Short Stories

I Smell a Rat

“Go ahead. Touch it.” Detective Danny Sherwood pushed a shoebox across the kitchen counter with two fingers and a grimace. The lacy edges of the pink dish towel hid something macabre underneath and spilled over in a way that reminded me of a blooming rose. If only I were here to give gardening advice.

“Do I really have to do this?” I asked again, glancing down at the makeshift coffin.

“Yes. I promised Jessica we’d solve this case and I need your help to do it.” Shifting on his feet, Danny looked around for eavesdroppers. “She doesn’t think this was an accident.”

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head. “So, what? Your sister thinks someone murdered him?”

“Maybe,” Danny said and shrugged. “I don’t know, Leila. Just do your thing.”

I’d recently started using my clairsentient abilities to help solve murder cases. But this situation was far from normal. “I don’t even know if I’ll pick up on anything,” I said, while tying my long blonde hair back into a ponytail.

The detective sighed and snatched the towel free, revealing a gruesome sight below. Legs stiff, eyes cloudy, and white fur sticking up in all different directions, the rodent had definitely seen better days.

I jumped back and forced down a scream. “You didn’t tell me it was a rat!”

“What? Are you afraid of rats?” Danny looked at my horrified expression and laughed. “Seriously?” He walked around the counter and reached into the shoebox. Picking up the deceased family pet by the tail, he dangled the creature in front of my face. “Does this scare you?”

Annoyed that I showed a weakness, I swallowed hard and glared at him. “No. And put that down before they catch you.”

After he marched the rat walk back into the box like a toy soldier, he walked over to the sink and washed his hands. “Will you please just get on with it? I actually have real crimes to solve.”

Touching a corpse to sense their last moments always punished my psyche, but seeing what happened to this rat frightened me for some unexplained reason. “You’re going to owe me for this,” I whined.

“Sure. I’ll have Garrick take you to dinner.”

The reference to his partner, and another date, made me smile until my hand brushed against the rat’s snakelike tail. “This is gross.” I shuddered and tried to remember I had to be tough in front of Danny or I’d never hear the end of it.

“Don’t be a baby,” he teased.

“Shut up.”

“It’s not like it’ll bite you.”

“Shut up.”

Danny laughed again and made his way to the archway between the kitchen and the living room. His sister watched over his niece and nephew like a bailiff, waiting to hear the final verdict. Both kids blamed each other, claiming starvation caused the untimely death of Remus. Danny cleared his throat when I still hadn’t attempted another touch.

Closing my eyes, I ignored the witty retorts I wanted to say and focused on the task at hand. The rat had died and everyone waiting in the next room needed to know why. Just as I was about to touch the repulsive carcass, another thought skittered to the forefront of my brain and broke my concentration.

“Wait. Does your sister know why I’m here?” I whispered.

“What do you mean?”

Giving Danny my best intimidating stare, I continued. “Does she know what I can do? What did you tell her?”

Understanding flashed across his face. “No.” He smiled. “She thinks you’re my groupie.”

I scowled. “Cops don’t have groupies.”

“No? You should see how they flock to us. It’s all about the uniform, baby.” He puffed up his chest and tried to strike a body building pose. Unfortunately, his rotund stomach and ill-fitting jacket wouldn’t allow him to get all the way into position. I thought I heard fabric tear.

“You’re impossible,” I said.

“And you’re stalling.”

I sighed. He was right. Time to figure out what happened to Remus.

I prepared to accept what I might see. Never having done this on an animal before, I had no idea what to expect. But when I laid my hand on the rat’s cold, stiff body, I suddenly felt ice roll through my lungs as I plunged into a formidable vision.

Flashes of light, then darkness, and then water filled my sight. I could see the surface, yet something heavy pinned me down and I couldn’t quite get there. Without using human words, I knew death was near. The water burned my nose as I tried to scramble upward. Clawing, screaming, digging my way out of this terror. Pain. A searing pain in my chest knocked the breath out of me just before I yanked my hand away from the rat.

“Did it work?” Danny asked, his arm hovering over my shoulder remembering that I didn’t like to be touched.

“Your sister’s right. Remus was murdered. Drowned, actually.” Shaking my arms, I tried to rid myself of the suffocating feeling. Water still burned my lungs as though I’d personally been held under against my will. I knew this would only exacerbate my fear of drowning.

“Yikes. Drowned, huh?” Danny rubbed his hand over his chin and looked out toward the living room. “I wonder how that happened?” he mumbled to himself as he snapped into homicide detective mode. He suddenly slapped his hands together loud enough to make me jump. “Okay, my turn,” he said. “Jessica?”

His sister and her guilty children shuffled into the kitchen. I hastily covered the rat with the towel and stepped away from the body. Trying to become invisible, I leaned against the far wall to watch the interrogation unfold.

Danny pulled two counter stools out into the center of the floor and pointed at his niece and nephew. “Sit.” Both children looked at their mother before climbing up and accepting their fate.

“Which one of you did it?” Danny asked. Hands on hips, face crinkled in concentration, I recognized this stance. Someone would talk soon. “Who gave him the bath?”

The surprised look on the children’s face was quickly masked with shame. “We did,” the girl said. “But it was his idea.” She shot a pointed finger at her brother, who remained as quiet as Remus’ dead body.

“Did he like it?” Danny continued to press. The criminals shook their heads. “Did he try to run away?” Their enthusiastic nods released the tears. “And what happened?”

“He stopped moving,” the boy said. “I tried to make him breathe again, but it didn’t work. We’re sorry.” He turned around and faced his mother. “It was an accident.”

“We’re sorry,” the girl added, wiping snot from her nose and gasping between sobs.

Danny straightened and put his hands on his hips. “Well, our work here is down. Come, groupie,” he said to me.

I followed him out of the kitchen with the waning sounds of his sister trying to explain what a groupie was, and the quiet whispers of a little girl apologizing to her pet rat.

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