Yes, who is it?" "It's me Miss Schnauzer, Mr. Peccary." "Oh, hello Mr. Peccary. Please come in." "Thank you Miss Schnauzer." Mr. Peccary stepped inside and carefully wiped his feet on the plastic grass mat that vigilantly guarded her Persian rug lying in the hallway. Miss Schnauzer, who was holding open the door, nodded approvingly at Mr. Peccary's impeccably good manners and followed him into the living room. She set him down comfortably on her fluffy, flower patterned couch and then seated herself on her favorite macramé covered armchair. "Well, Mr. Peccary," she began politely. "How are you today?" "Just fine, thank you Miss Schnauzer," he said, smiling weakly. "Can I get you a cup of tea or perhaps a Tab?" "No, thank you, Miss Schnauzer. I don't think I can drink a thing right now. You see Miss Schnauzer, I'm very concerned. Yes, very concerned, and I'm not quite sure what should properly be done, that is to say, what someone under these circumstances should most properly do. That is why I have come to you for help." "Help, Mr. Peccary?" she asked, leaning forward in her chair. "Yes, help, Miss Schnauzer. You see, it's my pet rat, Gene. He has been acting in, well, a most un-rat-like manner, and frankly Miss Schnauzer, I'm concerned." "Please go on, Mr. Peccary." "Thank you, Miss Schnauzer. It started last Saturday, rather abruptly I would say, when I was feeding Gene his evening snack. You see, on Saturday evenings I always give Gene his special microwave popcorn. He loves to snack while we watch Barnaby Jones reruns. Anyhow, I was leaning over his cage dropping the kernels between the mesh when all of a sudden he spat out the popcorn, stood up, looked me in the eye, and started gesticulating at me -- rather impolitely too, I might add. Well, I need not tell you that I was shocked. I looked immediately in my Rat Owner's Handbook, but I'm afraid the symptoms are not those of any commonly listed ailment. That, Miss Schnauzer, is why I have come to you for help, being that you are a rodent lover, and, despite the fact that you are currently in a rodentless state, I have it on good authority from Mrs. Cornblower that your experience is immense." "Why thank you Mr. Peccary," Miss Schnauzer said, a slight smile crossing her lips. "I would be delighted to help Gene. Before I attempt to make a diagnosis, however, perhaps I should see the patient." Mr. Peccary stood up from his fluffy, flowered seat and held his hand towards the door. "Why certainly, Miss Schnauzer. If you please, right this way." Mr. Peccary and Miss Schnauzer crossed the hallway to his apartment and Mr. Peccary politely held open the door for her to enter. He then led her down a long, poorly lit entranceway into his gray, shabbily furnished living room. "Here he is, Miss Schnauzer," Mr. Peccary said, pointing to a large cage that sat on a table next to the television set. "And, oh, dear, he's at it again." "Oh, my," Miss Schnauzer said, the blood rushing to her cheeks. "He is gesticulating, isn't he?" The hooded rat made lewd motions with his hands, stopped, jumped up and down three times, stood on his head, and then repeated the same motions with his feet. "Do you think he's sick?" Mr. Peccary asked in a concerned voice. Miss Schnauzer stood for a long moment bent over the cage, her eyes fixed down her long nose at the rat, studying him with such intensity that Mr. Peccary wondered if she had heard his question. Then, in a distracted voice, she answered, "No, Mr. Peccary, I don't think Gene is sick...." She stood up and smoothed out her skirt. "Just very strange." --Knock, knock, knock-- "Mr. Peccary. Oh, Mr. Peccary." A voice came from the front door. "Come in Mrs. Cornblower, and hello, Mrs. Lubb. Please come in." The two women walked into the living room and stood hesitating by his plastic Ficus tree near the entrance. "Hello, Mr. Peccary," Mrs. Cornblower started. "I hope you don't mind. I was just telling Mrs. Lubb, here, about your unusual rat, and she insisted that I bring her right over to see." "I don't mind at all Mrs. Cornblower," Mr. Peccary said, in fact minding. "How are you today, Mrs. Lubb?" "Oh terrible, Mr. Peccary. My feet have been giving me . . . oh, is that the rat?" "Yes, that's Gene." Mrs. Lubb hobbled over to the cage to get a better look. The rat at the moment was showing the most amazing dexterity with his fingers. "My goodness, what is it that he is doing?" "He's communicating, Mrs. Lubb," Miss Schnauzer answered. Mrs. Lubb looked at Miss Schnauzer to see if she was joking. A quick glance told her she was not. "Communicating?" she repeated. "Yes, Mrs. Lubb. I have been studying Gene's behavior for a while now, and I am almost certain that he is communicating in one form or another." "With who?" "I would presume with Mr. Peccary, although I cannot yet be certain." "Amazing!" Mrs. Cornblower said in an amazed voice. "But Miss Schnauzer," objected Mr. Peccary. "I assure you that if Gene is trying to communicate with me, he has so far been very unsuccessful since I cannot understand a word he is saying. Besides, Miss Schnauzer, how could Gene be communicating? He is a rat, for goodness sake." "All creatures communicate, Mr. Peccary. Some are just more garrulous than others." She straightened her posture slightly and stared down her nose at Mr. Peccary in the same way, he thought uncomfortably, that she had stared at the rat. When it became clear to her that there would be no further objections, she continued. "As for Gene communicating with you, Mr. Peccary, I already said that I cannot yet be certain. I would add, however, Mr. Peccary, that not all communication takes place at the conscious level, so do not jump so quickly to conclusions. Now, Mr. Peccary, if you would be so kind, there is a large, brown box in my front closet which is too heavy for me to carry. Would you bring it here to me, please. I believe then I can tell you more." Miss Schnauzer, Mrs. Cornblower, and Mrs. Lubb waited in Mr. Peccary's living room while he ran across the hall. After a moment, he returned, slightly winded, carrying a large cardboard box. He set it on the coffee table, on top of a pile of National Geographic magazines, and stepped back to give Miss Schnauzer plenty of room. "Thank you, Mr. Peccary," Miss Schnauzer said, as she opened the cardboard flaps. She reached inside and pulled out a model 1605 Rat-O-Matic, still in mint condition. "Oooh," Mrs. Cornblower gushed, impressed by the sleek monitor and carbon steel actuator coils. Miss Schnauzer placed the Rat-O-Matic on the floor next to Gene. Then, on hands and knees, she plugged the cord into the socket on the wall by to the couch. A green glow, like lime Jell-O, filled the room as the monitor of the Rat-O-Matic purred to life. Mr. Peccary, who had been politely averting his eyes at the sight of Miss Schnauzer's bare calves, stared closely at the blank screen. "It's blank, Miss Schnauzer," he said disappointedly. Miss Schnauzer straightened up and smoothed the wrinkles off the hibiscus prints that adorned her dress. "Of course, Mr. Peccary. It's not attached." As she said this she inserted a long probe through the grill of Gene's cage and snapped it tightly around the tip of his tail. Gene squeaked, looked down at the probe and then continued his gesticulations. Very slowly, one letter at a time, a message appeared on the Rat-O-Matic. They all leaned forward and with great anticipation, read each word as it appeared, Mr. Peccary, Mrs. Cornblower and Miss Schnauzer together, Mrs. Lubb a second behind: "OPEN...THE...DAMN...BID!" Mr. Peccary looked at Miss Schnauzer. "I don't understand, Miss Schnauzer, bid on what?" "Oh, oh," exclaimed Mrs. Lubb. "Maybe he wants us to bid on him. I bid one dollar!" Gene looked at Mrs. Lubb and frantically waved his paws. New words began forming on the Rat-O-Matic. "I see," said Miss Schnauzer, "it wasn't bid, he means open the lid." "Open the lid, Miss Schnauzer?" asked Mr. Peccary. "Yes, Mr. Peccary, open the lid." Mr. Peccary unfastened the grill on top of the cage and with a leap, Gene bounded out, leaving the probe of the Rat-O-Matic behind in the cage. With a swoosh, Gene expanded like a balloon into the shape of a balding, middle aged man wearing a cardigan sweater, a golf shirt and dockers. At the same time, Mr. Peccary, who still had one hand on the lid, deflated into a rat, landing with a plop at the bottom of the cage. "Thank you, Miss Schnauzer," the restored Mr. Peccary said, dusting the cedar shavings from his cardigan. "Mr. Peccary, you were using your Switch-A-Rat again, weren't you," she scolded. "Yes, I was Miss Schnauzer," he sighed, "but I couldn't change back until Gene opened the cage. I thought he would have to eventually, that is, to change my shavings, but he never did." Miss Schnauzer wrinkled her nose disapprovingly. "Filthy rat."
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