But to tell that story, first I have to tell this story.
Late one night, by their standards, Mom and Dad went for a walk with the dogs. The dogs, being dogs, didn’t really care about the time. The lab would have just as soon stayed on the couch watching her favorite shows; the German Shepherd hoped he would get to chase some deer. They returned to Chez Auto as a gentle rain started to fall.
The lab settled into her room as the German Shepherd bounced around, hoping it was peanut butter cracker time. Mom undertook to prepare their snack as Dad secured the house. As he passed through the front hall, there was a scratch at the door.
“Were the kids coming over?” he called. A Dad can never be sure.
“Not this late. Why?”
“Someone’s at the door.”
“Come give the dog a cookie. It’s probably Dodger.”
Dodger is the escape artist from down the street. He excels at wriggling out of his home, but is not so great at finding his way back. His people are accustomed to this behavior, and thoughtfully got him a collar with his phone number on it in addition to a chip.
Dad easily corralled the bigger dog while Mom found a place to put Dodger for the night. They could call in the morning instead of waking his people up and getting them out in rain on a Friday night. But instead of Dodger at the door, there was a teensy black puppy with ears that stood halfway up and a white tag on his tail like a beacon. He strutted in as if he owned the place.
“Huh,” Dad said. “He’s still warm and dry, so he must live close by. Just crate him and I’ll go out in the morning to see which house he came from.”
The next morning, Mom was frying bacon when Dad walked out with the puppy. His return a few minutes later was disconcerting, especially when it transpired he still had the puppy.
“Whose is he?” she queried. The puppy eyed the bacon.
“Ours,” Dad responded. “Whoever put him out dumped a whole bag of food on the sidewalk.”
“Let’s keep him,” my brother said. “We can call him 426.”
“Why are you even here?” Dad asked .
“Bacon,” he answered around a mouthful.
“That’s still hot,” Mom warned.
Mom poked at the bacon to be sure it was done. 426 and I waited with varying degrees of patience.
“Before we eat,” she said, “why don’t you and 426–,” she paused, apparently at a loss for how to continue.
“You’ve taught him how to spell, haven’t you?”
“We honestly didn’t think he listened so well, but yes.”
“Come on, doggie. Let’s go outside.”
With a long backwards glance that clearly questioned the wisdom of leaving fresh bacon, we went to find a leash. Instead, we found a Springer Spaniel cavorting in the front yard. 426, all thirty-two pounds of him, went into attack mode, running back to the kitchen to protect Mom. And the bacon.
I took the leash into the yard.
“Who’s this?” I asked Dad. He was in the driveway talking to Mr Frogman, solving a problem they had failed to solve last week.
“No idea,” he shrugged. “She just showed up.”
“We could call her—“
“You can call the vet,” Dad interrupted. “She has tags. Four dogs is at least three too many.” Mr Frogman rocked with silent laughter, the bourbon sloshing in his cup.
“I’ll just see if anyone’s looking for her. Be right back.”
“Is your mom cooking bacon?”
“She got fresh tomatoes.” That should have been obvious.
“Then watch out for your brother,” he warned. “He’ll be here any minute.”
“In the Jeep,” Mr Frogman put in.
“How do you know that?” I asked. “He has like three cars.”
“I know things,” the older man grinned.
As I clipped the leash to the spaniel, I heard an outraged howl from the house.
“You just lost a fan,” Dad observed.
The spaniel and I moseyed on down the street. The spaniel seemed glad of the company while I hoped we would find someone in search of a specific dog.
Down the street, the Willards were having a post July fourth party, with people milling about the cul-de-sac eating finger foods and drinking from red Solo cups.
“Punch?” Mrs Willard offered, not the least bit surprised to have an unanticipated guest at her party.
“Dog,” I offered. “She turned up at our house. 426 didn’t care for it. Is she yours?”
“Goodness no! But she belongs next door, to the granddaughter. Lola.”
“I haven’t met them. Their granddaughter is Lola?”
“No, honey. That’s the dog. Let me run in and call them.”
She absently handed me the cup of punch before trotting up the wide brick stairs. The punch wasn’t half bad. Lola sat at my feet, a very patient dog. On the main road, my brother roared by in his Jeep.
“They’ve gone out and the granddaughter has gone back to school, but they said you could leave her downstairs with her grandma.”
“I’ll take her over,” I said. “I don’t know them; do you know their grandma’s name?”
Mrs Willard looked from me to the dog and back. The dog shrugged.
“Lola,” she answered.