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You can’t hurry love. And you can’t slow it down either. Love is capricious chance. If you’re looking for a Jenna Jameson, chances are you’ll end up with a Reese Witherspoon. It happened to me.
I was a little disappointed that I had to go to the party alone. I don’t like Gothic. Judy and Max Gherkin’s house is a modernist Manderley. It’s like Rebecca, with too many ghosts, hidden secrets and toxic minds. While their manse was designed for light and space, it hung more like Grey Gardens.
Judy is young and she is an eager new bride. Her recently enhanced bosom is now as ample as her inheritance.
Max Gherkin is a trust conservator who is successful at beguiling trust; it’s the state regulators who are not trusting him. Over dry and sallow skin, Max wears the cloak of the haunted.
Who was I to question where the money came from? The bartender was heavy-handed and the actors, subbing as waiters, never stopped passing the top-flight hors d’oeuvres.
As Max left with the excuse of getting more ice, he warned his new wife, Judy, that she better not go into the kennel for fear of roiling the dogs. She nodded obediently.
For kicks, Max Gherkin sports a kennel that breeds dogs for canine beauty pageants.
As soon as Max left, Judy brightened up and elbowed me in the ribs. “Let’s go see the doggies!”
With provisions from the bar, we hiked to the homestead of thirty-four little pups. The kennel was quiet except for the radio; it was tuned to a hardcore gangsta rap station that the dogs favor as a lullaby.
Judy and I stood before a wall of crates stacked five high filled with slumbering pups. Some were snoring. Some were stretched out while others were curled in a ball. A few were twitching nervously in their sleep.
In the middle of this snoozing canine sculpture, only one wet nose was wide-awake and pressed against the grate. The duct tape nameplate read ‘Unnamed Girl No. 2.”
It was love at first sight. The year old was looking up at me with eager eyes and a tail tempo that tripled the Jay-Z beat. She squealed with delight. Maybe I did too. Her love was requited. This was the cutest little dog I had ever seen. In my whole life. One ear stood up while the other lounged at half-mast. Her nose was a black button and she was smiling.
“What in the heck is it?” I asked.
“A tuxedo dog!" Judy answered, "A wire-haired fox terrier.”
“How cute! How sweet!”
“eh... Not really. They kill foxes---on a foxhunt. They have a lockjaw bite like a pitbull. Max says you pull the dog out of your saddlebag by their handy little tail and toss ‘em into the foxhole. They’re tough buggers.”
“Well then, Tally-Ho. I’m in love.”
“Really?” Judy asked, “Unnamed Number Two is the runt of the litter... And we are trying to get rid of some inventory…”
I stood a little taller, cleared my throat and said, “I can give her a name.”
Immediately I forgot about the Doberman. I had another dog to rescue. I guess, down deep, every Daddy needs a little girl to love.
The loud beating of my heart must have woken up the entire compound. Within seconds, thirty-four dogs were yowling, yapping and yodeling.
I started to laugh but Judy looked at me with alarm. The caterwaul was funny but deafening; the dogs were trying to bark-out the other. It was madness.
“Max,” she said as she grabbed my arm. The fear in here eyes was tangible. We hightailed it outta there fast.
As we lit out across the courtyard, Max blew in on his Escalade. I yanked Judy behind a leafy hedge and we ducked low, unseen. I could see his face flare when he heard the chaos in the kennel.
Swearing loudly, Gherkin ran to the singing dogs.
Judy looked like she was going to lose her hors d’oeuvres. Quietly, I whispered a measured "One... Two... Three... Four..."
I grabbed her hand and we dashed across the whithered garden, around the back and into the party where we put on the skids and split. I always hate that awkward moment of deacceleration when the forehead feels too moist, each breath is choked-back and nonchalance feels like a bad performance of Hamlet.
A short while later, Max entered the house. I was pretending to admire the modern-like art, but all I could see were the rusty water stains that striped the walls. They looked like tears, the urine stains of paranoia and fear. It was evidence of a house in decline and a soul in arrears. The blemish was nothing phantasmagoric; it was merely the poor engineering of a fifth-rate Rem Koolhaas.
Max carried Judy’s champagne glass, the one with the lipstick smear that she had left in the kennel.
He crossed the room to his young wife and silently interrupted the conversation she was having. He slowly plucked a leaf that was tangled in her hair, inspecting it as if the leaf held great significance.
(Instinctively, I brushed at my jacket. I've been in this situation before.)
Max took his wife by the elbow and silently led her out of the room.
I didn’t see her the rest of the night.
And I didn’t know her well enough to ask about it later.
A week later, Judy and I were lounging by Max’s pool with its smoggy view of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Bloody Marys were fresh and the languor was high. My little dog Nora was running around with a couple of her cousins. I was observing and noting what a busy breed they are---when tragedy struck.
I saw it all in slow motion.
A little male, Nora’s brother, was screwing around and fell into the pool. He went straight down.
Then he popped up like a cork as I was rising from my chair. The little dog was panicked, unable to move, breathless; he sank again like a lead anchor…
He was underwater much longer this time, but the fox killer resurfaced. By then I was at pool’s edge. I took a swipe but the dog was out of reach. His eyes were wild, pleading at me, as his water was rising. He went under for the third and final time.
Again, I grabbed green water and thin air. The dog was sinking deeper and further away.
I took a look at my shoes and made a few calculations of cost, style and waterproof-ability. Since they were my last good pair and adverse to liquid, I extended my arm even further. Economic necessity can make you do incredible things. Like Mr. Fantastic with telescoping arms, I snatched that dog from his watery grave.
As I hauled him to shore, his black almond-shaped eyes locked onto mine and we became one.
I whispered into his ear, “My brother, I will give you a life.”
The dog nodded a soggy reply.
In the next issue of Artillery Magazine, we will highlight the Vegas rehearsal, the fly-away showgirl costume of trainer Karman Knights and discover how two dancing dogs transmogrify into a crisis of conscience, representing no less than the totality of heaven and hell.
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