Story:One Night, Two Rats
One Night, Two Rats
Written by HoVoMgmt and Raxamaphone
Shannon knew she had to be quick. The trip from the bus to the hotel door was the fastest most any FBA player moved. Sure, a fast transition on the court drew a hustle, but the promise of quick points was nothing to the relief of avoiding fans at the hotel. Because every player knew fans were crazy. Away fans were really crazy.
Never mind that rats were particularly gifted when it came to avoiding eyes. As soon as the unmarked charter bus arrived, Shannon jumped to her feet. Moments later, the bus doors opened and a parade of tall, athletic men with bulging sports bags over their shoulders glided into the hotel lobby flying toward the elevators. Shannon pushed off her toes in a way she normally reserved for cutting out of the triple threat and cut off the path of who would have been the most intimidating man in the parade had one of them not been a 330 pound insect.
“Alphonse,” Shannon smiled as broadly as she could behind her crooked buck teeth. The towering rat stopped on his black boots with a crossover-worthy squeak as his already snarling face got fouler. “Hey, Alphonse, it’s been a long time, I—”
“Sigs at the game!” the yellow-furred rat sneered, already taking a step around Shannon and scowling at seeing this brief delay had already put him at the last spot in the elevator parade.
“Hey, hey!” Shannon barked, putting a big foot behind herself to support her pushing back on the impatient forward. “I don’t want a signature! I’m with the Wildcards!” Shannon blurted out loud enough that the concierge looked up, quirked an eyebrow, then shook his head in lack of recognition.
Alphonse also lifted an eyebrow showing an equal amount of recognition. “Izzat right? Well, no worries, luv, I’ll try t’ go easy on ya!” He took another step, his extra five inches of height and hundred pounds of muscle assuring his smooth passage to the elevators. Except that Shannon put a hand on his hip and pushed with just enough force to know whoever this woman was, she knew how to ball.
“Whoa, big guy,” Shannon said firmly, twisting her ankle for that extra push off the toes she found usually worked when mismatched on the court. “I’m not done with you. Just give me a minute, all right? It’s been a long time since we’ve talked.”
Alphonse stopped. The rest of the team was already on the high-speed elevators to the top floor. No point in hurrying now. “‘as it now? Seems t’ me we played you lot first week.”
Shannon nodded. “Yeah, I—” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “I was on reserve,” she lied. Partially. She had been on reserve, but that wasn’t the reason she hadn’t flown to Honolulu. Flying was bad enough without having an ocean under her. “Look, it’s a long story, but we haven’t been on a court together since 2016,” she said. “I know you gotta run, but I just wanted to ask if you’d have a drink later?” After a beat, she added, “Tonight.”
Alphonse twitched his whiskers and curled his scaly tail. “Aye, that’s where I’s headed b’fore ya grabbed me tail,” he said. “What, ya mean you’n me?”
Shannon snorted, glaring, thinking that was obvious. “Yeah, you and me. There’s a bar behind the high roller’s room,” she said. “Perfect for staying away from the crowd.” Alphonse wasn’t pushing any more, and she saw she was still gripping his hip as if there was still time on the shot clock. She released him, thinking the big rat must think she's crazy. And maybe she was. “Look, I just got back into the FBA this season. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I remember you from 2016, and I’d love to get to know other rats in the league.”
“Otha rats, eh?” Alphonse repeated, eyes darting downward toward Shannon’s long legs and oversized feet, barely contained in what had to be special order shoes. He snorted and glanced back up as Shannon’s smile wavered. He looked over her head toward the elevators, making a face. His roommate clearly had the good bed by now.
“Right, ya won me ova. Jus’ tell me when.”
“Run that by me again, eh?” Alphonse started, rubbing his temple as he put his empty beer glass on the bar firmly for emphasis. Or to get the bartender’s attention. “So’s which o’ ya parents is th’ kangaroo an’ which is th’ rat?”
Shannon squeaked in an insulted tone. “Oh my God, I told you,” she insisted, “I’m not a kangaroo!” She shook her head and took a gulp of her own vanishing pint to drown her annoyance. “Everyone is rats. Just rats. Kangaroo rats are just a different kind of rat.” She shook her head in amused frustration. This wasn’t the first time she had to make this claim, but it had been a while. “You need to get out more. I’m a rat, just like you. Even if I do look a little different.”
“Don’t think ya much a rat like me, love,” Alphonse snorted, looking at Shannon with incredulity, but not as much as the bartender who received a needlessly aggressive gesture to get the giant street rat another glass.
“Yeah. That’s ‘cause I’m a better rat,” Shannon said with confidence, finishing the last of her drink. She was only a little bit behind Alphonse.
“Ya got a puff on ya tail, a nose like a gopher, an’ a set o’ stompas bigga then mine! An’ ya expect me t’ believe yer a f---in’ rat?” Alphonse insisted in playful mistrust.
Shannon groaned cartoonishly. “Yeah. I do. The kind of rat that kicks rattlesnake ass and lasts a month on a bottle of water. Speaking of which,” she said, reaching out to tap a finger on the edge of Alphonse’s glass, “you’re looking a little dry there.”
Alphonse whipped a dirty look at the bartender as his big hand smoothly grasped the beer out of the weasel’s paw. “I think ya might wanna ask ya mum if she was takin’ any trips down unda before you was born,” he grinned before taking a gulp.
“Oh my God, f--- you,” Shannon laughed, shaking her head and ordering another beer. The bar was perfect tonight. Weekday evening in the heart of winter, the casino was well below capacity and few had bothered to seek out the quiet watering hole in the back. What’s more, Alphonse was loosening up. A few minutes ago, there’s no way she would be talking this casually with a rat in a leather vest and arms as thick as her waist. But she could tell from the tone of his voice he was enjoying the company. Good. She was, too.
“Then prove it to me, love,” Alphonse dared, setting his glass down next to his elbow, pushing his cheek into his fist to look at Shannon. “What makes you a rat? Ya ever live in a sewer?”
Shannon wrinkled her nose. “First off, I don’t have to prove s--- to you. Second, no. Like I said. Better rat.” She put her hand around the newly arrived beer and looked down into it. “Hm. Maybe not that much better,” she muttered before looking up at Alphonse and holding up the glass. “You got me drinking like you.”
Alphonse lifted his own glass and tapped it against Shannon’s. “‘ow about cheese? You fancy some good ol’ trap bait?” Alphonse tried next. He smiled when he saw the question had made Shannon do the same.
“Do I look that fancy?” She shook her head. “Almonds. Almonds all the way, that’s my bait. Hell, you could get me to do anything for almonds.”
Alphonse quirked a brow. He lifts his big tattered ears, tilting his head. “What wuzzat?”
Shannon paused, unsure why Alphonse was looking at her that way. “Almonds?”
“Th’ f--- is an aaaaa-mund?”
Shannon blinked. “Almonds. Jesus, come on, big guy. Almonds! You know, nuts, brown skin, white meat, shaped like a raindrop?”
Shannon winced. “AAAA-munds. The ‘L’ is silent.”
“Since forever!” Shannon watched Alphonse’s nose wrinkle, his long whiskers lifting with contempt. She glared back. “Hey, sorry if that doesn’t sound right to you AL-phonse, but nearly all the world’s almonds grew where I did, so I know what they’re called.” Shannon knew she was sounding forceful there. And it felt good. This whole conversation felt good. She never spoke this way with her teammates. She was constantly fearful she’d get a bad reputation and get cut. Every day was just about staying on the roster which is why she never complained. But this felt good. She was talking freely, not worried about word getting back to management, about some super sensitive rook crying about the mean desert rat who wasn’t belching rainbows every time she opened her mouth. Shannon hadn’t felt this free in ages.
Free, nothing. This was fun.
Alphonse snorted right back. “Oi,” he said firmly, pointing a finger at Shannon. He held the position, making her wonder for just a heart-beat if she had genuinely gone too far with him. Then he smiled. “Call me Alfie, eh?”
Shannon perked her ears. She smiled. “Sure, whatever. Alfie.” She liked that name. She liked it a lot.
Alfie returned to his drink, taking a gulp. “Might not o’ been too bright tellin’ me ya fancy aaaa-munds,” he said, trying out the word. “Might be liable t’ use it t’ my advantage, eh?”
“I’m not going to throw a game for them, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Alfie chuckled. “An’ I didn’t say nothin’ about throwin’ th’ game! Might be I’m feelin’ like sendin’ a li’l gift to me new rat friend, eh? Leave a bottle of amaretto in ya locka with a nice note. Whateva happens afta that, well. Ain’t gonna be my fault if ya coach has t’ scramble for a new bench!”
Shannon forced a laugh. “Yeeeeeah.” She stopped, eyes darting around the bar as if hoping someone had been kind enough to leave a dictionary open. She grunted, her competitive nature hating being at the disadvantage. Praying this was just some crazy English thing, she reluctantly asked, “What’s amaretto?”
Alfie’s smile vanished. It returned as he narrowed his eyes, finishing off the last of his second glass, setting it down firmly. “Oi! Barkeep!”
Shannon stared at her shot glass. The taste of bitter almonds suspended in sparkling sugar danced on her lips. The nutty flavor fought valiantly against the sweetness making bubbles tickle the inside of her cheeks. That amber juice in her glass was amazing. It was f---ing amazing.
“Close ya mouth, just let it sit, breathe in through ya nose,” Alfie grinned ear-to-ear. Shannon closed her jaw and covered her lips, embarrassed they had been open for so long. Alfie leaned in. “So?”
“It’s wonderful,” Shannon finally sputtered. She leaned forward, her back going weak at just how much her mouth loved what it was tasting. “Oh my God. I’ve never tasted anything like this.”
Alfie’s ears lifted, drinking in every compliment with delight, clearly enjoying seeing the kangaroo rat fall in love with liquor all over again. “Yeh? So ya like it, do ya?”
“I’m sorry. I guess I wasn’t clear,” Shannon said. “It’s delicious. God, why hadn’t anyone told me about this stuff?” She looked back into her shot glass and took another sip. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it sit on her tongue this time, trickle its way down her throat, liquid almonds gliding down to warm her chest, every taste bud singing the flavor. She was so lost in the moment she almost didn’t notice Alfie’s thick arm sliding around her waist.
“Well ‘en, ‘ow about we see if we c’n find a couple more things ya might like, eh?” Alfie said, all but sliding the words into Shannon’s ear. Shannon squirmed. Not a lot. She bit her lip and felt something annoying in her cheeks. Oh God. She was blushing. She was blushing.
“What else you got?”
“She’s ‘alf kangaroo! Ain’t that some sh-te?”
Shannon’s smile would have been crooked without her teeth. She yanked the corners of her mouth with almost as much force as she yanked on Alfie, preventing him from falling over into the elderly skunk couple sharing the elevator ride to the top floor. Shannon could tell from their faces they were gauging whether they could pay the property damage lawsuit if they just sprayed the hell out of the rats.
“Ya ever ‘eard o’ that? Rat mixed with a bloody hoppa!” Alfie continued with the kind of enthusiasm only excessive alcohol could fuel. With the stink of beer breath and whiskey spattering the walls from the wildly swung bottle in his hand, it was possible a skunk spray would have done nothing to make the space less palatable.
“I’m sorry! He’s been having a good night!” Shannon pleaded, laughing it off, but also praying that the skunks were not FBA fans who might report them to FMZ. “Vegas, you know?”
“This is our floor,” the gentleman skunk lied, all but squeezing his wife through the door barely after it cracked open.
“Have a great night!” Shannon called after them, slapping the oral equivalent of a Band-Aid on a foot-long gash. Thank God the pair looked like they didn’t have smartphones. Alfie thankfully kept his sounds in the elevator, falling back against the steel wall and filling the sealing chamber with a laughter that no doubt could be heard in other cars.
“Oi, d’ya see that? They was gonna spray us, they were!” he grinned to Shannon.
“Yeah, I noticed, you big moron!” Shannon laughed, slapping at Alfie’s big chest before gripping at him again in anticipation he would still need her to help to get to his feet. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant holding on to the big alcohol-reeking rat. She couldn’t help but push her hand into Alfie’s chest and discover alcohol did nothing to soften the big rodent’s muscles. “Try to quiet it down, okay? Some of us have to live in this city.”
Shannon squeaked when those muscles came for her, an arm wrapping around her shoulders, gripping her tightly and pulling her in. “Woulda done somethin’ ‘bout that kangaroo smell, any’ow,” Alfie teased, leaning in, his nose brushing Shannon’s whiskers making her turn her chin and pull back, pushing a little more on that broad chest. “Get ya at least one step closer to bein’ a propa rat.”
Shannon laughed and shook her head just enough to know she had had a little too much that night. “I’m already close,” she reminded Alfie, lowering her chin and touching noses, whiskers brushing between the rodents. She thought about leaning in more, but the elevator doors opened. The white-and-gold hallway of the top floor sparkled with the kind of wealth Vegas reserved for its most famous guests, making it all the more ironic when Shannon pushed her shoulder into Alfie’s side, used every ounce of strength in her powerful kangaroo rat legs she could muster, and dragged the heavy English rodent into the hallway. “Come on, you dumb lug. Almost home.”
“Ya wanna ‘ear summon? Sometimes my roomie sprays in ‘is sleep! Ya b’lieve it?” Alfie continued, his own legs making barely an effort to keep him upright, the rat unaware of how fortunate he was to have a pro athlete dragging him to his room. “Coach made ‘im pay for th’ cleanin’, I laughed my arse off. Heard th’ maid lost ‘er lunch, an’ ‘e paid for that too!”
Shannon grunted, one final shove into Alfie’s ribs with her shoulder to lean him up against the side of his door before rapping on it with her fist. “Yeah, sounds hilarious,” she said, panting for breath, not used to getting this much cardio with a six-pack in her. “This your room?” she asked Alfie who grunted in response. “Sounds like a yes,” she decided, patting his chest and feeling proud of herself for having managed to get him this far. She’d have to send her compliment to her team’s trainer. “Come on, Alfie, you’re home.”
“What ya mean, ‘ome?” Alfie grunted, putting his hand on Shannon’s as she thumped his chest. “Th’ night’s just gettin’ started, innit?”
Before Shannon could protest, the door opened. Well over seven feet of towering, shaggy not-skunk crouched in the inadequate doorway, wide-eyed and messy-haired. The blank, confused look drew Shannon’s attention just long enough for her to not immediately see the zorilla was weaning underpants and nothing else.
The not-skunk rubbed at his eyes then looked at Alfie, his face bursting into a toothy smile. “Hey, you're back!” he barked in a voice inappropriate and astonishing from anyone at three in the morning. He then swung his head toward Shannon, that smile flying into her view like the bucket of a backhoe. “Thanks, babe!”
Shannon pushed out a strained laugh. “You’re welcome! Uh—Zack, right?”
The zorilla’s eyes somehow got wider. “Oh f---, Shannon!” he said, again at a volume no one wanted to hear at that hour. He put his hand on his face in a show of amused surprise, but then thought better of it and put his hands to better use, grabbing Alfie and pulling him inside. “Welcome back to the league, babe!”
Alfie flailed drunkenly at Zack, slapping at him while somehow managing to hold on to the whiskey bottle. “Oi! Paws offa me! Me and Shannon was just gonna get a drink!”
Shannon ran her hands through her messy blonde hair as she bounced on her toes, remembering what it felt like to stand without 260 pounds of rat leaning on her. “Thanks. It’s good to be back. So, uh, he’s had a little to drink.”
Zack gasped in mock surprise. “No way.” He laughed and added, “Hey, he’s back in the room. Coach is going to be ecstatic.” He then whipped his shaggy head to shout, “Hey, Alfie! You—?”
Alfie was already snoring. The big rat lay face-down on the long sofa in front of the giant window overlooking the Las Vegas skyline. Dammit. That was the good bed.
Shannon waved her hand. “Okay, it’s hella late. You have a good night, Zack,” she said, stepping back from the door. “I know I shouldn’t say this, but good luck tomorrow.”
“Good luck today,” Zack reminded her.
Shannon laughed. “Riiiiight. Good night.” She waved then walked back to the elevator, her body tired, her joints sore. She rubbed the arm that had been holding up Alfie, kneading at her muscles, then wondered why her face was sore, too. As she stepped into the elevator, she realized it was because she was smiling so much.
Shannon stopped and turned. Zack was still in the doorway, looking down the hall at her, his wide-eyed look and giant smile replaced with one of burning curiosity. “So, uh—Alfie’s going to ask when he wakes up,” he said casually, this time bringing his voice down a few decibels, making Shannon know he was serious. “Did you and he—?”
Shannon’s ears lifted. “What? No! Are you kidding? Look at him!” she squeaked, now being the one speaking too loud. “He would have puked on me!”
Zack glanced into the room. “Yeeeeeah. Probably,” he laughed. “Thanks!” He flashed Shannon a thumbs up then went inside, closing the door.
Shannon shook her head and hit the button for the lobby. She rubbed her temple, still smiling, wondering if that private limo service her agency had hired really was 24 hour. But before the doors to the elevator shut, Zack popped his head out of the room again.
“Were you gonna?”
Shannon’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. If she hadn’t been drunk, she almost certainly would have snapped. But Zack stared back, eyes full of innocence, pleading at Shannon to give him something for when the rat woke up and would hound him for how his date went.
Shannon thought about that as the doors began to close. She smiled.
“I’ll think about it,” she said as the doors shut.