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Thursday, April 26, 2007


In 1995, I adopted a kitten out of the rain, who took care of a rat, gave me the incentive to get rid of a crappy customer, and inspired me to write this story about him for my kids. A little girl on the street behind the shop asked me if she could adopt him a couple years after he served as Shop Cat. I'd had him fixed, and all his shots up to date, so I said sure, nobody really owns a cat anyway. I couldn't compete with the benefits she was luring him away with anyhow, but he'd come over the fence to see me for years after. The little girl is a senior in high school now, and came by yesterday to tell me my old shop cat had passed on. His name was Mousetrap, and this is the story I wrote about him as his earliest biographer. :)

The rain and wind shuffled the little gray, black stripped cat from one side of the street to another as he continued his search for shelter. Soaked and miserable, he spotted a huge open doorway and a cavernous looking darkness behind it. He crossed the avenue, narrowly avoiding death by pickup truck. Crouching outside the doorway, he peered in at what lay beyond the opening. Sharp clanging noises and whirring sounds emanated from within as the little cat crept inside out of the rain. He hustled over to the wall where he could make himself as invisible as possible. He remembered the kicks and screams he received from his past search for shelter. The memory of warmth amid his litter now only seemed a vague feeling of well being. Instead of weeks ago, it may as well have been years ago. He watched a dark haired man moving from one car to another, sometimes stopping for only a few minutes, and sometimes longer. When the gray cat heard ringing, the man walked into another room and the ringing stopped. When the man came out of the door this time he spotted the little gray cat against the wall trying to crouch into an invisible ball. The man looked for a second at the cat and then out at the storm still raging beyond his shop's door.

"Well, I guess you don't care much for the weather outside, huh?"

The man walked slowly towards the cat so as not to scare him. He held out his hand in front of him as he walked and the cat shrunk into an even smaller ball. As the man drew near, the cat finally jumped up to run for the door but stopped as a gust of wind blew through the opening. He gave up all pretense of escape and walked toward the man as he knelt down with his hand still extended. Rubbing against the man's leg and purring, the cat put on his best I want to stay inside show. The man laughed and petted the cat gently on the head and neck. After a minute the man straightened and started walking towards the back of his shop. He stopped and looked back at the now attentive kitten and said, "Come on you and I'll see if I have some can milk for you."

The cat paused a second and then followed the man into a doorway which opened into a room at the back left of the large shop. The man opened a small refrigerator door and took out a white labeled can. Pouring some of the milk into a dish he put the dish into a microwave oven and heated the milk as the cat walked around exploring. A bed with only a bare mattress took up the middle of the room with shelving on three walls. The cat heard a ding and he watched intently as the man placed the bowl down in front of him. He sniffed at the warm milk excitedly and then took an exploring lick with his tongue. He then began devouring the milk without pause, purring loudly, much to the amusement of the man watching him.

"You aren't hungry are you? I think I have a box around here somewhere and a pillow to put in it. I bet you'd like that wouldn't you." The man reached down and roughed up the cat's head playfully as the cat continued to eat and purr. Placing a box on top of the empty bed, he took an uncovered pillow and stuffed it into the box. When the cat was finished, the man picked him up gently and placed him in the pillow stuffed box. The cat curled up at once and worked his claws into the pillow as he purred contentedly.

"Hey Bernie, you working today or... hey, where did you get the little mousetrap."

Bernie laughed, "the shop won a beauty contest with the rain storm and here he is."

"You'll never get rid of the little dope now. Well, are you working today or are you cat sitting. I got a car out here looking for a mechanic."

"The only thing your car's been looking for since you owned it Steve is an owner who knows what the words preventative maintenance mean."

"Man, turn that record over will you. If I started taking care of that piece of junk you'd have to stop booking those Caribbean cruises every year."

"Oh yeah, I forgot about the cruises, and of course there's the upkeep on the mansion and the staff. I guess I can look at it but the first thing I'm going to do is pull the dip stick on it and check the oil level." Bernie laughed, as the man clutched at his heart and gasped for air.

"You are a cruel and evil man. Come on, let's get the lecture over with before I get any older."

Bernie looked back at the box on the bed and saw the little gray cat had turned on his back with all four paws in the air and a big Cheshire cat smile on his face. Bernie shook his head and followed his customer out wondering what the heck he was going to do with a cat.

The cat heard the men leave the room but did not even open an eye to watch them leave. His only thoughts at the moment concerned warmth, dryness, and food. He knew he must enjoy this while he could and hope it might continue for at least a few more hours. He fell asleep without further consideration of his predicament.

The little gray cat came awake with a start when he heard the sound of a rasping type sound and looked towards the end of the bed in time to watch the man Bernie pouring something into a large tan container on the floor. He purred at the man and walked over to the end of the bed to look down at the source of the noise. Bernie finished the chore of filling up the new cat box he had just purchased at the corner store and watched as the cat first hung over the edge of the bed and then fell in a heap almost dead center in the pile of litter. His frantic exit threw litter all around the box and he hid under the bed until he spotted a new cat dish full of kitty dry food. This prompted an immediate show of bravery as he charged out to attack the food with vigor. Bernie watched with much amusement as the cat wolfed down the food, purring noisily all the while. The man swept up the stray litter as the cat batted and attacked the broom whenever it came close.

"I think Steve had a good name for you, you little monkey. I'll call you Mousetrap. You cats are too stupid to answer to your names anyway and maybe you can live up to the name when you get a little bigger. I have a rat around here which has taken up residence despite the traps I've set. It will be out to eat whatever you leave tonight because I don't have any food around here and up until now it's been living on eating the bindings out of the books I have in the office."

Bernie stroked the cat as it seemed to listen intently. He knelt all the way down and the little cat climbed up on his extended knee and purred contentedly.

"Anyhow, I don't expect you to do anything right away but maybe you could get rid of it for me later before it eats the wood right off the building. For now, stay out of its way because it might be too big for you to mess with now. What do you think Mousetrap? You want a go at staying here or you want out in the storm again."

Almost in answer, Mousetrap stretched up and rubbed his head under the man's chin and rested his head on Bernie's shoulder. Bernie laughed and picked the cat up and placed him back in his pillow filled box. Mousetrap pawed the pillow a few times and curled again into a ball.

"Well, I guess I have my answer." Bernie turned on a lamp on the near by table. "Take it easy now Mousetrap, I'll see you in the morning." Bernie took a last look at the noisy coil of fur and smiled. He hoped the rat would not mess with this half-pint little cat but he really had no choice as to where to put him.

Bernie looked around on his shelves and found a white stuffed rabbit his son and daughter played with when he watched them at the shop. As he placed it next to the little cat, Mousetrap wrapped himself right around it. Bernie watched him cuddle next to the stuffed animal his kids had called " Rabbie " and then headed for the front door. His day was at an end. For Mousetrap, the night which lay ahead would outline his actions for the next few nights and bring him as close to death as he had come up to this point. For now, Mousetrap slept on.

Mousetrap became aware of a furtive sound and then a crunching noise at the corner of the room where his food dish lay. He silently uncurled as every feline has since the dawn of time and crept slowly to the end of the bed. He glanced over the side towards where the dull lamp light illuminated the room slightly. In the shadows cast by the boxes and shelving around the bed, Mousetrap could see his food dish and the dark gray shape devouring the last bits of dry cat food he had left off eating. It caught his smell or sensed the cat because it turned and rose on its hind legs. No Mickey Mouse here, but a full grown rat. Almost as large as Mousetrap, the rat stared up at him and its eyes glowed red in the dim lamp light. As it bared its teeth Mousetrap kept completely still as his hunting ancestors had done for thousands of years.

Minutes passed as the rat sniffed at the air and stared at its hereditary enemy. After a time, the hunger overcame the rat's caution and it turned again to feed. Mousetrap launched himself at the rat as the rat sensing its error turned. Mousetrap's claws caught at the rat and held but he missed the deathgrip he meant for the rat's neck. Strong and quick, the rat rolled and tore at Mousetrap's face and neck with claws and teeth, finally breaking away from the undersized cat. The rat streaked across the shop towards its hideaway at the front of the shop with Mousetrap close behind. The rat won the race, disappearing into the wall through a crack. Mousetrap crouched next to the opening but the rat moved further and further away. Mousetrap could hear the scrabbling sounds moving upwards away from him. His blood stirred with the hunt, Mousetrap left the hole and walked around the wall, searching for a way up. He found a staircase which led to a storage area above the office. Mousetrap climbed silently up the stairs and over to the corner where he could still hear the rat moving. Mousetrap positioned himself at an opening in the platform over the office. He listened as the scrabbling sound of the rat moved closer, and he quietly shifted his position accordingly.

The rat stopped as it drew near the opening and remained still as it recognized the smell of the cat. Mousetrap, sensing his presence was known, dived forward into the opening and face to face with the startled rat. Mousetrap tried to scramble towards the rat, only to find himself momentarily stuck in the crevice. The rat, sensing Mousetrap's plight, darted forward at the cat's face. Mousetrap stopped trying to free himself and taught the rat why it invites disaster to attack a cornered cat. The rat drew back, bloodied from the cat's unsheathed claws, and retreated into the wall space.

Mousetrap managed to scoot back and free himself. He resumed his original position and looked down longingly at the opening. His blood raced with the hunt as he listened for any further noise. Mousetrap sat for many hours in the dark before returning to his box in the back room. He ate up the remaining food to make sure no other uninvited visitor got to it first.

Mousetrap awakened as the lights in the outer shop began to flicker on. He heard the garage owner moving around in the shop as he turned on his diagnostic machines. Mousetrap got down and walked out to meet him.

Bernie looked down at the little cat and stooped to pick the loudly purring cat up in his arms. "Well, Mousetrap, how did it go last night?" Bernie asked as he stroked the cat. "Did that rat come out and eat your food?"

Bernie walked into the back room, carrying the cat who had shifted in his arms so his belly was exposed for petting. Bernie noted the empty food dish, wondering if Mousetrap had eaten the food or the rat. Putting Mousetrap down on the bed, Bernie refilled the food dish and freshened the water dish.

"I told my wife I thought you were a female, but that by the end of the day I knew you were a male. By this time my daughter Eva had come into the room and asked the leading question I had been waiting for: ' How did you know it was a male' I looked at her with the old dead pan face and said: because you had shown too much intelligence. I told her you were just too smart to have been a female." Bernie began laughing as again he began stroking Mousetrap, who had again flipped over on his back. "Man, did I get the Vulcan Death Stare for that along with the usual ' Oh Dad ' and ' Bernard! '. My son Jim of course laughed, he senses insults to his Mom and sister like a shark senses blood in the water, and then the feeding frenzy begins. Anyway, I have to get back to work."

Mousetrap watched him through the doorway as he opened the large garage door and greeted his first customer. For his part, Mousetrap padded through the now open back door to the shop, which opened into a closed in parking area. The sun had finally come out and Mousetrap curled up on the warm cement.

An hour later when the sun ducked behind some clouds, Mousetrap got up and stretched. He walked over to the back door and peered inside. He saw Bernie lying underneath a truck on a wheeled creeper for working under cars and trucks. Mousetrap walked into the shop and under the truck to take a closer look. He sniffed around the creeper and then climbed on top of Bernie and curled up on his stomach. Mousetrap felt the man's body stiffen as he climbed on; but then he heard the man laugh, as he looked down and spotted the cat.

"Well, Mousetrap, are you here to help?"

Mousetrap purred as the man reached back up under the truck to finish tightening the starter he was installing. After finishing, he rolled out from under the truck with the curled up cat still on his stomach. He petted him for a couple minutes before gently dislodging him and standing up.

"Maybe I better get you your own toolbox and creeper, huh?" Bernie asked the cat rubbing against his leg. He gently shoved the cat towards the back room with his foot. "Tell you what, you little runt, leave the car and truck repair to me, and you nail the rat I got around here."

Bernie grinned and went on with his work. Mousetrap watched him for a couple of minutes. He then walked back to his food dish and ate. After eating, Mousetrap walked through the shop and up the stairs he had climbed the night before. He paused over the hole leading to the rat's hideaway as he sniffed for a fresh scent. Finding none, he walked back to the stairs and started down. He saw a strange man standing near the base of the stairs watching him. Mousetrap started purring and decided to see if he could get some more attention. Mousetrap descended the stairs until he stopped at waist level to the man. Instead of a pet, a huge hand pinned him down flat to the surface of the stair. As the hand tightened around his neck, Mousetrap tried to squirm out from under but could not even move. Mousetrap began to gasp for air when he felt a jarring sensation, and a moment later he was free. He dove down to the floor before looking back up. Bernie had hold of the man's wrist in his own hand, and the man grimaced in pain as he involuntarily went down to one knee.

"You're crushing my wrist," the man rasped through clenched teeth.

"The cat belongs to me, Mr. Johnson." Bernie released the man's wrist and backed up a step to let the man rise to his feet.

"I hate cats," the man said as he rubbed his reddening wrist. "You almost broke my wrist."

"You almost killed my cat," Bernie said grimly. "You don’t look like a man who likes to hurt animals, Mr. Johnson. I guess looks can be deceiving. Please leave."

"What about my car?" the man whined. "You said you would take a quick look at it."

"I think it would be better if you found a new mechanic, Mr. Johnson."

"I'll report you to the Better Business Bureau." the man threatened as he backed towards the door.

Bernie smiled, "the greatest thing about being an American citizen is having the right to do anything you like within the law. God Bless America, Now remove yourself from my shop."

After the man left, Bernie walked over to Mousetrap and picked him up. As he petted him he looked over the little cat for any obvious injury. "You lost me a customer you little runt," Bernie said chuckling, "lucky for you he was what we call in the auto repair business: a bottom dweller. That is someone looking to make me spend a lot of time on his car and pay me nothing."

Walking into the back room, Bernie set Mousetrap down on his pillow and refilled his food dish. As Bernie began scooping out the litter box, Mousetrap hung over the bed batting at the scoop and purring. Bernie stopped scooping and began giving the cat noogies.

"Take that you little dirtball," Bernie said as he turned back to cleaning the litter box. A few seconds later as he shifted the scoop to the waste basket, a paw darted out and knocked the scoop out of his hand. Bernie looked up at the cat who had turned over on his back purring away.

"Well," Bernie sighed, I guess this means I clean up in here... after I put you out."

The End.

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