Sunday, November 1, 2020


“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. 

Friday, April 17, 2020


I’m not sure what it was that alerted me. Perhaps it was a hint of Eau de Mouse, one of my favorite scents, or the whispery sound of cat food nuggets shifting position in my dish. It may have been something far more remarkable and unique, my Extra Sensory Cat Perception, giving me warning. Whatever the reason, my whiskers twitched, telling me the winery premises had been breached. 

I was on my paws and slinking toward the distillation room in seconds. Coming around the door frame, I crouched even lower and placed each paw slow and careful, soft and silent. The scent of Eau de Mouse was definite now. It’s zesty and wild, unlike every other smell, and promises a savory meal if I can procure the varmint. 


I didn’t blink, didn’t move, and although I was in such a state of anticipation I was in danger of drooling, I didn’t purr. I was tense, muscles bunched, ready for takedown.


There! Tiny feet tapping the concrete floor, racing around equipment and supplies. Stopping at my food dish. I beat back my anger and waited. Waited until I heard the scrape of Friskies® Seafood Sensations against my plastic dish, telling me the interloping rodent was distracted. 


Slow, slow, slow, I inched forward. The potent smell became intense. Muscles coiled, I sucked in a big breath. One more quarter inch….The little pest was in my food dish! I pounced.


Missed! The same instant I leapt, he started back to his hidey-hole. My dish flipped and Seafood Sensations flew in every direction. My paw came down on his tail, but before I could lengthen my reach and extend my claws to complete the snatch, it jerked away. My stomach lurched. 


I tore after him. 


A mouse chase requires fast reflexes, critical thinking, and stamina. A mouse is tiny and he’ll squeeze through a space the size of a dime. When I don’t fit under or in-between, I go over or around. It’s a mad, perilous race, and I threw every bit of my strength and determination and cunning into this one. 


Behind me something fell and smashed—a glass beaker, perhaps. Suddenly, there he was! Breathing hard, running full out, his tiny pink feet, sleek gray fur, and glittering black eyes a blur as he charged to the place I instinctively knew he called home—the wooden pallet on the far side of the room. I pushed harder, hurtled toward him full tilt, and didn’t pull up. 


A mere second ahead, he slid under the pallet and I hit hard. 


The body blow left me stunned. I sat, blinked, waited for the world to stop swaying and willed my roiling stomach to still. I gave my face a cautious feel. It was still there.




It was Mustache. He gave my forehead a couple licks and a bit of the hurt melted away.


“Are you all right?” he asked.


I twitched my nose and gave my tail a slash. 


“I smell mouse, don’t I?” he asked. “How did it advance all the way to the inner sanctum? How did it avoid the traps?”


My brother sounded as cross as I felt. This wasn’t supposed to happen; the entire perimeter was armed with mouse traps. “I caught him eating out of our dish,” I blurted. 


He made a rough noise and closed his eyes. I understood; I felt the same. 


No noise from the pallet, but I knew the little crumb-eater was under there. Probably laughing his tail off.


“It’s only a matter of time,” I whispered into his hiding place. “You should go find some d-CON® and enjoy a last meal. It’d be a far more pleasant end than your only alternative--being my dinner.” I pictured him listening in the dark, wide-eyed, nose quivering. “I think I’ll call you d-CON. A special mouse needs a special name, after all.” I positioned my mouth in front of the mouse-space under the pallet, and smiled big so he’d catch the gleam of my canines. Then I gave a Hannibal Lecter swipe of my tongue around the edge of my muzzle.


“What if He Who Must Be Obeyed finds out a mouse has breached the perimeter?” Mustache asked. “What’s he going to think?” 


“It hasn’t happened before, and he’ll know we’re taking care of it,” I assured him. I gave Mustache a firm look. “This mouse—d-CON—is in a different league, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get the best of me. No mouse is getting the best of me.”


Saturday, December 14, 2019


 After several days of mostly fog, mist, gray skies, and rain, today’s sun feels fantastic. I’m sprawled on the deck, assessing life.

Christmas is ten days away. I’ve decided to ignore the ground squirrel problem until after the holidays. A cat can only do so much, you know? With the onset of winter and rain, and a busy winery, I need to concentrate on my job. 


Lately it’s been especially lively. The Concords finished fermenting, and He Who Must Be Obeyed has been pressing them and moving wine between tanks and a variety of barrels. Last week there was a wine pickup party (barrel rearrangement with forklift, HWMBO’s band, food, wine) and a huge wine club shipment (boxes, packing material, moving pallets and boxes with forklift). Now people are coming in to purchase wine, port, and brandy holiday gifts. Through it all I’ve remained vigilant. 


I’m not averse to doing my share of customer service. I like greeting customers. Many of them chat with me and give scratches and rubs. Rather a nice perk of the job.


Since HWMBO’s workload has increased, I’ve been giving him a paw and helping with the forklift by guiding and spotting. I don’t want to sound pompous, but HWMBO doesn’t allow just anyone to help operate the forklift. I’m an exception. With my superlative mouse detection skills and my fast-as-a-snapping-mousetrap reflexes, I’m a keen lookout. 


I should have known forklift training was coming when he taught me to drive the car. Granted, I’m unlicensed and can’t drive on the street, but there’re two big parking lots and a long private driveway that are fair game. I think HWMBO realized almost immediately that I was a natural. All that practice capturing mice, I guess. Hundreds of hours spent developing patience, good judgement, and a steady paw even in hair-raising circumstances.


Somewhere behind me I heard a soft, skittery sound. Time I got back to work.


I stretched, stood, and identified the source of the noise.


“Mustcat,” Simon the lizard said. “Can I interest you in a game of keep away?”


“Sure,” I said. I looked around for his mate. “Where’s Sheila? Doesn’t she want to play?”


Simon glanced over his shoulder. “Not sure where she is. Where’s Mustache?” 


“He’s patrolling the field. I guess it’s just you and me.”


Simon’s tongue flicked out and in. Soon after moving here, Simon started working as my trainer. He keeps my skills sharp. 


We lunged simultaneously—him darting away, me giving chase. He went over the edge of the deck and paused among the grape vine trunks. I flew off the deck and crouched a foot away. We eyed each other, grinning and breathing fast. 


I reached out, managing to connect with his tail as he turned and scurried out to the gravel lot. I raced after him. He put on the speed and added some fine darting technique. It kept me shifting right and left. He was headed for the grouping of plants near the steps. I’d lose him if he scurried in there. I strained hard. Just as I reached him, something brown darted between my feet. 


“Boo!” Sheila yelled.


Startled, I twisted and jumped, all four paws going airborne. I landed and saw Sheila and Simon hunched between two pots. 


“Sorry,” Simon said, rolling his eyes. “I had to promise not to warn you.”


“It’s okay,” I said. “It made a nice addition to the action.”


Sheila laughed. “It was my idea,” she confessed. “I’ve been so bored, and it sounded like fun. I tried to get Mustache to chase me, but he didn’t want to.” The ridges over her eyes lifted. “Is he sick or something?”


Sick? A rock landed in my gut and my stomach churned. Could Mustache be ill? Was that why he was acting so strange? I looked toward the railroad tracks but didn’t see him. I’ve already asked him what was wrong, and he denied he had a problem. Now even the lizards were noticing. I’m not imagining it. 


Gravel crunching beneath its tires, an SUV pulled up. “Catch you later,” I said, and winked. Simon and Sheila chuckled, and slipped between a crack in the steps. I headed back toward the visitors.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019



Hawk circled, then swooped toward us. Mustache and I held our ground, and with a couple lazy spread-wing flaps Hawk landed on the fence post. His head swiveled and he glared. Even knowing we’re too big for him to carry off, I had to fight the compulsion to hide. Those talons and that beak could do some serious damage.


His head tilted. I wished he’d blink once in a while, but that reddish-brown gaze was locked. Locked on me. The fur down the ridge of my spine lifted.


“Good day,” I said. 


Finally, he blinked. “Is there a problem?” he asked.


“Yes,” I replied. “Not with me,” I hurriedly added. “With the ground squirrels down the road.”


“The ground squirrels,” Hawk repeated, as if he couldn’t quite believe he’d heard me right.


“Yes. The fence line and the edge of the road are honeycombed with squirrel tunnels. The fence is ready to fall. I don’t know how far the tunnels extend, but I’m afraid part of the road will collapse. We don’t want that to happen.”


Hawk shook himself, ruffling his feathers. “What do you want me to do about it?”


“They’re always sitting on the fence posts, scampering around the field, and scurrying up and down the drive’s shoulder. Seems like easy pickins for you.”


Hawk peered down the drive. “Ah. You want me to eat them.”


“Yes, you and your friends. Doesn’t a tasty holiday feast of rodent sound good?”


Hawk turned back to Mustache and me. “I wouldn’t call those skinny burrowers tasty,” he said in a derisive tone. He gathered himself, gave a mighty flap of his wings, and launched into the air. A few additional flaps was all it took to get him up to cruising altitude.


“I don’t think he liked us bothering him with that,” Mustache said. “You need to forget about the ground squirrels. Let the people worry about them.”


“Forget them? What if the road collapses and He Who Must Be Obeyed drops into a sinkhole?”


“That’s not going to happen.” Mustache gave his tail a swish. “My stomach says it’s time for dinner. I’m going inside.”


I didn’t understand his lack of concern, but I put the squirrel situation to the back of my mind and followed my brother to the winery. A Seafood Sensation snack sounded sublime. HWMBO was working out back in the last rays of the sun and the rollup door was still up. No sooner had Mustache and I sauntered into the storage room and cozied up to our food dish, than the door came down with a rattle-slam. 


The walk-through door opened and He Who Must Be Obeyed entered. “Big storm hitting tonight,” he warned.


Oh, damn. He kept us locked inside whenever the weather went bad. If I didn’t mind getting wet and muddy and getting stickers in my fur, why did he care? I don’t like being confined and I don’t appreciate him treating me like a kitten. If I’d known my agenda included lockdown, I’d have stayed outside.


I rubbed against his leg, begging for a little attention and hoping for amnesty. He gave my head a quick, unsatisfactory scratch, went into the office, and closed the door. I sat, looked at the door, and gave a hearty meow to let him know what I thought of his actions. 


Well, no worries. I’m able to open the door. I’ll just let myself in. Except…. I heard HWMBO brace a board against the door, jamming it so it wouldn’t open. No! I hate when he does that. My bed, my space heater, and HWMBO were in there. I stretched up on my hind legs, flipped the door handle, and yowled as loud as I could.


How could he ignore that? But apparently he could, and I knew what it meant when he blocked the door. He was leaving. Going to play music, or listen to music, or eat (which meant no scraps for me). Or maybe it was date night.


“Give it up,” Mustache said. 


I dropped to all four and spun around. Mustache had settled atop a stack of boxes. “Why are you so complacent?” I asked. “You want in there as bad as I do.”


“I’m realistic, is all. He’s not going to let us in until he’s good and ready. And come morning, if the weather’s still bad, he’ll kick us right back to this room. We could end up spending several days here.”


As much as I hated the possibility, I knew Mustache was right. “You don’t mind roughing it, but I like my creature comforts,” I groused.


“Buck up, brother.” He rubbed his paw over his eye. “Think of those ground squirrels you hate so much. What do you think it’s like in one of those tunnels during a downpour?” He shuddered. “They could—” He broke off, as if he couldn’t say it.


“Drown,” I finished. “If only we could be that lucky.”


“There are families in that encampment,” Mustache said, sounding as upset as a cat whose mouse was snatched away. “Maybe you and HWMBO should think about that. They aren’t hurting anyone.”


I’ve heard the term “cat got your tongue,” but was never sure what it meant. Until now. Now I know, because Mustache has left me speechless. I can’t even form a meow. 


He’s right. I do need to think. Not about squirrels, but about my brother and why he’s acting so strange. 

Staring down a ground squirrel hole.
"Come on out. I dare you."

Saturday, November 23, 2019


 Mustache is avoiding me. 

It’s worrisome. He’s my brother and my best friend, and I’m used to him hanging close. I depend on him being there if I need backup. Granted, he’s the quiet type, an introvert, but he’s never been moody. He’s the definition of easy-going, except when it comes to associating with Mama. But that’s a story for another day.

 Lately he’s been going his own way. I’ll catch him sitting alone, gazing at the grape vines, a contemplative look on his face. Almost an expression of yearning. So you understand why I’ve wondered what in whiskers is going on.


This afternoon I patrolled around the winery twice before I saw him by the gate, gazing down the drive. I moseyed over and, yep, he had that look on his face. He saw me and tensed just that little bit—the little bit that confirmed I’m not imagining things. I sat beside him and the tip of his tail flicked.

 “Any action?” I asked.


Mustache’s job performance isn’t a worry. He may have something on his mind, but it’s not interfering with rodent detection and elimination.


Sphinx-like, he stared down the drive. “Nope.”


I waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore. “You’ve been awfully quiet lately, bro. Something bothering you?” 


Mustache’s golden eyes widened. “No,” he said, fast. Too fast.


“You sure? Lately, you’ve seemed pensive.”


His right ear twitched. Whatever he was about to say, it was a lie.


“No idea what you mean. I’m great.”


He headed back toward the winery and I joined him. He couldn’t be bored, could he? We’re still in The Crush (grape harvest and wine-making time, when the grapes are crushed) and there’s been plenty of activity at the winery to keep us entertained. I love this time of year, when I can spend my days in the sun, and my nights in front of the space heater. 


He Who Must Be Obeyed was out back, rinsing off the punchdown tool. Fermenting grapes have to be stirred, or punched, every few hours. He’s been punching the last grapes of the season. Concords.


A shadow floated across the ground and I looked up. Hawk.


“There he is.” I stopped and my tail went straight up. I’m determined to talk to him, but holy whiskers, it’s scary. Mustache halts and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s now or never.


“Hawk. Could I have a word?”

Saturday, November 16, 2019


 “Mustcat,” He Who Must Be Obeyed called.

I heard him, but ignored the summons. I’d been checking out the pallet stack for an hour, and now, finally, something was moving. I wasn’t about to abandon my post at the critical moment. With a twitch of my nose I took a strong, steady sniff and tensed. 


A pointy snout emerged from an opening in the weathered pine. I relaxed. Not a rodent. A lizard. 


“Hey, Simon,” I said. 


Simon and Sheila live among the rocks in front. They moved in a couple years ago, and they love the combination of sun and potted plants. Simon wriggled his tail, teasing. I batted at him, but he scurried away, laughing over his shoulder. “Next time,” I called. 


Day shift, I patrol outside Autry Cellars. At nightfall I move inside, but I’m no less busy. There aren’t many jobs that include room and board or require the employee to work every waking hour, but as Supervisor of Rodent Control, that’s my mission. Like most cats, I have a reputation for sleeping twenty hours a day, but that doesn’t mean I neglect my duties. Even in my sleep I hear everything. If a mouse breaks wind at fifty yards, I know it.


I circled around front, paused and gazed down the driveway. There’s an enemy encampment where the dirt drive meets Edna Road, but for now, all was quiet. The ground squirrels outnumber me and have the strategic advantage—a huge network of underground tunnels. We’d agreed to live and let live, but I’m afraid we’re approaching the point of no return. They’ve been gradually taking over and there’s no reasoning with the maniacs. They’re well organized and tireless and they’ve now undermined the road foundation. They’re rodenarly as big as I am, and they’re devious. I want to take them down. I just don’t know how to do it.


I found Mustache waiting at the door. “Hey, bro,” I greeted him. We were litter mates, and we’d both been homeless before He Who Must Be Obeyed took us in. Mustache gave a meow loud enough to carry inside. Sure enough, a moment later HWMBO opened the door and we scurried off to our waiting food dish.  


I’ve been contemplating something rather drastic--striking up a conversation with the Red-tailed Hawk that comes around. I don’t know anyone who communicates with these guys, but if I could talk a few of them into helping with the squirrel problem…. Well, wouldn’t that be sweet? They could probably scare the burrowers off without half trying. I’m not sure how I’ll get up the nerve to approach him. It may require some lengthy contemplation, accompanied by a glass of Merlot.