It’s Monday. I sit on a park bench across from the restaurant where the guy I’m following has gone inside for lunch. I sink my teeth into my sandwich, a foot-long Italian I got at the corner deli, when a mellow, slightly slurred voice says from behind me, “That sure is a big sandwich, one of the biggest I’ve seen yet.”
Portland has a transient problem. Following my guy through the Southwest Park Blocks was a begathon of the homeless asking for spare change, but not my dimes and quarters. One got snarky when I offered him that. He wanted nothing less than a fiver.
I don’t normally spend my afternoons following people, but I got a call last night from an old girlfriend I hadn’t spoken to since I shot the photos for her wedding. As Eva and I small-talked on the phone, I did the math. It had been seven years since their wedding and the title of that old Billy Wilder movie, The Seven Year Itch, popped into my head.
I’ve never been very good at the long-term relationship thing. I must have ADD when it comes to relationships. How do people do it? How do they keep it interesting? After years together don’t they wonder what it would be like to be with someone else? Or considering how much we base our identity on who we are with, do they ever daydream of being someone else? Seven years seems to be as good a time for that as any. But for me and my attention span, seven years would be poison ivy from hell.
Eva was calling about her husband, Stan. She was worried about him. “Call it what you will, women’s intuition, but I know something is up with him. He’s acting odd. He’s not himself. I think he’s up to something.” She still had that soft voice I remembered from our time together that sounded kind even when she was voicing her suspicions, a trait I don’t remember her having. I guess people change.
“And you think he’s stepping out on you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I appreciate the chance to catch up, Eva, but why call me with this? Isn’t this what you talk about with a girlfriend?”
“Actually, I’ve hashed it out a lot.” She cleared her throat, paused for a moment, then rushed on. “It’s like this. I could ask Stan to his face and he’d deny anything and everything. You never got to know him but that’s how he is, at least that’s how he is now, not so much back when we married. I need proof that he’s stepping out. Hard proof. That or to know what’s making him act weird. And then I thought of you. You’re handy with a camera, you can get me that proof. I can put it in his face and say, hey, what’s up with this?”
I had learned to keep my nose out of other people’s business. “It sounds cheesy but wouldn’t a private investigator be better suited for this? Someone with experience?”
“A stranger? Ugh.” She pauses and I picture her scrunching up her face in distaste. “Look, Dixon, you and I haven’t kept in touch but we remained friends after we dated and I always respected your honesty.”
I laughed. “Not everyone feels that way.”
“That’s their loss. I’m not asking you for a freebie. I can pay you. Come on, what else do you have going during the week? It’s not like a lot of people get married on a Monday or Tuesday and need a photographer.”
She had a point; business had been slow. Not a lot of Millennials were getting married so they could start a family in their parents’ basement. Besides, being asked to look into someone’s personal business was different than just sticking my nose in it. “What do you want me to do exactly?”
“Just follow him around and take some photos if gets up to anything, especially during and after lunch. If he’s up to anything it’s then.”
“Why do you say that?”
“His phone habits. He’s hard to reach during that time, he never picks up, and it’s a while before he calls back. Plus, he’s around someone with a cat. I’ve seen the hair on his clothes. I know lots of women with cats but very few men.”
My imagination ran with the intimate details of their failing marriage. We settled on a daily rate, she gave me the pertinent info on where they lived and where Stan worked, and I told her I’d get back to her.
* * *
I can see Stan through the restaurant window as I chew my sandwich.
“That mayonnaise sure does smell good,” the guy behind me slurs.
I don’t turn around to look. Acknowledging him will just encourage him to hang around. His slurred speech paints enough of a mental picture of who is behind me and where this is going. I don’t want to see him and endanger my appetite. Though it’s curious the drunk has asked about my sandwich because they usually just want cash to buy more fortified wine. Who eats when they can get juiced?
The drunk slurps as he smacks his lips. “Are you going to eat all of it? That’s a lot of sandwich, even for a big guy like you.”
As my adrenaline rises, I begin to lose the smooth mayo vibe I was feeling only moments ago, but if the drunk leaves now I might be able to get it back.
I take another bite and purposefully speak as I chew with my mouth full. “Yep, the whole fracking thing.” I swear I hear him whimper when I say that. What kind of drunk whimpers? Call me selfish but asking for my food crosses that line of what’s acceptable and what’s not. “Every last crumb of it. You got that?” I add, hoping to discourage him enough that he’ll move on and find someone else to hassle. It kind of sucks that it’s always about passing the buck onto the next person for them to bother with, but there it is. I put up with the jerk for a while and now it’s someone else’s turn. He can go sell his shtick to the next park bench.
What the drunk says next makes it too late for me to get back that good mayo vibe. “What about that wax paper your sandwich is wrapped in? Can I lick the mayonnaise smears off of it when you’re done? I just love mayonnaise. One of the best things people ever came up with, that and French fries. Any fries in your pocket? Of course not. I’d smell those for certain.”
Images of an unshaven, grizzled drunk desperately licking wax paper fill my mind as my skin tingles with an adrenaline hot flash. He has not just crossed the line but leapt over it and danced a jig. I spin around on the park bench, ready to chew this stupid drunk out, but no one is there; not a single person is within speaking distance of me.
“What the hell?” I say to myself.
“What the hell is right. You can actually understand me. I haven’t had this happen before. Well, since I’ve got your ear, Mr. Man, you need to learn to share,” the same voice slurs in that soft relaxed manner but there’s still no one there speaking.
I sometimes hear words or short phrases when I meditate, but not conversations like this. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t feel crazy. Do crazy people even feel crazy? Maybe some of my vitamin supplements have been dosed, but even back in the day when I took magic mushrooms I never heard voices. I’ll have to check with Dr. Google about any vitamin recalls when I get home.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Man, you think you’re going loopy, but you’re not alone. I’ve never met a two-legger who wasn’t as crazy as bat guano. Most everything all of you do makes no sense whatsoever. Your love of pavement and asphalt epitomizes your insanity. If you two-leggers had your druthers you’d pave the entire planet and then wonder why you were starving to death with only the weeds to eat growing from the cracks in the pavement. Life on a concrete marble is no life at all. Which is kind of ironic since nothing holds the scent of urine better than pavement. You’d think I’d like it.”
“A crazy voice talking about irony?” I ask, and realize I’ve crossed the bridge to fairyland where people carry on conversations with their imaginary friends, but why is my imaginary friend talking about urine? Do I have some sort of pee complex I’m unaware of? What would Freud have to say about that?
“It sounds trite but it is true. Irony keeps me sane in an insane world.”
The crazy voice has a point. I can’t remember the last time I walked on grass that wasn’t just a tiny patch of green in a park, let alone a field in the country. All the pavement does make me weary and the alleys really do stink like a latrine, especially the ones downtown by the bars.
Then I hear that whimper again. A crazy voice in my head that whimpers. “Come on, Mr. Man, don’t make me beg. It’s degrading,” the crazy voice says. “But I will if I have to. Anything for mayonnaise, even just the smears. Please let me lick them off that wax paper.”
A slight movement attracts my attention. I glance down behind the park bench to see a small fawn-colored dog the size of an over-inflated rugby ball standing on short little legs. Even with the dog being half hidden, you’d think a photographer would be more observant. He’s got a strand of drool hanging from his chops that almost touches the ground. “Please, Mr. Man,” he slurs up at me. The drool dances as it dangles. “Don’t let that mayonnaise go to waste. That would be a crime against healthy fat.”
This is some sort of trick. I look left, then right, then all around but the dog and I are alone. I glance at the nearby trees for a hidden camera, but see none. This has to be a scam to make someone look like a fool on YouTube. Well I’m not going viral as the weekly idiot who believes he’s met a talking dog, a mayonnaise-obsessed one at that.
A passing woman smiles at us and says, “What a cute dog you have, and he’s so well behaved. Look at him staring up at you like a champ. He sure loves you.” She’s supposed to now tell me I’m on hidden camera, but she keeps on walking.
When she is out of earshot, the dog says, “Though I seem to be predisposed for some odd reason to like people, it’s the mayo I love. Without it, two-legger, you are powerless.”
Feeling the rush of wind from a passing car, I call out, “Okay, this has gone far enough. Whoever this dog belongs to needs to come put a leash on him before he gets hurt in traffic. Come get him and go play your joke on someone else.” But the few people several benches away shake their heads at me and go back to swiping the screens on their phones.
I gaze down at the dog. “Okay, so you got loose somehow. Let’s check your collar for a tag. Maybe it has the number for your owner on it.”
The dog stares back. “Owner? Who has an owner? Do you? I sure don’t. I’m a free dog, not some handbag accessory like those spoiled purse poopers who get carried around in luxury.”
The dog’s lips move in sync with the words I’m hearing. “You’re really speaking, aren’t you?” I must be losing it. I’m actually asking a dog for confirmation.
“Of course I’m really speaking. How else am I supposed to talk you into sharing your sandwich. You asked for extra mayo, didn’t you?”
“How’d you know about that? Are you psychic too?”
“You two-leggers will believe anything once there’s the slightest crack in your conditioned reality.”
“So you are psychic,” I mouth stupidly.
Another passing woman smiles at us and says, “It’s so sweet that you talk to your dog. I love it. And how you make him talk back is amazing. He’s like a living ventriloquist’s dummy.”
“Say something to her, dog,” I say.
But the dog is silent and the woman smiles and keeps walking.
“Why wouldn’t you say something to her?”
The dog watches her walk away. “She’s not carrying a foot-long sandwich smothered in mayonnaise. Look at her skinny legs. She’s definitely a salad and garbanzo bean type. I can’t survive on that sort of food. I need to eat, not nibble.”
“Yeah, but now she thinks I’m some crazy dude who makes up words for his dog and speaks them out loud like he’s carrying on a conversation.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be so concerned about what others think. They’re just thoughts anyway, and thoughts are even more ephemeral than the air you breathe.”
“Now I’m certain you’re speaking because I would never ever say anything as stupid-sounding as that, let alone be able to think it up. I’m not philosophical in the least. Why haven’t I seen you on television? I mean, you’re a freaking talking dog. You should be famous.”
The dog shakes his head as he snorts derisively. “Five minutes of fame, a few Scooby snacks, followed by a life locked in a crate in a government science lab as the military tries to figure out some way to weaponize me. Absolutely not. Besides, it’s much more likely that you’re hallucinating all of this. Maybe someone slipped a tab of acid into your mayo. Did you piss off the sandwich maker? You never want to piss off the sandwich maker. That’s rule number one in deli etiquette.”
“Nah, those two women who thought you were cute could see you.”
“Maybe you hallucinated them too.”
“Then I might as well be hallucinating my own self and everything else as well.”
“Some say all of life is just one big hallucination, a vast mental hologram of sorts.”
“Don’t give me that living in the Matrix crap without offering me the colored pills. Besides, if all of this is some mental hologram, why don’t you go dream up some mayonnaise of your own and leave me alone with my delusions of sanity?”
“You’ve got me there.” The dog licks his lips. “You are the one with the mayonnaise.”
“Ha! So I’m not crazy.”
“You do realize you’re asking that of a dog?”
I glance across the street to check on Stan’s progress in the restaurant’s window just as he emerges from the building’s entrance carrying a to-go bag. I roll my sub up in its wax paper and slip it back into its long skinny paper sack.
The dog whimpers again. “So much for Mr. Man learning to share.”
“I’m a slow learner. Now if I get up and leave and never see you again, I’m going to chalk you up to being a hallucination that will never be explained.”
“So you’re a blue pill sort of guy, eh?”
“I’m going to ignore your double entendre because not one of those people who took the red pill were ever happy, not to mention, clean.”
Stan reaches the end of the block and rounds the corner out of sight. I get up and cross the street. When I notice dog close on my heels, I ask, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m crossing the street. It’s much safer to do with a tall two-legger like you than on my own. You all are half blind when you get behind the wheel of those cars. The dead squirrels that litter your roads will attest to that. Oh wait, they can’t.”
“Don’t follow me. Go away hallucination.”
We round the corner after Stan. He is halfway down the block, the sidewalk all to himself, and headed in the opposite direction than back to his office where I picked up his trail.
The dog trots a little ahead of me. “I’m not following you, I’m following him. I was just talking to you to pass the time while he waited for his food order.”
“Who? Him?” I ask, pointing at Stan’s back.
“So am I,” I say.
“Why are you following him?” the dog asks.
“His wife is worried he might be stepping out on her.”
The dog snorts. “Oh, he’s doing much more than that.”
“He is? But why are you following him?”
“It’s my mission,” the dog says.
“Your mission? Dogs have missions?”
“Of course we do.”
“So what’s your mission?”
“The same as it always is. To save the world.”
“To save the world from Stan?”
“So his name is Stan?”
“Well, Mr. Man, Stan Stanley is just a minion, a pawn in a much larger threat. Are you good with doors?”
“Can you open them?”
“Umm… yeah, I can open a door.”
The dog tilts his head to the side. “You had to think about it first. That doesn’t inspire confidence. You better not be bluffing. We’re going to need to open a few doors if we’re going to keep up with him. My last sidekick really couldn’t manage the doors any better than I can.”
“Your last sidekick? What happened to him?”
“He was one of the aforementioned squirrels with his short life made even shorter by one of your blind drivers.”
At a transit stop at the end of the block, Stan jumps on a streetcar. I rush after him to catch it too, hoping he won’t recognize me if he spots me.
The dog shouts after me as he struggles to keep up, “Pick me up, pick me up.”
“Why? Weren’t you just knocking purse poopers only moments ago?”
“I’m your service dog, didn’t you know?”
“I don’t need a service dog,” I say but scoop him up anyway.
“Oh yes you do. I warn you when you’re about to hallucinate.”
“How convenient since I only hallucinate when you’re around. This is madness; I’m carrying my hallucination like a baby child.”
“Just don’t try to burp me. I might piddle if you do.”
We’re the last to board and the streetcar starts moving. Stan is holding onto a strap a few passengers ahead of us. As if super tired, he stares out the window in a mild trance. The streetcar rolls through downtown and crosses Burnside into the Pearl District where the old buildings have been renovated into condos.
A woman standing nearby hears the dog snort, turns to look and says, “Oh, what a cute dog. What’s his name?”
I look at the dog, waiting for him to answer, but of course he doesn’t, so I make some stuff up. “His show ring name is Fawn Star Pluto, but that’s only for the ring; all his friends just call him Mister Stinky Pants.”
The dog snorts again and says, “That’s stupid. Why would anyone call me that? I don’t even wear pants. You’re the one who wears stupid pants. Stop projecting your insecurities about your scent on me.”
The woman giggles. “Oh, you’re good. You should be on late-night television. Your lips didn’t move at all. Not one bit.”
“Hey, lady, give me a biscuit.”
She scratches the dog’s back. “I’m sorry, poochie, I don’t have any on me.”
“I bet you like garbanzo beans.”
The woman looks at me. “That’s so cute. I love his little slur. It’s like he’s drunk. How do you do that?”
“It’s a gift,” I say.
The dog squirms in my arms. “If we don’t get off this streetcar soon I’ll be giving you a very stinky gift.”
I wince at the woman. “I’m sorry, he doesn’t censor himself at all.”
“Lady, why don’t we get to know each other better?” The dog ogles the woman with his big brown eyes. “I’ll sniff your butt and you can sniff mine.”
I jiggle the dog in my arms. “I can’t believe you just said that. That is so gross.” I look at the woman. “I mean, not you, I’m sure your butt smells perfectly nice–oh hell, what am I saying? Please believe me, it’s him talking, not me speaking for him. He can actually talk like a human.”
“You’re hallucinating again,” the dog slurs in a high-pitched manic tone. “It’s time for you to take your meds. Meds please, meds please.”
We’ve made the woman totally uncomfortable, or rather, I’ve made the woman uncomfortable because from her perspective I’ve just asked to sniff her butt and her mine. I haven’t blushed in years, but I am now. Thankfully the streetcar comes to a stop at the end of the line. The woman smiles stiffly at us and follows the others off the streetcar.
“Goodbye, garbanzo bean,” the dog calls after her. “Smell you later.”
We follow Stan to the other end of the car and out the exit onto the sidewalk.
The dog takes in our surroundings and looks up at me. “Do you have a baggy?”
“I wasn’t kidding about needing to go. I don’t want you to get a ticket for not scooping your poop. They DNA test un-picked-up stool in this neighborhood and will hunt you down and haul you away to the people pound. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I don’t want to lose my new doorman before I’ve even tested you out.”
“You mean your poop, not mine. Is this going to be a hallucinatory poop or a real poop?”
“Put me down on the ground and let’s find out.”
“What about Stan? We’ll lose him.”
“Don’t worry about Stan. I can track those grilled tuna steaks he’s got in that to-go bag pretty much anywhere as long as I don’t get distracted by all that mayonnaise on that sandwich in your pocket.”
“You just won’t let that go, will you?”
Moments later we’re on the move again. The dog dances a little jig as he struts down the sidewalk. “Boy, that felt good. If the bag is tied real tight, you can use it as a pocket warmer.”
I toss the bag in a corner garbage can next to a drinking fountain.
The dog bounces up and down on his front legs. “Ooo, a drinking fountain. Lift me up. All this talking makes me thirsty. I don’t know how you two-leggers do it, talk-talk all the time and never a pause to sniff a hydrant or lamppost.”
Stan crosses the street ahead of us. “But Stan is getting away.”
“We don’t need to worry about Stan Stanley. I followed him this far before and know where he’s going. He’s headed inside that brick building over there by the abandoned railroad tracks. That building’s front door is a heavy one. I hope you’re up to the task. But first we’ll need to cross this busy street. It’s deadly.”
“Ah, your squirrel friend.”
“It was his indecision that got him. He got halfway across the street, changed his mind and turned back.”
I pick up the dog and he laps from the drinking fountain. Portland prides itself on its many corner drinking fountains with their continuously flowing water.
A passing man clears his throat and says, “That’s disgusting. You know people drink from that fountain.”
The dog stops lapping and glares at the man. “Ten to one my butt is cleaner than yours.”
The man stops walking and stares at me. “What was that?”
“This dog has very good hygiene,” I say.
“It’s still gross and wrong,” the man says. “People could catch some sort of dirty dog disease.”
The dog looks over at me. “It’s good foot fungus isn’t airborne or we’d be in big trouble from this guy. I can smell his feet from here rotting away inside his shoes.”
The man squares off with me. “What did you say?”
He clenches his fists. “Nothing my ass.”
The dog snorts. “Not your ass, cat lover, your feet. I’m wouldn’t go anywhere near your ass. That’s a level five biohazard.”
The man stares at me. “What are you? Some sort of crazy freak who talks through his dog?”
“Takes one to know one,” the dog says as I put him down on the ground. I want my hands free in case this guy lets loose on me.
Moving away from the guy, I say, “Come on, dog, let’s get going.”
As I consider how troublesome an uncensored dog can be, the dog lifts his leg over the man’s ankle and lets loose with a powerful stream. The man is so focused on me as the source of the insults that he doesn’t notice until it’s too late.
The dog and I are halfway down the block when we hear him call out, “Hey, your dog pissed on my—”
We round the corner into an alley and don’t hear the rest. “You can’t sound off on people like that,” I say. “Let alone pee on them.”
“Don’t worry about him. If he hadn’t started in on us about the drinking fountain he would’ve found something else. He’s one of them.”
“One of who?”
“Whether you like it or not, Mr. Man, you took the red pill today. There’s a whole other world out there living fast behind the veneer of the one you thought was real. That guy is one of the sentries they have posted around the building. You can always tell them by the cat fur they’re covered in and how they get obsessively annoyed by anything even remotely related to dogs.”
I shake my head. “What are you talking about?”
He stops walking and stares up at me. “He’s a cat person under their mind control to do their bidding without question, nothing more than a drone. You probably thought he was just another Portland busybody, worried about the environment as they pave another road for his Prius.”
I slip the compact camera out of my pocket and snap a few shots of Stan entering the old brick building across the street. I snap another shot of the street signs with the building behind them to give the location. I figure I’ll just try to balance the job and my hallucination, though after the woman’s reaction on the streetcar I’m pretty sure I’m not hallucinating. How could that be explained without my having become a master ventriloquist overnight without knowing it? Or maybe the mental hologram I live in has gone on the fritz. Who do I call to fix that? 1-800-God?
“Hey, Mr. Man, let’s cross this street and tackle that front door, see what you’re made of.”
I could walk away right now, ditch the dog by getting on the next streetcar, tell Eva I found nothing and put all of this weirdness behind me, but then the dog looks up at me and says, “I know this sounds kind of wimpy, but would you mind carrying me across the street? I can manage most streets just fine, but this one freaks me out.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” I say, scooping him up and noticing this time that his ribs are showing through his fur. He could benefit from a better diet. “You live on the street?”
“The whole stinking city is my yard.”
As we cross the street the sight of the building pulls at a thread of memory. This building has been on the news or in one of Portland’s weekly tabloids recently. It takes me a moment to place where. “This building is one of Portland’s most haunted. Willamette Week did a list last Halloween.”
The dog snorts. “That’s silly. There aren’t any ghosts around here.”
“How do you know that?”
“Do you think all of those times you see dogs barking at nothing they’re really that strung out that they are actually barking at nothing? I mean, sure, there are some dogs, just like people, who like to hear themselves talk so much they can’t shut up, but most are barking to keep the other side at bay.”
I tilt my head to the side. “An obnoxious dog barking away at nothing is a lot easier to believe than some guardian of the realm story about dogs keeping spooky things at bay in the dark by barking.”
“Of course it is, but I get it. You don’t want me to pop too many of your two-legger delusions about how you think the world works. You need them to prop up your reality.”
I finish crossing the street and put the dog down on the sidewalk. “How kind of you to not topple my reality.”
The building is a turn-of-the-last-century red brick affair that looks mostly shuttered and probably due to be renovated into condos soon for the pseudo artist hipsters downtown Portland is full of. The front doors are heavy and take a strong pull to open, but at least they’re unlocked. We slip inside and I hold the doors as they close to stop them from making a loud thud. The air is musty but even I can smell the scent of Stan’s takeout lingering in the entry portico.
“He went this way,” the dog says and waddles toward a door leading to a stairway.
I push the door open and up we head, around and around, floor after floor, until we reach the thirteenth and last floor.
Panting heavily, the dog says, “Why is it always the top floor with cats?”
I push open another door and follow the dog down a poorly lit hallway where he stops in front of an office door. The pebble glass in the door’s window is unmarked.
“He went in here,” the dog says.
I gently try the knob. It’s locked.
“I thought you said you could open doors?”
“I can, but not without a key if they’re locked.”
The dog sniffs the doorframe by the floor, his nose making a popping sound with the effort. “There’s a dog in there too. We need to get in, key or no key.” He starts scratching at the base of the door.
So much for stealth. “What are you doing?”
“Digging my way through the door.”
“Why don’t we just knock,” I say and do so. I’m pretty sure Stan hasn’t come all this way to have some sort of illicit affair in an old derelict building. Motel 6 would be a lot better suited for that.
I hear the sound of approaching steps as an outline of a figure grows in the door’s glass, then the door opens and Stan pokes his head out. He stares at me blankly at first, then his eyes clear. “Dixon? Is that you? What the hell are you doing here?”
I go with honesty. “Eva is worried about you.” While I talk, the dog slips inside.
“My wife? Why?”
“She thinks you’ve been acting strange.”
“Yeah, but why you?”
“That’s what I asked.”
The stench of a litter box comes through the gap between the door and the frame as a hissing fit erupts in the room. As Stan looks to see what’s going on, I push the door aside and squeeze past him beyond the door. The room is crowded with more cats than I’ve ever seen in one place, even at the pound. They’re of all shapes and colors, and in their midst, surrounded by a few of the bigger tomcats, the dog stands protectively over an injured merle-colored pooch.
“Grab him and let’s get out of here,” he says to me.
I quickly scoop up the merle dog in my left arm and make for the door.
Stan blocks my way, his eyes clouded with that glossy gaze again. “I can’t let you leave. That dog is on the dessert menu.”
“Sorry, Stan,” I say, then with my free right arm, I gut punch him. He buckles over and I shove him hard out of my way. We get past him and out the door. I check that the fawn dog is out too and close the door behind me, shutting the hissing cats inside, but as we run down the hall toward the stairwell, a lone cat screeches after us, “You can run now, but what is ours is ours forever. We’ll have our dessert.”
I push aside the door to the stairwell, thinking, what a creepy cat. And why the hell can I understand cats now too? What’s next? Bugs?
The dog stops behind me in the stairwell doorway and gives the cat the stink eye. “Is that so,” he says, and lifts his leg on the doorframe. “The stink of my pee is what forever is measured by.”
We head down the stairs, descending much faster than we went up. When we hit the sidewalk outside, the drone from the drinking fountain is running up the street toward us.
I flag a passing cab, surprised but thankful he stops with me holding a dog in my arms and with another at my side. All of us jump in and I say, “Washington Park, please.” And we zoom away.
In the back of the cab I look over the merle dog. He squirms out of my lap, saying, “Let me go, asphalt brain.” He moves across the bench seat and sits on the far side of the fawn dog.
“Hey, we just rescued you. You could be a little nicer,” I say.
When he looks at me, I notice he has one blue eye and one brown. I’m the one hearing voices but he looks crazy as can be with that eyeball setup. He nudges the fawn dog. “Tell pavement head I don’t talk to his sort. Besides, I had those kitty cats right where I wanted them. I was just about to make my move when you two bumblers barged in and screwed up my play.”
“What’s going on in that building with all those cats?” I ask.
The injured dog looks at the other. “Why is he still talking to me? Tell him to stick his nose in his phone like the rest of them and leave the serious stuff to the professionals.”
The fawn dog looks over at me and half rolls his eyes. “Few are as easygoing as me.”
I jerk my chin at the merle. “Is he going to be okay?”
The fawn sniffs him. “Nothing a little water and food won’t fix.”
The merle raises his head high and sniffs the air. He looks at the cab driver, then at me and says, “Okay, which one of you is holding? I smell mayonnaise.”
At Washington Park, I pay off the cabdriver, tipping him well for not commenting on my odd behavior, and we head up to a picnic table. I split my sandwich into thirds and pass it around. The two dogs inhale their shares, then stare at me as I eat mine at a normal pace.
“He took the biggest part for himself, didn’t he?” the merle says.
“In his defense, he is bigger,” the fawn says.
“But I’m hungrier.” The merle tilts his head at me. “How is it he can understand what we’re saying? I’ve been growling and snarling at two-leggers for years and not a single one pays me any attention until I sink my teeth into them.”
“I don’t know. Even weirder, other two-leggers can understand us too when we’re near him. I tested it out on the streetcar.”
“You rode on the streetcar?”
“There are a lot of crumbs to eat on streetcars.” Drool flows freely from the side of the merle’s mouth as he returns to staring at me eat.
I give in to his Jedi dog powers. “Okay already,” I say, and I tear my part of the sandwich in half and give each dog his part.
When the sandwich is gone, the merle looks at the fawn and says, “What now?”
“I figure I’ll stay with the two-legger a while.”
“Why? He’s out of food. What good is he now?”
“We can understand what he says. That has to be significant.”
The merle dog shakes his head. “Oh I get it. You want to confirm how stupid two-leggers are by listening to him for a while. I can understand that, though it might be a little demoralizing for you to learn it up close and personal. I’ll hang around for a bit, at least until I’m hungry again.”
“That’s not why and you know it.”
“Yeah, but no dog actually believes that old prophecy. It’s just a tale told to pups.”
I scrunch up my face in confusion. “Dogs have prophecies?”
“Of course we do, just like people, except ours don’t involve decimating the planet and killing off our species,” the fawn says. “One day a dog will be born in the body of a man and he will be the anti-man and lead us through the great tribulations.”
I slowly shake my head. “You’ve got the wrong guy, pal.”
The merle bumps the fawn. “Tales for pups, dog. This rock head could barely lead us out of that building.”
I look at the two dogs. “Hey, I can open doors; I don’t see you two doing that.” I’m exhausted. My brain is fried. I get up from the bench and start walking toward home.
“Where’s he going?” the merle asks the fawn.
“I don’t know. Where are you going, Mr. Man?”
“Home. After all of that excitement, I need a nap.”
As the two dogs get up and follow me, the merle says, “Hey, he might not be as stupid as I thought. A nap is just what I was thinking of.”
The fawn rolls his eyes. “Great minds think alike.”
I stop and look at the dogs. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“With you,” they say together.
“Don’t I have a say in this?” I ask.
The merle snorts. “Ha, the cement-head still believes in control.”
I shake my head, give up, and start walking again. With a dog on either side of me, I ask, “Why would cats gather like that? What are they up to? Can they really control minds?”
The fawn rolls his eyes. “Who do think controls your military?”
The merle grunts as he waddles. “They’re up to something big. I overheard them talking about how they’d finally made contact. They thought I was passed out and not listening, but I heard.”
The fawn slowly shakes his head. “Not contact? That’s bad.”
“Contact with what?” I ask.
“It could be the lizard men,” the merle says.
“Or the Nephilim giants who inhabit the hollow Earth,” the fawn says.
The merle nose-bumps my leg. “You better hope it’s not them. They’re cannibals and eat two-leggers like you.”
“Their feet have six toes to catch you, their hands have six fingers to grasp you, and they have double rows of teeth to crush you. There’s not a more formidable eating machine on land than the Nephilim,” the fawn says. “They’re like killer whales with legs.”
“And in their culinary world, mayonnaise-clogged arteries are a delicacy. You’ll be in high demand,” the merle says. “But the good news is, they’ll fatten you up first. You’ll be living on nothing but mayonnaise for weeks before they gobble you down.”