“I guess you’ve been busy lately,” she said. I caught the familiar citrus scent a split-second too late to be forewarned.
“Well, if it isn’t C. R. Manning, ace reporter,” I said. “I guess you’ve been busy yourself.”
She grinned, but when she tried to fall into step beside me, Warren blocked her, and the suddenness of his move caused Getlo to yip in surprise. Yeah, that was me: practically a Ph.D. and now the designated dog-walker—with a bodyguard, no less.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Warren said. “Security.”
She stepped back and put her hands on her hips. “Hank, will you please tell your bodyguard that I’m a friend?”
“No comment,” I said, and kept walking.
“Oh, come on, Hank,” she said, irritation in her voice. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I kept walking. By now, Getlo had spotted the other dogs and was dragging me forward, so my gait wasn’t projecting the image of cool indifference I’d been going for, especially since I was wearing the sunglasses again and couldn’t see very well.
“It’s Washington, for crissake!” she called after me. “You’re not supposed to trust anybody!”
Good to know, I thought. Sooner would have been better.
I knew I was being an asshole. If I were honest with myself, I had nobody to blame but myself for getting into so much hot water with Ginger. But self-directed honesty is way overrated, in my opinion, and C. R. Manning made such a convenient scapegoat.
Warren and I entered the dog park enclosure and bent together to unclip Getlo’s leash. This was part of our act as a gay couple on an outing with our dog. As I fumbled with the clip, Warren brushed my hand aside, and said in a low voice, “Don’t get any ideas.”
“Thanks for the protection,” I said.
“Part of my job,” he said, and straightened. “In fact, given that she’s a major security risk, I was specifically warned to keep her away from you.”
I felt my face grow pink.
I had never been to a dog park, but it struck me now as I looked around that there were probably few places on Earth where one could witness such uncomplicated, unbridled joy. Dogs were running, jumping, waddling, rolling, sniffing, pawing, panting, and lolling, chasing Frisbees, balls, people and other dogs. To the other humans in the park, Getlo was in disguise—a small perpetually moving monument to Jeremy’s inventiveness—but to the other dogs, she was simply herself. One sniff at her butt and they knew all they needed to know about her. As I sat on a picnic bench watching Warren throw a koosh ball for her to chase, I thought what a terrible shame it would be if the dogs ended up getting sacrificed to human stupidity. I thought that on the whole the universe would be no worse off if it lost six billion human beings, but dogs? That would be a tragedy.
Warren lobbed the ball. Getlo’s eyes followed it, and her feet followed her eyes. She didn’t see the big retriever until she slammed into him. She lay sprawled on the ground. I launched myself off the park bench.
But the first person to bend over her and pick her up wasn’t Warren. It was Dave the masseur.
“I’m really sorry,” he said, “but I think she’s fine.”
Getlo wagged her tail in affirmation. The big dog had turned to regard her.
I stared at Dave in confusion. What was a G-man doing in the dog park? Had his failure at electronic surveillance demoted him to dog-tailing? He was crouched down, petting both Getlo and the Golden. He was in shirtsleeves, his tie pulled loose. Then I noticed the plastic grocery bag tucked into his belt—universal badge of dog ownership. Of course, the dog could have been an agent, too, but he didn’t look like one. A retired agent, maybe.
“Clyde,” he was saying now, “say you’re sorry.”
“No harm, no foul, man,” Warren was saying. “Wasn’t Clyde’s fault.”
“His hearing isn’t so good,” Dave said, fondling the big dog’s ears. “In his younger days, he would have heard her coming.” Clyde lowered his head slowly to touch noses with Getlo. He had the tentative movements and bony protrusions of an old, arthritic dog.
“What are you doing here, Dave?” I said. “You bring your dog on a stakeout?”
He looked sheepish. “I don’t like to leave him at home by himself. He’s always liked riding in the car, and we’ve always spent a lot of time together. So, I—.” He made a vague gesture. “When the weather warms up, I won’t be able to, of course. But he’s got his dog bed and his water dish, and he’s perfectly happy until I get back to walk him.” He looked around. “He loves the dog park. I think he comes here to remember his youth.”
I introduced him to Warren as my massage therapist. Warren said “oh,” and studied him keenly. Dave and I sat down on a bench.
“How’s your back?” Dave asked.
“Great. I finally asked Larry to work on it.”
“Yeah? What’d he do?” Dave seemed genuinely interested.
“Don’t know,” I said. “I couldn’t see. I don’t think he even touched me—not really. It was like he penetrated my body with these fingers of energy or something.”
“Huh,” Dave said. “No shit.”
We watched Warren playing with both dogs. He’d throw the ball for Getlo to chase, and she’d return it to the Golden. Then he’d pick it up as gently as a pheasant and take it to Warren.
“She looks great,” Dave said. “I mean, she looks awful, but that’s great. Nobody would know it’s the same dog. Did Jeremy do that?”
“Yeah, with a bucket of fill dirt from the construction site up the street.”
We sat in companionable silence. Then he said, “I’ve been thinking about what we talked about.”
“Yeah?” I said. I wasn’t sure what he meant. In my peripheral vision I could tell that he was still watching the dogs.
“I looked into those fantasy baseball camps—you know, the ones where ordinary adults get to live out their dreams and play with hall-of-famers? I’m thinking of going to one next winter,” he said. Then he added, “If we’re all still here, of course.”
I looked at him. “Wow, that’s great, Dave!”
He shrugged. “It’s a long time away. A lot could happen.”
“Well, sure,” I said. “That’s always true.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I mean, I could wake up dead tomorrow, and then I’d be kicking myself that I never played while I had the chance.”
I watched a pack of assorted dogs circling a youngish kid in a parka. He appeared to be mentally handicapped, and he was spinning around and shrieking so that at first I was worried about him. But just when I was about to go rescue him, he collapsed in the middle of the pack and came up giggling, throwing his arm around the nearest dog as the others crowded in to lick his face. I smiled.
“Can I ask you something?” Dave said.
“If I’m out of line, just tell me, and I’ll back off.”
I turned to him.
“If they do destroy Earth,” he said, “do you know anything about the time frame? I mean, are they the guys who’ll push the button? There’s something about physics, I know—about time being different in outer space and all. I know that time passes a lot slower in space than it does here on Earth, but I don’t know how much slower. So—I was just wondering.”
I laughed and clapped him on the back. “Just send in the fucking deposit, Dave. Just do it.”