Hercules was wide awake the instant it started moving on his stomach. He did not give it a chance to launch its attack. One hand darted out, quick as thought, and grasped the predator by its smooth and shiny throat. It cheeped and whimpered, but he showed it no mercy, for it would have shown him none.
His fingers tightened, and all movement stopped. With a bellow, he hurled it away. He heard it strike the flock wallpaper of his rented apartment, and fall into the embrace of the thick pile carpet. He did not hear it move. Dead, he thought, with a grim smile. Good. Hercules had not even opened his eyes.
The phone rang. A new labour! Hercules leapt from the couch, and lunged to answer it. "Is that Hercules the Handyman?" a woman's voice quavered. "I just tried your mobile, but..."
Ah. The mobile. Hercules glanced at the mangled phone on the floor, and sighed. It was the third one this week. He really needed to switch off "vibrate" mode.
"It's... broken," he said. "Now, what can I do for you, my lady?"
"It's my cat," she began. "She's..."
"Say no more, lady!" Hercules hurled the phone down, and rushed to the cloakroom. He threw the lion pelt over his shoulder, snatched up his club, and threw open the door. The handle smashed against the hallway wall, and he heard the sound of falling plaster, and then his landlady's angry cry, but by then he was in the lift, heading down into the lobby.
His van was just where he had left it, though the uniformed agents of the evil rulers of the country had been busy plastering it with little tickets, and trying to hobble it with ineffective bits of metal that yielded easily to his strong arms. Tossing the clamps aside, he climbed in and drove away. He was a force of goodness, so of course he drove on the right. Everyone honked their horns wherever he went, acknowledging his greatness, and many were so overwhelmed that they swerved out of the way, and sat in their chariots, punching the air with their fists.
Within minutes, he had reached the old lady's house. (Heroes always know addresses, without the need for boring dialogue about, "Where's that, again?" and "Wait until I can find a pen. Oh. This one doesn't work," and "I'll get the A-Z", and "Sorry, mate, I'm a visitor myself and am lost as you are.")
She was waiting for him outside her house, ringing her hands in a stereotypical fashion. "Oh, I'm so glad you're here, Mr Hercules!"
Her grey hair was escaping its distraught bun, and surrounded her face like snakes. Hercules narrowed his eyes, then shook the thought away. He had to stop over-reacting. This was the year 2005, in the province of English Suburbia. He had a business to run, and he had learnt the hard way that people no longer took it very well if you slew your employer, even if their hair did look a little like snakes.
"Where is the creature, ma'am?" he growled, readying his club.
"Um... Fluffy is up that tree, sir," she stammered.
"Never fear!" he assured her. "I will render it so the foul beast can never come down from its lair and assail you. I will crush it and serve its remains to you as soup." He gestured at the lion pelt. "As my clothing will attest, I have millennia of experience with felines."
"Actually, it wasn't..." she began, but he waved her aside with his club. She was clearly overwrought.
"Stand aside, dear lady," he proclaimed. "I will take care of this like the Hero... I mean Handyman that I am."
He studied the beast. It did not look very slavering, but looks could be deceptive. Felines were masters of manipulation, after all. There were enchantments that could mask a creature's true size. But not clever enough to fool me, he thought at it, knowing that it could hear. The red velvet of its colour was doubtless stained by the blood of its former victims, and he was fairly sure that their souls were trapped in the small silver bells that hung from it.
Should he climb the tree, he wondered, or fell it? Felling it was best, he decided. The beast would be tumbling to the ground, and there he would be, strong and fearless and ready...
A siren sounded nearby, and blue flashing lights buzzed irritatingly on the fringes of his vision. He raised his hand as if to bat them away, but suddenly there were men surrounding him, uniformed like soldiers.
"Mr Hercules?" their officer asked. "Hercules the Handyman?"
Hercules stood straighter. "That is me. Do you have a labour for me? Has an enemy fleet been sighted? Am I required to..."
"We have received... several complaints about you," the officer said. One of his men produced a very large file of paper and gestured grimly with it.
"Complaints?" Hercules narrowed his eyes. "About my performance of my Labours?"
The officer took the folder from his subordinate and turned to the first page. "On Tuesday last, did you or did you not divert the River Thames through the bathroom of one Mrs Hughes of 9 Sycamore Close, Lesser Market Norbury?"
"Of course I did," Hercules told him. "She has four boys. Her bathroom flood was in a terrible state."
The officer turned to the second page, frowned, and leafed through many more. "And have you or have you not been responsible for the, I quote, "smiting" of 105 family pets..."
"Fell creatures masking their true form," Hercules corrected him.
"... the theft of 93 belts from young ladies of... ahem... muscular stature..."
Hercules rolled his eyes. "Amazons," The ignorance of these people was shocking.
"And, of course, the CCTV clearly proves your involvement in the unfortunate affair with in the atlas shop."
Hercules decided to ignore them. He would smite this foul feline and that would surely silence their objections forever...
"And I hardly need to remind you that a single - and smelly - lion skin around the shoulders does not count as decent attire in this part of the world."
Hercules glanced down, and cursed inwardly. He kept buying underpants at Marks and Spencers, but it was just so hard to remember to put them on.
"And, Mr Hercules, I can find no record of any licence being granted for that offensive weapon you are carrying." The officer turned to his men. "Arrest this man!" he said dramatically.
Hercules sighed. Not again, he thought. Why does this keep on appening to me?