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Pet Rat

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An unsavory and often sneaky character who is in the employ (off the books, of course) of someone with money and possibly some respected position of authority, and carries out certain dirty deeds on their patron's behalf so the patron can maintain plausible deniability in the matter. This character is often found working (secretly) for the Villain with Good Publicity.

Compare Psycho Sidekick. Not to be confused with actual pet rats (which would be People Sit on Chairs).


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    Comic Books 
  • Judge Fairfax from The Fall of Deadworld was the Chief Judge's "fixer" before the coup d'etat staged by the Dark Judges. This is why Judge Death is interested in turning Fairfax into his fourth main lieutenant.

    Films — Animation 
  • Taken literally with Rat from Fantastic Mr. Fox, who gladly serves the Big Bad Frank Bean despite being a vermin animal by being part of his security and going into the sewers to try kidnap Mr. Fox's son and take him to the humans.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Robert G. Durant and his gang while working for Strack in Darkman.
  • The Day of the Jackal. Deputy Commissioner Lebel has been tasked with finding the eponymous assassin so the French 'Action Service' (whom we see onscreen being involved in kidnapping and torture) can deal with him. When Lebel derides the Action Service as a bunch of thugs, his superior responds that "you've got to have a heavy mob for a thing like this."
  • The Brute Squad hired by Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. Their job is to clear out the Thieves Quarter. And Vizzini and his crew even more so, really.
  • Clarence Boddicker from RoboCop (1987) is this for the Big Bad, as he runs errands for him along with his own criminal businesses.
  • The Warden does this to the main character in The Shawshank Redemption.
  • Beadle from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street does a lot of dirty work for Judge Turpin.
  • In V for Vendetta, Alistair Harper and his gang are hired in this capacity by the government when the existing police force isn't enough.

  • Invoked by Graykin in Chronicles of the Kencyrath. Long before Jame is in a position of power, he volunteers for this job knowing that one day she will need someone like him.
  • In the Discworld series, competent rulers employ pet rats as a matter of course, though they sometimes find ways to keep them on the books.
    • Virtually the entire population of Ankh-Morpork seems to be in this relationship to the Patrician sometimes, though some are a little less rat-like than others. The Dark Clerks and Moist von Lipwig at least maintain fa├žades of respectability most of the time, while Commander Vimes keeps Nobby Nobbs in the reformed Watch because of his keen feeling for the streets.
    • In The Colour of Magic, a more sordid early version of the city has a lot of rat-like figures working unofficially for the government.
    • In Jingo, 71-Hour Ahmed is overtly employed as a Klatchian government agent, but his scary demeanour makes people think of him as pet rat when he's really rather more.
    • In Carpe Jugulum, the de Magpyr vampire clan employ human guards who seem to have been hand-picked for viciousness.
    • In Going Postal, Mr. Gryle is Reacher Gilt's killer rat.
  • The Quest for Karla: The Scalphunters are the branch of the Circus that undertakes missions involving kidnapping, Blackmail, and murder. They are kept at "arm's length" to give the Circus some degree of plausible deniability. The department is looked down upon by other members of the Circus. When Peter Guillam is placed in charge of the unit, it's considered an insult to him.
  • There are quite a few in A Song of Ice and Fire thanks to the feudal nature of the system... although calling "The Mountain That Rides" a "rat" is, frankly, not doing Gregor Clegane justice, for all he does do some seriously dirty jobs for House Lannister beyond simply killing problems as messily as possible. And, then there is the fact that this is the Brave Companions aka "The Bloody Mummers" whole shtick as a "mercenary company": trying to get paid to be very psychotic in particular directions. Lord Walder Frey is a notable example of the breed, though. He's certainly a very slimy rat... who occasionally doesn't even bother to turn up to do his job as a pet and went on to throw in the towel and become a full-on Starscream, but only with the help of more powerful backers. Even when switching masters to gain the new job, he still needs to have one to bolster his own position in the world.
  • In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it's speculated that the criminal lowlife Edward Hyde might be this to the well-respected man of medicine, Dr. Henry Jekyll. This, as you already know, turns out not to be the case.
  • In The Witcher, the main villain, Vilgefortz, is one of the most influential and powerful sorcerers in the world with connections to a lot of the setting's power players. Since he can't dirty his hands personally, he sends out his toadies, Rience and, less frequently, Schirr├║, to do his work on the sly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Michael of Burn Notice is treated like this at times. A burned spy, nobody wants to be caught employing him, so all of his work is strictly off the book. Even when the CIA hires him again, Michael is warned that he'll take the fall if an op goes bad.
  • Locke from Game of Thrones, the master-of-arms for the Dreadfort, is insultingly called Roose Bolton's pet rat by Jaime Lannister. Later, in season four, Locke ends up embodying the trope more accurately when Roose sends him on a secret mission beyond the Wall to assassinate Bran and Rickon Stark to prevent them from being a future threat to the Boltons' hold on the North.
  • As Tommy Shelby of Peaky Blinders becomes more and more respectable over time, even becoming a Member of Parliament at the end of the fourth series, his right-hand man Johnny Dogs becomes this trope, doing a lot of Tommy's dirty work and serving as his link to the Roguish Romani gangs like the Lee Family and the Black Country Boys.

  • In Knickerbocker Holiday, Stuyvesant's first action after his New Era Speech is to secretly hire Tienhoven as his pay-off man. Tienhoven has been illegally selling guns and liquor to the Indians, a business which Stuyvesant intends to make a government monopoly. Concealing such activities will help demonstrate that the government can do no wrong.
  • Several of William Shakespeare's plays have lower-class characters who are secretly hired by the Villain Protagonist nobleman to murder his rival(s), most notably the unnamed assassins in Macbeth and Tyril from Richard III.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Zipper, Eric Raymond's go-to henchman in Jem.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television. Pretty much every country has a department or three of these guys. In the spy trade the word is "cut-out" according to GURPS Espionage