In all of Marv’s twenty-five years, he had never had a catch like Jane. She had blazing orange hair, sharp eyebrows, and the best ass he had ever seen. Yet here she was in his convertible buggy, smiling at him. The buildings around them were made of tin and dented. The sky gray. Road cracked. Hazy red mountains in the distance.
“So where are we going?” Marv asked. His hands were gripped tightly on the steering wheel.
Jane kicked her legs up on the dashboard. “Just let the road decide,” she said. “That’s what John and I used to do.” She plugged her phone into the aux. Played a song that sounded like gears turning and metal compressing. It was basic, nothing complex, but she was so hot it didn’t matter to Marv.
Marv grinned. He gave into the tempo of the song and let his foot get heavy on the pedal. In the mirror, he watched a cloud of steam fluff up behind his buggy.
“I love speed,” Jane said. She laughed and covered her eyes with silver sunglasses. She touched Marv’s arms gently and he hoped she couldn’t tell how tight he was holding the wheel. He tried to ease off.
Out by Dan’s diner, Marv heard the siren from behind him. Not the whee-woo of the real police but instead the infamous loud screeching. In the mirror, sure enough, he saw a blocky black SUV. Glowing yellow-orange lights flashing across the windshield.
“Ah shit,” Marv said. “It’s the rat cops!”
Jane turned her head briefly to glimpse at the SUV. She pulled out a cigarette and took a drag, legs still kicked up on the dashboard.
“Not a big deal. They aren’t real cops.”
Three six-foot-tall rats with big bulging bellies stumbled out of the SUV. One of them, the one walking over to Marv’s driver-side window, had grimy donut crumbs all over his mouth.
“I know, not technically.”
“Marv,” Jane said. “Jesus Christ, just step on it. You don’t think you can outrun a couple rat cops?”
“Someone could get hurt in the chase,” Marv said. His hands were shaking on the wheel. He looked over and could tell Jane was noticing.
The rat cop with the donut crumbs all over his fur knocked on his window. He rolled up the window.
“License and registration please,” said the rat cop, in a nasally voice.
Marv reached over Jane’s crossed arms and pulled his license and registration out of the glove compartment. He had a revolver in there but he made sure the rat cop could tell he wasn’t going for it, reached as slowly as possible.
“You were going seventy on a forty-five,” said the fattest rat cop. He had sunglasses on, not so different from Jane’s. She took her own off, maybe to show him that she was disgusted, Marv suspected.
“Sorry rat officer,” Marv said. He had a hard time looking into the rat cop’s beady black eyes so he preferred to look at the one with the sunglasses. “My girlfriend here has a medical emergency, could you please just let us go this one time? It won’t happen again.”
He turned and winked at Jane.
“What’s the emergency, miss?” asked the one without the sunglasses. The third rat was pacing circles around their SUV, looking for scraps of food on the street.
“There is none,” Jane said. “I’m fine. He lied.”
Marv laughed nervously. “Oh, looks like you got me,” he said to the rat cop.
The rat cop crinkled his rat face and handed Marv a ticket.
“You can contest this in rat court or you can pay a fine ahead of time,” he said. “Do you have the money on you?”
“I’ve got some leftovers in the back,” Marv said. “Ravioli.”
The two rats opened the doors on either side of the backseat and stuck their noses in. The third rat, smelling the marinara, came scurrying over as fast as possible. The rats shoved their faces into the plastic takeout container, rummaging through ravioli and bumping each other out of the way. Sauce splashed across Marv’s backseat. Between the splattering of sauce and the gargling noises the rat cops made as they ate, it sounded (and smelled) more like someone was vomiting in the backseat than eating.
Then they were suddenly finished, no leftovers to be scrounged. They closed the doors gently, as though they were gentlemen, and then walked casually back to their black SUV. Marv took a deep breath.
“That will take some time to clean up,” he said.
Jane said nothing. He cranked the buggy back up and drove on, still aimlessly cruising around, wondering what he should say to get Jane to talk again. The silence was cutting through him. Eventually, Jane broke the silence herself. With her arms still crossed, she said:
“You know John and I used to get pulled over by the rat cops all of the time. He always raced away. Never got caught once.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. He felt as though he was choking on his own breath.
“Yeah,” Jane said, lighting another cigarette. “You know what, just drop me off at my place. Maybe I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Marv made the drive a few blocks down and into the iron-gated community where Jane’s apartment was. The buildings were nicer than anywhere else in the city—when the orange sun was rising, they reflected the light like ice. The grass was a brighter brown than anywhere else, almost green. She unhooked her phone from the aux.
“I’ll give you a call first thing tomorrow,” Marv promised quickly.
“No,” she said. “If I call you, we talk.”
Jane shut the door behind her and Marv tried to dull his own emotions. As he drove in silence, the gray city around him became smeared by tears.
At the intersection of Wheeler and Franklin, he saw another black SUV. Undoubtedly different rats, but still the rat cops nonetheless. He opened up his glove compartment, eyes on the road, and felt around for cold steel. The gun felt familiar in his hand—it matched the frustration within. He stopped the buggy by the sidewalk, where the rat cops were out eating donuts and discussing local politics.
“It’s just a shame,” one of the rat cops was saying. “Just an absolute shame.”
Marv manually rolled down the glass window. He lifted his shaky hand.
“Sir,” the rat cop said loudly in Marv’s direction. The gun was not visible over the window yet. “Is everything alright?”
Marv nodded slowly. He dropped the gun silently on the floor of the front seat, where Jane’s dirtless feet would’ve been. Then he drove on, weaving his way through the dented city. He would return home to his apartment, see if the ceiling was still leaking oil. Then he would go to work the next day, try not to blow his back out. He would get drunk at the theater after that. All the while thinking of ice-colored buildings that reflected the sunlight.
“Fuck the rat cops,” he muttered.
Rat Cops was first published under the name Drew James.