My friend Bernie opened a can of V-8 Juice and fumbled for his keys. "I wanna show you something." We were standing outside his toolshed in deep wet grass. Just off Onteona Road near the ridge. My feet were soaked and chilly. He kept the door to the shed padlocked. This morning he was having trouble getting it open. "A little too much to drink last night," he said. Bernie and the rest of the gang played pool and horsed around down at Victor's place every Saturday night. Nothing fancy, just your basic tavern. He'd have been there till two, three o'clock.
"Goddammit." The lock wouldn't give. "Shit. I've got a can of Liquid Wrench in the car. Be right back."
I figured he was gonna show me his guns or traps. Or maybe he'd caught something. I had no idea. I don't usually make a point of wandering over to his place but this morning I was out walking when we saw each other and started talking. He was complaining about the pipeline and how he couldn't go hiking in private like he used to. "Did you see how those pricks left it? A fuckin cut fifty feet across. And the shit trees they planted have died. What a mess. It's like the trails behind the little lake where the kids run their goddamn ATVs. Fuckin world is closing in on us around here." Compared to the city where I worked, it was empty. Compared to the way it was a few years ago, it was crowded.
He came back with the lubricant. "This'll do the trick." He sprayed some of the stuff into the keyhole, inserted the key and jiggered it around for a little bit. Then very delicately he turned it counterclockwise. The lock sprung open. "Told you. Here. Come in."
He turned on the overhead light and the radio came on -- some loudmouth spewing forth about Syria. Bernie shut it off quick. Then he walked over to the far wall of shelves, took down a fairly large wooden crate, and brought it over to the workbench. There were five or six dead cats inside in varying states of decomposition. I jerked back. "Don't worry. I throw quicklime on 'em, keeps the stink down." A couple of the corpses were still recognizable.
I said, "These two look like the ones that used run around down by the clubhouse. They belonged to Mrs. Miller, didn't they?" A week or two earlier, this lady had come around canvasing the neighborhood looking for her "girls." I had never seen her before. "I'm Mrs. Miller," she said. She carried a photocopy of her cats' portraits in her mottled hand and seemed pretty upset. I had nothing to tell her -- I hadn't seen them in a while and frankly thought, good riddance. Those cats terrorized the birds and the chipmunks. Even more annoying, they stood at the edge of the property when I was grilling, licking their chops. What the hell? Did they think I was gonna feed them?
Bernie said, "I don't give a shit who owned them. I can't stand to see these cats going after the birds. Fuckin owners ought to know better. That's why I keep my .22 close to hand." I knew that he specialized in groundhogs and possum and such, but this going after feral cats was something new. I kind of admired him for it.
"I agree," I said. "I'm allergic to the things and can't stand it when they cut through my property." He told me that he had bagged five of them in one week. I asked him why the neighbors hadn't reported him to the cops. No one is supposed to be shooting live ammunition around here. It's a residential area and against the law. He said, "How should I know? Either they didn't see me or they don't care. Hell, half of them would probably be doing the same thing if they could. They're just too scared."
By now the sun had come out and I wanted to finish my walk. "I'm glad you're taking care of the problem. Just don't get caught. Whether it's Mrs. Miller or somebody else, you can be sure someone is going to sue the shit out of you if they find out." He snorted and said, "Let 'em try. Just let 'em try." With that I backed out of the shed and told him that I'd best be on my way. He gave a wave and said, "Sure thing, poot. And don't forget. I've got a pig roast coming up in two weeks. Love to see your ass over here." I promised him I'd make it if I could.