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09.04.04 2:19 p.m.

That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.  

-Dorothy Parker


Previously in Xenology: Emily was an ACO. Kei had a crush on every boy.

Kei Has a Crush on Every Boy
Keilaina is enamored of a boy. This is not new, as Kei is pretty nearly always enamored of a boy. It may well be her default state, though the person in question shifts. Here is the twist: this boy, this "Dan," seems to have a thing for her in return.
One would assume that this is pretty much where the story ends. Kei and Dan get married, Kei's belly swells a few times, they wear matching sweaters. Complication: Dan lives in the land of milk and plenty, and by that I mean "plenty of potatoes." Yes, Idaho, where the taters are low as an elephant's toe.
Dan and Kei  
I get to be the flower girl.
The two met through an on-line dating service. Keilaina insisted that this boy was so much like her that they barely needed to speak. I wasn't sure we needed a male Keilaina, but at least divine providence has plopped Male Kei down on the other side of the continent. This did not content either of them and Dan just happened to have been hording frequent flier miles. While Emily and I were lounging on the shores of majestic Lake George, Dan flew to Keilaina's side for a week and a half. Once there, he lavished her with soft words and hungry kisses and they confirmed their month old love. It seemed that they were going to give an honest shot at a long distance relationship.
Or so we had thought.
"...So, after Dan moves here," Kei began as Emily, she and I walked.
I promptly interrupted. "Dan is moving here? Since when?"
"Since very recently," said Kei, smiling blissfully.
"Do he know about this?" asked M. "I thought New York was too expensive for him?"
"Of course he knows, M. We discussed it." She was nearly glowing at having someone who was willing to sacrifice so much to be with her. I can't say I could blame her.
"Okay, fine, so after he moves here...?"
"We are getting married in July."
Emily and I stopped walking, her out of shock and I out of amusement, and Emily grabbed a hold of Kei's shoulder. "You are doing what?" interrobanged M.
"We're getting married in July." Kei was enjoying the shock and playing innocent.
"This July?" I confirmed.
"He proposed?" Emily asked in simultaneously.
"Yes and we discussed it."
There was a moment of silence between us, which I finally broke. "Can I come?"
"Of course, silly."
"All right then. As long as that is settled." I proceeded to walk and, after a moment, Emily and Keilaina followed. I would have to kill Dan, of course. He was making me look bad and I just can't allow that.

I found myself in a hotel room in Fredericksburg, Virginia on a weekend where I had nothing more thrilling than a trip to the Dutchess County Fair in mind. The world at large and Emily's humane society had other ideas.
Apparently, from what I have cobbled together from one-sided conversations, a ursine pit bull by the name of Boomer had been adopted by a happily married couple many months ago. They had traveled through many states after seeing Boomer's picture on the SPCA's website. This beast was the dog for them and they loved him immensely.
Then the couple got divorced. In the interim between being a happily married couple and two people with murder on their minds, they had moved from Minnesota to Virginia. The wife and possessor of Boomer had remained in Virginia and, according to her telling, the husband had abandoned the dog and returned to Minnesota. As they had signed an agreement specifically stating that Boomer would relinquished to Emily's animal shelter, this meant that someone would have to make the drive to Virginia to seize the dog. That someone would bring their loving and tolerant boyfriend with them, enticing him with a weekend vacation that was being paid for by the animal shelter.
It was a long car ride.
Emily and I had driven down on Saturday, though the actual taking of Boomer was not set to occur until the following morning. This meant, among other things, that we had a nice if homogenous hotel room for the night. The hotel was set in a strip mall that boasted both a Wal-Mart and a Target side by side. This strip mall seemed to be an excrescence of a larger and more serpentine strip mall that crossed both horizons. We were not overly impressed, but we were not being paid to be impressed with Fredricksburg. Technically, I was not being paid at all, free fast food and intimations of sex acts aside.
Having never been on a business trip before and seeing my latter reward a unlikely given that Emily had driven seven hours, I asked if I was permitted to plunder the hotel room.
"No, certainly not!" exclaimed M. "Besides, what are you going to pilfer? Tiny French soaps? Hangers?"
"I was thinking about taking the coffee maker."
Emily wrinkled her eyebrows. "But you don't drink coffee."
"Theoretically true, but I imagine it can make hot chocolate. Or be sold on the black market. It could fetch me half a carton of cigarettes!"
"But you don't smoke either!"
Emily persisted that I was only allowed to try to fleece the animal shelter in legitimate ways involving foodstuffs and other essentials.
To distract my thievery, Emily changed into her bathing suit before me and I was therefore paralyzed with lust. Or, perhaps, I was just exhausted from the journey here. Either way, I doffed my clothes so I could join her in the hotel's pool.
Emily, all sexy  
An ill-worn turquoise earring lost at the bottom of the pool later, and after a pleasant Connecticut man stole his daughter's goggles to help us search, we were on our way to the strip mall in order to purchase an amphibious flashlight of sufficient voltage and two pairs of quality goggles.
"Can these be charged to the shelter? The earring was, after all, lost in the line of duty. You shouldn't have to pay out of your own pocket," I reasoned as we walked. The pool water, which usually saps what little strength I possess, has done rather a nice job of making me feel human once more.
"Yes, I suppose they could be charged to the shelter," she conceded, her eyes glinting red reflections off the neon signs. I knew from her statement that she wasn't going to let us become an aquatic search and rescue team, the one time someone else was footing our bill. Instead, we just got snacks for the next day and I bought - with my own money-sympathy pajamas for Emily to make up for her lost earring.
Emily added another itemized receipt to her wallet and we proceeded to seek our nightly nourishment. While we had our choice of the cornucopia of chain restaurants, I dared to suggest that we get something more authentically Virginian. "Without leaving the strip mall," Emily added, her voice suddenly rediscovering the fatigue of driving.
"That shouldn't be too hard, given that Fredricksburg is made of asphalt."
"What about the Outback?" Emily suggested as we walked past it. As they have a kind of free bread that she likes, she would be willing to justify that this qualified as Virginian cuisine. Australia was definitely not about to claim ownership of the food served there.
"If we eat at the Outback with the shelter's money, we can only order things that sound like cruelty," I demanded. This amused Emily more than enough that she got distracted and opted to go to a brightly colored yet dingy Mexican eatery. This seemed authentic enough for my grumbling stomach.
We were seated and devoured two bowls of the complimentary chips and salsa before our waitress managed to bring us our drinks. When we ordered our matching diet colas, the waitress asked, "Where are you from?" Evidently our accents (or, to our ears, lack thereof) gave us away.
"We live in upstate New York." Again, we think we live in upstate New York. It is a tedious and unproductive argument as to where we live. To those in New York City, anything beyond them is upstate, which is to say 98% of the land. Those from Buffalo scoff at people any further south than Albany claiming such citizenship. Everyone else thinks both factions are anal retentive fuckwits and doesn't give it a second though.
"I'm from there!" she proclaimed happily, as though we were from her home town. Even her body posture made clear that she was not now, nor would she ever espouse to be, from Virginia. It seemed even her current physical presence here was something of a temporal mistake. "This is just my summer job," she continued from a thought we couldn't hear, "I'm usually a teacher, but I have to make money somehow."
"Ma'am, you make my soul cry when you say things like that," I responded, not caring to give a context. Emily apologized for me and explained that I would soon be a teacher as well. The waitress looked a little pitiful on my account and offered to refill the chip bowl again.
We returned to the room, burdened with armfuls of free Mexican food we could not bring ourselves to eat and no refrigerator. Emily dropped onto the bed and turned on our television. She refused to order porn for my amusement and so watched the tail end of the Olympic Tae Kwon Do trials.
She gave a guttural growl. "Steven fucking Lopez won the gold medal." She could have easily followed this with "prepare to die" for all the venom she had.
"This is bad. I understand that. I just don't understand why," I confessed. "He is, after all, an American. This is good for us. Also, isn't he the boy from the McDonald's bag that you specifically requested."
"Yes, he is. But he is also a cocky bastard and he didn't deserve to win. He just happened to have a more corporate funding than God."
I tried to put myself in Emily's mindset, as I am not nearly as competitive as she is. I some hack writer was getting a Pulitzer because they had connections-which I am entirely sure is never the case-I would likely be plotting how best to disconnect their head from their shoulders. It should, after all, be me who is receiving attention that I do not deserve.
"Fucking Steven Lopez," I agreed.
During breakfast the next day, the woman who was to surrender the dog called Emily and informed her that she suddenly and suspiciously had a flat tired which needed tending to before she could bring Boomer to us. When Emily conveyed this news to me, I could not help but share her intense doubt that this was going to be an easy surrendering.
Our doubts were fulfilled when the woman called again to announce that both Boomer and her dog were missing when she returned home from having her car fixed. She stated that she suspected that her husband had taken them both in order to upset her.
Emily, all authoratative  
"Looks like I am going to have to open up a can of whoopass," Emily said through clenched teeth.
Emily dashed back to our room and changed into her animal control officer uniform. She then called the police to inform them of this situation, as several crimes had ostensibly been committed. Then Emily dialed the woman back to inform her that we were coming. The woman did not answer. Emily's jaw hardened. "I am not leaving Virginia without this dog," was all she would say to me. Her blue eyes were set and cold, like a predator about to pounce. I was both excited and nervous to see her in this uncustomary state.
When finally the woman answered her phone, Emily commanded that she was driving over to the woman's house, the police were on their way and we would resolve this situation.
We sped to the woman's house, hoping to get there before the police did in order to exert our control, by which I mean Emily's control. I was just an observer, albeit an observer who was fairly grinning that he was going on a bust. The woman was tanned and slim, far too young looking to have the teenage daughter who was fluttering about and offering us drinks.
We did not need to have worried about arriving before the police, as we sat in the front lawn in plastic chairs for a good three hours before the police deigned to arrive. I am certain there was a massive crime spree or the opening of a doughnut shop that so delayed them. Emily tried to call the husband, but he would not pick up. Instead, she left multiple messages explaining that the police had been called and that it would be in his best interest to get the dog to us immediately. Additionally, as the woman's landlord had shot Boomer and much of the buckshot was still in him, the dog could easily die if we didn't get him back to New York for proper treatment.
Dog blood  
All we saw of Boomer
Once the woman let us into her house, I followed the trail of blood from the garage through the kitchen and living room to the second floor. I was impressed that any animal could be maintaining giving how grievous his injury must be. The police officer arrived, all swagger and stupid hat, he bullying the woman around and trying the same with Emily. Emily responded by showing him the surrender form and politely reminding him that it is his job to protect people. The cops made some veiled misogynistic comment and Emily again asserted her authority.
"You ain't got authority here," he drawled needlessly. I think he just believed a southern drawl was more policemanly. "Dogs the man's property. Ain't hers. He can do what he wants."
Technically, despite the signed contract and surrender form, Emily didn't have authority in this matter. The ASPCA of Virginia should be involved. However it was a Sunday and they were closed. The cop was unmoved that the dog could be dying, as it was a matter of property to him and he was dealing with women. He began to respect that Emily was a consummate professional and not just some dither brained vaginal bearer, but he still had no interest in helping us. The woman somehow discovered that her husband was at a party. We followed her in our car to a house in the middle of a suburb. So the strip mall of Fredricksburg does end. The husbands van was in the drive way, though he was not. We peered into the van and saw dog food, which was incriminating enough.
"What do we do now?" I asked Emily. I wanted to expedite the part of this journey where we were on somebody else's property, uninvited and very much unwanted; I didn't care to find myself full of buckshot as well.
"We leave a note and we go home," she answered, already pulling paper from a notebook. This seemed anticlimactic after all we had been through, but there wasn't a whole lot we could do. The woman paced around us clucking, as she was out for her husband and was distressed that we were letting him slip through our fingers.
We made our way home and were an hour into our exodus when Emily received a call from the husband. Emily's voice began stern and quickly melted to softness. The husband, though he admitted to kidnapping the dogs, had done so because the woman called and told him she was giving the dog up to the ASPCA of Virginia who routinely kill pit bulls. She had told us that he intended to put Boomer to sleep to spite her. Furthermore, she had told us that he had abandoned Boomer a month ago. Not so. He moved back to Michigan to make money so he could afford an apartment where he could keep Boomer. Aside from some heroic breaking and entering because he was lied to, he seemed like a pretty good guy.
To reiterate, Emily and I wasted our weekend in Virginia, being pawns in some woman's attempt to get back at her husband for leaving her. This may be why Emily likes dogs better than people.

Soon in Xenology: A warm night of moth eating. Randolph.

last watched: Back to the Future III
reading: Lolita
listening: Good News For People Who Love Bad News
wanting: Vacations not involving Virginia or dogs.
moment of zen: adventuring.
someday I must: discontinue this question.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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