Mac spun around on the desk, a whirlwind of colour, as he tried to place where the crash had come from.
Mikey was so startled that he fumbled with the hairdryer, catching it with both hands as it almost dropped into the pool of water.
We held our breath, watching as B-Max tried to get up.
Everyone in the room stood still while B-Max stood to attention on his hind legs next to Johnny, clutching his duffel bag. He eyed Mikey carefully, inching slowly closer to the edge of the pool, where he addressed the bird.
‘My name is Bentley Max! I come here on behalf of King Ming and the squad of A Dog With A Pod…Cast,’ he boomed. ‘We demand the release of this here rat.’ He pointed theatrically to Johnny.
Mac cast one eye up to the roof, looking at the gaping hole of a mess that B-Max had fallen through. A ray of sunlight escaped into the bungalow, pieces of insulation fibres and dust floating down to the floor.
Mac leaned forward and blinked at B-Max. His head cocked slightly and then he clutched at his stomach with his feathered wings, opening his beak wide open as he took in a deep breath. Upon exhaling, Mac let out a series of piercing heehawing sounds, over and over. The sound was almost deafening.
B-Max covered his ears.
At this, Mac slapped his thigh with a giant wing and threw his head back and continued on shrieking.
‘Is he laughing?’ I whispered to Cayman.
‘I think so,’ he replied.
‘Stop that noise!’ B-Max said, still covering his ears.
Mikey and the cats chuckled uncertainly. They looked at their leader on the desk who was now lying on his back and cycling his legs in the air, gasping for breaths between fits of laughter.
I saw B-Max slip a pocket knife out from his bag and with one hand, blindly poke around the back of Johnny with it, trying to make contact with the ropes that held him in place. Johnny started shaking his head at his rescuer, leaning away as much as he could from the sharp blade. He bumped backwards and the knife dropped out of B-Max’s slippery paw and fell into the dust covered water, making a splash and a thunk on the bottom of the plastic pool.
Mikey’s head whipped around at the sound as B-Max tried to retrieve the knife. ‘One more move, dog, and I’ll throw this electrocution device at your feet,’ he said.
Mac started to gain his composure and his laughing dulled, he was on his stomach on the desk, his wings holding up his chin. He smiled sweetly at the scene in front of him.
‘We’ve gotta get in there,’ I said to Cayman and Jack. Jack gulped.
Mikey purred in B-Max’s face and took in a huge sniff. ‘Why do you smell of cat spray?’ He sniffed again. ‘Female. Tabby. Little bit fat,’ he said.
‘That’s offensive,’ B-Max sputtered.
‘Hey, I’m not fat shaming. I like a bit of junk in a chick’s trunk.’ Mikey grinned.
The rest of the cats laughed at this.
Mac stood up on the table, he turned off the sound system that had been airing the recount of Charli Kardashian’s tale on how she had found time to write her book. He flapped his wings a few times then sailed to the floor, kicking up more of the dust with the gusts. ‘So, my little doggy friend. Have you come alone to rescue your pal? Or is King Ming going to be falling through my roof, too?’ He looked up at the hole again and shook his head. ‘That’s a terribly inconvenient mess for me,’ he said.
‘I’m here alone,’ B-Max stated. ‘I want you to back off now. Go on, go back to your desk, you and your cats, and this crazy lunatic with the hairdryer, too. Back off, and we’ll leave quietly. Comply, and no one will get hurt.’
Mac’s shrieking laughter started again. He flew back to the desk, typing something into the computer with his feet. He fiddled with the camera on the computer. ‘You do make me giggle, doggy,’ he said, still laughing. ‘Let’s have a listen and see if your King Ming has listened to my demands and is making a formal apology for his behaviour shall we?’
Before I could even tell Bentley to shut the show down from his end, Mac tuned in. Bentley’s voice blasted through from the speakers on the desk.
‘…and the fact is, Mac has blatantly lied. He’s accused Ming and A Dog With A Pod…Cast of something that never even happened. So, listeners, everything we have told you about what’s happened to us here this morning, with The Rat Pack, and us, and Charli Kardashian is stranger than fiction, yes, but it’s one hundred percent truth. We believe the motive to all that has happened so far is for Mac to win Best Humour Podcast at next week’s awards.’
Devon’s voice came through next. ‘We’ll be crossing live to Hamilton Barkley now for more on how Mac blackmailed the Kardashian cat.’
‘No!!!’ Mac screamed. He slammed his head down onto the keyboard, banging it again and again on the plastic keys. It made an awful thumping noise every time he did it and eventually our podcast was silenced.
Jack quickly stood up next to Cayman and I. He looked down at me, sweating, tears in his eyes. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, and bolted away down the side of the bungalow, kicking up stones and twigs as he left.
Cayman got up to chase him but I pulled him back down. ‘It’s okay, let him go,’ I said.
Mac’s face was lying sideways on his keyboard, he was mumbling something to himself.
Mikey yelled out, ‘Hey, Mac! You alright?’
‘Yes, yes,’ said the bird. ‘I’m just dandy, kitty. I’m. Just. Fucking. FINE!’ He flew back down to the baby pool and slapped B-Max’s face, a few feathers flew out and floated down to the water in the process.
‘Why?’ he demanded. ‘Why would Ming do this? He’s ruining everything I’ve worked so hard for.’
‘Worked for?’ B-Max spat. ‘Ha! The only thing you’ve worked hard at is trying to destroy our podcast ratings. Now you’ve gone and destroyed your own, and your reputation, all by yourself. When your audience gets wind of how you blackmailed the Kardashian cat and us, you’re toast! You’ll never work in The Animal Kingdom again.’
Mac stepped closer to the pool. His head drooped forward. ‘Charli. Her name is Charli. And yes, I suppose you’re right. I imagine no one will want me after this. I’m never good enough, am I? Why does no one of substance ever want to be my friend?’ he whined.
The cats looked at each other. One nudged another in the arm.
‘Don’t say that, Mac,’ Mikey said. ‘We think you’re awesome.’
‘Yes, well it wouldn’t take much for a bunch of dumb-dumb’s like yourselves to become awestruck with all this,’ he snapped, motioning to his body.
Mikey kicked the pool angrily with one leg, water rippling around B-Max’s feet. But the cat didn’t leave the bungalow or even answer back.
Mac grabbed the hairdryer from Mikey and walked slowly to B-Max and Johnny. He passed it from wing to wing, playing with it, holding it over the water sometimes while he spoke.
‘You know, I didn’t just blackmail Charli Kardashian with those illicit pictures I had taken of her with her dog boyfriend. I also blackmailed her on the plagiarism in her book, but you probably heard that before when I was playing the recording. It was fun blaming Ming for that, the cat thinking it was him. She was quite mad,’ he laughed, amused by this. ‘I also blackmailed her for another thing,’ Mac teased. ‘Would you like to know what that was?’
‘What?’ B-Max grunted.
‘Did you know that Charli hasn’t even been living with the Kardashian family for the last two years? Kourtney Kardashian adopted her arse out of that house when the third baby came along, and when leopard print finally, and thankfully, went out of fashion. That cat has been making a decent living off lies and memories. She’s fooled you all, I’m afraid.’
‘That’s not true. Those memoirs are very succinct,’ Johnny said weakly.
‘Oh, but it’s true! Your Hamilton Barkley probably already knows this. Ask him.’
Mikey stood protectively. He shuffled closer to Mac. The other cats formed a semicircle around the back of them both.
‘Do you know what’s going to have to happen now, Mikey?’ Mac sang to his righthand man.
‘These two are going to die?’
‘Ding, ding, ding!!!’ Mac yelled and held the hairdryer up over his head.
‘Wait!’ cried Mikey. ‘I won the card game for this. It’s my turn.’
Mac looked up at the black, shiny shape in his hands, torn for a moment, then he flopped his wings down and handed it over, sighing. ‘Fine.’
A wing shot out to B-Max’s face, it slowly and gently caressed his cheek. ‘You can blame Ming for this, my little furry friend. Your deaths will forever be on his head. All I asked, was for him to listen. No one ever listens to me, and so they must suffer the consequences.’ He nodded to Mikey and turned away.
‘STOP!’ I screamed through the vent. ‘Mac, stop! Let them go. Take me instead.’
Mac stopped walking and turned back to the sound of my voice. ‘Ming?’ he asked.
‘Yes! It’s me.’
Cayman and I ran around to the front of the bungalow, the front door was closed. Cayman took a giant run up and leaped into the door with his shoulder, causing it to fling open and come off its hinges.
‘You guys really need to stop trashing my place,’ Mac said, smirking. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. ‘Come in!’ he cooed.
‘Put the hairdryer down first, then we’ll talk. I’ll do whatever you want, but let Johnny and B-Max go,’ I said.
‘Yes, yes. Of course.’ He motioned to Mikey, who placed it on the floor next to his feet.
‘What an absolute pleasure. Would you like a cup of tea?’ Mac walked around a square piece of plasterboard that had fallen from the ceiling. ‘Please excuse the mess. I wasn’t expecting drop ins.’ He laughed.
‘What do you want, Mac?’ I asked.
‘Oh, Ming. There are many things I want. I’d like this place to look a lot neater than it does right now, for starters. I’d also like an endless supply of birdseed, a car, a hot girl. You know, the usual things,’ he said, breezily walking over to his desk and jumping back onto it.
‘Well, I can’t give you any of those things, I think you know that already.’
‘Hmmm. Unfortunately, that is true. I do also want my Teen back,’ he said sadly. ‘I hear you have a Kid, yes?’
‘What’s The Kid got to do with any of this?’ I barked.
‘I’m just saying, we might have more in common than you think. My Kid recently turned into my fully fledged Teen. Sixteen years old now, if you can believe that. He doesn’t spend a lot time with me anymore. Not like when he was my Kid. Now he’s always out with his friends or doing homework or playing sport. His Tiger Mum is always making sure he practices his piano, and eats his superfoods. He doesn’t come in here anymore, hardly,’ Mac looked down at his feet. He pumped a squirt of hand sanitiser out of the bottle that sat next to the keyboard and began rubbing the clear goo into his nails. ‘Soon, it will happen to you,’ he finished.
I thought about The Kid and how she’d recently become distant and always on the phone. She seemed to want to be in her room by herself so much. Sometimes I would knock on her door with my paw for hours until she’d walk out with her earplugs in and be surprised to see me, saying ‘Oh! Sorry, bud. Didn’t hear you.’ Or worse, when she didn’t have her earplugs in and wouldn’t let me in, and would yell at me to stop knocking. Things were changing with her, and although I knew she still loved me, things with us weren’t the same. Is this how our relationship would eventually become with The Kid and I? Like Mac and his Teen? I couldn’t stand the thought.
‘That will never happen to us,’ I snapped. ‘Your Teen probably doesn’t want to hang out with you anymore because he knows, deep down, that you’re a psycho,’ I said, pointing to my friends in the pool.
‘Not true!’ Mac bellowed. ‘Nuke ‘em!’ he bellowed to Mikey, who grinned and bent and picked up the hair dryer.
Mikey threw the dryer high up into the air. It turned a few cycles as it flew.
Mac had laid down on the desk, on his side, one wing curled up under his chin, watching the action from that position.
As the dryer started its fall, Cayman and I ran towards the pool. Through a small angle between the huddled cats that were stopping Johnny and B-max escaping, I saw sunlight bouncing off the glistening water in the pool, the knife still stranded at the bottom.
B-max was trying to undo the ropes on Johnny but the cats didn’t get any closer to the danger zone to stop him.
My heart was pumping in my ears like drums as I tried to run as fast as I could to the other side of the room before the electrocution device touched the water, and kissed my friends goodbye.
Why did I always have to do everything by my rules? I scolded myself. I never wanted any one’s help. Always thinking I could do it all perfectly by myself.
I watched the hair dryer drop down closer to the pool as the cats all took a step back. Cayman was a few steps in front of me on account of his long legs but I could see that even he wasn’t going to make it in time. My friends were going to die because of me.
Then the sunlight was dimmed as small figures, much like spiders dropping from spun webs, fell from the roof. A solid figure, a silhouetted shape of a large, kangaroo-like dog, with giant shadow ears jumped down through the hole in the roof.
As Frank The Tank flew in on his rope with the shadows, I heard him ‘Yeehaw!’ as he kicked the hairdryer and switched its trajectory away from the pool. It smashed down into the floor on its nozzle near the front door.
Batdog Jack crashed into the pool, splashing a tsunami of water over the edge, and bowling over the dogs. As the cats got up to fight, he threw B-Max out of the pool and scooped up Johnny, chair and all, in his front paws. He held the chair out to his side as he ran along, hitting each cat squarely in the side of the head with the legs of it, knocking them one by one to the ground with a sickening thwack sound.
The Rat Pack ran straight out the front door, and Jack picked me up in his other arm, turning me away from my direction to Mac and carrying me out of the bungalow.
He carried me to the front of the street and cut the ropes from Johnny with the knife that had been lost to the pool, and untied him. Johnny The Rat ran off to his crew.
Jack then pulled B-Max, Cayman and I into the bushes for cover. We sunk into the dirt on our heaving bellies.
‘What the hell was that, my man?’ I whispered to Jack, smiling.
‘Don’t know!’ he panted. ‘But please, let’s get back to the garage before the adrenaline wears off and I faint!’
As we ran back to the garage, we could hear Bentley’s voice from my walkie talkie in the duffel bag.
‘Mac recorded that whole thing! He’s figured out how to upload live! His ratings are going through the roof. Oh my God, he’s uploaded the footage of the whole thing to YouTube. What, Devon? Oh, shit. Sheriff Ivan and Deputy B-Money are here,’ he said, trailing off.
My heart sank at the news of Mac’s ratings, but as I watched B-Max’s little bottom swagger as he ran in front of me, Jack helping him keep up, and Cayman making sure I was alright, I sighed with relief. We were safe. For now.