Dusty tucked a copy of The Village Voiceunder his arm while he maneuvered a key into the padlock that held the gate in place over the entrance to his bar, The Crooked Nail. After opening the gate, Rusty fumbled with his ring of keys until he found the one that unlocked the bar’s door. He was comforted by the familiar aromas of stale beer and cigarettes. Something small and furry – a large rat or a small cat – scurried between his feet into the dark bar.
“You filthy fuck,” Dusty yelled. The paper fell from under his arm, its pages scattering across the floor. He followed the creature into the darkness. As his eyes adjusted, he saw the animal dart behind the bar. “I gotchya now.” He ran behind the bar and grabbed the bat he kept there for the less ruly of his clientele. He squinted at the animal. It hissed. He saw it was a grey kitten, skinny and shivering.
“Shit.” Dusty put the bat back and crouched down. “Hey, c’mon out,” he said but the cat only squirmed further into the corner. Rusty opened the fridge and fished out a carton of cream. He took an Old Fashioned glass, filled it with cream, and set it on the floor between him and the cat. For a minute, neither of them moved. Then the cat twitched its nose and licked the fur around its mouth. “Go ‘head,” Rusty said softly.
The cat inched toward the glass but kept its weight on its back legs in anticipation of a quick getaway. As it got closer to the glass the movements of its nose intensified. The last thing it had eaten was the back half of a waterbug. If it was to be poisoned, or bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, the cat decided it was going to go out with a bellyful of cream. Dusty attempted a stealthy move toward the intruder but his balance was not good in the best of times, and these were far from the best of times. He leaned forward too quickly and fell to his knees with a sharp thud. The cat froze, cream dripping from its fuzzy chin. Now that he’d tasted the cream, it was going to take more than a loud noise to chase him away. He resumed his wary lapping.