I’m in the shop, running a stack of wooden plant hanger bases through the shaper. Between units I pause to adjust my safety glasses and happen to look up. Out in the drive, I can see ShopKat hunched down, staring intently into the raspberry bushes. The tip of her little tail is twitching slowly, back and forth, back and forth.
Some small hapless creature is about to meet its fate.
I look back down at what I’m doing (seriously here, you really want to keep eyes on hands when running the shaper unless you enjoy riding in the ambulance helicopter). When I look up again, Shopkat is gone.
There is a small cat shaped cloud of cartoon dust where she was a moment ago, and a furious commotion in the raspberry bushes.
Go, ShopKat, go!
I kill power to the shaper table and I’m in the process of moving a stack of finished pieces to the project cart - when out of the corner of my eye I catch a black and white shadow slinking furtively through the far highbay and around behind me towards the carving table at the other end of the shop. The hunt has been successful then, obviously. ShopKat likes to display her prizes on the mat in front of my lathe, next to the carving station. I’ll go to use the lathe and find the headless carcasses of voles and chickadees lined up like corpses in the morgue of some budget horror flick. The fact that she’s sneaking into the shop, after stalking prey in the bushes, indicates that she’s made a kill.
I don’t mind the voles (voles are exactly like mice, little gray gnawing disease vectors with tails), in fact I’m all for it – this is ShopKat’s primary duty, vermin eradicator, it’s what I pay her for. But I wish she’d leave the birds alone. So I look to see what she’s got this time.
It’s a HUGE black vole.
It is so big I think for a moment that she’s finally taken down a moose. On second glance I realize it’s the Vole King, Granddaddy Patriarch of the entire Vole Nation, hanging limply in her jaws. This thing must be the source of all the voles in Alaska. He’s like the Godfather of Voles – try to visualize ShopKat dragging Marlon Brando across the floor and you’ll understand what I’m saying here. And when I say Marlon Brando I don’t mean handsome chiseled hardass Marlon Brando from A Streetcar Name Desire, I mean more like blobby gelatinous Island of Dr Moreau Marlon Brando. What I mean is it is one big damned rodent.
ShopKat drops her prize, plop! square in the middle of the mat and nudges it around until it’s perfectly lined up, perpendicular to the centerline and square to the lathe. Then she sits down in satisfaction of a job well done and commences to wash her face.
The Vole’s eyes pop open! Pop!
He jumps up! Boing!
He’s not dead at all! It’s a trick! He was only playing possum, the sneaky son of a bitch!
The giant Vole King spins around and zips off towards one of the work benches like Marlon Brando going for the all you can eat buffet table!
ShopKat is caught completely off guard. She goggles in yellow-eyed amazement. Her tail rigid, like a pipe cleaner, her ears straight up in points.
I yell and gesture, “There he is! Right there! Get him, ShopKat, get him!”
ShopKat continues to stare and the expression her face says clearly, “Well, that’s odd. I know I killed him. Zombie Marlon Brando Voles are not my responsibility.”
The Vole King alters course and dodges towards a pile of birch burl blanks that I have drying in the middle of the floor. The big bastard is fast, like a furry brown bean bag on wheels. For a moment I have a flashback to Saturday morning cartoons and Wylie Coyote giving a shot of super speed tonic to a mouse before trying it himself. The Vole King moves like that super charged mouse. Meep! Meep! Bwing!
ShopKat continues to stare, whiskers twitching, ears wiggling. But she doesn’t move. This is blatant dereliction of duty.
I yell. She looks at me. The Vole King disappears under the stack of birch burl.
I get the broom and start moving burl around. ShopKat moseys over to watch.
Suddenly the Vole King appears, making a break for the router table!
ShopKat becomes fascinated with her tail. The Vole King passes her within inches, unnoticed.
“Out of the way, Peck!” I shout, and swing the broom with savage abandon.
Contact! There is a solid Thunk! The crowd goes wild! The Vole King is ejected from the shop at high velocity along a low flat trajectory. He lands stunned in the drive. Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you, your highness. I pick up a hunk of scrap wood and go finish him off - and in this regard it is exactly like a Godfather movie. Meet your Maker, Brando. Thwack! Thwack!
The Vole King gets a royal funeral pyre in the burn barrel.
He was a canny foe, we shall miss him.
Yes, yes, I spent twenty years in the military, I have murderous skills. Back off, Ladies, I’m married. I am a mighty warrior, facing down the Vole King like Beowulf and the Grendel with nothing more than a bad attitude and a stick of hickory. But that’s not the point here. The point is I shouldn’t have had to do it.
Obviously it’s time for ShopKat’s employee review.
I find her sitting on the workbench next to the radial arm saw.
Me: OK, look, we need to discuss a few things regarding your recent performance.
ShopKat: Makes a rumbling noise, like a poorly tuned diesel engine [Translation: Pet Me!]
Me: Stop that. Look, I thought I was pretty clear when I hired you. You keep the shop vermin free, in return I feed you and give you a place to sleep. You get a basic health plan and the occasional tuna treat. There may, may, be some petting involved. Which part of that is unclear?
ShopKat: Sticks her nose in my face, sniffs [Translation: Your breath smells like a dead mouse]
Me: Perhaps you aren’t clear on the process. See, you prowl around the shop, all stealthy catlike and such, and kill the vermin that try to get inside. You don’t go out into the bushes and get them and escort them inside! Understand? Well?
ShopKat: Yawns, turns around, swishes tail [Translation: Blah blah, I don’t hear your monkey chatter. Talk to the paw.]
Me: Look, your actions are tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy! You could be court martialed!
ShopKat: Mmph? [Translation: Is that a piece of fuzz! oooh! Me likey fuzz!]
Me: Hey, over here, Princess. Pay attention, I’m talking to you. Here’s the bottom line - you catch ‘em, you kill ‘em. Savvy?
ShopKat: Meow [Translation: Speaking of things, the cat box needs changing, Monkey Boy. See to that, would you?]
Me: Damnit! I’m the boss here!
ShopKat: Makes sort of a feline snicker [Translation: I’ve met your wife]
Me: I mean I’m the boss of the shop!
ShopKat: Wiggles her whiskers [Translation: I’m pointy on five ends. I win]
Me: Well, don’t let it happen again.
ShopKat: Jumps on to my carving stool. Curls up in a ball. Yawns hugely [Translation: Nap Time]
Me: You probably shouldn’t expect a raise this year. Just saying.