Pick your pun.
Better yet, pick your poison.
Prosecutors in the Douglas County Attorney's Office were doing both Monday after a rat was spotted over the weekend sneaking into colleague Jim Masteller's office.
Deputy Douglas County Attorney Katie Benson said she was working Sunday in the first-floor offices of the courthouse when she saw a rat scurry into Masteller's office. Oh, and did she mention she was working Sunday — a weekend day — when most people get to take it easy?
Douglas County Board member Chris Rodgers — who will help decide whether Benson and her colleagues get raises — was standing nearby Monday morning as she recounted the ordeal to four other deputy county attorneys.
Rodgers was unfazed by the story, perhaps because the point Benson kept emphasizing to her audience was that she was working Sunday. (Or perhaps because Sunday was April Fools' Day.)
But the rat sighting was no joke, swore Benson and prosecutor Tom McKenney.
They gave this account:
The two were working Sunday — you know, "protecting Douglas County," Benson said.
Benson was sitting at her desk working on a brief when she saw a mangy rodent — 6 inches long, not counting the tail — "scampering" down the hallway that runs between her office and Masteller's office.
The rat "made eye contact" with Benson, who responded like any hard-nosed prosecutor.
"I screamed," she said.
The rat ducked into Masteller's office.
Two doors down, McKenney heard the scream and emerged, thinking "someone had broken into the office or something." Brandishing an old baseball bat, McKenney — a war veteran, no less — headed toward Masteller's office. From the doorway he saw the mouse/rat/Kimodo dragon standing in the middle of the room.
"McKenney went to go kill it with the baseball bat, but it fled behind a bookshelf," Benson said.
The two prosecutors pondered their next move.
They decided to shut Masteller's door and trap the beast. They then went back to work.
That strategy, of course, ignored two indisputable facts:
1. The rat could easily escape via the one-inch gap under Masteller's office door.
2. The rat would have free rein to destroy anything and everything in Masteller's office.
Indeed, the rat went to work on a few things.
Workers arriving Monday morning discovered: a destroyed set of window blinds; droppings on a window sill and behind two poster-size crime scene diagrams; a chewed-up folder for a burglary case; a shredded Ricola wrapper; and a half-eaten cough drop. And also some brown thing that was too small to be a goiter but too large to be a rat dropping. Baffled, one prosecutor kept asking people to smell it.
That evidence was preserved, as was the crime scene. Yellow tape — with the words "Sheriff's Line, Do Not Cross" — blocked Masteller's door.
Someone even posted a sign changing the name of the team of prosecutors Masteller heads, the Violent Crime Unit, to the Vermin Crime Unit, devoted to "crimes against blinds."
Clues in hand, the prosecutors sought a suspect. Some kept it simple, telling an exterminator to look for a rat with a cough. Others had grand theories: Masteller had used one too many informants, and the rat was meant as a message — some sort of live variation of the horse's head in "The Godfather."
In one of the less-inspired theories, Masteller — pointing to the chewed-up case folder — guessed the rat just "wanted to take a bite out of crime."
Office manager Pat Adams and the exterminator urged Masteller to stay out of his office; the rat could be anywhere in there.
Masteller was undeterred. Several times he ducked under the crime-scene tape to use his computer. Once he stayed long enough to show a visitor a photo he had taken of a hot-air balloon.
On the floor were a handful of glue traps -- basically, sticky paper with candy bars in the middle set to snare the rat.
Of course, in an office full of lawyers, even setting a trap can lead to an argument.
"They used a Snickers bar as bait," one staffer said.
"No, they didn't," another said, dead serious. "It's a PowerBar."
Whatever the bait, it worked. Late Monday, the rat crawled toward it and was trapped.
Stuck on the sticky paper, the critter wasn’t going anywhere. That didn’t stop one prosecutor from running and hopping on the front desk. Moments later, another prosecutor took several pictures of the dying rat for display next to Masteller’s photo of the hot-air balloon.
Benson, meanwhile, stuck with her Sunday strategy. She went home, leaving the dead rat behind.
“It’s in Jim’s office behind the closed door again,” she said.
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