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Horgan is one of the world’s only Covert Animal Handlers. He is an expert on cats. He’s a great boss. But there are some things he will never understand.

Horgan: “Why are you always leaving hairballs on the kitchen floor, Timber?”

Me: “Would you prefer I stopped taking baths?”

Horgan: “How about you stop eating things with backbones? I can’t tell you how many tiny skeletons I’ve cleaned up this week.”

Me: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Horgan: Disgusted sigh.

There’s a simple answer to the mystery of why cats throw up hairballs:

Because they are there.

But is it ever that simple?

According to Wikipedia, a hairball is a collection of fur that is vomited when it becomes too big. (Yes, Wikipedia has an entry on hairballs.) I’ll spare you the picture and the video; anyone familiar with cats can bring to mind the unique sounds and motions that can only indicate the return of that which cannot be digested.

A hairball, when placed properly, can mean many things:

– Your offering of food, though generous in portion, was unpleasing to my palate. I was bored, so I ate it anyway. But don’t think I liked it.

– Your offering of food, very generous in portion, was extremely pleasing to my palate. Unfortunately, it was too much for my stomach, which is a bit upset from a romp with the catnip. You should have anticipated that.

– My long, luxurious coat is shining, but the residual layers are accumulating in a packed cylinder near my pyloric sphincter.

– The natural diet of cats, which includes a variety of small mammals with indigestible bones and fur, relies on hairballs. No hairballs, no more room in the stomach. Please understand this, and feed me the occasional vole.

As a secret agent cat, I have needs. They aren’t elaborate. They aren’t complicated. Litter box. Kibble. An open door policy with my employer.

As a covert animal handler, Horgan is a good boss. Generous with the bacon. Attentive with the litter box scoop.

My only complaint is about the bathroom.

Me: “You’ve been in there for, like, fifteen seconds already.”

Horgan: “Timber, privacy, please.”

Me: “MRAOW!”

Horgan: “Get your paws out from under the door! Don’t you have documents to translate?”

Me: “Lester’s on the computer.”

Horgan: “What’s he working on?”

Me: “No, he’s ON the computer. Taking a nap.”

Horgan: A deep, profound silence, followed by a prolonged exhalation.

Me: Scratching at the door. “It’s been SIXTY SECONDS, Boss! I can’t stand it!”

Horgan: “The cat flap is open, Timber. Go outside if you can’t hold it.”

Me: “It’s not that.”

Horgan: “What is it?”

Me: More scratching. “The DOOR. It’s…it’s…CLOSED!” SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH.

Horgan: “TIMBER! It’s not too late to have you declawed!”

Artwork by Ava Byroads

Artwork by Ava Byroads

Last week, Horgan, our Covert Animal Handler for the CIA, received a new mission from headquarters. I was initially relieved. He had added cat breeds to our foreign language lessons (who knew there there was a whole world beyond domestic short hair and domestic long hair?) and I was looking forward to field work again.

No such luck. “Even I don’t get to go, buddy,” he said. “This is for advanced feline agents only. They specifically requested Lester.”

Lester put down his flashcards and blinked. “A solo mission? That’s above my pay grade. Do you think I’m ready? I don’t have a suitcase. Do I have to fly? What if my passport is expired? What if I get–YEOW!” The black tip of his tail was swishing so rapidly back and forth across the carpet, Pfizz had darted across the room and pounced on it.

“Thorry,” Pfizz said through a mouthful of fur. He spit out Lester’s tail. “I thought you were a mouse.”

“Lester, you don’t need a passport,” Horgan said. “You’re a cat.”

I’ll let Lester explain the rest.

————————————-
Field journal of Feline Agent L. McMuffin,

Undercover assignment, Day 1

Location: Unable to reveal

Date: Unable to reveal

Mission: Infiltrate household and report suspicious activity.

Feline observations:

This look? You think it's something special? Don't flatter yourself.

This look? You think it’s something special? Don’t flatter yourself.

1. The house is run by a feline matriarch. She prefers the high ground. Avoids contact, except via teeth. The look of disdain captured by this photo is representative. Criminal potential: HIGH

2. The low ground is covered by a large, orange blanket. With feet. Excessively demonstrative. Purrs at the first sight of food or a human lap. Is too fat to reach either unaided. Criminal potential: LOW

My food...it's so far away. Yet somehow, I keep getting bigger.

My food…it’s so far away. Yet somehow, I keep getting bigger.

Human observations:

Majority of household activities are dictated by two miniature humans. They spend most of their time either playing with cats or dressing up as them. Once, I caught them smuggling large amounts of colorful currency into the basement. They spent a lot of time buying, exchanging, and mortgaging property. One of them spent time “In jail” during this activity. I suspect they are dwarves being groomed to infiltrate the Secret Agent Cat training program. Criminal potential: EXTREMELY HIGH.

I reported my findings to Horgan.

Meow. This isn't going to cause trouble at all.

Meow. This isn’t going to cause trouble at all.

He laughed at me. “Lester, the kids were playing Monopoly.”

“Then what was I there for? It was highly suspicious, Boss.”

He held a remote control up to my back, pressed a button, and much to my surprise, a voice started talking. I recognized the owner of the cats and dwarves saying, “Why do we have a foster cat again?” Horgan fast-forwarded through the recording, listened to bits here and there, and made notes.

At the end, he nodded, and said, “Thanks to you, we now have proof that Switzerland is trying to start a canine secret agent program.”

“I never saw anything.”

“They talked about it while you were asleep.”

“The dwarves? I knew it!”

Horgan’s coffee spilled. Through his nose. “The parents, Lester. The parents.”

“You mean all that time I was a glorified tape recorder?”

“The best undercover spies are the ones who don’t even know it.”

Used. For the sake of my country.

It’s better than being a cat toy, I suppose.

Image

Mr. Marlon Brando, former spy cat

Mr. Marlon Brando is a former member of the Cats In Action training program. His Covert Animal Handler recently retired from the CIA under suspicious circumstances, allowing Mr. Brando the opportunity to pursue his dream of a career in cinema. In addition to appearing in numerous cat food commercials, he has written a screenplay for “Spy Kids 5” in which the role of Argonaut, the robodog, is replaced by “Tuxedo Tom, Spy Cat.”

On Retirement

I’m not a secret agent cat anymore. But I play one on TV.

Fortunately, it’s not that hard. When I was in the Cats In Action training program, my handler had me brewing coffee for him, shredding secret documents with my claws to hide in the litter box, and placing bugs in visitors’ shoes. He gave me these little metal, electronic things, but I preferred cockroaches and spiders–so much more authentic.

Compared to that, pretending to be a famous spy while I eat gourmet canned cat food in front of lights and cameras is easy.

Timber has told me about his “Adventures”. He says he actually gets to drive the car, shoot grappling guns, and learn Russian. My handler couldn’t even speak Cat.

In the meantime, is there life after being a secret agent cat? I’m here to say yes, there is. Retirement doesn’t have to mean fading away or letting your dreams die. So what if I never went on a mission. So what if my career was a dead-end joke, mismanaged by a crook and a double-agent. So what if I was forced to retire before I ever had a chance to begin.

Life is what you make of it. I turned a passion for canned tuna and a cute face into a backup job, and a thwarted espionage career into a Hollywood screenplay.

So what if no one else will ever read it. I’m starring in it every time you see me licking clean a bowl of canned food on your TV.

(But if Horgan ever has an opening, I wouldn’t turn him down. Just saying.)

“Smoke” is a member of Santa’s Claws, a society of soldiers and secret agents devoted to protecting feline interests throughout the world. They operate independently of any nation and are rumored to be affiliated with the king of Christmas himself, though they deny any association with human institutions. Their location is so well hidden that even though everyone knows it is at the North Pole, it has never been discovered.

“Is this thing on? Timber asked me to do this, but he didn’t ask if I could type. In the Arctic, we don’t spend much time without our mittens. But we do have the latest in voice recognition technology. Usually Santa Claus—back up! No, I mean delete that. Grr! Santa’s clause. No, not Santa’s legal contract. Stop! S-A-N-T-A-C-L-A-W-S, like the sharp things on the end of my paws that could dismantle this puny piece of electronic equipment. [PAUSE]

“As I was saying, though Santa’s C-L-A-W-S has the latest in feline espionage tech, using it to dictate a blog entry was quite…creative. Timber has good ideas. He wants me to tell you what I’ve learned during my life of Adventure, but here’s the truth: I’ve spent most of it trying to stay away from Adventure. I was the bodyguard for the most important feline espionage agent in the world. She’s already written about her Adventures in a book (The Manual of Espionage According to The Great Nim).

After spending half my life trying to keep up with her, my idea of Adventure is a good nap.Smoke

Timber’s young, so he may not agree with me yet. He still works for the CIA, and they’re still willing to pay him.

But someday he might find himself on the receiving end of budget cuts. He might find that governments aren’t willing to pay for secret agencies. When things are going well, who needs spies? When things are going poorly, it’s easy to blame the ones who live in shadows.

He, too, might find himself at the North Pole, someday.

If he does, we’ll be happy to have him.

Not because he’s strong or has a flair for Adventure, though these things are true.

But we’re always looking for new ideas.

Horgan’s training us for a new mission. It’s top secret. But his butcher shop was broken into again, and he says it’s cheaper to train cats as guards than buy a better security system. Plus, he says it’s time to start earning our keep. I think it’s an abuse of our nocturnal tendencies. Lester says it’s an opportunity to hone our skills. Pfizz says we’ll be bringing home the bacon for real.

It wouldn’t be so bad if he’d let us have Internet access.

That’s why I’m opening up the On-line Home for Cats of Mystery and Adventure to Guest Bloggers this month. We’ll hear from members of Santa’ Claws, retired agents, and anyone else who has a tale of Mystery or Adventure to share. If you are a four-footed Adventurer of the feline variety with a flare for storytelling, send a picture and your story to horgan@timberhowligan.com.

Look for our first entry on Tuesday, August 13!

Timber's Photo Gallery

It’s true, I look my best when I’ve had a good brushing and a few weeks to recover from a tough mission. These photos capture a day in the photogenic life of a formidable Secret Agent Cat.

Grappling gun in action: Conquering the huge, white-headed kitty

Conquering the Huge, White-Headed Kitty

A Rappelling demonstration (Do Not Try This at Home)

A Rappelling Demonstration (Do Not Try This at Home)

Sniffing my paw-crafted Walther PPK Tic-Tac gun for residual ammo (mint or orange)

Sniffing my paw-crafted Walther PPK Tic-Tac gun for residual ammo (mint or orange)

Working on a Blog update

Working on a Blog Update

Thanks to Hannah Hiles photography for the photo shoot.

My Family Tree

There’s a new member of the British royal family, I’ve been told. Naturally, this is of great interest to all cats, who share a bloodline with royalty through their generations-old link to Cleopatra. (Yes, your cat has a right to look at you that way. She really is better than you.)

Lester says Cleopatra has no current claim to the British throne. Bah. I was adopted, so I have the luxury of making up my family tree. For all those without the shackles of a known bloodline, I encourage you to do the same.

As a footnote, James Bond the spy really was named after James Bond the ornithologist. I am proud to be related to both.

Spy Mice: The Black Paw, by Heather Vogel Frederick

This intriguing manual of murine espionage, cleverly disguised as a children’s fiction novel, is so full of trade secrets for the beginner spy, you’d think it would read like a boring field guide. But instead, it shows through vivid examples (real brushes with danger, crafting of Nim-worthy technology, and confrontations with wicked enemies!) how even the smallest of four-footed spies can survive and thrive in the tumultuous world of Washington D.C.’s underground.

Glory is a spunky spy mouse who has inspired the jealousies of a co-worker and is on the verge of losing her job. Oz is a friendless human boy on the perpetual verge of torment from bullies. The story of how they become first allies, and then friends, is used by the author to illustrate the inner workings of the Spy Mice Agency. Living parallel lives to their human counterparts, spy mice commute to work using carrier pigeons, send emails, and are constantly trying to gain an edge in their war against the city’s subterranean rat population, led by the monstrous Roquefort Dupont.

Glory is a gutsy, elegant, lovable heroine who is easy to root for (even for a feline espionage agent such as myself). “The Black Paw” is the first in the Spy Mice trilogy, and I can’t wait to read the next two. The writing is crisp and clean, with a vocabulary appropriate for the sophisticated grade-schooler or well-educated cat, and a plot more than interesting enough for action-lovers of all species and ages.

It’s a good thing Sebastian already made me swear off eating mice. Otherwise he wouldn’t have lent me this book from the library.bk_black_new

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