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"Oh, I'm absolutely not doing that." I'm almost joking, but more serious than not. I nodded at Gale and asked for another cup of coffee. I put several more packets of sugar in it. I thanked her and turned back to Bear. "Yeah, no. I definitely would not be doing that if I wasn't a cop." I can't imagine myself teaching children, let alone teenagers. I don't think I'd be very good at it.
"Why not?" Bear wondered. "You're good with kids and they love you, and you're scary as shit sometimes. One look and you could set them straight. You know, kids these days are assholes. I'm always seeing parents yellin' at their kids in stores. When I was a kid, all my mom had to do was give me a look and I shut the fuck up."
I grinned. "What about you? What would you have done instead?"
"Actually..." he paused and took a sip of coffee. "I was a Marine. My pop was a Marine, as well, and, you know, I wasn't really sure what to do once I graduated high school, so I decided to enlist."
"Why'd you leave?"
He shrugged. "I served a couple tours. I didn't feel like getting out yet, so I served a couple more. After that, I... decided it was time. I lost a lot of friends, and on my last tour I got injured and sent home. And then, 'course, I had to decide what to do again." He chuckled. "I, uh, I did interview to be a prison guard, but that interview didn't go so well."
"Well, you know how they always ask the same questions over and over. Tell me about yourself? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five years, and so on? For that last one, I said I hoped I'd be in prison, you know," he paused and made a little gesture to indicate his surroundings. I dipped my head, suppressed my laughter. "Yeah, she didn't think it was very funny." He ran his hand over his mouth.
"It's funny." Probably not at the time... "I—" My portable crackled and then I heard Valerie's voice. "What is it, Val?"
"I just got a call from Cal's neighbor. They dropped by his house earlier. They were worried because they haven't seen him in over a week and the dogs are going wild. They reported a weird smell while snooping around."
Bear and I stood outside as the coroner photographed the body. Cal's body. Truth be told, I never knew him well. As a hermit, only one or two people could only truly call themselves Cal's friend. His only genuine friends had been his dogs.
"What will happen to his dogs?"
The man from the pound loaded the last dog into the van and turned to look at me. "Well, if the old man didn't leave any provisions for the dogs, they'll end up back at the shelter. Of course, if no one comes to claim them, we end up snuffing them to make room for more. There's just not enough space there."
Beside me, Bear grunted and walked away. I watched as the guy from the pound drove away, and I heard the dogs—five in all—howl in the back. "What are you thinking?" I approached Bear, who leaned against the cruiser.
"I really love pit bulls." He nodded, slowly, at me. I grinned and we bumped our fists together.
We followed the van back to the pound. For a moment, we did contemplate coming back to break the pups out, like thieves in the night. But Sal, the attendant I'd spoken with, hadn't logged in the call.
At the end of our shift, Bear and I picked up our new housemates.
I called Avery on my way home and asked him to pick up a bag of dog food. He was bewildered, but I said I'd explain when he arrived.
I had just finished bathing the dogs out back and was crashed on the couch with them when I heard the door open. He came around the corner with a twenty pound bag of dog food in his arms. "So, I got your dog food. You mind telling me why—"
I picked up Queenie, a little Papillon, and pressed our faces together. "Surprise!" Queenie barked excitedly at Avery, eager to meet her new dad. As she should be.
He arched a brow and, for a moment, I thought he was going to protest. Maybe he was, planned to, but he just chuckled. "I always knew this day would come. I'll miss you when they hail you away for dog-napping."
I rolled my eyes at him and set Queenie on the floor. She raced over to Avery and sniffed around him and then rose up on her hind legs to rest her front paws on his legs. "Looks like I've been replaced." I laughed.
Avery filled bowls of food in the kitchen and then returned a moment later and joined me on the couch. I could hear the three dogs from here as they scarfed the food down. I draped my legs across his lap and wondered, "You're okay with this?"
He nodded. He traced circles along my bare legs. "What happened?"
"Cal Sheridan passed away. He had a heart attack last week and no one knew until this afternoon. His dogs were going to go to the pound, but Bear and I took them. They were going to kill them. We couldn't stand the thought..."
Avery squeezed my leg. "They need a home. They've got one now."
I propped my elbow on the back of the couch, palm resting against my cheek, and gazed at him. "You're too good, you know that?" He tickled my thigh. He knew I wasn't ticklish, at least not there, but he always did that out of habit.
I leaned forward and placed my hands on his chest, feeling his beating heart. He dipped his head and brushed his lips against mine. I gripped the front of his shirt and tugged him closer and opened my mouth to him. His hands roamed across me, unbuttoning my shirt, caressing and teasing and baring me to him.