The following short story, Weekly Rats, placed first in the statewide Harvest Writing Contest sponsored by Central Oregon Writers' Guild, in 2012.
A shimmering, suffocating heat rose from the motel’s sidewalks, sending lodgers scurrying from their rooms to the lobby for morning coffee and cellophane-wrapped muffins. Two young boys who were trying to climb the wrong way up a slide in the tiny playground jumped to the ground when their mother called, and Roy watched them run across the lawn, each trying to trip the other, laughing.
Dave, the desk clerk, stepped out of the office for a smoke. “Roy, better make your rounds early before it gets any hotter,” he mumbled around the cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth.
Roy patrolled the property’s perimeter until he came to a shady spot near the leaf-cluttered pool; he stretched out on the grass, and let his eyelids close almost all the way. A dedicated people-watcher and self-appointed security guard, he could monitor each motel room and the office door from this vantage point. For a moment, Roy’s attention was distracted by the shrill wailing of a fire truck’s siren as it careened down the highway. He was tempted to walk to the edge of the road for a look, but instead stayed at his post.
Roy watched the elderly couple from room number six wheel their luggage to the car parked in front of their door. He had spent part of the previous evening with them, when they sat by the pool drinking Mexican beer from cold, dark bottles. He walked over to see them off; the man was glad to see Roy again, but the wife was already in the car, anxious to leave.
From room number seven, Roy overheard a woman talking loudly and a baby crying. He stayed near the door until the noises finally ceased, and then walked to the office to get a drink of water before returning to his shady refuge by the pool. An hour’s nap ended when the sun invaded his spot, replacing cool comfort with searing heat that seemed to penetrate his eyelids. Suddenly, a limping car lurched to a stop in front of the office, and a stringy-haired young man hurried inside. A moment later he left the office and began yelling “Sandy!” as he trotted down the sidewalk. He recognized the car in front of room number seven, and headed that way. The room’s door flew open and the woman with a baby in her arms ran toward the opposite end of the building. The man caught up, grabbed her arm and yelled in her face, which set the baby to screaming. The young woman, Sandy, was pale with fear, and her eyes grew wide. Roy stood up, and knew the time had come for him to act. He ran to the scene, dodged the maid’s cart, and knocked the man to the sidewalk. Threatening words flew, but Roy stood his ground, looking as mean and tall as he could muster; Sandy moved behind Roy, clutching the baby tight to her chest. By then Dave had arrived and demanded the man leave the premises, which he did after he tossed a few last words of warning to Sandy and made a rude gesture in Roy’s direction. Before Sandy returned to her room, she hugged Roy in appreciation, which he graciously accepted. His intuition hinted that he should be especially vigilant in his surveillance of the property that day.
Clouds gathered in the sky and cooled the air at last, so Roy moved onto the grassy island in front of the motel, beneath a large sign that proclaimed “Weekly Rats.” Dave told Roy at least once every day that he planned to fix the lettering, but he never did. Roy watched traffic on the highway, and was soon joined by the two little boys he saw earlier. Each carried a McDonald’s sack, and they shared their fries with Roy, although he rarely ate in the middle of the day. After placing their trash in the bin, the boys played a game of tag with Roy, and soon all three were exhausted. The mother called her sons inside, so Roy went to the office and greeted some early arrivals.
In the back room of the office, Roy’s mother slept. She seldom left the office nowadays, content to watch her family come and go. Roy sat beside her for awhile until he realized she didn’t know he was there. He sat behind the counter until Dave saw the mail man down the block. “Go get the mail, Roy.” When he returned, they relaxed in front of the lobby’s TV and shared a bag of popcorn. The automatic sprinklers were watering the grassy island when Roy went back outdoors, so he sat by the pool and watched Dave scoop leaves from the surface.
Roy saw Sandy open her door and scan the parking lot before she hurried to the office. Soon she returned with a Coke in her hand, and Roy met her on the sidewalk. He could tell Sandy was nervous, but she was glad to see that he was still standing guard at the motel.
By the time he’d napped on a dry float cushion, patrolled the premises again, and greeted more folks checking in, it was time for dinner. As the air cooled, palm trees along the highway were silhouetted against the orange sunset before darkness finally claimed corners and alleys unlit by neon signs.
Harvey, the elderly night clerk, occasionally watched Roy swim in the pool after everyone went to bed, so he waited near the office. Roy heard a vaguely familiar noise nearby, but no one entered the motel’s lot. A few minutes passed, and then a scream pierced the late stillness. Roy was certain it came from Sandy’s room, and sprinted in that direction. Sandy burst out the door, with the young man from that afternoon close behind. He was waving a gun, and yelling at her while the baby’s hiccupping cries could be heard from within the dark room. Roy tackled the man behind his knees which sent him sprawling onto the parking lot asphalt. During the ensuing struggle, a gunshot rang out, and Roy slumped across the shooter. The noise brought three men bursting from their rooms, and Harvey arrived brandishing a baseball bat; the shooter was quickly subdued. Within minutes police arrived, and the young man was taken away. An officer told the bystanders that help for Roy was on the way.
Sandy knelt beside Roy, kissed his forehead and whispered, “You’re so brave. Thank you for saving us.” Someone brought a blanket which Dave carefully spread over Roy, but painful minutes passed before a large man bent over him and examined his wound. He announced to the crowd that the bullet had lodged in Roy’s right shoulder, and no vital organs were damaged. A sigh of relief escaped from the crowd, and Roy was gently scooted onto a stretcher. Dave leaned over Roy and tearfully said, “You’re a hero!” Roy lifted his head, licked Dave’s face and thumped his tail. He would be back on the job in no time.