Yes, Señor Pablo


I was feeling sorry for myself in the passenger seat of the car, on the way home from a workplace that was too far away, eating organic blue chips from Target, no satisfaction in sight. I did not want another tupperware-washing, eye-straining, stale-breathed Tuesday night. I stopped by the library to retrieve a hidden gift for a loved one and recognized the local librarian, whom I call Samurai-face. On Saturdays, you can watch him stuff his cheeks with rice balls while making jolly conversation at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in a fancy Cuban neighborhood. The food there has a smell I cannot place, but their pettiness is irresistible. They hang lists of rules on the wall, which include penalties for uneaten rice balls ($1.00 per ball, if you’re wondering). I always asked him the same question and expected the same answer: “What’s coming out for Christmas?” He stood up from his seat, hoisted an elbow in the air with military grace and announced: “Halo III.” I laughed with relief and recalled watching video games on the couch for much of my previous marriage.

The Subaru parked itself in the driveway, and I began with the miserable chore of removing commuter gear out of the car. I unlocked the front door and inspected the junk mail. Once inside, I went into the garage, which opens out to a fenced-in acre of land, to retrieve my bumbling Boston terrier. In a progression of pitches, I made the daily dog call: “Basel … (clap, clap, clap) … Basel …Bee-Bee! Beezazzles! (clap, clap, clap),” expecting to hear his collar and fat, rabbit-like body as he hopped as fast as he could, over the tall grass, through the garage, bypassing me at warp speed only to bolt into the house and throw his plush toys around with the sincerest glee. Tonight, there was no jingling or panting. I looked into his usual hiding places—the bushes and around the old trees. Despite reports of a hurricane warning, the gates had not blown open that night.

The only person on my property all day would have been Sra. Gonzalez, the loud, whooping senior citizen I’ve taken in as a tenant. Her face darted in and out of gingham kitchen curtains as she spied on me tramping around for Basel. Although we live in a quiet neighborhood, she was always on high alert. Other Cubans told me that all abuelas act this way, but Sra. Gonzalez also believed that black people inject her nose with drugs in her sleep, and that the Avon lady steals her rice and borrows her red blouse. I knocked on her door, and through her shouting, I gathered that she had seen “Pablo” (she’s hard of hearing) earlier in the day and had noticed nothing different. Sra. Gonzalez trims each palm leaf around her home with the care of a pubic hair stylist. I knew someone so compulsively fastidious could not have been the person to let the dog out.

I crept around the neighborhood in the Subaru. I thought about Basel living with another family and how they would react to his ill temperament. A few years ago, I had rescued Basel from abandonment. He was left tied to a tree in rural Pennsylvania. As a result of his dismal doghood, he became a paranoid dog who bites. This new family would undoubtedly kick him whenever tempers flared and feed him junk food, bringing back his skin allergies. I burst into tears when I realized Basel would not be able to phone and tell me all about his horrible new life.

I called the police when I got home, hoping they could look around for Basel’s bright black-and-white–furred body. A burly officer showed up at the door. He looked like the kind of man you would find grilling out back in a tropical lobster shirt and then later whipping Uncle Steve in the back room with bad carpeting. (Mustaches indicate the smallest flash of perversion to me). As I suspected, he told me it was unlikely someone would take an older dog. Most professionals preferred miniature, fuzzy puppies worth at least a thousand dollars a piece. One quick look at Basel would show he was an obvious waste of time. The officer guessed Basel was let out of the yard and got lost during the rainstorms. He sent other patrol cars to take special care that night. He also asked me to collect a few photos of Basel for him. I found one of me and Basel walking on a boardwalk and too many of him sleeping—just how he would look if he were run over.

I closed the door and felt a weak assurance that I did everything I could that night. I recalled tightening Basel’s collar that morning. One of his tags read: BASEL. I BITE HARD. 305-978-2585. If a well-intentioned person had found the dog, I would have already received a call. Before I could pace and fidget more, the phone suddenly rang to the tune of digital trumpets singing, “When the Saints Come Marching In.” It’s the sound I programmed for restricted callers (OK, mainly my Dad) so I wouldn’t have to pick up. Immediately, I answered and said, “Did you find my dog?”

The voice of either a young man or a raspy lady said, “How much do you think your dog is worth?”

In shock, I said, “Are you kidding? He’s an old dog, he has allergies—wait, are you feeding him vegetarian food? He eats vegetarian food, OK?”

“He looks pretty healthy to me,” he said, and added, “He’s very happy here. I’m going to call you back in a few days.”

The phone call ended with my pleas of, “Wait, wait, wait,” and silence.

The same officer showed up. This time, I feared that he would not believe me. He suspected “dumb teens” in the neighborhood of playing Halloween pranks. He also instructed me to meet the demands of the caller and offer cash in exchange for the dog in a public place. He didn’t exactly reassure me about the dangers of meeting a stranger with money in hand or the possibility that the stranger knew where I lived. But he considered it lucky if I ever heard from the caller again.

Just as the door closed, the phone started to play the same tune. I answered, trying to sound bored, and the caller said, “It’s got to be really quick, really quick.” He hung up. He was losing control.

At that moment, I longed for the perpetrator to be my law-abiding ex-spouse (at least the dog would be eating correctly). I ran out to the street and waved for the police car to come back. An officer came out of one of the two patrol cars waiting on the corner of the block.

At the same time, a dark pickup truck crept by the house. “That’s him, that’s him that’s him!” I screamed. The officers pushed their bodies like molasses back into their vehicles and turned on sirens and lights on to catch a man half a block away.

A middle-aged man fitting the description of a psychotic dog-napper stepped out of the truck, indignant about being stopped and denying all accusations. He had a slight build, a worn polo shirt, khaki shorts and clogs. The hurricane-watch winds whipped his layered hair around his face like a sailor. His eyes flickered steel-blue out of the sun-damaged wrinkles of his face. He slumped, and he reeked of alcohol. I spotted the dog’s collar on the passenger seat, but no Basel. The policemen pushed him around with rough talk, but he wouldn’t say where the dog was. They mimicked his young man’s voice. Finally, through his slurred speech, he muttered something about a field, how Basel was left in a field. We pieced together that Basel was tied to a tree ten miles away, without his collar, in the middle of a storm. This tree was beyond the county line, so the police could not come with me. They stayed behind with the man while I began to drive. Calling for support from the other county would take too long, they said.

I drove up the road, cursing the man for being so reckless with Basel but relieved that my dog was probably, most likely, alive somewhere. The site turned out to be an unlit avocado grove, full of dips and wet leaves. I tried to shine the headlights of the car in the grove as much as possible, shook Basel’s collar around and started yelling for him. There were so many trees that I kept the officers on the phone as they failed at their attempts to translate the man’s directions. Perhaps the man was so drunk that he didn’t really tie Basel up, or this entire story was a lie.

The officer became so fed up with the man that he decided to drive to get Basel himself. The patrol car passed me on the road and crept up to a different part of the grove. The shining lights revealed Basel, who was sitting still and tied to a blue nylon rope at the base of a small avocado tree. The officer lost his temper when he saw my dog and made a move to beat the shit out of the man. The man remained calm and looked at me in the eye. He said, “Now he smells good, he smells very good.” I untied a shaking Basel, who smelled strongly of old women’s perfume.

It took three days for the scent to wear off. I told Sra. Gonzalez the entire story, and she did not look surprised. Basel came with me to her house, sniffed the bottom of her skirt, and ran past both of us. She looked me in the eye and said, ”Janie! My God! Pablo! Pablo not the same anymore. Oh! Not same! They inject drugs in his head.”

This entry was posted in ISSUE #4 WINTER 2008 Tagged: . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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