TheMouseWild animals were a part of my growing up in the hills along the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. Half-wild myself, I often roamed the wilderness not only with a dog but also with perhaps a pet raccoon or skunk trailing after me or a crow or hawk raised from hatchlings flying overhead and returning occasionally to settle on my shoulder. I was more at home in the woods with my animals, who all got along together with little squabbling, than I would ever be at any cocktail party or other formal event. People thought me a strange kid that way.

Even today on the ranch, critters from the wild visit the house. A squirrel named Calvin lived in the pecan trees out front for about five years and would chatter greetings every morning and bring in his wives to show off a new brood. Within the past weeks, my son brought me a baby raccoon and Donna Sue found an injured sparrow nestling.

The only species of animal or fowl I detest are mice and rats. That’s a fairly recent development that began when I was a homicide detective with the Tulsa Police Department.

One hot July afternoon I was summoned to a murder that occurred in the basement of a rundown brick apartment building without central air and heating. The nauseating stench of decaying flesh permeated the entire basement, filtering up the filthy staircase as I approached the door at the bottom. The guy had been dead two days in sweltering summer heat in an enclosed room.

He was a man in his late forties and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Bloat made him appear even larger. Naked, he had been strangled in bed and lay on his back staring with empty eye sockets at the ceiling. His eyes had been gnawed from his skull.

The mouth gaped wide. As I approached to begin my investigation, I startled when a mouse suddenly darted from the corpse’s open mouth and scurried away. I had to leave the room temporarily to recover.

Since then, anytime I see a mouse or rat, no matter the circumstances, the first image that comes to mind is that of the mouse emerging from the dead man’s mouth.

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