Don Bauder 4:30 p.m., Dec. 9
Ethel’s voice cuts through the hubbub of the grandkids’ wrestling over the Etch-a-Sketch and Dr. Phil’s scolding of another drug-soaked teenager. Fred blinks and brushes the crust from his eyes. “It’s for you. Zack, from across the street.” She hands him the phone, rolls her eyes, and returns to trimming the asparagus.
“Hello, Zack. What’s up?” “Uh, hi, uh, Fred? It’s me, Zack.” “Yup.” “My cat’s got a gopher cornered over here. Can you come quick? And bring your shovel!” “I’ll be right there.” “Thanks, Buddy!”
Finally, a chance to avenge the damage (in a minor way) these vermin have been inflicting all over this neighborhood. Fred’s own backyard is a moonscape. Every other yard in the area is as cratered and pockmarked as Reynard Way because of their excavations.
Le Bourreau solemnly rises from his couch, descends the staircase to the Vault of Doom, spins the combination, slides open the door and scans the gloom for his favorite weapon. There she is. Her black sides are scored from her passages through the flesh and bone of countless traitors and murderers, but her lethal edge gleams in the murk. Toujours affile’, toujours prêt. “Ah, cher ami, together we have dispatched many a blackguard to the Ultimate Judge of Creation. Come, we must again do our sorrowful duty to the State.”
Fred shoulders the implement, walks down the driveway and crosses the street. Zack leans on his ’57 Chevy pickup, smoking a cigarette. He spots Fred and starts waving and pointing to the front yard of the house next door to him. His cat crouches next to a hole in the bare dirt, eyes fixed on the gopher which stands on its hind legs three feet further away. Zack strolls up to Fred and slurs, “Good to see ya, Buddy! I was hoping you’d get here in time. Cute little bastard, huh?”
It is a beautiful little animal, a tiny ball of velvety, tan fur. Fred visualizes his hamster scuttling on the exercise wheel in its cage in his childhood bedroom. The massive sickles of the gopher’s incisors dispel the reverie. Its crimes are many and heinous, the murders of countless defenseless vegetables in their beds. “You have despoiled your last eggplant, petit Batard!”
The condemned is frozen, desperate to get to that hole. The cat taunts it, “Here’s your escape route, the path through the Red Sea. Go for it! I dare you!” As Fred approaches, the victim swivels its attention back and forth between him and the cat. Fred measures the distance with the shovel and raises it to full stretch over his head. The gopher turns as if to run, but then stops, remembering the cat can outrun him. It looks over its right shoulder one last time. “No blindfold? Bien. There’s a brave one. Please count backward from a hundred, and try not to move.”
The shovel smashes down. It misses, but the shock wave of its impact stuns the victim into immobility. The second blow is true, blasting greasy, grimy entrails out of the gopher’s posterior. One moment, a living creature; the next, a tiny swatch of bloody hair.
“Whoa, Fred! What a shot! You the Man! That was awesome!” “Beginner’s luck, Zack. Think your cat’ll want this thing?” “Nah, go ahead and bury it.”
“What a versatile instrument you are, mon ami! At once the means of execution and interment.” Fred digs the hole, scrapes the little carcass into it, dumps on a pile of dirt and tamps it with a couple of hard swats. Zack congratulates him with a clap on the shoulders and bids him farewell. They disperse, one to Lynyrd Skynyrd and a few Coronitas, the other to Spongebob and shrieking grandchildren.