Going to the Dogs
When a screenwriter was found dead in the dog park, it soon transpired that a lot of people had an excellent reason to want him dead. Unfortunately they also had excellent alibis. And so it’s safe to say we had our work cut out for us, especially when we learned that the dead man had discovered the secret to eternal life. A pill he had developed that would make people live forever. But was he for real or a fraud? And was this Infinity pill the reason he was killed?
I would have given the case my full attention if Marge hadn’t decided to take us all to the pet salon, figuring we were in need of a beauty treatment. She demanded I receive the ‘full package’ and so I did. If only I had known what was in store for me I would have refused in the strongest possible terms. And then there was the fact that our home was being invaded by no less than two pets: a French poodle and an anole lizard. It was enough to make any detective despair!
Raoul Cauvin had been working hard all morning. He had just finished the final draft of his new screenplay, and even though he couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, he had a feeling this might be it. This was the masterpiece to trump all masterpieces and would turn out to be his chef d’œuvre.
He had been working on the screenplay for many months now, laboring incessantly to whip it into shape. And now, after another sleepless night burning the midnight oil, he felt he’d gotten it just right. As he closed his laptop and sat back, stretching his arms over his head and experiencing a gentle crackling in his neck and upper back, he smiled, knowing he’d managed that rare feat: to write a blockbuster movie. Nobody knows what makes one movie a hit and another a painful and costly flop, not even studio executives, directors, producers, or anyone else who shepherds a flick through the different stages of production to the final release. But Raoul knew. He had discovered the secret.
The movie industry had always fascinated him to a great degree, and he had been its keen student for many years. What fascinated him first and foremost was trying to nail down the formula of what it took to create a blockbuster. And now he finally had it. Even though he knew he could probably make a fortune writing a book about his secret formula, he actually had an even better idea: to write a movie following the brilliant ideas as he had outlined them in his head. Then, once the movie was the surefire hit he knew it would be, he would release his book outlining how he had gone from the initial nugget of an idea to the final product and turn it into a blockbuster movie. The kind of picture people would talk about for decades. The ultimate flick that would blow all the others out of the water.
With his modest ambitions thusly outlined, he had set about creating the perfect hit movie, and now that he had finally put the finishing touches to his screenplay, he knew it was only a matter of time before it was snapped up in a bidding war between the different studios, and he would be on velvet.
“So what do you think?” he asked his dog, a French poodle answering to the name Gina Lollobrigida. “Should I send it out right now, or let it rest for a couple of days and take another look?”
Gina barked once, indicating that he shouldn’t waste time second-guessing himself and simply send off his masterpiece right now.
He grinned and decided that Gina was probably right. And so he opened his laptop again, exported the screenplay in the correct format, and called up his list of agents, managers, and producers he had painstakingly collected over the past couple of months while he was slaving away on his script, engaging other wannabe screenwriters in conversations in the different groups he was a member of. He had collected a list of about a thousand names and now put them all in BCC in an email, attached his screenplay, added a few words of introduction about himself and his hit script, then hit send.
“Done,” he said with satisfaction.
Gina barked her approval. She never was one for procrastination and favored quick service.
And since now all he had to do was wait until the multi-million-dollar offers started rolling in, he decided to take Gina for a walk. After all, she deserved it, as she had been more than instrumental in the creation of his script. She was, after all, one of the main characters in the story and had been an inspiration throughout.
The story revolved around a retired police officer and his dog who traipse around the country solving crimes his not-retired colleagues find impossible to solve. Through his intuitive approach to policing and with the assistance of his gifted French poodle, man and dog solve case after case, even the ones that are most baffling. In the end, they both become highly sought-after consultants and launch into a second career as private detectives, becoming the best-paid private eyes in the country.
And the secret sauce to this admittedly rather pedestrian set-up? Saul Barker, the main character in the story, can actually talk to his dog, Gina! Now that’s a twist nobody would see coming, he was convinced of it. Almost as if Sherlock Holmes had a dog to assist him in solving his cases instead of Doctor Watson. And the best part was that nobody else knew about this big secret, which had come about after Saul had been struck by lightning one night, and the next thing he knew, he could talk to dogs!
Highly original, he knew, and guaranteed to find an eager audience in both mystery lovers and dog lovers alike. It just could not go wrong with this kind of premise.
He got up to grab Gina’s leash from the hook near the door. The dog immediately jumped to attention. She recognized the gesture and started running circles on the floor, then jumped up at him in anticipation. He hooked the leash onto her collar, and then they were off to the dog park. Already Raoul could see a sequel to his movie, and maybe even a complete series. There could be ten movies with the same characters, or two dozen, or maybe the series would run indefinitely! Or possibly the studio would prefer to turn it into a hit series instead. Whatever the case may be, he was on velvet, and so it was with a song on his lips and a spring in his step that he walked along the sidewalk in the direction of the dog park, where he could let Gina off her leash so she could fraternize with her fellow canine friends while Raoul thought some more about possible sequels and beyond. And merchandising, of course. Action figures of Saul Barker and his dog Gina. Games. Books. The possibilities were endless!
From time to time, he checked his phone to see how many agents and managers had already gotten back to him. Plenty had, but so far only the canned standard response that regrettably they weren’t interested.
It only took one, he knew. One person who saw the amazing potential and decided to take a chance on a new and unknown screenwriter. But so far, nothing.
He took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one up. And as he stood there, nervously dragging from his cigarette, a woman sidled up to him. She was accompanied by a small dog, and soon they were chatting amiably about this and that, but mostly about their dogs. He had discovered when he got Gina that dog owners are a most talkative group of people, and that for some, having a dog is simply an excuse to go out and about and meet other dog owners. It sure gives you a great excuse to strike up a conversation since you’ll always have something in common to talk about.
“So, what do you do for a living, Raoul?” asked the woman, whose name was Jill Wheeler.
“I’m a screenwriter, actually,” he revealed.
“Oh, that’s so interesting. Have you written anything I’ve seen?”
The question was one dreaded by all aspiring writers and screenwriters.
“Not yet,” he said. “I’m very much in the beginning stages of my career. But I just finished a script, and I feel it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written.”
“That sounds intriguing,” she said and gave him a curious look. “What is it about?”
As a rule, he didn’t feel comfortable revealing to anyone what he had written or was working on since he was superstitious that way. But Jill had such a disarming way about her that he soon found himself telling her all about the story. He could tell it was gripping her, as he had known it would.
“And so the dog can talk to his owner?”
“That’s right. That’s how he’s got such a high crime clearance rate.”
She grinned. “The dog helps him out every time.”
“He does!” He was glad that she got it so quickly. But then of course he had known that people would respond favorably to the set-up since it fully adhered to the blockbuster formula he’d created.
Jill had a great smile, he thought. When she laughed, dimples formed in her cheeks that gave her a lovely look. Odd that he had never seen her at the dog park before, but then maybe she was new in the area.
“If you like, I could send it to you,” he suggested.
“Oh, I would love that.”
“It looks a little weird since it’s not a book but a script, but I think you’ll soon get the hang of it.”
“Oh, but I’ve read screenplays before,” she said.
“You have? Not many people read screenplays.” In fact, he only read them because he wrote them himself and liked to keep abreast of the trends and what his competition was up to.
“I work for Nickelodeon as a script consultant, so it’s actually my job to read through all the scripts that come in and separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Now wasn’t that an amazing coincidence? “You wouldn’t happen to know anyone interested in a story like mine, would you? I mean, it’s not a kids’ story, obviously, but if you work in the industry, maybe you could give me a recommendation?”
“Of course,” she said, much to his amazement. “I could even do you one better. Send me your script, and I’ll give it a read. And then if I like it, I’ll send it on to some of my contacts. I know plenty of production companies who might be interested in your story.” She gave him a radiant smile, and for a moment, he felt a little dizzy. Not only had he potentially made a breakthrough with his script, but as he took her in, he felt the early stirrings of something deep and wonderful in the vicinity of his heart.
This woman, he decided, was the full package: beautiful, smart as a whip, and she worked in the same business he was desperately trying to break into!
A sudden urge to impress her came over him, and so he decided to stray from his golden rule not to talk about his book. “I’ve actually been working on something else. It’s a book that tries to analyze what makes a story blockbuster material. And I think I’ve finally cracked the code.”
She gave him an appropriately impressed look. “You have? But that’s great, Raoul. Could you send me a copy of the book? I would love to read it.”
“It’s not out yet,” he said. “First, I wanted to test the theory for myself, you see.”
“By writing a blockbuster movie,” she said, nodding. “Good thinking. And then if you succeed, you can add the script as an addendum to the book.”
“That’s exactly what I was going to do!” he said, feeling exhilarated that there stood a woman so like-minded they were practically finishing each other’s sentences. They loved dogs, they were in the same line of work, and they obviously shared a powerful rapport. And as a certain giddiness took hold of him, he said, “I’ll send you a copy. Then you can tell me what you think.”
“I’d love that, Raoul. I think it’s absolutely brilliant what you’re trying to achieve, and I think you’ll sell your screenplay in no time.”
“That’s what I hope.” And then turn it into a blockbuster motion picture, of course, and prove to the world that he, Raoul Cauvin, had finally cracked the Hollywood code. Which incidentally was the name of his book: ‘Cracking Hollywood: How to Write a Blockbuster Movie.’
They exchanged email addresses, and he promised he would shoot her an email the moment he was back at his desk, both with the script and the book.
“Don’t forget,” she said. “I really want to read what you’ve written, Raoul.”
“I won’t,” he promised. How could he? He’d probably never forget about this auspicious meeting.
He watched Jill walk off to take her dog home, and ambled over to a copse of trees nearby, lit a cigarette and dreamed about going to see his own movie in his own local cinema with Jill by his side. Now wouldn’t that be something? They’d be eating popcorn from the same bucket and laugh at the same jokes and generally behave like any couple would. They could call their son Saul, like the character of his hit movie. And if it was a girl, Gina. And as he stood there basking in the afterglow of a wonderful conversation with an amazing lady, he checked his watch. Now what was taking so long?
Parker Jones had just fed her chickens and wondered if she’d done right by them. She was a lively young woman who believed in growing her own produce, raising her own chickens, and generally reducing her ecological footprint as much as possible. In that sense, she took after her mom, who had been young in the sixties and part of the peace and love generation. And even though Parker was very much in favor of peace, she wasn’t all that sure about the love bit. After all, her dad had left her mom to raise her daughter all by her lonesome, so obviously there hadn’t been all that much love to share. Or maybe her dad had so much love to share he didn’t think it fair to limit that vast output to one woman.
Parker watched as her chickies pecked away at the grain she had supplied with a generous hand, and a smile lit up her face. Even though they hadn’t laid a single egg yet, she knew that any day now they could and would give her all the eggs she needed.
She moved over to her small patch of green located behind her lovely little home. It was a rental, but she had asked for and received permission to turn the concrete deck into a small city garden. And so she had planted a few tomato plants, some lettuce and radishes, and a few herbs, and hoped they would all produce a nice harvest at some point in the near future. She didn’t think it was feasible to grow all of her own veggies, but it was a start. And if she kept this up, she might even be able to prove to her colleagues at work that homegrown tomatoes are that much juicier and tastier than the supermarket variety.
As a graphic designer, she worked for a small start-up engaged in providing artwork for businesses that didn’t have their own in-house art department. Mostly, this involved flyers and websites and such, but from time to time, she got to create some truly unique pieces. Only last week, a shoe store had commissioned artwork to liven up their shop. The theme, of course, was footwear, but she had received carte blanche to do whatever she liked. The store was small and the commission was modest, but it had given her such joy to create these unique pieces she had immediately asked her boss that if any more of such commissions came in, to ask her first. And her boss, bless his heart, had said yes!
It wasn’t much, but it represented a definite stepping stone to greater success in the future.
As an art student, she had dreamed of creating her own designs, of course, but had soon realized this wasn’t all that feasible. And so her mom had told her that if she wanted to get a job that would provide a decent income, she would have to compromise. And truth be told, the company she now worked for was exactly the kind of compromise she thought was suitable for her. The work was varied and challenging, her colleagues fun and quirky, and her boss was kind and open to suggestions—not the kind of corporate shark you find in some places.
All in all, she felt she had landed the perfect first job, and now if she could find the time to keep evolving her own personal style and creating her own stuff, that would be just excellent.
The doorbell jangled, and she rose from her inspection of her tomato plants to see who was at the door. Much to her surprise, it was her best friend Carol, who worked as a buyer for a big supermarket chain. Carol appeared to be on the verge of tears, and as she ushered her into her living room and instructed her to take a seat on her pink couch—in the shape of a pig—she had an inkling of what her friend was going to say.
“I left him,” Carol declared sniffishly.
Parker dragged a few tissues from the dispenser and handed them to her friend, who proceeded to burst into a flood of tears. In gulps and sniffles, the whole story came tumbling out. Apparently, Carol’s on-again-off-again boyfriend of five years, Tim Eltis, had cheated on her and then had the nerve to deny it.
“He lied to me!” Carol cried. “He straight-faced lied to me, Parker!”
“I know, I know,” she said, as she patted her friend on the knee. For some reason, Carol kept forgiving the man, even though he had cheated on her with different women many times. He had even hit on Parker once during a Christmas party, then later denied the fact vehemently and said Parker was mistaken, and he only tried to be friendly. At first, she had hoped that Carol would finally see the light and break up with the guy, but she kept going back to him, only to have the whole cycle start up again, with the same predictable result. None of Carol’s friends could make head nor tails of her behavior. She was a hard-working, extremely competent, and intelligent woman who had made a stellar career at Starmart, and yet she kept associating with this loser.
It was a mystery, and one Parker didn’t think she’d ever be able to solve.
“This time it’s over,” Carol declared solemnly. “I won’t take him back, no matter how much he begs and pleads. He’s really done it this time.”
“Who was it?” asked Parker, even though she wasn’t really all that interested.
“A colleague from work,” said Carol with a wave of the hand. “I caught them in the toilets. They were in the cubicle next to mine, and I thought I recognized his voice. So I stood on the toilet seat to take a look, and there he was: kissing Francine from accounts! Only this time, I took a picture since I knew he’d only deny the whole thing later on. But then when I showed him the picture, he said it was photoshopped and nothing happened!”
“The louse,” said Parker without a lot of emotion.
“Exactly! The man is a louse. Worse, a parasite on a louse! Worse: a speck of dust on a parasite on a louse!”
Parker checked her watch. She should be getting ready for work, and if she wasn’t mistaken, so should Carol. “Maybe we should get going?” she suggested.
“I quit,” Carol announced, tilting her chin in a gesture of defiance.
“I can’t work for the same company as that man! So I told him he should quit, and when he wouldn’t, I said I’d quit. And you know what he did?”
“He laughed! Said I’d never have the guts to quit. So I walked straight to the HR department, and I told them I was quitting—effective immediately.” Then she sagged a little. “They wouldn’t accept my resignation, though. Said I couldn’t leave them in the lurch like that—especially over such a trivial thing as Tim hooking up with Francine.”
“Wait, they knew?”
“I told them,” Carol admitted.
“Of course you did.” Carol was the kind of person who wore her heart on her sleeve. Everyone always knew whether things between her and Tim were at an all-time high or an all-time low. In that sense, her life was like a soap opera that everyone could follow along. Or maybe a sitcom, though Carol wouldn’t have agreed with that characterization.
She now sighed. “I need a different boyfriend, Parker. A boyfriend who won’t keep cheating on me with every single woman he meets.”
“That’s exactly right,” Parker said, for once in full agreement with her friend’s assessment of her complicated love life. “So why don’t you join me and Frank tonight? We’re going to that new place on Boulevard Square. It’s supposed to be amazing.”
“What new place?” asked Carol, dabbing at her eyes with the Kleenex.
“Bae Square. They serve finger food and hors d’oeuvres, and their chef is this French guy who used to work for this five-star hotel in Paris.”
“So what is he doing in Hampton Cove?” asked Carol.
“No idea. But their loss is our gain. So will you join us?”
It was a high-risk proposal, of course, because chances were that Carol would tell them all about Tim all night. Then again, maybe meeting Frank would strike a match, and the two of them would hit it off together. Like most of Carol’s friends, Parker never stopped trying to set her up on a date. They all fervently hoped that she would get rid of that awful Tim Eltis once and for all. And to that end, they had introduced her to a great number of eligible suitors. The only problem was that mostly Carol spent all of her first dates complaining about Tim, which proved a big turn-off for them, and as a consequence, a second date never materialized, proving to Carol that Tim was the only man for her. Then, after they had made up and things were going great again, Carol was on top of the world and forgot all about her boyfriend’s tendency to stray. Until the next time. And so the cycle continued.
Parker grabbed her phone and shoved it into her backpack along with a bottle of purified water, the lunch she made herself, and her wallet. She practically hoisted her friend up from the couch. “Let’s go,” she said.
“If that man so much as looks at me,” Carol warned.
“You’ll tell him to go to hell,” Parker suggested.
“Oh, I’ll do more than that. I’ll slap him so hard—”
“Maybe don’t slap him.”
“No, I’d better not.”
After giving her Persian cat Minnie a peck on the head and a cuddle, she and Carol hurried out of the house and to Carol’s car. Conveniently, they both worked in the same industrial park, located on the other side of Hampton Cove. Carol was at the regional headquarters for Starmart, and Parker worked for Artsy-Fartsy, the modest little start-up. Still, she wouldn’t want to trade with Carol for the world. Working in such a corporate environment would probably stifle her to such an extent that she’d want to run away screaming. And vice versa, Artsy-Fartsy was certainly too low-key and quirky for Carol, who was blessed with a lot of talent and a towering ambition to become a corporate superstar. If only she’d apply that same ambition to her personal life, Parker thought.
Carol navigated the early morning traffic with practiced ease, even a touch too aggressively for Parker’s taste, and before long, they had arrived at their destination. Carol dropped her off in front of her office, and she waved goodbye to her friend, but not before reminding her that they were meeting for dinner that night. At least if Carol hadn’t made up with Tim before then.
Stranger things had happened.
Paul Dolmen looked through his office window and saw that a bird had suddenly appeared out of the blue and started pecking at the kernels of wheat he had liberally strewn on the balcony. He smiled with satisfaction at the sight. Boredom made his life at the company a near-constant struggle, and the idea to entertain a few of these feathered friends hadn’t been his but had been supplied to him by his good friend Raoul Cauvin. The notion that he might look up from his excruciatingly tedious job as a debt adjuster and watch the birds from time to time had immediately appealed to him, both in its simplicity and the fact that it was essentially risk-free.
The debt relief company he worked for didn’t condone its workforce spending precious working hours surfing the web or engaging in counterproductive extracurricular activities. If his boss caught him checking his email on his phone or scrolling through his Facebook feed, there would be hell to pay. In this day and age of the ubiquity of social media and the internet, management did its utmost to keep those productivity black holes as far removed from the work floor as possible. Cell phones had to be placed in drawers, not on top of the desk. Taking a call was permitted if it was related to an urgent family matter. A mandatory cell phone policy was part of the onboarding package for new hires. And managers were always on the lookout for employees who didn’t abide by the rules.
Paul had been caught checking his Facebook feed once and had promptly been called into his supervisor’s office, where he had received a verbal warning, with the understanding that his next offense would elicit a written warning, and a third meant his immediate dismissal.
So birds seemed like a much more elegant option. At least he’d have something to look at during the day apart from the numbers on his screen from people who had gotten themselves into debt and couldn’t claw out of it. And he had just closed the window and returned to his desk when a shadow fell over him. He didn’t even have to look up to know that his office manager Brad had joined him. The man employed the type of rubber-soled shoes that didn’t make a sound and had a habit of creeping up on his employees, then hovering over them as he intently watched what they were up to.
“Those birds,” Brad now said.
“Yes, sir?” said Paul.
“Is that your doing, Dolmen?”
“What do you mean?”
The manager sighed. “Someone has been feeding those birds. Why else would they suddenly show up here en masse?”
“Would you say they’re en masse, sir?” he asked.
“I would, yes. So I ask you again, Dolmen: is that your doing? Are you responsible for those birds suddenly flocking to our windows en masse?”
The manager pinned him to the chair with one look as he leaned a little closer. “You do know that birds poop, don’t you, Dolmen? They poop on the windows, they poop on the balcony, they poop on the street below.”
“Is that a fact, sir?”
“It is. And it’s also a fact that the entrance to the building is right beneath this balcony, causing our clients entering or leaving, as well as your own colleagues, to be bombarded with bird poop. Do you want your colleagues and the company’s clients to be bombarded with bird poop, Dolmen?”
“Well, no, sir, I do not.”
“Then I suggest you refrain from feeding those birds.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I will, sir. Thank you, sir.”
He watched the manager walk off, checking left and right at some of his other colleagues as he did. Marjorie Mooney had just taken a call, presumably from the daycare where her kids were at, and the manager stopped long enough to listen in on her conversation before giving her a warning look.
She shrugged, as if to say that it wasn’t her fault that her daycare provider kept running into trouble. Brad walked on, shaking his head as he did. Clearly, the man didn’t have a family of his own, or maybe his wife took care of all of that.
Paul sighed and saw how the birds picked up the final remnants of the little bag of grain he had provided that morning. Soon it would all be gone, and so would the birds, and then he’d be forced to look at nothing other than his computer screen and the backs of the heads of his colleagues, who were all busy doing the same work he was doing.
He decided to get up and get himself a cup of coffee in the small canteen. On his way back, he almost bumped into Marjorie Mooney, the same colleague who had been on the phone before. She looked as if she’d been crying, and when he asked her what was going on, she said that a drunk had walked into the daycare center where her kids were and had fallen asleep in the play corner, causing the owner to wonder if they were running a daycare or a bar.
The man had, in due course, been escorted from the scene by the police, but it made her wonder if she shouldn’t stop working and stay home with her kids.
“But I can’t,” she said. “I have bills to pay, and we won’t make it on my husband’s salary alone.”
He nodded in an understanding way, but then Brad caught sight of them schmoozing and directed a keen look at them. He would have said, ‘Break it up,’ but then he must have remembered they weren’t in a prison and he wasn’t a prison guard. Yet.
So Paul and Marjorie hurried right along, with Paul feeling slightly guilty at having been caught chatting with this colleague, even though he could see that the woman was clearly distraught and could have used a hug or a word of encouragement.
Back at his desk, he wondered if maybe he wouldn’t be allowed to bring a fish to work. He could buy a small fish tank and position it on the edge of his desk with a couple of fish. It sure would be nice to look at those little fishies swimming along. Or he could get a hamster and put a hamster cage on his desk. Then again, possibly that was a little too depressing, as watching that hamster run on its wheel would remind him a little too much of himself. And also, he was pretty sure that, like birds, fish and hamsters were against company policy.
All in all, he didn’t have a solution for the touch of ennui that had assailed him. Mostly, he probably should work hard and eventually rise to the position of manager himself. That way, he could tell other people what to do and make sure they did it. It would definitely break the routine—even the rut he was in.
But as he sat staring out of the window, devising ways and means to liven up his work life, suddenly he caught Brad’s incandescent eye, and quickly hunkered down over his computer once more, intent on suggesting ways and means for his clients to ease their burden. And as he sat thusly engrossed, suddenly a ladybug landed on his desk, glanced around for a moment to get its bearings, then started exploring his desk.
Which is when Paul got his brightest idea yet. If he couldn’t have birds, or fish, or a hamster, he could keep a personal ladybug on his desk. He could train it and take it home with him in a little matchbox, and it could be his constant companion. It could be his emotional support bug. He was pretty sure there was no company policy that outlawed ladybugs. And if there was, he could simply grab the bug from his desk and tuck it inside its hiding place, and no one would be any the wiser.
It was the perfect solution to combat that dreaded ennui that threatened to derail an otherwise promising career as a debt adjuster. And as the ladybug started its exploration of Paul’s keyboard, he decided to name it Mike. Though on second thought, maybe he’d better call it Alice, since ladybugs, by definition, are probably ladies, otherwise they’d be called gentlemanbugs.
“Hey, Alice,” he whispered as he brought his face closer to the creature. “I’m Paul. Nice to meet you.”
It could have been his imagination, but for a moment he thought that Alice fluttered her wings, as if to say, ‘Great to make your acquaintance, Paul!’
Gaston looked up when he heard a noise. As was his habit, he had been basking in the sun while reposing on a flat stone. His tongue stole out of his mouth as he pricked up his ears. As a lizard, he knew better than anyone that he had to be on high alert at all times. Any moment, a bird might swoop down and gobble him up whole. Or some other predator might be lurking nearby, coiled and poised to spring. Life in the jungle of Hampton Cove was never without danger. The noise seemed to come from somewhere nearby. It was partly drowned out by the noise of a lawnmower being employed by one of the neighbors. Treacherous devices, lawnmowers. You might be resting on the lawn, enjoying the coolness of the shade, when all of a sudden—zap! This monstrosity would take your head clean off!
His beady little eyes scanned the perimeter, taking into account every possible contingency that might imperil his existence. And that’s when he saw it: a cat, lurking behind a bush. It was staring at him intently, its mean eyes locked on him in abject menace. Of all the foul creatures the good Lord had put on this planet, felis domesticus was without a doubt the absolute worst. Always hungry and with a mean streak that seemed inherent to the species, cats disgusted him. And then, of course, there was the fact that they were trained killers, designed to sneak up on their prey undetected until it was too late.
But they hadn’t counted on Gaston’s innate sense of self-preservation. And as the cat sat ready to pounce, the lizard slipped off that stone as if powered by a battery: one moment he was there, the next he was gone. Poof. Like a puff of smoke. Gaston, the stealth lizard, had done it again. He thwarted his wannabe captor’s evil designs and, in one fell swoop, dealt it a devastating psychological blow.
Dooley, who had been admiring that nice green lizard from afar, wondered where it had suddenly gone off to. He had just been about to engage the fascinating creature in conversation when all of a sudden, it just vanished. Almost as if it had gone up in smoke somehow. Which, of course, was physically impossible. Unless the lizard had been a figment of his imagination. A mirage, so to speak. It had seemed real enough, though. And so nice and green that he just had to touch it. Now, of course, he wouldn’t since it was gone.
He turned to his friend Max, who was lying on his back on the lawn, his four paws in the air, his mouth slightly open, enjoying a refreshing nap.
“Max, did you see that lizard?”
“Mh?” said Max, indicating he wasn’t all that eager to talk.
“The lizard? Did you see it? It’s just that it suddenly disappeared. Almost as if it disintegrated or something.” And then he had it. “Max! It was probably a time traveler! Arriving here from the future—or the past—to look around. And then after it saw what it came here to see, it simply returned to its own time.”
“Time travel doesn’t exist, Dooley,” Max remarked stoically, without even opening his eyes once or moving an inch from where he lay.
“Are you sure? ‘Cause I could have sworn that lizard was traveling through time.” At the very least, it was traveling through space. Or maybe space and time!
“Time travel doesn’t exist, and time-traveling lizards don’t either. They are fast, though. One moment you see them, but blink and they’re gone.”
“They must move in a different dimension, then,” Dooley suggested. “They pop up in our dimension for a moment and then pop out again.”
“They’re simply fast, Dooley,” said Max. “So forget about dimensions or time travel or whatever. That lizard must have seen you, figured you represented a clear and present danger, and decided to skedaddle.”
“But I don’t represent any danger,” said Dooley. “I just wanted to have a chat.”
“Obviously, the lizard didn’t feel the same way. Now leave that creature alone and take a nap.”
Dooley wasn’t in the mood to take any naps. He had his mind set on talking to that lizard, and now that it was gone, he felt like a person who expects a final step going down a stairwell and discovers there isn’t one. A sort of general feeling of disorientation. “Can’t you ask it to come back?”
“But Max—I want to talk to him—or it—or she.”
Clearly, Max wasn’t in an overly garrulous mood. Then again, he had been napping, and apart from his eating times, Max considered nap time sacred. If he didn’t get enough sleep, he could get cranky.
“I saw a documentary about lizards the other day, and it said they’re really interesting creatures. So I wanted to ask it how it felt to be so fascinating.”
A sort of gurgling sound emanated from the resting form of his friend, and it took Dooley a moment to identify it as Max chortling with perfect glee.
“You want to ask a lizard why it’s so fascinating?”
“That’s right. And also, why it’s got that nice green color. So vivid.”
For a moment, there was no response. Then Max turned himself the right side up and came wandering over to where his friend was still seated, looking at that flat stone which was now decidedly lizard-free.
“Mr. Lizard?” asked Max. “Are you there? My friend here would like to ask you a few questions. He’s a keen student of nature, you see, and to talk to you in the flesh would be an honor and a privilege.”
“Well put, Max,” said Dooley admiringly. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
The lizard didn’t seem to agree with this assessment, for despite Max’s eloquence, it didn’t show its bright green form. And since the surrounding lawn and bushes were all the same color, it was probably tough going to spot it, which of course was part of its enduring appeal. Camouflage, the nature documentary he had seen called it. Lizards knew how to hide in plain sight.
For a moment, he scanned his surroundings to find a trace of the creature, but try as he might, he simply couldn’t find it.
“Mr. Lizard?” Max tried again. “My name is Max, and this is Dooley. We might be cats, but we’re not out to harm you in any way.”
“We’re vegetarians,” Dooley pointed out.
“No, we’re not,” said Max. “But as a rule, we don’t eat lizards.”
Dooley shivered. “How could anyone want to put lizard on the menu, Max?”
“Oh, there are plenty of creatures who eat lizards,” Max pointed out. “Every animal has natural predators, Dooley, so I’m sure lizards aren’t too keen on making our acquaintance, figuring that we are part of this predatory horde.”
“We are not going to eat you, Mr. Lizard!” Dooley yelled. “We don’t even like lizards. I mean, to eat. We like you better alive than dead.”
Max chuckled again. “You’re on fire today, Dooley.”
Dooley had absolutely no idea what his friend meant by that, but since he often didn’t understand his friends when they discussed things amongst themselves, he decided to let it go. First, they needed to attract the lizard’s attention, then engage it in conversation and impress upon the creature the fact that they weren’t in the business of eating lizards, and then he could start asking it all the questions he had saved up after watching that documentary.
“What do you want?” suddenly a gruff voice asked. It seemed to emanate from somewhere in the vicinity of the large mushroom that had recently sprung up at the edge of the lawn. It was part of a family of mushrooms, and even though Gran said she abhorred mushrooms, Odelia had forbidden her grandmother from removing them with a spade, as she had threatened to do.
“We just want to talk to you,” Max said. “Well, my friend especially.”
“I have nothing to say!” the lizard announced.
“That’s all right,” said Dooley. “I’ll talk, and you can just listen if you want. But I have to say that I have a lot of questions for you, Mr. Lizard.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, so do you use a litter box like we do, or do you do your business somewhere else? And do you eat kibble, and if so, what brand do you prefer? Who is your human, and where does he live? And where do you sleep?”
For a moment, silence reigned. Then the lizard shot back, “What kind of questions are those?”
“Just some things I’ve been wondering,” Dooley said. “Questions I had after watching your documentary on television the other day. They didn’t say anything about all of those things, and I, for one, think it’s very important to know where a pet sleeps, or eats, or does his business. These are the building blocks of life, you see, and if you know this stuff, you also know the pet.”
“What makes you think I’m a pet, cat?”
“Well, aren’t you?”
The lizard was silent.
“You’re a green anole,” Dooley pointed out, “which doesn’t naturally occur on Long Island. Our climate is too cold. So I’m guessing you escaped from your terrarium, figuring you’d have a blast. But once the weather turns inclement, you’ll have a hard time adjusting, Mr. Lizard. And besides, your humans were probably worried sick when they found you gone, so you should take that into consideration.”
“How did you figure all of that?” the lizard asked, sounding incredulous.
Dooley smiled. “I learned a lot from my best friend Max. He’s a detective, you see, and I’m always by his side when he conducts his investigations.”
“Okay, fine,” said the lizard. “So I’m a pet. And yes, I did escape from my home since I don’t like being cooped up inside a small tank. But if you think for one moment that I’ll be guilted into going back, you’re sadly mistaken, cat.”
“Dooley. And this is Max. What’s your name, Mr. Lizard?”
“Gaston. And now please leave me alone. I don’t trust you, and I don’t trust your kind. You can talk a good talk, but at the end of the day, all you want is to eat me.”
“Oh, but I can assure you that we’re not interested in eating you at all,” Dooley said. “We’ve got our own food in the kitchen, and that’s quite enough for us.”
“Mh,” said the lizard and clearly wasn’t buying what Dooley was selling.
“So what do you eat?” asked Dooley, prepared to make mental notes of the interview, vowing to add it to his little pile of information on all of God’s great creatures, great and small.
“Well, crickets, of course,” said Gaston. “And worms and other assorted bugs. Why, do you have some for me?”
Obviously, the poor lizard was starving. Which just goes to show that if you bite the hand that feeds—or escape from it—you will regret it later on.
“I don’t have any crickets, if that’s what you mean. But if I could make a suggestion, I’d say you better return home, Gaston. I’m sure your humans will be so happy to see you they’ll organize a feast for you, and you will be able to eat to your heart’s content. The prodigal lizard returns and all that.”
“I told you, I’m not going home,” said Gaston coldly. “But if you have some food to spare, I’d be most appreciative.”
“Just leave him be,” Max suggested. “Clearly, he doesn’t want to talk to us or listen to your advice. So if he wants to brave the bad weather spell that’s been announced, he’s welcome to it.”
“Bad weather?” asked the lizard. “What bad weather?”
“Temperatures are reported to drop precipitously, and we’ll have some rain and maybe even a hailstorm.”
“This isn’t Florida or the Caribbean, Gaston,” Max pointed out. “This is Long Island, not the tropics. So if you want to survive, you should let bygones be bygones and return home. Otherwise, you might not survive these coming weeks.”
“Oh, dear,” the lizard said. “That doesn’t sound good.” He sighed. “Look, it’s not that I have anything against these people. Just that they keep staring at me, you know. And not only that, but they’ll also grab me from my terrarium at all hours of the day or night and start messing with me. I don’t like it.”
“Kids, probably?” asked Max.
“How did you know? There’s a little girl, and she’s the absolute worst. Seems to think I’m a toy or something. Only last week she tried to put makeup on me. Said I looked a little pale and she was going to fix me right up. Oh, the horror!”
“If you like, our human can take you back, and then add some pointers on how to take care of a pet lizard,” Max suggested. “Maybe the parents don’t even know what their kids are up to.”
“You can say that again.”
For the first time since they had started their conversation, the lizard now came peeping out from behind a clump of grass. He still looked trepidatious about showing his face, but at least he wasn’t hiding anymore, which was progress as far as Dooley was concerned.
“So you’re not going to eat me?” Gaston asked.
“Absolutely not,” Dooley assured the bright green lizard. “Now, about that color of yours. How do you get it to look so nice and green?”
“Dooley, maybe not now,” Max suggested.
And maybe Max was right. Gaston didn’t seem to be in the mood to answer a lot of personal questions. Instead, he probably just wanted to go home, provided these kids left him alone and didn’t mess him about too much.
And since essentially Dooley wanted Gaston to be happy, he decided to drop the questionnaire he had prepared and instead focus on how to get Gaston home again. As it turned out, he lived not all that far from them, which was to be expected, as lizards probably aren’t great travelers. Then again, he had traversed several gardens to arrive in theirs, so he had lived through quite the adventure.
Before long, they had alerted Odelia of the presence of a guest in her backyard, and with his permission, she had captured the lizard, placed him in a large plastic container with holes for ventilation and a newspaper as a base, and they were on their way to the family Gaston had escaped from.
Copyright © 2023 by Nic Saint