“I’m not getting enough sleep,” I complained.
Mustache glanced at me but immediately turned his attention back to the winery deck where a number of appropriately spaced visitors tasted wine. One couple tapped glasses, sipped, and exchanged pleased smiles.
“You’re getting more sleep than He Who Must Be Obeyed. He’s got Cab Franc and Malbec fermenting, he’s pressing Cab Sauv today or tomorrow, plus he’s running the still and taking care of customers.”
“I need more sleep than HWMBO.” Mustache should understand that, since he’s a cat, too. Of course, he doesn’t have the same level of responsibility I have. Every executive knows a leadership position adds an extra measure of stress.
“So, go take a nap,” my snarky brother said with a slash of his tail.
I didn’t bother answering. Way too much going on, and he knew it. Suddenly HWMBO bent, picked something up off the deck, and strode toward us. I sat up a little straighter and uttered a soft trill.
“Try to keep the kids off the deck, okay?” HWMBO said. “We don’t want them getting hurt.” He bent, opened his hand, and one of Simon and Sheila’s kids scampered out. I gave HWMBO a nod, and he went back to the wine tasters.
The little guy—I think it was Rock—flicked his tongue and looked toward the steps in front of the office. The rock slabs should be nice and toasty right about now.
“Where’s your mom and dad?” I asked.
He blinked. “They’re looking for Sunshine. She’s disappeared again.”
The five little fence lizards: Sunshine, Crispin, Lizzie, Rock, and Roll, had been underfoot since their births, keeping Simon and Sheila crazy-busy. Mustache and I exchanged a “not again” look. “Where are the others?”
Rock took a quick look around. “I think they’re sunning near the office door. If it’s okay, I’ll just hunker down in one of the step cracks.” He scurried off without waiting for an answer.
Mustache and I strolled after him. Best to take a head count and assess the situation. “I hate to add more duties on top of rodent patrol, but we may need to give Simon and Sheila a hand keeping the youngsters out of trouble. Yesterday I found Lizzie in the distilling room, way too close to the fire. The day before, Roll ran in front of the forklift while HWMBO was moving barrels. Came a whisker from losing his tail.”
“Every time I turn around, one of them is in a predicament,” Mustache groused.
Above me, something on the edge of the planter box moved. Simon.
“Have you seen Sunshine and Rock?” Simon asked. He was panting a little.
I sat and gave my shoulder a lick. Acting calm couldn’t hurt. “Rock is sunning right over there.” I tipped my ear in the kid’s direction. “We’re looking for Sunshine now. How long has she been missing?”
“Long enough for my wife to become verrrry unhappy. It’s not good, guys.” Amazingly nimble, fast, and defying gravity, Simon darted down the side of the planter. “Sheila and I looked in every nook and cranny outside around the building.” His head whipped toward the gravel parking lot. “She knows she’s supposed to stay close.” His voice quivered like Mustache’s mouth when he catches sight of a bird on the other side of the window.
“Let’s check the office,” I said, hoping to hold off what appeared to be impending panic. I led them around back and through the distillery room’s open roll-up door.
Simon said something best not repeated here. “The door into the office is closed,” he continued, as if doom had fallen.
Must be frustrating to be able to defy gravity yet unable to open doors the way I can. I stretched up, leaned my front paws against the door, inched them up to the door handle, and pulled down. The handle swiveled and the door swung open. We barged through.
“First try,” Mustache said in an admiring tone.
I’d made it look easy, but sometimes it took try after try to make everything sync.
We all heard it at the same time. Sunshine, squeaking, “Heeeeelp!” And there she was, gripped in baby Scarlett’s little fist.
We ran to the one-year-old’s enclosure. Mustache and I jumped up and over the rails, Simon shot between them. Apparently entranced with the activity, Scarlett chortled and pumped her fist. Sunshine’s eyes went big and her head bounced.
Scarlett paused, opened her mouth, and raised Sunshine. The infant’s little teeth gleamed and a ribbon of drool trickled out.
“Nooooooooo!” we yelled. Scarlett was at that stage. Everything went into her mouth.
Kristen was right there, working at the desk, but she didn’t look over. Simon ran onto Scarlett’s lap and began doing push-ups. It’s something fence lizards do, and it might distract Scarlett. No such luck. She seemed fixated on Sunshine’s whipping tail, which protruded from the bottom of Scarlett’s fist. Mustache shot me a grim look and with a couple leaps landed on the desk, square in front of Kristen. She straightened and stared at him a moment before she gave his back a stroke, pulled him off the desk, and dropped him on the floor. Pride in my brother’s bravery filled my chest. Mustache didn’t get close to people, aside from HWMBO. Undeterred, Mustache jumped up again. He stomped over Kristen’s paperwork, put his muzzle in her face, and gave a hearty, “Meow.”
Nothing seemed to be working. Drastic action was called for, and I’d have to do it. I cringed. I didn’t want to use the Shock and Awe Method, but time had run out. Scarlett was raising Sunshine to her mouth again.
I placed my paw on little Scarlett’s thigh and extended my claws. One good knead and she should drop Sunshine. The infant would cry, too. That was the part I hated.
You can do it, you can do it. I took a deep breath. My self-talk wasn’t helping get me past my aversion to pricking HWMBO’s granddaughter. She laughed and raised Sunshine to her lips. Just DO IT!
Kristen shrieked. Eyes wide, Scarlett went still. She dropped Sunshine and began to cry. “Get out!” Kristen yelled.
We all took off for the front door, Sunshine racing after her dad. I glanced back, saw Kristen pick up her daughter and hurry after us.
“Hide, hide,” I yelled, but suddenly HWMBO was there, coming in the front door. The four of us rushed past him to freedom.
“Okaaaay,” HWMBO said just before the door swung closed.
We all collapsed and panted. “It won’t happen again,” Simon said. He and Sunshine scurried off.
Suddenly, I noticed. The sun. “Bro, you feel that?” On my side, I extended my arms and legs to their limits. Ahhhhhh. Exactly what I needed. Beside me, Mustache copied my stretch, and we soaked up the rays.