“The pup is gone,” said Del meaningfully, boring into him with his eyes under a furrowed brow.
“Gone? Gone where?”
“Dunno. Do you know?”
“Me? No idea. When did you discover this?”
“Thought you might know.” An insinuation was clearly intended, but Gary ignored it.
“It was there yesterday afternoon. I heard it whimpering.”
“She is not an ‘it.’ She’s a purebred. Costa lotta money.”
“Well, Del, I am sorry to hear of your loss. But I know nothing about it. Could it—could she—have escaped? Crawled through the wire mesh?”
“No, she’s not that small.” Contempt for Gary’s simplicity was evident.
“I’m afraid I can’t help.” Then, relenting, “Did—does—she have a name?”
“Bitzy.” To Gary’s surprise, Del’s eyes softened. “After my sister.”
“Well, I will keep a lookout for her. I’m afraid I don’t know much about dogs.”
Del nodded, and turned to go. There was an unsuspected moistness in his eyes now.
All that July day, Del could be seen tramping across the hydro corridor, calling Bitzy by name, but to no avail. He stood on his driveway, a hulking shambling figure curiously shrunken and forlorn, desolated by his loss. The next day, posters appeared on hydro poles. LOST PUPP, they read, CALL DELL, with his phone number, but there were no calls, until at week’s end, he was joyously re-united with Bitzy when a Jeep drew up to deliver the lost dog. As he cradled the animal, none the worse for wear, in his arms, Del told Gary that a “crazy person” had taken her. This was all he would say. The drama was over, but the mystery remained.
Some weeks later, Gary’s doorbell rang. A distraught elderly woman he did not recognize stood on the porch. Behind her, at the curb, was a baby carriage. She asked him if he had seen Boomer, a lost poodle of hers, missing for three days now. A second lost dog? Surely not again! No, said Gary, I haven’t seen a poodle. Remembering Del’s dog-lover’s distraction at his own loss, he asked, “Have you asked next door? He lost his dog, too, but it has now returned.”
“No, I wouldn’t go there,” she answered. “That man’s a monster. He let his puppy cry all night, poor little motherless mite. Poor baby! I had to rescue her. I heard her when I took the babies out for their evening stroll at midnight. Come and see them. They all look like Boomer. They’re all brothers and sister. No, come and see! You’ll be able to identify him if you see him.” She pulled Gary by the sleeve, and he felt obliged to accompany her to the curb, where he was astonished to see three small black dogs, each wearing a baby beanie on its head, inside the carriage. “They’re my grandchildren,” said the woman. “I never had kids, but these are my grandkids. I take them out for exercise and fresh air every day, but I left my cell phone in the house, and had to go back inside, and when I came back, Boomer was gone. I was away only five minutes. He has never done that before. He’s the best-behaved of all my grandchildren; the others all look up to him; he’s a natural leader. It’s a wonder they didn’t follow him. I can’t understand…” She shook her head unhappily.
A shadow fell over the curbside gathering. Del had appeared, a cardboard box in his arms.
“Here he is,” he said, placing the box at the woman’s feet and extracting a startled black puppy.
“Now you know what it is like to have someone steal something precious from you. Don’t do it again. Learn your lesson and mind your own business.”
And before anyone could say anything, Del had lumbered back up his driveway with the empty box, and closed his front door with a loud bang.
Curiously enough, there was no more howling or whimpering from the cages after that, and even more remarkably, the smell from them was mysteriously no longer detectable. Perhaps, Gary reflected, a chastened Del had also learned something from his experience.