"Merrie Melodies" by deejay
(written for Yuletide 2008)
"Excuse me, Paul, but Father Calero's call to you just now.... He phoned you to ask you to, I'm sorry, do what, again?" Pinching the bridge of his nose in an effort to ward off yet another sneeze, Alva Keel wanted to make sure that what he had overheard was correct.
Paul Callan pushed a near-empty Kleenex box across their shared work table at him and finished off the rest of a, now chilly, second cup of morning coffee.
"You heard fine," Paul chuckled. "Despite your stuffed-up ears from the head cold you gave me."
Watery, pale-blue eyes glared at him from across the work table. "Excuse me, once again, Paul, but I do believe that this particular ailment originated from you. Apparently, in the spirit of the holiday season, you decided to share it with me - "
The combined sounds of the front office door opening/shutting and a violent sneeze reached them in the far corner of the vast room.
" - not to mention, to Evelyn, as well."
Paul tucked away his cell phone and tried not to look abashed. As Evie rounded a rack of bookshelves, heading in their direction, he retrieved the box of Kleenex and held it out to her.
"Thanks. Give me a second," Evie sniffled as she dropped a filled grocery bag on the table near Alva and took the box from Paul with a look of gratitude.
Alva began rummaging through the groceries, taking out various bottles and packets of cold medications, a bag of Jamaican coffee beans, and some pastries from the local bakery. The additional super-sized box of Kleenex tissues was a welcome sight.
Evie sat on the edge of the table, delicately blew her nose, and sighed. The solemn men were quiet ... too quiet. "Sooo, anything new since I last shared the company of my favorite coworkers?" she asked airily, in a forced attempt at cheerfulness.
"Ask Paul," Alva muttered, fumbling with the stubborn wrapping on the pastries. "It appears that he has been charged with a holy mission."
Evie smiled, plucked the package away from Alva before he had the chance to destroy its contents, opened it easily, scooted it back over to Alva along with a fresh paper napkin, then turned her attention to a now-grinning Paul. "Ohhkaay," she drawled. "Let's have it."
"Poppi called me," Paul shrugged. "We had an old Shetland Sheepdog at the orphanage, named Barney.... They had to have him put down this past summer. I guess the staff has decided that the time has come to find another dog for the kids ... preferably in time for Christmas."
"And, I suppose, Father Calero believes that you have nothing better to do than to rush off on the orphanage's business at his every beck and call," Alva grumbled, before swallowing a DayQuil tablet and a healthy bite of cheese danish.
Paul cleared his throat, somewhat guiltily. "Well, no...." he stammered. "I ... I really got the impression that it would be an honor for us to do this. Something nice that we could do for - "
Alva blinked and fought to keep from choking on his pastry. "'Us'? 'We'? You can't possibly mean for all of us to drop everything and run off in search of some innocent dog to drop off to a mass of frenetic children, especially now, when we're all sick - "
"Alva...." Evie's louder sigh cut him off. "I agree with Paul, this would be a wonderful thing for the two of you to do ... together."
Alva blanched. "Me, too? No ... what? Why?" he whined, flinging his used paper napkin in the vague direction of the garbage can.
"Because this place is an absolute pigsty and it will get the both of you out of my hair while I clean it up," Evie explained. "I would also enjoy the peace and quiet while I finish the filing, since my sinuses are throbbing at the moment."
Leaning against the nearest bookcase, Alva crossed his arms across his chest and scowled into the distance. A shelved book teetered above him, but did not fall. "I shouldn't have to help anyone find a dog; I'm as sick as one."
Paul smiled ruefully. "You should probably go upstairs to bed if you still feel feverish."
"I don't, not as of this morning," Alva replied. "Still, I would be sincerely pleased if SOMEONE would bother to finish their write-up of the 'Brother Bobo' case file sometime this year."
"If you don't stop with the cranky routine, the only file you can anticipate reading will be the one concerning a 'Brother Danish' making contact with your head," Evie stated calmly.
Stifling a laugh behind a fake bout of coughing, Paul started to clear his workspace.
"Does the orphanage staff have any preference concerning what kind of breed they want?" Evie asked. "A dog or a puppy?"
"Either one will be fine -- Poppi said they don't really care -- just nothing that will turn out to be too big or too boisterous, I guess," Paul replied. "I figure we can head over to the local pound and see what they have there first."
Evie nodded in agreement. "In the meantime, I'll make a space in the bathroom. We can use one of Matty's old blankets ... and you can finish that file when you both get back with the dog."
Alva had stalked over to the garbage can to retrieve the morning's edition of the Boston Globe; he noisily shook it out and flipped through its pages. "Here we go," he soon announced. "The 'Pets' section.... Let's see what dogs they have for sale."
Paul took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I was hoping we could rescue one from the pound...."
"But this is ever so much faster," Alva snipped. "Call up the breeder, pick up the dog, and off we merrily go." Leaning against the table, he quickly scanned the newspaper ads. "Ohh, look here! 'Purebred Scottish Terrier puppies, parents on the premises, available in time for Christmas, only twelve-hundred dollars'.... Twelve-hundred dollars? This must be a typo."
"Somehow, I doubt that," Evie smirked. "Purebreds are usually pretty expensive."
"Yes, but ... twelve-hundred dollars?! That's an outrageous price for a ... nevertheless, fantastic breed, obviously┘."
Paul had slipped on his coat, stuck a packet of DayQuil tablets and some tissues into his pocket, wrapped a woolen scarf around his neck, had his gloves on and was halfway to the door. "We can adopt a dog from one of the MSPCA-Angell centers for two-hundred bucks, Keel. The closest one is over on South Huntington. I'll drive. Are you coming?"
"Father Calero phoned us earlier this morning from St. Jerome's and told us we might expect you! Gentlemen, I'm simply delighted to meet you! Thank you very much for coming!" Mrs. Viola Cabot-Lawrence, the volunteer manager of the Adoption Center, was a woman who clearly loved her job.
In turn, Alva and Paul introduced themselves, endured the grip of her enthusiastic handshakes, then surreptitiously flexed their fingers in order to relief the ache from compression. Grimacing, they followed as she briskly ushered them down a hallway and into a large side room filled with rows of stacked dog crates.
"I've taken the liberty of personally screening and preselecting two small dogs for your consideration." Viola shouted over the cacophony of barking dogs. "Right now, I have seventeen in here altogether, but the rest have been set aside for other potential adopters."
She gestured at the two dog crates sitting side by side in their own row. "These two little boys over here are both young, healthy, of good temperament, current on their shots, neutered, and either one of them ... or both ... would certainly be capable of making all those lovely children very happy on Christmas morning!"
Alva and Paul looked at one another, each mouthing the word, 'BOTH?!' Paul then firmly shook his head and mouthed, 'No way. Poppi would kill us!'
'He would indeed!' Alva mouthed back.
"They were dropped off to us by people who couldn't keep them anymore," Viola went on to explain, as loudly as she could over the incessant barking of the other dogs. She unlooped a leash and attached collar from the top of the first crate and carefully opened its door, deftly securing the collar around the neck of a small, blotchy-gray-skinned, rat-tailed dog with tufts of white and light-brown fur sticking out all over its slender body. Its immediate impression of being all nakedness and gnarly underbite was softened by its brown, soulful eyes.
"Awwww, look at you!" Paul cooed...
...as Alva gasped, "What the HELL is that?!"
"This is Alpha!" yelled Viola, reaching down to scoop up the little dog into her arms.
Alva's mouth dropped open further. "Did ... did you say that thing's name is ALVA?!"
"Noooo!" Viola laughed, as the little dog snuggled closer and started to lick the side of her neck. "The people who dropped him off didn't leave his name, so we've been calling him Alpha, since his adoption number is A-97."
"He's really cute," Paul offered. Alva stopped staring at the little dog long enough to give him an incredulous glance.
"And he's not a 'thing' at all," Viola continued gaily. "He looks to be at least half Chinese Crested and, well, the other half we think must be some sort of small terrier or terrier-mix. He's just as sweet as can be!"
Alva, forcing a smile, turned away from Viola to hiss in Paul's ear. "Trust me, I have seen some hideous-looking creatures in my time, but THIS...?!"
"Ehhh, I don't know," Paul reasoned. "I think the kids would get used to him."
"Would you like to hold him, Mr. Keel?" Viola stepped forward and held the little dog out to Alva. "I still need to show Mr. Callan the other available dog."
Paul had to clench his teeth to keep from laughing at the sudden look of sheer horror that had cemented itself onto Alva's face.
"Ahhh, I couldn't," Alva insisted. "I ... I've been sneezing lately."
Viola placed the little dog against Alva's chest, who found himself powerless to keep his arms from folding around it to keep it from falling.
"That's something to be said about the Chinese Crested breed in general: they're wonderful for anyone who's allergy-prone to fur or dog dander!" Viola announced grandly. "You wouldn't have to worry so much about whether or not any of the children were seriously allergic to him."
As she turned away to repeat the crate removal procedure with the second dog, Alva stared down at the little dog in his arms and grumbled, "It's not allergies that concern me so much as I fear they may well sue us for frightening the children into nightmarish fits."
Paul rolled his eyes, then reached over to gently scritch the sparse tuft of fur on top of the little dog's head. "He's not all that bad. Awfully quiet, too ... all this noise and he hasn't made a sound."
Alva stared down at a pair of placid canine eyes that stared directly back up at him. "It could be silently plotting," he muttered.
"And heeeeeere's Bowser!" Viola sang out, bringing a much heftier, tan-brown, shaggy-furred, "Benji"-type dog around her to sit obediently next to her leg. His thick tail thumped heavily against the floor as he offered a couple of quick yips.
"There's a lot of terrier-mutt in him ... Bowser's former 'mom' and 'dad' both work for the military, and they were transferred overseas with hardly any warning." Viola reached down to pet the happy little dog. "I can tell you, they were devastated when no one they knew could take him ... I promised them that I would do everything I could to find Bowser the perfect home!"
Paul grinned. "I don't know how 'perfect' the orphanage would be, but I certainly think that Bowser would be - "
" - absolutely perfect for the orphanage!" Alva interrupted. "There you are, Paul. Take the leash, sign the papers, pay the fees, and let's go!"
"Wait a minute," Paul balked. "We still have to decide between these two dogs...."
"Precisely what is there to decide? THAT one - " Alva inclined his head toward Bowser. " - is a small, adorable dog! THIS one is ... a large, fuzzy rat!"
The little dog trembled and snuggled closer under Alva's chin in search of warmth. Unconsciously, he adjusted it into a more secure hold. "Look, Paul, it makes perfect sense," he stressed. "Bowser here is large enough to be able to stand his own ground, instead of being trampled by hundreds of thundering juvenile feet."
Paul waited for the fully anticipated diatribe to subside as he watched the little dog calmly gaze up at Alva with growing adoration.
"...and there's the point to be made that Father Calero specifically requested we find a 'small dog' for the orphanage, whereas this - " Alva gasped, his sentence unfinished. "It's ... it's licking me, isn't it...?"
Paul's smile grew wider. "Yup ... right along your jugular vein!" he chuckled. "I'm wondering if it likes you."
Alva turned his head to look down into the little dog's half-closed eyes. "I'm wondering if it's prone to vampiric tendencies."
Viola cleared her throat and valiantly continued her sales pitch. "They're both absolute sweethearts, I'm sure they'll both make fabulous pets!"
"Unfortunately, the orphanage only wants us to get them one." Paul shrugged apologetically; he paused, then knelt in front of Bowser to ruffle his fur. "What do you think, boy? You ready to be worshipped nonstop by hundreds of lonely children?"
"Fantastic!" Viola crowed. "I'm so pleased!" She passed the leash to Paul and clapped her hands a few times in glee.
Paul stood, and Bowser followed him into a heel position. "He'll be perfect for the kids, which means that, with a great deal of reluctance, I'm gonna have to agree with you on this one, Keel!"
"The Lord works in mysterious ways!" Alva coughed wryly, now all but cuddling the no longer trembling little dog.
"The Lord's work...?" Viola asked, believing she had misheard.
Alva rubbed the little dog's soft back. "Nothing, sorry. Just a faint attempt at jocularity."
"Nearly transparent," Paul teased.
"Yes," Alva chortled. "Much like this poor dog's fur. He's in desperate need of a sweater, or else he will surely freeze to death!"
"There just happens to be a pet store two doors north of here, on this side of the street," Viola offered. "They'll have everything you will need for both dogs."
Alva smiled thinly. "Ahh, but, you see, madam, we are only taking the one dog: Bowser." Without another word, he handed the little dog over to Viola and walked out of the room, gently closing the door behind him.
Paul took acute note of Alva's abrupt, head-down departure, as well as the little dog's blink of sorrow. Even the barking dogs had suddenly quieted.
Viola shook her head. "That's a shame. This little dear one needs a home, too ... and your friend, Mr. Keel, he seems to need...."
"Yes, ma'am," Paul agreed softly. "Yes, he does."
It was by sheer force of will that Alva and Paul made it up the long flight of stairs that lead to the world corporate office of Sodalitas Quaerito. Enduring the orphanage's Christmas Eve celebrations was, by now, an annual tradition for both men, but this particular evening's festivities had been especially exhausting.
"Now, THAT, Monsieur Callan," Alva stated, with no small amount of ill-concealed smugness, "is what I like to call an unparalleled success." He tossed his hastily removed outerwear over the back of a work chair, then triumphantly plopped down on the sofa.
"Well, yeah," Paul had to admit. "Bowser went over incredibly well with the kids and, once again, we're completely adored by Poppi and the orphanage staff."
"Yay, team!" Alva mimed shaking a pair of pompoms, before stopping abruptly. "What is that?"
Paul turned away from switching on the office's tabletop Christmas tree to look. "Where?"
"There's a folded piece of paper on the work table. Go and read it, will you?"
"Aaaand, you can't be bothered to get up and go over there yourself to read it, why?" Paul inquired, fussing instead with one of the tree's oddly flickering bulbs.
"Because I am stuck here on this sofa, basking in my own magnificence, immersed in the veritable panoply that is 'I-was-right-about-Bowser-and-I-told-you-so-ishness'."
Paul sighed. "I'm beginning to think the operative word around here for the rest of the holiday season would have to be 'unbearable'...." He reseated the fixed bulb and went to check out the note.
"It's from Evelyn...."
"As I fully expected," Alva smirked. "What news?" He leaned his head back against the sofa and closed his eyes.
Paul scanned the note, then read it aloud, chuckling. "We are allowed to mess up this office only at our peril.... Oh, and she wants us over to her and Matty's for Christmas dinner tomorrow, no later than 3 PM. We are to bring nothing but our appetites, as she has already made enough to feed a small army."
Alva stretched out his arms and yawned hugely. "I'm still full from that lovely buffet. Sister Agatha's chestnut stuffing was, as always, spectacular."
Dropping the note on the tabletop and shoving his hands back into his coat pockets, Paul turned to watch as Alva kicked off first one shoe, then the other.
"Aren't you ... uhh ... going to go upstairs?" Paul asked, looking down at his own shoes.
Alva opened his eyes and blinked a few times. He shrugged and looked over at the tree's multicolored twinkling lights. "I don't know. I might stretch out here for the time being. I'm positively numb with fatigue."
"I'll say goodnight, then." Paul nodded. "Thanks again, Alva, for helping out with Bowser and everything. I'm just going to check the bathroom before I head out and see if Evie remembered to, uhh, get the blanket back." He hoped that his voice didn't come across as nervous as he felt. "I'll take it home and wash it, if she didn't, remember to, that is."
Alva snorted. "I would be shocked if she hadn't."
Out of Alva's line of sight, Paul walked over to the bathroom door and opened it carefully. The soft glow of the interior nightlight illuminated enough of the room for him to see that the reason for his growing nervousness was still there.
The little dog, curled in a tight ball on the blanketed area of the bathroom floor, poked his head up and let out an eager yap. Even in the dim light, he looked downright dapper in his new Christmas plaid sweater and matching jingle-belled collar.
"Shhh," Paul chided. "You're supposed to be a surprise...."
As he reached for the coiled-up leash that had been placed on top of the sink, the little dog jumped up from the blanket, knocked aside the two small dishes being used for his food and water bowls, and ran between Paul's legs and out the bathroom door to freedom.
"Alpha," Paul stage-whispered loudly, reaching down in a failed attempt to capture the scrambling pooch.
"Huh?" Alva's tired voice drifted from the other side of the office. "Did you just call me? I thought I heard - "
Whatever else he had intended to say was cut off as the tiny escapee leapt up onto the sofa next to him, bounded into his lap, snuggled against his chest and began licking him under his ear. With no prior warning, Alva found himself with an armful of sweatered mottled skin and furry tufts; the dog collar jingled merrily next to his chin.
"Alpha?" Keel gasped, honestly startled. His head whipped around until he took in the sight of Paul peering at him from around the edge of a bookshelf.
"Uhh. Merry Christmas?" Paul grinned ruefully.
Alva shook his head slowly and let his gaze drift down to the little dog. A spasm of pain flashed across his face. "I don't see how we can keep him," he whispered.
"Okay, so, now it's my turn to talk YOU into a dog." Paul walked over to lean against the work table. "Look, Alva, he fits in your lap, he's even small enough to sleep on your desk. He can keep you company when you're back here and Evie and I are both out on cases, he can keep you company while you're out walking in the park." Paul smiled at Alva. "At any rate, he's better than a head cold, right?"
Alva bit back a chuckle. "There is that, at least."
The little dog yawned and dropped his head down to rest on Alva's shoulder.
"I can feel his heart beating against my collarbone," said Alva, with a measure of awe. "It's very fast ... somewhat soothing, though." He shrugged his opposite shoulder. "My family never owned a dog -- cats, a long time ago -- but not dogs."
"Consider it a learning experience, then." Paul grinned. "Who knows? You might even learn a thing or two about patience."
"Don't push your luck," Alva growled humorously.
Paul laughed softly. "The little guy is sound asleep.... Hmmm." A thought came to him. "You know, it might be a good idea to try to avert any potential 'Alva' and 'Alpha' confusion, so ... we're not going to keep calling him Alpha, are we?"
"Hardly," Alva replied, patting the slumbering dog's back. "I was just thinking about that, actually. I would hate to overhear Evie out here scolding the dog for having accidentally soiled the floor and wondering if she might be addressing me."
"It may be a bit irritating at first, until we get used to it, but I like the idea of keeping a belled collar on him at all times, too," Paul reasoned. "That way, we can all hear him coming around corners and not accidentally trip over him."
"Yet another excellent idea," Alva agreed. "You're on a roll, aren't you?"
"Just doing my part to keep up with your basking magnificence."
"Jiang-shi...." Alva whispered.
Paul blinked. "Was that a sneeze?"
"No," Alva said. "A 'Jiang-shi' happens to be a Chinese Hopping Vampire."
"Oh, no way." Paul stared at him. "You are not going to name this poor little dog after some bloodsucking demon from China."
Alva returned his gaze. "Why not? I think it's rather clever, myself ... he's part Chinese Crested, he hopped all the way up onto my shoulder with no difficulty, and he has a great affinity for jugular veins."
"Seriously, Keel?" Paul shook his head in dismay. "He's had a pretty tough life already, why would you want to name him after such an evil - "
"Have I thanked you yet?" Alva interrupted, looking away.
"Yes ... uhh ... no," Paul was taken aback at the abrupt topic switch. "You just have, though, and you're welcome."
Alva reached up to scratch between the little dog's ears. "What fabulously American name would you give him, then?"
"Well...." Paul considered for a moment. The dog's head twitched in response to Alva's touch, thus making the tiny bells on his collar jangle -- and it came to him. "We found him at Christmas, and he's going to remain belled from now on. He's your dog, I know, but I'm sure I can also convince Evie and Matty to call him: Jingles."
"Jingles?" Alva's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "Not Jiang-shi?"
"Jingles," Paul declared, fighting to keep a straight face.
Inevitably, of course, Jingles/Jiang-shi ended up answering to both.