It was a quiet Tuesday morning in the bustling London mouse community. Venders in the square shouted out their wares, mouselings chased each other while their mothers scolded them. Across the way, a tall handsome brown mouse in a smart uniform was watching the streets with an observant eye. He was the greatest detective on the force, and not one mouse could doubt this. However, he was ruthless in his punishments, though the high society mice in his pocket were hardly targets. No, it was the poorer citizens he went after, and among them, there was nothing he despised more than the rats of the city. Rats were commonly thought to be horrid, disgusting animals with limited to no understanding of civility or even basic hygiene. They were the brutes of the rodent world and looked down upon by any who came upon them. This included the humans who lived here too. And speaking of rats...
Out of the detective's eyesight, a large rat snuck towards an unsuspecting vender. His nose and ears twitched as he waited for the right moment to strike. He approached slowly on all fours and waited until the vender looked away, then he swiped a lone loaf of bread and took off running as fast as he could. The police mouse heard the vender's startled cry for help and blew his whistle. A large basset hound puppy came skidding to a halt, but not before crashing into a nearby trashcan. The mouse climbed onto the dog and yanked on his leash.
"Forward Toby! After that piece of filth!" Toby raced after the fleeing rat at his master's orders. The rat, in the meantime looked behind his shoulder. His eyes grew wide at the sight of the large puppy and he skidded to a halt and scurried up a drainpipe, out of the dog's reach. Toby barked and growled at the rat, and the police mouse narrowed his eyes at him. "You sneaky, rat thief! I'll put you in a cage where all your kind belongs! And Basil of Baker Street never goes back on his word!" The rat glared down at the mouse.
"I'm sure you will, Mr. Basil." He answered in a polite, albeit sardonic tone. "But that means you'll have to catch me first." He turned his back and scampered away to whatever hovel he lived in. Basil huffed to himself and led Toby away. He would cross paths with that impudent sewer rat again. He could feel it in his whiskers.
Padraic W. Ratigan let out a huge sigh of relief when he realized the detective had given up the chase. It had been a few days since he and his friend had eaten, and he was not feeling like his normal cheerful self at the moment. In fact, he hadn't been for quite some time. Though he was quite proud to be a rat, he was ashamed of the reputation his species had. He had to steal to survive. Such was his way of life, but sometimes he felt that it wasn't worth the guilt. He headed towards the broken down hovel that he found himself calling home these days and attempted to open the door. As usual, it wouldn't budge until the rat threw his entire weight against it and he did a full face-plant into a dust covered rug. He sneezed a bit before standing up and smacking his poor head on a rafter beam. He rubbed at his head and called out into the dimly lit house.
"Fidget? Fidget, are you in there? I've got something for you." Fidget was the name of the crippled bat he roomed with, and was also a very dear friend of his. He listened for the familiar plunking noise of the bat's wooden leg hitting the floor as Fidget limped into view.
"Hiya Boss," Fidget said in a raspy voice. The poor bat had been caught in a fire in his youth and the smoke he inhaled caused his vocal chords permanent damage. In truth, it was a miracle that the little fellow could speak at all. Ratigan shook his head at the pitiful sight.
"Fidget, when are you ever going to stop calling me that? I'm not your employer, I'm your friend." Fidget shrugged.
"S-sorry. I's used to addressin' othas like you as Boss. Bad habits, I guess." Ratigan lit a kerosene lamp and lit the few lights they had in their home.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Fidget. Nothing at all. Here, I brought us a little treat today." He laid the loaf of bread on the table. The bat gazed at it with shining eyes, but then he frowned.
"You stole again?" The little bat asked while climbing onto the chair. Ratigan sat down wearily and nodded.
"Unfortunately, yes. It's really all I can do until the temp service finds me another job. I can't afford to be picky, but I object to being a lab rat." Fidget shuddered.
"Why would humans wanna esper-ment on rats?" He asked through a mouthful of bread. Ratigan shrugged.
"I suppose it's because rats and mice share a lot of traits with humans. They'd rather not experiment on their own kind, so they pick on something smaller than themselves." Fidget shook his head.
"Rats have a hard enough time havin' to avoid traps, now they's bein' esperimented on." Ratigan nodded.
"Oh yes, it seems we do have a harder time of it. But, c'est la vie Fidget. That's our lot in life and there isn't really a way to change it. Rats steal because it's in our nature." Fidget looked up at him.
"But you's a nice rat. You don't hurt nothin.' Th' only reason you steal is cause you hafta." Ratigan smiled at him a little sadly.
"I thank you for the compliment, little fellow. I sometimes don't feel very nice when I take things that don't belong to me." Fidget patted Ratigan's massive shoulder.
"Makes ya feel kinda guilty, don't it?" Ratigan nodded.
"Oh yes, I suppose it does. But there isn't a whole lot I can do about it right now. How about we stop this sort of talk and read something while it's still light out. I may have to snatch some matches again, but let's hope not. Basil's already vowed to put me away three times this week." Fidget's little brow furrowed.
"Basil is a nasty mouse. Why don't the Queen tell him what he's doing is wrong?" He asked while putting his chin on his folded wings. Ratigan looked thoughtful.
"Well, I expect it's because she doesn't see it that way. Basil has a remarkable talent when it comes to convincing the mice who is good and who is bad. Our Queen is quite easily persuaded, I'm afraid. Ah, but it isn't her fault. It's an age-long hatred due to a bit of plague going around in the 13th century, my little friend. Rats will always be hated and looked down upon until one day, one of them decides to prove them wrong." Fidget sat up straight.
"I wish someone would!" He said, looking angry. "Basil treats everyone like they's stupid cause they ain't as smart as he is." Ratigan took a sip of some warm broth that he'd thrown together.
"He has an ego, that one." He agreed. "Fidget, why don't we change the subject to something a little less depressing, hmm? I know, we'll read a favorite book! Now, where did that ratty old thing get to?" Ratigan stood up and headed over to the broken bookcase. Before he reached it, his ear twitched when he heard a knock. He sighed. "All right, I'm coming." He opened the door, and his ears flattened. "Ah, Mr. Perkins. Nice to see you again." Mr. Perkins was a small rotund little mouse with an officious voice. He was also a very impatient landlord.
"Mr. Ratigan, I have yet to see any sort of rent coming from you or your little crippled friend for quite some time now." He said sternly, gazing up at the big rat. Ratigan's tail curled around his ankles.
"I understand sir, but I was recently let go from a job you see, and I-"
"Drinking on the job, I see. Very well. Get a new one and sober up like a good chap, will you?" Ratigan's fur bristled.
"Now see here! I wasn't drinking, it was a dangerous situation! I don't even know what humans put in those chemicals of theirs!" He argued. Mr. Perkins shook his head.
"That temper of yours will do you more harm than good. You have three days to come up with the rent or I shall have to evict you and your little friend. Good day sir!" Ratigan closed the door, seething with anger. The drink jibe had really riled him up. Mr. Perkins was well aware that Ratigan was originally of Irish origin and he often made a few remarks about this. Ratigan took several deep breaths to cool his temper and strode back into the sitting room. Fidget was curled up in a chair and looking at him worriedly.
"Ratti," he said softly in a timid voice. "We...we ain't gonna lose the house, are we?" Ratigan's fur stood on end. He didn't want to worry Fidget, but he didn't want to lie to him either.
"I'll take care of it, Fidget. You don't have to worry. Now, what did you pick out for us today?" Fidget felt a bit better when his friend reassured him, and he sat up.
"I like this one so far." He said, holding out a large worn and dog-eared book to Ratigan. The rat raised his eyebrows and laughed when he read the title.
"Robin Hood? Quite fitting for our situation, wouldn't you say so? All right, go ahead." He settled himself beside Fidget and the little bat started to read, albeit slowly.
"Robin Hood was the people's chuh...chai...Ratti, what's dat word?" Fidget asked.
"Champion," Ratigan said patiently, smiling at the bat.
"Champion, okay. E-everyone in En-England ad...ad..."
"Right, admired...him and his band of merry men. Together, dey fought against de tie...um..."
"Tyrannical." Ratigan corrected and turned the page for the little bat. Fidget cleared his throat.
"Tyrannical Prince John who taxed de poor citizens of Nottingham."
Fidget's reading lesson carried on into the night until the candles blew out and he fell asleep. Ratigan draped his coat over him and headed up into the attic where he slept. He yawned and curled into a tight ball, his tail wrapping around himself protectively. He unconsciously ran the tale of Robin Hood through his head until his eyes lit up with a most marvelous idea. It would be risky, and he would need a lot of help, but perhaps he could put his thieving skills to use after all! He decided to run his idea by Fidget in the morning and he allowed himself to fall asleep.