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Chapter 2

Isha closed the door as gently as possible so as to not make a sound, lowering the latch to lock the door behind her. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but she realized she had been holding her breath while doing so, a fact made apparent when she finally took a breath and was hit by the powerful scent of various cheeses all mixing into one.

It wasn’t a pleasant aroma.

Isha was well aware of the stereotype of rats and cheese. It’s what made the shop such a prime target. That said, it didn’t help that she found the coalescing smell downright nauseating.

It wasn’t as if all cheese smelled so off-putting. Isha might not have exactly been in a position to garner herself a discerning or mature palette, but she liked some cheese just fine. The basic stuff. The more complicated the name, however, the less appealing it seemed to be. Amaran? Perfectly fine. Epoisses? Smelled like wet farts. For whatever reason, it seemed many actually preferred the latter.

Isha silently tiptoed her way towards the door that led into the shop, her toolbox sitting on the floor beside it. She crouched down and carefully lifted the top, pulling out the wooden shims without shifting the rest of the box’s contents. With a delicate hand, she jammed the shims into the door frame, nice and snug. They wouldn’t keep the owner out of the room if he were determined, but it would buy her enough time.

Working alone wasn’t exactly a necessity for catching rats, at least under normal circumstances. Isha’s methods, however, were anything but normal. And while working uninterrupted was a necessary step, jamming the door shut was more to ensure that the shop owner wouldn’t walk in on her while she worked. Not due to preventing interference, but hiding the fact that all her talk about poison and killing the rats at the source was utter horse shit, nothing more than a farce to squeeze some extra coin from his coffers.

With the shims in place, Isha got to work.

She took the toolbox into the middle of the small, damp room and sat on the floor beside it, lifting out the tray and setting it aside. Aside from the shims, she didn’t really have a use for any more of the tools. She wasn’t lying when she said they were very valuable to her—she’d used them for all sorts of things—but as far as catching rats went, they were mostly for show.

Underneath where the tray sat, Isha had fit the remainder of the toolbox’s space with a simple mesh cage. She was quite proud of her little rat cage. She’d made it all on her own from a roll of woven wire, the kind of stuff they used to make crab traps out in barrens that weren’t completely surrounded by sand.

She’d stolen the wire from a warehouse where it was used to construct literally hundreds of chicken coops, housing countless more chickens. She didn’t feel bad for taking it. She may have a code—don’t steal from people who can’t afford the loss—but the man that ran the strange excuse for a farm fell far outside her rules. On top of that, they treated the chickens so poorly. And in so many different ways. They were ‘just’ chickens, sure, but if someone treated her rats the same way she didn’t think she’d be able to hold herself back and keep her impulses in check.

Assholes like that were prone to getting stabbed.

She popped open the lid of her rat cage and began preparing the next step of her personal ratcatching method.

Rats are a lot like dogs in a few ways.

Aside from when their owners have returned home after even the shortest of moments, dogs are almost never quite as excited as when it comes to meal time. They’ll gobble up pretty much anything poured into their bowls with a quickness and fervor akin to a man gulping down mouthfuls of water after being stranded in the desert for a couple days. Sometimes, as infrequent as it may be, they seem to have no interest in their food. Dinner will be served and they simply won’t care. Even in those rare cases, however, those very same dogs will come running at the sign of treats.

Her rats were the same way. And just like dogs, they loved peanut butter. Not only was it easier to get and likely much cheaper than poison, but it worked better at attracting rats anyways. Her little dummies went nuts for the stuff.

Isha placed the half empty jar on the floor in front of her and removed the lid. It was getting a little old, less oily than one would expect and a little hard to the touch. If she had gotten more than half a jar, she might have taken some for herself, but definitely not in its current state. For her rats, though? She preferred the creamier stuff, but otherwise it was perfect.

She dipped two fingers into the jar and spooned out a small amount roughly the size of a knuckle bone then began rolling it into a smooth ball between the palms of her hands. They were sizable pellets, big enough to keep her rats distracted and complacent while she finished up with everything. She had to catch them first, of course.

Further continuing the similarities with dogs, Isha had learned that rats were also capable of hearing sounds that humans weren’t. That’s where her whistle came in, her most prized possession.

The whistle produced a sound so high pitched that humans weren’t able to hear it, but dogs were. Or at least that was how it was supposed to work. Isha still could. Sort of. Maybe not hear it, but felt it? Like a faint ringing in her ears. Not enough to actually hear it, but enough to still bother her. Whether she was meant to hear it or not, it turned out rats could hear it, too.

Dog whistles weren’t exactly common. You can’t just stroll down to the dog whistle stall in the Strip and buy one. They’re special. And that uniqueness only added to it’s value. More than that, though, it was one of the few things she owned that she earned fair and square. And the thing that sparked the idea for her little rat scheme in the first place.

A few years back, Isha’s father fell ill. His closest friend, a man named Ewan, took it upon himself to look after his ailing friend and, by extension, his daughter. Ewan was a solitary man, not much for words. Unless he was talking to his dogs. His hounds. He raised them—hunting dogs mostly, though he wasn’t averse to training dogs meant for other tasks as well.

Isha came to think of him as her shy uncle even though he was actually quite a bit younger than Isha’s father. He sure as hell looked as old. Mere months after her father’s death, Isha came to learn the reason why Ewan looked so much older when he succumbed to the very same illness.

Looking after Isha and her father couldn’t have been an easy task, but he was quick to put Isha to work to help alleviate some of that burden. At first, she was given menial tasks: cleaning up the dogs’ poop, feeding them twice a day, checking them for fleas and ticks. It wasn’t long until he taught her how to train the dogs, showing her various techniques to teach them new words and how to get the dogs to follow his commands.

He might not have been the most talkative or friendly man, but more importantly, he was kind. To her and the dogs. Isha knew of others who would yell, hit their dogs, affix choke collars that bit into their skin. Ewan wasn’t like that. He believed in positive reinforcement. Repetition and reward.

The whistle worked wonders with the dogs. The first thing Ewan always trained a new dog to do was to come running when they heard the whistle then sit patiently at his feet. It was the groundwork from which every other command was taught. The dogs were, of course, given treats for doing a good job.

Repetition and reward.

She took the lessons to heart, though putting them into practice proved easier said than done. Rats weren’t quite as receptive to training as the dogs had been. She was constantly impressed with how smart Ewan’s dogs were, recognizing human words even when simply spoken in conversation and not a command directed at them. Her rats not so much. Rats, she concluded, were not as intelligent. Or maybe they were, but smart enough to know they didn’t have to follow her commands unless they really wanted to.

Little by little, though, they came around. She didn’t bother with verbal commands. She wasn’t looking to start a mouse circus, doing tricks on the street and hoping for spare coins from passersby. Nor did she employ the “clicker method” Ewan often used. Isha needed silence. Besides, she only needed them to learn one command. The most basic command.

Isha wore the whistle around her neck like a thin pendant, hanging from a simple leather string and concealed under her shirt. With her cage and peanut butter balls at the ready, she pulled the whistle out and gave it a blow.

Chunks was the first to respond. Of course he was. As reliable as he is rotund, he was always the first to come when Mama Isha was calling. He waddled out from the back corner and stopped in front of her, head raised as he waited patiently for his well-deserved treat. She held one of the peanut butter balls in front of him and he latched on with his little claws and began nibbling away. Without letting go of the peanut butter, Isha scooped him up with her free hand and placed him down inside the cage, still munching away at his treat.

Mick was the next, followed closely by Little Stu, both coming from the same corner Chunks had. To most, a rat was a rat, indistinguishable from the next. But Isha knew just how unique they really were. Chunks was almost a solid grey, save for the white “socks” on his front feet. Even if he weren’t such a little fatso, Mick and Little Stu were drastically different. Mick’s face and front legs were black, as well as the stripe down his back. The rest was white. Little Stu was entirely covered in coarse white hair. As the name would suggest, he was also smaller than the others.

Again, Isha placed two peanut butter balls in front of the rats and transferred them to her cage while they happily nibbled away.

Three down, one to go.

All that was left was Mini, the sole female of the bunch. She had the same coloring pattern as Mick, but was small like Little Stu. Like dogs, the smaller they were, the bigger their attitudes. Little Stu had a lot of personality. He was fun. Mini, on the other hand, was kind of a bitch.

Isha gave her whistle another blow, waited, but still no sign of Mini.


She was worried this might happen. She had been apprehensive to use Mini from the get go, but for some reason had decided to give her a shot. Mini was showing progress in her training, but Isha knew she wasn’t quite there yet. The only reason she brought Mini along was because the girl was a fiend for cheese. Even more so than for peanut butter. Mini ensured that the shop owner would have plenty of evidence to notice, practically single-handedly demanding the need for a ratcatcher such as herself.

That might have been where she went wrong. Now that she was here, what reason could Mini possibly have to ever leave?

Looks like Isha would have to legitimately catch a rat after all.

She dropped the last peanut butter ball into the cage, which Chunks immediately lunged for. Turning back to her tray of tools, Isha placed the tray back into her toolbox, concealing the rats. Precautions, but the timing couldn’t be worse for the shop owner to walk in on her. Before closing the lid, Isha took out her mortar and pestle, a knife and a mallet. She hadn’t planned on needing any of them, but she was glad she had them on hand. Because somebody had to make things difficult. She sighed, stood up and got to work.

First things first: Isha needed proper bait. If Mini wasn’t going to respond to the whistle, that meant she likely didn’t care for the peanut butter she was accustomed to receiving. So cheese it was. The prospect of using cheese to lure out a selfish rat like Mini in the middle of a cheese shop felt hopeless, but Isha already had a plan.

She hadn’t bothered to collect any of the “contaminated” cheese yet, but it was clear as day which cheeses the rats had gotten to.

Her rats were clever, but lazy. The bottom shelf cheeses, the basic stuff, was all found on the ground level. It was simply the easiest option. They chewed through the wax until they got to the goods inside, excavating caves like some kind of gang whose heists always involved mining tunnels.

Sat atop a shelf much too high for the rats to easily reach was a wheel of the fancy stuff with the overly complicated name. Pre-cut and wrapped in wax paper, it was the stinkiest of the bunch and exactly what she was looking for. She grabbed one of the wedges and carefully unwrapped it, doing her best to remember how the paper was folded. She cut off the smallest sliver—so small it would be unnoticeable—and wrapped the rest back up. She repeated it a couple more times with other wedges until she had enough to roll into a ball like she did with the peanut butter.

Unlike peanut butter, the cheese was hard and crumbly and not quite the right consistency to roll into itself. So she put her scraps into the mortar and began diligently mashing it into a paste with her pestle. Not only did this give her a much more malleable consistency, but it aerated the cheese, allowing the scent to carry through the air. It almost made her gag.

This better damn work.

She took a majority of the paste and rolled it into a tight ball then spread the remainder across the flat of her knife, giving it ample surface area. She sat the ball in front of the crack in the wall the other rats had scurried out of then began blowing on the knife spread, hoping Mini would catch the scent.

It worked like a charm. Not moments later, out came Mini.

Good girl.

Isha picked up her mallet and slowly placed the head over the crack in the wall, blocking Mini’s exit should she suddenly get skittish and try to run. Luckily, it wasn’t needed. Mini’s issue wasn’t that she was scared of Isha; she just didn’t give a shit. Unless very specifically lured apparently. It was premature of Isha to think Mini was ready, but it served as an educational opportunity. Lesson learned: Mini was still kind of a bitch.

While Mini chewed away at her fancy cheese, Isha stroked her finger across the little girl’s head, soft and slow. She let her enjoy the stinky treat a bit more before scooping her up into her hand and carrying her back to the toolbox where she rejoined her three brothers.

Last but not least, she collected the cheese the rats had “contaminated,” carving out wedges from the larger wheels and pocketing the smaller stuff. She obviously had no use for it to line traps or anything with, but she was more than happy to give it to her rats later. They’d earned as much.

Isha gathered up the remainder of the tools, removed the shims from the door and packed it all away. And that was that. She’d done it. Job successful. She stood tall, posture straight, as pride swelled within her and a smile stretched across her face. Aside from Mini’s difficulty, everything had gone so smoothly. Usually, the toughest part of the job wasn’t catching the rats, but safely sneaking them back out. But she had chosen such a good mark, one apparently afraid of the prospect of even seeing a rat himself, that he went and offered her a literal backdoor to deal with her problem. No sneaking required.

Inching the door open just a crack, Isha peered out to ensure she wasn’t intruding on the owner in the middle of dealing with a customer. He stood in the middle of the small room, hands clasped behind his back, idly rocking back on his heels. He glanced in her direction as she opened the door, waltzing up to meet him.

“Job’s done! Your rodent problem has been taken care of, sir. There is a small crack in your walls in the back corner you probably want to get taken care of, but otherwise you shouldn’t have any more troubles.”

“Already? They’re dead? All of them?”

“Yessir! Done and dusted. Disposed of them a ways down the alley out back. Don’t want people finding a bag full of rat corpses right outside your back door, of course. Now if we can just even out your balance I’ll get out of your hair and be on my way.”

“About that...”

And here it comes.

The problem with men who were too afraid to deal with a rat problem themselves? They tended to make up for their timidness against rodents by taking it out on her. As if hiring some kid—a girl no less—to take care of the problem was an affront to their masculinity.

“The way I see it,” he continued, suddenly no longer friendly or trusting or kind, “the cost of the cheese you used for bait far outweighs what bait would normally be. I’m afraid I’ll have to take out the difference from the rest of your payment.”

She let him talk. They always loved talking at this point. He’d try to negotiate, come to some sort of “reasonable” amount out of a feigned kindness or pity. As if he wasn’t the one short changing her for a completed job. Like bartering with Freamon, it was just part of the process.

“It was a clever idea, but it just didn’t work out in the end. You might have caught it if you had any experience dealing with the real logistics of running a business like myself, but alas. A learning experience. How much did I already pay you, three and eight? How about we round that up to an even five drachmae? That’s a good take for not even a half day’s work.”

“That was never the deal,” she said calmly. “And you haven’t even seen what I used from your stock. You’re not even guessing. You just chose a random amount that sounded good. In fact, you know what? I think my price just went up. Was seven and six total. How about we round that up to an even eight?” She mimicked his words, prodding him with an underlying snark.

“You’re in no position to haggle, girl.” He had already dropped the friendly act, but now he was coming across downright malicious. “The job’s done. What’s to stop me from not paying you a single lira more?”

“What’s to stop me from dumping a sack of dead rats in the middle of your store?”

She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t at least a little worried about getting called out on her bluff, but she put up a pretty good front. Not a moment after delivering her ultimatum, that sliver of worry vanished in an instant as a man who might as well have been named Leverage walked through the shop’s entryway.

“What’s this about rats?” asked the man.

Much of his clothing was concealed by his long flowing cloak, but Isha couldn’t help but notice his boots. They were very nice, made of dark leather with shining buckles lacing up the sides of his calves. And they weren’t just some high fashioned shoes meant to show off the wearer’s wealth; they were tactical, had purpose. Boots like those did clearly show the man had money, but he seemed to value practicality even higher.

Whoever he was, the man’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The shop owner nervously fidgeted in place before putting his friendly facade back on.

“Hello, sir! Welcome! My apologies for the intrusion. We were just discussing—”

“Payment,” Isha butted in. “For a completed job. Fear not. I can assure both of you gentlemen that this establishment is safely 100% rodent-free.”

“That’s relieving to hear,” the man responded. “Especially for a cheese shop. Can’t imagine a more stereotypical problem than rats, eh? News of that would spread quicker than actual rats descending upon your stock. The hit to your reputation alone...”

Who the hell is this guy and why is he my best friend all of the sudden?

He was an unassuming man, soft spoken, with short shorn hair to hide his receding hairline. Maybe it was just Isha, but his eyes seemed to convey that he knew exactly what was going on and had decided to say all the right things to help Isha. Not that she needed it. The shop owner had already all but cracked. Now he was putty in her hands.

“Might I ask, young lady,” the stranger continued, “how much does one charge for such services?”

“Differs from job to job, but always less than a silver.”

“A fair price. Far less than what you could expect for the cost of lost stock.”

“Speaking of which,” Isha said, turning back to the shop owner. “I believe we have a debt to settle.” She felt her belly rumble in anticipation. “Five drachmae was it?”

Might as well ring a few extra coins out of the asshole while the opportunity was at hand.

“Yes, of course.” The owner reached into his coin purse and turned to face Isha, his scowl creased in hard ridges. He slapped the coins into her waiting palm.

“Thank you, sirs! Apologies for the interruption, but I’ll get out of your hair now. Have a pleasant afternoon.”

She passed by her new best friend, who smelled of an earthy-yet-flowery aroma. She couldn’t pinpoint what it reminded her of, but it was pleasant nonetheless. Before she made it through the doorway, he stopped her.

“My dear, before you leave. Would you be available for a... consultation tomorrow by chance? I might be in need of your services myself.”

“It would be my pleasure. When and where?”

“Field and Forest. Have you heard of it?”

“Big wooden sign out front?”

“That’s the one. Bright and early tomorrow morning.”

With even more coin in her pocket than expected and a lead on a legitimate job right around the corner, Isha had to make sure she wasn’t swinging her rats around inside the toolbox as she skipped her way down the street away from the cheese shop. Business was finally starting to take off.


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