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 (6 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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Chapter Ten: I Can't Believe I Decided to Help a Cat

O
kay, I had gone nose-to-nose with the cat, when all at once I saw a pair of big yellow eyes looking at me.

And they weren't Mary D Cat's eyes. That gave me my first clue that they belonged to someone else, and I couldn't think of anyone else I wanted to meet in that canyon on a dark night.

Then a second pair of eyes appeared. That gave me my second clue that they belonged to someone else. Mary D had only one pair of eyes, don't you see.

“Kitty,” I said in a low voice, “I'm afraid we've been found by the coyotes. You're the survival ex­pert around here. What do we do now?”

I couldn't believe what she said. “Well, it's all over. We're finished.”

“What do you mean,
we're finished!
What about all your survival tricks? What about tearing out their eyeballs?”

She gave me a sad smile. “That was just a bluff. It works on dogs but not on coyotes. Nothing works on coyotes. I'm a dead cat, Harvey, and nothing can save me.”

“Yeah, but . . . what about . . .”

She shook her head. “It's no use. I always knew they'd get me, and they did. But you can make a run for it. They won't follow you.”

“Me make a . . . that wouldn't be a very noble thing to do.”

“No, but who needs to be noble at a time like this?”

“Hmm. That's a point. And you're just a cat. The world is full of cats.”

“That's right. Only one Me but plenty of cats.”

I began easing off to the north. “Well, Mary D, it was a real pleasure meeting you. I have mixed feelings about running out on you like this, but I think I can live with my feelings.”

She waved a paw. “Go north until you come to Moonshine Springs. Just west of the spring, you'll find a trail out of the canyon. I'll stall them as long as I can. Good-bye, Harvey. When you get back to civilization, eat a piece of cheese for Mary D Cat.”

“I sure will, and thanks for . . .”

“Go! Hurry!”

Since the coyotes were almost upon us, that seemed good advice. I turned and made a lightning dash up the canyon. Free at last! Boy, that had been a close call. Why, if the cat hadn't . . .

I couldn't believe she'd done that. It was almost enough to force me to rethink my Position on Cats. I mean, I'd always thought of cats as selfish and . . .

I found myself slowing to a walk. It just wasn't right—me walking away from danger and leaving a poor helpless cat to be mauled by cannibals. I mean, I'd had some success in dealing with coyotes before, and maybe I could . . .

You won't believe this, but I found myself reversing directions and heading back down the canyon. I couldn't believe it either. I mean, she was only a CAT and the world was full of cats and who cared if . . .

When I arrived back at the scene, the coyote brothers were standing over Mary D. They were licking their chops. They seemed fairly surprised at my sudden appearance.

“Evening, guys, how's it going? Hey, you found my cat, thanks a million. I'd love to stay and talk, but we're kind of in a hurry, don't you see, and . . .”

The brothers glanced at each other and started laughing. “Ha! Hunk big stupid for blunder into coyote camp!”

“Stupid? Hey, I didn't blunder in here. I came to pick up my cat.”

They got a bigger laugh out of that. “Ha, plenty stupid, 'cause coyote not give up cat, and not give up Hunk, too, 'cause Hunk same guy who made foolish talk from back of truck—about coyote momma.”

“That? Hey, that was nothing, just a little joke, guys. Honest.”

“Uh! little joke on Hunk, 'cause Hunk now stay for big coyote feast, oh boy!”

I had sort of expected this. I mean, I really hadn't expected them to let us walk away without an argument, and it just so happened that I had prepared a clever plan.

It was a very clever plan and I knew it would work, because I had tried it several times before and it had never failed. The plan rested on my knowledge of the coyote mind. I knew how they thought, see, and I knew their weak spots. Watch this.

I waited for them to stop laughing at their good fortune. Then, “You know, Snort, I happen to be familiar with your culture and tradition, and I know that before a major feast, you guys love to fight and gamble and sing.”

Snort shook his head. “Eat first. Then sing and gamble and fight and sing.”

“No, you've got it backwards. The singing and gambling come first, because after a big meal, you like to take a nap.”

They whispered back and forth. Then Snort said, “Maybe so. Coyote like big nap.”

“Right. And as I recall, you guys think you're pretty hot-rod singers.”

“Not thinking. Knowing for sure. Coyote berry hop-rod singers, berriest hop-rod singers in whole world.”

I gave them a careless chuckle. “Yeah, well, that's what I'm leading up to. It's been a while since we went up against each other in a major singing contest, and it happens that I've got a new song that will just blow your drawers off.”

Snort scowled. “Uh. Coyote not wear drawers.”

“Well, you know what I mean. My song is so good, I'm sure it would beat any song you guys could come up with—that is, if you can come up with a song.”

“Huh! Coyote got plenty song. Coyote berry better singest in whole world.”

“An idle boast, Snort, unless you're willing to try it out in a contest that's fair and square.”

The brothers shook their heads. “Coyote not give a hoot for fair and square. Coyote like to cheat.”

“I know, Snort, but this contest must be fair and square, for you see, if I win the Battle of the Songs, you must let me and my cat go free.”

“Sound pretty crazy.”

“Right, but you guys are pretty crazy, too.”

“Uh. Coyote pretty crazy, all right.”

“See? We agree on everything, and just to make sure that the contest is fair and square, I'm going to be the judge because . . . well, everyone knows that I'm, uh, fair and square and impartial. Honest. No kidding. I really am.”

The brothers held a conference and talked it over. Then Snort said, “Coyote not care who judge contest, 'cause coyote win for sure.”

“Well, we'll see about that, Snort. I can promise only that I'll be totally fair and square.” Heh, heh. “And you go first.”

They shook their heads. “Hunk go first. Coyote go fifth.”

“You mean second, don't you?”

He clubbed me over the head. “Mean go fifth.”

“Okay, fine. That'll work.” I took a deep breath. “Well, here goes. You're going to love this one. It raises a deep philosophical point, Snort, and asks the question, ‘How could a mother skunk love her children?'”

“Coyote not give hoot for deep fizzological point. Sing song, then shut up.”

“Okay, fine. Here goes.” And with that, I sang my new dynamite song, which, by the way, I composed on the spot. It had been more or less inspired by my encounter with Leroy the Skunk.

Ode to a Mother Skunk

I've noticed in the course of years,

A-traveling through this vale of tears,

There's several things I've never understood.

How tall's the sky, how deep's the sea?

And how come God invented me?

And how do skunks cope with motherhood?

Now, a skunk's no friend of mine, I'll say.

I'll walk around one any day.

If he takes the high road, I'll take the low.

I think that everyone agrees

That a skunk smells bad in the first degree.

So how do they fall in love, do you suppose?

Just think about it, contemplate.

Who'd ask a skunk out for a date?

A date with a skunk couldn't be much fun.

A guy would have to be pretty drunk

To spend an evening with a skunk,

And who could stand the smell to marry one?

Imagine the bride in her wedding clothes,

Wearing a clothespin on her nose,

While the groom holds his breath just to survive.

And if children came, heaven forbid,

Could a mother skunk really love those kids?

That couldn't make her glad to be alive.

Now, what a shock to a young girl's mind,

First to fall in love and then to find

Herself in charge of a brood of little skunks.

Now, a man would go into a coma,

Hit the roof and call his momma,

“Ma, git over here and help me pack my trunks!”

But a woman's love, they say, is blind

She'll give it to 'most any kind

Of ugly thing she finds in the nursery.

If a mother skunk can love those young'uns,

Smelling like a bunch of onions,

Then a mother's love can't smell, much less see.

So the next time you old moms out there

Are tired of worry, work, and care

And wondering if this motherhood really pays.

Just remember, it could be worse—

Riding to church in the back of a hearse

Or being a momma skunk on Mother's Day.

Happy Mother's Day to you,

Be glad you're not a skunk.

Chapter Eleven: The Vampire Cat Appears

W
ell, I put my whole heart and soul into the song, and when I'd finished, I faced Rip and Snort and waited for a roar of applause.

They stared at me. No applause.

“Well? Is that all I get for doing the best song of the year?”

“Not best song of year,” said Snort, “only boring and stupid. Coyote not give hoot for mother skunk.”

“But you'll have to admit that the melody was kind of nice.”

They shook their heads. “Not have to admit. Coyote song much better and betterest.”

“Yeah, but you haven't even sung it yet and it's illegal and crooked to make judgments before you've done the song. Who knows, you guys might not remember your words. And don't forget who's the official judge of this contest.”

I didn't like the way they laughed at that last statement. It made me wonder if they were going to keep their respective words about making this an honest contest.

Mary D must have been having the same thoughts, because she looked up at me and whispered, “I don't think this is going to work, Harvey.”

“Of course it is, and will you stop calling me Harvey?”

She didn't have time to answer. Just then Rip and Snort began warming up their tonsils and preparing for their big production. And they told me to sit down and shut up, which I, uh, considered a fairly reasonable request—considering who they were and all.

So I sat down and shut my trap and listened to their latest assault on good taste and music. It had a lot of rhythm and noise and no melody whatsoever—a pretty good kind of song for cannibals, in other words, because they can't carry a tune anyway. Let's see if I can explain what they did.

They started off by laying down a basic rhythm of eight beats:

Rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble mutter,

Rumble rumble rumble, mutter mutter.

Then Snort added the main vocals, if that's what you call it, and it went something like this:

The Cannibal Way

Rip and Snort are toughest guys,

Singing song and telling lies.

Howl at moon and play all night,

Love to eat and love to fight.

Sleep all day, not give a hoot

Coyote just a big galoot

Better not get in our way

Or we will punch your lights out.

It's the cannibal way,

The cannibal way.

It's the cannibal, animal, fo-fan-fanibal

Cannibal way.

We see you in the dark, you know you can't hide.

We got eyes on the front and eyes on the side.

See, we see you, we hear you, we're coming on through,

The world's most famous wrecking crew.

We smell pretty bad and we know we are cool

'Cause we learned our stuff at Cannibal School.

Bobcats, badgers, guard-dog mutts,

We clean their clocks and kick their shins.

It's the cannibal way,

The cannibal way.

It's the cannibal, animal, fo-fan-fanibal

Cannibal way.

The brothers finished their little whatever-it-was. You can call it a song if you wish. I'd call it a noisy, tasteless piece of low-class coyote trash, every bit as bad as the others I had heard them do over the years.

They turned to me with big sloppy grins on their faces. “Now what Hunk say?”

“Well, it, uh, leaves me breathless.”

“What that means, dressless?”

“It means . . . well, I guess you're wanting to hear the final opinion of our impartial panel of judges, and here it is.”

I paused for a moment, just for dramatic effect, and pretended to be giving the matter deep and serious thought, although I had, uh, more or less already picked the winner.

“Okay, guys, we've got a winner. Stand by. Our big winner in tonight's contest is . . . Hank the Cowdog, doing ‘Ode to a Mother Skunk'!”

No applause. Only blank stares.

“But you guys win the consolation prize, which is a one-week all-expenses-paid vacation in the next canyon. Congratulations and start moving, Kitty, these guys have been known to riot after a big defeat.” We began edging northward. “And boys, it was fun, we really enjoyed it, and what really matters is not who wins or loses but . . .”

In a flash, they had changed positions and were blocking our path. Snort was grinning. “Huh! What really matter is cheat and win, then have big coyote feast.”

“Yes, Snort, but that would be . . . uh, cheating. And I know that you wouldn't want history to record that you were a couple of cheaters, so to speak.”

“Ha! Coyote not give hoot for so-to-speaking. Only give hoot for big yummy supper. Start with cat, then eat Hunk too, oh boy!”

Miss Kitty and I traded looks. She said, “I didn't think it would work.”

“Quiet. I'm not through yet. It's going to get a little crazy from here on, so be prepared to play to my lead. And be ready to run.” I turned back to Snort. “Okay, fine. Now we know the truth about you guys. You cheat and can't be trusted, and I guess that's our tough luck.”

“Ha! Berry tough.”

“But before you proceed with this shameless travesty of justice, there's something you should know about this cat.”

“Uh. Coyote eat cat in two bites, not give hoot for shameful tapestry.”

“Yeah? Well, you'd better hear me out and then you can make up your own minds. I mean, you guys are old enough now to start making your own decisions about, well, life and setting a good example for the youth of our . . .”

“Hunk get to point.”

“Right, and here's the point.” I left Mary D's side and walked over to the brothers, and whispered, “Boys, two nights ago, that cat was bitten on the neck by a VAMPIRE!”

There was a long moment of silence as the brothers stared at me with big empty eyes. “What means, bitten by umpire?”

“Not an umpire, Snort, a vampire. Do you know about vampires?”

He shook his head. “Coyote not play baseball, not give a hoot for fun and games.”

“Yeah, well, vampires aren't fun and games.” I leaned forward and spoke in my spookiest voice. “Vampires are terrible scary creatures. They rise up out of the graveyard in the deep dark of the night, and they go moaning and crying through the night, looking for victims.

“You know what they do? They bite their victim on the neck and inject them with the deadly Vampire Virus, and then they tear out the victim's throbbing gizzard . . . and EAT IT RAW!”

I studied my audience. They were all ears and eyes. They were buying the story, I could tell.

“And then, Snort, after doing all that, they turn their victim into a little squeaking mouse! Oh, and one last thing about vampires. They hate cheaters.”

Snort spoke in a hoarse whisper. “Um. Coyote not crazy for meeting umpire.”

“Yeah? Well, you're fixing to meet one right now. Watch this.” I turned to Mary D and gave her the Secret Sign—a slightly raised eyebrow. Then I closed my eyes and said the next part in the spookiest voice I could come up with:

“Seven slithering slimy lizards,

Spiderwebs and haunted houses.

Arise, oh vampire, seek their gizzards,

And turn them into squeaking mouses!”

You might remember that Mary D had shown signs of weirdness earlier in the day. In other words, she knew a thing or two about strange behavior, and she didn't get it out of a book. She knew about it firsthand.

And once she had figgered out what I was doing, she played her part like a real pro. She rose slowly from the ground, kind of like a balloon being inflated, and as she rose her eyes grew wider and wider. And remember that she had those greenish-yellow cat eyes, the very spookiest kind when you see them in the dark.

Her eyes grew wider and wider and you know how cat eyes are sometimes black in the center? That's the way they were—two glowing circles of greenish-yellow light, with darkness at the centers.

She floated up to a standing position, and then the middle of her back kept going up, making the kind of hump that cats make when they're mad or crazy. And she opened her mouth, showed them her spiky little teeth, and cut loose with an eerie yowl.

Now, sometimes when a cat goes through all of that routine, it will cause a dog to become inflamed and want to start barking. But Mary D was playing her part so well, and it was kind of a dark spooky night anyways and I had softened up the brothers with my vampire story—all of that together took its toll on the morale of the Cannibal Army.

Their ears shot straight up and their eyes grew as wide as saucers, and I noticed that a strip of hair was beginning to rise on both their backs. And fellers, they were watching every move she made and giving her their full attention.

In other words, they were not showing signs of inflammation, which was very good, because if they had, we would have been finished. It appeared that we had a chance of pulling it off.

Well, Mary D went on with the drama. After rising slowly to her feet and humping her back and yowling, she locked her gaze on them and took a step toward them—and hissed. It was a very convincing hiss and it caused the brothers to inch backward. And then she moaned,

“The moon is full, the earth is turning,

My vampire appetite is burning.

Two coyote gizzards I must eat

To make this dreadful night complete.”

Say, that DID get their full attention, especially the part about coyote gizzards. Rip looked at Snort and Snort looked at Rip, and then he turned to me.

“Uh. Coyote not so hungry now. Maybe Hunk better call off umpire and keep away from Rip and Snort.”

“Sure, good idea. I just want you guys to know . . . you're right, Snort, I'd better try to get her under control—before it's too late.” I spoke to Kitty. “Get back, vampire, get back! Away, away, be gone!”

She turned and hissed at me and . . . by George, it sent a few shivers down my backbone, even though I was part of the show.

“Hey guys, I'm afraid it's too late. Once she starts these vampire fits, she's out of control. All I can tell you is that if she comes after you with those deadly poison vampire fangs, you'd better run for your lives.”

Right on cue, she sprang in their direction.

“Oh no, there she goes! She's out of control, the vampire has taken over! Run for your lives, boys, and protect your gizzards!”

There was a mad scramble, and then . . . silence. Total silence. Mary D stood alone in the moonlight. We had pulled it off.

“Nice work, Kitty.”

Her head came around very slowly and . . . hmm, she stared at me with those strange eyes and . . . my goodness, then she hissed, “I AM a vampire and I want YOUR gizzard!”

BOOK: The Case of the Vampire Cat
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