The temperature in the garden had risen enough so that my daily walk in the neighborhood was a lot more comfortable. No longer do my feet grow cold from the sidewalk nor does the breeze make my fur stand on end. Sunshine often warms my whiskers. That day, I met a group of my old buddies who had been locked away in their warm houses. Abbott greeted me with enthusiasm. Hillary gave me a pat on my whiskers and Sasha greeted me with kindness and a pawfull of cat treats. I mentioned that it was a good time to consider another night of poker at my house. "Summer is almost upon us and everyone will be off doing other things. We should get together now before it get really, really hot."
They all agreed with me. "I'll spread the word, Henri," meowed Hillary.
The word did get out. The next Friday had nine cats and two rats scratching on the basement window. Eagerly, I opened the window and let them in. "Good of you, Henri, to have us over for a game of cards," chattered Milton, Raymond Hazelwitz' cousin.(Actually, Milton is Raymond's mate, Brenda's cousin...)
"I am very happy to see you again, Milton," I meowed. "Since it is raining tonight, this is a good time for an evening of cards and gossip."
Towels were pulled from the cabinet and spread upon the floor. Helen, my house mate, dragged down a platter of tuna patties and catnip filled cookies. "I was hoping that Stella would help me but no! The brat cat is watching television in the blue room!" she hissed. She and Stella really don't get along very well. We chose partners for some games of Pinocle and Carlyle from the Evergreen Lake Cat Colony picked me. He looked tired as if he hadn't had enough sleep.
"You look really tired, Carlyle. Are you feeling ill? There's a lot of canine flu going around, you know."
Carlyle shook his head. "It's not canine flu, Henri. It's my job at the library. I've been spending so much time interviewing mice that I'm exhausted."
"Another mouse quit?" asked Helen. "What seems to be the trouble?"
"Well the trouble started when the mice joined a union," cried Carlyle. "First they wanted more pay. I can manage that okay. A few more bags of corn kernels aren't difficult to come by but then they wanted a shorter work week! Well, three days a week at one hour per day isn't going to kill any mouse, rat or cat." Carlyle paused for a moment, took a sip of catnip tea, wiped his whiskers, then proceeded with his story. "We discussed that issue with the union officials and the membership agreed that three days at one hour per day was not excessive. I felt that the problems had been taken care of but then, Murrey, my chief mouse decided to quit. He said he was tired of the job because it didn't have any room for advancement."
Apparently Carlyle's tale of woe intrigued Melvin. He approached the cat and stood before him. "What kind of job do the mice have at the library?" he chattered. "Do they sweep the floors and dust the bookshelves? Do they cook and serve lunch for the staff?"
"Of course not!" growled Carlyle. "Human beings sweep the floor, dust the shelves and books, cook and serve the lunches! A mouse is above that type of menial labor. Their union would forbid that type of work! It's not a union that permits the "and duties as may be required" sort of clause. I will try to explain how this works. When I hire a mouse to work with me at the library, we try to convince the staff that the building is overrun with rodents and needs the assistance of a cat. Twice a week, Murrey and I would meet at the back door. Carefully I would pry the door open and the two of us would quietly slip inside. When enough of the staff had entered the main room of the library, Murrey would go limp and I would pick him up by his tail and then carry him into the room. The humans would shreak and scream, pointing at the "dead mouse" I was carrying so proudly in my mouth. They would then pat me on the head and tell me what a good cat I was. I would carry Murrey to the door and when no one could see us, I would release him. The next day, a big bag of cat food would be left at the back door. I, and a few other cats would carry it back to the colony. As you can see, the job of the mouse is a simple one and demands few skills."
"Since the mouse was not injured and I must assume, had received some compensation for his efforts, why did Murrey quit?" asked Melvin.
Carlyle sniffed. "As I said before, Melvin quit because he thought the job would not expand to other opportunities. He wanted more of life than pretending to be a dead mouse. I could offer him nothing more. So I decided to hire a replacement. I spent a week interviewing young mice. I found a comely young mouse named Catherine. She had soft, brown fur, perky ears and lovely brown eyes; not that it matters what color her eyes are since she was going to play 'dead mouse'". Carlyle sighed. "Little did I know that dear Catherine had other ideas about performance. We rehersed over and over again. Then the day arrived which happened to be the day before yesterday. We both arrived at the back door of the library. We entered. When the staff had arrived, I carefully picked up Catherine in my mouth. She hung limply by her tail. Then, when I was in the middle of the room and the humans had begun to shriek, Catherine suddenly begins to wiggle and swing back and forth. I lost my gripe on her tail and she plunged head first onto the floor! Then, to my amazement she put the back of her front paw against her forehead, began to cough violently, clutching her chest with the other paw. Within seconds, a female person rushed over to the mouse, picked her up and began smoothing her fur, calling out to everyone, 'Oh, you poor little mouse! Did that nasty cat hurt you?' She then took Catherine outside the building and put her under a rose bush!"
Helen hissed loudly. "That must have been a real bummer!"
"You talk about embarrassment! You have no idea!" growled Carlyle. "I rushed outside and confronted Catherine! What exactly were you doing? I meowed. She looks at me with those big brown eyes. 'Oh I was just practicing my role as Mimi in the opera, La Boheme by Mister Puccini' she sez. It seems that I had hired a drama queen! There goes my job as rodent eraticator for the library. I should have known I would meet up with some dumb person who thinks mice are cute!"
Frank our cat neighbor from West Side patted Carlyle on the head. "It was not your fault, Carlyle. Mice are very unpredictable. Perhaps it would be easier if you used a rat to play the role of 'dead rodent'?"
"That would never do!" meowed Carlyle. "If I were to carry a dead rat through the library all chaos would erupt! The library persons would call the police! They might even call out the National Guard!"
Raymond beamed his toothy grin. "Or they might call Homeland Security in Washington and the president would send in the army, navy and the airforce. Or the President himself might show up at the library to investigate this dangerous situation! Carlyle, they'll probably haul you off in paw cuffs!"
"This question is, Carlyle, was a bag of cat food left outside the back door after this incident?" asked Helen.
Carlyle nodded. "Well, umm, as a matter of fact two bags were left outside the back door," he meowed.
"Obviously, not everyone at the library was concerned about what happened that day. You received your 'paycheck', did you not?" I meowed.
"Since that is the case and the staff at the library may have enjoyed Catherine's little drama, may I suggest she study the role of Desdemona from the opera, "Otello". That was written by G. Verde," chattered Raymond who was carefully studying his hand.
Helen shook her head. "Madame Butterfly is much more romantic and will go over big with the female persons at the library."
Then I shook my head!! "Did we not come together to play a few paws of cards this evening?" I growled.
"Indeed we did, Henri," replied Frank, "but Carlyle's little story was really very amusing!"
Cast of Characters!
And of Course!
Henri of Twin Brook as host!
So we meowed and chattered a bit longer but finally began to seriously play pinocle and then poker. Guess who won a fortune in catnip? Of course it was my housemate, Helen! (To be continued!)