Rat Bait And Big Hair
Hamilton Barkley blinked while he waited for us to respond to his news.
‘What? Why? What do you mean?’ Devon said.
‘Ok, this is how it went down..’
Hamilton was sitting under a hairdryer at the salon, enjoying the warmth. Even though Miami was hot at that time of year, Hami found he could never quite get warm enough. He liked to bathe himself in sunshine patches underneath the windows in his house. He was known for pausing and basking in the hot studio lights just before he went live on air, and he was a big fan of a wood fire.
Wherever there was heat, Hamilton was for up for it. A bit like his life as a journalist you could say. But then, that would be cliche.
Hamilton Barkley was the youngest investigative journalist on staff at the news show he worked for, ‘City Watch, Miami.’ His career had started quickly and seriously. A natural for his craft, he was able to solve investigations quicker than the cops, being that he had informants in every hole, and in every gang.
Soon he was covering the crime and homicide segment for the program and it wasn’t long before he regularly started receiving death threats as he became feared by the crooks he was chasing down and reporting on. But he didn’t care about the danger. He cared about the truth. Also, his hair. He cared about his hair, a lot. But nonetheless, he was a serious journalist, and he was on the scene every chance he got.
Until one unfortunate day, Hami’s hair caught fire as he took one step too close to a burning building he was covering. He was live on air, the whole of Miami watching.
He liked his stories hot, but not that hot.
He was taken to hospital to recover from some minor burns. Nothing too extreme, except that most of his hair was singed to the skin and he had to be shaved down, all over. After it was done, he stood in front of the mirror for over an hour, howling and shivering.
A full shavedown would be a traumatic experience for any dog, let alone a successful Scottish Terrier with a hairstyle almost more famous than he.
Hami spent two nights in hospital and he had shared the same room as Justin Bieber’s dog, Esther. The pair became close and she helped him see himself beyond the hair. Soon enough, Hamilton was so inspired by Esther that he had confessed to her, a deeper drive to his journalism passion – to interview regular people, get them to open up to him. Hami wanted to spread more joy. His life of hunting criminals had taken it’s toll.
So, Esther encouraged him to interview her.
Esther, the maltipoo pup, gave Hami an intense interview, describing Bieber as a misunderstood child, not a brat, who tried so hard to make other’s like him. Hami discovered that Bieber had a terrible memory and often let people down unintentionally. His frustration and anger at the world was aimed mostly at himself.
Esther divulged that she had been Bieber’s muse in the song ‘Sorry’ after he’d accidentally left her outside all night. Again. As much as she understood her owner and loved him unconditionally, it had been the eleventh time he had forgotten to let her back in after her nightly pee, that month alone. As she shivered through the night, she vowed their relationship was over.
Esther had been so mad at him, refusing his apologies and cuddles, but she couldn’t find it within herself to leave the poor boy. One night the singer had sat at the piano in his recording studio and invited Esther to hear a new song he’d written for her. He missed her body warmth when he was alone in bed at night, apparently.
You should listen to the lyrics of that song again, it’s quite beautiful when you know the true meaning behind it.
Hamilton did the interview with Esther in hospital, without a shred of hair on him. Burn marks and all. Blisters and cream. He didn’t cover up or even wear a wig, and his audience had been in awe of his courage and strength.
He won a TAK Golden Newspaper award for that interview and he’d been covering celebrity news ever since. Word on the street, however was that he hadn’t totally given away his hard hitting journalism, having contributed to Wikileaks on more than one occasion.
So, it wasn’t surprising that the way in which we found out about why the Kardashian cat had dumped us for Mac, was through him.
Back at the salon, at his weekly appointment of a wash, set and style, Hami was under the dryer trying to meditate. He had started to doze off when he was startled back to the here and now by two stylists who were excitedly chatting near the equipment sterilisation station, the UV blue glow lighting up their suspicious faces. They tried covering their mouths with magazines to stop anyone from lip reading but Hami could hear them just fine.
‘No way! Shut. Up!’ the one with the glitter in her eyebrows said.
‘Ssshhhhh! I’m not even joking about this, you should have heard the cat, she was hysterical,’ said the stylist with five earrings in one ear. ‘So, she gets a call from Phil Macaw, you know that podcast guy? That podcast he does is ok, but it’s not that great.’
‘Hmm, I think I know it.’
‘Well, he calls her while I’m doing her pedi, yeah? The stupid cat doesn’t even take the phone call privately, just demands that I push the answer button and put it on speaker.’
‘Ugh. That Kardashian cat is the worst,’ Red Lips said.
‘Totally. Anyway, Mac is like, “Hey, I really want you on my show, blah blah blah,” and the cat is all like “Nah, no can do, homie. Already got a show set up with King Ming over on A Dog With A Pod…Cast- “‘
‘Oh! I love that show!’
‘Really? O.M.G, me too!’
‘And then Mac is all like “You really need to have a think about which show is going to help your book sales more,” and she goes, “Yep, already have, thanks. Seeya later alligator.” And then Mac is furious and he starts saying that he’s got something on his possession that’ll change her mind.’
Glitter Eyebrows laughs at this. ‘He really said “on my possession”? What a twat.’
‘Ew, that’s totally what I thought. Next minute he sends her a photo via text and says that she really should look at it. Pronto. So, of course, the moron makes me open up her messages and ermagawd, you’re never gonna believe what the picture was.’
‘Are we playing that game where I really, actually have to guess? Because I’m too excited to think of anything! OK, wait, I’m gonna guess that it was a picture of her with no makeup on?’
‘No. Though, that would’ve been gold!’
They laughed again.
‘Nope,’ Five Earrings said, all serious. ‘Get this. Mac sends through all these pictures of her and some guy, kissing. Real sexy-like. Hot and heavy, you know?’
‘Oh. Well, so what? The Kardashian’s love a good sex tape, or sex pic in this case.’
‘Normally, I would agree with you. Fo’sure. But in these pics, the cat is kissing a…dog! The Kardashian cat says she’s in love with a dog!’
Red Lips lets this sink in for a minute and then two of them start gasping, ewwwing and ohmygodding.
Hamilton’s eyes widened. He pushed off the dryer and ripped out his curlers. As he bolted to the front door, he yelled to the receptionist to put his visit on his tab.
Devon was the first to start laughing. ‘She’s in love with a dog?’
‘That’s disgusting!’ Ralph blurted out.
‘Hey!’ all the dogs chorused.
‘You know what I mean! Hami, what happened next?’
‘I don’t know exactly, I prematurely bolted, sorry. But I assume that’s why you got canned and Mac stole the show. I bet Mac blackmailed her with those photos.’
‘Makes sense,’ I said.
‘That poor cat,’ said Poppy. ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with. Why do we have to only fall in love with another dog or another cat? What does it matter?’
‘I totally agree,’ said Gypsy, slamming her paw down on Arlo’s desk. Arlo’s bag of carrots bounced.
‘Careful!’ Arlo snapped.
‘So, the Kardashian cat is blackmailed by Mac with this interspecies sex pic scandal and she’s forced into doing his show, piking on ours. Why?’ Devon asked.
‘For ratings,’ Bella said.
‘Not just for ratings. I bet he wants to win the trophy for Best Humour Podcast,’ Gypsy said, her paws clenched into little balls.
‘Geez, if he spent as much energy dealing with his own podcast as he does trying to destroy ours, he would win that trophy, hands down,’ said Bentley. ‘This guy’s got some gumption.’
‘He’s not right in the head,’ I said. ‘He’s got Johnny The Rat captured in his studio, he’s blackmailing our guests, he’s hijacked our live show. What next?’
‘Oh no, Johnny!’ Devon said. ‘Crap! What are we going to do about Johnny, bro?’
I started pacing. I couldn’t think straight. Why was everything spinning out of control so suddenly? Just that morning, when The Kid left for school, everything had been normal, the way it had always been. But now..
Eventually I said, ‘Mac is going to list whatever demands he has on his show at 11:30,’ I rubbed at my forehead. ‘OK, we know he’ll be uploading a prerecorded show, but what’s the bet he’ll be listening to it while it airs? He loves the sound of his own voice.’
‘Bit like someone else I know,’ mumbled Devon.
I shot a glance at the pig. ‘He’ll probably have his spies out somewhere around here making sure we don’t go live. Maybe he’ll have another device set up, watching for if we do upload,’ I took a deep breath, trying to gather my thoughts. ‘But we can’t give in, guys. We have to go live. We need to expose him for what he’s doing, or he will win that trophy.’
‘But he’ll kill Johnny!’ Bella yelled.
‘You’re a fool if you think we can go live without Mac knowing. He’ll have all kinds of contingency plans put in place to make sure you’re following along with whatever game he’s playing,’ Ralph said.
‘Or maybe he just assumes we’ll do exactly what he says, and that’s that. Maybe he’s dumb and thinks we’ll bow down and do whatever he says,’ I said to him.
‘I don’t think you can take that chance.’
My face contorted into a snarl. ‘I’m not losing the trophy to that fucking bird!’
‘Shit, Ming. We’re talking about an award over someone’s life here,’ Bentley said.
Moxie Jane gasped, she took her trolley and left in a huff. I’d forgotten she was even there.
‘Moxie, wait! Oh, never mind,’ I said, waving her off. ‘C’mon, Bentley. Think about it for a second! Mac isn’t gonna to kill anyone. I mean, he’s definitely taken ‘career driven’ to a whole new level but do you really think he’s a killer?’ I asked.
‘Well, I for one, don’t care to find out,’ said Ralph. ‘We can’t risk it. What if Johnny gets it? Gets electrocuted in the baby pool, and then this all comes back on us? The PR mess would be a nightmare if all Mac wanted us to do was listen to some demands to keep our friend alive, and we just sat by and ignored this fact.’
‘If he wants the trophy so bad, why kill Johnny? He’ll be thrown in jail,’ said Gypsy.
‘Well, technically, it’s not Mac holding that hairdryer over the pool with Johnny in it, it’s Mac’s minion,’ Bentley said. ‘He could just pin it on him.’
‘Alright then. What about this, then? Even if we listen to his demands and don’t go live, what’s to say that he won’t kill Johnny, anyway? What’s to say he’s not already dead?’ I said.
‘Because his stats are still beating away on our trackers here,’ said a voice from the garage door.
‘Carl!’ Devon clapped.
Carl, aka Big Carl, 2IC of The Rat Pack, stood in the entrance with the remainder of the team. They were all dressed in black ninja suits, whiskers twitching, their long furry feet covered in mud. The morning sun shone on their ears, distracting us from their weary faces.
Big Carl held a device in his hands that displayed Johnny The Rat’s BP measurements, oxygen levels and heartbeat stats. All near-perfect. There wasn’t a stat or a sign to suggest that he was worried about his capture at all.
The agency had trained him well.