I managed to avoid Mary LeMay and her visiting son John for a couple days after he arrived, but she spotted me after Mass that Sunday, and she pulled him by the arm to where I stood at the end of the pew. He was glowering, as usual. With his bristling short hair, and a scar that ran across his forehead from eyebrow to hairline, and his conservative gray suit over a properly dark tie and white shirt, he looked more like the Mafia than the police. He looked me up and down, once, quickly, then watched my eyes, warily.
"Sully, we could have given you a ride this morning! You've been so quiet over there I thought you'd gone off with the kids already. This is my son John. John, please stop scowling, you'll frighten her off. This is my next door neighbor, Sully Ambris." A couple of fat women hogged the center aisle of the church, pushing John and Mary into the row of the pew in front of me.
John extended his hand, "Pleased ta meetcha." Oh, my God, what an accent, he could only have come from New York! He had a hard and bony hand, with a strong but not painful grip. I gave him a businesslike shake, and he put his hands in his pockets.
Mary was triumphant. "John is a policeman in New York City, the finest police force in the world. I'm so proud of him, and glad you could finally meet him. Maybe you two can make friends so that he doesn't have to spend all his time with an old woman like me. That's not much fun for a visitor to California."
"Ma," he said, with just a hint of exasperation, "that's why I come out here. To see you."
"How did you get to be such a fuddy-duddy at your age, John? Honestly, you'd think meeting a pretty young woman was like making a trip to the dentist. Sully, chat with him for a minute while I talk to Lourdie Sousa. We're doing the decorations for the church hall this year." She edged sideways out of the pew and headed off towards the door, with a mischievous smile on her face.
I watched her walk away, and I was feeling quite the irritable put-upon. Mary is about to lose her Good Neighbor status, I thought. Okay! The best defense is a good offense, Dad used to say. And I say, we are going to stop this crap before it even begins. I stepped out of my pew to get a little distance between us. "Look, John, your mother is a really nice lady, and I love her dearly. I just want to get something straight right from the start: I am divorced, I am not happy about that; I am not looking for a husband, I am not interested in finding a boyfriend, and if your mom is match-making, it's all in her imagination, not mine. I don't mind taking you to Yosemite or San Francisco to sightsee, but that's all that it is. Tour guide, nothing more."
He was leaning forward with his hands on the back of the pew, and had been looking at the floor while I read him his lack of rights. He looked up at me, annoyance pinching his face and making his pale eyes hard. "Thanks," he said, sort of out the side of his mouth. "I don't think I asked." He pushed himself back upright and walked past me to the door where his mother had gone out.
Hmm. Well, defense or no, I had most certainly offended him. I began to tidy up the hymnals at the ends of the pews and pick up church fliers in order to kill some time and let Mary and her cranky son get out of the parking lot before I went out there.
The afternoon was nice, a little foggy and not too chill, and I took Gabe for a good two hour walk, down to the bitty center of town and back. I was letting the dog sniff the shrubs in front of my house (he had to know what other dogs had passed by and left their vital statistics in his yard), when Mary's front door opened and she waved to me to come to her. I called Gabe to heel and went up her front walk. "How is my favorite German shepherd today?" she said to him, holding out her hand. Gabe wiggled with pleasure, and slithered forward to rub his face on her. "Gabie, Gabie, Gabie," she said, and he stood on his hind legs and licked her face.
"Gabe, dammit," I said, and gave him a jerk to call him back to heel. "I'm sorry, Mary. He's such a pig."
She wiped the slobber off her face with a little handkerchief. "That's all right. He didn't jump on me, he just wanted to give me a little kiss. He's a good boy, aren't you Gabe? Sully, won't you come in for a cup of tea?"
"No, that's okay, Mary, I need to put Gabe inside..."
"Oh, bring him in, I want John to see him." She opened the door and called, "John! We're bringing the big dog to meet you! John loves dogs," she asided to me.
Oh, no, here we go again.
We followed Mary into her house, through the formal living room, past the stairs and the side entrance to the dining room, into the kitchen, Gabe puffing along with the thrill of a new place to smell. John was sitting at the table with his back to us, and part of a slice of lunchmeat was cupped in his hand that hung straight down at his side. Gabe made a beeline for him, snuffled the bologna, slurped it down, and licked the hand thoroughly. John didn't move a muscle, staring straight ahead, while Gabe sniffed up his arm to his armpit, his neck, and naturally, down to his crotch.
"Gabe, you jerk," I groaned. Gabe sniffed John's hand again, gave it a final lick, and then leaned his head against John's side, begging for a face rub. John brought his hand up slowly and stroked Gabe's shoulders and neck, then his ears. Gabe was grinning with bliss, his eyes dreamily half shut.
"Wow. You knew the perfect moves," I said with grudging approval.
"Some of the guys in my precinct have dogs. K-9's, that is. They taught me."
The tension was a little less than it could have been, thanks to Mary and Gabe. Mary was determined to get rid of it altogether.
"I think you two may have gotten off on the wrong foot this morning. Sully, sit down and I'll get you some tea. You can let Gabe off his leash, I know he won't misbehave. He's so smart, John, you'd hardly believe it."
I pulled out a chair and sat down. I snapped my fingers and Gabe came to me, gave me a quick butt with his head, and when I unhooked his leash, he walked back over to John and sat down, leaning against him. "Yeah, we did get off on the wrong foot. I did, anyway. I shouldn't be such a grouch. I'm sorry, John. I didn't mean to sound as ... uh ..." What had I been trying to sound like?
"That's okay. Ma was explaining a little bit about what you been through the last year or so -- I guess I'd be a little sensitive, too." Who was he kidding? He's even frowning while he pets the damn dog! "Jesus, he's a big dog!"
"Don't say that John, you know I don't like to hear you say the Lord's name like that," reprimanded Mary as she put my mug on the table in front of me.
"Mary, everyone has that reaction when they first meet Gabe. Exactly those words."
"Well, shame on them, then, too. We saw you playing with Gabe earlier today. John thought you were being attacked."
I laughed. "I was being attacked. That's the game. He attacks, I try to grab him by the throat. He roars, but he never really bites me." They were watching me play with the dog in my yard from Mary's upstairs window?
"Sounded like he was killin' somebody."
Mary said proudly, "He caught himself a burglar once."
John looked at me quizzically, eyebrows glowering. He really does scowl all the time, I thought. "Some fool who broke into a house up the street was running from the police by hopping fences and going through back yards. We have a gate in the fence between my house and the Talles', and he came through into my yard. Gabe had been telling me he had to go outside, and when I opened the door, he just leaped forward. He crossed the yard in about two seconds and nailed the guy."
"He bite 'im?"
"He bit the hell out of him. Grabbed him by the ribs and shook him and knocked him down and then bit him in the rear. The guy got to the tree at that end of the yard, and after about three tries he managed to get up out of Gabe's reach. Gabe kept grabbing him by the leg and pulling him back down." Gabe, knowing he was being discussed, came back over to me and grinned his toothy grin in my face. I kissed him between the eyes. "You was a good boy, huh. I'd called 911 when I first saw there was an intruder, and since they'd been chasing him less than a block away, they were here right away to arrest him. The police sent Gabe a box of dog biscuits."
Gabe panted slowly, savoring the attention. John was gazing at him like a man who had just seen his new bride ready to walk down the aisle. With hardly any frown at all.
A huge field of snow had been manufactured with a snow machine, with a big hill of it in the middle. The Acme SledMaster Company was putting on a demonstration of their revolutionary new sled, inviting people to try one out. The sleds looked like blue plastic sheets, but were guaranteed to slide farther and require less slope than a conventional sled. I said, "Why not?" and was given one by a grinning salesman carrying a clipboard.
I put the sled down on the snow and eased myself onto it, on the flat, first, to get the feel of it. Slide? You bet! I slid along on my belly, pulling myself along by my fingertips, with no effort at all. I found if I wriggled side to side like a snake, I could keep the sled moving along, too, rather like the way you use side-to-side motions in order to roller skate backwards. I slithered across the field, joining a myriad of other human serpents.
Someone I had never met before spoke to me and suggested that we try the hill, which sounded exciting, but then I was unsure as to whether I wanted to slide down the hill (what if I fall down and hurt myself?) or go swimming in the big steaming pool that had appeared on one side of the snowy field (much safer, and oh, so comfortable).
I woke up and pulled the warm blanket around my neck. Warmth, yes, I was definitely a heated pool kind of person. Safety and comfort, I thought as I drifted back to sleep, and the other choice excitement and risk. I snorted a little at the thought of excitement and risk in the life of a 42-year-old bookkeeper.