The Beast of Barcroft

The Beast of Barcroft by Bill Schweigart

Book: The Beast of Barcroft by Bill Schweigart Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bill Schweigart
lockstep when it came to Roux and her rats. The rats were clearly still a problem, and drawing even bigger problems.
    She hated the rats. Everyone hated the rats, but she
hated
the rats. They were nature’s perfect filth machines. It’s not just that they were pestilence embodied, it was their efficiency, something she could admire in any other species but loathed in these creatures. They could flatten their bodies to fit into impossible spaces. With their strong teeth, they could chew through any barrier. They even survived on the waste of other animals. And the Roux woman had practically shielded them. Hazel had put down rat poison stations, but the woman kept feeding the pigeons (rats with wings, really) despite Hazel’s insistence that she not. The rats loved the food, and it was loaded with vitamin K, which actually counteracted the poison. They were damn near indestructible.
    And breeding? Forget rabbits (which were also a problem, but only with her garden in the spring and they were not a priority now); rats should replace them for that particular euphemism. Even with Roux dead and not feeding the birds anymore, and the neighbors using traps and poison stations to keep them at bay, as long as they had the safe haven of that dump, they would never be fully eradicated.
    It was near eleven, but she was too wound up from the meeting. The dishes were clean, countertops wiped down, and coffeemaker filled and set to auto, so she opened her mystery novel and waited for the kettle. It was the fifth in a series about an antiques dealer in a town with a shockingly high mortality rate, and she had gotten a few pages deeper when the kettle whined. She went into the kitchen and removed it from the burner. The high whistle abated, and in its place another whine came from outside.
    Cozy
.
    Her cat was calling from outside. Was it possible he had darted out without her noticing when she returned home after the meeting? Cozy was purely a house cat, not equipped for life outdoors on a good day, let alone in a neighborhood plagued by rats and God knows what else now. She bolted through the door leading to the backyard. She called his name. The meowing continued closer to the fence. McKelvie’s new high-wattage motion sensor lights flashed on. It bathed the yard in a glow like that of a sports stadium. It was practically day over the fence, lighting up the adjacent section of her own backyard. In another situation she would have cursed him for it, but tonight it was useful. She saw no trace of Cozy in her immaculate backyard. She kept no trees or shrubs, but there was the thicket in the corner, on McKelvie’s side. She walked deep into her yard and called, “Kitty kitty kitty.” The meowing stopped.
    It was quiet again.
    She scanned the yard. McKelvie’s lights shut off, leaving her yard illuminated only by her own porch light, feeble by comparison. She shuddered at the thought of her cat somehow getting over the high fence, trapping himself in Roux’s jungle, when she heard the meowing start again.Behind her, back inside. She marched toward the house.
    She closed and locked the door and called for him again. He was not in any of his dozing or hiding spots on the main floor, so she climbed the stairs to her bedroom and nearly slipped in a puddle.
    “What in God’s name?”
    She went to the hall closet for paper towels, daubed one into the puddle, and held it to her nose. Cat urine. She cleaned up the mess. When the floor was spotless again, she set out to reprimand the cat.
    “Cozy! What’s gotten into you?”
    She got down on her hands and knees by the bed and lifted the duvet. A shaft of light caught two wide, glowing eyes. Cozy gave a loud and plaintive cry.
    “Are you not feeling well, Cozy?”
    Another cry, more urgent.
    “Why did you go outside?”
    A hiss.
    “Fine, Mr. Cranky Pants. You can stay under there all night with no treat if you want to be naughty.”
    Hazel washed her hands and went back to her tea. She

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