O is for Outlaw Page 8

Half a second later, the object of my speculation appeared on the scene. He'd probably been alerted by the noise and came skidding around the corner to see what was up. I'm not dog oriented by nature and I hardly know one breed from the next, with the exception of Chihuahuas, cocker spaniels, and other obvious types. This dog was big, maybe eighty pounds of lean weight on a heavily boned frame. What the hell was he doing while I was ringing the bell? The least he could have done was barked properly to warn me off. The dog was a medium brown with a big face, thick head, and a short, sleek coat. He was heavy through the chest and he had a dick the size of a hairy six-inch Gloria Cubana. A ruff of coarse hair was standing up along his spine, as though from permanent outrage. He stopped in his tracks and stood there, his expression a perfect blend of confusion and incredulity. I could almost see the question mark forming above his head. Apparently, in his experience, few human beings had tried to slither through his private entrance. I ceased struggling, to allow him time to assess the situation. I must not have represented any immediate threat because he neither lunged nor barked nor bit me cruelly about the head and shoulders. On the contrary, he seemed to feel that something was required of him in the way of polite behavior, though I could tell he was having trouble deciding what would be appropriate. He made a whining sound, dropped to his belly, and crept across the floor to me. I stayed where I was. For a while, we lay face-to-face while I suffered his meaty breath and he thought about life. Me and dogs always seem to end up in relationships like this. "Hi, how're you," I said finally, in what I hoped was a pleasant tone (from the dog's perspective).

He put his head down on his paws and shot me a worried look.

I said, "Listen, I hope you don't mind if I slide on in, because any minute your neighbor's going to look out the window and catch sight of my hiney-bumper hanging out the doggie door. If you have any objections, speak now or forever hold your peace."

I waited, but the dog never even bared his gums. Using my elbows for leverage, I completed ingress, saying, "Nice dog," "What a good pooch," and similar kiss-ass phrases. His tall began to thump with hope. Maybe I was the little friend his dad had promised would come and play with him.

Once inside the kitchen, I began to rise to my feet. This, in the dog's mind, converted me Into a beast that might require savaging. He leapt up, head down, ears back, beginning an experimental growl, his entire chest wall vibrating like a swarm of bees on the move. I sank down to my original submissive position. "Good boy," I murmured, humbly lowering my gaze.

I waited while the dog tested the parameters of his responsibility. The growling faded in due course. I tried again. Lifting on to my hands and knees seemed acceptable, but the minute I attempted to stand, the growling started up again. Make no mistake about it, this dog meant business.

"You're very strict," I said.

I waited a few moments and tried yet again. This time the effort netted me a furious bark. "Okay, okay." The big guy was beginning to get on my nerves. In theory, I was close enough to the doggie door to effect an escape, but I was fearful of going head first, thus exposing my rear end. I was also worried about going out feet first lest the dog attack my upper body while I was wedged in the opening. Meanwhile, the kitchen clock was ticking like a time bomb, forcing a decision. The curtain or the box? I could visualize Ted Rich barreling down the highway in my direction. I had to do something. Still on my hands and knees, I crawled forward a step. The dog watched with vigilance but made no menacing gesture. Slowly, I headed across the kitchen floor toward the front of the house. The dog tagged along beside me, his toenails clicking on the grimy linoleum, his full attention focused on my plodding journey. Already, I realized I hadn't really thought this thing through, but I'd been so intent on my ends, I hadn't fully formulated the means.

Babylike, in my romper, I traversed the dining room, bypassed the motorcycle, and entered the living room. This room was carpeted but otherwise contained little in the way of interest. I crawled down the hallway with the dog keeping pace, his head hanging down till his gaze was level with mine. I suppose I should state right here that what I was doing isn't routine behavior for a private eye. My conduct was more typical of someone intent on petty theft, too mulish and impetuous to use legitimate means (provided she could think of any). In the law enforcement sector, my actions would be classified as trespass, burglary, and (given the key picks in my pocket) possession of burglary tools, California Penal Code sections 60, 459, and 466 respectively. I hadn't stolen anything (yet) and the item I was after was purely intellectual, but it was nonetheless illegal to squirm through a doggie door and start crawling down a hall. Caught in the act, I'd be subject to arrest and y liveliconviction, perhaps forfeiting my license and my livelihood. Well, dang. All this for a man I'd left after less than nine months of marriage.

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