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 (5 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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Chapter Eight: The Cat Insists on Being My Friend and Ally

I
wandered over to the hole in the foundation and glanced over both shoulders to make sure that no one was watching. No one was, of course, I knew that. But still, this was embarrassing.

I pointed my nose toward the hole. “Uhhhhh, Miss Mary D? Hello? Are you still there? I've experienced a slight change in plans. Maybe you should come out so we can talk about it.”

I could hear her sniffling under there, but for a long time she didn't answer. Then I heard her voice. “No, I won't come out. You said I was weird.”

“Perhaps you have me confused with someone else, ma'am. I'm almost sure I wouldn't have said such a thing, and if you'll just come out, we can . . .”

“You said it. I heard you. You said I was a weird cat and nobody cared about me.”

“No, no, I think what we have here is a sim­ple case of mistaken identity. You're probably thinking of my companion, my friend, Drover—small sawed-off, stub-tailed little mutt. I often get blamed for his, uh, careless remarks, don't you see.”

“It was you, and I'm not coming out.”

I took a deep breath and glanced around. It was getting dark. “Okay, maybe it was me. I admit it. Did you hear that?”

“Keep going.”

“I, well, there isn't much more to say, really. I admit that I was misquoted and I accept full and total responsibility for everything that happened . . . although I still say you shouldn't have taken it so hard.”

“Are you sorry for making me cry?”

“I, uh . . . am I sorry for . . . ? Okay, okay, let's get it over with. I made a few careless remarks and I'm sorry they hurt your feelings and made you cry . . . although I must add . . .”

“You'd better stop while you're ahead, doggie.”

I glared at the dark hole from whence her voice came. “Yes ma'am, I guess you're right. Now, will you please come out?”

She came out and looked at me with a pair of sad, red-rimmed eyes. “What are you doing here? I thought you were leaving.”

“Yes, exactly. I, too, thought I was leaving, but instead of leaving, I got left.”

Her eyes brightened on that. “Ohhhhh, how exciting! You mean we're marooned together?”

“That seems to be the case, and let's get right to the . . . you, uh, don't happen to have some cheese, do you? All at once I have this powerful craving for cheese, and I don't even like the stuff.”

She began purring and rubbing on my leg. “I know. It must have something to do with being marooned. With me, it started the first day, and I've been hungry for cheese for two years. Weird, isn't it?”

“Yes, it's weird and it's not like me at all, and let's go straight to the bottom line, ma'am. Cir­cum­stances have placed us on the same team, so to speak.”

“Oh? You want my help, is that what you're saying?”

“I, uh . . . I'm not one who needs help very often or who enjoys asking for it, but yes, I seem to be . . .” I coughed. “I seem to find myself . . .” This was very painful. “We appear to have reached the point where I need your help, yes.”

“Otherwise, you might not survive the night?”

“That's, uh . . . that thought had occurred to me, yes. And a guy doesn't need to worry about the second night until he's survived the first one, is sort of how it looks from here.”

“Yes, the coyotes are bad in these canyons, and the bobcats are even worse. Do you want my advice?”

“No, actually I thought . . .” I swallowed hard. “Yes, I want your advice. After all, you're the one who's stayed alive down here for two years.”

“That's right.” She kept on rubbing on my leg. “I'd advise you to spend the night under the house. It's the only safe place on the ranch.”

I moved several steps away from her. “Yes, right. I had already reached that same conclusion myself.”

“There's only one problem, doggie.”

“You can call me Hank, and what's the problem?”

“You don't like cats.”

“I don't like . . . ha, ha, ha. Whatever gave you that idea? I mean . . . okay, it's sort of natural for cats and dogs to be on opposite sides, but I think that we, uh, have room for compromise here, given the unusual circumstances and so forth.”

“You don't think you'd mind staying under the house with a cat?”

“I feel that we can . . . work around that, yes. No problem.”

“But there's still another problem. I rub on things, and you don't like that.”

She came over and rubbed me on the front legs, rubbed my left side, my tail section, and then my right side. I sat there as still as a statue, fighting against all my natural impulses to make fangs and growl.

Fellers, this was one of the toughest assignments of my whole career. All my years of Security Work rose up inside my head and called for me to snarl and snap at that cat. But I sat there and took it. I had no choice.

“Actually, ma'am, I'm discovering a whole new appreciation for the, uh, rubbing process. There's something soothing about it and . . .” And I wanted to bite her tail in half SO BADLY! “The rubbing business might be a small problem, especially at first, but the alternatives are not all that great. In other words, I think we can work that one out too.”

“Well, I'd hate for you to be unhappy.”

“Oh no. No, no. I'm very, uh, happy. Very.” And if she didn't quit rubbing on me and flicking that tail across my nose, I was going to . . .

Just then, I heard coyotes howling in the distance. “No sir, that rubbing will be no problem whatever. You just rub all you want and, by George, we'll . . . do you suppose we ought to finish this conversation under the house?”

“Yes, I guess we should. I'd rather stay outside and enjoy the fresh air, but it starts getting dangerous at this time of night.”

I headed for the hole in the foundation. “Right, so why don't we just head for the fort?”

“Sometimes the coyotes come right up to the opening and bark at me. They like to eat cats, you know.”

“Yes, and guard dogs too. I've had a little experience with those guys, and it makes sleeping under the house sound pretty good to me.”

I waited for her to go under the house—ladies first, you know—and I followed, wiggling my way through the narrow space between the ground and the floor of the house. It wasn't so easy for me to get around in such tight quarters, I mean, with my huge thighs and massive shoulders and everything, but I had pretty strong incentive to make it work.

We crawled all the way to the northwest corner, as far away from the opening as we could get. It was very dark in there and also dusty, but I was learning to like it.

I still couldn't believe Slim had left me down there. What a lousy way to treat the Head of Ranch Security! Well, if I could just make it through one night with the cat, surely he'd be back to get me the next day.

Although . . . oops, he was feeding the Hodges' Place every other day, not every day, which meant . . . what if nobody missed me at all? That was hard for me to believe, but stranger things had happened in the world.

Well, there we were, and Madame Kitty was having the time of her life, rubbing and purring, purring and rubbing and dragging her tail across my face. After all those months and years of being alone, she had something warm to rub on, and before she got done with me, I would probably be as bald as a Thanksgiving turkey.

I hated it. Every second seemed like a minute, and every minute seemed like an hour. Would this go on all night? Didn't she ever sleep?

Well, maybe she didn't sleep at night, but I certainly did. Sleeping happened to be one of the things I did particularly well, and it didn't take me long to drift off and start pushing up a long line of Z's.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

As you might expect, I dreamed of the lovely, incomparable Miss Beulah the Collie. Who would want to dream of anyone else? I had gone visiting at her place and we were sitting together in the shade of that big native elm north of the house. Plato, the spotted dumb-bunny bird dog, was nowhere in sight, which pleased me very much.

In real life he was always around, like flies and gnats, but this was my dream, and in my dreams we have no bird dogs. Who needs 'em? And why Miss Beulah continued to waste her time hanging around that . . . oh well.

I am still the master of my dreams, and in my dreams we have zero bird dogs.

There we were, Miss Beulah and I, sitting in the . . . I've already said that. I cocked my head to a rakish angle and said in my smoothest voice, “Well, my prairie winecup, here we are, alone at last. A penny for your thoughts.”

She gave me that secret smile that sent little shock waves all the way out to the end of my tail. And then she leaned toward me, so that I caught the scent of her aroma, and said, “Cheese. Would you like some cheese?”

“Well I . . . yes. Those aren't exactly the thoughts I had expected to buy for a penny, but yes, I would love some cheese.”

And then—you won't believe this—then she rolled in a huge wheel of cheese. I mean, that thing must have been five feet across, and we started gobbling cheese in big bites and I found myself talking with my mouth full.

“Well Beulah, let's talk about love, shall we?”

“Yes, let's. I love cheese.”

“Mmmm, yes, and so do I. And you know what, Beulah? I used to think only of you, but now I think only of cheese. Love is crazy, isn't it, my dear?”

“Yes,” she said with her mouth stuffed with cheese, “and love is blond, the same color as cheese. Oh Hank, this is so romantic, talking to each other with our mouths stuffed with cheese!”

“Yes, my love, and blowing cheese crumbs in each other's faces. This is the way I'd always hoped it would be.”

Well, it was a beautiful dream, but just then, guess who walked up and ruined it all. You'll never guess.

Chapter Nine: Hint: His Name Was Leroy

Y
ou probably guessed Plato the Bird Dog, right? No, absolutely wrong.

Well, not absolutely wrong. It was partly wrong and partly right, and let me explain.

In the dream, Beulah and I were there alone, sitting under the tree, and we've already covered that two or three times, when out of nowhere, who should appear but Mister Bird Watcher himself.

Well, I wasn't about to let Plato ruin another precious encounter with my one and only true love in the whole world—cheese. (I know this sounds odd but dreams are that way sometimes.) Any­ways, he came blundering into the middle of this precious romantic encounter, and as you might expect, he wanted some of our cheese.

I told him to buzz off, but instead of buzzing off, he went to the giant wheel of cheese, opened his jaws, and was about to snap off a big bite—only he didn't get the chance because I, tee hee, clubbed him over the head with my enormous paw.

That would teach him a valuable lesson about . . . hmmmmm, that was odd. I seemed to be picking up the smell of skunk. It was very faint at first, but it didn't stay faint for long. In fact, it became so strong that I almost fainted.

And . . . holy smokes, that's when the dream rolled away and I found myself back in the real world, under the house at the Hodges' Place. And I was staring straight into the hateful little eyes of a . . . skunk?

Yes, indeed. In my dream, I had thought he was Plato and I had bopped him on the nose, and that had been exactly the wrong thing to do.

Have we discussed skunks? They often take up residence under ranch houses, don't you see, and Mary D Cat had neglected to tell me that she was sharing the place with a loaded stink bomb, and the last thing you want to do to a loaded skunk under the house is to heckle him or get him stirred up with provocatory gestures.

Suddenly my eyes were burning and my lungs were burning. All the circuits on the Smellatory Panel hit “Overload” and sirens began going off in my head. I couldn't breathe, I could hardly see, my instrumentation was blown. Smoke and fire and flames filled the control room, and my whole life had come down to two words: Fresh air!

I staggered and stumbled through the darkness, ran into water pipes and conked my head on floor joists and cinder-block piers, fought my way through the green poisonous air, until at last I reached the escape hatch and tumbled out into the sweet cold air of night.

Gasping for breath, I looked around and saw Mary D standing a few feet away. She was licking her paw. “I should have known that you and Leroy wouldn't get along.”

“Leroy!” I gasped. “You mean he has a name?”

“Oh sure. We share the place. He stays on his side and I stay on mine. He's okay with cats but you must have said something that really hurt his feelings. I mean, he's never done this before.”

“I didn't say anything. I was having this dream, see, and I thought . . . never mind, it's too complicated. The bottom line is that I punched him.”

She stared at me and shook her head. “Uh, uh, uh. You should never punch Leroy.”

“I realize that.”

“I wish you hadn't done it.”

I pushed myself up on all fours. “Well, I kind of regret it myself, and I'm sorry you didn't tell me that I was moving into a den of skunks.”

“Leroy's the only one and he's really a nice guy.”

“I noticed.”

“You just can't punch him around.”

“Hey, it was an accident, and could we change the subject? Such as, what do we do now?”

She cranked up her purring machine and started rubbing on me again. “Well, I'm afraid we've lost the house. This has never happened to me before and . . .”

Suddenly, her eyes turned into flaming circles of fire. She humped her back and started hissing, like a . . . I don't know what. A cobra, I guess, a hissing, angry cobra that had gone insane. And she drew back her right paw and aimed a handful of sharp claws at my nose.

Lucky for me, I saw it coming and used my lightning-fast reflexes to dodge the punch, other­wise . . . hmmm, otherwise our friendship might have ended there, and she might have . . .

Anyways, she humped up and hissed and threw a wild punch, and then she started screeching at me.

“You bozo, I offered to help you and took you in to save your stupid skin, and look what you've done!”

“It was an accident.”

“Accident! Is that all you can say? You found the only skunk within five miles of here and punched him out!”

“I was dreaming.”

“Dreaming! Is that all you can say? You've ruined my friendship with Leroy!”

“I thought he was a bird dog.”

“Bird dog! Is that all you can say?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to say . . .” Suddenly her screech changed into a moan, and she burst out crying again. “I want you to take me away from here! My home is wrecked. It's all I had to show for two long lonely years. I have no place to hide. The coyotes will eat me. Oh Homer, take me away from here!”

“My name is Hank, actually.”

Her head came up, and once again her eyes were aflame. “Do I care what your name is? You've ruined my life, you clam-brain, and now you'd better get me out of here!”

“Don't screech at me.”

“I'll screech at you! I'll tear out your eyeballs!”

“Okay, screech all you want.”

She went back to tears. “Is that all you can say? I've just lost my home and now you ask me to screech about it? What kind of heartless brute are you?”

Oh boy. I walked a few steps away and waited for her to get control of herself. At last she did. She came up behind me.

“Homer, our situation is serious. We'll be sitting ducks for the predators if we stay here.”

“I agree. If you can get us out of these canyons, I can find the way back to my ranch.”

“I know a trail out of the canyon. It will take us up on top, but it will be dangerous.”

I looked down at her. “Well, it appears to me that anything we do around here will be dangerous. Trying to carry on a normal conversation with you is dangerous. Every five minutes, you're wanting to tear out my eyeballs.”

“I've been down here too long. It's made me weird.”

“When I told you that, you threw a fit.”

She shrugged. “Cats are that way.”

“I told you
that,
too, and you threw another fit. And my name's not Homer. It's Hank.”

“Well, my name's not Kitty. It's Mary D Cat.”

“I like Kitty better.”

“I like Homer better.”

“Hmm, well . . . this is all very interesting, but I guess we'd better get out of here. Which way is out?”

“Follow me.”

She headed north, through the corrals and beyond, into the deep forbidding darkness of Picket Canyon. That place was pretty scary, even in the light of day, but at night . . .

Although I had some hesitations and reservations about following a cat anywhere, I did lower my standards to the point of allowing Mary D Cat to lead our group out of the canyon. And stayed pretty close to her, as a matter of fact.

We had gone about half a mile when we topped a little hill near the place where the trail splits, and the left fork goes over to Scott Springs. The main trail, if you remember, goes on up the canyon to Moonshine Springs.

Or maybe you don't remember, if you've never been there. And maybe you haven't been there. But it does.

Anyways, the cat stopped on that little hill and looked back to the south. She heaved a deep sigh and shook her head.

“I just can't do it.”

“You just can't do
what
?”

“Leave.”

I stared at her in utter, complete disbelief. “What do you mean, you can't leave? That's all you've been talking about since the first minute I met you—‘Take me away from here, get me away from this ranch!'”

Once again she was—I couldn't believe this, just couldn't believe it—she was crying again! “I know, but it's still my home. How can I leave the place that's been my home for two years?”

“Easy. You just keep walking.”

“But I can't walk away from all the memories: the sun coming up over the caprock, the wildflowers in the springtime, the mesas sinking into purple shadows at sunset.”

I'd had just about enough. I stuck my nose in her face and growled. “Look, cat, you're my ticket out of here. Never mind the memories. Start walking or we're going to have us a little riot.”

She humped up and hissed, and her eyes took on that same crazy look I'd seen so many times before.

“Listen, bozo, don't you tell ME what to do or I'll tear out your eyeballs!”

I don't know what might have happened if the coyotes hadn't appeared just then, but they did and we never had a chance to find out.

Did they devour both of us right there in one big cannibal feast? You'll just have to read on and see.

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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