By Mike Hudson
Art © Rob Sussman
The little house was close and dark and cluttered. The shades were drawn and the windows shut tight. Outside it was a gorgeous morning in the Hollywood Hills, 74 degrees, the bright sun shining and not a cloud in the sky. But inside, the woman took no notice. She had read on one of the Internet weather sites earlier that it might get into the upper 80s late that afternoon, ten hours away. She got overheated quickly and wasn’t taking any chances.
She was sitting in front of the only turned on light source in the entire house, the glowing screen of the laptop computer her boyfriend had given her, back when she had boyfriends. She was staring at a picture of a dog.
“Thank you doctor, thank you very much,” she said into her cell phone. “You can reach me at this number any time of the day or night.”
She was talking to a veterinarian in Bakersfield named Milo Longacre, who was charging her $800 a day to keep a deformed, one-lunged Pekinese puppy called Scraps alive on life support in an oxygen tent. The puppy had been rescued from certain euthanasia at an animal shelter and brought to him by another woman, Rosemary Diaz, who was the weekend weathergirl at the Univision channel in Bakersfield and maintained a Facebook page dedicated to finding homes for hard to place dogs. Scraps was set to be adopted that evening by a third woman, who lived a continent away in New York City.
But the dog had failed to cooperate, the doctor said, taken a turn for the worse and now couldn’t be moved. Scraps might not last the rest of the day but Longacre promised he would do the best he could. He had his heart set on a new Jaguar S Type V-8 he’d test driven a couple weeks earlier over at Hardin’s Imports. The Jag was painted British racing green and came complete with the optional sport package so he was pretty excited about it.
When the woman finished talking to Longacre she called Rosemary Diaz, the weekend weathergirl in Bakersfield to give her an update, and finally the woman a continent away in Manhattan, who was also sitting in front of a laptop.
“I’m praying for the little guy,” the woman in the Hollywood Hills said tearfully. “But there’s no sense in flying out here today.”
The woman in Manhattan was inconsolable. Just sobbing. She didn’t know whether she could get the money for her plane ticket back and she didn’t care. Both she and the woman in the Hollywood Hills had seen the puppy on Rosemary Diaz’s Facebook page and both saw something in the little mutt’s watery eyes that made them feel some connection. The woman in Manhattan had previously lived every day of her life blissfully heedless to the reality that, as she went about her usual routine, dogs and cats and rabbits and hamsters were being put to sleep in animal shelters all around the very Five Boroughs that surrounded her. She never even thought about it but then she saw the picture of the pitiable one-lunged California pup Scraps on Facebook and fell in love. A picture speaks a thousand words, they say.
Now the two women, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles, gazed simultaneously at the puppy’s pathetic likeness on their computer screens and cried together as though unseparated by more than 2,500 miles of mountains and prairies and people with real problems. Nobody understood but them. Nobody cared.
“I know, I know,” choked the woman in Manhattan.
At the Roundup Room Cocktail Lounge just off the lobby of the Best Western Bakersfield, Milo Longacre stirred his Jack and Coke with a green swizzle stick that reminded him again of how much he wanted that Jag.
“A penny for your thoughts, Milo,” the barmaid Sandy said.
“Gonna take a lot more than that,” Longacre replied.
He was a thin man with dark hair and a small moustache and he wore gold-rimmed glasses and a yellow short sleeve shirt with a blue tie. He had loosened his tie and the shirt was open at the neck, revealing the top hem of his white undershirt.
His father had been a respected physician whose general practice served many in Bakersfield’s underclass Hispanic community. He’d been shot to death when Milo was in his freshman year at UC Irvine by a guy named Alvarez during a botched OxyContin heist and things had never been the same. Milo’s grades fell off and he couldn’t get accepted at medical school so it got down to either being a veterinarian or a podiatrist. He didn’t even like animals but the thought of looking at people’s feet all day made him queasy.
His father, it turned out, had been a nice guy but a terrible businessman. He hadn’t been charging a lot of his patients, most of whom were uninsured and many of whom were illegal and things had been pretty rough financially for Milo and his mother until he came home and opened the Longacre Animal Clinic in 2004.
Still it was hard, and Milo had to do what he had to do. He sipped at the Jack and Coke and looked at his father’s old doctor’s watch. He glanced toward the door.
Rosemary Diaz was running late. That crazy woman in Hollywood was calling her every ten minutes. She’d already gotten two tickets for talking on the phone while she was driving and all she needed was to get pulled over again.
She’d been doing the dog rescue thing for the last two years. It started off innocently enough, but it was just the way her mind worked. One day she was surfing the net and came across a site put up by some Chinese activists in a place called Guangxi Province. They actually ate dogs over there. The activists posted all these pictures, horrific images of caged dogs kept in subhuman conditions, cut up and cooked and eaten. That’s what gave her the idea.
On her weather report she still used real dogs from the Bakersfield ASPCA shelter. Local people came down and rescued them and everybody felt good about themselves. She’d even gotten an award from PETA. But then she started thinking. One night, she posted one of the Chinese dog pictures on her Facebook page and twenty people messaged her about adopting it. Her sister was working then as Milo’s receptionist and from there the whole thing just kind of snowballed.
She strode confidently across the tiled floor of the Best Western lobby and through the swinging saloon doors that led into the Roundup Room. Milo was sitting at the bar and she walked over and kissed him on the cheek from behind.
“Hi baby, sorry I’m late,” she said, climbing onto the stool next to his.
“That’s OK. I wasn’t doing anything,” he said.
From his back pocket he took out a check for $1,200. He put it on the bar and slid it over to her with his finger. She picked it up and put it in her purse without looking at it.
“ I need a Margarita, Sandy,” she said to the barmaid.
Sandy went to fix it. “We did pretty good this week,” Milo said to Rosemary.
“How’s our two new sob sisters?”
“They’re fine. I think Scraps has a few more days, maybe a week,” he said. “Hardin says he won’t hold that Jag and I want to get it before somebody else does.”
“The one in Hollywood is driving me nuts,” she said. “She’s so fucking stupid.”
“Our dogs make the perfect pets for today’s neurotic woman,” Milo told her. “They don’t have to feed them or walk them or clean up after them, all they have to do is look at sad pictures on Facebook and feel bad, which they do anyway. Then they give me their credit card numbers and it lets them feel superior for a while… Good about themselves.”
“They need to go out and get laid,” Rosemary nodded. “Remember Hello Kitty?”
“No,” Milo said. “What was that?”