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A shaggy malamute paced the street a few houses in front of him. It hobbled its way across the cement, stopped to give a single growl, then continued on its path, favoring one of its forepaws. Nicholas pulled a double-bladed dagger from its sheath. He followed the dog to the front door of a small house that collected dust in the backyard of another, much larger house. Trees shaded the little cottage. Nicholas peered inside. The dog growled, but he could not be sure where the sound was coming from.
Nicholas closed the door. He walked back to the parent house, opened the garage, and scanned the shelves for antifreeze. Then he took a piece of rat meat from his pack and kneaded water into it until it could be shaped. When Nicholas returned to the smaller house he broke a windowpane and tossed in the clump of rat meat with the poison center. And waited.
The sun had nearly set when the whimpering finally died. He found the body in a bedroom, lying on its side in a pool of rainwater that had collected beneath a gash in the ceiling. The fur of the animal's chin was lathered in spit. Nicholas grasped its hind legs. The dog made a sound. He let go and went again for the dagger. The dog's chest rose slowly then returned to its rest. Nicholas held perfectly still. For a moment the dog lay still. Then the carcass spasmed. It flipped out of the water like an enormous fish and spun about in a flurry of unreasoned motion. Nicholas backpedaled out of the room. The dog howled and Nicholas could hear the patter of feat at the rear of the house.
He followed his prey out of the back door and into the tall grass beyond. In fits of motion, the dog made it to the next yard and further still, into a tall hedgerow. Nicholas waited until he could no longer hear the sound of rustling leaves before parting the hedges. When he came out on the other side he took several long strides before stopping cold.
Nicholas rubbed the grass with a shoe. He looked down. The green barely rose to the height of his laces. All around were orderly shapes: flowers in long rows, bushes formed into tight rectangles, a circular fountain of clean, white stone. Blinking away sweat, he saw a man and woman rising up out of their seats on the rear deck of a mansion. Nicholas watched them the entire time as he paced to the place the dog had collapsed. He looked at them while sticking the unmoving animal with his knife. He kept looking at them even while wiping off the blade and returning it to its sheath. It was when he started dragging his kill back to the hedgerow that the man finally spoke. "You're not going to eat that. Are you?"
"I, I," Nicholas stammered. "It ain't for eatin'. Too sick. It's for catching rats."
The man and woman looked at each other.
"You know something about catching rats?" asked the woman.
Words were exchanged, then the man shouted "If I pay you, would you do whatever it is you do and get the rats out of our basement?"
The interior of the estate was the product of devout cleaning and oppressively hot, uncirculated air.