Monday, November 2, 2015

Steel Dog--Final

The Steel Dog

She said, “Wait,”

He stopped talking.

“I have to pee,” she said.

Looking at her body, he asked, “On me or in the corner?”

“God, in the toilet,” she said.  But she got up laughing, quickly leaving her bedroom.

Quentin put on glasses, but the ass was already gone. He listened to bathroom sounds and sleep whispered to him but he pinched his forearm.  Hard.  Then the toilet flushed and she came back smiling, the red hair dark and smoldering in the dim light.

In truth, he had barely remembered the flower girl, and she still claimed not to remember him at all.  But the date with her older sister had kindled his interest. After months of smoldering curiosity, Quentin had decided to learn where the young woman was living, which was surprisingly easy, and then he contrived a situation where they could cross paths.  She willingly asked out the boy who had carried her sister’s useless sword.  She paid for dinner and the movie on their first date, and she asked him into her bed on the third.  This was the fifth date.  This was the night when she decided that it was important to hear about the life of Quentin Maurus.

She and her smile and those firm little breasts came back to bed.  “Scoot over,” she told him.

He did nothing.

She straddled his thighs, picked up his cock.

“Pinch it,” he said.


"Just do it.”

She had sharp red-painted nails.

He flinched, and she asked, “That hurt?”

“Of course.  You pinched it.”

Unsure how to respond, she laughed and stared at this mystery sprawled out in her bed.  After a minute, she asked, “Is the story done?”

He said, “No, and it’s not a story.”

“You know what I mean.”

He waited.

“I don’t believe any of it,” she said.

“And how is that my fault?”

What was this creature?  That’s what she asked with her wary face, her nervous hands. “You really have a wife?"



“That’s true.”

“And her parents died suddenly, leaving her as the heir to the family fortune.”

He said nothing.

“Which means what?  For you, that is.”

“I really don’t know."

“Why not?”

“Answers aren’t as simple as you might imagine.”

“What do I imagine?”

“I’m the legal husband to an orphan girl, and according to Persian law, I have considerable control over that fortune.  Maybe majority control.  Although there’s uncles and cousins in the picture.  And of course both of us are living halfway around the world.  Which is a very big complication.”

She nodded.  “Does your wife still live with that old dyke?”

“I don’t know.  Or care, really.”

“And when did her parents die?”

“Oh, that was several months ago.”

“So.  What's happened between then and now?”

Quentin put his hands on her bare thighs.  “Why bother explaining anything?  You don’t believe.”

“I want to know.”

“You think it’s a lie.”

“I seems incredible.”

He said nothing.

“Did she go to the funeral?”

“The funeral was over almost before she heard the news.  So no, in simple terms, she didn’t have that chance.”

The woman stared at his chest, inventing questions.

“The estate may or may not send money soon,” he continued.  “But she’s guaranteed to get some fat portion of several trusts and the proceeds from the sale of three houses.  Eventually.”

“And you?”

“We get those things.  But I don’t have a crown yet.  No.”

Reminded of his poverty, she said nothing.

“Farah talks about going home soon to visit,” Quentin said.  “Or she waits until after she becomes a full citizen of Queensland.  That decision hasn’t been made.”

“She doesn’t know what she wants?”

“What she wants is secondary,” he said.  “Remember, I’m the husband. I have to approve of every decision.”

“But this is Queensland," she said.

“And you’re thinking about this in the wrong way,” he said.  “Which is normal enough.  It took me longer than a night to figure things out.”

The woman stroked the chest and belly and then dropped on her back beside him.  Staring at the ceiling, she said, “Tell me.”


“The rest of it.”

“You don’t believe.”

“I do now. So tell me.”

He said nothing, preparing the way with silence.  Then he said, “We went back to Immigration.  Just last week, we met with Barbara Stains.”

“Your midget.”

“Who still is a midget, yes.”

“Stop being clever,” she said.

More silence.  “It was an official meeting.  Like the first time, and the second time.  Madam Stains asked questions about our circumstances, and we described our options.  And Farah said that I was her hero, supportive and strong, and she didn’t think she could do any of this without my help.”

“You believed her?” the redhead asked.

“Belief doesn’t matter.”

“She'll divorce you.  As soon as it suits her.”

“But you’re not seeing this correctly.”

The woman shut her eyes, waiting to have everything explained.

“Anyway," Quentin continued, "our mandatory meeting ended. As we were leaving, Madam Stains told me to stay behind.  She sent Farah to the waiting room, and I sat again, and the lady started to say something.  I don’t know what she wanted to tell me, because I interrupted.  All at once, I asked if that was the plan all along, murdering her parents.”

“You really asked that?”

“I was surprised to hear the question pop from my mouth.  But yeah, I asked it.”

“And how did the lady react?”

“She was impressed.  Amused.  Curious.  Or maybe she was pretending those things.  But she did ask me for my impressions of what was happening.”

“What do you think?"

“A Persian princess comes to our country,” he said.  “Ostracized by her family, but she’ll always be the only child to one wealthy man.  The princess needed a husband, and I was selected from a pool of potential mates.  Because I was single, yes. Because I can be discrete, maybe.  Because I’m not considered dangerous, and I don’t drink alcohol, which is a major blessing for this kind of work.  And I’m the Son of a Hero, which is a noble title in that ancient society.  Also I have a better-than-good memory, which is vital if I ever walk among the Persian elite, seeing and hearing quite a lot that would fascinate people back home.”

She laughed at him.  “What, you think that you’re going to be a spy?”

“No,” he said.  “Spies uncover battle plans and economic figures.  I'll be a cultural observer, which is a lot more important.”

“You said this to your midget.”

“To Barbara, yes.  In essence.  And I'm relatively sure that she wasn’t displeased with my attitude.”

The redhaired woman kept laughing, believing nothing.  Believing everything.  She probably wasn’t certain about her own state of mind.

“Anyway,” Quentin continued.  “I told Barbara that I didn’t care what her plans had been or what the grand scheme was.  I was the legal husband to a Persian wife.  Persian law holds marriage in high esteem, even if the wedding happened in the infidel West.  And I intended to use my wealth and my influence, as soon as got my share.

“Then said something to me.  I don’t remember the lady's exact words, but it was something about being surprised that I could be so forthright.  I hadn’t really struck her as being that kind of man.”

The woman beside him opened her eyes, rising up on one elbow to look at his face.  “Frankly that’s my thought too,” she said.

“Steel dogs,” Quentin said.

“What’s that?”

He sat up in bed, enjoying the long stretch of a happy animal.  Then he looked down at that pale pretty face, saying, “That steel dog sits in its yard, looking brave and solid.  But what if the dog came to life?  What would that mean to the world?  Steel dogs could do so much more than flesh and blood dogs.  Springing up and into action, striving to guard a world that desperately needs its protectors…!”

Steel Dog-51

Sweet Happies

The long marble counter looked too fancy for the Sweet Happies crackling agreeably in their milk bath.  Quentin had waited five minutes before making breakfast.  Two mouthfuls killed his appetite, but he remained perched on the stool, breathe deeply before holding his best breath inside his chest.

That’s when he felt the staring eyes.

Sitting in a doorway to an unexplored hallway, the huge black dog reminded him of the sitting lions, complete with the broad head and shaggy mane.  With a careful tone, Quentin said, “Hello.”  Then he picked out a dry kernel of cereal and tossed it towards her.  The dog bent over, sniffed and then gave him another look, reconsidering her early skepticism.  A purplish tongue lapped up the unexpected treat.  Then she walked closer, stopping just out of reach before resuming her steady analysis of the interloper.

Quentin asked, “What breed are you?”

“A chow-chow,” Farah said.

She was standing in the same hallway, wearing a subdued red nightgown that hung loose, giving her breasts a buoyant, nipple-rich life.  He stared and then didn’t.  She approached, bare feet lifting up on their toes.  A brush had erased most of the unruliness in her hair, and she had slapped on enough makeup to accent the redness of her sleepless eyes.  She was pretty in a comfortably-at-home fashion.  Her voice was slow and careful when she said, “I’m so glad to see you.”

Madam Trent had told her nothing.

“But how did you find me here?”

“I read minds,” he said.

She came close, watching his face, encircling his shoulders, squeezing until she thought of kissing him.  She found his mouth, and Quentin pushed her back.  Then she sat on the stool beside him and held one of his hands, conjuring a smile while starting to say something warm or apologetic.  Whatever words would serve the moment.

“Someone called me last night,” he interrupted.  “Somebody claiming to be your uncle.”

“I have several uncles.”

“From your hometown.  Shiraz.”

“My mother’s brother, yes.”

“He had news about your parents.”

Quentin saw interest in the face, and concern, yet neither reaction seemed quick enough.  What he saw was a woman ready for words not unlike these words, and now, after a few moments of silence, she asked the expected question:

“What about my parents?”

The chow-chow chose that moment to push between them, the barest hint of a whimper and the touch of a broad cold nose reminding Quentin about another solemn duty waiting here.

He shoved the dog away.

Farah kept her gaze on her husband.

His plan was to explain the bare minimum and hand over the uncle’s telephone number.  But that was a stupid plan.  Flat and plain, he said, “An armed man walked into your father’s office.  Today.  Eight are dead, including your parents.”

Farah held her breath, stared at Quentin and held her breath.  Then she exhaled and slipped off the stool, taking a small step backwards.

The dog gladly pushed into the gap.

Using his knee, Quentin kicked the animal.  The dull whine caught Farah’s attention, and she began to stroke the dog’s broad black head.

She asked, “What about the killer?”

“What about him?”

“Who is he?”

“Nobody knows.”

“Did he get away?”

“No, he killed himself.”

Farah nodded.  She nodded and said nothing, one hand leaving the dog’s head but the other hand taking over.  There was nothing else to do in the world but this one small generous act.

At last, Quentin asked, “What are you thinking?”

A bittersweet smile appeared, and Farah said, “There is a plan. I told you there is a plan, didn’t I?  Yes, yes, I did.”

Steel Dog-50

Stone Lions

Hard male hands had set bricks into neat red rows between high granite curbs and hitching posts.  Vanilla Boulevard was intended as a place where women of property rode inside fancy carriages.  Eighty years later, every house remained substantial, roofs peaked, shutters adorned with carved vines.  These were homes built to impress not just visitors and passersby but also those worthy people who lived inside them.  Yet all that majesty and enduring success had the unintended effect of making no house special.  Numbers painted on a pink curb reminded Quentin where to park.  Except for standing on top of a tiny hill, Madam Trent’s mansion was no more spectacular than its neighbors.  Sandstone steps led up to a long concrete walk.  Someone owned a dog, and nobody had picked up after the dog.  Or maybe the two stone lions had shit in the yard.  Sitting in front of the porch, perched on matching pillars but not in matching poses, the female lion was tall and regal, while her mate had a lazy, useless expression to his gray face.  The pair watched the stranger’s approach, and he smiled at them, one hand patting the lady’s rough ass before the other hand scratched the man's curling mane.

Quentin reached for the bell, but the front door opened first.  Madam Trent wore a silk housecoat that cost more than his entire wardrobe, plus enough undergarments to restrain the meaty breasts.  The outfit implied that she didn’t know that he was coming.  Which was entirely reasonable, since the sun had barely risen.  Yet the old dyke summoned up a remarkable early-morning charm.

“Oh, good to see you, Quentin.  You look well.”

“Sorry to intrude,” he said.

Stepping back from the door, she said, "Come in."

“Madam Trent,” he began with bow.

“Caltha.  Please call me Caltha.”

In slippers, she was barely taller than him.  “Caltha.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

“No, madam.”

She looked at him more closely.

“Farah,” he said.

The woman didn’t react.

Because Farah wasn’t here, he realized.  And what if the woman didn’t know where she was, or care to share the knowledge?

“I have to find her,” he said.

“Farah?”  She was leading him through the long living room where people got married.

“Home called,” Quentin said.  “She needs to call home.”

“I see.”  They entered a spacious kitchen.  Opening the refrigerator, she said, “I don’t know what you’d like.  And I’m no cook, I’m afraid.  So I’ll let you graze, and you’re welcome to it all.”

“Farah,” he said again.

She looked at him, with care.

“Caltha,” he added.

“As it happens, the girl is staying here.  She’s asleep in my guest bedroom."

“Get her,” he said.

“Her family called?”

“An uncle, yes.”

“She wants nothing to do with her family.  From what I understand.”

He didn’t want to deliver this news, not to Farah and certainly not to this woman.  And that was his plan right up until his mouth said, “Her parents are dead.”


“Murdered,” he added, his voice breaking at the edges.

Parts of this message were incomprehensible, or everything was.  Either way, the woman’s emotions shifted between baffled and dubious and then into some little anger that had the surest voice.  “I’m not waking her and telling her that.”

“I will.”

The offer was discounted.  With a gesture, she said, “Stay here.  I’ll word her.”  Then another word offered its services.  “Gently.  And she can come downstairs, and you can give her the sorry news.”

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Steel Dog-49

From Another World

Quentin was breathing hard and didn’t know why.  A dream?  He was lying on his mattress, looking for shards from a nightmare.  But nothing was there.  Awake, adrenaline-infused, he remained stretched out flat, dragging his hands across his face, rubbing dry eyes while gradually realizing that the telephone was singing.

The world made sense; he was awake for a reason.

An invisible syrup had filled the room.  Every motion required effort.  Putting feet to the floor and standing were long-term projects.  His galloping breath plainly wasn’t feeding muscles.  Buying time, he told the phone, “In a minute.”

The machine answered with silence.

Wrong number.

Quentin collapsed on the sofa.  What was the time?  The old diver’s watch offered an impossible answer.  Ten minutes before three in the morning.  But which morning?  Thursday insisted that it was the answer, except it was lying.  The week had reached Friday, and he couldn’t seem to recall four minutes from his last four days of life.

Quentin sat back, ready for sleep on the hard sofa.

The phone sang again.

Surprise made him jump.  His left hand grabbed the receiver and held tight, and he breathed deeply twice before lifting the receiver to his ear and mouth.  Electricity greeted him.  Long cables of copper whispered at him, and then a voice shouted, male and excited enough to sound angry.

One word sounded obscene.

Quentin assumed insults, which was why he told the hapless caller, “Fuck you, it’s late, don’t bother me.”

He hung up.

Then nervousness took hold, chewing at his belly, and there wasn’t any surprise when the telephone again broke into its little melody.

This time, he intended to ignore the caller.

Stubbornness failed him.

Into the same crackling current, he said nothing.  Then too quietly to be heard, he said, “Yes.”

“I am sorry,” said a thickly accented voice.  “My Latin.  Poor.”

“Who are you?”

“Uncle.  Her uncle.”

“Whose uncle?”

“Farah, uncle of.”


“I want to speak to Farah.”

Anger surged.  “It’s the middle of the night here.”

“She’s not with you?”  The voice was caked with bright despair.

“She's not here right now.”

“Find her.  Right away, have her call uncle in Shiraz.”

“Okay. I will.”

A pause.  Then the man asked, “Can I trust you, sir?”

“I’m Farah’s husband,” Quentin said.  “Of course you can trust me.”

Steel Dog-48

Everything Happens

“It’s late.”

“Is it?”

Vinnie consulted her watch.  “Maybe not that late.  You’re right.”

“I can leave.”

She dropped onto the sofa.  “Not now, you can’t.”

A novice student, male but with a girlish face, stood in the kitchen doorway.  It seemed like a safe distance, keeping tabs on Vinnie’s conversation with this hairy, distinctly older man.

“Is that the famous boyfriend?” Quentin asked.

She glanced over her shoulder, then looked back again.  “Do you want to meet him?”

“After you change his diapers.”

Vinnie smiled but didn’t laugh.  She refused to laugh, crossing her legs, saying, “You don’t normally visit this late.  Is there a reason?”

Quentin nodded.  “I saw your mother.”


“I was wondering if you’ve seen her yourself.”

Vinnie shook her head.  “We haven’t talked.  Not for weeks, thank God.”

“All right then,” Quentin said.

She looked at the boyfriend.  “Make tea.”

“What kind?”  He had a high voice, a bird’s voice.

“The hot kind.”

Quentin was working with what he would say next.

Vinnie looked at him.  “You’re growing weirder, Quentin. And I didn't think that was possible.”

The barb made honesty more likely.  But not assured, no.

“So why are you here?  Why care about my old bitch mother?”

There were a thousand ways to tell what he knew, and as many ways to say nothing.

But then Vinnie laughed at last.  She laughed and leaned back, uncrossing her legs.  “I know what you’re doing.  Right now, you’re hoping that three of us might do something.”

“No,” Quentin said.


Once mentioned, the idea had its own vivid life.

The nameless boyfriend returned, various bags of tea in hand.  Looking at the farthest wall, he asked, “What kind do you want?”

“Why aren’t you in the army?” Quentin asked.

“My father,” the boy said.  “He was a Hero.”

Quentin pretended to listen, but he was thinking of everything else.

“So what do I do about the tea?” the boy asked.

Vinnie looked back and forth at the two men, smiling, and meanwhile everything had always always always been possible.