Monday, March 28, 2011
The Rat Pack
Louie opened the back door and ushered his guests into the kitchen. “Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to a rickety table by the far wall. “Crab puffs’ll be done in a minute. What can I getcha? We got beer, or we got beer.”
Brandon Wayne smiled. “Beer will be fine.” His companion also smiled, but didn’t speak. His eyes and nose took in everything about the small kitchen. He eyed the swinging doors that led to the bar with special attention.
“Bar’s closed,” Louie informed him. “Nobody here but us rats, and whatever the hell you are.” His long nose twitched. “You ain’t from the neighborhood, are you?”
“Hardly,” the other said. “However, our interests coincide.”
“White Fang’s with us,” Brand translated. “He’s here to see Shere Khan taken down.”
“If you say so.” Louie seated his guests, brought them beers with a third for himself, and went to the oven for the crab puffs.
A squirrel scampered down from a shelf to perch on the back of Louie’s chair. White Fang smiled at it. “Well, hello, little fellow. I take it you’re the sous chef?”
The squirrel flared its tail and said, “Bite me.”
“Go easy on him, pal, he’s new.” Louie set the platter of crab puffs on the table and took his seat. The squirrel trotted up his arm and sat on his shoulder. “White Fang, this is Gil. He’s one of the family.”
“Only temporarily,” the squirrel said. “I get my cure, I’m out.” He focused on White Fang. “Brand says you have connections.”
“That depends,” White Fang said cautiously. “What are we talking about?”
“Gil here’s a special case,” Louie said. “He ain’t a born shifter like us. He did this half-assed spell – ”
“I wouldn’t call it half-assed. It worked, didn’t it? I mean, look.” The squirrel spread his paws. “Full moon rises, here I sit. Trouble is, I was supposed to be a wolf. The asshole who sold me the magic gave me the wrong fur. You better not be laughing, mister. I’ll chew your tail off.”
“I’m not laughing,” White Fang assured him. “I know I’m outnumbered here.”
“You got that right,” Louie said. “Batman, Superrat and Wonder Squirrel. Welcome to the Rodent Hall of Justice.” He swung on Brand. “How come all’a sudden you smell like a cat?”
“Brand is dating Leona Lane,” White Fang said. “Exclusively, I hear.”
“The cat lady? Whoo. You got more guts than me. Okay. Down to business.” He took a pull on his beer. Brand selected a crab puff and passed one to Gil. “I had a visit tonight from Crocker, Shere Khan’s cleanup man. He tried to lean on me. This is me leaning back. Crocker thinks maybe I heard or saw more things than I should’a when I worked in the kitty’s kitchen.”
“Did you?” Brand asked bluntly.
Louie grinned, his yellow teeth showing. “Of course I did. I’m a rat. It’s our nature to snoop. I don’t have all the pieces, but I can put a puzzle together. Khan’s building a library. The kind they got at Hogwarts, if you catch my drift.”
“Caught it,” White Fang said. “You’ve seen this library? You’ve actually seen the books?”
“Not me personal, but Gil here, he – ”
“West side of the house, in a floor safe under a Persian rug with a tiger design on it,” Gil said. They stared at him. He shrugged his little gray shoulders. “There’s an oak tree right outside the window.”
“Ain’t he something?” Louie’s grin spread. “He don’t smell at all like a shifter. When he’s a squirrel he smells like a squirrel, when he’s human he smells like a human. Khan got anything like him? No way. Gil’s a rat’s kind of spy.”
“Hey, man, I’m just a temp. One of those books is bound to have a spell in it to reverse the magic on me. That’s all I’m interested in.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” White Fang promised him. “How many books has he gathered so far?”
“I’ve seen three for sure. There may be others. If you’re going in there, watch your tails. Khan’s got this new guy. A big white tiger.”
“Yes. We’ve met.”
“And you came away breathing? Holy cow. I’ve seen the dude in action. Makes me happy he can’t climb trees. Just watch yourself, that’s all I’m saying.”
“I don’t think he’ll be a problem,” Brand said. “All right, gentlemen, here’s what we do.” They drank their beers and devoured the crab puffs and spoke long into the night.
Posted by Pat C.