Friday, October 30, 2015

For My Fiction Readers

Playmates
A Bruno Adventure

==<O>==
     [We’ve been told that dogs’ partnership with Man took thousands of years to germinate and solidify. Perhaps it did...but that doesn’t mean that a different sort of inter-species bond would take that long, especially if Bruno the Newf were one of the participants.]

     The autumn weather was atypically sunny and mild for Onteora County. Aware that his outdoor activities would be sharply curtailed by the coming of winter, it was natural for Phyllis Coren to leave Bruno outside for much of the day. Also, leaving the Newf outdoors left her more time and space for her other pursuits.
     Bruno didn’t mind. It gave him additional space and time in which to exercise his canine preferences. Anyway, his mistress had never been as affectionate or playful as his master. He enjoyed the Corens’ big back yard to the hilt, romping about with more energy and enthusiasm than a five-year-old, hundred-fifty-pound Newfoundland would be expected to display.
     He missed Galatea. Though the elderly female had seldom joined him in his more kinetic activities, he’d loved her with a devotion unknown to men. Perhaps humans have become too detached from one another to appreciate the intensity with which a savior can bond to the one he’s saved. Just knowing that she was on the Corens’ deck watching him as he romped, rolled, and cavorted around their yard added a fillip to his pleasure that he could not have expressed, even had the Creator granted him the power of speech.
     But Nature has its laws. Bruno knew them well. Galatea’s time in the flesh had come to its end. The master had seen to it that her life was ended painlessly. That was all any dog, faced with unceasing pain, the inability to eat or drink, and the loss of his power of locomotion, could ask.
     All the same, he yearned for a new companion, a new friend to love and protect.
     It wasn’t long before his wish was granted.

#

     Phyllis was no longer the television addict she’d once been. Nevertheless, she would not willingly miss an episode of The Weatherly Report, nor would she let anything deflect her attention from it. Though she’d ended her fling with gender-war feminism, she remained a devoted fan of the blonde bombshell talk-show host. Jessica Weatherly was more than merely a fashion icon; she was articulate, forthright, and despite her confrontational style, consistently more successful at luring high-profile guests onto her dais than any other talk emcee. Her interview of Stephen Graham Sumner, the first such on national network television, had increased VIPs’ willingness to appear on her show.
     Thus, Phyllis declined to rise and inspect the premises when she heard something large crash through the bordering brush. She refrained again despite the unfamiliar howl, too high and too prolonged to have come from Bruno’s throat, that followed. Only when a pair of heavy landings on the back deck, the second more pronounced than the first, rocked the house did she turn to the window to see what was occurring in the yard.
     Bruno was grooming another Newf. At least, it looked like a Newf: large, heavy, with a broad skull, covered from head to tail with shaggy black fur. Except for its muzzle, which was a light tan.
     The newcomer was sprawled on its back, all four paws waving in the air. Bruno nuzzled its chest and belly, pausing now and again to bump its head or lick at a crusted patch of fur. The two appeared to be enjoying themselves.
     She could not see a collar on the newcomer. She snorted at the negligence of owners who would allow a valuable purebred to wander the county, thought briefly about checking the newcomer for any identification, shrugged and returned to her television show.
#

     Harold Coren had just entered the house, dropped his briefcase, and shed his coat when the sound of animals frisking energetically on the back deck reached his ears. The thumping was too rapid to be Bruno alone, but too energetic for him to guess at the nature of the Newf’s companion. He went at once to the kitchen. Phyllis was not at her usual perch before the ceiling-mounted TV. He found her at the back door, gawking delightedly at their deck. She noticed him, beckoned him over, and pointed at the furry wrestling match he’d heard from the front of the house.
     “Bruno has a new playmate,” she said. “Somebody let a Newf run loose and he came to visit.” She giggled. “First one I’ve ever seen that’s bigger than Bruno.”
     Harold peered at the cavorting pair, paled as he recognized the visitor, and ran for his shotgun.
     “What’s the matter, Hal?”
     He racked the gun’s pump, took a deep breath, and smiled reassuringly at his wife. “Phyl,” he said, “that’s not a Newf.”
#

     The opening of the door caused the frolicking animals to pause in their play. Bruno noticed at once that the master was carrying his weapon. He immediately stood and interposed himself between the master and his new friend. The newcomer stood and edged slightly toward the deck stairs, plainly afraid of what might happen next.
     The master wasn’t pointing the weapon. Not yet. But he was plainly nervous. The mistress stood behind him, peering anxiously around his side. All four stood quite still for several seconds.
     The master broke the standoff by setting his weapon against the wall of the house and dropping to a crouch. Bruno went to him at once and licked his face, hoping to reassure his human that all was well. The master responded by ruffling his neck fur and scratching behind his ears. Though he remained unsure, Bruno turned toward his friend and grinned, tongue wagging in the traditional dog signal for All’s well with the world.
     Bruno’s friend approached hesitantly and stood close beside him. Bruno rubbed against his friend gently for additional reassurance.
     The master extended a hand toward the newcomer and made the traditional human sounds for Come here, I mean you no harm.
     The newcomer approached and accepted the touch of the master. The acquaintance prospered swiftly. Presently Bruno’s new friend was on her back, paws waving, as the master rubbed her ribs and belly and scratched at the creases of her joints in the fashion Bruno knew and loved.
     Maybe all really is well with the world.
#

     “Ursus americanus,” Dr. Samuel Grotius, D.V.M. said. “Eastern black bear, female, full grown. I’d put her at about three years old, somewhere around two hundred pounds. Smaller than most in these parts. Seems perfectly healthy, though I can’t imagine why...” He straightened and turned to face Harold. “You have called Animal Control, haven’t you?”
     “Why would I do that?” Harold said. “They’d just kill her, or put her in a cage, or ship her hundreds of miles away to some wilderness she doesn’t know.” He gestured at the bear, lounging indolently on the deck with Bruno close beside her. “You can see how gentle she is.”
     Grotius frowned. “She’s a wild animal, Hal. A member of a protected, private-ownership-forbidden species. You know the law against keeping one of those for a pet. I’m supposed to report it.”
     Harold looked at him levelly. “But you won’t, will you?”
     The veterinarian grimaced. “Not if you insist. But before you get any bright ideas, think of the practicalities involved. She’s used to roaming the county, she’s hardly likely to eat what Bruno eats, and you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by the size and aroma of her, ah, eliminations. And look at those claws. Do you really plan to have her in your house?
     Harold thought about it.
     “Maybe not,” he said, “but there’s no reason not to make her welcome here. I won’t try to confine her to the yard, but I’ll put up a shed for her, so she’ll have a shelter here if she chooses to stay.” He glanced at Phyllis, who shrugged. “By the way, what do they eat?”
     “They’re omnivorous,” Grotius said. “About eighty percent vegetation, twenty percent meat. If you really plan to do this...?” Harold nodded. “Well, she’ll forage in the brush for her roughage, but she’ll need a couple of pounds of meat or fish every day or two.”
     “Not a problem. How will I know when to feed her?”
     “She’ll let you know.” The veterinarian shook his head. “You’re a lunatic, but I know I can’t dissuade you.” He packed his traveling kit carefully and offered Harold his hand. “This’ll make a story for the next AVA convention.”
     Harold took the hand. “Just don’t mention our names. What do I owe you for today?”
     Grotius waved it aside. “Forget it. The novelty made it a fine trade.” He nodded farewell and departed.
     “Well,” Harold said as the vet’s van pulled away, “looks like Bruno’s got a new friend.”
     “And we’ve got a new expense,” Phyllis murmured.
     “We can afford it.” He nodded toward the two animal pals, nuzzling and grooming one another by turns. “How much is it worth to you to see Bruno this happy again?”
     “Plenty,” she said huskily. She looked off toward the north, whence the winter weather that made central New York a skier’s delight and a resident’s horror would come. “You’d better get started on that shed.”
     “I’ll get a kit at Lawn, Sun, and Shade and put it up tomorrow. What should we name her?”
     “The shed?”
     “The bear, silly!”
     “Oh. How about...Ursula?”
     “That works.”
#

     The bonding of Newf and bear proceeded as if it had been written in the stars. Before two days had passed, it was plain that the two were devoted to one another, quite as much as Bruno and Galatea had been.
     They romped. They wrestled. They cuddled. They groomed one another. They played the doggy versions of Tag and Keep-away. Neither ever offered the other so much as a slap with a forepaw. Every night, Ursula would bed down in the seven foot square shed Harold had built and filled with fresh cedar chips, seemingly content with the accommodations and the attentions of their proprietors.
     Sam Grotius’s predictions about diet were spot-on. Ursula would leave their yard two or three times per day to forage in the forest that ran through the heart of the county. Bruno would cease all other activity to sit at her exit point and await her return. She invariably returned full, torpid, and welcoming of both human and canine affection.
     Every other day Ursula would clamber onto the deck and rise up on her hind legs. At that signal, one of the Corens would pull a two pound package of freshly caught fish out of the refrigerator, unwrap it, and toss the contents onto the deck at her feet. Ursula would feast with Bruno watching. The bear never left anything, not even the heads, to be cleaned up.
     The regularity of the pattern struck Harold with peculiar force.
     “You know, Phyl,” he said after they’d been feeding her for two weeks, “I don’t think Ursula was a wild animal after all.”
     “Hm? Why?”
     “She’s too tame. Too trusting and affectionate. Too good at communicating with us. And way too good with Bruno. Don’t you think a real wild bear would have tried to kill him?”
     “Maybe,” she said, “but if she’s not wild, then she escaped from some traveling circus or something. When was the last of those seen in Onteora?”
     “Beats me.” He grinned at the four-footed companions, just then engaged in a spirited counterclockwise race around the back yard. “But suppose she is. What do we say if the previous owner shows up?”
     She chuckled. “Ask rather what he’d say. How would he prove that Ursula is his? She didn’t arrive with a collar or tags, and Grotius couldn’t find an RFID chip.”
     “Dunno. But I’m not going to worry about it now.” Harold put an arm around his wife’s waist and pulled her close. “We’re having too much fun.”
     “We? Don’t you mean they?”
     “Nope.”
#

     Central New York’s characteristic winter weather roared out of the north with its usual brutality. By Thanksgiving Day, Onteora County had been twice blanketed with snow. Ursula’s friskiness was considerably reduced, as was Bruno’s time with his friend, despite his double coat and bred-in resistance to the cold. He struggled to endure it as best he could. When he could not, Ursula would often stand on the deck peering into the Corens’ home, clearly displeased that her companion had immured himself. Bruno was no happier about the separation. They had many a plaintive exchange of regrets through the kitchen’s picture window.
     It was then that Harold estimated the chances of Ursula’s permanent departure to be the highest. Yet the bear remained faithful, firmly attached to the Corens’ yard, to the comfort and security of the shelter Harold had built and outfitted for her, and to Bruno.
     The spring thaw and the slow return of warmth came as a great relief to the entire household.
#

     Though the forest that traversed the county lengthwise was home to a fair population of wildlife, Harold hadn’t heard of any other bears, black or brown, being spotted since he and Phyllis purchased their home in Oakleigh hamlet. All the same, there was a chance that Ursula would find or be found by a mate when her season was upon her. What might follow, he could not imagine.
     But Ursula did not go into season. Her pattern throughout the spring and into the summer was what it had been the previous fall. The pleasure she took in Bruno’s friendship and the Corens’ affection was unchanged as well.
     July 9, Bruno’s sixth birthday, was celebrated in a fashion that might never before have occurred among men: with two quarts of vanilla ice cream, one each for Newf and bear. Harold and Phyllis stood on the deck and giggled over their highballs as the furry companions enjoyed their treats.
#

     “I think you were right,” Harold said as the animals raced counterclockwise around the yard. “She was somebody else’s bear who got away.”
     “Hm?” Phyllis said. “What makes you think so?”
     “Well, her behavior around us, for one thing. She’s never shown the least trace of aggression, and virtually no fear. So she was used to people before she came here. She’s taken to a domesticated lifestyle as if it were already familiar to her. She doesn’t hunt smaller animals...at least, she’s never brought one back here. And I think she’s been sterilized.”
     “She never did go into heat,” Phyllis said. She grinned. “Lucky for us.”
     “Yeah.” Harold slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. “But pet bears are uncommon. Illegal in New York. So Ursula was probably a working bear, or training to be one.”
     Phyllis giggled. “You think she misses it? Should we send her out to find a job?”
     “Naah.” He drained his highball and stooped to set the glass down on the deck table. “But her job might come looking for her.”
     She laid her head on his shoulder. “You’re still worried about that after almost a year?”
     “Yeah.”
#

     There is no sound quite like the whop-whop-whop made by the wing of a low-flying helicopter. Despite her immersion in The Weatherly Report, Phyllis heard it at once and knew it for what it was. Her anxieties spiked with a suddenness that sent her near to a faint. She surged out of her seat at the kitchen island and ran to the back window.
     When she’d last looked out at them, Bruno and Ursula had been playing in their usual fashion. They had stopped to gawk upward at the whirlybird. A passenger’s head was sticking out of the left side hatch. The copter was low enough that Phyllis could make out the triumphant grin on his features as he aimed his camera.
     Ursula ran for the brush that lined the northern edge of the yard, crashed through a weak spot, and disappeared into the forest. Bruno dashed onto the deck and howled an alarm. Phyllis jerked open the door to admit him.
     The helicopter hovered a moment longer before turning, assuming ascent attitude, rising swiftly, and vanishing in the distance.
     Phyllis snatched up the telephone and frantically dialed Harold’s office.
#

     Harold was home within ten minutes after ringing off.
     “Are you sure he was focusing on Ursula?”
     Phyllis nodded. “He was grinning like he’d just won the lottery.”
     “That settles it.” He went to the back window. Ursula had returned from the forest, She was on the deck, huddled against Bruno.
     I can’t let them be separated. Not by anyone, for any reason.
     He opened the back door wide and squatted. The animals turned to look at him. He beckoned to them.
     Bruno understood at once. He rose, nuzzled Ursula as if in encouragement, waited as his friend stood, and nudged her toward the door.
     The bear moved hesitantly, as if unsure of the sincerity of the invitation. Bruno stayed next to her, their shoulders touching, until the two reached the threshold. He stopped, and waited as Harold presented his face to be licked
     Bruno gave his master a full-tongue slurp and settled onto his haunches. Harold nodded and turned to Ursula.
     The bear’s breath reeked of fish and forest loam. Her tongue was much rougher than the Newf’s. Harold resisted the urge to flinch. Presently Ursula ceased and sat as Bruno had.
     Harold rose, turned slowly, and stepped into the house. First Bruno, then Ursula, followed him.
#

     Sam Grotius could not stop shaking his head.
     “I can’t believe you did this.”
     Harold smirked. “I think we can housetrain her, Doc. Now, will you chip her or not?”
     “I brought the equipment. But Hal, the law—”
     “It’s my business to know the law, Sam. Yes, New York law prohibits the private ownership of bears. So we don’t own any. Ursula’s a wild bear, free to come and go as she pleases. Sometimes she comes to visit, and that’s fine with us.”
     “Then why—”
     “For her protection,” Harold said. “I want you to register her as a wild black bear of New York origin. So that no one else can claim her as his property. No zoo or sideshow act, for example.”
     “What about your furniture?” The veterinarian waved at the Corens’ living room suite, an ensemble of graceful matching pieces in dark woods and soft gray leather.
     Harold glanced to where Phyllis sat. She nodded. He turned to look at Ursula. Since entering the house, the bear hadn’t stepped away from Bruno for as much as a second. The two were pressed so closely against one another that it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.
     “We’ll cope. Please, just do it.”
     Ten minutes later the veterinarian departed, check in hand, still muttering and shaking his head.
     Phyllis rose and embraced him. “You know we can’t keep her inside all the time.”
     “Of course we won’t. But she needs to know that this is her home, just as much as Bruno’s. Besides,” he said, “this will be better for her in the winter months than sleeping in the shed.”
     “I guess.” Phyllis glanced over her shoulder at the animal friends. Bruno was grooming the spot between Ursula’s shoulders where Grotius had inserted the RFID chip. The bear was stretched out full length, eyes closed and head propped upon her forepaws. “There were times last winter I thought Bruno was about to join her in the shed, to keep her company.”
     “No one likes to sleep alone.” Harold stroked his wife’s back. “Like I said, we’ll cope. Just be ready for a knock at the door. You know it’s coming.”
     She nodded. “And don’t you forget to clean out the shed, remove all traces of her, and put a few garden tools in there for show.”
     “Yeah.”
#

     It was plain to Bruno that there had been a change in Ursula’s status. Before her, no animal but he had been admitted to the Corens’ home. He wasn’t unhappy about it, but he was aware that in bringing Ursula indoors, his master had acknowledged and adjusted to a change of some other kind. Probably not a good kind.
     He became keenly attentive to the transient noises of the neighborhood: the sounds of passing vehicles and other sorts of traffic on the street before his home. Anything that came near and lingered for more than a few seconds received his undivided attention until it moved on.
     Ursula had grown wary as well. She stayed even closer to Bruno than was her previous habit. Whenever he went indoors, she would do so as well. When they were outside, she would dash off into the forest at ever slighter disturbances of the peace, returning only when silence had returned and had persisted for a considerable interval. Bruno began to fear that should anyone but the Corens enter their yard, she would depart forever.
     He had no way to reassure her except with his presence, his affection, and a degree of vigilance over their surroundings she could not help but notice. For the present, those things were enough.
#

     Hallowe’en in the Corens’ Oakleigh neighborhood was a more active and sociable date than any other on the calendar. Costumed trick-or-treaters, from the very young to the soon-to-be-drinking, swarmed over their street from just after lunch hour until well into the darkness. Harold was bemused, and Phyllis sternly disapproving, at the racy direction costuming had taken even among the prepubescent. Nevertheless, they were openhanded about gifts of candy and general good wishes to all.
     As they’d done on their previous Hallowe’ens in that home, they kept Bruno in the back yard throughout. He was too prone to “making friends” with everyone who might come to the door. Having Ursula beside him added an element of risk beyond what prudence would permit.
     It was a few minutes after ten, the last trick-or-treater had come and departed half an hour before, and Harold was about to close and lock the door for the night when the limousine pulled into their driveway. He frowned, pulled the door all the way open, and waited.
     The stretch Lincoln’s passenger side doors opened simultaneously. Two men emerged. One was fiftyish and silver-haired, about Harold’s height and build, dressed in an expensive-looking suit, and had a folio tucked under one arm. The other was short, stocky, and carried an unidentifiable weapon.
     The former headed up the walk to the door. The latter went around to the side of the house, plainly headed toward the back yard. Phyllis edged up behind her husband and laid a hand on his shoulder.
     “Phyl,” Harold said, “are Bruno and Ursula in or out?”
     “Out,” she whispered.
     “Stay here and keep that guy outside.”
     He snatched up his shotgun and sprinted to the back door. He stepped out of the house and onto the deck to confront a standoff he’d hoped never to see.
     Ursula was prone on the grass, paws over her head in unconcealed terror. Bruno was between the intruder and the bear, doing his best to keep her in his shadow, while snarling and growling menacingly. The intruder was edging to his left, trying for a shot at Ursula with what was plainly a launcher for anesthetic darts.
     Harold knew that if Bruno were to take a bite out of the intruder, he’d be destroyed by court order.
     He raised his shotgun and racked the pump.
     “Hold!”
     The intruder froze.
     “Take one more step,” Harold grated, “and I’ll fire. Drop your gun and face me.”
     The intruder complied. Bruno relaxed fractionally.
     “You’re trespassing and threatening my dog with a weapon of some kind,” Harold said. “My wife has already called the police. Clear out of here before they get here, and no more will come of this. Refuse, and you go to prison.”
     “Oh, I think not,” came a masculine voice from behind him.
     Naturally sharp reflexes and well-honed skills from Harold’s time in the 75th Ranger regiment surged forward. A roundhouse stroke with the shotgun’s stock and a deft sweep of his legs put the tall stranger Phyllis had been unable to exclude unconscious on the deck. Harold spun a second time to refocus on the first intruder.
     But too slowly.
     The anesthetic dart caught him in the upper thigh. It must have been loaded with the most powerful soporific known to Man, for a bare three seconds had elapsed before Harold slumped into unconsciousness himself.
#

     Bruno sensed his opportunity and charged.
     He knocked the intruder onto his back and pummeled him with both forepaws. The intruder flailed his arms uselessly, confused by the assault. After a few seconds he groped for his gun, dropped just barely within his reach.
     Ursula darted forward, took the tranquilizer gun between her teeth, and bounded off into the forest.
     Relieved of that threat, Bruno slid forward and laid his broad chest over the man’s face. The flailing became wilder, then weaker as the Newf pressed down with his full strength and weight, cutting off his captive's respiration. The struggles had grown feeble when he heard the mistress command him to sit up. He complied.
     The mistress was standing over them, pointing the master’s weapon at the intruder. They exchanged words in that shrill, anger filled tone Bruno knew from the Corens’ occasional fights over money.
     Presently the mistress allowed the intruder to rise. She nudged him toward the gate with the muzzle of the weapon, tracking him with it until he’d gotten into the big vehicle in the driveway. Moments later, the vehicle had departed.
#

     Harold awoke to a remarkable sight.
     The man he’d knocked unconscious was awake and sitting in a lawn chair. The intruder’s gaze flicked to Harold as he sat up. Phyllis stood alongside him. She was wielding his shotgun like a pro, keeping the muzzle perfectly steady on the intruder’s chest.
     Bruno stood beside his mistress, teeth bared and eyes locked onto their uninvited guest.
     “Status?” Harold said.
     “Bruno knocked the other guy down and subdued him while I fetched your gun. I made him get into the limo and leave. Ursula snatched his tranq gun and ran into the brush with it.”
     “Her name,” the intruder said, “is Lulubelle.”
     Despite the pounding in his head, Harold laughed.
     “You named a bear that? Were you planning to enter her in a ballet company or something?”
     The intruder’s face twitched. He said nothing.
     Harold shook his head and immediately regretted it. “How long have I been out?”
     “Maybe twenty minutes.”
     That long? “You’ve been standing guard over this guy all that time?”
     “No big deal,” she said. “He was out about as long. I wanted your input about what we should do with him.” Her terseness did nothing to hide her anger. “Son of a bitch pushed past me into our house as if I were nothing.”
     “I doubt he’ll make that mistake a second time.”
     I wouldn’t have guessed I was still part of a Ranger quick-reaction squad.
     He clambered awkwardly to his feet and stood beside his wife. She made no move to surrender the shotgun.
     Smart girl.
     “Buddy,” he said, “I don’t know who you are or what you thought you were going to pull off, but I hope you can see that you blew it.” He stepped away from Phyllis. “Give me your driver’s license.”
     The intruder reached into his inside jacket pocket, brought forth a wallet, extracted a driver’s license, and handed it to Harold.
     It was a Massachusetts license in the name of Jesse Eisenbud. Harold recognized the name at once.
     “Eisenbud Digital Industries?”
     The man nodded.
     “What did you want with the bear?”
     Eisenbud shrugged and looked away.
     “Well?”
     “A pet for my wife. She wanted a bear.”
     “If memory serves,” Harold said, “Massachusetts has a law against owning bears.”
     “So? She’s twenty-four years old, a Miss Maine runner-up, has tits like cantaloupes, can suck a golf ball through forty feet of garden hose, and she wanted a bear.” Eisenbud smirked. “Besides, it’s against the law in New York too. Isn’t it?”
     Harold nodded. “Exactly, which is why we don’t own a bear.”
     The billionaire’s face clouded over. “But—”
     “If you leave peaceably and swear never to come back here, I won’t turn you over to the police. But trust me when I say this, Mr. Eisenbud.” Harold smiled his brightest, most vicious smile. “If you show your face around here ever again, shortly thereafter the Onteora cops will be notifying your wife of your untimely and very messy demise.”
     Bruno added a low growl.
     Harold held up the driver’s license. “I’ll hold onto this. Phyl, Bruno, keep him where he is.”
     The Newf barked once sharply.
     “Where are you going?” she said, still wire-taut.
     “To call him a cab.”
#

     Ursula didn’t return that night, nor the next, nor the next. After five days had passed with no sign of the bear, Harold began to wonder if the commotion had frightened her away permanently, to become as wild de facto as de jure. After two weeks it seemed a certainty.
     It saddened him. All three of them had bonded with Ursula. Bruno had taken to standing watch at her habitual entry and exit point, as if to leave it unmonitored would risk having Ursula come back, survey the yard, decide she was no longer welcome, and depart never to return.
     Thanksgiving was two days away, and Harold was busily stacking the deck furniture for winter storage, when a rustling came from the northern edge of the yard. Bruno barked sharply and made a beeline for the sound.
     Presently Ursula emerged from the brush, a bit thinner for her time away but apparently otherwise no worse off. Her jaws were clenched on a long, silvery object. Bruno romped around her like a puppy, beside himself with joy. He escorted her to the deck and preceded her up the steps.
     She dropped the tranquilizer gun at Harold’s feet, sat on her haunches, and wagged her tongue.
     Harold dropped to his knees and wrapped the bear in a hug. Ursula returned it. Bruno pressed against the two of them with almost enough force to knock them over.
     A flurry of steps from behind them announced Phyllis’s arrival at the gathering.
     “She’s back,” she said wonderingly.
     He nodded. He kept his face against Ursula’s shoulder, lest his wife see his tears.
     Her hand descended on his shoulder. “Hal, it’s okay.”
     He looked up at that. Her face was as wet as his own.
     He released the bear and rose. A moment later the bear and the Newf and were once again careening joyously around the yard, companions love-bonded and inseparable.
     He pulled his wife snugly against his side.
     “I should have known she’d come back,” he said.
     “I never doubted it.”
     He looked at her. She grinned.
     “A woman knows these things. But Hal? She probably needs protein, and there’s no fish in the freezer.”
     “Right.” He fished for the car keys. “I’m on it.”
     “I’ll come with you.”
     “You sure?” He waved at the reunited pals, frolicking as if their energies were inexhaustible.
     She nodded. “They’ll be all right.”
     “Yeah,” he said. “I guess they will.”

==<O>==

1 comment:

  1. Loves me some Bruno, thanks for the story! Also like that Phyllis has her act together and a cool head. Reminds me of my bride when she was younger.

    ReplyDelete

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