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Authors: John R. Erickson

Tags: #cowdog, #Hank the Cowdog, #John R. Erickson, #John Erickson, #ranching, #Texas, #dog, #adventure, #mystery, #Hank, #Drover, #Pete, #Sally May

The Case of the Vampire Cat (3 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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Chapter Four: The Kitty Is Lured into My Trap

B
ut of course we mustn't forget that there were other circumstances involved.

Did I think to mention that I pulled a muscle in my right hind leg? Oh yes, bad muscle pull. I hadn't warmed up, see, and the cat had probably spent all morning warming up and preparing for that sprint to the cake house, so one interpretation of the facts is that she, well, cheated.

Or if she hadn't actually cheated, she had certainly taken unfair advantage of the situation. Hey, I had a steady job, many things to do besides warm up for a silly little race to the cake house, which, in the larger scheme of things, meant almost nothing anyway.

I mean, who cared, really? Life is filled with challenges, and racing a rinky-dink cat ranks very far down the list.

And did I mention about the cockleburs? Yes. Not only was I slowed by a tragic injury to the Greater Boogaloo muscle in my right posterior thigh, which would have put most dogs out of the race right there, but once the race began, I found myself running over gobs and gobs of dangerous cockleburs.

You ever try to run a hard race on cockleburs? It's virtually impossible. You talk about pain! No ordinary dog could have stayed in that race. I not only stayed in the race but finished a respectable second, and might very well have won if it had gone on another twenty feet.

And if the cat hadn't cheated and used underhanded tricks to . . . but the important point is that the race meant nothing to me, and finishing second to a stupid cat sure didn't damage my self-esteamer, and just to prove how insignificant the whole thing was to me, I went over to the cat and gave her my congratulations for a race well run.

“Kitty,” I said between gulps of air, “as a small token of my admiration for your athletic ability, I am going to make sausage patties out of you.”

A lot of cats will run when you, uh, offer them such a small token. This one whirled around, humped up, hissed, stared at me with those strange yellowish eyes, and said, “Listen, clown, you lay a paw on me and I'll take out your eyeballs and feed 'em to the crows!”

“Huh?”

“And don't think I can't do it.”

I, uh, took several steps backward. “Settle down, sister. I think perhaps you . . .”

“I've been marooned on this ranch for two long years. I've survived coons, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, badgers, hawks, eagles, and rattle­­snakes.”

“Well, sure, and I admire that . . . in a certain limited sense.”

“You may think you're tough, potlicker, but you won't know what that word means until you lay a paw on me.”

I cleared my throat. “You know, I sense that we're barking up the wrong road here, and perhaps you misappropriated my meaning. All I meant to say was that, well, you run a pretty good race . . . for a cat.”

She studied me with those unblinking cattish eyes. “What about the sausage business?”

“The sausage business? Oh that. Ha, ha. It meant nothing, almost nothing at all, just a little attempt at humor. Ha, ha.”

She heaved a sigh and relaxed the hump in her back. “It's been so long since I tasted sausage!”

“Right, exactly, and that was my whole point, you see. I was just saying, wouldn't it be nice to have a bite of sausage and . . .” I leaned forward and whispered, “. . . cheese.”

The word had a dramatic effect on the stupid . . . on Miss Mary D Cat. All at once her pink little mouth curled up in a smile. She closed her eyes, began to purr, and started rubbing on my leg.

“Cheese! Oh, what I'd give for a piece of cheese! I dream of cheese, you know, and . . .

“A crust of bread? Baloney, cheese?

Spare a morsel, if you please.

Marooned, I am, oh hateful place!

At last I've found a friendly face!”

Hmm, very interesting. It appeared that I had stumbled onto a classic case of Skip­so­frazzled Personality, and in case you're not familiar with these heavy-duty technical terms, let me explain.

Your typical Skipsofrazzled Personality skips from one mood to another, don't you see. They'll be chirpy one minute and the next minute they'll be yowling and hissing, and in your extreme cases, they'll even make boastful threats such as “I'll tear out your eyeballs and feed 'em to the crows.”

Another trait or characteristic of your Skipso­frazzled Personality is that the skipping mechanism can be activated by a certain code word. And you will notice that it took me only a matter of seconds to sniff out and discover Mary D Cat's code word.

Heh, heh.

Cheese.

Heh, heh.

Pretty clever, huh? And now I can reveal for the first time that the so-called “Race to the Cake House” was just a ploy I had used to gather important information about this weird little cat.

That's correct. I had planned it from the start, and losing the race was just part of the overall stragedy.

Are you shocked? Surprised? Heh, heh. Don't ever underestimate the cunning of a Head of Ranch Security, and don't forget that we spend a good part of our time operating underground. And don't forget that staying at least one step ahead of the kittens is just part of my job.

Okay, where were we? Oh yes, I had just outsmarted and outflanked Mary D Cat and had gathered crucial information I needed. And now she was purring and rubbing on my legs and driving me nuts, and once again I found myself thinking, “GET AWAY FROM ME!”

But rather than coming right out and saying that, which would have been tacky and un­friendly—and, well, might have caused her to skip back over to the “Tear Out Your Eyeballs” skinario—I elected to, well, flee.

Surrender my spot.

Run around to the back of the cake house. And guess who or whom I found hiding back there. Mister Shivers.

He greeted me with his usual simple grin. “Oh, hi Hank.”

“What are you doing back here?”

“Oh . . . watching the snowflakes fall, I guess. And shivering.”

“I see. Is there some reason why you can't shiver and watch the snowflakes around front with the rest of us?”

“Well . . . I guess I wanted to get away from that cat. I just don't know what to do or say when she starts rubbing on me.”

“She's just trying to be friendly, Drover.”

“Yeah, but she gives me the creeps. I never met a cat like her.”

“Yes, well, you must understand, Drover, that she's been living out here by herself for years and she doesn't know how to respond to the sudden appearance of dogs who are . . . well, highly intelligent, dashing, daring, donder, blitsen, and handsome.”

“Yeah, that's me, all right.”

I glared at the runt. “Actually, I had myself in mind, but since you've brought up the subject of the cat . . .”

I placed a paw on his shoulder and led him a few steps away. There, I glanced around to be sure we weren't being watched and conducted the rest of the conversation in a whisper.

“Since you brought up the subject of the cat, I wonder if you might do a little job for me.”

“What little job?”

“Actually, Drover, it's not so little, and in fact, it's a mission of great importance.”

“Gosh, and you'd let me do it?”

“That's correct. I've had my eye on you for a long time, Drover, with this particular mission in mind, and I'm proud to tell you that I think you're ready for it.”

He puffed himself up and beamed with pride. “Gosh, I'm so happy and proud, I don't know what to say.”

“I understand, son, and saying nothing will be just fine.”

“But if it's such an important mission, how come you'd trust me with it?”

“Because . . .” I began pacing, as I often do when I'm reaching into the gaseous clouds of vapor and trying to find the right words to express a deep thought. “Because, Drover, it's time. It's time for you to take on more responsibility. And it's time for me to allow you to take on more responsibility.”

Suddenly, I stopped pacing and whirled around and . . . by George fell right over the edge of a little embankment . . . hadn't noticed it there before.

I climbed back out and gave him a steely gaze. “Are you ready to handle more responsibility?”

“Oh yeah, sure, you bet, unless . . . what's the job?”

I paced back over to him and, once again, placed my paw upon his shoulder. It was a touching moment.

“Drover, we're building up our profile of this cat and we need some additional information.”

“And?”

“And we've selected you to . . . well, conduct a little survey, and ask the kitty a question. Here is the question: ‘Kitty Cat, what would you say if I told you that I'm going to make sausage patties out of you?'”

He twisted his head and stared at me. “Sau­sage patties?”

“That's correct. It's just routine market re­search, Drover. We want to know what she thinks of . . . uh, sausage patties.”

“Well, that sounds simple enough. Just ask her the question, huh?”

“Yes, and then come right back here and tell me her answer. I'll take it from there.”

“Gosh, I can handle that. Here I go.”

“Good luck, son.”

While Drover went skipping around to the front of the cake house, I moved to a chinaberry grove nearby and established an observation post. There, I watched.

Very interesting. Her answer to the question about sausage patties was a handful of claws to Drover's nose. WHACK!! And instead of reporting back to me, the little mutt went screaming all the way back to the house.

Well, we had sustained a small blot on our record, but we had gained important information. Mary D Cat wasn't one to waste words, and she had zero sense of humor. I mean zilch.

Chapter Five: We Teach the Cat a Valuable Lesson About Life

A
fter entering all the info from the Drover Incident into my database, I drifted back to the cake house and watched Slim finish loading sacks of cake into the Cammo-Stealth.

And by the way, when I speak of “cake,” I'm not talking about birthday cake or wedding cake or any of the other kinds of cake made with icing. Cake, in the ranchy sense of the word, is cow feed.

Cubes of feed, see, that are made out of compressed cottonseed. Ours was called “39% protein cottonseed cake,” and it came in fifty-pound burlap sacks. We start feeding cake to the cows after the first frost, the reason being that after frost, the grass begins to lose its food value and the cows need some extra groceries to make it through the winter.

It's pretty impressive that a dog would know all that, isn't it?

On an ordinary day in the wintertime, Slim fed two pounds of cake per cow, but on this particular day, with the snow and everything, he decided to kick their grub up to three pounds.

We had two hundred cows on the Hodges' Place. If Slim was going to feed them three pounds per each, that meant . . . let's see here . . . we needed . . . hmm, how many sacks of feed? I'll have it worked out here in just a second . . . running a spreadsheet on . . . our hardware runs a little slow in this cold . . .

Okay, he loaded a bunch of sacks into the back of the Cammo-Stealth, and I really don't care how many. If you want to know the exact number, do the figgering yourself. I'm a very busy dog.

Where was I? Oh yes, watching Slim load up an undisclosed number of sacks into the so forth. Mary D Cat was watching too, but typical of her pattern of strange behavior, she wasn't content merely to watch. She had to get in the middle of things.

She hopped up into the cake house and Slim stumbled over her no less than three times. He booted her out the door every time, but that didn't seem to phase . . . phaze . . . fase . . . bother her at all. She went right back inside and rubbed on his legs.

Faize.

Then she hopped up on the stack of cake sacks, and when Slim stopped to catch his breath, she jumped onto his neck and started rubbing his ear. Now, that woke him up! I guess he thought a cobra had dropped down from the rafters, and when he felt that thing around his neck and heard that purring in his ear, he moved a little quicker than he was accustomed to moving.

Ran into the doorjamb, is what he did, and yelled. And when he saw that it was only the cat, he reached up and jerked her off his neck.

You know what a cat does when you try to jerk her off your neck? She digs in with her claws. Old Slim got her peeled off his neck but he paid a price for it. By then Kitty had worn out her welcome, and Slim drew back and tossed her as far as he could, through the air and into the snow.

I was standing nearby and watched her flight: ears up, tail straight out, and all four landing gears down. She looked like an . . . I don't know what. A flying squirrel. A falling star. A hairy, rocket-propelled something or other.

But it was very exciting to watch, and have I mentioned that when cats make sudden movements like that, it gets me all stirred up? Yes, it's true, and it comes over me more or less on its own, without malice or forethought or much planning on my part.

There seems to be some mechanism in a dog's mind that makes him rush to the scene of a crashed cat and start barking, and that's what I did and . . . POW!

Sometimes that mechanism gets a dog into trouble before he knows it. I mean, I was just curious. Concerned. I hadn't actually intended to . . . that cat wasn't inclined to ask questions or take prisoners. At the first sign of trouble, she just loaded up and blasted away with her claws.

Yes, we took a few hits and sustained some damage to . . . well, lips, gums, cheeks, eyebrows, and the soft leathery portion of our nose, but that was a small price to pay for all the valuable intelligence information we gathered from the experience.

Yes, our file on Mary D Cat was growing larger and larger, and each new shred of evidence added to our profile of a sick and twisted mind. This latest incident certainly raised the possibility that this deranged cat didn't enjoy being barked at in close quarters.

Now, that's a sick mind. I mean, what possible harm . . . oh well. Now that we knew she would strike without warning, we fed this information into Data Control and got a new set of guidelines:

“So don't bark in her face.”

Hm. I never would have thought of that, but by George, it seemed pretty good advice.

Just stop barking in her face.

Sure, okay. Good old Data Control.

Slim and Alfred climbed into the Cammo-Stealth, fired up the engine, and called for us dogs to load up in the back. I went flying into the back as gracefully as a deer and took the Scout Position on top of the spare tire.

Drover came out as far as the yard fence and stopped. I guess he saw the cat and didn't want to risk getting another faceful of her claws. Not a bad idea, actually. My nose was still throbbing. We had to pick him up in front of the house.

But the very second we puffed away from the cake house, here came Mary D Cat: “Wait, don't leave me! Take me away from here! Don't go! Cheese, I want some cheese! A friendly face!”

And get this. She came bounding up to the truck, leaped up on the running board, clawed her way up and ended up inside the cab on Slim's lap. He gave her the old heave-ho and away we went.

My ears flew up at this, which kicked in the voice of Data Control:
“So don't bark in her face.”
Well, she was on the ground and well out of range, so I overrode DC and barked with all my heart and soul.

I love doing that. It's one of the pure joys of being a dog. It's where we discover the true meaning of Dogness.

We picked up Mister Scared-of-a-Wimpy-Little-Cat in front of the house and headed for the west pasture. Miss Kitty followed us for a ways, yowling.

“Meeee-yowwwwww! Meeeee-yowwww! Don't leave me, take me away from here, cheese, a friendly face!”

I moved to the back of the truck and gave her my final words. “It serves you right for being such a hateful little snot. Go catch a mouse, that's what you're here for, and always remember that Hank the Cowdog does not take trash off the cats!”

Even Drover got in on the deal. “Yeah, and me too! And now I'll bet you're sorry for being so mean.”

“Well said, Drover.”

“And I hope you get fleas and ringworms!”

“Oh, good shot, son, good shot! You really stuck her with that one.” Grinning and barking and sticking out our tongues at her, we watched until she had disappeared in the distance. “Well, Drover, we have notched up another victory over a cat.”

“Yeah . . . I guess so. But she sure slapped the fire out of me.”

“Don't worry about it, son. The important thing here is that, once again, superior dog intelligence has triumphed over the forces of Kittydom.”

He rubbed a bloody spot on his nose and I, well, rubbed a bloody spot on my nose—caused, no doubt, by the dangerous cockleburs.

Yes, of course. That had to be it.

“I wonder what got her so worked up,” said Drover. “All I did was ask her about sausage patties, and she didn't even answer.”

“I can't imagine, Drover.”

“She just hauled off and slugged me.”

“I'll swan.”

“I guess she doesn't like sausage.”

“Don't try to find intelligent reasons for the behavior of a cat, Drover. They're all nutty, and that one is even nuttier than most. Just forget about it. It's water under the dam.”

We turned our attention to more important matters, such as the feed run and the snowstorm. And making it up that long steep hill west of the house.

The road was slick and covered with snow, don't you see, and making it up that long steep hill would have been no easy deal even in dry weather. But that's why we had switched over to the Cammo-Stealth, right?

Up front, Slim and Little Alfred were having a good time. Slim threw the truck into four-wheel drive and first gear, and we hit the hill with a good head of steam. And let me tell you, fellers, the old Cammo-Stealth just ATE that hill.

The engine roared and threw mud with all four wheels, and above it all, I could hear Little Alfred making truck sounds of his own.

“Ud-un, ud-un, ud-un! Rrrrrrrrrummmmmmm!”

I was up in the Scout Position again, checking out the country ahead and letting the wind blow my ears around. Say, this was fun! What more could a ranch dog ask of life? This was true cowdog happiness.

It was then that I caught sight of two brown shadows that darted across the road in front of us. Could they be . . . yes, they were coyotes, perhaps two brothers I had known in bygone days?

They stopped in some bushes on the left side of the road, and as we roared past them, I got a good look at their faces. And yes, it was Rip and Snort.

Well, I was feeling rather expansive and full of myself, you might say, I being motorized and they being afoot. And perhaps I said a few things that would have been better left unsaid. You know how it is when you pass some guys walking. Sometimes you just can't resist the temptation to mouth off.

And I did. Mouth off, that is, not resist the temptation.

“Hey, you guys need a ride? Ha, ha, call a taxi! Too bad you don't have a Cammo-Stealth army truck to ride around in.” I stuck my tongue out at them. “There, take that! And furthermore, your momma wears gunnysack underpants!”

Yes, perhaps it was a little childish, but it was also FUN, and there's more to this life than work and worry. A guy has to have a little fun now and then, even if he's Head of Ranch Security.

There was only one little problem with this interlude of fun. At that very moment, Slim made a hard left turn and . . .

Something very bad happened.

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