Unwelcome Visitor

by Angie

This story follows the events in What’s Your Mama’s Name? and What I Did on Summer Vacation. It is inspired by actual events. No fuzzy rodents were injured in the writing this story.

Ezra stood in the classroom, looking down into the face of his 8-year-old daughter. Tightly clutched in her hands was a small plastic container. In her eyes, huge tears welled up.

“Please Daddy? Just for the weekend? Please?”

Mrs. Soames looked up from her desk and shook her head. Mrs. Johnson, the second grade teacher, sat at the resource table in the corner, trying to ignore the pleading looks the child was throwing in her direction. Ezra looked at the container again and suppressed a shudder.

“Eve, we discussed this last year, I don’t think you’re ready for the responsibility.”

“But I am, Daddy! Please? It’s just for the weekend. Three nights! Please?”

Ezra looked at the container again and then at Mrs. Johnson. He drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly as he counted to ten in his mind. Now he understood why Mr. Larabee did it when he needed to regain control.

“Just for the weekend? You understand that I am in no way agreeing to allow you to acquire a pet at this time?”

“Yes sir, I understand,” Eve said quickly, nodding her head in agreement.

“And what manner of sustenance, pray tell, does the furry rodent require?”

The young teacher picked up a small cardboard box and carried it over to Eve’s desk.

“There are pellets in the Ziploc bag. Just give him half of them tomorrow and the other half on Sunday. He has a water bottle in the cage; give him fresh water with the food. He really is no problem to care for, Mr. Standish, as long as he stays in his cage.”

And so, with that, Ezra and Eve were headed for the condo with Mrs. Johnson’s class mascot, the hamster called Herbert. The ATF agent couldn’t help stealing a glance at the Habitrail cage that rested in his daughter’s lap. The rodent was curled up in one corner of the cage, nearly concealed by the shavings. He shuddered as he tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

“You know that we are going to Mr. Larabee’s ranch tomorrow. You have your riding lesson in the morning and the team is going for a trail ride in the afternoon. Will that beast be all right alone in the condo?”

“Yes Daddy,” she said with a giggle, “he’ll be just fine. Hamsters are nocturnal, that means that they sleep most of the day and wake up at night. He will sleep the whole time we’re gone.”

After safely ensconcing Herbert in Eve’s room, father and daughter turned their attention to supper. Thanks to Eve’s former foster mother, the child had a real passion for cooking and loved to help out in the kitchen. She was very particular about measuring things and Ezra encouraged her, as it would help her with her fractions when she started learning them later.

When the supper dishes were in the dishwasher, they piled up on the couch for her weekly call to the Crawford’s, Eve’s former foster parents. It was a habit they had developed over the past year and one that made the little girl enormously happy. Ezra sat on the far end of the couch, listening unobtrusively as his daughter relayed the events of the week. The conversation centered mostly on Herbert and the upcoming riding lessons. Ezra insisted that his daughter learn to ride properly on English tack in spite of the team insisting that Western style was just fine.

After the phone call and a shower, they curled up together to read. Ezra had taken to reading to his daughter to introduce her to literature. They were currently reading “Great Expectations”. Eve had gone on the Internet to pull up pictures of the things described in the book so she could understand what they were talking about. When he finished the chapter, she curled up against his side.

One of the things that continued to amaze Ezra was how tactile Eve was. She thrived on touch. When she was having trouble with her homework or was upset, just the act of smoothing his hand over her hair calmed her and helped her to refocus. For the normally untouchable undercover agent, it was a big change. It carried into his work atmosphere too. Where he had normally shied away from physical contact with his co-workers, now he was not hesitant to rest his hand on JD’s shoulder as he looked over the young man’s shoulder at the computer screen. Where before Eve arrived, he had instinctively allowed a wide personal space around himself and others, he now frequently bumped into the others as he reached to offer help or support.

The news ended and Ezra gathered Eve into his arms and carried her to bed. His mother had commented once that he should wake her and let her walk to her bed but he enjoyed their routine and would not allow even Maude to dissuade him from it. Settling his daughter under a light blanket, he pressed a kiss on her forehead and whispered ‘love you’ into her ear before leaving her for the night.

A grinding and popping sound wakened him an hour later. Lying on his back, he stared into the darkness trying to figure out what was causing the noise. Deciding that the noise was not in the room with him, he rolled off of the bed and started up the hall. The noise grew louder as he approached Eve’s room. His daughter rolled over and looked at him beseechingly.

“Please, Daddy, make it stop, I can’t sleep!”

Ezra approached the source of the irritating noise, Herbert the hamster. The fuzzy little rodent was chewing furiously on the edge of the tube that led up to the feeding area. He continued to grind his teeth and make the awful, infuriating noise even after Ezra tapped the side of the cage. Reaching out, he pulled the tube up out of Herbert’s reach for a moment, thinking to redirect the animal to some other activity. He was immediately rewarded when the hamster moved to the exercise wheel and began to turn the wheel smoothly.

“There, he’s on the wheel now, Eve. Try and go back to sleep,” Ezra said softly as he straightened the blankets and kissed her again.

Fifteen minutes later, the grinding and popping noise started up again and Ezra drew a deep breath and blew it out, hard. He rolled onto his other side, hoping to evade the sound, which was now akin to the dentist’s drill. The sound continued until he heard Eve coming up the hall. She stood in the doorway with her blanket over her shoulder, looking very much like a female version of the Peanuts character Linus, sans thumb.

“Daddy, can I sleep in here? Herbert won’t be quiet and I can’t sleep with all that racket.”

Ezra patted the broad expanse of empty bed and Eve crossed the room silently, curling up around the pillow and pulling her blanket up around her shoulders. A few minutes later, Ezra got up and went down the hall and closed Eve’s bedroom door and then his own, hoping to muffle the noise.

By the time the alarm went off, Herbert had only been silent for an hour and both Ezra and Eve were deeply, soundly asleep. The southerner rolled over and hit the snooze button, hoping to bluff his sleep-deprived mind into thinking it was getting more quality sleep. Unfortunately, nine minutes was not a lot of quality sleep and his eyes burned when he tried to focus them on the blue numbers on the face of the digital clock. Remembering the riding lessons, Ezra nudged his daughter.

“Eve, sweetheart, we have to get up. We have to arrive promptly at Mr. Larabee’s ranch or risk incurring the wrath of Mr. Lancaster.”

The man Ezra had hired to teach his daughter to ride was the best. He was also notoriously hard on the parents who wasted his time by not being ready for him when he arrived to teach. Every parent Ezra had spoken to about the man was quick to caution him not to be tardy for their lessons.

Both father and daughter each grabbed a quick shower and dressed in sturdy clothes. A change of clothing was thrown into an overnight bag for after the riding. Eve was developing her father’s distaste for being dirty. She was the most fastidious child about her appearance, just like Ezra.

Eve carefully divided the pellets and placed them in the cage for Herbert and refilled his water bottle before dashing down the stairs. They picked up croissants for breakfast, which they consumed in the car. ‘Not a habit we want to develop, but one of necessity this morning,’ Ezra had reminded Eve. They arrived at the Larabee ranch with only ten minutes to spare. Chris had brought the pony out into the small corral and was leaning against the railing waiting for them.

“Thought for sure you were going to be late on the first day,” the blonde team leader joked.

“Perish the thought! Every individual I have spoken to about this man has indicated the surest way to get on his bad side is to be tardy. I do not wish to incur his wrath.”

“That’s all it would have taken? For someone to tell you how to stay off of my bad side?”

Chris smiled at the chagrined look on Ezra’s face. In spite of the fact that Ezra Standish was, without a doubt, the best undercover agent he could have gotten, the man also had a propensity for irritating the team leader. From taking unnecessary risks to his habit of acting without thinking things thru or waiting for back-up, he just seemed to do everything he could to irritate Chris.

Of course, a lot of that had changed since Eve came into his life. Having the child to consider had tempered Ezra. He no longer leapt before he looked and he was very keen on having his back up firmly in place. Every action was carefully weighed against the little girl’s happiness and well being. Chris smiled to let Ezra know he was teasing.

The truck came to a stop and Mr. Lancaster climbed out. Eve rushed immediately to her father’s side to await a proper introduction. The man was in his late fifties with a shock of silver-white hair and a well-groomed mustache. He wore faded jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt. He pulled his Stetson hat from the dash and set it on his head before he approached the trio waiting by the corral.

“Mr. Larabee, good to see you again. How’s that new mare coming along?”

“She’ll drop that foal any day now, Clint. How have things been over at your place?”

Mr. Lancaster’s property abutted Chris’s along one fence line and the two men had more than a passing acquaintance. When some nasty straight-line winds had damaged Chris’s barn a few years ago, Clint and his crew had been the first to volunteer to help with the repairs. When Clint’s wife, Amelia, had begun having chest pains, Chris had taken them to the hospital in the Dodge with lights and sirens.

“Mr. Standish? Would this be the young lady I will be teaching?” Clint asked as he looked down at the dark headed, green-eyed waif trying to hide behind the two men.

“Yes sir, this is Eve. She’s been quite excited about beginning her riding lessons,” Ezra said as he coaxed his daughter out from behind him.

After she got over being afraid of him, Eve actually responded quite well to Mr. Lancaster. She already possessed the rudimentary riding skills from being around Vin and the others. In no time at all, she was mounting and dismounting properly. When the pony moved around in the corral, she earnestly tried to do what the teacher told her. By the end of the hour, the gruff man complimented her for her effort.

Setting a time for her next lesson, Clint Lancaster left. Eve carefully removed the new English saddle from the pony and put it in the tack room. She then brought out the brush and proceeded to brush and groom the animal. Ezra slipped the digital camera back into his pocket as he leaned against the top rail. Chris came down from the house with two cups of coffee and a bottle of Yoo-Hoo in his pocket for Eve.

It was nearly dark by the time they arrived back at the condo that evening. Eve rushed upstairs to check on Herbert while Ezra checked his voice mail and returned calls. A few minutes later, Eve ran down the stairs, crying.

“Sweetheart, what happened?” Ezra asked as he set the newspaper aside.

“Herbert bit me!" she yelled petulantly as she showed off the tiny, bleeding wound.

Ezra steered her into the bathroom and washed her hand thoroughly before applying a Band-Aid. He wiped her face with a washcloth and soothed her for a few minutes. After her shower, Eve curled up on the couch and waited for her father to read to her. She was asleep even before he finished the chapter.

After tucking Eve into bed, Ezra checked on Herbert. The hamster was running on the wheel as if he was really getting somewhere.

“Now you might consider the fact that you are a guest in this room and be quiet tonight,” he warned the brown fuzzy rodent.

Only an hour later, Eve was at the door, begging to sleep in his room. Herbert was at it again, chewing frantically on the plastic tube. Every so often, he would lock his teeth on the tube and pull against it until it slipped from his grasp, hence the popping sound. Ezra sighed as he closed both bedroom doors and dropped back into bed. To cover the sound of gnawing, he had turned on the radio in Eve’s room.

Sunday was their day to sleep in and Ezra was doing just that. As soon as the sun had come up, Herbert had burrowed back into the shavings and was sleeping peacefully. Eve had somehow managed to get her feet over on his side of the bed and kicked him in the ribs a couple of times during the night. He finally settled her on the other side of the bed and tucked the blanket in around her to prevent her from abusing him further. He was wakened, unceremoniously, by a high-pitched scream.

Ezra rolled off of the bed and reached three times for his gun before he remembered that he kept it in the safe when he was home. As soon as his mind processed the voice that was screaming for him he collapsed against the mattress with a disgusted sigh.

“Daddy! Daddy! Come quick! Herbert’s gone!” Eve was shrieking from the doorway of her bedroom.

Stomping down the hall, yes he knew it was childish to stomp, Ezra glared into the little girl’s room. The Habitrail cage sat on the dresser but one of the plastic disks that covered the ports on the side of the cage was lying on the dresser and there was a trail of shavings amongst the collection of Happy Meal toys that graced the surface.

“Let’s call Uncle JD or Uncle Vin, they’ll know what to do,” Eve said confidently. Turning to face Ezra in the doorway, she spoke again, “Daddy? Are you all right?”

The rodent was loose in the condo! Images from the movie ‘Willard’ scrolled past his mind’s eye. Instead of rats, the place was crawling with brown, fuzzy hamsters. He could see himself standing on the kitchen table with Eve, shooting them as they tried to jump from the counter to the tabletop. Shaking his head to rid himself of the images, Ezra pushed his hair back from his forehead.

“Okay, you call your Uncles, I’m going to take a shower.”

With all the stealth of a trained, hardened ATF agent, Ezra snuck up on the bathroom closet and jerked the door open, half expecting Herbert to jump out and attack him. Snatching a towel from the shelf, he shook it thoroughly before hanging it over the towel rod. Sliding the shower door open, he carefully peeked inside before reaching in to turn on the water. Something in the corner of his vision moved and Ezra flung himself against the door. He was able to breathe again when he realized that it was just the air conditioning causing the loose end of the toilet paper to flutter.

After his shower, Ezra crept back to his bedroom and carefully approached his closet. Easing open one of the bi-fold doors, a startled yelp burst forth as something fell out of the opening and landed on the floor.

Eve’s worried voice floated up the stairs. “Daddy, are you all right?”

Glaring at the golf club, Ezra let go a nervous chuckle. “Yes, I’m fine. I just stubbed my toe on the closet door.”

He picked up the putter and used it to poke at the clothes in the closet before pulling them out and tossing them across the bed. The dust ruffle moved ever so slightly and he eyed it warily as he approached the bed. When he was finally dressed, Ezra went downstairs to see what Eve had worked out with Vin and JD.

“Daddy, Uncle JD said he never had a hamster and Uncle Vin was bad, he suggested we set out a mouse trap!" she said with a pronounced pout.

He was hard pressed not to agree with the sharpshooter. Over breakfast, they discussed their plan of attack. They would start in Eve’s room and search every inch until they found Herbert. Ezra was reluctant to close the bedroom door while they searched and Eve gave him a most puzzled look as she explained that if the hamster was in the room, closing the door would confine him.

Flashlight in hand, Ezra carefully peered under the daybed. He had to resist the urge to leap back as he spotted what he thought was the hamster in the corner.

“Did you see him?” Eve asked hopefully.

“I think so, take a look for yourself,” he suggested.

Easing up the dust ruffle, Eve shined the flashlight beam under the bed. She snaked her hand under and pulled something out and Ezra shied away. From one of her socks!

“So that’s were my other sock ended up!" she announced. Seeing her father backed into the corner, she asked, “Daddy, are you all right?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m fine. You didn’t see him under there?”

“No, just my sock. Maybe he’s under the dresser.”

Ten minutes later, Ezra was trying to replace the dresser in the indents in the carpet. He had opened the drawer and was carefully lifting the ‘God awful’ heavy piece of furniture. Just as he was about to set it down for the umpteenth time, Eve screamed.

“There he goes, Daddy! Don’t let it down, you’ll squash him!”

At that moment, Ezra wanted nothing more than to drop the dresser, regardless of the mess it would make if he ‘squashed’ Herbert.

“Don’t move, Daddy! He’s right by your foot!”

Ezra looked down. The muscles in his arms were trembling from holding up the dresser and his fingers were cramping in a most unpleasant manner as he regarded the furry beast sniffing at his expensive Italian loafers. A horrific thought crossed his mind. What if the creature should crawl up his pants leg? He shuddered.

“Eve, sweetheart? Are you going to get him?”

“What if he tries to bite me again?" she asked in a scared little voice. “Daddy! He’s getting away, hurry!”

As he followed her outstretched finger, he saw Herbert as he rounded the corner and headed for the master bedroom. Now he sorely wished he had taken Eve’s advise about closing all of the doors. He let go of the dresser, not even caring that it wasn’t exactly where it had been. Opening and closing his hands to try to restore the circulation to his aching fingers, he crept to the door and peeked around the facing. He was just in time to see Herbert slip into the master bedroom.

A new plan of attack popped into his mind. A commercial for a new exterminating company had a catchy jingle and he suddenly felt the urge to call in professional help. Padding carefully down the hall, he closed the bedroom door and turned to face his daughter.

“What if we call ‘Pest Busters’? They guarantee their work!”

“Daddy! They’ll kill Herbert!" she exclaimed.

Oops, she was on to him. He fell back on plan ‘B.’

“How about calling Uncle Josiah? He knows all kinds of trivial information. Perhaps he can come up with an idea?”

The Standish’s retreated to the main floor and Eve called Josiah. Ezra listened as his daughter explained the situation.

“Uncle Josiah, it’s Eve. I brought home a hamster from school on Friday and now it’s loose in the condo and Dad’s having a fit. Uncle JD never had a hamster and Uncle Vin suggested using a mouse trap! We got it trapped in Daddy’s bedroom.”

Waiting for the puzzled expression that his daughter was sure to have to Josiah’s laughter, Ezra paused. When Eve hurried on, he shook his head and sighed.

“So when you get this message, will you call and tell us how to catch Herbert? He bit me yesterday and I don’t want to have to be the one to catch him.” Her voice dropped to a conspiring whisper, “And I think my Daddy is scared of him too.”

When Eve hung up the phone, he looked at her from across the room.

“I am not scared of Herbert!”

“I believe you Daddy,” she said sweetly.

“Listen, since he’s trapped in my room, how about we dash out for a bite to eat?”

While they were waiting for their food, Ezra’s cell phone rang.

“Ezra? Darling, I just arrived at the condo and I forgot my key. When are you going to be home today?”

“Mother? What are you doing here?”

“Our plane had mechanical problems and we had a rather bumpy landing and I sprained my ankle and the doctor at the hospital, he inquired after you by the way, suggested that I rest for a few days before I make the connecting flight to Atlanta.”

Eve was tugging on his coattail as she begged, “Is that Grandma? Can I talk to her? Please Daddy, can I talk to her? Is she coming to stay with us again?”

“We were just picking up lunch, Mother. Can I bring you something? We shouldn’t be long.”

“No, thank you, Ezra dear. Just please hurry. My ankle hurts something awful and I really need to lie down!”

“We’ll be right there, Mother,” he said as they set his order on the counter.

“Eve, sweetheart, it might not be good to tell Grandma that there is a rodent loose in the condo right away, okay? She might not take it well and she has injured her ankle so she will need to rest.”

“Okay, Daddy. I won’t tell her right off.”

Maude was sitting on the bench near the elevators when they arrived. Eve squealed in delight as she ran to shower kisses on her Grandma. It still amazed Ezra that the same physically undemonstrative woman who had raised him was now lavishing attention on his daughter.

They managed to get Maude into the condo and settled comfortably on the couch before Eve dropped the bomb.

“Grandma? If you see something brown running along the wall, don’t worry, it isn’t a mouse, it’s a hamster and his name is Herbert.”

“Eve Standish! I distinctly remember asking you not to tell your Grandma about Herbert!” Ezra scolded.

“You said not right off, Daddy. I waited until she was all comfortable on the couch! ‘Sides, I don’t want her to hurt Herbert if she sees him, Daddy.”

“You let her have a hamster?” Maude’s voice was dripping icicles and disbelief.

“She brought it home from school for the weekend. As soon as we catch it and return it to its proper confinement, it goes right back to school.” Ezra announced boldly.

The doorbell rang, saving them from any further discussion. Ezra opened the door and smiled gratefully at Josiah. The team profiler glanced over Ezra’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow at the sight of Maude on the couch.

“Come in, Mr. Sanchez!” Ezra called brightly as he tugged the bigger man into the room.

“I got Eve’s message and I came as soon as I could. I figured we can catch him between the two of us, right?” He caught the slightly horrified expression that scrolled across the green eyes.

“Uncle Josiah! Are you gonna help us catch Herbert?”

“I beg your pardon?” Ezra corrected.

“Are you going to help us catch Herbert?”

“I’m certainly going to try, munchkin. Can you show me where you saw him last?”

“He’s in Daddy’s room! We shut the door to trap him in there!”

Several hours later, Josiah announced that he was fairly sure that Herbert had somehow gotten out of the bedroom. They found a few small pieces of shavings and a few ‘pellets’ along one wall behind Ezra’s nightstand. Once out of earshot of his daughter, Ezra made a confession.

“Josiah, we have to find this thing or I shall not be able to sleep at night!”

“Eve said she thought you were scared of it, are you?”

“Chalk it up to one too many horror movies and a few too many cheap hotel rooms and warehouses. Rodents of any kind scare the daylights out of me, Josiah.”

The use of his first name drove the point home quite clearly. Josiah rested a hand on Ezra’s shoulder and guided him out of the bedroom. They both caught sight of the hamster heading back into Eve’s room.

“I think I know how to catch him now,” Josiah said.

After setting the trap, Josiah tightly wedged a towel under the bedroom door to prevent a jailbreak in the night. He cautioned them not to go into the room for the rest of the night and then he left. Maude was amazed that her son had allowed Eve to bring the little ‘rat looking creature’ into his home in the first place. She made all the appropriate sympathetic sounds over the tiny nick in Eve’s finger where Herbert had sunk his teeth into her.

The three of them spent the evening on the main floor of the condo. Maude flat out refused to even try to go upstairs to sleep and claimed the couch for herself. Eve borrowed a cot from Mrs. Hernandez explaining that her Grandma Maude was visiting and they needed the extra bed. Ezra slept in the recliner.

In spite of the fact that they didn’t hear anything during the night, Ezra didn’t sleep well at all. He barely swallowed the startled yell when the TV remote slid off the arm of the chair and touched his leg. Every time the curtains moved, he imagined that Herbert had somehow gotten out of the room and was coming to get him.

He was wakened the next morning by a softly pitched voice calling him.

“Daddy? Daddy, please wake up! Daddy?”

Opening his eyes, Ezra smiled at his daughter as she stood beside the recliner, his largest mixing bowl in her arms.

“We caught him, Daddy! Look! Herbert’s all right!”

In the bottom of the bowl sat the hamster, his little cheeks bulging with pellets he had no place to bury. He was trying to climb up the slick sides of the big glass bowl and his little feet kept sliding.

“Good, let’s get him back in the cage and get you ready for school, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy. Here, hold the bowl while I go get the cage.”

She thrust the bowl into his lap and darted away before he could protest.

“Just you wait, you fuzzy little varmint, you’re going right back in your cage and right back to the school. You’ve had your fun!”

On impulse, he reached out a finger and stroked the fuzzy little head. He couldn’t believe how soft its fur was. Herbert sniffed at the outstretched finger and Ezra smiled at the ticklish sensation his little whiskers caused. Eve put the Habitrail on the coffee table and carefully opened the lid. Her eyes widened as her father picked Herbert up and gently lowered him onto the bed of shavings.

Eve was still rushing around to get ready for school when Arabella rang the doorbell a few minutes later. She squealed and dropped to her knees by the cage and tapped it as she watched the hamster busily burying his pellets in the corner of the cage.

Ezra escorted Eve to Mrs. Johnson’s classroom to drop Herbert off. The teacher was already there, putting up a new bulletin board. She smiled broadly when she saw the Standish’s.

“Well, how did it go?”

“I’m not ready for the responsibility, Mrs. Johnson. He’s too hard to keep up with,” Eve announced dramatically.

+ + + + + + +

The trap used to catch Herbert was one my son found on-line when our hamster escaped. First you take a bowl at least six inches deep and put a handful of treats in the bottom and then build a set of steps using books and lastly you put a few treats on the books to lure them in. Our hamster got behind the oven and we couldn’t catch him for a couple of days. Needless to say, it was take out in our house.