Read The Case of the Vampire Cat Online

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 (4 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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Chapter Six: The Very Bad “Something” That Happened

H
ere's what happened:

I had moved my business from the spare tire to a position near the back of the truck bed, in order to make my communication with the coyote brothers somewhat easier, don't you see, and I sure wasn't expecting Slim to jerk the truck hard to the left.

But he did and suddenly I found myself hung out to dry, you might say. The truck went left and I went right—over the side and into a snowbank, which wasn't too funny, since I had just been mouthing off to . . .

Yikes! Slim was speeding up, shifting gears, driving away!

“Hey, wait a minute, what about me! Drover, don't just sit there. Do something!”

He was running in circles in the back of the truck. “Oh my gosh, Hank fell out, stop, murder, oh my leg!”

I chased them for a hundred yards or so and gave up. Slim never looked back, never saw a thing. He must have been yakking to Little Alfred. Or singing. He often sings when he's feeding cattle.

Oh well, the situation wasn't really as serious as I had first thought. Yes, it was a little scary to get dumped out in the middle of that wild canyon country, but Slim still had two more pastures to feed before he headed back to Wolf Creek.

When he got out to feed the cows in the Picket Canyon pasture, he would notice the huge silence and vacancy created by my absence.

No doubt he would gasp and recoil in horror, and say something like, “Holy smokes, I've lost my dog, and that dog's worth hundreds and thousands of dollars. No, he's priceless. You can't put a price on a dog like Hank.”

True, very true.

And then he would say, “I can't believe I was so careless with the Head of Ranch Security. I should have let him ride up front, but I didn't, and I could kick myself for taking chances with a dog that's worth more than gold or silver.”

Exactly. Or diamonds or rubies, for that matter.

“Well, I'll just have to backtrack until I find him. We can't go home until we find our Hank.”

Right, because if he did, Little Alfred would be heartbroken. Loper would be furious. Sally May would be . . . well, we needn't speculate on that, but I was pretty sure that she would be upset.

It would all work out. I would just hike back to the house and wait for the crew to come looking for me. Then we could all have a joyous reunion and laugh about it—although I would have to give Slim a few hurtful looks, so as not to let him completely off the hook.

It WAS pretty careless of him to throw me out of the truck, as he himself had admitted.

I trotted up the hill, thinking that when I reached the crest, I would look down into the valley and see the Cammo-Stealth streaking back to find me.

I reached the top of the hill and stopped for a breather. I looked off to the west and saw . . . hmm, lot of snow. Oh well, it would take 'em a while to discover the tragedy. A guy just had to give 'em a little time.

I walked across the cattle guard and started down the hill, and noticed . . . dog tracks in the snow? Hmm, that was interesting. Had I walked down this hill earlier in the day? No. Had Drover? No.

Hmmm. Then apparently we had some stray dogs on the place, and you know where I stand on the issue of stray dogs. I don't . . .

Coyote tracks?

Suddenly I remembered my passing remarks to the coyote brothers, something about their mother wearing . . . what was it? Gunnysack under­­garments?

I, uh, suddenly became aware of the fact that I was walking down the middle of the road, exposed for all the world to see. Very shortly after this thought occurred to me, I found myself creeping through the taller forms of vegetation in the vicinity, such as the clumps of little bluestem grass, Indian grass, skunkbrush, mountain mahogany, and wild plum thickets.

No, I certainly didn't need another encounter with those guys. I'd learned just about all I needed to know about cannibal life . . . and there they were!

Fifty yards ahead of me and I almost had a heart attack. I stopped in my tracks and sank down to my belly and watched them through the little bluestem—which, by the way, was a reddish-brown color, not blue or even close to blue, so why did they call it bluestem?

Not that I cared, you understand, because I had bigger problems on my hands. I watched them through the grass. They trotted across the road some fifty yards ahead of me. I could hear them laughing and belching, which is fairly typical behavior for happy cannibals.

Lucky for me, the wind was coming straight out of the north, so it carried my scent away from them. Otherwise, I might have been a cooked goose, because those guys have noses like you won't believe.

They crossed the road, just about where we had seen them earlier, and disappeared up a short deep canyon to the north. I waited for a long time, just to be sure they had gone. Then I switched over to Ultra-Crypto Creeping Mode and moved out on silent paws.

I hadn't gone more than a hundred yards when . . . holy smokes, a branch snapped and I whirled around to face . . .

Okay, the wind had caused a branch to creak in a hackberry tree to my right and that was no big deal, but I had enjoyed about all of that creeping I could stand, and I went to Full Throttle on all engines and zoomed the rest of the way back to the camp house.

It would have been very nice, very satisfying if I had found the truck there waiting for me. That would have closed out the day on a happy note. But the truck was not there.

Instead of being greeted by Slim and all my old friends, I was greeted by this . . . this long-haired yowling thing that came bounding out of the yard.

“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!”

Would you care to guess what she did immediately? She started rubbing on me, of course, and babbling.

“Did you happen to bring some cheese? Just a little bite would be fine. I crave cheese, I dream of cheese, and maybe you could take me away from here. I've been marooned these two long years.”

I backed away from her. “No, I don't have any cheese. And no, I can't take you away from here.”

She followed me and continued to rub and purr. “You'll stay a while, won't you? We have so much to talk about.”

“I'd love to sit and talk, Kitty, but I'm afraid I won't be here that long. My ride will be arriving any minute now, and we'll have to say
hors d'oeuvre
until another day.”

I backed up another three steps. She followed. “Where there's an
hors d'oeuvre,
there's a piece of cheese.”

“Uh, no. I'm afraid you've missed the translation.
Hors d'oeuvre
is French for ‘good-bye.' I speak many languages, you see, including French, Italian, Thousand Island, and Ranch, so I have many ways of saying good-bye.”

“Don't say good-bye. You just got here and we haven't talked.”

“Yes, and I can't tell you how much I regret that, because I don't regret it.” I trotted away from her again. “We haven't talked and we never will talk. In the first place, you're a cat and I make it a habit not to talk with cats.”

Here she came again. I kept moving.

“Talking with cats is not only a waste of time, but it's also a violation of the Cowdog Code. We're not allowed to mingle with cats on the job. Or off the job. Or anywhere else. Nothing personal, but you're a cat.

“In the second place, my ride will be here any minute now.” I stopped and scanned the horizon in all directions. Nothing. Not a sound except the soft tinkle of snowflakes. “My business associates will be picking me up soon and . . .”

She had caught up with me. I crawled under a barbed wire fence and trotted out into the horse pasture.

“And in the third place . . . I hate to put it this way, Kitty, but you are absolutely driving me nuts with all that rubbing and purring!”

“But I haven't seen a friendly face in so long!”

“Yes, and it's made you a lunatic. That's what you are, a lunatic cat, and nobody could stand to be around you for more than a minute.”

All at once her whole manner changed. Her eyes widened. Her jaw began to tremble. Tears slid down her cheeks. “You called me a lunatic cat!”

“Yes ma'am, I did.”

“You don't care about me.”

“Yes ma'am, that's correct. In my deepest heart of hearts, I think you are totally weird.”

She burst out crying. “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I'm going to eat some worms!”

And with that, she went flying back into the yard, crawled under the house through a hole in the foundation, and disappeared. In the silence, I could hear her sobbing under the house.

Well, it served her right.

Chapter Seven: Holy Smokes, I've Been Abandoned!

I
returned to the front of the house and began pacing around near the point where three pasture trails merged with the main road out of the ranch.

Slim would be coming down one of those roads and I wanted to be there when he came through. I was pretty sure that he would stop anyway, and honk his horn and call for me, because . . . well, by then he would have missed me and would be frantic with concern, but I didn't want to take any chances on getting left.

So I paced around in the middle of the road—waiting, watching, listening. In the course of listen­ing, what I heard was Mary D Cat, crying under the house.

It didn't bother me at all, even though we Heads of Ranch Security have a warm side to our nature and we are famous for being kind to children. I mean, that's just bred into us. To be­come a Head of Ranch Security, a guy must take a Solemn Cowdog Oath to protect and defend and be nice to all children, even the ones who are bratty.

But we also have this other side, which is cold and hard and made of quarter-inch-steel armored plate. It allows us to conduct slashing interrogations and solve murder cases without the slightest quiver of emotion. We're talking about your basic hard-boiled ranch dog here, and listening to sad stories is just part of the job.

It was this cold, hard side of my nature that greeted the sobs of Mary D Cat. Yes, I heard them but they bounced off my steel-plated eardrums like . . . I don't know what, but they bounced off.

I continued to pace in the snow.

Don't get me wrong. Making ladies cry had never been high on my list of Fun Things to Do, even lady cats. Maybe some dogs get a kick out of it but I don't. I do it when I have to. It just goes with the job.

Every once in a while you make a lady cry. It can't be helped, and I wished she would stop crying.

Hey, I'd told the truth, is all. If she couldn't handle the truth, that was her problem.

I had problems of my own.

What was keeping Slim so long? I cocked my ear and listened. Crying. Weeping. Sobbing.

The only thing more annoying than a cat that rubs is one that crawls under a house and cries. I have absolutely no use for . . .

I changed the direction of my pacing, ever so slightly, and eased over to a point in front of the house. “Kitty, you can't help it that you're weird. You do the best you can with what you have, which isn't much.”

More blubbering.

“Look, everyone in this world has to be something, and you happen to be a little crazy. It's no big deal.”

More blubbering.

I slipped under the fence and stood in front of the hole in the foundation.

“I wish you wouldn't do that. I mean, you can't just fall apart when somebody tells you the truth. I gave you my honest opinion, what more can I say?” No change. “Look, will you say something? I'll be leaving soon and . . .”

I stuck my head into the hole. I couldn't see her in the darkness but I could hear her, loud and clear.

“Look, my car and driver will be here any minute now. I'm a very busy dog and I don't have time to waste on crybabies and bawl-bags.”

At last she spoke—through tears, of course. “I'm not a crybaby or a bawl-bag! I'm just a poor lonely cat who's been marooned for two long years and wants a bite of cheese and a friend. But nobody cares.”

“Yes, that's sort of the bottom line, isn't it? Well, I'm going to be leaving here in a minute, so let's try to wrap this deal up. I'll be coming back to feed the cows another day. You work on your problems and get all the tears out of your system and maybe we can sit down and talk about it. What do you say to that?”

She said . . . more tears.

“Look, cat, do you want to resolve this thing or not? I don't have all day. My ride will . . .” Just then I heard the hum of a motor. “Well, there's my ride. I have to go. Have a great day.” She bawled louder at that. “Well, what do you want me to say? Have an awful day? Okay, have an awful day. Adios, good-bye, and
hors d'oeuvre.

Too bad for her I had done my best. I wiggled my way out of the hole—I had gotten myself a little farther under the house than I had planned—I wiggled my way out of the hole, put Miss Mary D Cat and her problems behind me, and . . .

. . . saw the Cammo-Stealth army truck go down the road and disappear behind a curtain of snow.

Hey, wait a minute! Why didn't he stop or blow his horn? How was I supposed to . . . I'd been waiting out there in the middle of the road!

I went dashing away from the house and down the road. I barked. I yelled. I went to Turbo-Lightning Speed and chased the truck half a mile, until my Turbo-Lightning turned to Turbo-Mush. Exhausted, I stopped.

And there, standing in the middle of the road, in the silence, with snowflakes falling on my nose, I had to face the awful truth. Slim hadn't even noticed that I was missing. He had left me and I was now marooned and abandoned, a dog without a home or a country.

And for some reason, I found myself thinking about . . . cheese.

CHEESE?

That was ridiculous, totally absurd. I didn't even like cheese. It was too hard to chew and it gummed up my teeth, hence, it followed from simple logic that I would not allow myself to think about it.

Hey, I not only didn't like cheese but I knew that craving cheese was one of the first symptoms of . . . it was worse than fleas or ringworm and I didn't want it and I would NOT allow myself to become a victim of Cheesarosis.

No way. That was all right for weirdo crybaby cats, but not for dogs.

Furthermore, just because I was now marooned and abandoned didn't mean that I was going to rush back to the house and establish diplomatic relations with Mary D Cat. No thanks.

In the first place, there was a very high probability that Slim would discover his error and come streaking back to the canyon country to rescue me. Hence, my period of exile would probably not last long.

A couple of hours at the most. Nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, at that very moment I turned and looked down the road . . . and didn't see him coming.

But then again, I really hadn't, uh, expected him back so soon anyways, so no big deal there.

In the second place, I had always considered myself a very self-sufficient dog, the kind of dog who enjoyed his own company and could always find ways of passing the time.

Now, your ordinary dogs—your poodles, your house dogs, your little yip-yips—they couldn't spend a minute alone without going into a panic. Why? Because they are such boring little mutts that to spend time alone with them is to die a slow, boring death.

Not me, fellers. When I'm alone, I'm in the company of the most interesting and resourceful dog I know, so the thought of being marooned with ME for an hour or two, or half a day, or a whole day or even several days or a week . . .

Gulp.

Okay, maybe it wouldn't be all that great, but I knew that I could handle it.

Self-discipline, that's the secret, and I had gobs of self-discipline. And I sure as thunder didn't crave the company of a sniveling piece of cheese.

The company of a cat, I should say. A sniveling cat.

And I didn't go streaking back to the house. I
walked
back to the house. And did I go straight to the hole in the foundation and tell my sad story to Mary D Cat? No sir, I did not. I established a temporary camp in the middle of the road and didn't even get close to the cheese.

Close to the house, I should say, didn't even get close to the house. No, I dug myself a little bed in the snow, right in the middle of the road where Slim could find me when he came roaring back . . .

He would be so embarrassed and angry with himself. And apologetic. Imagine, him leaving his Head of Ranch Security at the Hodges' Place! He would beg for understanding and forgiveness. I would grant it, but not right away

These wounds take time to heal.

And I wanted him to learn his lesson from it.

I curled up in the snow and watched the snow­flakes fall and kept my eyes locked on the point where the road disappeared into the soft curtain of cheese.

Of snow, I should say.

The point is that I was self-sufficient and perfectly content to spend a couple of hours by myself, thinking deep thoughts and laughing at my own wit, and the hours dragged by and I thought I would go nuts.

Where were they! Why hadn't they come streaking back to save me from this horrible silence and isolation? Hey, darkness was falling across the canyon and the coyotes were howling, and there I was, marooned and exiled and abandoned, and I wanted . . .

I wanted some cheese!

And suddenly it occurred to me that Mary D Cat, uh, needed a friend.

Someone to listen to her sad tale of woe.

A shoulder to cry on.

And, what the heck, I had a few minutes to burn, so I, uh, hiked over to the house and looked her up.

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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