I got a letter today from the Police Department addressed to “Handler of Beast #1307.” “Don’t they know I’m retired?” I grumbled.
“It has come to our attention that the said beast still bears the official colors of the Police Department. Since this animal has been decommissioned, we request that you remove said colors.”
I called Nick in from the kitchen, where he was stealing cat food.
“Do you know anything about this?”
“About what?! You know I can’t read. Well, read well. I can’t read well.” He turned his undeniably navy-blue back on me.
“You’re not supposed to have police coloration anymore. People might get confused and expect you to do police work.”
“Well, suppose I just refuse to do it, and we’ll see how that goes.”
“I am responsible for you, and–why have you been scratching so much?”
“Dunno. Allergic to responsibility, probably.”
“No, it’s just that one spot. Let me see–”
“Can’t I even itch in peace?!”
One of his scales was slightly raised. I pried up as much as I dared. “Just what I thought. You’ve got a tick under there.” His armor-plating repels most pests, but makes them hard to remove if they do burrow in. “You’re going to the vet.”
“We are, you mean. I’m not going there alone.”
“Of course not. You can’t pay the bill.”
Since we can’t use the Police Department vet anymore, I took him to my own, who was impressed to behold him.
“We don’t see many of these. This is a fine specimen.” Nick preened. “Have you bred him?”
“Well, he…he sort of breeds himself.” Nick preened even more.
“Yes, since they mate for life, initial mate selection is extremely important. So what seems to be the problem?” I pointed the bad spot out.
“Ah, yes. I can remove that. It should cause minimal discomfort–
Nick immediately became agitated. “Then why mention the possibility?”
“–but of course he’ll have to be sedated.”
“No, I’m not going to let you–” Nick began, but I immediately grabbed him by the ears. It’s a risky move, since I have to bypass the terrible teeth, but his ears are sensitive, and it makes him disinclined to struggle further.
The vet started preparing the injection. “He’s going to stick a needle in me!” Nick said, sounding uncharacteristically squeaky.
“Don’t move or I’ll rip your ears off,” I murmured, so the vet couldn’t hear. “Don’t think I won’t.”
“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” he answered between his teeth, likewise under his breath. These pleasantries kept us occupied until the vet could slide the needle beneath a scale on his throat, and we both eased him down as he collapsed.
It was short work for the vet to remove the affected scale, pry the tick out, daub the wound with ointment, and reattach the scale. Since Nick was still snoring–OK, more like gentle hissing–the vet said, “I assume you want me to readjust his colors?”
“Can you do that?”
“Oh, yes. It’s actually a simple procedure, but you need the right tools. Then he’ll revert to his original color.”
He shrugged. “We’ll just have to find out.”
The “special tool” appeared to be a simple pair of pliers. The vet began tugging on the barbs at the end of Nick’s tail.
“Are you actually going to pull those spines out?”
“Oh, yes. It’s just a minor adjustment. They’re mostly decorative, anyway.”
He pulled–hard–causing the patient to whimper in his sleep. I stroked his ear soothingly, and he quieted. Some half-dozen spines were removed in this way.
“Now, we wait…” the vet said. So we did, until the dark blue slowly faded, and became the dull green of one of those army-green grasshoppers.
Nick started to stir. “Why is my tail sore–What?!” He looked at himself with dismay, then turned to me. “You planted that tick on me so you could get me in here to do this. I just know it.”
“No, the tick was there before I got the letter, remember?”
“And good thing it’s only a tick,” the vet said. “Sometimes they get infested with weevils, and then their scales fall off.”
“You know,” Nick said musingly, “I think I like this green better anyway.”