Hungry For Trouble
‘Here’s the thing about stressful situations,’ Devon announced. ‘It makes you terribly hungry.’
He pranced around in circles as Moxie Jane, a smaller than usual mini schnauzer, arrived.
She tugged on a trolley full of food, grunting and smiling. She nodded to each of us as she moved across the concrete floor of the garage, ready to set up a banquet of goodies on the catering table. Her hair was tied up into a bow on top of her tiny head, and the couple of loose hairs that hung down over one of her eyes, flipped up and down with the little puffs of air she kept letting out as she tugged on the trolley.
Moxie lived with a married couple who ran a catering business. Once a week, her owners would put aside the leftover food from their functions and scatter them in the backyard to feed the birds. Every Thursday, Moxie could be heard fighting off the birds in her backyard. Chastising and shooing them away, she would secretly gather up all the cakes and pastries, pies and mini quiches, and neatly stack them into her trolley. The petite schnauzer delighted in bringing this feast to us on podcasting show days. Of course The Squad looked forward to her arrival, but none more so than Devon.
Moxie fluttered about, trying to unload the trolley as Devon pushed by her and stood over the trolley, sniffing.
‘You’ll be happy to hear that there are a few more vegan dishes than normal on this week’s menu, Devon. The Owners had a big function for some hipsters yesterday,’ she said, shooing him away with her teatowel.
‘Hey, Moxie! You’re looking hella good today, fine lady,’ said Bentley.
‘Oh, hush now,’ she replied, giggling.
‘Less flirting, more laying out of the food,’ Devon said as he wiggled past Bentley, making his way to the other side of the trolley. He continued snorting.
‘Mind your manners!’ Moxie scolded.
‘And listen up, y’all,’ Moxie continued. ‘I hate to interrupt this part of your day and pull your minds off this bounty of food and ooohhh, don’t it look scrumptious? But I just have to introduce to you to my new friend. She moved into the neighbourhood last week and I’d like you all to make this sweet southern belle feel very welcome. Meet Heidi, everyone.’
I looked up to the entrance of the garage. A mini schnauzer, salt and pepper, her tail docked, and her ears on guard, stood quietly. She looked down to the ground, shy for a moment, her long black eyelashes touching her cheek. I felt something inside of me shift.
‘Heeeey!’ Bentley called out. ‘You didn’t tell me you had a friend this good lookin’!’
‘Now, you watch yourself,’ Moxie said. “Heidi, come in here darlin’. These are the friends I was telling you about.’
‘Hello. It’s lovely to meet you all,’ she said. Her velvety words hitting my ears, making one of them twitch uncontrollably.
Moxie did the rounds, introducing her to everyone.
‘Oh, Ralph!’ she crooned. ‘I’ve heard so much about you. And Bentley, hello! Moxie says wonderful things about you, too.’
I watched as Heidi smiled at my friends, her presence the centre of everyone’s attention. She seemed to know exactly how to speak to people, how to make them feel special.
As they continued the introductions, Heidi shook paws and repeated names. Smooth and graceful.
Until she got to me.
‘And last but not least! This here is Ming,’ Moxie said as they both moved closer to my desk.
A loud clang went off behind them and Moxie jumped. She stormed away from Heidi’s side, shouting. ‘Devon! Stop it. Let me at least set up the table. Please!’
I stood up and smiled at Heidi. I offered my paw. ‘Hi, babe,’ I blurted out, wondering why I said that. I never called anyone babe.
‘Right, hello,’ she said, looking at my outstretched paw. She didn’t take it. ‘So you’re Ming?’
‘Yep! That’s me. Nice to meet you, Heidi,’ I said, glancing down at my own paw.
‘Thank you,’ she said, finally shaking it. ‘Though I’m not so sure that I can say the same about meeting you.’
That was awkward. I searched for Devon for him to help me but he was face down in the food trolley. Moxie was hitting him with part of a leftover baguette.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I asked.
Moxie looked at me like I’d just farted. ‘Let’s just say that I’ve heard a lot about you from the ladies in the neighbourhood. Specifically from my next door neighbour. The story on the street is that you’re a bit of a ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em’ type of guy.’
‘So my reputation proceeds me,’ I joked.
‘Yes, I guess it does,’ she said smirking. ‘Moxie Jane also showed me your Instagram account.’
‘Oh, that. Nah, that’s not even the real me. It’s all for show, babe,’ I said. Why did I keep saying that? I continued on in a hurry. ‘Also, your next door neighbour has her wires crossed. I’m actually not that type of guy at all.’
‘You don’t know Phylis, then?’
‘Oh God. You live next door to that idiot chihuahua?’ I laughed.
‘Yes, I live next door to Phyllis, and you should try calling her by her name sometime. She’s told me some of the things you’ve done to her. I wasn’t sure I believed her until I met you. You broke her heart, you know.’
‘What? I wouldn’t touch that dog with a ten foot pole! She’s a psycho. Always on my case, that one, waving at me, following me around. She’s constantly making a nuisance of herself. Frankly, she’s a little bit obsessed with me, sweetcheeks.’
Sweetcheeks?! I tried to shut up, I swear.
‘Uh huh. All her fault, is it? Just couldn’t help herself falling in love with you like that, because you’re so wonderful and all. You seem to think you’re quite something, don’t you?’
‘Seriously, what’s your problem?’
‘I don’t have a problem. But I do feel a little bit sorry for you.’
‘Oh! You feel sorry for me, do you sweetheart? Well, that’s big of you.’
‘One day a true lady will slap your face, mister, and rightly so,’ and with that, she turned on her heels and walked back to Moxie, helping her arrange horderves at the catering table.
‘Get off your high horse,’ I eventually managed to say to her back.
My heart was pounding in my ears. My legs started to feel too hot under my fur and then I thought about the Kardashian cat cancelling on us. Then I thought about Mac. After the morning I had already had, my hackles stood to attention.
‘Hey!’ I called out. ‘Moxie! You know what? Your friend can’t be in here today, and she’ll be lucky if I ever allow her back. It’s show day for god sake, what were you thinking?’
Bentley stepped forward tentatively.
I ignored him. ‘We’ve just had a massive bomb dropped on us this morning by the way, if you even care. We don’t have time for all this stupid getting-to-know-you business. We’ve got a whole show to re-write and her being here is distracting The Squad from that. Heidi, you need to leave,’ I said storming back to my chair. ‘Now!’
Moxie stared at me, her tiny smile slowly turned into a grimace and he ears flattened back against her head. Her moon-white teeth were jutting out from under her upper lip. ‘You’re not the boss of me,’ she said.
We walked toward each other.
Bentley looked torn as he tried to get between us, trying to intervene on whatever was about to go down. His head kept turning from left to right like he was watching a tennis match. As he stepped closer to me. I instinctively let out a low growl.
Heidi put her paw on Moxie’s shoulder and leaned in to whisper something in her ear.
Moxie straightened up and nodded. She went back to organising the food.
‘I’ll go, Ming, Heidi announced. ‘That’s more than fine. Nice to meet y’all. Oh! I almost forgot. Might I just say before I go, that my owners are out this Saturday evening and I would love to extend an invitation to you all for a cards and drinks night at my home. Around seven.’ She looked me up and down before she walked out. ‘And you’re not invited.’
I rolled my eyes. ‘Yeah, I figured.’
Arlo picked up a new carrot, his nervous crunching returning. Crunch crunch.
My eye twitched. I took in a slow, deep breath, holding onto it for as long as I could. I tried to count to ten to calm myself, just like Gypsy was always doing to stop herself from punching someone in the throat.
1, 2, 3-
Arlo happened to glance over at me at the same time he crunched down on his carrot.
My chair fell over behind me as I stood up.
‘Oh, shit,’ he said, looking at what he was holding. This time, Arlo threw his own carrot across the room.
‘Oooohhhhhh!’ Bentley howled with relief. ‘You couldn’t have made a worse impression if you tried!’
‘She started it.’ I realised I sounded like an idiot, but I couldn’t help it. ‘Let’s get back to work,’ I said, gathering up my notes. ‘Devon, for fucksake! Stop eating, already!’
The Squad set about their assigned tasks.
Arlo hooked us up to The Animal Kingdom’s podcasting frequency, ready to go for when we started our podcast. Ralph walked around in circles, reading his notes. Gypsy and Poppy’s soulful voices, practicing the theme song harmonies, could be heard from just outside the garage. Bentley was shuffling around, murmuring the new jokes to himself and Devon was somehow still eating.
‘Hook up the connection to Hamilton Barkley,’ I said to Arlo and he nodded, the bag of carrots beside him untouched.
Batdog Jack, B-Max and Cayman walked into the garage.
‘Turns out, the paper that fell from the trees, wasn’t just rubbish,’ B-Max said. He shrugged off his fluorescent yellow hazard suit, his protective head gear still on, which muffled his voice. ‘It took us awhile to decode the bird’s scratchings but we’ve sorted it out now.’
‘What was on it?’ I asked.
‘Um, a message. Mac has sent us a note,’ said Jack, holding out the piece of paper slowly.
‘OK. Let’s hear it.’
Jack cleared his throat. ‘You’re not gonna like it, boss.’
‘Well, that does seem to be the theme of today.’
Jack unfolded the piece of paper and began to read aloud.
‘Dearest Ming and Co. It’s always such an honour and a right pleasure to know that you’re so clearly intimated by me, as shown this morning by sending over your team of spies. I must say, The Rat Pack really was quite discreet and please don’t be too hard on them for failing. I would never have known they were snooping about my studio if it were just little ol’ me, but unfortunately for you, I do have quite the team over here in the way of cats. They were able to sniff out your pack of flea ridden rodents quick smart! Ha! Isn’t that a gas?
Ming, I’d like to advise you that I’m holding onto the leader of your rat pack here, ready to be returned, but only when you agree to a few demands.’
Jack looked up from reading.
‘They’ve kidnapped Johnny The Rat?’ said Devon as bits of a beetroot chocolate cake fell from his gaping mouth.
‘Blackmailing bastard!’ Arlo yelled, slamming his paw down on my desk.
‘My demands,’ Jack continued reading, ‘will be on my podcast, starring the Kardashian cat, at 11:30 this morning. It would be wise for you to listen to them. Because if you don’t, your rat-faced investigator here will be meeting with his death, and that my friend, will be on you. Kind Regards, Phillip ‘Mac’ Macaw.’
Jack screwed up the piece of paper, his muscles tense.
Bentley and I looked at each other.
‘Who says “meeting with his death?“‘ said Bentley.
‘What a dickhead. He’s talking shit,’ said Gypsy, but she was glancing back and forth from Bentley to me.
‘But, hang on, our show is meant to start at 11:30,’ Devon said, swallowing. ‘What’s he playing at?’
‘He wants us to stall the podcast, which will get him all of the early ratings for the day,’ I said. ‘Just another step closer for him to steal our trophy. Nup, It’s not gonna happen. We don’t negotiate with terrorists.’
‘You can’t let him kill Johnny!’ Poppy demanded.
‘There’s something else,’ Cayman said. He stepped forward, producing a photo.
It was a polaroid of Johnny The Rat, bound and gagged and positioned on a chair in a green baby pool, which was full of water. Johnny’s eyes were narrowed, he looked like he was pulling forward, straining to get out of the ropes that held him in place. A cat stood next to him holding up a hair dryer; a face that portrayed an ugly glee.
‘They’re going to electrocute him!’ Ralph yelled.
‘Oh my God!’ Poppy, Gypsy and Bella said together.
‘Johnny’s a dead rat,’ said Arlo.
‘No! We aren’t gonna let Mac kill Johnny The Rat,’ said B-Max. ‘We’ll storm over there now, attack from nowhere. Chop off their heads! Stealth! Ninja! We could, couldn’t we? Rescue him, I mean. Couldn’t we, guys?’ He looked up at Jack and Cayman, rock solid giants standing high above him.
Jack seemed to go a lighter shade of beige. He licked his lips, and looked away from the photo.
‘We’ll do anything we can,’ Cayman replied. He nodded to me. ‘You just say the word, boss.’
‘Shit. Ok, we need a plan,’ I said rubbing my forehead as I paced back and forth. ‘Maybe there’s a way we can still do the show, and listen to his demands at the same time.’
‘How can we plan anything without knowing what he wants first? If we go ahead with the show, and even if we can hear his demands while we’re doing it, he’ll know we are live. That’s exactly what he doesn’t want us to do; the show. He’ll kill Johnny for that. We can’t risk it,’ Bentley said.
Arlo coughed, ‘Ming, sorry to interrupt, I’ve Hamilton Barkley hooked up from Miami now. He’s been briefed and he’s got some news you’re gonna wanna hear.’
I walked over to Arlo’s desk. ‘Hami, my man. Please tell me you’re not offering up any more bad news because I can’t take much more this morning,’ I said to the computer screen.
Hami’s face was outlined by the Skype box. His black Scottish Terrier head, unusually big for his body today, was shaking vigorously. ‘No, no! I’ve just heard the most unbelievable story at the dog salon. Excuse my blow dried head, I ran out of there as soon as I heard and I had to finish the style off myself.’
‘Your head looks huge!’ Devon said.
‘Shut up, Dev,’ said Arlo, trying to alter the sound levels to keep from Hami hearing.
‘I know! It’s hilarious!’ Hamilton tried patting his hair down, but it kept bouncing back up. ‘But I digress. So, I was sitting under the dryer in the salon having my hair set, you see, and I happened to overhear two of the stylists talking,’ Hami rambled, his big head bobbing back and forth with excitement. ‘My hearing really is excellent, even for a dog. Anyway, my stylist did a pedi on the Kardashian cat yesterday, and interestingly, she was privy to a phone call between her and Macaw.’
Hami paused to take a breath.
‘Ming, I know why she ditched your show.’