Mac’s backyard was perfectly manicured. It featured a path of white roses that outlined a cobblestone path leading to a rundown bungalow, and for a structure so unkempt, it was weird to see such a beautiful entrance lead to it.
One of the front windows had been broken and boarded up with a large piece of cardboard, duct tape zig zagging across the frame. Part of the verandah roof was lopsided and sloped down to the phone line that was connected into the building, making it easy access onto the roof.
The rats were making their way across the lines to the roof as we crept along the far righthand side of the backyard, to where B-Max had set himself up against the outside wall of the bungalow. He was on his belly with one eye pushed up to a vent. I laid down beside him to peer into Phil ‘Mac’ Macaw’s workplace.
There were long, tattered couches against two of the walls of the small space. In the middle of the room stood a desk comprising of a computer and all sorts of recording equipment strewn around on it. Screwed up balls of papers littered the floor, and the bin was overflowing. On one of the walls, football team pictures were hung, along with a few human lady booby posters, which seemed an odd thing for a bird to have.
‘This must be his Teen’s hangout,’ B-Max said when I pointed it out.
Nearer to us at the vent, was the baby pool and the chair that trapped our friend. Johnny The Rat’s back was was turned to us, his muscley arms tied behind him with string. His head was slumped forward but his breathing was steady.
‘He’s still alive,’ I said, exhaling with relief.
From the next vent along in the wall, sounds of cheering came bursting through. ‘Noooooo!!’ someone shouted. ‘I wanted to kill the rodent. Let me do it, Mikey, and I’ll owe ya!’
‘I won fair and square, loser!’ someone said, laughing insanely.
Cayman and I kept low as we hurried to the next vent to see through into another room of the bungalow. From our vantage point, it looked like the kitchen, and a group of cats sat around a table near a dirty looking oven. Cards were scattered across the retro, red linoleum table.
The cat who must have won the card game, Mikey, and also the job of killing Johnny The Rat, stood in the middle of the table jumping up and down with his hands in the air. There were four other cats around him. They laughed, as he started kicking empty cans of beer off the table, hitting one of the other cats in the head. The laughing continued until an overflowing ashtray was knocked to the floor, smashing into shards of glass with a puff of ash that emanated from its fall. A flash of colour in my peripheral vision turned my head.
In the corner of the kitchen, sitting on the sink near a dirty window, an expansive pair of blue wings shot up into the air. The figure turned around to the cats, displaying a canary yellow chest. A shiny black beak jutting out severely, opened and closed.
Phil ‘Mac’ Macaw’s black and white zebra face flicked from side to side as he used one eye at a time to look at the mess in the kitchen. ‘Enough!’ he squawked. ‘You pack of imbeciles! Look at this mess. Clean this shit up before The Teen gets back or he’ll start talking about evicting me again. You make me look like a squatter here!’
‘Sorry, Mac,’ said the cat from the middle of the table. He softly jumped down onto the floor and started kicking cans towards a bin.
‘Oh, dear. It’s okay, Mikey,’ Mac said to the cat. ‘No, look, I’m sorry. I’m a little tense it would seem. This clutter isn’t helping me clear my head. You know I like a neat space.’
Mac pushed up the tap at the sink with his foot. He pumped out two squirts of hand soap that sat on the sill and scrubbed at his talons. The skin around his feet looked an angry red, and even though he winced when the water hit them, he repeated the scrubbing process again after he’d finished rinsing.
He flapped his wings a few times on the spot and then sailed through the kitchen, out of the doorway.
We scrambled back over to the first vent to stake him out from there as Jack stayed at the second vent with the cats.
‘What time is it?’ I whispered to B-Max.
Mac flew onto his desk and started tapping around at the computer as Mikey the cat followed behind. He strolled around the room, picking up balls of paper and throwing them into the overflowing bin. A paper ball bounced off the pile of other rubbish and rolled back onto the ragged carpet. Mikey shrugged. ‘Ten minutes before we upload, boss,’ he said.
‘Yes, yes. We should probably wake the rat up soon. Oooh, what fun it’ll be to make our demands known to that ding dong, Ming,’ Mac said.
My ears pricked up and I felt my eyes narrow. I wished I knew what he was planning.
Mikey wandered over to Johnny and stood next to the baby pool. ‘I’m just looking forward to throwing the hairdryer into this here water,’ he said.
‘You’re a sadist,’ Mac laughed. ‘And that’s why I love you.’
‘Really?’ the cat said hopefully. ‘You love me?’
‘Oh, shut up, you needy feline,’ Mac said, throwing a pencil across the room at him.
The cat’s face stiffened and he turned to face Johnny.
As he did, the walkie talkie in my bag crackled and came to life and a muffled voice said something nondescript.
From inside, Mikey’s head cocked. He stood still, listening. He sniffed the air.
Cayman, B-Max and I, dropped down closer to the ground and wormed away from the vents. I kept the bag hidden under me, trying to drown out the little voice I could hear from the walkie talkie. ‘Come in, King Ming, come in.’ It was Devon. Jesus, this pig has an uncanny ability to fuck things up without even trying, I thought as I reached into the bag, and turned the device’s switch to off.
We could hear sniffing from inside, near the vent.
‘What is it?’ called Mac.
‘Nothing,’ Mikey answered. ‘I think a neighbourhood cat just walked by. It smells weird though, like it’s been sitting in a sewer.’ He sniffed again. ‘Gone now.’
‘Okay, good. Wake up the rat. It’s show time!’
The sounds of splashing water exited the vent and then coughing from Johnny. ‘Stop it, furball,’ we heard Johnny threaten. Then we heard him scream.
I rushed back to the vent, trying to see what was happening but all I could make out through the slats was splashing water in the baby pool and the cat hovering above the rat. It looked like the chair had been flipped over and Johnny seemed to be face down in the water.
‘I’m going in,’ B-Max announced.
‘Shhh,’ I hushed. ‘Not yet, wait a sec.’
The splashing stopped and the coughing resumed as Mikey brought the chair up out of the water and sat it straight again.
‘Anymore insults out of you and I’ll drown your sorry arse,’ he muttered, splashing a wave of water into Johnny’s face. ‘Keep quiet.’ He held up a hairdryer that was plugged into the wall and he snapped the power point to ‘On.’ Mikey wiggled it around in the air a little, his eyes bulging as a crazy smile spread across his tabby face. ‘Electrocution, what fuuuun!’ he sang.
‘What a psycho,’ said Cayman.
Jack crawled back over to us as the other four cats entered the room we were watching.
‘They’re done cleaning,’ Jack whispered. ‘And either they don’t know what’s about to happen here or they don’t care, because they didn’t talk about anything else but some hottie cat they’re all in love with.’
My phone started vibrating in my bag. ‘Shit,’ I said under my breath, feeling around trying to find it within all the other necessities. I tucked an ear plug into my ear and connected it to the phone, swiping it to answer. ‘Devon, I can’t talk loud, can you hear me?’
‘Ming! Oh, thank God! See, Bentley, he’s not as dead as a door nail! He’s alive.’
The phone made some unusual banging and knocking noises and a soft moan from Devon could be heard as the phone was snatched away from him.
‘Ming!’ Bentley said. ‘We’ve got the recorded stuff you wanted. You need to confirm what you want done next.’
‘Great work, Bentley,’ I whispered into the phone. ‘Hang tight with me on the line, I’ll let you know soon. Over and out.’
B-Max looked across to me smiling and gave me a thumbs up. ‘You don’t really need to do that on a phone, but I like it nonetheless.’
Mac flapped around at his desk, we heard his theme song music start up as he uploaded his podcast to The Animal Kingdom’s podcasting frequency. He sang along to his ditty and the cats danced around his feet below him. He looked like some sort of crazed god with a fellowship of even crazier disciples. Mikey flipped the lights on and off until the song finished.
Mac’s voice came through a speaker loudly, straining the equipment. He quickly turned it down and started pacing back and forth on the desk, occasionally letting out a squawk while the intro was played.
‘Good morning, all! And welcome to the Flights Of Fancy podcast. I’m your host, Phil Mac Macaw! But friends, please, call me Mac,’ said the pre recording.
‘If he wanted to be called Mac, why doesn’t he say his name is just Mac. What a tosser,’ B-Max whispered.
‘As always, we have a special guest for you today,’ Mac’s voice continued, ‘and you’ll be extra excited about this gorgeous face, let me tell you. But first, a word from our sponsor.’
Mac’s voice went on and on about a bird seed company that was sponsoring the show. He described, in great detail, how wonderful the seed was and how the packaging was less harmful to our environment. All the while, the silent, pacing Mac on the desk, was throwing back a rival competitor’s birdseed product.
B-Max scoffed at the disloyalty.
‘Now! Let’s get down to business. As you all know, our friends over at A Dog With A Pod…Cast have been a formidable opponent in the rating wars with Flights Of Fancy. I bow down to the geniuses they’ve been. However, recently my sources have made me aware that the friends I thought I had over there, aren’t the kinds of animals I thought they were.’
‘Ppfftt, friends. Like hell,’ I scoffed.
‘My next guest, Kourtney Kardashian’s cat, will explain it all now. You know her as the wordsmith cat with an eye for fashion, and her eighth book, entitled ‘The Cat and the Brats’ is to be released later this month. And, wow, what a insightful look at how famous children behave, folks. Please welcome, Charli Kardashian!’ Mac boomed.
‘Hello, Mac. Thank you for having me,’ said the nervous sounding Kardashian cat.
‘Did you know that was her name? Charli?’ whispered Cayman to me.
‘No, I never thought to even ask. Just knew her as the cat. Like, I thought ‘Kat’ was her name.’
Mac was laughing at something Charli had said. ‘You’re adorable!’ he gushed.
Charli giggled softly. ‘Thank you.’
‘Okay, missy. Let’s get down to the seriousness of it all now. It’s understood that you had an exclusive interview lined up over on A Dog With A Pod…Cast but then you suddenly pulled out, and now you’re here. Tell us why,’ Mac said.
‘Um,’ Charli started, her voice shaky. ‘I’d like to go on the record for what I say here,’ she said, sounding like she was reading a script. ‘So I don’t have to go through this again.’
‘I’m sure it’s not easy to talk about,’ Mac cooed.
‘No, it isn’t,’ she swallowed hard. ‘I’ve been told by a reliable source that Ming and the crew over at A Dog With A Pod…Cast believe that I have plagiarised parts of my book from Sunny Obama’s book-‘
‘Now, for those of you who’ve been living under a rock, Sunny Obama is Michelle Obama’s dog,’ Mac intervened.
‘Right. And while some paragraph’s are close in language, I promise I didn’t plagiarise, and that all words are my own. Perhaps, and I’ll admit, Sunny’s voice was more inspiring to me than I knew when I was writing my book about life with the Kardashian kids, but I didn’t use all of Sunny’s words. Maybe just some,’ she stammered.
‘What the hell!?’ I whispered.
B-Max and Cayman looked at me. Jack shook his head.
‘Fuck this,’ I said as I went to stand up, but Cayman flattened me back down into the dirt with one long leg.
‘Wait,’ he said.
My walkie talkie crackled and Frank The Tank came through. Cayman pressed his paw over the speaker, dulling the sound. ‘I need muscle up here, stat. We can’t jimmy open the skylight by ourselves, it’s jammed or something. There’s a ladder to the west of the building, send someone up. Over and out.’
Jack nodded and turned to go but B-Max protested. ‘No! I’ll go, I’m lighter than you and they won’t hear my footsteps up there.’ He ducked down low and made his way around the back of the bungalow to help the rats.
‘Mmmm, let’s see here,’ Mac continued. The sounds of paper rustled as he flicked to a part of the book he wanted to read aloud. ‘You say, “I knew that I was blessed with a family of dreamers. A family whose only limits in this world was the strength of their dreams.” Did you write that?’
Charli coughed, ‘Yes, I wrote that.’
‘And yet, in Sunny’s book ‘Living With The Obamas’ she writes, “When I entered the Obama home, it quickly became apparent to me that I had been blessed with a family of dreamers. I had been welcomed into a home with a family who worked hard and who knew that the only limits to their achievements, was the strength of their dreams.’
‘Yes,’ Charli said.
‘A little too close for comfort, some might say,’ Mac said.
‘It is close, yes. But I don’t believe I ripped off her words. I was just inspired by her,’ Charli said, her voice breaking a little.
‘What a brave cat you are for coming on and speaking to us about this, on your terms. It must have been a shock to hear that Ming was to ambush you, live, with this information,’ Mac said.
‘Yes, definitely. We’ve had a good relationship in the past,’ she replied.
I wiggled around in the dirt under Cayman’s strength. All I wanted to do was rush in there and beat the shit out of the bird who was preening on the desk. How could the cat believe I would do that? I hadn’t even read either of their fucking books!
‘Is it true that Ming doesn’t know your name?’ Mac asked.
‘He’s never addressed me as Charli, no.’
I rolled my eyes and started to object. Cayman pressed down harder on my face.
‘Well, Charli. This is for you, sweetie,’ Mac’s voice floated through the air through to the vent. ‘Ming. What I’m about to say now is for your benefit. I feel that it’s of great interest to you and your podcast squad, in more ways than one, to listen to me, to hear me out. What you’ve done here, in my humble opinion, is against Animal Kingdom podcasting conduct and etiquette. I humbly ask that you see this for what it is, and that you put forward your request for the withdrawal of your nomination in the category of Best Humour Podcast. Do it quickly, my friend, as the awards are next week, as you know. I think it’s only right, and I imagine your audience will too. Perhaps if you do this as a sign of good faith, then you might still have a career to salvage when the dust settles. Do the right thing, King Ming. Oh! I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it, Charli! Isn’t that funny?’ Mac laughed hysterically.
Charli forced a small laugh.
‘Bentley,’ I whispered into the phone, dragging it closer to my face which was still squashed against the dirt. ‘You and Devon go live now. Open it up with what utter nonsense his allegations are. It’s defamation. Tell our audience we will not be withdrawing our nomination, and that he’s kidnapped our friend, and blackmailed our guest. We’re gonna expose this bird, live.’
‘Are you sure?’ Bentley responded. ‘Have you secured Johnny’s safety?’
‘Yes. He’ll be coming home today, even if I have to take out Mac and the cats myself.’
And with that, a splinter of wood cracked from the roof of the bungalow, and B-Max fell through the ceiling, crashing down into the pool of water next to Johnny.