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Maybe you guessed what Drover did, because it was entirely predictable, entirely in keeping with his miserable record with the Security Division. But somehow it caught me by surprise.
After convincing his commanding officer that he was ready to dive over the fence and rush into combat, he dashed two steps forward, swerved left, cut a half-circle on the gravel drive, and went sprinting straight toward the machine shed.
“Hey Drover, you’re heading the wrong way!”
“This is for the birds, bye!”
Do you see what he was doing? He was quoting me against myself, the very lowest form of treachery.
I should have known that he would take the weenie’s way out, but I had dared to hope, dared to believe that this time might be different. It wasn’t. He scampered up the hill, dived through the slot between the big sliding doors, and vanished inside, leaving me stunned and crushed with disappointment.
“Drover, come out of there and report to the front! Drover! I’m ordering you to…you will be court-martialed for this!”
For a moment of heart beats, I thought about marching up the hill and jerking him out of the machine shed by his ear, but that would have taken time, and time was something we didn’t have.
Don’t forget the tragic scene that was taking shape inside the yard. A friend of mine was about to be devoured by the local cat. I whirled around and rushed to the yard gate, and here’s what I saw.
Poor Madame Moonshine had knocked herself unconscious on the window glass and lay potsrate in the flower bed. Pete stood over her, licking his chops and beaming an evil smile. I had to do something, and fast.
“Okay, Pete, paws in the air! Back away from the victim, and don’t try anything foolish. Move!”
His cunning eyes slid around and landed on me. “My, my, the cops are here.”
“You got that right, Kitty. Back away, move it!”
“Now Hankie, we needn’t make a scene. It’s only a bird.”
“That’s no big deal unless you’re the bird.”
“But Hankie, you don’t even like birds. You’ve spent half your life barking at them.”
“This is different, Kitty. Not only is that bird a friend of mine, but you’re not. Leave the bird alone.”
He fluttered his eyelids. “And if I don’t, you’ll…do what? Jump the fence and come into the yard? Sally May’s inside the house and so is her broom. She doesn’t allow dogs in her yard, remember?”
“Pete, you’re despicable.”
“You keep saying that, Hankie, so…” He snickered. “…maybe it’s true.” He turned his gaze back to the bird. His eyes crackled with sheer delight and he ran his tongue across his lips. “Well, you run along, Hankie. Maybe we can talk…after lunch.”
“Don’t do this, Pete, I’m warning you.”
He ignored me, of course, and I had to stand there and watch. Have you ever seen a cat that has just captured a bird? They go through the same silly routine, every time.
He picked up the bird in his mouth, turned his back on me, pinned down his ears, flicked the last two inches of his tail back and forth, and…this was the part that really got my goatee…he unleashed an eerie sound from somewhere deep in his cheating little throat.
It started in the high range of yowling, a cheap imitation of a police siren, and worked its way down to the low range, a cheap imitation of growling. Obviously he was yowling and growling at ME, since I was the only one around, and maybe he thought…what? That it would scare me so badly, I would run away and hide under my bed?
Ha. You know, cats have a primitive form of intelligence, about the level of a tapeworm. They’re experts at lying, cheating, stealing, and spreading chaos, but they don’t understand dogs at all. Hey, if you want to get a dog pumped up and ready for war, all you have to do is find some misguided little ranch cat to yowl and growl.
That’ll do it. Every time. I mean, it comes like a surge of electricity. It’s as though we’re hearing a hundred-piece band, playing a stirring march by John Phillip Salsa.
Ten thousand kilowhoops of electricity shot down my backbone. My ears leaped up and in my deepest heart, I sensed that I was about to surrender myself to the savage delight of being a dog—a dog on a righteous mission.
I hit engines one and two, and went flying over the…actually, I aimed a little low on the first try and rammed the fence. No big deal. In moments of high passion, we often get faulty readings on our instruments and misjudge…but the imported poink is that on the second attempt, I cleared that fence like a deer, hit the ground, and came up loaded for bear.
The cat was shocked. I rolled the muscles in my enormous soldiers and took a step forward. “Drop the bird.”
Any creature with half a brain would have dropped the bird and run for his life, screaming and terrified, but not old Pete. Oh no. Instead, he held onto the bird, turned up the volume of his yowling, and began edging backward, totally unaware that this was the equivalent of tossing gasoline into a roaring fire.
Then, in a flash, he turned and ran, still yowling and still carrying the bird in his cheating, scheming little mouth. He hopped through the iris patch and dashed around the northwest corner of the house.
Foolish cat. I hit Sirens and Lights, and went into a full-scale Code Three Pursuit, and we’re talking about…
…Massive Barks and plowing everything that got in the way. Oh, you should have…
“Leave the cat alone!”
…been there to see it! Kitty had played with fire and gasoline, and now he had an explosion heading right for his tail section. Boy, you talk about fun and excitement! Dogs are born for moments like this.
I tracked him on radar and caught up with him in the front yard. There, I locked him into the computer and armed the weapon. I was about to blast him into next week, when he dropped the bird and clawed his way up the trunk of a chinaberry tree.
I bent down, lifted the poor wounded owl into the tender embrace of my jaws, beamed a victorious look at the treed cat, and yelled, “Muff wuff wuff muff muff wuff!” See, I had a mouthful of bird, but I was saying, “Let that be a lesson to you, Kitty. Never mess with a friend of the Security Division!”
I was a little surprised by his response, I mean, he was still wearing his insolent smirk, and somehow that didn’t fit. Then he said, “Hankie, look behind you.”
Huh? Look behind me? I seldom do anything a cat tells me to do, but this time I had a feeling…I turned my head and looked around and saw…
Sally May. And her son, Little Alfred.
Where had they…perhaps my Code Three Barking had…
Well, this looked bad. Not only had I entered her yard and treed her scheming little cat, but I was holding…well, a semi-conscious bird in my jaws, so they might very well have thought…oh brother.
Alfred’s expression revealed shock and surprise. Sally May’s expression was a lot worse than that. She looked…upset, shall we say, even angry, and she had her hands parked on her hips, always a bad sign.
She glared down at me. “Are you eating birds? Don’t we give you dog food?”
What? Eating birds? Hey, I was SAVING birds, but…yipes, when a dog gets caught…
I, uh, lowered my head and, in the tenderest and gentlest way possible, deposited the wounded owl upon the grass at the feet of Our Beloved Ranch Wife. Then I looked up at her and, with eyes and tail wags, delivered a message from my heart.
“Sally May, I know this looks bad. In fact, it looks very bad, and I know that our relationship has had its ups and downs, but hear me out. I think I can explain everything, no kidding. See, your little sneak of a cat…”
She wasn’t listening. She turned to her son. “Honey, go get my broom.”
The boy dashed off to the house, while his mother glared icicles at me and muttered, “Eating birds. Honestly!”
There are times when a dog should stick around and patch up his relationships, and there are times when he should disappear. When the children are sent into the house to fetch the broom, it’s time for the dogs to move along.
I was about to make my exit, when Madame Moonshine’s eyes popped open. And let me tell you, when an owl pops her eyes open, it’s a little creepy. Those were some strange eyes, huge and yellow.
She stared at me for a moment. “My goodness! It’s Hank the Rabbit!”
Let me point out that I had never been a rabbit in my whole life, and surely Madame knew that, but for some reason, she had always insisted on calling me Hank the Rabbit. You figure that one out.
“Uh…it’s Hank the Cowdog, ma’am. Hi.”
“And unless this has all been some kind of outrageous dream, you saved my life! Oh, thank you, Rabbity Hank, ‘twill come back to you as a blessing.”
The door opened and out stepped Little Alfred with his mother’s broom.
I needed to scoot, but I couldn’t resist taking one last shot at the cat. I turned and looked up into the tree. “Hey, Pete, I haven’t seen such a pout on your face since the last time I ran you up a tree. I guess you’re not having such a good day, huh?”
“It’s about to get better, Hankie.”
“Oh yeah? Not if I can…”
“Stay out of my yard, leave the cat alone, and stop eating birds!”
Okay, that was Sally May’s voice and also her broom, and perhaps I had stayed too long.
Yes, too long. It was time to leave.