Of Rats and Men

By Joshua R. Quong

The boy’s uncle owned a grocery store. It was his favorite place to go.

At least one Saturday a month, his father would load him up in the truck, and they’d drive the hour-long trip to Leadway Grocery.

The boy would tag along and help stock shelves. Sometimes he was allowed to use the fat plastic gun which clicked out price tags that he would stick to canned goods with a smack of the gun’s muzzle. He liked pricing cans.

At night when the store was closed, the boy, his father, and his uncle would grind hamburger meat and tray pig feet in the butcher department. His father and uncle would carry on freely, laughing about the escapades of their youth.

After the three of them had washed down the meat grinder and band saw, his father and uncle would take the boxes loaded with scraps they saved for the dogs to his dad’s truck. The boy would choose a candy bar from the shelf and eat it while sitting atop a checkout counter. 

Then the boy and his father would say their goodbyes to his uncle and drive back to the farm, getting home well into the night.

But on one occasion, his father prolonged the visit to help his uncle duke it out with rat banditos interloping in the stock room. These gray invaders hung out in the dumpsters behind the store, but apparently the pressure from the alley cats had become too great and the rats sought refuge inside.

The brothers belted matching .22 caliber High Standard Double Nine Longhorn revolvers. The leather holsters housing the 9.5-inch barrels looked as long as scabbards and were secured to their thighs with tightly tied thongs.

The boy’s father and uncle loaded their pistol cylinders and pants pockets with special, star-crimped, copper-colored cartridges that were the bane of any rat rascal crook that dared enter the territory.

The boy asked, “Can I come with y’all?” to which his father replied, “Not this time. You’re too young, and it’s too dangerous.”

Then the brothers entered the stockroom through the saloon-style doors and disappeared into the darkness as the doors swung to and fro on squeaky hinges.

Before those doors clapped shut, the cracking reports of the pistols echoed throughout the grocery store amid the exclamations of “Over there!”  “Behind you!” “Don’t let him get away!”

In the boy’s mind, a spaghetti western played in grainy action. His father and uncle were trail-hardened lawmen confronting desperado rats wearing miniature chaps,10-gallon hats, and sombreros. As the renegade rodents scuttled for cover behind pallets of cereal, long-barreled pistols administered justice in nine shot bursts.

No rat received pardon.

The dust-up lasted only a few minutes, and the brothers emerged from the saloon doors riantly holstering their smoking sidearms.

“How many did y’all get, Pop?” the boy asked.

“Enough to feed every alley cat in the county,” his father replied.

On the way home, the rhythm of the truck tires rocked the boy to sleep, and he dreamed of the day when he would be deputized.