disk about two feet in diameter. It wasn’t quite solid; Eddie could see faint outlines of the alley behind it. His eyes widened as a shiny golden brick slid slowly from the disk and hit the alley with a loud “Clang!”
Rufus cheered and grabbed the brick. Grunting, swearing, using two hands, he slid the brick into the burlap sack.
“What the hell just happened?” Eddie asked. The cat stared at them both, stood, and slowly padded down the alleyway.
“So, I see this cat and…I knew I had to follow it. It was the weirdest thing. I had to do it.” Rufus held the sack open for Eddie to see. Five gold bricks lay in a heap inside. “And then the cat stopped, and this gold brick dropped out of a ghost hole. It was like the cat willed it or something.”
“Ghost hole,” Eddie said. He knelt down and hefted one of the bricks. Like Rufus, he needed two hands.
“Well, what would you call it?”
“Fine, wormhole. Anyways, I’ve been following this cat for an hour now, and every ten to fifteen minutes it stops, stares into space, and boom! Gold brick from a wormhole.”
“And you called me because I’m your best friend.”
“Well, yeah. And I needed help carrying this gold. Grab an end. Chicken Pants is getting away.”
The cat went out into the street and turned left. Twenty yards down, it entered another alley, Eddie and Rufus right behind, trying to look nonchalant as they struggled under the weight of the gold.
The cat stopped and stared off into space. Eddie and Rufus dropped the sack as the air again started to boil.
“It’s bigger this time,” Eddie said. The portal was four feet wide, churning ribbons of dirty white and black.
Rufus shrugged. “There’s two of us. More gold?”
A gold brick edged out of the portal…and stopped. Half of the brick was suspended over the alley floor, the other half invisible within the portal. Rufus seized the brick and pulled. He frowned and pulled again.
“Gimme a hand here.”
Eddie grabbed the brick. Rufus braced himself.
“On three,” he said. “One, two…”
The brick suddenly slid back into the portal, sucking in both of them up to their elbows. Eddie’s eyes widened.
“Something’s grabb…” A violent yank pulled both men completely into the portal.
Chicken Pants’ tail twitched as it waited beside the bubbling portal. A minute passed, then two, and then baseball-sized chunks of stringy, bloody flesh slid from the portal and splattered over the ground. The portal faded, its edges limp as it floated downward. It settled over the burlap sack, seeping down through the ground until portal, gold, and sack were gone.
Chicken Pants started to eat.
The doorman at the Delgato Hotel adjusted his slicker, trying to keep out the persistent drizzle. Through the rain he noticed a gray cat with white paws, just down the street. It disappeared into an alley, then reappeared, its eyes locked on the doorman.
“You want to show me something?” the doorman asked. He frowned and looked up and down the street. Nobody out in this mess. “OK, but only for a second.”
He followed the cat into the alley.