We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert.

He blinks in surprise at me with the door half-open. Oh… I didn’t expect to see you.

“Well, I didn’t figure as you should, what with the living in hiding and all. How’s witness protection been treating you?”

It sucks and you oughta know that. I can’t go anywhere, can’t do anything… can’t go out for a drink! C’mon in, you’re the first person I’ve talked to in weeks! The door clatters open with what sounds like a whole crate of handcuffs falling apart, but it’s really the five security chains he’s put on the front door. What’s that? he says suspiciously.

“Something to take care of not going out for a drink.” I hand him the package and he opens the brown paper trying not to look too nervous. “It’s the brand I always get, so.”

He hefts the bottle experimentally. Wow. Any good?

“Why don’t we find out?”

Comes standard with Mouse-helmet armrest!
“How’s the kid doing?” I ask eventually.

Well, he hasn’t seen a friend is almost a month, he’s had to give up on college, and he’s spending every second watching over his shoulder for Leopardman’s goons, but hey, he’s keeping fit. That’s something, right?

“Where is he now?”

Mowin the lawn.

“Then why don’t I hear a lawnmower?”

If you took everything he thought Leopardman’d do and added everything I knew Leopardman’d do, then maybe you’d come up with something close to how much he almost had a heart attack as we went flying out the front door. Only to nearly knock the kid flat on his tail like a postal worker.

Dad!

Son!

“You two!”

I just went to the garage to get the gascan and when I came back some creep was driving off with our mower in the back of his pickup. Then he blinks at me. Who’s this?

“Nevermind. Show me where he went, kid.”

What about me?

“You stay here, away from the thing that could be a freakishly obvious trap.”

You think I’m gonna stand by while my son walks right into-

“You said he wanted to go out some place.” I make tracks while he’s busy spluttering.

The kid follows me for a block or so without saying a word. Then he skids to a stop and goes Who the heck are you?!

“I seem to recall your dad saying something about your almost going to college,” I turn to him slowly, “So I assume that means you’re smart. Smart enough to figure out when you have a mysterious accident and go into hiding. Maybe even smart enough to work out what’s going on when a policeman is suddenly in your front yard. Now, I know you aint as smart as me, so I’m gonna give you a pass on not working out that on top of all of that, somebody doing something stupid, like stealing your lawnmower in broad daylight, has gotta be more than it looks like. Somebody like that is- right over there?”

What?

“Is that your mower?” I point furiously.

I suppose it might not have been necessary to run Shady Shrew off the road, but I needed to get his attention. I throw open the door.

Chyuh, whassanatta witchu dis time, copp-URK!

“Let’s skip the brilliant impersonation of the dead end kids for once,” I say, cracking my knuckles, “and get to spilling your guts on Leopardman!”

On who?

“Uh huh. Just tell me how much he knows.”

Who?

Perhaps I should speak slowly and clearly, so as not to confuse him. “The person who hired you to steal this lawnmower. A big leopard. Wearing a big suit.”

Ok, I seryusly dunno whatcha mean an I really dun wan you to hurt me! I wuz goin to da pawnshop an I saw dis lawnmowah an figgered I could always use a little cash! Don hoit me please!

I think it’s a false alarm, detective.

“Keep yapping, kid, cause I love it when people break my concentration.”

Course, the explosion breaks my concentration a lot more.

The house is a little scorched. It’s the shed in the back that’s a smoldering crater. And it’s Max who’s sitting dazed on the edge of it with little cartoon birds flying around his head.

“What happened?”

Wuz… the… gascan…

“Pack your stuff,” I shout at the open back door and the stunned alligator looking out it.

What?

“Sorry, buddy. You’re moving.”

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