What was their pet up to in the basement? [Writer's Cramp Winner 5-11-19]
|"Felix," Mary said. She was looking out the window, and didn't turn as she addressed her mate. "I'm worried about Johnny."
"There's nothing wrong with Johnny," Felix retorted.
"Well, there's a first," Mary exclaimed. "Who's always yelling about the stink he tracks in after he's been gadabouting 'round the neighborhood?"
"I said there's nothing wrong with Johnny. There's plenty wrong with the stink and dirt he tracks in. Not to mention the sour looks he gives me when I try chasing him off the sofa."
Felix was sprawled across the sofa now, and as if reminding himself that he had it to himself he stretched his legs and arced his back and yawned deeply. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a hot sun pouring through the bright windows and a jeweled fly buzzing in the corners of the ceiling.
"Well, maybe that's the sort of thing that's worrying me," Mary said. "Little things." She turned back to the window, to watch a bird that was pecking up seeds. "He's acting out of character. It's nothing big, nothing you'd notice—"
"Don't start with me, Mary."
"Just little things. The sort of things," she added a touch primly, "it takes a feminine intuition to pick up on."
"Oh, Christ. Here we go again. You gonna start talking some more about that mouse you're determined has moved into the basement?"
"Johnny's noticed it too," Mary snapped. "He's been down there a lot lately. That's one of the things that's bothering me. He prowls down there all the time now, fussing with things and knocking them over."
"He can't make the mess worse. Anyway, you ought to be glad if he's taken an interest in your 'mouse' problem. Maybe he'll catch it."
"Oh, so now you admit maybe we do have a mouse?"
"I admit nothing, my pet." Felix squirmed onto his back. "Except to wanting to see you happy. Johnny's catching a mouse would make you ecstatic."
"It would not! I detest the things, if I could rid the world—"
"It would make you happy to prove me wrong, is what I meant. You could dangle it before my nose and brag, 'I told you so'."
Mary bristled all over. "The point is," she snarled, "that Johnny isn't acting like himself. He's gotten very furtive. Slinky, I'd call it. It's all mixed up with the basement business too, I'm sure. I'm starting to wonder if he's got something hidden down there."
"Maybe he's taken to secretly drinking."
"It was a joke. Though if I had only a girl like Kate for company all day, I might take to furtively prowling around the basement myself."
As Felix had Mary, so Johnny had Kate. They had each come as a pair—Felix with Johnny and Mary with Kate—when the household had set up in far-off, happier days.
"Well, now that you mention Kate," Mary said, "maybe you've noticed the chemistry has changed between them?"
"If you mean, have I noticed they've stopped hissing at each other, yes I have. It's all to the good, isn't it? It was making me very tired to watch them fight without ever coming to blows."
"Wait, you actually wanted them to strike each other?"
"I like a good boxing match."
"Oh, you're impossible!"
Mary wheeled from the window and paced briskly about the room. Felix watched her with an amused eye until he was sure she had shut up, then went back to watching that fly. Its buzz bothered him, and he thought how satisfying it would be to bat the thing into a splotch of filthy jelly. But it was hovering under the ceiling, which was too high for him to reach. Besides, he was feeling very lazy.
"I think he's going to do something to Kate."
"What?" Felix raised his head.
"Johnny. You know he's been watching Kate."
"No, I don't know," Felix sighed, and laid his head back down again.
"It's another of those little things. He's very furtive about it, he doesn't look at her unless she's looking away, and then he stares so venomously at her. I'm glad you mentioned Kate, it brought the whole thing into focus for me. You know, I think he's grown to hate her, and he means to do something to her."
Felix gaped. "Johnny hasn't two brain cells to rub together. Oh God, you're not seriously suggesting that Johnny is capable of planning—"
He laughed. It was a dry, coughing laugh, as though he were trying to hack something up.
"Planning," he repeated when he'd recovered from his mirth. "Planning to do what, exactly, and to Kate? Murder her?"
"I wouldn't put it past him!"
Felix laughed again.
He was laughing still when Johnny entered the room. But his laughter didn't last. After Johnny had gone back out again, he looked over at Mary. "He's filthy," he said. "How did he—?"
"He was down in the basement."
Felix stared at Mary, then blinked once. He sat up, then launched himself onto his feet. "I want to see how he could have gotten so filthy down there."
Together, he and Mary crept down the wooden stairs into the cellar. It was an oily, grimy place, and they shrank into themselves to keep from brushing against anything. The floor was paved, of course, but behind a stack of boards they found something they would never have suspected: Something both more and less than a patch of bare earth.
"A hole!" Mary breathed out the word. "He's been digging a hole!"
"And not a mouse hole, either," Felix added grimly. "This bears watching."
Two days later, Johnny hauled Kate's corpse into the basement and hurled it into the shallow grave. As he shoveled dirt over her, he glanced up to find Felix and Mary perched on a box, watching him.
He snatched up a hefty dirt clod and hurled it at them. They darted for the basement door.
"Lousy, stinking, spying felines," Johnny muttered.