River Race

Roscoe walked down the muddy bank, checking out all the boats. There was a pretty good selection this year. Rats scurried everywhere, concerned only with their own business. Roscoe frowned. “Hey,” he called to a nearby rat. “Is that a chopstick?”

The rat glared at him.   “What’s it to you?”

“It’s a terrible idea.   It isn’t wide enough for a paddle or long enough for punting. You’re going nowhere unless you switch it out,” Roscoe said. He rolled his eyes as the rat continued to glare.

“What do you know?” the rat scoffed. “You’re probably one of those snobby rats who only ride in real leather.”

“Well, dress shoes are less likely to take in water,” Roscoe said.

The rat scoffed.   “You don’t know anything.   Cut-down rain boots are lightweight and watertight.” He turned his back. “Go bother someone else,” he said, turning his head just far enough to toss the words over his shoulder.

“Whatever,” Roscoe said.   He moved along. He loved race day. He belonged to a larger team than most, and this year his task had been in acquisitions.

It had been exciting to hide in the alleyway and identify the perfect shoes as they walked past. To his joy, there had been no accompanying smell of cat or dog. It had been hard to believe his luck.

Stowing away in the pocket of the coat slung over the man’s arm had felt daring, and he’d been almost numb with adrenaline. The rest of it, the watching and hiding and waiting, had gone so slowly that time seemed to be stuck, like a bit of driftwood run aground on a sandbar.

Then, under cover of night, he’d found a way to slip out of the house with his prize and carefully make his way home, following the scent of the river. The team had exclaimed over the bi-color Italian leather loafer. It was classy and smart and high quality.

But, now that his part was over, there wasn’t any outlet for his nervous energy. Maybe next year they could split the group. Margot seemed to resent pulling the short straw and having to scrounge for refreshments this year.

Roscoe snickered at the two young rats piloting a Croc with drinking straws. It was floating, but barely turning in lazy circles. Their fur was wet, but they were laughing at each other and seemed to be having fun.

He turned when he heard some panicked squeaking behind him. Ah, the idiots had chosen a worn tennis shoe built from synthetic materials, and it was sinking like a rock. Someone waded out to help the pilot who had just managed to wriggle his way free of the disaster.

Roscoe returned to his group. Kent was polishing the large wooden spoon while Slyvo meditated. He was their pilot this year, and they were counting on continuing the winning streak.

Margot popped up next to him. “Carrot, Roscoe?” she asked.   “I got the good kind. Someone was trying to feed them to the ducks.”

“Thanks, Margot,” Roscoe said. “Ducks, huh? Wouldn’t that be a sweet ride?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind being pecked half-to-death and then drowned to finish you off,” Margot said.

Roscoe laughed.   “You’re probably right. Ducks are pretty vicious.”

He looked around.   “So, what do you think of the competition?”

“Hmmm. The rats from southside will be hard to beat this year.   They’re copying our strategies.   I think Sylvo can beat them, though.   He’s been practicing.” Margot pointed to the rat using a flip-flop like a kickboard. “Though maybe that guy will be the dark horse that beats us all,” she said.

Roscoe snorted.   “Wow, I hope not. If he does, I quit.”

“Then let’s hope that he doesn’t,” Margot said.   She chomped on a carrot and handed another one to Roscoe.