The killers

by Brian Clarey

The first time I saw the rabbit it was nothing but a blurry brown streak tearing across my front lawn early Sunday morning. I was struck by its beauty and grace, the tight arc of its leaps, its quickness and sense of urgency.

The next time I saw the rabbit, a scant 90 minutes later, it was dead — splayed on my back patio, torn to pieces. Its head was wrenched off, its face half gone, a foreleg lying near the limp carcass and one of its floppy little ears unaccounted for.

Right away I knew what happened. This was clearly the work of the killers who live in my house.

There are five cats currently prowling my home and property, killers one and all. Granted, the two older ones cannot snuff out life the way they once did, but when we brought Henry and Blaze home almost 15 years ago, small as cupcakes, cute as polka dots, they immediately began a murderous campaign against the tiny lizards and hard-shelled palmetto bugs that lived in the shadows of our Uptown New Orleans home.

But these cats are old now. Soft. They’re lucky if they can corner a spider in the bathtub these days. There’s no way either one of them could have even chased down the rabbit, let alone tear off its head and eat its face.

Neither, I think, could it have been Marci, the wild-eyed tuxedo kitten who came to us just over a year ago. Not that she doesn’t have the killer instinct — Marci’s signature move is a four-clawed pounce at my calves when she feels her breakfast is late. But she’s gotten plump as a dumpling in the months that have passed since she bore her first litter. And she’s never been a killer. Though she has always been fascinated by the birds that live in our yard, they have no fear of her. Whenever she gets close to a nest they dive-bomb the poor girl like barnstormers, and to my knowledge she’s never taken one down.

Before Marci reached a year, she bequeathed unto our household a small litter of kittens. Three of them survived, and we were able to convince Jordan Green to take one of them — the girl — home.

The other two remained here. That makes five. Five cats is approximately three cats too many. With five cats, the food runs out too fast and the litter box sees too much action. Five cats can arrange themselves on a king-size mattress so that there is no room for even a single human. Their dander can clog an air-vent filter in a single afternoon. And no matter what room of my house I enter, no matter what time of day it is, there is always at least one cat just sitting there, looking at me.

The two youngest cats are healthy, active boys. Tony, a tiger-striped tabby with white legs that look like knee socks, is tame enough to come when we call him. He’s softer than a teddy bear and quick to land on a lap whenever one presents itself. His brother Axl is a strange one who prefers to spend most days outside the house. He’s black, long and sleek like a panther, with a white butterfly marking on his lip that looks like a mustache.

And the dead rabbit, figuratively speaking, had their paw prints all over it.

Shortly after the boys became old enough to venture outside, the bodies started piling up. At first it was just a few tiny, gray mice, their little paws chewed off and tails stubbed. I thought it was a good thing — I didn’t even know there were mice on my property, and I was proud of the little fellas for keeping them in check.

Then came the birds, tiny black ones at first, babies pulled from the nest and dragged onto the patio as some sort of tribute. They got the mama bird a few days later, tore her to pieces and left her by my grill.

Then, last week, I found a full-grown male cardinal on the patio amid a riot of feathers and guts. It looked like he exploded.

And now the rabbit. I understand that this is what cats do: they are natural predators, gifted hunters, stone-cold assassins by nature and that I can never talk them out of it. But I’m concerned as their prey gets larger and their technique more sophisticated. A single cat could never have taken down that rabbit I saw racing across my lawn yesterday morning. They clearly worked in concert. They clearly had a plan.

I worry about what comes next — A possum? A raccoon? The neighbor’s dog? — and I worry about my kids, who were deeply disturbed by the rabbit carcass that laid in the yard where they play before I buried it beneath the compost pile. I don’t want them to see the next fresh kill.

And I’m having trouble squaring the fact that these two little purr machines, who rub against my leg and nuzzle under my chin when I’m in bed, are just biding their time until they can slink from the house, lay low in the tall grass and make another hit.