“We have a pest problem,” said Richard.
“What are you talking about?”
“Fannie, rats moved into our backyard.”
“We’re not just talking squirrels anymore,” said Richard, “it’s time to think about hiring an exterminator.”
“No honey, I’m sorry, but that would kill more than the rats.”
“Well, what do you want to do?” asked Richard.
“I’m thinking nature offers us the best solution. How about we put a few of the neighborhood cats on the payroll.”
“The payroll?” asked Richard
“Yeah, they work for food,” I said, “or didn’t you know that?”
“This is crazy.”
“No, trust me, this will work.” I said. “If you feed them, they will hunt.”
“All right, we’ll give it a try,” he said, rolling his eyes and shrugging.
Taking two bowls from the kitchen cupboard, Richard filled one with water and the other with cat food. I held the door open for him while he carried the bowls outside.
“Well, where do we put it?” asked Richard.
“How about on the potting bench.”
I cleared the pots from one corner. Richard arranged the feeding station. We stood back and looked at the retaining fee.
“So, do you think any cats will find this?” he asked.
A Stellar’s Jay landed on the bench in front of us. In rapid succession it gulped three bills worth of food, looked at us, then flew into the trees.
“If the cats don’t notice that, they don’t need to be on the payroll,” I said.
Since the disappearance of The Squirt, two of the neighborhood strays expanded their territory into our yard. The most promising lost part of one ear and his bones showed through his jet black fur.
Lacking all originality, we called him Little Black Kitty.
After each meal, he leaps onto Squirt’s old perch, pressing his head up against the window until Wicket or Sadie notice. Then he presses both front paws against the window, stretches, yawns, sits down, baths while giving our cats the one-legged salute, turns around three times and sacks out.
Whenever this occurs, Wicket throws himself against the window, howls and tries digging his way out. Orange fur as bristly as a bottle brush, his body taunt with frustration, hissing and spitting, he vents his fury on Sadie.
After two months, Little Black Kitty made his first and last attempt entering our home uninvited. Richard opened the sliding glass door armed with cat food and fresh water. Little Black Kitty dashed between his legs.
Wicket awoke from a sound sleep in our office. Leaping from his perch, he charged down the hallway, achieving full speed upon entering the family room, his prey in sight.
Frozen in place, Little Black Kitty’s eyes opened wide enough Richard saw the whites.
In taunting Wicket through the sliding glass door for the last two months, Little Black Kitty never took Wicket’s true size into account.
Wicket removed fur from his left haunch while slamming him into the door frame. Little Black Kitty bounced off the frame then scrambled for the safety of the great outdoors.
Ignoring his own safety, Richard threw his leg between the cats. Grabbing Wicket by the scruff, preventing further pursuit.
Little Black Kitty sat on the far side of the patio facing the house for 30-minutes, recovering from shock.
A few days later, Little Black Kitty and I talked.
“Now that you are on the payroll, I expect you to keep up your end. We have a pest problem that I want you to eliminate for us.”
Richard laughed so hard he snorted.
“Fannie, all that cat hears is blah, blah, blah. Do you really expect anything other than he will keep eating the food we put out for him?”
“Richard, just trust me on this one.”
A week later, hearing several loud thuds followed by cats shrieking in staccato, we ran into the family room.
Wicket and Sadie, acting like berserkers, launched themselves into the window, rebounded onto the floor, then launched again.
Outside the window, Little Black Kitty held a limp, brown and gray rat by the throat.
When he spotted us, he dropped it on the ground, holding it in place with one paw.
Richard’s mouth fell open about a foot.
Chasing the cats away from the door, we scooted outside.
“Great job,” I said.
Little Black Kitty rubbed against my legs, winding his way between them. He stood on his hind legs, resting his front paws against my thigh.
Petting him, I said, “If you want to stay on the payroll, I expect to see more excellent work.”
Richard moved in for a closer look. He turned green.
I said, “Honey, don’t worry about it. There are friends who help you move, and then there are friends who help you move the bodies. If you’ll take care of the spiders, I’ll take care of the bodies.”