TITLE: A Ratty Scandal
GENRE: science fiction/steampunk
WORD COUNT: 34,629
SUMMARY: A pair of brothers who jointly run a microbiology lab and their transcriptionist/technician who secretly moonlights as a cancan dancer must figure out why all the cats are dropping dead before an even worse outbreak occurs.


They made their way toward the river and walked across the bridge to the Left Bank. There were few people on the streets as they turned along to the right to a row of derelict looking buildings facing the river. Etienne stopped at one of the buildings which had a sign with faded lettering hanging from the second story window. He knocked at the door and they waited for a moment.

“It’s a bit late for an appointment, isn’t it?” said Colette.

“Rat catchers often work at dawn or at twilight when the rodents are most active,” Etienne told her. “Monsieur Grand was the one who specified the time of the appointment. Now is when he is off work since it would be too difficult to catch the rodents in the dark.”

“But that’s when these unusual rodent colonies would be out,” said Colette. “That’s when we saw a group of rats last night.”

Etienne shrugged. “Just so, this is when he said he would meet me.”

The door creaked open and a rough face illuminated by a gas lantern emerged from the crack in the door. The man was short, about a head shorter than even Colette. The man had a weathered face which sprouted a bushy black beard. A dirty cap covered the top of his head. The hand that held the gas lantern up to examine them was calloused and rough with nails bitten to the quick. He scowled when he saw Colette and then he smiled, revealing bad teeth when he finally spotted Etienne.

“You never said anything about bringing a lady here,” the rat catcher said gruffly. “I hope she’s not a social reformer. I’m already doing the city a service by getting rid of vermin.”

“She’s not a social reformer,” said Etienne. “She’s my brother’s, uh, assistant.”

“Assistant, huh? I suppose that’s all right.” But the rat catcher still gave Luc and Colette the gimlet eye. “You here about the specimen?”

“Yes. This one was from a colony?”

“I managed to catch the vermin unawares,” said the rat catcher proudly. “Of course it is from one of the colonies. You know, if you wanted to, I could have caught the whole bunch for you, but as it was, I dumped the others.”

“And the specimen has already been killed.”

“It’s as dead as a doornail.”

“Very good, monsieur.” Etienne reached into a pocket and withdrew several bills which he placed into the rat catcher’s palm. The rat catcher meticulously counted the money and then made it disappear into his own pocket before withdrawing back into his building. A moment later, he reappeared with a cage.

“There you go, doctor. I don’t understand you scientist types, but I hope it is of use to you.”

“Very much so, monsieur. Thank you very much.”

As the rat catcher closed up his shop again, Colette peered into the cage that Etienne held. The black furry body on the floor of the cage did not even twitch. If she had had a stick, she would have poked it a couple of times to make sure that the rodent was truly dead. But as it was, she could only hope that it was as dead as the rat catcher said it was. She shuddered.

“What a morbid little excursion,” she remarked as they made their way across the bridge and back down the street towards the institute where Etienne would store his specimen in one of the specialized cold rooms near the labs.

“It could be worse,” Luc remarked. “It could have been a human cadaver.”

copyright © 2001-2012 S. Y. Affolee