FOUR: THE TREE RAT COMETH




WAITING FOR THE POLICE with a walrus passed out on your kitchen floor is an exercise in patience. I could only stare at the thing for so long before my eyes grew heavy.

I tugged on the tape that bound his arms and legs and felt fairly confident that it would hold, but I wasn’t prepared to take too many chances. So I jogged back into the bedroom at the other end of the hall. On the bed were my clothes for the day along with a pair of Colt Peacemakers, revolvers of a bygone era when the West was wild and untamed.

The Peacemakers were custom built and given to me by Colt Firearms. I’d grown quite accustom to them. Sure, nowadays there’s a passel of shooters to choose from. But I like to stick with what I know. Besides, I like old things.

When I’m out in public, I have to keep them concealed—I have a permit to carry, but it makes people nervous to see a man without a badge go heeled—so I use a shoulder rig that tucks them in under each arm. This was lying next to the revolvers. I passed it up however, and opened the trunk at the foot of the bed. I pulled out a belt with a pair of holsters and strapped it around my waist over the robe. The guns would hang low on each hip, ready for a quick draw. This was how I preferred to wear them.

I’m sure I looked every inch the dashing hero in my robe, but I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down when the authorities arrived, so I ignored the clothes for now.

Once back in the kitchen I realized that the Walrus had begun to smell, or maybe there had been a stench to him the entire time and it just took me leaving the room for a moment to notice. Either way, I decided to wait for the police on the front porch with a glass of water and a comic book.

I’d have preferred coffee over water, but considering that the pot lay shattered all over my kitchen, I’d have to make due with whatever else I had on hand. Which was water.

I felt the loss of the coffee deep within my soul; you might even say I went through the five stages of grief as I stood there at the kitchen sink filling a glass from the tap. The logical side of my brain fought back, telling me that coffee wasn’t out of my life for good, I could always make a run into the Quick Shop and purchase a cup. Heck, I had a coffee maker in the office in town. That shone a little brightness into my soul. Once the Walrus was carted off, I’d head on in to the office and partake. Until then, tap water would have to do. The comic would help.

Feeling a little better about the whole affair—going about heeled sure helped—I took my water and comic book and headed out to the porch. I sat in an old rocker and took in the morning: the smell of the dew on the grass, and the sound of the birds in the trees.

I’m out in the country where life was a mite more tranquil then being in town, but still, once in a while a car would wind lazily down the gravel road past the house. I sipped my water, frowning at the lack of heat and bitterness, and read my comic book.

A squirrel hopped up onto the porch from the grass below and stood on its hind legs looking at me with its head cocked slightly to the side in the way that animals do, like they’d just asked you a question.

“You the backup?” I said, giving the rodent one of my most dazzling smiles. “You here to finish me off since your pard weren’t up to the task?”

It just cocked its head to the other side and continued to stare at me, its nose twitching.

"Well?" I said. “You got something to say, then say it. Otherwise, git.”

The squirrel remained. Its little nose flicked up and down. It didn’t talk, and it didn’t move. It just stared at me. I don’t know that I actually expected it to start speaking, but after arguing with a walrus, nothing would have surprised me.

"If you ain’t got nothing to say then git!" I snarled.

I tried to ignore the squirrel, but it wouldn’t stop staring. I raised the comic book, blocking the squirrel from my sight, but after about five minutes, I found myself skimming through the comic instead of actually reading it. I kept looking over the top at the squirrel. The squirrel met my eye every time.

“You best git if you know what’s good for you,” I said.

The squirrel didn’t move.

I sighed and went back to the comic.

I’d actually read three full pages before glancing over the top of the book again. The squirrel was still there, only he’d moved six or so inches closer.

“Git!” I yelled and then I tossed the glass of water at it.

The squirrel stood its ground as the glass sailed uselessly over the thing’s head. It continued to stare.

"Dang it!" I stood. "Quick staring at me you dern tree rat!" I tried to kick the fluffy little rodent, but it hopped nimbly to one side, so I missed and fell off the porch.

I rolled about a bit in the grass, the dew soaking my bathrobe.

That’s when the rage took over. I’m not an easy man to anger, but once I am, watch out. It’s not a quality I’m proud of, but it’s there all the same.

I jumped back up to the porch and did my best to stomp the squirrel into the woodgrain. It just danced back and forth, dodging each stomp as I cursed and fumed.

“Stupid tree rat!”

STOMP

“Get off my dern porch!”

STOMP

“Don’t make me kill you!”

STOMP

The squirrel remained. I had but one choice left.

I drew both pistols, thumbing back the hammers as I cleared leather.

The squirrel blinked.

I smiled.

"Norman?" a voice said from behind me.

I turned in surprise. A woman in a Stetson hat and the khaki uniform of a Eudora Police Officer stood at the bottom of the three steps leading up to the porch. She was looking up at me, her face painted with worry and concern.

“Hey, Pat,” I said, trying to catch my breath. I released the hammers slowly and holstered the guns. “Dang squirrel went and got my dander up. Won’t get off the dern porch. Just keeps staring at me.”

Patricia McCrea had been Chief of Police for the Eudora Police Department throughout the last five Presidential administrations. We go back a ways, Pat and I. I don’t have many friends, I used to, but they grew old and died. Pat was someone who was there for me when I needed her, and for that alone she will always have my trust and respect, while I will always have her back.

I glanced over at the squirrel in time to see it bound off the porch and run up a tree, disappearing within its foliage. It was all I could do not to put a few rounds into the tree.

I turned back to Pat, a sheepish smile on my face.

“You okay, Norman?” Pat said, stepping up onto the porch.

I must have been quite the sight standing there in my undies, gun belt strapped around my bathrobe.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Pat?” I said.

“Well, good Lord, Norman,” she said. “Look at you. I mean, I get a call that a walrus broke into your house and tried to kill you, and now I find you throwing down with a squirrel. I’ve already gone gray, Norman, I don’t need you adding to my stress.”

“Heck,” I said, smiling. “You’re still the prettiest thing within fifty miles.”

“Only fifty?” she said, redness rising in her cheeks.

“A hundred,” I said. “Two hundred. Heck, it if weren’t for that husband of yours, I’da swooped you up long ago.”

“You’d have done nothing of the sort, Norman Oklahoma. You had your chance but chose not to take it.”

“There were extenuating circumstances, Pat,” I said. “That goblin infestation kept me a mite busy for a couple years.”

“Goblins,” she said. “It’s always something with you, Norman.”

“Ain’t no goblins around now,” I said, smiling and putting an arm around her. “Nor husbands, neither.”

“Knock it off,” she elbowed me in the ribs.

I jerked my arm back and yelped.

“One of these days Jim may take issue with your incessant flirting,” she said.

“Aw, Jim don’t mind,” I said, pretending to comfort what should have been sore ribs. “He won, I lost. He and I both know it.”

“Well, I mind,” she said. But then she smiled to show that she didn’t really mean it.

“Did you come out here all by yourself?” I asked, looking beyond her and seeing no other vehicle in the drive but her old Bronco. “You’re gonna need at least two other guys when the Walrus wakes up.”

“Oh yes, this walrus you called about.”

Pat knows what I do for a living, in theory. She’s never come face to face with a monster.

“Come inside and see for yourself,” I said.

As Pat entered the house, I took one last look around the porch, and just as I thought, the squirrel was back.

“You and me ain’t done,” I said, pointing a finger at the bushy tailed monster.

The squirrel continued to look up at me, and for a moment, I could have sworn that it smiled. I sighed and followed Pat into the house.

I found her standing in the kitchen, frozen in place, staring down at the walrus. She tried to look like she wasn’t about to question everything she’d known in life, but I could see the shock peeking out from within her hard shell.

“You know—” she cleared her throat and began again. “You know, I’d heard rumors about a hit man that went by the name ‘Walrus,’ but I’d always assumed it was just some stupid nickname.”

“It is a stupid nickname,” I said. “It just happens to be apt in this instance.”

“Well,” Pat scratched at her head a moment. “I guess I need to call in a couple of the boys to haul this thing away.”

“That’s what I was saying,” I said. “I’d offer you something to drink, but my fridge and coffee maker are both on the fritz.”

“That’s okay,” she said, still staring down at the Walrus, a finger on her chin. “You think that tape is going to hold him?”

“No idea. He threw my table about like it was nothing.”

“I’d been wondering about that,” she said, looking over at the table that now sat upside down over the couch in the adjoining living room.

“I’d hoped some of your troopers would show up before he came to and slap some leg irons on him or something.”

“I’ll make a call; see to it that they bring in something sturdy to hold him.”

“Nothing can hold me,” the Walrus spoke, sitting up and smiling.

I drew both pistols and thumbed back the hammers, the barrels pointing at the Walrus, one for each eye.

“Nothing, huh?” I said. “How about a bullet or two?”

The Walrus didn’t reply, instead he struggled against the tape at his wrists.

“Stop that,” I said.

He didn’t.

“I’ll shoot you,” I said. “Don’t know if it’ll put you down, but I bet it’ll hurt something awful.”

The veins in his neck stood out as he pulled against the tape. The tape itself began to stretch. It would only be a matter of minutes, possibly seconds, before he was free.

And that’s when Pat turned around and ran out the front door, leaving me alone with the Walrus.




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