6. Ways To Help A Friend

The Rat Pack And Poor Jack’s Sack

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The Rat Pack started their descent down the driveway, their duffel bags bulging full of ropes, guns, and ammunition. The six comrades unknowingly left a space between themselves in the middle of their line, not even realising they were automatically making room for Johnny The Rat, who normally lead them as a team on these missions.

As Jack, Cayman, B-Max and I checked off what we thought we might need in a situation such as this, (walkie talkies, ski masks, hand sanitiser?) Bentley and Devon approached.

‘Are you sure we can’t come with you?’ said Devon, covering his snout with a tissue. ‘You guys really stink of wee, by the way.’

‘Yeah, trust me, I know,’ I said. ‘Guys, I’d like you to come, God knows we need all the help we can get, but I really need you both to stay here with Arlo to mix up some soundbites for the show.’

‘We’re still going to have a show today?’ Devon asked.

‘That’s the plan. Tell Ralph to put out an announcement on our website saying that because we don’t have the Kardashian cat as a guest all of a sudden, maybe say we’ve had technical issues or whatever, that we’ll be doing a prerecorded ‘Best Of’ show instead. Mix up about ten minutes of our funniest jokes and snippets of interviews.’

‘Only ten?’ Bentley queried.

‘We’re aren’t going to need a full length prerecorded show, because we are going to have a live show, and hopefully if everything works out the way I think it will, our ratings will blow Mac’s Kardashian ratings out of the water, but I need to throw Mac off the scent for a few minutes so I can hear his demands first.’

‘Why do you care about Mac beating us in the ratings on one podcast, Ming? This situation with Johnny is bigger than the show,’ Bentley said. 

‘It’s not just one podcast, Bentley. It’s not just that ‘one’ thing. If we let Mac get away with this, then what’s next? He keeps terrorising us until he wins the Best Humour Podcast award? Every time he wants us to fail, he kidnaps someone? Makes it impossible for us to do the show altogether? All of this,’ I waved my arms around over at the garage and at our friends, ‘everything we’ve worked so hard for, us, The Squad, it’ll just dwindle without this podcast. Because Mac will make it harder and harder for us to do what we love and it’ll all fade away and we won’t have anything to pull us together anymore.’

I looked up at The Squad. Heidi’s kind eyes shone, and she held my gaze for a moment too long. I uncomfortably turned away. ‘Can’t you see that?’ I turned back to Bentley. ‘We need this podcast. We need a purpose to keep us together, to keep things they way they are, otherwise everything during the day when our families are out just goes back to how it was before. Boring and lonely. All alone..’

‘Nothing will change if we don’t have A Dog With A Pod…Cast, buddy.’ Bentley put his arm on mine gently. ‘The Squad will always be together. No one is leaving you, okay? Abandonment is not on the agenda.’

‘Just do it!’ I snapped.

‘Fine, whatever you say, Drill Sergeant. I just hope this doesn’t cost Johnny his life.’

‘I’m sorry, Bentley. Please trust me,’ I said.

‘I’ll stall Sheriff Ivan and Deputy J-Money for as long as I can. Hurry.’

‘Good luck!’ Devon cried out, waving his tissue at us as we followed the rats out of the yard.

At the bottom of the driveway, the rats started sniffing the air. They tentatively approached the curb, all of them looking in different directions, scoping out the street.

‘Right! Ming, you guys get there any which way you can,’ Big Carl told us. ‘We’ll have to go separately because there’s too many of us now, and giraffe legs over there is gonna give us away.’ He looked Cayman over, slapping him a couple of times on the ankle of his long, black leg.

Cayman sunk down. ‘I can crouch a bit?’

Frank laughed. ‘Not helping, behemoth.’

‘C’mon,’ said B-Max. ‘Let’s go already!’ He shuffled from foot to foot, his eyebrows sloping down, achieving the look of an angry old man.

‘Meet you there,’ Big Carl said as they hurried away.

We took off down the street. It was lined with houses on both sides and although the homes looked different on the outside, they were all mostly the same inside. Humans and pets, living together in harmony, busy making happy lives for themselves and keeping each other safe and warm at night. Coexisting and being a family. I thought of my mother and my siblings, my heart felt heavy and I pushed the idea of them away like a plate of unappetising food.

Most of the homes in our neighbourhood proudly displayed manicured shrubs in lieu of fences in their front gardens. The amount of care taken by the neighbourhood Owners on the weekends to perfect these plants which bordered their front yards, seemed ridiculous, but there was never any complaining from us. Because of these bushes and shrubs, we had places we could hide behind and under, to keep out of view whenever we ventured outside.

The security team and I hid behind the shrubby pieces of artworks, moving along only when it was safe and clear from human eyes. It was imperative to keep ourselves hidden and quiet while we travelled to Macs. Could you imagine the questions that would be raised should we be caught carrying bags of weapons and sporting masks?

‘Car coming,’ I said, hearing the hum of an engine at the end of the street. We slunk under some fence-bush in Mrs Wong’s garden, relieved for the shade that took the sun’s edge off our backs. I made a mental note to myself; woollen bandit masks and hot fur was not a winning combination.

‘Oh, I can’t wait to see the look on Mac’s face when we pull Johnny up out through the roof,’ said B-Max.’Surprise!’ He jumped back on his hind legs throwing his front paws up in the air.

‘Get down!’ we whispered.

The car rushed past us and as soon as it was a few houses down, we stood up.

‘Well, let’s hope The Rat Pack know what their doing with their lasso. Hey Jack, I might need you to fend off the cats in there if something goes wrong,’ I said to my Head of Security.

Jack didn’t reply. I turned to look behind me in time to see him retch and vomit up his breakfast, all over one of Mrs Wong’s rose bushes.

‘Jack!’ Cayman rushed to his friend’s side. ‘You ok?’

Jack shook himself off and coughed. ‘Bluergh, sorry. I don’t know what happened there. Bad breakfast, I guess.’

‘You look pale,’ B-Max said, cocking his head and grabbing one of Jack’s paws, trying to feel around for a pulse.

‘How can I look pale? I’m beige.’ Jack lightly pushed B-Max’s hand away. ‘I’m fine.’

B-Max jumped up and down on his little hind legs, trying to reach up to Jack’s head to feel his temperature.

‘God! I’m fine. Leave me alone, squirt.’

B-Max’s eyebrows drew down into an angrier angle. ‘Geez, sorry man. Just trying to help.’

‘Well don’t!’ he said, bending over to pick up his duffel bag. He threw it up over his shoulder and then slowly swayed off balance. He started to shake. ‘Okay, let’s wait a sec,’ he murmured as he gingerly laid himself down on the shaded grass under Mrs Wong’s lemon tree, away from his vomit patch. ‘Oh, geez Louise. Oh, shit Ming. I don’t think I can do this thing.’ He started to hyperventilate. ‘This rescue or whatever it is. I’m so sorry.’

‘Are you sick?’ I asked. ‘Should we take you back home? The vet?’ I sat down next to him.

‘No, I’m not sick,’ he said. 

I stared at him, confused. He looked like he was about to cry. Tough guy Jack was falling apart in front of my eyes, out of nowhere.

‘I can’t go, buddy. I can’t come with you and rescue a rat out of a pool of water,’ he babbled, picking up speed and speaking at a fevered pace. ‘And not just any old rat, the leader of The Rat Pack, no less, who is about to be electrocuted by a crazed cat who’s being given directives from an even crazier bird who is trying to blackmail our exclusive guest, the socialite cat, for falling in love with a dog, and all because he wants to win a trophy for the Best Humour Podcast, just to beat us and make himself look good in front of whole Animal Kingdom?’ His eyes grew wider as he spoke. He was speaking with elaborate hand gestures and kept twitching one of his ears. ‘Don’t you see how ridiculous this is? I’m scared as fuck! Aren’t you? I’m scared one of those tiny rats is going to accidentally blow us all up, or maybe I’ll fall through the roof accidentally and land in that pool myself,’ he said, staggering onto his front legs trying to get up. ‘Nope, I’m going home.’

‘Jack! Hey, take it easy. Sit down, it’s okay,’ I said, taking him by the shoulders and guiding him back toward the grass. He was panting hard. ‘I had no idea you felt this way. You’re normally so tough.’

‘Well that’s the problem, isn’t it? I’ve been having panic attacks ever since I became Head of Security. Anxiety. Me! I’m a big softie, pal. I am. I like rainbows and butterflies, and  my favourite thing to do? Is to dress up as a pirate and run on the beach with my Lady Owner! I’m not fit to protect you all.’ Jack took in another enormous breath. His face screwed up and he looked pained from the sheer size of it. He let out a muffled, snot laden sound and his eyes filled up with tears, his giant ears flopping down in dismay.

I stroked his back, signalling to Cayman with some sort of sign language using my eyes, to help me.

Cayman looked panicked and stepped forward. Then he stepped back.

I signalled to him more vigorously and mouthed, ‘Do something!’ pointing to Jack’s head behind his line of sight, still rubbing his back.

B-Max sighed, shaking his head at us, and stepped up to Jack. He moved his face in close, sniffing the distressed dog for a moment. ‘Yep. Just as I thought. You have a case of the heebie jeebies, my friend,’ he announced.

‘Heebie whats?’ Jack said between gulps of air.

‘The heebie jeebies, just some cold feet. Now, I want to help you through this, I really do, but-’ then out of nowhere, B-Max slapped Jack’s face, hard.

Cayman and I stopped dead-still and waited for Jack to respond.

Jack blinked.

‘Now, you listen to me!’ B-Max said in the loudest whisper he could manage. He looked around to make sure we weren’t missing any rogue humans coming out of a house. ‘Your friends need you right now. I need you. And we all have to work together or this might end badly. Do you understand?’ He pressed his nose up against Jack’s. ‘You don’t have to do anything dangerous, I’ll do it for us, but we need your muscle, mate. All you have to do is look fierce, and I swear to God, I’ll do the rest. You pull yourself together, stand up, and follow us. Come on, get up. And I promise you, you won’t even break a nail over there.’

‘But..no..what?..’ Jack started. He looked to Cayman and I. ‘No, B-max, no. It’s too dangerous for you, too. I’m sorry guys, I really am. But we can’t do this. I can’t.’

‘Yes you can, I know you can. You’re one of my heroes. There’s only two blokes I know who could get this job done, and you’re one of them,’ B-Max said, then looked over at Cayman, who blushed slightly.

‘Hero?’ Jack laughed through his tears. ‘What a joke. Did you know that I’ve been seeing the Guru Owl over on Heddington Street? We do yoga and meditation together. He teaches me how to go to my happy place and works on my chakras every week. I thought I was getting better, but look at me, I’m not right, am I?  It’s clearly not working, is it?’’ Jack started to wail again and threw his front legs up over the top of his head. Painful sounding sobs escaped him.

He was making too much noise in an area we weren’t even suppose to be occupying. I scanned the street, nervously waiting for a human to walk out of a house. While Cayman made hushing sounds at Jack, I saw the curtains move inside Mrs Wong’s house as her cat peered out from the front window. Mrs Mangle.

Jack’s sobbing continued. He turned over onto his back, flailing around on the grass until a muffled thwack sound bounced off his face as B-Max’s furry paw slapped against it again.

Shuussh!’ B-max whispered.

‘Fuck, stop doing that! It hurts,’ Jack warned, sitting up. He rubbed at his face.

B-Max started to jog on the spot. ‘Does it, big baby? Get up. C’mon, or I’ll flick ya in the nuts!’’ he teased, his paw dancing around Jack’s backside, threatening to strike him in the testes. B-Max’s head was darting up and down, taunting. ‘Fire up, son!’ he said smiling,

Then he flicked Jack’s sack.

‘Ow!’ Jack barked and stood up to run.

B-Max bolted out of Mrs Wong’s yard yelling, ‘Catch me if you can, sweetheart!’

By the time we snuck over to Mac’s house, Jack had calmed down. Not a lot, but enough to be quiet. We kept back behind Mac’s neighbour’s side of the fence and took up positions on our bellies. Soon we could see small figures in black, silently scurrying across the roof of Mac’s place.

‘Come in, Team Arse Sniffers, come in,’ Frank’s voice whispered through my walkie talkie.

‘Team Arse Sniffers?’ B-Max said. ‘He’s so stupid. That’s very unprofessional. Hey, I know, let’s call them, Team T-Rex Arms.’

‘Who’s unprofessional?’ Cayman said.

‘What’s happening, Frank?’ I asked.

‘Listen up. The studio is in a bungalow up nearer to the end of the property, we’ll be making our way there across on the phone lines now. Don’t enter the backyard until we give it the all clear. Over,’ he said.

‘Got it,’ I replied. I put the walkie talkie back into the bag, sitting down next to Cayman and Jack to wait.

‘You did it wrong,’ B-Max said. ‘You’re meant to say ‘over and out’ but doesn’t matter, I guess.’

‘Is that right?’ I said, amused. ‘Well, thanks for that feedback.’

‘Welcome.’

Jack smiled at me. ‘You okay?’ I asked him, shuffling closer.

‘I’ll be fine,’ he said punching me in the arm.

My face contorted.

‘Oh! Shit, sorry, man. Did I hurt you?’ 

I rubbed at my arm. ‘No dramas.’

‘Gee. You know, I really didn’t use that much force.’

We sat together and waited until my walkie talkie came back to life. ‘Come in Team Arse Sniffers, come in.’

‘All clear?’ I asked.

‘Affirmative. Make your way round here asap fellas. The cats are playing cards. Winner gets to smoke Johnny and things are getting heated so if you’re gonna help us, make it quick and make it now. Over.’

B-Max was running up Mac’s driveway before I even had the chance to say ‘Over and out.’

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