“What did you do in college?” Chuck Willard asked. Martin Sullivan gave a wry grin. “I was a grade grubber. I really didn’t have much time for dates. All I could think of was the degree. Graduate school was even worse. I had the reputation of being a brilliant student. Actually, I had to work my tail off, and I didn’t have time for anything else.”

Chuck was a senior engineer in the Engineering Department and had been an enormous help to Martin during the six months that he had been working for the city. They had soon become friends, and Chuck had had him out to the Willard home several times. It was probably those visits that did more than anything else to convince Martin he was missing out on an important part of life.

Chuck and Louise had a comfortable home, two bright young children, and an obviously happy relationship. That was what Martin had decided he wanted once he had settled down securely in what promised to be a satisfying job.

“Why not a singles club?” Chuck had asked.
“I’ve tried that. But everyone seems too eager. I don’t know. The atmosphere is just unpleasant.”
“What about all those matchmaking clubs on the Internet?”
“I’ve tried those too, but after hearing about all the scams going on and being bombarded with porno ads, I thought better of it. What I really want to do is to meet someone special in an ordinary way; in a cafeteria line, for example. I’d even try a church group if I thought it would work, but I’m afraid I’m not very religious, and there’s no point in starting off with someone who has different values.”

Chuck laughed. “What about at work?”
“Aw, c’mon. There are three women in the office, and all three are happily married, or at least happily living with someone.”
“I tell you what. Just walk down the street and through the park with a dog on a leash. That’s always an opening gambit. You’ll be amazed at how many people will stop and talk to you or want to pet the dog. A certain percentage of them will be women.”

“I don’t like dogs. Actually I’m kind of afraid of them. I was bitten when I was six, and I keep remembering that whenever I’m around a dog.”
“Even around Sam?”

Sam was the Willard family’s dog, a golden retriever. Less a dog than a perambulating piece of furniture, Sam’s idea of high excitement was to look for a place to lie down, and since one spot seemed about as satisfactory as another, he managed to simply occupy space. Maulings, by the two grade-schoolers, were treated not with resignation but merely with indifference.

It was difficult to envision Sam showing much interest in anything besides rest and food, with the former engaging the major portion of his time and energy.
“Yeah. I don’t mind Sam. Actually, I don’t really notice him.”
“Fine. Try him out on Saturday. I’m taking the family to the beach and you can have him all day. The exercise will do him good, and you can just leave him in the yard if you’re through with him before we get back.”

Martin couldn’t remember ever holding onto a dog leash before. The experience turned out to be rather enjoyable, since Sam was as tractable as a pull toy. An occasional rare stop to sniff a post, a lifted leg at one or two fire hydrants, and only the most cursory inspection of the few other dogs, being paraded through the park that morning, were the sole interruptions to what Martin now began to feel was a pleasant, if so far unproductive, stroll.

A homeless man started to shuffle by, caught sight of Sam, commented, “You got a nice dog there,” and then wandered off. Two young children, over the protests of their mother, swooped down on Sam, who treated them with the same unconcern he showed his own family. They soon tired of him and moved on. One likely prospect came by, glanced at Sam, made brief eye contact with Martin, and then sped by. Martin convinced himself that she was in a hurry to get someplace, was very likely married, and probably preferred cats to dogs.

After one leisurely circuit of the park, Martin decided to give his companion a break from his strenuous efforts and sat down on a bench along the footpath. Sam settled down on the ground almost immediately, and Martin dropped the leash – which had probably only been needed to keep Sam from lying down anywhere and everywhere.

The morning was cool and pleasant; a delightful spring day. Martin must have been daydreaming, because the low growl made only the barest impression on him. When he did become fully aware of it, he still couldn’t quite believe that the sound was coming from Sam. Looking in the direction in which Sam was glaring, he immediately saw a slim, attractive blonde woman approaching along the path. It was only then that he realized that she too had a dog in tow.

Only this dog was no Sam but some mixed breed, of which Doberman was a major ingredient. The creature clearly resembled the dog that had done its best to tear flesh from the leg of the six-year old Martin and he felt certain that the animal’s bared teeth and manic look were as much directed at him, as at Sam. Sam, immediately taking up the challenge, jumped up and launched himself at the other dog, who tore loose and met him halfway.

The dog’s mistress screamed. Martin tried unsuccessfully at first to grab Sam’s leash, all the time frantically yelling, “Sam! Stop it, Sam! Stop it!” The other dog-walker joined in with ineffective tugs, at the leash she’d managed to retrieve and her own futile commands: “Down, Cookie! Down!”

Only the intervention of onlookers finally managed to pull the dogs apart, but not before Sam had sunk his teeth into his opponent’s shoulder and neck and after Cookie’s mistress had become tangled in the leash and fallen to the ground. Martin’s first and fleeting impulse was to simply run, with or without Sam but civility and civilization were stronger than the impulse.

After finally securing the enraged and wildly lunging Sam to the park bench, he joined the crowd, now gathering around the two victims of the fracas.
As he’d expected, the woman was furious over what she considered an unprovoked attack on her dog. Fortunately for all concerned, a burly male was now restraining the now bloody Cookie with an iron grip on his collar.
“My God,” the woman was saying. “Look what your dog did to Cookie.”

While Martin felt that Cookie had gotten only what he deserved, he also recognized that the rules of engagement for humans had little application to dogs. Had they been two children, the question would have immediately focused on who had hit who first but with dogs, there was no point in trying to determine who the aggressor had been.

The only fair thing was for Martin to take on full responsibility for the wounded. He still found it difficult to understand, how anyone could be so affected about anything happening to a dog, especially one possessing Cookie’s obviously murderous nature. However the woman was clearly very upset and very concerned about the creature. Martin would have volunteered to take Cookie to the vet, under suitable and close supervision of course, but the diminishment in the flow of blood indicated that death was not imminent.

Christine Trotter – an exchange of cards had followed Martin’s acceptance of total responsibility for the damage done to Cookie – indicated she would drive Cookie off for treatment, and Martin agreed to pay the vet. He would have agreed to practically anything by now, in order to get Sam home and retreat to a lonelier but far more peaceful existence.

The return was uneventful, since Sam showed as little interest in his surroundings on the trip home as he had on most of his jaunt through the park. With relief, Martin swung open the gate to the Willard’s yard and released Sam, who promptly stretched out in the path.

It was during the noon news that the phone rang. Christine was reporting back from the vet’s. Despite appearances, damage had been minimal. Martin was relieved to hear that the bill came to only forty dollars, having prepared himself to find out that Cookie would need major surgery and a week’s rest and recuperation at the vet’s. Christine told him she would send him the bill but Martin, feeling it was probably only fair to save her the effort, and by now having decided that Sam probably had been the aggressor, asked to meet her at a nearby café for coffee.

Initially, the best part of this second encounter with Christine was Cookie’s absence, but as coffee burgeoned into lunch, Martin found himself caught up with his companion. The conversation shifted very swiftly from Cookie’s medical condition to other topics. Occupation? Insurance adjuster. Martin had only the dimmest notion concerning what insurance adjusting entailed, but was also aware that “civil engineer” probably meant even less to Christine.

Soon they were talking about common interests. They skirted around politics and found that neither was much concerned, committing themselves to performing their civic duties entirely at the ballot box. Neither had either religious fervor or religious preferences. Mutual addictions consisted of black coffee and TV-quiz shows. The hour was a pleasant one. Vague promises of keeping in touch were made.

Monday morning at work, Chuck came by Martin’s office for a report on his adventures with Sam. Martin soon made it clear that the experiment with Sam had not been a glowing success as he gave Chuck the details of the canine combat.
“I can’t believe it,” Chuck said, shaking his head. “Sam has never so much as growled at another dog, never mind attacked one. You sure you were walking the right dog? But look at it this way, you met someone and she looks good – no eye in the middle of her forehead or anything like that.”

Martin admitted that Christine looked very good: that she had considerable charm, that they had a series of compatible values and interests, that she probably wasn’t married, since she wasn’t wearing a ring, that he hadn’t asked her if she was because they’d just met, that she had a lot going for her. But she also had a dog whose dislike of Martin seemed matched only by Martin’s dislike for Cookie.

“She might be willing to part with the dog,” Chuck suggested.
“No way! She was really upset at what happened to that monster. In fact, she was so upset, that I’m amazed she even accepted my invitation to lunch. You can’t imagine how concerned she was about Cookie.”

“I’d be more concerned about someone who would give their Doberman a name like Cookie. But don’t give up. Give her a call. Maybe the dog will die of a heart attack.”
Martin looked glum.
“I doubt he’s very old. He looks healthy as a horse – and about as big.”
Even so, he did give Christine a call. By the end of the week, there had been two dinner-dates and an evening at the theater. Martin had to admit that there was chemistry there, and he was reasonably certain that Christine felt it too.

Saturday morning, the week’s anniversary of their encounter, Martin arrived at a blue chip decision. His attraction to Christine had reached the point where the subject of dogs had to be broached and resolved. Since his polite but perfunctory inquiries as to Cookie’s condition at their initial luncheon meeting, there had been not so much as a word between them on the subject. Much as he was attracted to her, the thought of any close association with Cookie was too serious a matter to simply brush under the rug.

It took him almost an hour to make up his mind to phone and fifteen minutes more to work up his courage sufficiently to deal with the topic.
“Christine, I think we should discuss dogs.”
“I agree, Martin.”

Christine’s voice matched the tenseness in Martin’s.
“I’ve been thinking about that, and I guess we might just as well get it over with. How do you really feel about Sam?”

Martin tried desperately to fit the question into some kind of context. It occurred to him that he had never indicated to her that Sam was a borrowed dog. Martin was rather hurt to think that Christine’s dog would take precedence over what she thought was his dog. It was a side of her he hadn’t seen before. He didn’t like it.

Evasively, he ventured, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I don’t like dogs. In fact I can’t stand them.”
Martin shook his head in utter disbelief. “But. . .what about Cookie?”
“Oh. I guess I didn’t tell you. Cookie isn’t my dog. He’s my boss’s dog. She had a sudden medical emergency and her regular dog-sitter was out of town, so she asked me to take care of him last weekend. Believe me, I didn’t want to, but she’s great to work for, so what else could I do?”

Martin quickly revealed Sam’s true status, and the next hour’s conversation was one of the most pleasant in Martin’s memory. A dinner engagement, and perhaps more, was planned for the coming evening. Only a knock on the door finally terminated the phone call.
Martin opened it to find a grinning Chuck with Sam in tow.
“Hi, Martin. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to try again? Sam’s game for another walk.”

Sam followed his master into the room, looked around and then immediately plunked himself down on the floor.
“No, thanks,” Martin said, reaching down and giving an appreciative pat to an unresponsive head. “Sam has already served his purpose.”

The End.

The author is John A. Broussard and his website is at: <<http://www.fictionwritings.com/>>

or he can be contacted at:”broussard/pomeroy” <broupome@ilhawaii.net>

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