“Charles, you’re late,” Krug said. “We were supposed to get going 20 minutes ago.” Krug was standing impatiently in the driveway in front of his large home. He was wearing a dark blue fleece vest with a Goldman Sachs logo on his breast.
Charles got out of the driver’s seat of the new Audi wagon and came forward with his hand outstretched in front of him like he was carrying a rolled up map. His smile was big and lop-sided, very close to goofy. He grabbed Krug’s hand and gave him a bro hug, whispering even before he left the clinch, “it was Joyce. Couldn’t get her moving. Ha Ha. You been there man, you know.” Charles smiled again as he separated, this time conspiratorially.
Joyce was now out of the Audi too. She was smiling and kissing, her blond ponytail hanging down the back of her puffy Patagonia jacket. She had a Starbucks in one hand and a dog leash with no dog attached curled in her other.
While she finished kissing Krug hello, Charles popped the hatch on the Audi and two Spingers bounded out and began rocketing around the driveway and yard.
“Damn,” Joyce said. She turned from Krug to Charles but he was deep in the back of the Audio, rummaging, rummaging, only his butt visible.
Joyce sighed and headed after the Springers, slightly twirling the leash she was carrying.
Charles backed out of the rear of the Audi and turned back to Krug, keeping his voice low. “Kruger. I need a little cover here. Make sure Joyce isn’t looking. Am I good?”
Krug said, “she’s trying to get your dogs on the leash. Probably take her a week.”
“Great.” Charles reached in the back of the Audi again and held up a gray steel box the size of a shoebox. “Gotta dispose of the evidence.” Another, even more lopsided, grin.
“What the fuck is that?”
“It’s a trap. Have-A-Heart. For the mice.”
“What mice? Are there mice in there?”
“Uh-Huh.” “What are you doing with mice?”
“Shhhh. Don’t let Joyce hear you. She is scared of mice.”
“You’re kidding. Joyce is scared?”
“Don’t let her fool you. She can kick your ass but she is the original stand-on-a-chair type when it comes to mice.”
“So why are you driving them around?”
“That’s the point, Krug. That’s the exact point I am making…” Charles stopped the sentence there and completed it without using another word, just with his sheepish lopsided smile.
Krug didn’t seem to understand the point. “Charles.” Krug said. “Let’s start again. Why are there mice in a trap in my driveway?” Krug said.
“It’s Lorie’s fault.”
“Yeah, we have been having a little mouse problem at the house. They are running around the kitchen in the morning when she is making tea and it freaks her out.”
“She doesn’t like to have breakfast with rodents? She must be a real downer.”
“Oh she is nice as shit but she is a Brit. She doesn’t like mice.”
“Neither does Joyce and she is no Brit.”
“Yeah the thing is Lorie sees them more than Joyce cause she gets up so early. They are everywhere in the morning – its like one of those Wild Kingdom videos down there when the sun first comes up. Anyway one morning she gets fed up and tells Joyce that she going back to Sheffield if we don’t get rid of the mice.”
“That sounds serious.” Krug nodded his head slowly.
“So Joyce calls the exterminator. Fortunately I get wind of it, and I cut that off at the nub.”
“Cause you like mice running around your kitchen?”
“Oh the mice don’t matter, I just don’t like exterminators, have you ever seen what they charge for walking around and shooting that shit into your baseboards? Its crazy. And a complete waste. I mean its just mice, Krug. They aren’t very hard to outwit. They are not exactly brain surgeons, you know what I mean?” Charles beamed a broad and happy smile, obviously delighted at the thought of the pitiful size of mice brains.
“So you bought a trap.”
“Hoollian’s Hardware. Fourteen dollars; two for $25. They are indestructible. I bait them with peanut butter.”
Joyce was across the yard and had managed to get one Springer on the leash, but the smaller one was continuing to elude her and his cavorting had encouraged the one she had captured to run in circles so the leash wrapped around her legs like a bolo.
“And so you caught them.” Krug said.
“I have been catching them no problem for weeks. I been getting one or two every night. I used up half a jar of peanut butter so far, Ha Ha.”
“What’d you do with them?”
“Got ‘em out of the house and let them loose down the street. You know over near the Hanford’s where they could run into the arboretum, but after a while I started to suspect that I was catching the same ones over and over again.”
“How did you figure that?”
“They still had peanut butter on their fur.”
“Not the only ones that aren’t brain surgeons. They were probably back in your kitchen before you were.”
“Yeah yeah, you sound like Joyce…”
“I doubt it.”
“…so I decided I should take them further from home.” Charles looked up at Krug’s quizzical expression, coughed slightly, and said, “you know, that way they won’t come back.”
“So you brought them here? What are you smoking?”
“You got the park behind your house.”
“You actually think you are going to let them loose in my backyard? You are fucking crazy. I don’t want mice any more than you do.”
“No no, Kruger. It’s not like that. They just know the way to my house. They won’t get in yours.”
“Forget it. Take them down to Valley Green if you want. Or better, just put them in your toilet and flush. Put them out of their misery.”
“You sound like Joyce. There is no reason to be vicious. They are just mice.” Charles lifted the trap to show off the mice and then his expression changed. “Shit!”
“They aren’t in there. Shit!”
“Where are they?”
“I don’t know. They must have gotten loose.”
“In the Audi?”
Across the yard, Joyce had extracted herself from the leash and tied up the other dog. Now she was coming across the yard toward the car, the two Springers surging ahead of her, pulling the leash taut.
Charles opened the passenger door of the Audi and, as he did, a small gray mouse literally leapt off of the front seat and landed on the driveway directly in front of the two men. There was a short but timeless pause as they took each other’s measure but then the dogs saw the mouse and they began baying and charging forward, nearly yanking Joyce off her feet. The mouse scampered directly into Krug’s open garage.
“Jesus!” Krug screamed. “Charles, get that thing out of there.”
The dogs raced after the mouse, pulling Joyce into the garage. Even from in there, she could be heard yelling, “CHARLES WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”
“Oh shit,” Charles said, “Kruger you gotta help me out here.”
“What do you mean, help you out? I have got your fucking mouse in my house now.”
“No it’s just in your garage. That isn’t the problem.”
“That isn’t a problem? To me,” Krug said, “that is a problem. It’s a big stinking problem. Why isn’t that a problem?”
“Okay, Okay. It might be a problem. But it isn’t the big problem.” Charles stopped and looked at Krug. He wasn’t smiling now. “There’s two more. They might still be in the car. Joyce is going to flip out. You gotta help me here. Just keep her away from the car until I can get rid of them.”
Krug shook his head. He grumbled. He muttered. He shook his head again and he kept shaking it all the way into the garage.
Charles opened the driver’s door and he went around from door to door throwing the contents of the Audi onto the driveway.
Inside the garage, scrambling sounds. Overturning flower pots, falling shovels. Dogs yapping. Krug cursing. Joyce cursing.
After a few minutes Krug came out alone.
“Where is Joyce?”
“She went out the back door. She saw Lyle in the back and she wanted to tell her what you did.”
“A diversion. Great work, Krug.”
“I don’t think she was very happy, Chaz-Boy. You are in deep shit.”
“Yeah, at least she didn’t realize there might still be two in the car.”
“I know. I have looked all over. They are probably gone but I can’t be sure. If you can keep her occupied I will make sure. She is just dropping me off on the way to the mall. Can’t have a mouse pop out while she is at the wheel. This Audi is practically new.”
At that moment Joyce and the dogs came out from behind the garage. She was yelling even before she reached them. “I have seen some stupid things before but I have never seen anything so stupid as this. What are you thinking, Charlie?” She had wrapped the dog leash around her fist multiple times so the dogs were right at her feet and as she walked to Charles they barked and scratched as if they were part of an entourage. “You brought a mouse to the Krug’s? I mean seriously? Are you a moron? WHO DOES THAT?”
“Don’t you Honey, Honey me. What were you thinking of?”
“I was just going to get rid…”
“In the Krug’s garage?” Joyce focused for the first time on Krug. He was by the Audi, as frozen as the mouse when it jumped off the front seat. “Krug,” She said, “I am so sorry. This is all inexcusable. The moron here will get that mouse out of your garage if it takes him all night, won’t you Charles?”
Krug mumbled that it was all right. He would just leave the doors open and the mouse would let himself out. No big deal.
But Joyce had now noticed that the contents of the Audi were spread out on the driveway. She didn’t say anything. She looked at Charles and gestured to the items with her chin. She raised her eyebrows. She waited.
Charles filled the pause, “Honey, I was just making sure that the mice were all gone.”
“MICE? Are you kidding? There was more than one?”
“Three, but no worries. They are gone. Long gone.”
“You had three mice in the car? While we were driving here?”
“Long gone, Honey, long gone…”
“Did it occur to…” Joyce bit off her response. She gave Charles a murderous stare. She took a deep breath. “Krug would you give us a minute?”
Krug didn’t need any further prompting. He walked swiftly into the garage and then into the house. He slipped into the kitchen and then surreptitiously positioned himself by the side of the kitchen window so he could see into the driveway. From that angle he couldn’t hear but he could see Charles shuffling sheepishly from foot to foot as Joyce bellowed.
There was a Kleenex box on the driveway. Joyce kicked it like it was a football and it sailed up on the hood of the Audi and lingered for an instant in equipoise before sliding off onto the driveway again. Then she pulled out her cell phone and yelled into it for a few seconds and then she turned back and yelled at Charles again. After a few minutes of yelling Charles started to put the stuff on the driveway back into the car.
Krug watched the scene from the window for a few more minutes then another car drove up and Joyce got in and drove away. Charles continued to restore the contents of the Audi.
After a few minutes, Krug went back out to the driveway. Charles was closing the dogs in the hatchback. He gave Krug a sheepish, lopsided, smile. “Don’t even know why she was so pissed. She really went off the deep end.”
Krug was conciliatory. “Yeah.”
“It’ll blow over. I am not worried about it. She’ll get over it by the time she gets back to the house.”
“She was pretty steamed.”
“Oh yeah. I’ll say. Just hope the other mice aren’t still in the car.”
“I thought you said they all ran off.”
“Here is hoping. I can’t really tell. I tried to check everywhere but it’s hard to see under the seats. I guess they did. I mean why wouldn’t they? What a pain.” Charles looked up. “It’s all Lorie’s fault. Those mice weren’t harming anything. And it isn’t like I didn’t step up to the plate and deal with them.” Charles shook his head at the injustice of it all. “Well, Krug, sorry about it. Guess I better go home and make sure that the mice are gone.
“Yeah. No worries. We’ll catch up next week.”
* * *
Krug was in his driveway when Charles pulled up. Charles was driving a Toyota with a Budget Rent a Car license plate in the front. The door swung open and Charles started to get out.
“Not so fast.” Krug shouted, “you got any mice in there?”
“Ha Ha. Very funny.”
Krug hummed, “three blind mice, see how they run…”
“Give a rest, Kruger. I am a little sick of hearing about that whole mice business.”
“What, are you still in the doghouse?”
“Yeah ‘fraid so.”
“You are kidding. That had to be three weeks ago.”
“You can’t be in the doghouse that long over a stupid mouse. I mean it was my garage.”
“Shit, three weeks is a long time.”
Charles gave his sheepish smile. “There were some aggravating circumstances.”
“All the mice didn’t actually escape from the car.”
“Yeah. I mean I was sure they did. I even got a flashlight and looked everywhere.”
“So how did you find out? Did a little bugger jump out while you were driving?”
“How could it be worse than that?”
“Oh man, you gotta tell me.”
“You know what’s weird, at first I didn’t even think of the mouse. I thought it was my gym bag. I kept meaning to take it out of the car but I was really busy and I kept forgetting. I could tell it was a little ripe, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah at first. It was just that sort of smell. But then after 3 or 4 days it got a lot worse. Driving downtown in the morning, I started wondering if maybe I had hit a squirrel or something, but I couldn’t see anything. Then I was coming home one afternoon and it was really hot so I turned on the air conditioning and it was horrible. I mean I had to stop the car and get out…
“What the hell?”
“Yeah, I guess one of those mice crawled into a little duct or hose or something…”
“And died in there?”
“That’s what I am thinking…”
“Oh my god. You have a dead rotting mouse carcass in your air-conditioning?”
“Yeah. I mean, it was wretched. Like make-you-gag kind of wretched.”
Krug looked over at the Toyota. “Let me guess, you had to take the Audi in for a mouse-exhumation?”
“Yeah. It was really bad. Wouldn’t air out. I mean nasty.”
“Can they get it out?”
“They are saying yes, but it’s going to cost a shitload and I don’t know that I believe them. I sure hope so. That car is almost new.”
“Charles, Charles, Charles.” Krug shook his head at the wonder of it all.
“Yeah.” Charles agreed.
“But there is one thing I don’t get.” Krug said. “How come you are still in the doghouse? Joyce must have felt that you got just what you deserved, having to drive around in your Audi full of dead mouse stink. Perfect punishment. She’s probably laughing her ass off.”
“It’s her Audi.”
– Jay Duret