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Bad kitty

Bad kitty

I’m a veteran detective working in a mid-size city, retirement age but not ready to rest yet. Among all of the standard assignments I’ve covered, I’ve seen my share of strange cases, only a few of which have made me struggle when it came to writing a final report that could sum up motives and events without sounding too outlandish. I can’t always get what I think is the real, unfiltered, full truth on some cases—not while keeping up the appearance of an impartial and reasonable investigator. If I try to explain what happened on the most bizarre crimes that I’ve covered, I could create doubt about the professional, by-the-book process that has kept me working for so long. I don’t want to be blamed for biases against certain groups of people, mental disorders, or relationships. You can get dinged by simply jumping to conclusions about certain events. “A bridge too far” would be an apt, if old-timey saying.

At the end of the day, I suppose a murder or a disappearance are just that. You got a victim, and you got the suspect. Motivation and thought processes are for the jury to decide. My ideas and input have little purpose once I’ve used them to find the basic facts of a case. The department doesn’t really care about why people do the weird things they do, or their complicated motivations everyone else in the world will never truly understand.

All that said, I worked on a case a few years back that I can’t shake. I managed to make my report work, somehow, and it satisfied the people I work for. It was a one of a kind of thing that got talked about for a few weeks in the department before falling into obscurity, replaced by gossip about how the latest local murder-suicide played out. I did my job as well as I always did, but still got the guff about being the “cat guy” for a while even so.

For the record, I’m not a cat guy. I’ve had a few of them over the years and get along well enough with them, but the “significant other” in my small apartment has always been a big, slobbering, loyal dog ever since I left home.

The real cat guy, and the subject of this case, was a one Randall Havitz. And his motivations still perplex me. In his mind, they must have been obvious, but I’m still not sure if he was trying to change the world, or make money, or just prove he could so something. And he liked cats. He liked them a lot.

He was a promising geneticist. I don’t think he was ever described as a genius, or much of a standout, but he grasped his scientific field enough to have a chance at contributing some good work on finding cures for diseases or creating genetic therapies. If only he could’ve been more of a team player.

Randall preferred to work by himself. He was devoted, but to a fault. He had access to the cutting-edge technology available at our city’s labs, including the emerging CRISPR technology that can edit the genetic code of cells. But he did most of his work in the late-night hours, alone, and neglected to form any social bonds during the day with his colleagues.

Based on the trove of video logs we found in his basement, it was easy to tell that he was eccentric and socially self-isolated—but also dedicated, never ready to call it quits. His hobbies, and what he had dedicated his life to trying to achieve, are strange.

After a few years of working on solutions to various cancers during the day, which must have bored him out of his mind, he got himself fired. It was justifiable, seeing as how he had started sneaking into the lab in the middle of the night, past even the late hours he was already used to. Turns out that working on little unsanctioned side-projects using millions of dollars-worth of lab equipment capable of rewriting the fundamentals of living flesh can get you blacklisted from the industry.

But he didn’t let that deter his personal projects. This guy was still living in his elderly mother’s basement, not because he needed to, but so that he could easily save up the good money he was making at work—while he still had a job. From the sound of it, he knew he’d up getting caught eventually, and his time at the lab was something that gave him experience, not career security.

After talking to Randall’s coworkers, we found exactly one person that considered him a friend. She was one of the older employees, a woman who was serious about two things in life: her work, and also cats. She had eight of them at her house, and she was Randall’s ticket into the lab after he lost his own access. She admitted to all this quickly and with tears in her eyes, but I don’t think she was upset as much about her own culpability as she was disappointed that “it didn’t work out,” and she “would never see the special new kitties.”

This was all just a few days into the investigation, and I hadn’t yet viewed all of Randall’s video files. Once I heard about these “new kitties,” I sped through the bulk of his home movies to find out just what he had been up to.

As stated, Randall liked cats. He hadn’t actually had any of his own for a while—not since moving back in with his mom, who was allergic. Though, at least from what I can tell, he had never collected dozens of the animals, either. Going through his recovered digital photo albums that span decades, it seems he was more akin to having just a few furballs at a time, but adored them like they were his best friends. Didn’t want to spread the love too thin, I guess.

Still, there were some old scanned photos with him as a kid that showed him with a litter of four kittens, plus their mother. He apparently kept all five of them around while growing up with his dad on a farm, who had never married his mother and, from what I can glean, did most of the work on raising the kid when he was young. If he came of age isolated out in the country with a bunch of cats, I can understand why he developed such a kinship with the animals. He was also, I would learn, a passionate defender of the creatures. His home computer’s hard drive was full of videos where he advocated for his favorite pets.

He spent his weekends doing volunteer work at cat shelters, and uploading some of those videos—but not all. Nothing that would reveal his illegal use of medical equipment, or his ambitions to create some new breed of feline. All of that, he kept on his personal drives in a basement that I’d hesitate to call a lab, since he was doing the actual work late at night at his former place of employment. His place at home was more of a chamber of ideas, calculations, diagrams, and file cabinets full of genetic information. If he had spent a little of his free time watching some classic horror movies featuring man-made monsters, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten involved in his story in the first place.

Randall didn’t like it when cats were called naturally psychopathic or sociopathic. Sure, they can kill birds endlessly and have even wiped out some species when introduced to ecosystems that are unprepared for them, but he would always argue against that by citing some variation of ideas about obligate carnivores having evolved with a constant need in the wild to hunt, or practice hunting, to fill up every hour where they weren’t sleeping looking for food or refining the means by which they acquire that food. In a domestic setting, where they have owners taking care of them, of course they should remain indoors, where they won’t commit genocides—and be safer and healthier as well. The exception being “working” farm cats who took down rats all day.

He respected the duality of the beasts. Cats are slow to forgive, but their respect can be earned. They will leech off of your body warmth when it’s cold, nibble your toes when they get hungry, and will just watch curiously as you have a heart attack on the floor. Yet they will also bring over dead vermin to please you, expose their vulnerable soft bellies to show trust, and let out a soothing purr that sometimes works better than blood pressure medication.

And he also had some theories of his own about their relationships with humans. They weren’t aloof; they just had their own daily agendas, and weren’t always in the mood to hang out with their humans. Perhaps most notably, he saw see cats as only lightly domesticated, actually far less than dogs. This was one of the few videos of his I watched twice, despite it being about an hour-long lecture that had little to do with the investigation, just because I wanted to better understand his more “out there” ideas.

According to Randall, cats don’t at all see themselves subservient to us, unlike “blindly loyal” dogs. Further owing to their underestimated intelligence, cats found their niche in the world by acting as a sort of cute parasite, exploiting the kindness of their caretakers, and knowing full well what they’re doing. Such a lifestyle sometimes bores them and makes them neurotic, but it would explain why strays often comes right up to a front door, waiting to be let in like they’ve already been living inside for years. While Randall gets why this theory could be off-putting to some potential families in the market for a small predator, if the idea had any truth to it, it would only make him admire them even more.

I couldn’t consider such a creature endearing myself. Unique in their exploitative nature, maybe, but most of us wouldn’t put up with such behavior from another human taking up residence in our house. For some of you, maybe their cuddly big-eyed nature and biscuit-making makes up for all that.

Anyway, I’ll move onto to the part where this story really begins. After about thirty of these esoteric videos, Randall makes one about being happy that he got his dream job. A few entries later, and he’s already complaining that none of his colleagues approve of his long-term goals. After just a little over a year, he’s lost the dream job, but that’s okay. As I mentioned earlier, he valued the experience, and did manage to attract one interested potential investor, who in the meantime would get him ongoing access to necessary equipment.

It’s somewhere around his fiftieth video where he first announces his plan to “build a better cat,” by using gene-editing technology to “improve” the animal in the eyes of those hesitant to adopt. He had run calculations at some point and came up with a statistic: people would be 36% more likely to introduce a cat into their home… if they expressed themselves more like dogs.

Specifically, he wanted to give them a facial feature that evolution had long ago forgotten. Eyebrows. And not just markings—he wanted to give them the full expressive range dogs possessed, which granted pooches that magical empathetic look, the puppy dog eyes, that drew the awwws from their owners. Cats, in contrast, hide their full range of emotion from us. Other than the tempo of their tail swishing, growling, purring, and hissing, all they can give us are blank stares, and maybe a curious glance or hungry eyes.

I thought he was crazy, and that he’d never pull it off. The next few dozen videos cover several months of long nights, disappointment, and anger. He’s trying to put a genetic jigsaw puzzle together, isolating what gives dogs their brows and finding a way to apply it to cats. I believed there was no chance he could do it all alone. Surely, he’d lose his mind or his access to the equipment first. Even so, despite my perfectly reasonable doubts…

The eighty-first video, with a creation date of Christmas morning, opens with his exhausted face holding a litter of recently-birthed sleeping kittens curled up in a pet bed. In the file made just prior, weeks before, he had mentioned his acquisition of a female cat. I had believed that he simply took a long break afterwards, maybe to spend time with his new companion. It hadn’t even really occurred to me that he had run out of work to do until some baby cats popped out. It was still a rest for him, I suppose. The same way a baker tries to relax as he waits to see how the baking muffins will come out.

The five kittens are too small to study on screen. Randall informs me that they are much too young to see any of his designed features just yet anyway. He’s simply happy that they were born, and gives them back to their mother.

Video number eighty-two, New Year’s Eve. Randall has tears in his eyes, sniffling. Two of the kittens have died. Nature is cruel and it’s something always in the realm of possibility. On the other hand, genetic tampering is considered an ethical tightrope for this very reason. I’m not fully convinced yet, and Randall doesn’t mention it, but if I had to guess, he would have been even more upset if he didn’t think the premature deaths weren’t the first sign that his alterations did have an effect—that being severe health issues early in life.

The next file, made two weeks later, is the breakthrough. The crazy bastard had actually done it. When he opens the recording by nearly shoving the tiny cat’s squinting and blinking face into his web cam, I find myself trying to decide whether he really is a genius about to introduce a designer pet to the world that might get him 10k a pop, or a mad scientist who had spliced together an adorable abomination. The more I look at that animal’s face, the more I lean toward the latter of the two.

Humans have been cross-breeding plants and animals for centuries, the old slow way, producing life that wouldn’t have come to be through nature alone. The thing that Randall had made would never be birthed into existence through simple feline husbandry. He smashed together the genetics of two creatures that hadn’t shared a common ancestor in over forty million years.

He is proud of his work, though. He holds his self-made pet up for the camera for a good minute before talking in length about the accomplishment. He calls her Punky (not after the 80s sitcom character, he assures me, but just because he likes the name), and he is so excited about her that he barely remembers to announce that he lost the other two kittens between the videos. Punky, however, is thriving and seemingly healthy.

She is mostly still a cat. She has some firmer leg muscles, and her tail isn’t as flexible as usual—dog leftovers, her owner assumes. But her main feature, that anyone would notice right away, are her eyebrows. Little brown spots, right above her little eyes. Normally, there are lines of scant fur between a cat’s oculars and their ears, but on Punky, those areas are thick with fur, and the brow itself moves, folds, and arcs just like a dog’s would. Towards the end of the video, she opens her eyes fully and studies the basement-laboratory, the spots twitching up and down curiously. They almost give her that puppy-dog eye appearance, except they still have thin vertical slits and the typical amount of white, unlike a canine’s big pleading eyeballs that are often a dark brown.

Randall falls in love with Punky over the next few videos, and she gets bigger and becomes more expressive with those extra muscles in her face. She meows, purrs, and enjoys tuna treats like any other cat. It feels like a happy ending at first. Randall got what he wanted, and could have quit while he was ahead, ready to show off his creation. But there are still many more movie files.

My part in the investigation began when I got a phone call in a diner on a rainy night, where I was just finishing up my dinner after a long day of work. A few of the boys were responding to what started as a wellness check. Our forensics team was busy with something else, and they were still at least an hour out. The guys wanted to keep things moving, so they asked if I’d be willing to head over and take a preliminary look around at what they had found.

It was a townhouse not too far away, so I got my coffee to go and headed over, pulling up to a couple of rain-spattered cruisers on the street in front of the place. I go inside, meet one of my coworkers, and quickly take note of the foul smell. It’s a familiar one; the stench of neglect. There are subtle variations, but it’s always made by a combination of the mold on unwashed dishes, trash piling up, and the staleness of poorly circulated air.

The place is a mess, and a pile of letters sits on the floor just past the front door. But there are no pet bowls, no fur-covered furniture or the smells that come from cats, so we don’t even consider that there might have been malnourished animals in the house. Upstairs, there is an elderly woman in bed, wrapped tightly in a blanket. She has clearly been dead for a while, at least six months. I give everything a cursory look, and nothing about the scene appears suspect. We’d still have to wait for forensics to know for sure.

We head back downstairs, and since I know that all of these townhouses have basements, I start looking for its door. Most of the lamps on the first floor don’t work, so it’s quite dark and we have to use our flashlights to look around. We eventually find the door, at the end of an otherwise pitch-black hallway. I give it a knock first and ask if anyone is down there, getting no response… Although I do hear the faint sound of something scratching the wood on the other side. Pets aren’t on my mind, so I think it’s a rat at first.

When I open the door, something fast and hairy goes running past our legs, and we can’t fix our lights on the creature before it disappears into the house. Its size and speed took us by a surprise, and I admit to being startled and letting out a “Jesus” as I waited for my heart to settle down. The two boys with me would’ve no doubt given me crap for that, if they hadn’t also jumped. We aren’t sure if it’s a small dog, a racoon, or a big cat. Whatever it was, it was in a hurry to get out of the basement. I remark that it must’ve been starving.

For a moment, I’m worried about being in a house with some unidentified animal running around. But, since my timing is always bad, I end up making it even worse. The forensics team comes in seconds later, and they audibly react to that fast and hairy thing rocketing straight out of the front door. Sure, that gets it out of our hair, but now we can’t cage it and bring it in. For all I know, I just unleashed a rabid beast into a dense, upscale residential area. We alert animal control, and after a sigh, I enter the basement to continue my work.

A week after that night, I find myself on day three of scouring through Randall’s videos, and he’s still showing off Punky on a regular basis. She grows quickly, and her unique features become more apparent. Her owner mentions a few times that she is usually a quiet, needy, and lovable animal—although she can get demanding when hungry and is quick to frustration when anything upsets her. She does seem gentle, and I’m thinking maybe it isn’t so bad if she’s still running around out there. She’s probably timid and hides from people, making her difficult for the animal control guys to track down.

But she’d stand out to anyone who notices her, and is the kind of cat that couldn’t be kept a secret. The moment someone finds her, I tell myself, she’d be all over the internet, and it wouldn’t take long for the news media to pick up on the story of the “strange eyebrow cat.” Things shouldn’t have ended up the way they did, at least if Randall had stopped with Punky. And it’s in a video made after six months of having her that he reveals the next step.

He adores Punky, considering her a friend and filling up his hard drive with videos of himself playing with the cat and charting her growth. Once she’s fairly mature, he announces the plan to have her start the second generation of kittens, which will have further modifications. If the gene editing is done on stem cells shortly after she gets pregnant, he believes it will make things easier and lead to a higher success rate. He asks: why stop at eyebrows?

He’s forming the big unveiling in his mind, where he shows the world his custom cats. Suddenly their new ability to express isn’t enough. He wants to be the science-showman, giving his product that “but wait, there’s more” shtick to seal the deal on contracts, interest, and sales. Yet, even while I’m thinking this, he talks right to me from the past. For him, this is less about perfecting cats and is instead something more personal. He wants to “correct a mistake.”

Ever since first learning about this aspect of cats many years ago, he’s felt bad for them—and he thinks that this will be a much simpler adjustment than adding a physical feature like a brow line. And I find myself in a strange agreement. After seeing him talk to just his cat and me for hours, I admit the guy has grown on me, if only a bit. Part of me does want him to succeed, if not just so I can see more results, more animals that the world is not ready for.

Cats cannot taste sweetness. When they lick your ice cream spoon, it’s the fats they want, not sugar that does nothing for them. This makes Randall sad, because his favorite creatures can’t experience the full range of tastes. Their tongues can almost detect sweetness, but somewhere down the line, they lost that ability. Randall thinks this is wrong, and he has the power to restore it. It probably wasn’t on his mind, but this could also be a business opportunity down the line. Why not sell special cat treats to the rich people who could afford his designer pets? He could even make a delivery subscription service out of it.

Before I start on the next set of files, I recall when I went into the house, and try to visualize anything at all about the cat that ran out into the night. Did it look like Punky? Or did we grant some other cat freedom, along with a chance to… breed more possible crimes against nature. Maybe we even let out multiple animals. But I just couldn’t get a good look at what four-legged beasts came rocketing out of the basement. It, or they, must’ve been hungry.

Knowing that the answer could still been found in the remaining videos, I resume watching. The creation dates begin to spread out, with Randall detailing his journey on finding a suitable mate for Punky, which he ends up borrowing from a neighbor for a few nights. The lucky Tom wouldn’t be genetically altered in any way; only the babies while the stem cells are still doing their work within Punky’s oven. Randall apparently tries to be as ethical as he can, given his experiments—he doesn’t want another modified cat running around that isn’t his, potentially breeding further, out of his control. Questionable as he was, I suppose it’s my damn fault that his containment protocols were broken.

Once Punky is assuredly pregnant, Randall records new content even more sporadically, and mostly just talks about philosophy of pet ownership and humanity’s effects on shaping animals as we see fit over the millennia, as in how we’ve basically guided the evolution of various species to be better beasts of burden, or split dogs into hundreds of breeds to fit our various needs. In his eyes, he is simply speeding things up so that it won’t take a generation or two of people to carefully produce the next version of a creature. Modern technology has granted us the ability to edit genetics directly, instead of relying on careful, arduous cross-breeding. It will still take time to get things right so that a new breed can reliably be healthy and fertile, but he can be patient if he’ll see results in years instead of decades. He’s looking forward to seeing Punky’s pups.

One video in particular would be just another of these long rambling monologues, if not for the uncharacteristically pensive look in Randall’s eyes through its also shorter than typical twenty-minute run time. He doesn’t mention anything personal at all, but his thoughts clearly dwell elsewhere. The creation date for this one was six months ago, lining up with our best estimates for when Randall’s elderly mother passed away, most likely from natural causes.

Why he didn’t announce that, or seemingly tell a single other person and instead simply wrapped her up and left her in her room, will probably never be understood. Some people just don’t handle loss well, or in strange ways. The poor guy also had no friends that we know of to lean on, with his only known acquaintance being the cat lady who maintained his lab access.

He ends the video by saying that “Punky’s kittens will bring some light into this world,” and that it won’t be long now. Then he returns to his work in his basement, to a sad life that he hopes a new cat breed will reinvigorate.

Aside from a few videos where he shows off Punky’s growing belly—and like any pregnant cat, she’s defensive and doesn’t want to be bothered—there’s nothing of note for several more weeks. Randall remains pretty quiet, and it looks like he hasn’t been getting much sleep. If only the guy would ease up on his project, get out of the house, and deal with his personal issues.

Four months ago, he made one of his rare videos that doesn’t have him in front of his monitor. On occasion, he’d have some fun and follow Punky around the basement or show off his lab. This time, he’s very upset, stumbling on his words. He can’t quite get out anything coherent, so he gives up trying to explain it and turns the camera onto Punky’s cat bed. It’s an unpleasant sight.

She is licking one of her newborn kittens, either unaware of its condition, or… trying to revive it. The tiny animals are lifeless, sprawled out on the fabric. All four of them seem to have been stillborn. Randall was never cut out to be a geneticist trying to make new pets. He can’t be objective about it, and he cares too much about his animals. Still, I do sympathize with him. It must have been a very rough night for them both. One baby after the next, unmoving, silent…

But Randall’s sobs stop very suddenly when the kitten Punky is licking stirs, and takes in a gasp of air before squeaking repeatedly like a frightened rat. For several minutes, he just watches the scene and calms down, too worried to dare touch the minuscule animal clinging to life. The file concludes with him putting the camera back on his tired face. He has a trembling smile and tears of relief as he deals with a range of emotions. Somehow, one kitten has survived.

I will note that in the next video, he mentions giving the three that didn’t make it proper burials in his mother’s flower garden out back, a ceremony that he never gave to his own mom.

Over the following weeks, Punky takes care of her son, who Randall has named Bugger. For him, it’s a period of intense study and tests. He takes the animal’s blood repeatedly and does wellness checks daily, along with providing the creature with extra vitamin-rich formula. However, he is barely taking care of himself. He looks disheveled, and he’s lost a lot of weight. He’s far more concerned with the well-being of both cats than his own.

A month in, and Bugger is showing some exceptional growth. Randall follows the kitten around as it bumbles about on stubby legs. Its eyebrows are already as defined as its mother’s, and it’s also a noisy little thing. It’s still too small to properly play with toys, but Randall demonstrates for the viewer something that indicates another successful edit, even if it resulted in the near total loss of the litter. He places a single sugar cube in front of Bugger, and the cat wobbles up to it and gums on it greedily until it disappears. For Randall, this proves that he’s made a feline that can appreciate life’s sweeter flavors.

While improved taste buds aren’t as impressive or noticeable as new facial features, I suppose this is another big step for Randall’s ongoing science project. But I do wonder about the real significance of it, and what he might have planned next. It could be that he’s almost ready to announce his work publicly and try to get funding to produce more cats; viable cats.

First, Randall has to see how Bugger turns out. And he likes the kitten… at the start. Thing is, it soon turns out to reveal itself as a nasty little creature. At one month old, it’s constantly nipping at Randall’s fingers. At two months, it’s already hissing at him, and doesn’t even like being near Punky. Randall tries to show affection to Bugger, and get some back, but for some reason it seems that the animal was just born bad. It may have even lost the ability to purr, or at least, never wants to. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Randall eventually wishes that the miracle of Bugger’s survival never happened, or that he only wants the cat around long enough for it to breed as well, so he can get to work on a next generation and get a chance to hammer out some evident flaws. Raising the beast wears on him as if it were a fussy human baby.

He asks in one video where he went wrong. Maybe the male cats would all be like this, or having both alterations at once has led to aggression. Maybe he’s overthinking it and Bugger is just naturally a supreme asshole.

A video made just a month ago is when things take another turn into the disturbing, and mostly because Randall seems to… happily accepting of a solution to his problem, just to be able to move on.

Then it turns out Bugger has a taste for something else. It had recently scratched Randall badly enough to draw some real blood, and the cat reacted by purring for the first time, calming down, and, well… I think any reader can see where I’m going with this. Randall has to spell it out for me, so he picks up the little leech and puts it on his work desk. The cat growls and whips its tail about, showing off its usual mood. Once Randall uses a scalpel to nick his finger, however, his pet perks up and its eyes widen. He lets it lap at the dripping blood, and after several licks, the vampire cat starts purring and happily rubs its body against the shoulder of its owner, who has finally earned its affection.

It’s a perfectly healthy human-pet partnership. Nothing wrong here.

Feed me, Seymour.

Luckily for Randall, Bugger likes the blood from any animal, so he doesn’t have to keep “feeding” his pet and start looking even paler on his videos. The cat’s favorite variety comes from red meat—as I expected. Randall now finds himself eating steak and lamb almost daily, after squeezing the juices out of his filets and into Bugger’s bowl. He is still lucid enough to know that this is a revolting arrangement, but one that keeps the cat pleased.

Cats like Bugger are not practical for consumers. Randall has accepted this some time ago, and as the videos close in on file number 198, where they end, I watch him go through the motions in taking care of the nuisance. He’s tired of feeding the growing beast and putting up with its coldness. There’s no bonding between the two. Randall supplies the blood, gets at most a nudge or a few seconds of purring as thanks, and then he does it two more times each day. I also realize that I haven’t seen Punky around in the last dozen or so clips, but only when Randall vaguely brings it up by remarking that he “misses her.”

The final video was made only a week ago. It feels very different than all the previous recordings. Randall looks haggard, defeated, out of patience. A single desk lamp illuminates him along with the subtle glow from his computer monitor, and I can read on his smart watch that it’s about three in the morning.

He rambles for close to fifteen minutes, spouting incoherent rants about failure and lost time. Towards the end, he lets it out that he hates Bugger and will be looking for a suitable mate for him the next morning, so that he can pass down his genes to start the third generation, and Randall can return to his genetic work, which is his passion and will put the “light of hope” back into him. He promises to make sure that Bugger’s kittens come out healthy and right, so that he can move onto finally revealing his work to the world and get out of the “god forsaken basement and rotting old townhouse,” and have people take him seriously for once. By next year, he never wants to think about Bugger again. The animal will be the father of the first marketable kittens and nothing more.

Back on the rainy night when my world first collided with Randall’s and I explored his laboratory with the other officers, I of course knew nothing about the guy, or that he even existed. All he left behind were these videos, letting us piece together the events that brought his experiments to a sudden conclusion.

I’ve seen worse, messier crime scenes in my life, but still nothing quite like what we found. Mr. Havitz was resting lifelessly against his large work desk, his upper back and up propped against some of the filing cabinets under the table. His work area was a disaster, with computer and recording hardware knocked over and spread all over the floor. My first assessment was that he had been brutally attacked by a large maniac, who he tried his best to fend off until the end. But without any sign of a break-in, the doubts came shortly after the discovery, and we soon had a mystery on our hands after I got a closer look.

His shirt sleeves were in tatters, his arms torn up. Dozens of scratch marks covered both of them, coalescing near his wrists. They were deep, long cuts, but imprecise; more animalistic. What appeared to be a knife or scalpel attack at a glance had to have actually been from an assault by a crazed beast, as unexpected as that should be in the confines of a townhouse basement. A rabid raccoon that had gotten trapped down there was our first guess.

But while there was a fair amount of blood on the floor around the body, it wasn’t enough to indicate a death by a thousand cuts. He should have been able to get his attacker off of him and run upstairs long before bleeding out. The nature of his wounds also suggested that they were defensive, like he was trying to protect his face or neck during the assault.

I made one more discovery just as the forensics team was heading down into the basement, which was the most disturbing thing I had seen that night. When I pushed down the tall collar of Randall’s improvised lab coat, I found a bunch of bite marks all over his neck. I only got a brief glance at them before the bossy forensics team got in my way and took over. I went home shortly after that, and watched the street somewhat nervously for any four-legged night roamers on the way to and from my car.

The autopsy later revealed that Randall must have tripped backwards while being attacked, as he had hit the back of his neck just right against his desk to paralyze him from the impact point down. Knowing what I do now, after going through what was left of his life’s work, it was easy to piece together that Bugger finally had enough of his owner for one reason or another and managed to disable him during a freak attack. And then the cat could’ve fed off of his blood for two or three days, while he could only helplessly watch and feel it happening, at most being able to yell or curse at the animal… Or begging Bugger to stop every time the cat got a little hungry, or thirsty, or whatever other needs drove its urges by that point.

We aren’t sure whether it was dehydration or blood loss that got to Randall first. Suppose it depends when he had his last drink, or how much his cat could drink. The pathologist wasn’t certain on the final factor; it could’ve been both at the very end. Randall was missing a large amount of blood, but, again, we just don’t know… how much it took to sate Bugger’s appetite.

Poor bastard. Done in by his own nasty pet.

Animal control is still searching for Bugger to this day, giving the public a basic description of its appearance—except for the part about the eyebrows. But it’s been a couple of years, and it’s hard to get anyone to perceive a house cat as a dangerous creature to keep on the lookout for. We couldn’t just call him rabid; that wouldn’t fly with anyone paying attention, in case he was missing for far longer than the disease’s prognosis. Which is now the state of things.

The Punky situation isn’t much better. A brief mention of her in the final video made it easy to piece together a confirmation that we had been already working towards: Randall’s co-worker, let go from the lab after the truth came out, was in possession of her. The lady lied to us when we first visited her house, and hid any evidence that she had a recent addition to her six other cats.

Unfortunately, she took all of them, including Punky, and fled town before animal control could arrive to collect. Regardless if she acted so rashly because she simply loves her new eyebrow cat, or sees how valuable such an animal could be, it’s a priority to locate her. Willing to try and start a new life with her gang of quadrupeds, she took the valuables and keepsakes and left everything else behind. Of all our fugitives, she’s the one I want to see found the most.

Having had time to reflect on all of this, I’ve come to recognize the full threat of unregulated genetic tampering. The hubris, the short-sightedness, all of it. Saber tooth tigers were predatory to our ancestors, and played an important part in our own evolution, forcing us to adapt to survive. Those big cats lost to natural selection, but now here we are, with the power to engineer a new felid that can prey on us if we so choose, accidentally or otherwise.

The whole thing makes me realize that every species on this planet might just be one or two mutations away from turning into a monster, no matter its size. Take, for example, the very few species of mosquitos out of the thousands that are out there that suck on blood. And have killed more of us throughout history than every other animal combined. Roaming gangs of vampire cats couldn’t reach numbers like that—hopefully—but, just in case, I’d think twice before approaching a stray cat, especially if it has distinct eye markings.

Yeah, those eyebrows… Maybe they gave Bugger a means to express how he really felt about Randall. Or humans in general, for that matter. I’m not saying cats have a concept of hatred, at least not all of them, but when I last watched that final video, I noticed the two glowing dots in the darkness behind Randall as he commiserated. When I turned up my monitor brightness and boosted things in a video editor, I could just make out Bugger, lurking behind Randall, waiting to pounce as his owner talked some serious shit about him.

Swear to god, he was using those eyebrows of his to give Randall the nastiest scowl you could imagine on a cat. That little beast had the look of a murderer. So it could be a good thing that normal cats lack the ability to express themselves so much. I’d rather not know that an animal despised me.

I guess that wraps it up. I’m not sure if this document really has any purpose outside of letting me get all of my thoughts out about a case that showed me the end to a bizarre story. I think Randall should’ve just gotten a job helping with those scientific cat studies that come out twice a year or so. Surely his brilliant mind would’ve contributed greatly to the field.

Yeah, yeah. I know I shouldn’t joke. But some levity helps with this job.

This is also a good place to end, because it’s getting late and my dog is upset about the on and off scratching at the front door from whatever wants in. We get a lot of strays around here, and giving out food just encourages them.

A Cold Relics Original