I fell into a burning Ring of Fire
FROM the Chapter "On the Road" Jules, the Truth Finder
HOW JULES found Nellie, the clairvoyant Border Collie outside Waco.... I felt a hard thud on the side of the car and my blood ran cold. I thought I’d run over something. I opened up my door to get out and a black and white border collie jumped right inside the car and plopped herself in the seat next to me. “What the hell?” I turned toward her and she, right back at me. She had a smartass look on her face for a dog. I sat there for a few minutes letting it all sink in. I wasn’t prepared for taking on the task of a lost dog, so I pulled back into the Trails parking lot and went inside. I got Mary’s attention and she drug herself over, the dollar tip having worn off. “Yeah?” I made sure I was polite. “Hi, Miss. I was just about to drive off and this dog jumped up in my car.” “Yeah, that’s Nellie. Her family moved off and left her. She hangs out here for scraps.” “Should I take her to the pound?” Mary let out a loud laugh and took a pull off her Marlboro. “That’s a good one. We don’t have no pound here. Sheriff’s department just takes ‘em off and shoots ‘em. Dump her back on out and they’ll get around to her.” Now, I made my living writing up stories about things just like this. There was a world of animal lovers out there on the internet who’d be plenty riled up to hear about these kinds of goings on. I looked at Mary’s carefully applied pancake and could tell it was grocery store due to the orange cast. She reminded me of those people who went on tv after a kid or somebody went missing, but their hair and make up was always just so. I couldn’t ever help but wonder how they could take the time to stop and curl their hair and apply blush when their child had disappeared and might be tortured or dead. “Isn’t that illegal?” “Huh? Sheriff’s the law. What he says goes. Sure I can’t get you nothing else?” This threw a monkey wrench into my plans even though I didn’t have any plans. Something told me to take things that were happening in increments. Not to make emotional decisions, to think with my head. I can do that, I thought. Like waiting for my orange Ring of Fire to bloom on my porch back home and how it would only send out one blossom at a time. No matter how much I fertilized or watered the thing, it was on its own time. Some years, I only got one rose for the whole season. I’d threatened to get rid of it, but you learn how to respect something like that. And her flower was nothing short of extraordinary. A real force of nature, she was. So, I got back in the car and there she sat, pretty as you please with that smart lip. “Well,” I said, “I can take you as far as Fort Worth, but then I’m dropping you off at the shelter.” I knew from the Fort Worth cattle dog they had a one in five chance of getting out alive. She looked right over at me and if I didn’t know better, I was sure she pursed her lips at me. Just like that old neighbor lady, Mrs. Paul used to do when we’d pick green fruit off her peach tree. She’d always yell at us for messing with her preserve yield. Well, the hell with it. I punched on the gas and hit the road thinking how much that breakfast had cost me. Right then is when that dog grinned at me. Just as plain as the nose on your face, she turned her head from looking out at the road, lifted her lip and showed every one of her teeth at me.. I’d written a very popular story about a smiling dog, so I was familiar with the kink. She let out a moan when we passed through West, then looked at me with a long string of drool hanging off her mouth. West is a little Czech town famous for kolaches and peach preserves. “I’m off sugar,” I told her. “So go on and moan all you want, Nellie.” She only looked to be about a year. The shelters were full of dogs around Nellie’s age from all the people who got a puppy because they wanted a dog they could train. Then, when the new wore off and they got sick of the chewing or getting up to take the dog outside, they’d wind up at the pound. I’d studied the statistics and for as long as I’d been writing the dog articles, the numbers had stayed the same. I looked over at her. I wasn’t going to let her get to me. I was on a mission and that mission didn’t include a dog. Fort Worth Animal Control took up most of a whole city block. It looked clean enough and they had a lot of play room outside. I pulled up and Nellie looked over at me and began to pant. “Now, listen. This’ll be good. I’ve done stories on this shelter and they have a solid adoption rate.” She started to whine. I couldn’t stand to hear that. “Look, I don’t have time for a pet. I don’t want a dog. Don’t need one. Don’t have room and besides, I’ve got something to do. Something dogs don’t understand.” She looked at me with her one blue eye. Why did I have to feel bad because most people out there were assholes? I wasn’t the one who’d abandoned her. A guy came by pushing a cart on wheels with a bunch of garbage bags. He wheeled it over to a truck with Texas By-Products, LLC printed on the side. I’d written enough about what went on with rendering plants to know those garbage bags weren’t full of garbage. They were full of dead dogs. Nellie knew it, too. She didn’t go ballistic or anything, but that dog was scared. She was a smart girl and had kept herself alive on the streets after being thrown out by her owners like garbage. I looked at her and she, back at me. “Well, shit. I guess today’s your lucky day. Guess I got myself a dog. I must have rocks for brains. Geez.” I started up the car and began to back out. Nellie put her head on my shoulder. I got that she wasn’t an overly affectionate dog, but she also knew she’d tempted fate one more time. And she smelled something awful.