Marculus Winthrope looked at his fat boss and sighed inwardly. Rats, by and large, did not understand how hard it was for a mouse to deal with a cat. For one thing, a rat has a good two to three pounds on your average mouse, and the teeth and claws are correspondingly larger. For another thing, rats were just vicious, something Mr. Winthrope did not consider himself to be by nature. Still the keen eyes that were staring over the large nose demanded an answer, so Marculus said the only thing he could: "Sir, I know it got a bit out of hand with Mr. Tibbles, but that was a straight up fight. Leaping Leopold earns his name. Dropped down on me and Three-toe before we even knew he was there."
"I know," Mr. Palmer said, as the bowler hat on top of his flat head quaked with his rage, "I've got the report right in front of me. Three-toe was a damn fine agent, and will be tough to replace, but still, even with the drop on you and Three-toe, how is it that Leaping Leopold got away unscathed?"
"Sir, he landed on Three-Toe. It was just blind luck that he did not take me out," Marculus said. "He was on my tail, literally. Look!" and Marculus held up his tail which was wrapped in a bandage. "I just about lost my tail to that brute, and it was only because Three-toe manage to bite him--may heaven praise him--that I was able to run out into traffic. Nearly got squashed flat but that saved me."
"What part of 'I've got the report,' did you not understand? I know exactly what happened, but instead of defending your partner, who sacrificed himself on your behalf, you fled. An infraction made all the worse, as Leopold is notorious for his predilection of wantonly tormenting his victims before he eats them."
Marculus did not say anything; although his ears drooped so far down his face that he looked more like a dog than a mouse. "Believe me sir. I know how bad it is, but there was nothing I could do. Honestly."
But Mr. Palmer was having none of it. Raising up on his back legs, so that his immaculately cut suit was on full display, he said, "Agent Winthrope, you are suspended on half pay pending a fully inquiry into this matter; you are not to act in any official capacity for the Rodents Against Feline Terrorists. Now turn in your badge and any weapons you might currently posses," Mr. Palmer demanded.
Marculus stood up on his back legs and fished the badge out of his pocket. As badges went it was unique: it depicted one mouse standing on a raft helping another out of raging water, while a cat looked mournfully on from shore. The raft had numbers, as if it were a boat, and on Marculus's badge, it was 2814. The bottom simply said R.A.F.T It had taken Marculus years to earn that badge, and he was loath to give it up, but he knew there was nothing he could do. Next to the badge went his service revolver; although he was not nearly as sad about losing that as the badge. The guns were powerful, but unless you could shoot a cat in the ear, eye, or right in the mouth, they were generally non-leather against their feline adversaries.
He turned and left his captain's office without another word. As he walked through the station house he heard the snickering. Heard the conversations that stopped as soon as someone spotted him. It was natural of course. Everyone had loved Three-toe. He had been just about the most popular officer at the Tomcat Station House, where only the roughest and toughest came to work. Marculus had always wondered how he had gotten in, and it seemed he was right to think it.
Since he was suspended, he didn't even stop at his desk. He just hurried to the door and set out, desperate to be away from everyone else. The heavy, brass station door swung shut behind him, and as soon as it did, Marculus felt a little lighter. He knew he would never be forgiven for what had happened, but he knew, deep down in his gut that if any of those other agents had been there they would have done the exact same thing. Leopold had come out of the sun, and landed right on Three-toe. The cat had claws has sharp as sabers, so there was no way Three-toe survived. He had done the only logical thing. He survived to fight another day.
Marculus knew that, but still something gnawed at him as he moved about the city. He traversed pipes, cut through subway tunnels, and even hitched a ride inside a wheel-hub, and while he wandered, the sun climbed high into the sky and then began to sink back down. His gut began to rumble, and he was just at the point of trying to figure out where he was and how to get back home when he saw Leaping Leopold.
The tomcat was massive: he had a deep chest; all black fur, with the exception of three white spots shaped like a triangle on the middle of his back; and his ears were scarred and notched, the result of several fights he had had with other cats. The huge cat was sunning himself on top of a metal dumpster, and was completely unaware that his recently escaped prey now had him firmly fixed in his sights.
Marculus pulled short and stared. Instantly, he reached for his revolver so that he could just put a bullet into Leaping Leopold's ear and be done with the whole thing, but the gun was not in its usual spot. Swearing inwardly, Marculus looked around, trying to find something he could use as a weapon. The problem was that he did not see much. Frantic he ran towards the nearest building he could find, and barreled though the shabby entrance like a formula one car blasting though tape at the end of a race. He found himself in the middle of a rundown tenement that reeked of mold, urine, and garbage from humans.
Working his way back into the squalor, Marculus was amazed by the sheer amount of garbage the humans produced: coffee grounds, banana peels, old papers, razors, clothing, broken electronics, and assorted knick knacks of every kind. What he did not see though was anything that could be used as a weapon. Over, around, through, under, and into the piles of junk Marculus roamed looking, and just when he was about to give up, he saw it. A trophy. On the trophy was an old fireman about 1/15th the normal size, but it was made out of metal. And in his hands was an axe. Marculus crept closer and looked closely. The axe was real. When Marculus touched it, he was shocked at how sharp the blade was and even more astounding--the handle was made of real white oak.
Marculus paused for a few moments and just took the beauty of the weapon in. It was perfect, and more than he could have hoped for given where he was. Gingerly he reached out and touched the handle, the four fingers of his front paw found the wood warm and inviting. Pleased, he pulled on the axe, but it was stuck. The wood had been glued to the fireman's hand, and no matter how hard Marculus yanked, it would not come free. He worked at it for ten minutes, but finally, exhausted, he concluded there was only one thing left. Still he was loath to do it, as it would ruin the beautiful handle. Suddenly the CRACK of Three-toe's back echoed in his mind as Leaping Leopold landed on him, and Marculus's sense of aesthetics was overwhelmed by his desire for revenge.
It took a little repositioning, as Marculus wanted to save as much of the handle as he could, yet after a little trial and error he found a position where he could turn his head and get his teeth right at the base of the handle. Once he did that, it was a small matter to chew through the wood. Unfortunately, he wound up eating more of the handle then he would have liked, so much so that the bottom of the axe handle resembled more of a toothpick than anything else. However, he did manage to free his glorious weapon from its contentious, if somewhat rusty, former owner.
Axe in paw, Marculus went back outside. He looked around the corner of the building and his heart skipped a beat. Leopold had woken up and currently had his front paws as far out in front of him as he could get them with his hooked claws showing, while he raised his butt into the air, stretching. Once whatever kink he was trying to dislodge was gone, he repeated the pose, only the second time he let his hind legs lay behind him so the top of his paws were on the pavement while he leaned forward on his front paws. Then with a a huge yawn, he turned around.
Marculus just had time to jump back behind the corner before he was seen, but mice don't often carry axes and he forgot about the sun. It shone off the blade, creating a little ball of light that jiggled and vibrated as Marculus raised the axe over his head in preparation to strike at his hated foe.
Leaping Leopold, known as Leo to his friends, finished his stretch and looked around. Out of the corner of one eye he saw movement and turned his head to investigate. The only thing there was the corner of the building, and he was on the verge of turning away when a very small ball of light landed on a nearby leaf. It was nearly unnoticeable, but nevertheless, as Leo looked, he could make it out. It moved just a little and continuously, which caused him to stop. He took a deep breath, trying to smell all the things around him without giving the impression of doing that. Unfortunately, the only thing he could make out was the trash bin he had been warming himself on and the rest of the garbage on the inside of the building. This annoyed him, almost as much as knowing that the round-eye, two-leg humans that lived in the building would never throw out anything good, like tuna. He loved tuna.
As he thought of the fishy delights he was always on the lookout for, his stomach gave a mighty rumble. He had eaten before his nap: a decent sized mouse with only three fingers on its front paw. It was almost enough to fill him up, still he wished he had caught that second mouse that had been talking to the first. It would have made the perfect meal. Not that it mattered to Leo. There are always more mice, he thought.
Still the light wavered in front of him, and something about it made him suspicious. He instantly began looking for a place that he could jump up to and get a better view, but the stone that made up the building was smooth and there were no windows that he could crouch in, which made him uneasy. and it was that feeling combined with the the sense that something was off that made him cautious. He took a few steps forward but stopped short of the corner and sniffed again. Again he smelled nothing.
This is stupid, Leo thought, but no sooner had he decided that than he also decided not to ignore his intuition. He took a few steps away from the building and crept forward, until just his head had cleared the corner of the building and then he slowly peeked around the corner.
Something was wrong, Marculus was sure of it. The head of the axe was shaking slightly in his grip: the result of his nervousness and the huge shot of adrenaline his body had given him as he took up his position. But now it was starting to wear off, and he had no clue what had tipped off Leopold, but somehow he knew. The instant that ghastly thought occurred to Marculus, his eyes darted upwards of their own accord. It was, he knew, a reaction to the last time he had been taken by surprise, but he was comforted when he didn't see anything above him.
Adrenaline flooded back into his system as his eyes dropped back down so he was seeing level. There, staring right at him, his mouth agape, was Leopold. Marculus knew that the only reason he was not already dead was that the cat had not been expecting the sight that had greeted him, but telling by the growl that was starting to build in the cat's black chest, he was getting over that rapidly.
"You're the mouse that got away from me this morning," Leopold said as as he began to edge his body around the corner by shuffling his back legs. "I think you should have brought your revolver," Leopold said as he flexed his front claws open. "Although I seem to remember you had it the last time we met and it did you absolutely no good."
"It served me fine. Got away from you, didn't I?"
"Oh my, yes you did. You did indeed," Leopold said as a horrid grin stretched across his face, "but I do seem to recall you trying to save your partner by shooting me. We both know how that ended though, don't we?" The black cat said as he licked his lips.
"Shut up," Marculus said with a lot more bravery than he felt, the axe still held aloft over his head.
"Oh my. I seem to have struck a nerve. Well don't be too mad at me old boy. It is just what I do. What all cats do. We eat mice. Although, I admit, you are going to be fun!" Leopold said as he finally got his hind legs behind him so that he was now facing Marculus.
"Stop moving," Marculus said, as he watched the muscles under the tomcat's skin begin to tense, preparing to pounce."
"Now look dear boy, I do give you credit for seeking me out and trying to kill me, but since we both know you needed surprise for that, and you now lack it, can you at least be a sport and stop quivering like a constipated dog? It's undignified."
Marculus thought it a stretch to say he had sought out anyone, but as a semantic argument was the least of his worries at the moment, he let that slide. "Don't mistake rage for fear," he shot back.
Leopold laughed. "Well said, even if it is a lie. But come, let's test your mettle," and suddenly Leopold was airborne; his claws were out; his teeth were bared; and there was a mad gleam in his ice-blue eyes that was both manic and vengeful all at once.
Marculus reacted without thinking and brought the axe down over his head in a vicious arc. He felt the axe bite into flesh and there was an ear splitting yowl. Suddenly Marculus was yanked off his feet and found himself thrown through the air; however, he held onto the axe, and he felt it dislodge from wherever he had struck. He came down hard, on his belly and the wind was driven from his lungs; the axe clattered out of his hands.
Dazed, but aware that if he did not move he was surely dead, he looked up. The axe had landed right on Leopold's nose and split it nearly in two. The cat was bleeding badly and shaking its head, trying to clear the blood so it could breath. Seeing Leopold distracted, Marculus struggled to his feet, and quickly started making his way towards his axe.
Leopold saw what was happening, and with a hiss lunged forward. Marculus felt a blinding pain as the cat's claws severed just over half his tail off. Later, Marculus would admit that it was the fact that his tail was cut in two that saved him. But in the moment, the pain was so blinding that he almost missed grabbing his axe. However, he got his hands around the chewed handle, and again, he blindly swung. He heard another hiss as Leopold jumped back, the blade of the axe narrowly missing his face.
Leopold backed away and then darted forward, trying to get past the axe, but Marculus kept swinging. For nearly half a minute this went on, but Marculus could tell that he was getting tired, and suddenly he realized that was the point. Crafty cat! He thought, as he quickly tried to find a way to avoid the inevitable outcome. But there was nothing he could do. He was being forced back towards the wall, and he knew once Leopold got him close enough it would all be over.
Then from somewhere deep in his brain he remembered something. And suddenly he was back in front of the Tomcat Station House's brass doors meeting Three-toe for the first time. Very distinctly he heard himself blurt out, "how did you lose your toe?"
Three-toe, who was a mouse but was as large as any rat Marculus had met, had just said "I played chicken with one too many cats in my time. Now come on. We got business." As soon as those words echoed in his memory, Marculus swung the axe back above his head and charged right into Leopold's face.
The large cat reacted slowly; however he was fast enough to bring his paw down, claws out. The sinister hooks sang through the air like the blade of a guillotine. Marculus saw them coming and could tell he was going to get caught in their deadly embrace if he did act fast. Taking a page out the Leopold's book, he leaped forward. The paw came down on the bloody stump of his tail, and while it hurt, Marculus could tell that none of the claws were going to rend his body. That thought barley had time to register before Marculus became aware of the fact that he was bring his axe back down over his head. Then for the second time that afternoon, he heard a high pitched yowl.
Marculus was never sure where he hit Leopold on that second strike but it must have been severe. The black cat reared back and batted Marculus backwards. Blackness swallowed him, and just as the world winked out, he thought At least I won't feel it when he eats me.
When Marculus woke up, the first thing he saw were the silver cufflinks that Mr. Palmer always wore. The large rat had on his bowler hat, and in one hand he had an umbrella. "Well, well. About bloody time you woke up."
"Nice to see you too, sir," Marculus squeaked out. "What happened?"
"What happened, is you avenged your partner. Went head on against Leaping Leopold single handed and lived to tell the tale."
"But how do you know that?" Marculus asked.
"CCTV. Nothing happens in this city that is not recorded by our cameras. Your little escapade has gone viral my boy. Wonderful PR for the department. Absolutely wonderful. You have made us look very good, and myself in particular. As such, I wanted to tell you that when your suspension is over, you will be welcomed backed with open arms."
"So I'm still suspended?"
"Nothing I can do about that. But be of good cheer. I dare say the boys down at the house will want to buy you a drink or two at the pub and hear all about your exploits, and in the meantime, there is this," and the large rat reached down on the floor and picked up a large plaque that had the axe mounted on it. "The boys found it and felt you needed a proper trophy. Now if you will excuse me, I've lots to do." And then, without so much as a backwards glance the rat left.
Marculus looked at the axe for a few moments. Someone had done a good job of cleaning up the bade so it gleamed, but the handle still showed the damaged from where he had chewed through it. Underneath the axe was a small brass plate that read: To Half-tail, for showing more guts than we thought possible. "Well that's a bit backhanded. Isn't it?" Marculus muttered.
Two days later he left the hospital, and a day after that the staff found an axe mounted to a plaque in the trash. Out on the street, Marculus decided he was hungry and set off for the park. On the way he thought he saw the black form of Leopold laying out on top of another dumpster, but it turned out to be only a trick of the light. Eventually, he reached the park and was standing in line to get some hot-dog meat when it happened: a tiny mouse, no more than two weeks old, came scampering up to him and tugged on his coat.
Marculus look down and said, "What?" though not unkindly.
"Pardon me," said the mouse, "but are you the Half-tail?"
"The Half-tail. You know, the mouse that axed that cat?"
"Cool," said the little mouse and then rushed off. Marculus saw him scamper back towards a knot of other mice and heard the tiny voice carried on the wind shout, "It's him! It's him!"
As he worked his way towards the front of the line, other mice came up to him; although no one else talked to him. Then, just as he was about to reach the front of the line, the little mouse that had spoke to him before came up and said, "Mr. Half-tail. Mr. Half-tail. Why did you attack that cat?"
Marculus looked at the expectant face and wanted to say something about duty, and avenging one's friend, but all that came out was, "I just fancied a game of chicken is all."