By Bob Liter
Clark Farnsworth sat on the edge of the bed, stretched his long naked body and snatched up the phone. He dialed Hemstead Apartments’ super.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“He’s barking again, Harry. I can’t sleep. Do something about it or I’ll break in and kill the damned thing.”
Clark imagined Harry sitting on his ass in his basement domain sucking on a beer.
“I’ll talk to her again, Mister Farnsworth. Having the dog is included in her lease. It’s so little I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
“Her curves and those big blues have anything to with it, Harry? I’ve seen the way you look at her.”
“Maybe you look at her the same way, Mister Farnsworth. Hope you can get some sleep. I’ll talk to her.”
“You do that. In the meantime I’m making a recording of that dog’s yapping. You’d think it would get tired sooner or later and shut up.”
Clark hung up the phone and placed the recorder on a chair near the wall between his apartment and the yapping dog. He tapped on the wall. The dog resumed barking. He sat before the computer in the living room. He typed, “The trouble with you, Hobart, is you don’t have any balls.”
“You know that’s not true , Virginia. You’ve had your eager little hands on them often enough.”
Clark sat back, pressed his hands over his ears, got up and went to the kitchen. He warmed left over coffee. Back in the chair he listened to the dog yap and stared at the screen.
As was often his custom when he wasn’t sure about dialog he had written, he read it aloud. Was the bit about Hobart not having any balls too strong? Was it something Virginia would say? What about the name Hobart. Was it right for the character?
Clark stood, paced around the room, grabbed the coffee cup and took it to the kitchen. He returned to the bed, squashed a pillow around his head and tried to block out the barking. He did sleep. Not much, probably and surely not enough. He got up, pushed his legs into jeans he picked up from the edge of the bed, and stretched. The radio clock on the night stand read seven am.
“You can’t sleep so sit your ass down and write,” he said aloud.
He had to finish his latest Cynthia Castle romance or stop eating. He stared at the screen and listened to his stomach growl. He stood, walked to the kitchen, looked in the refrigerator, smelled something bad, found some green apple sauce, threw it out and finished dressing.
He turned on his CD player and filled the apartment with the sounds of a trio playing the old standards. After listening for a minute he left the apartment and paced in front of the elevator door, waiting for it to come up from the lobby.
Clark frowned at the woman who came out of the elevator and watched her hips swish as she went to the apartment next to his and unlocked the door. A dog about the size of a weasel bounced around under the woman’s feet. Clark was treated to a display of bare thighs as she leaned over and picked up the dog.
She turned away from him, started to enter the apartment.
“Er, Miss, may I speak to you for a moment?”
“What is it?”
It’s about that dog. It barks all day. Keeps me awake.”
She hitched the wiggling dog up against her chest and said, “You sleep all day?”
“I work nights.”
“Oh, what do you do?”
“It doesn’t matter what I do, that damned dog interferes with my sleep.”
“Hear that Poops? You’ve got to stop barking.”
She started to enter the apartment again.
“I’m making a recording. Want to hear what Poops sounds like while I’m trying to sleep?”
Clark motioned toward his open door.
“No thanks. If you have any complaints file them with the super.”
“I already have,” Clark said. “I’ll get the tape and you can listen to it in your apartment.”
He entered his apartment, returned with the recording, and was pleased to see she was still waiting.
“What’s that music you’re playing? Rather loud, I might add.”
Clark held the tape out toward her and drew it back as Poops snapped at his fingers.
“The music? Beegie Adair’s quartet. Why? “
“Really a nice sound. I like those oldies.”
She held Poops to the side, reached out and took the tape.
He left the building, walked the block and half to Carson’s Café and ate eggs, toast and apple pie alamode.
He finished and drummed his fingers on the table. She seemed like a reasonable person, he thought as he imagined the young woman listening to the tape.
“That was fast,” the waitress, Emmy, said, as he motioned for the bill.
“Yeah, I guess. Got to get back.”
He left his usual tip and hurried back to Hemstead Arms. He hesitated after getting off the elevator, and knocked on her door. She opened it without releasing the chain, peaked out and said, “Oh, it’s you.”
She slammed the door, came back in an instant, opened the door and threw the tape out the small opening. She slammed the door again. Clark picked up the tape, felt blood rush to his face. Damn her. He rapped on the door again and again.
The elevator door groaned open and Mrs. Morganthal, floppy hat and all, stepped out. She headed for her apartment down the hall. Clark rapped on the door again.
Mrs. Morganthal turned, put a gloved hand to her face, and said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that music. You play it too loud sometimes and too late.”
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry about that. I’ll watch it.”
Clark reached to pound on the apartment door again just as it opened.
“Yes he does, Mrs. Morganthal. I agree,” the young woman in the doorway said.
Poops raced between the woman’s legs and wagged its tail so hard its rump swung back and forth. Clark scooped up the dog and handed it to the woman.
“Okay, you’re probably right about the music. I’ll watch it. Why did you throw the tape at me?”
“It’s obscene. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Clark pointed the tape at her and said, “What’s obscene is the way that weasel barks. Doesn’t even sound like a real dog.”
“Goodnight Mildred, you and I will have to talk to the super about this.”
Mrs. Morganthal entered her apartment and closed the door with a bang.
So Mildred was the dog owners name.
There must be a civilized way to resolve this, Clark thought.
Mildred closed her apartment door quietly. Clark entered his apartment, turned the music down. He sat at his computer and listened to a slow rendition of Love Me Forever.
It was no good at first. He sat there thinking of Mildred. Millie he would call her. He realized the dog wasn’t barking. He typed out a fictionalized version of what had just happened in the hallway and soon was turning out pages of a new Cynthia Castle romance. He liked it. Had conflict, emotion -- he’d have to expand the plot -- an attractive protagonist. Yes, Millie was a looker. Nice shape, attractive hair, and those eyes. He wrote for three hours solid. And then he hit the sack, for once able to sleep during the day.
Now his schedule was really screwed up. And what a name for a dog. He had a dog once. Named it Bruce after a favorite cartoon character.
He put the tape in the player with the intention of getting to the end of yesterday’s recording so he could resume recording the barking. He was in the kitchen looking for something to eat when he heard his own voice saying something about one of his fictional characters having her hands around a man’s balls. He adjusted the tape and heard himself reading dialog from his previous writing. No wonder Millie was pissed.
He leaned against the outside of his apartment door for fifteen minutes before she came out.
“On your way to work?” he asked.
“Breakfast. Don’t have to be to work until nine.”
“May I join you?”
“I want to apologize for what was on that tape.”
She headed for the elevator.
“You should,” she said over her shoulder.
“I will, at breakfast.”
She turned. “You can apologize now, although I can’t imagine how you could justify what you said on that tape.”
The elevator arrived. She got in and tried to get out when he entered. The door closed. She made no attempt to stop it.
“I’m a writer,” Clark said.
“Of course you are,” Millie said as she backed into a corner.
She hurried out as he stood away from the opened elevator door on the first floor. Clark lengthened his stride to keep up. A block later she ducked into Carson’s Café and sat in a booth near the front.
“Hi Clark,” Emmy the waitress said as Clark sat across from Millie.
“Emmy, this is Millie,” Clark said.
“I know,” the waitress said. “What will it be this morning?”
“Orange juice, coffee and the usual bagel,” Millie said.
“You eat here regular?” Millie asked. “I never noticed you before.”
“Don’t usually get here this early,” Clark said.
“So you claim to be a writer.”
“That’s what I claim. Write romances,” Clark said.
“C’mon. A rugged guy like you writes romances?”
“Yeah. I write a Western now and then. Tried mysteries but was no good at that. There’s a demand for romances. So I write ‘em.”
Emmy placed a tray in the empty booth next to them, and set Millie’s breakfast in front of her.
She put eggs, toast and apple pie alamode in front of Clark.
Millie gazed at the pie and ice cream. Clark waited for her to say something. She shook her head, drank orange juice and watched Clark gobble eggs and toast. He took a deep breath and started on the pie and ice cream.
“You must be in a hurry,” Millie said.
“Not really. Just habit. When I worked at the Gazette I had half an hour for lunch. Been eating too fast ever since.
“Now you sleep all day and write romances at night,” Millie said.
“Yeah, it’s kinda crazy I guess. Was still working at the paper during the day when I started writing fiction at night. Now it seems it’s the only time I can write.”
Millie wiped her mouth with a paper napkin, placed in on her plate, set the utensils on the plate and stood.
“You notice the dog doesn’t bark when you’re home?” Clark asked.
“Yes, I wonder if that recording of yours is faked somehow? Although it does sound like Poops.
“The dog is lonely, maybe scared, when you’re gone. That’s why it barks.”
“How would you know that?”
“Just read it somewhere, I guess.”
“Maybe you should sit with it while I’m gone. Then it wouldn’t bark and you could write your romances.”
“Oh no, I’m not babysitting your dog.”
Millie turned to go.
Clark pictured himself talking to Millie every morning as she left the dog with him.
Wait a minute,” he said. “I guess I could try it for a day or so. I’ve got to get some writing done.”
“You won’t be mean to Poops will you?”
The next morning as he was about to go to bed, a knock on the door stopped him. He threw a bathrobe over his shoulders and opened the door. Millie stood there with Poops in her arms.
“You said you wanted to keep Poops in the daytime so she wouldn’t be lonely and would stop barking”
“I did say that didn’t I. Okay give me the dog. As he reached out for it his bathrobe threatened to open. He held it closed with one hand and held the dog in the other.”
She said, “Don’t bite him now, Poops,” and was gone.
Clark stood by the door holding the wiggling dog. He sat it down and watched as it explored the apartment. Dogs leave dodo behind. Oh well, he’d worry about that later. He’d been pounding on the computer keys all night and was tired. He threw the bathrobe on a chair beside the bed and crawled in. He was almost asleep when the dog bounced from the floor to beside his face. He looked over the side into begging dark eyes the size of little marbles as the dog bounded up and down.
He reached over, caught the dog on the upswing, put it at the foot of the bed and went to sleep. Several hours later he was up making coffee. A knock on his door made him realize he was anticipating seeing Millie when she came to pick up her dog. He smiled as he opened the door.
“Had the best sleep I’ve had in weeks,” Clark said, anticipating her question.
“Poops didn’t keep you awake then. What did she do all day?”
“For one thing she peed on my kitchen floor. Guess I’ll have to take her for a walk in the morning.”
“Well, I guess this might work out then.”
“I’ve got a date this Saturday night. Maybe you’d take of her then.”
“Maybe,” Clark said.
Millie stooped, picked up Poops, and said, “Well, thanks. I’ll let you get to work. I’d like to read one of your novels. Looked for them in the library during my lunch hour.”
“My pen name is Cynthia Castle. They wouldn’t be under my real name. How did you know my name anyway?”
Mrs. Morganthal must have mentioned it.
“Cynthia Castle. Really. Cynthia Castle is a man? You are Cynthia Castle? The Cynthia Castle.”
“Yeah, that’ me. Are you one of my readers?”
“That stuff is too lurid for me.”
“Life is lurid,” Clark said.
“Poops,” he said when he was alone with the dog the next morning, “that’s no name for a dog. And let’ take off that silly pink ribbon around your neck. Here’s something for you.”
Clark stooped and fastened a miniature, spiked and studded dog collar around Poops’ neck. The fake spikes glistened.
Clark said, “There. Now you look like a dog. And I’m gonna call you Bruce. Maybe the collar and the name will show the other dogs in the park you’re nobody to fool with.
Bruce stopped at ever tree along the way, sniffed and left her mark. In the park she pooped and ran around and around, apparently chasing an unseen rabbit. A woman with a police dog on a chain appeared. The dog strained to get at Bruce. Clark picked the little dog up and carried it to his apartment.
He dumped a can of dog food Millie had left into a bowl, put fresh water in another bowl, and sat down. Eventually he fixed himself a couple of eggs and toast. By the time he finished eating the dog was asleep on the kitchen floor. He moved quietly into the bedroom, shed his clothes, and slept until a knock roused him.
Millie stood outside.
“Come in,” Clark said. “Bruce.”
The dog raced to the door, its claws sliding on the floor. Millie picked it up and said, “Bruce?”
“That’s her name now. Let’s the dogs at the park know she’s nobody to fool with.”
“You take her to the park? I was always afraid one of those big dogs would hurt her. And what’s that thing around her neck?”
“It’s not as heavy as it looks. If you were another dog would you fool with one named Bruce who wears a collar like that?”
Millie laughed, a musical sound that tingled in the air long after she left.
“I’ve read “Return of Love” and have started “Lost Love.” Enjoyed the humor but not so keen about those lurid love scenes.”
“Well, that stuff’s what sells books. Human males and females do that stuff, you know.”
“So I’ve heard,” Mollie said. “She cuddled the dog in her arms, stepped out in the hall and said “Bruce.” The dog wagged its tail.
“It’s a lonely old town,” Clark said Saturday night as he and Bruce sat on the living room couch. Clark read and Bruce pushed her nose against his leg.
“How was the date?” Clark asked when Millie returned at 10 p.m. carrying a pale blue paper sack.
“Nothing special,” Millie said as she sat on the couch and scratched behind one of the dog’s ears.”
Clark scratched the other ear as the dog sprawled between them.
Millie fished a pink leash out of the sack.
“Bruce sniffed, raised her nose, and jumped off the couch.
“She doesn’t like it. Doesn’t fit her image as a fierce fighting dog,” Clark said.
“How do you know all those details you put in your novels?”
“Just imagination. That’s what fiction writing is. Using your imagination.”
“You sure that couch love scene you seem to write into every novel isn’t more than imagination?”
“It does seem real by now,” Clark said as his arm glided around Millie’s shoulder.
“Is this the part where the girl turns and bats her big blues at the hero’s face?”
“Right. Then the guy turns and takes the girls face in his hands and kisses her on the lips.”
They held their positions until Millie moved her face out of Clark’s hands and maneuvered neck.
“I don’t remember writing that into one of those scenes,” Clark said.
Millie rubbed her neck, picked up Clark’s hands, placed them on her face.
She noticed that Clark’s eyes, only inches from hers, were green or maybe blue.
“If you don’t kiss me my neck is going to get stiff again.”
Clark kissed her warm, moist lips. They moved against his. His tongue explored. Millie’s shoes thudded onto the floor. Bruce jumped down and sat looking up at Millie and Clark. The dog jumped out of the way when they tumbled to the floor. They began clawing at each others clothes.
Bruce wandered out into a corner of the room, curled and went to sleep.
Bob Liter is the author of the Nick Bancroft mysteries and several romances, including his latest, FORK IN THE ROAD, available on the Internet from Fictionwise.com.