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The Good Dog - Chapter 4

We walked back home in silence without a single woof or meow. Every once in a while I stole a look at the cat, who seemed both casual and deep in thought. Maybe all cats are like that – casually intense. I never gave Cats much thought really. They were never playing fetch in the park, their nightly yowls were not howls, and as for interactions cat and I had ever on butt sniffing terms. Now, however, here we were - a tried of a dog and cat making our way Down the sidewalk at dusk, and no one noticed my anxiety In the world I no longer understood.

Our pace was quick, as we needed to be home before Good Girl and Down. When we got back to the alley next to our building the Cat didn’t hesitate to make its way by leaps and bounds up to the open window of our apartment. On the ledge, it looked back Down at me with what I appreciated was neither a look of pity nor amusement, but simply one of analyzing a challenge. And challenge it was. I will spare you the step – by –precarious-step climb back to the apartment. Suffice to say over the ensuing weeks I would become adept at it.

Good Girl returned shortly after the Cat and I. She dumped her bags, went to the kitchen, and filled both our food bowls. I’d been through so much I hadn’t even noticed how hungry I was. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but for a dog it’s a big deal. At the sound of the magical can opener all the adventure of the day vanished from my mind as my stomach captured me heart and soul. And by the time I finished my second bowl Good Girl had my leash ready for our nightly poop in the park. I shot a glance at the kat, both wondering if I’d be safe from the humping advances of the dog we’d dealt with earlier, but the park was filled with its usual cast of characters, Frolicking, chasing, marking, pooping. All of it perfectly normal, all of it the activities of an average evening. But this wasn’t an average evening, And a little did I know that no evening would be average for me again.

When Good Girl and I returned we found Down sprawled out on the get off that, watching the wannawatchsometv. Good Girl joined her, both of them snuggling up after what was clearly a very difficult day for Down. I decided to check in on the cat, but she was limply draped over a box of shoes in the hallway. At first, I wondered how, after the day we’d had, The Cat could sleep. But since it seemed like the cat was normally asleep. I guess the real marvel was that it had been awake at all. I went back to the living room and curled up in front of the wannawatchsometv. As usual, the little people inside were acting out some story, and it always amazes me how, with a mere push of a button on a little box, Good Girl or Down could in a flash change what the little people did, and where what they did it. Indoors, outdoors, in a car, in a park - it was amazing. And their size, which they could change, seemingly at will! Sometimes they were in the far distance, sometimes their heads filled the entire window. Their’s was a world I could not smell, and a magic I could never understand.

After Good Girl had induced multiple scene shifts with a little people obliging her choices, Dawn suddenly stopped her on a scene where the little people seem to just be standing in front of a building, and a tiny person seriously talking into a stick as they faced us, saying “murder.” Behind them were- blue and red flashing lights, and other tiny people carrying something covered in white down some stairs.

After months of listening to Down talk about her new job I’d come to understood the word murder, and I’d heard the tiny people in the box say the word a lot, though normally with ominous music as they all stood around looking at one of them laying on the ground. Murder. That’s how I knew what the Parrot was talking about. A murder. But this time there was no body on the ground, and while I couldn’t understand what they were saying they did say “murder” a lot. And some other words, “onion organizer.”

I know onions. Good Girl uses them when cooking. They stab me in the eyes.

I must’ve drifted off to sleep because one second it was all tiny people, murder, and onions, and the next the room was cold and darkness. Good Girl and Down had gone to the bedroom to wrestle, so I shook myself awake, and before I made my way to my bed I went to the kitchen first as I did every night to see if anyone had dropped anything edible on the floor. But before I got there something caught my nose. It was a smell, a soft smell. Soft, but sharp as nail clippers . Musky, like a squirrel. But not a squirrel… different… The smell was coming from the kitchen. At first I thought maybe the Cat was once again trying to feed its habit, and perhaps this was just the scent of a pitiful catnip junkie. But when I came near the kitchen nothing could’ve prepared me for what I saw: The Cat, crouching on the floor, bathed in moonlight, and in front of it, not a milk bone away, stood a Mouse.

The apartment didn’t have a mouse problem, and by its scruffy smell I could tell this was an outside mouse. I stood in the shadows and watched as the Mouse, unafraid, stepped forward. It was holding something in his tiny paws which it placed and unwrapped in front of the Cat, and suddenly the smell of fried chicken coated the inside of my nose, like a greased explosion of deliciousness. I struggled to hold my slaver in check. Yes, I had eaten two bowls of food earlier, but still – fried chicken. The Cat looked down at the chicken gift, then at the Mouse, then back at the chicken. The Cat nodded, and the Mouse retreated into the darkness and out of the window. I, too, silently made my escape.

So that was the Cat’s game. Mouse Protection. And the Parrot? That must’ve been blackmail. Extortion. Somehow the Cat knew something that pinned the bird, and now the Cat was making it pay through the beak. I shoulda known. I almost been suckered by her act of kindness towards me, but you can’t trust cats. Ever.

But as I slipped into dreams of a world of fried chicken, I couldn’t help, but feel there was more to this than met the nose.

Sunrise, and I had to pee. Down took me for a rushed circuit of the bushes at the playground on the corner, then home again.. The Cat got up just long enough for its daily ritual of attempted assassination by tripping, then it went back to its bed and seeming sleep. I wondered, given what I now suspected, how the Cat would benefit from killing Good Girl and Down. Insurance? Inheritance? Had someone taken out a hit on them? What would the killer Cat get out of it?

Then Down and Good Girl we’re off to their gottagotoworks. I’m not sure why they ever went. Each day they abandon us, and they never come back with any happiness beyond sighing gladtobehome. Whatever they did all day was no belly scratch.

Me, I just wouldn’t go. But I guess it takes all kinds.

As soon as the door clicked shut the Cat’s lids popped open like a bag of snausages on a hot day. Her eyes shifted from side to side as a checking for cold-handed veterinarians, then she was on her feet, blink, and she was at the open kitchen window. The Cat paused, and looked back at me as I peered at her from the doorway. I had tried to be sneaky, but I have a long nose. By the time my eyes can see around the corner my nose has been in the room for a while. The Cat dipped her head, and nodded toward the window. I guess she had no idea I knew about her despicable rodent protection business, otherwise there was no way she would invite me to tag along. Or maybe she knew I know, and wanted to somehow implicate me in her crime, maybe to blackmail me at some point. But I decided to play alone, find out what I could before somehow exposing her. I pushed a chair near the sink, got onto the sideboard, and the two of us made our way out of the window and precariously down to the ground. We stepped onto the pavement and there, leaning against an empty serial box, was the Mouse. I know it was the same Mouse – the nose doesn’t lie.

I have to say my experience reading the emotions of mice was, at that time, limited. They have such tiny faces. But the Mouse seemed both nonchalant and nervous. On the one hand it was a mouse at ease with a cat, but on the other it seemed intensely focused and angry. It smelled angry.

The Cat made its way over to the Mouse, but then passed right by it, continuing to the sidewalk. The Mouse turned and followed, with me in tow. We must’ve made a curious parade – Cat, Mouse, Dog. And while everyone is used to cats and dogs they do react badly to rodents. I understand, but I don’t understand. I mean yeah - they get into things and eat your food, but they’re pretty smart,, and as I’ve since learned very clean and thoughtful. Very family oriented.

But maybe because of the time of day, or because mice are considered cuter than rats, the three of us were largely ignored as we trotted around the corner. We didn’t have to cross the street – our destinations was nearby. A broken window. shadowy basement, and we were there – wherever there was, to do whatever we were doing. I had no idea.

It was dark, very dark. Get your head stuck in the food bag dark. And for me, at least that kind of panic, too.A criminal cat, an angry Mouse… and yesterday a murderous parrot! What was I doing here? But before I could do the smart thing and scram the Cat put a paw on my haunch, as if it sensed my trepidation. And I didn’t leave, but paused for what turned out to be a fateful moment. The Cat slowly slipped away, slinking its way through the darkness. The Mouse followed at a short distance and, as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I could see them making their way between discarded bits of furniture, and approaching a small dilapidated bookcase. Slowly the Cat nose forward, and in the silence I could hear a soft rustling of rotted paper. A pause, and then suddenly the Cat carefully hooked a claw into the cover of a rotten book, flipped it open in there, in the hollow belly of the mildewed pages, were two mice caught “in flagrante delicto” in a passionate mousy style.

They froze, I think more out of surprise than fear, and in the pause, the only sound was the squeak of anguish that came from the Mouse that had accompanied us. Like I said, back then I didn’t know much about reading rodent facial expressions, but it didn’t take an expert to see the heartbreak. The two uncovered lovers separated, with one carelessly flipping onto its back and scratching, the other crying out with embarrassment. Its squeaks were full of shame and high-pitched apologies, but our companion Mouse was having none of it. Its face had frozen cold, its hard expression broken only by the twitch of its whiskers. I know some mice mate for life, and though I don’t know if these two were that species, but at least one of the couple had assumed they were. The Cat and I watched as our companion brushed past the pleadings squeaks of what I realized was its mate, briskly making its way to the other now lounging, smirking mouse. Suddenly the smirker leapt to its 4 feet and rushed our companion, who landed it on its back again with a punch on the snout. I did not even know mice could punch, but I guess when confronting a cheating spouse’s lover, even a mouse can surprise you. The Mouse, then turned to the Cat, who had stayed respectfully still throughout the encounter, and extended its tiny paw. I could see it little shoulders shiver as it held back its tears, and the Cat gently yet businesslike, touched its paw to that of the Mouse. And with that Exchange, and to the sound of a mouse, begging its partner for one last chance, the Cat and I left the dim, sordid scene in the basement. And as we stepped into the clear light of day I realized that the Cat wasn’t a criminal.

The distressed Parrot.

The heartbroken Mouse.

The fried chicken payments.

The Cat wasn’t an extortionist. The Cat wasn’t selling protection.

The Cat was a private detective.

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