Friday, April 11, 2014

The Rat Catcher By Max Detrano

Rudy Schmidt's devotion to his cat may end up threatening more than just his relationship with his girlfriend Mary Jo; by Max Detrano.

Rudy Schmidt slept on a mattress with no box spring just eighteen inches off the floor. A squeak close to his head woke him. He opened one eye and saw his cat, Der Schlaffer, sitting beside the bed. The muffled squeak of a rat came from the cat's mouth. A long black tail swished back and forth beneath its chin.

Rudy knew the drill. He sat up in bed and reached for the heavy metal flashlight he kept on a fruit crate next to the alarm clock. He held the flashlight like a club in front of Der Schlaffer, and waited.

Der Schlaffer stood on all fours and dropped the rat. The rat, slimy with cat spittle, froze. Der Schlaffer corralled it between her paws. The rat's eyes bulged. It ground its little rat's teeth. Then the rodent ran in a circle inside Der Schlaffer's paws. Finding no route of escape, it sprinted toward the giant with the flashlight.

Rudy brought the heavy club down on the rat's head, crushing its skull. The creature twitched and died.

Der Schlaffer, losing interest, now that the rat was dead, yawned, stretched, and trundled off to the kitchen. She jumped up onto the sink and disappeared out the open window into the night and the ivy-covered hillside.

Rudy wasn't fond of this ritual, but he had come to accept it. He knew that the cat was well fed and couldn't possibly be hungry. Instead, he believed for some reason it was important to Der Schlaffer that Rudy knew how to kill rats. Rudy and Der Schlaffer were very close.

Rudy threw back the eiderdown comforter his mother had sent from Germany. He placed the flashlight back on the crate. He swung his legs out of the bed and slid his feet into his fur-lined slippers - another gift from his mother in Bavaria.

He carried the rat by its tail to the back door. Peering into the night, Rudy listened to the roar of the traffic coming from the unseen highway below. All he saw was the ivy-covered hillside. Alongside the door was the morgue - an empty metal bucket.

The rat hit the bottom of the bucket with a thump. Rudy would dispose of the body in the morning. Most likely there would be at least one more.

Rudy closed the door and shuffled back to bed. He slipped under the comforter, all warm and cozy. He yawned, cuddled a pillow, and thought how much he'd like to be with his girlfriend, Mary Jo. He was asleep in less than a minute.



At dinner the following evening, Rudy's girlfriend, Mary Jo, arranged the dishes, forks, and knives onto the redwood picnic table in the living area of Rudy's tiny cottage. Rudy placed Der Schlaffer's cat dish on the far end of the table.

"Does that cat have to eat on the table, Rudy?"

"She's a person like you and I."

"She's a cat, Rudy. And she eats rats!"

"She doesn't eat them. She catches them."

"In her mouth, Rudy. She puts rats in her mouth."

"Rats are part of nature."

"I can't spend the night here, Rudy, because that cat brings home rats. It's disgusting. Besides, cats should never be allowed on the dinner table."

Rudy filled two bowls with spaghetti and spooned sauce on top. He grated cheese and garnished each with a twist of pepper.

Then Rudy went back to the kitchen and returned with a bag of Little Friskies. Der Schlaffer weaved in and out of his legs. The cat was on the table before Rudy arrived, her head in the dish, and her butt straight up, tail high, sphincter aimed at Mary Jo.

"Rudy, get her butt out of my food."

Rudy turned the cat so her butt pointed away from Mary Jo.

"I don't understand why you have to live like this?" Mary Jo put her fork down. Rudy poured them each a glass of Zinfandel. "Why can't the cat eat on the floor? Why can't you come stay at my condominium? It's clean there. We can sleep in a real bed - off the floor - in clean sheets, with no rats. Don't you love me, Rudy? Don't you want to sleep in the same bed with me?"



Rudy did want to sleep in the same bed with Mary Jo.

"I can't leave Der Schlaffer here alone. She'll bring rats home and they'll get loose in the house."

"Rudy, Der Schlaffer can be trained to stay inside. Cats should be kept indoors. The Audubon Society says so."

"She screams all night."

"You have to be forceful. Mark my words, Rudy Schmidt, someday that cat will bring home trouble."

"I tried."

"Not hard enough."

"Please, Mary Jo. She's doing what comes natural. She's part of nature. She's a cat."

"She sleeps all day and brings rats home all night. You call that natural?"

"Cats are nocturnal."

Mary Jo threw her fork and spoon down on the table and stood up. "Well, Rudy Schmidt. I'm a woman, and I'm doing what comes natural to me."

"Mary Jo. Please."

"No, Rudy, I've had it. I'm leaving you. If you love that cat so much, I hope you two will be very happy."

Mary Jo collected her purse. She went to the bathroom and returned with her bathrobe, her toothbrush, and assorted toiletries. She took clothes from the shelf near the bed. It took her three trips and when she was satisfied she had everything, she stood in the doorway waiting for Rudy to come around.

"Don't go away mad."

"That's all you can say, 'Don't go away MAD.'"

Rudy shrugged.

Mary Jo slammed the door.



Rudy cleaned up the dishes. He and Mary Jo had argued over Der Schlaffer before, but this was the first time she had taken her things. Although she rarely spent the night at the cottage, she left plenty of her belongings there. It was her way of marking her territory. This time she meant business.

Rudy didn't want to lose Mary Jo. But he couldn't desert Der Schlaffer. She had come with him from Germany. Der Schlaffer was family.

It was time for bed, and Der Schlaffer, true to her name, was already curled up on the eiderdown comforter.

Rudy opened the window over the sink that doubled as Der Schlaffer's cat door. Then he opened the freezer and took out a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream. It was Mary Jo's favorite. He was disappointed that she had left angry and missed dessert.

He dug out a single scoop for himself and started to close the lid. Arguing always gave him an appetite. He dug out two more scoops.

Rudy took the ice cream to bed. He laid the bowl on the floor beside the mattress.

The night was chilly, and since the window had to remain open for Der Schlaffer, Rudy pulled on his heaviest checkered flannel pajamas before crawling under the eiderdown.

Rudy hadn't finished half of the ice cream before he was yawning. He did not want to get out from under the warm comforter, so he laid the half-eaten bowl of ice cream next to the bed and soon was snoring.

Der Schlaffer awoke half an hour later, yawned, stretched, and jumped to the floor. She headed for the kitchen, making a quick hop up on the table where she checked on her left over Little Friskies. Reassured her snack was still there, she leapt down, then up onto the kitchen counter. She balanced momentarily on the windowsill. Then she disappeared into the chill black night.



Rudy woke to the sound of movement next to his bed. He listened for a squeak. There was none. Instead he heard a snorting sound.

Rudy opened one eye. He expected to see Der Schlaffer sitting beside his bed, a rat-tail dangling from her mouth.

What Rudy saw was not Der Schlaffer. It was bigger than Der Schlaffer. It had a long bushy tail with stripes around it, and it was slurping at the bowl of Chunky Monkey ice cream Rudy had left half eaten by the side of the bed.

The creature looked up and met Rudy's gaze. It was a raccoon, fully grown, masked, with a pointy snout and a Chunky Monkey mustache. The creature licked at its whiskers. It went back to the bowl of ice cream.

It must have come in through Der Schlaffer's window. Rudy tried to remain calm. The animal was merely foraging for food. His heart was beating fast. But he decided to stay in bed and let the creature clean the bowl and leave. It would go back out the way it had come in.

Then Rudy heard something crash to the floor.

Careful not to make any fast movements, Rudy found the flashlight he used to crush the skulls of the rats Der Schlaffer brought home from the hillside. He twisted the light into a narrow beam and pointed it in the direction of the noise.

On the floor beside the picnic table, Rudy saw three more raccoons. These were smaller, juveniles, the offspring of the full-grown mother raccoon.

Then Rudy heard scratching and clawing. He turned the beam onto the kitchen window. Captured in the circle of light were the green eyes and the gruesome smile of Der Schlaffer. In her mouth was this evening's doomed victim.

Not expecting anything out of the ordinary, Der Schlaffer stepped down off the windowsill onto the counter - then froze. On the floor the baby raccoons rooted around vacuuming up the scattered remains of Der Schlaffer's dinner.

Der Schlaffer charged the baby raccoons with the rat hanging from her mouth. The baby raccoons dispersed in three different directions.

This got the attention of the mother raccoon, who swiveled on her rear legs, clawed her way over Rudy, shredding the eiderdown comforter Rudy's Mom had sent all the way from Germany, and charged Der Schlaffer.

Der Schlaffer saw the mother raccoon out of the corner of her eye, dropped the rat and headed for the open window. But she was too late.

The rat, briefly dazed, tried to squeeze its body against the wood floor and disappear. Failing at that, it chose its best escape plan, running away from the cat and the raccoons, in the direction of Rudy's bed.

Rudy had just thrown back the eiderdown comforter, metal flashlight still in hand, when the rat scampered across the mattress, crawled up Rudy's pajama leg and kept running. It emerged from his waistband and disappeared into the loose top of his flannel nightshirt, through a briar of chest hair, and lodged itself in the warm nest that was Rudy's armpit. Having so recently escaped death the rat began digging.



Mary Jo couldn't sleep. Her condo was quiet and dark, but she lay awake listening to the hum of the refrigerator. The argument had been her fault. She loved Rudy, warts and all. Der Schlaffer was just a cat. Rudy had brought her from Germany. It wasn't fair to expect him to choose between them.

Mary Jo fixed her hair and put on blue jeans and a sweater.

Fifteen minutes later she was parking her Volkswagen Beetle with a white silk gardenia in the dashboard bud-vase in front of Rudy's cottage. The moon was out, so she saw that the kitchen window on the side of the building was open. Der Schlaffer would be hunting.

Mary Jo began to have second thoughts. What if the cat brought in another rat? Oh for God's sake, she told herself, just deal with it. Are you going to let that stupid cat ruin your life?

Mary Jo got out of the car and grabbed her purse - a Louis Vuitton knockoff - and slung it over her shoulder. She walked across the pavers from the sidewalk to the cottage's front door. She fished for the key. She slipped the key in the lock. She turned the bolt. It clicked back. She turned the doorknob and opened the door.

At first her eyes, blinded by the moon, saw nothing. But she had a feeling that something wasn't right.

Then she heard a squeak. It was coming from Rudy's bed. Then she heard stomping, feet hitting the floor, like a man running.

Then she heard the screech of a cat, a cat in heat, or in pain.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she noticed three furry creatures waddling to the kitchen and climbing the cabinets.

Rudy was running in place, naked above the waist, alongside his bed. He was pawing at his chest like he was stripping water after a shower.

Then Mary Jo saw it - the rats tail dangling from Rudy's armpit. Rudy pulled hard on the tail. The rat let go and slalomed down Rudy's chest and disappeared into his pajama bottoms.

Then she heard the hissing. She saw Der Schlaffer alongside the redwood picnic table, her back arched, her teeth bared, her eyes bugged out, snarling. Snarling back at her was a fierce looking raccoon, claws extended and about to strike.

Rudy was stomping his feet harder now, and he was ripping open his pajama bottoms.

The raccoon took a step toward Der Schlaffer. The cat attacked. In a blur, the two became one mass of churning fur. Mary Jo was paralyzed. Should she go to Rudy - or to the cat? Then, Der Schlaffer was down on its back, whimpering.

Mary Jo un-shouldered the Louis Vuitton bag and made her move.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

She swung the bag in circles as she approached the animals.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

The bag cut the air and continued gathering momentum. The raccoon opened its mouth, bared its incisors, and prepared to sever Der Schlaffer's jugular.

Mary Jo stepped forward into the conflict. The whooshing bag hit the raccoon broadside. The raccoon's feet went out from under it. The bagged continued to whoosh. The raccoon was airborne.

Der Schlaffer didn't move. Mary Jo kept swinging the bag.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

She followed the raccoon. It was back on its feet in seconds. Mary Jo went after it.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

The raccoon scrambled past her. Barely missing the whooshing bag, it loped across the floor and into the kitchen, where it scaled the cabinets, splintering the cutlery drawers as it climbed.

Mary Jo was right behind it.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

The raccoon made it to the counter. She swung the bag and hit the creature just before it hurled itself out the window. The raccoon spun three slow turns in the window frame before gravity brought it down. It got to its feet and lumbered away in search of its missing babies.

Rudy was completely naked now, standing still - his body bent over, his hands performing a delicate operation on his groin, where the rat had taken a stand.

Mary Jo dropped the bag. She took four giant steps toward Rudy. She grabbed his shoulders and stood him up. She took hold of his genitals, along with the black rodent that was plastered against them. She tugged the whole mess down toward Rudy's knees.

The rat released its grip and dropped to the floor. It scurried around the mattress. Hugging the wall, it headed for the kitchen. When the rat reached the cabinets, it flattened its body to the floor and slipped under the baseboard like water into a crack. It was gone.



Rudy emerged from the battle with scratches and bites on his left leg, his groin, his chest, and, of course, his armpit. Mary Jo insisted he go to the emergency ward for a rabies shot.

Der Schlaffer lay on the floor where she'd tussled with the raccoon. One of her eyes was gone, leaving a gaping socket. Her ear was ripped and bleeding. The worst wound was to her rear leg, which was lacerated to the bone, barely attached.

Mary Jo lifted the cat and placed her in a cardboard box lined with a clean dishtowel. Der Schlaffer was unconscious.

Rudy closed the kitchen window, dressed quickly and locked the doors.

He sat in the backseat with Der Schlaffer. The cat's leg twitched and jumped in the box as though she was having a bad dream - perhaps about a raccoon.

They left Der Schlaffer at a 24/7 veterinary clinic. Then Mary Jo drove Rudy to Harborview Hospital.



Rudy didn't go back to the cottage that night. He went to Mary Jo's condominium, showered, and slept for 10 hours. He slept longer and deeper then he had since he and Der Schlaffer had left Germany.

When Rudy did return to the cottage, he found blood and food clotted and dry under the redwood picnic table. He found a hardened marble sized fossil that once had been Der Schlaffer's eye. The torn eiderdown comforter was now garbage. His checkered pajamas lay on the floor where he'd ripped them off trying to detach the rat.

Rudy cleaned the cottage. He locked the door. He called the landlord, and he gave notice. He was moving in with Mary Jo.

Der Schlaffer survived the ordeal, but not without major battle scars. She had lost an eye. Her ear resembled a torn Kleenex. She came home from the veterinary hospital a war veteran, with a bow around her neck and smelling of perfume. She was now a three-legged cat.

Mary Jo insisted Der Schlaffer live indoors. She was not ever to leave the condominium unless on a leash or in her cat carrier. Rudy agreed to these conditions. After all, the vet was adamant that Der Schlaffer could not defend herself.

Besides, Mary Jo had rescued Der Schlaffer from the raccoon. Der Schlaffer owed her life to Mary Jo.



Rudy Schmidt was deep in sleep, spooning with Mary Jo in her sleigh bed in the bedroom of their condominium, when he thought he heard a squeak. He opened one eye, turned his head, and listened. It was coming from the floor alongside the bed. Rudy saw Der Schlaffer's one eye shimmering in the dim light. The muffled squeak came from her mouth, a tiny squeak, nothing like a rat.

Rudy sat up. He leaned over the edge of the bed, closer to the cat. Der Schlaffer wobbled on three legs. A tiny tail hung from her mouth swishing back and forth.

Der Schlaffer, having Rudy's full attention now, dropped a tiny mouse, dazed and covered in spittle. Rudy reached for the metal flashlight that had always been alongside his bed at the cottage. He found nothing.

The mouse raced under the bed and disappeared. Der Schlaffer did not give chase. There was always tomorrow.

11 comments:

  1. what a great Story, totally original. Brilliantly descriptive, loved the characters, und Der Schlaffer lived to hunt another day!

    Michael McCarthy

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    1. Thanks, Michael. It was fun to write.

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  2. That story just flew by. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The wealth of detail made it vivid, but never bogged down the action. And what action! Well done! (Love Der Schlaffer!).

    --Wendy Hammer

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    1. Thank you, Wendy. Your comment means a lot to me!

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  3. A love story! A horror story! A transformation story! Love it!

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    1. Now that you mention it. I hadn't thought of that.
      Thanks Pamela.

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  4. Funny and full of great touches. I thought it was a really great (and very funny) story. C. H. Wise

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  5. This story made me smile, very well written. The description was perfect, I could visualize everything, and I love how Rudy went back to his place and saw the damage. Der Schlaffer is annoying but I love that cat. She never gives up, does she? Also, love that Mary Jo returned to see the mess, she must have thought to herself, "I was right when I said this cat would bring home trouble." Also, loved that she saved Der Schlaffer from the raccoon, that really made me happy. This is such an original story, and such a simple plot. Oh, and I freaked out a bit when the rat crawled up Rudy, my skin got a bit sensitive while I was reading that scene.

    Ethan Regal

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    1. Hi Ethan,
      What a great comment. Thanks.
      Max

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  6. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
    I loved Mary Jo, what a power house.
    Thanks for another great read.

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