With the listless little dog in his arms, Eldon went to the Red Cross tables to check out the food. Noticing her pink tongue swipe across her upper lip, he put her on the ground, and offered her half of a baloney sandwich.
Her preferred lunch was Moo-Shoo Pork with rice pancakes, but this would do for starters and she gobbled it down. A quick tail wag and a big doggy smile said she was ready for more.
“What was that? Are you actually thanking me for the meal?”
Well, I guess so. I just wagged my tail, didn’t I? More, please?
“I think we’d better save some for the residents, don’t you?” he asked, motioning to the sad lineup of displaced people.
Disappointed, Mai-ling flopped down on the sidewalk, resigned to accepting what was offered when no amount of tail-wagging made a difference. She couldn’t talk and she couldn’t make herself understood. If only she could wake up from this nightmare. She’d somehow been displaced into another reality, one that turned her whole world inside out. Was it the liquid in the vial? Had it lost its potency because she waited too long to use it? Her fortune teller did say to use it quickly or it would become ineffective, didn’t she?
Yes, she wanted to be younger and prettier, but surely the stupid woman understood that meant a younger, prettier woman, not a dog. Perhaps it was a mistake? Mai-Lin tried to shake the idea that her fortune teller had done this on purpose. Hadn’t Mai-Lin paid good money over the years for advice? Advice she always followed to a T, and didn’t she pay dearly for the vial that would finally bring her happiness?
Perhaps the potion lost its power when she didn’t take it promptly. Yes, that must be it, and now her fortune teller had to fix this problem with another potion—one that would put her back to a human, only younger and better looking. Yes. That’s what she would demand.
A pang of jealousy tore at her heart when Fireman Eldon’s attention strayed from her to the pretty Red Cross girl. He couldn’t take her home and none of the tenants could, or would, consider taking her, either. Everything was gone; her building, the bag of cash, destroyed by her own hand in her attempt to keep away her husband’s second man. At least as a dog Roland Chieu wouldn’t recognize her. How ever small, the thought cheered her, and seeing no reason for her to stick around, she turned and trotted away to have that heart-to-heart with the one person who could fix this disaster―her fortune teller.
Charley sidled up to Eldon talking to the red-cross girl and tapped him on the shoulder. “Where’s your little buddy?”
Eldon was about to put some food into his empty stomach but stopped. “Huh?”
“The dog. The one you just gave mouth-to-mouth to?”
Eldon bent down to look under the table, but between the residents, Red Cross volunteers and gawkers, he had to admit it, the little brown and white dog was gone. “Shit. Now I gotta go find her.”
Charley put a hand on Eldon’s shoulder. “Forget it. Spoiled little thing like that is probably half-way to wherever her mistress went.”
Eldon swung around and got in Charley’s face. “She may be somebody’s spoiled dog, but it’s going to be dark soon. She’s out there alone and scared and I didn’t save her life so she could be run over by a car, either. Damnit all, I gotta find her.”
Charley shrugged and looked at his watch. “Our shift will be over soon, but if you insist on going after that silly little dog, I’ll clock out for you.”
Eldon nodded thankfully at the offer, turned around, and bumped into Frankie Gates.
“Frankie? What’re you doing here?”
Feeling ashamed of the reduced circumstances that dropped her into this dumpy apartment, she said “I heard the fire was in my dad’s district so I thought I’d stop by.”
Eldon glanced at the burned ruin. “Yeah, well, there’s going to be hell to pay on this one. Evidently the fire alarms and ladder were not working. “
She already knew about the non-working fire escape and the fire-alarm, had every intention of sending a memo to the City’s Fire Inspector… as soon as she could find another place. The place was a dump but available apartments in Bensonhurst were rare as hens’ teeth and her checking account was already on life-support.
She was brought back to the present when Eldon stopped talking. He was about to offer they go for a drink, dinner, or some goofy basketball game, like they were teenagers.
She looked up at him. “I’m sorry, what?”
Instead of asking her out, he gave her that look, the one she thought of as his disappointed look, and said, “I said, you look lovely, as always. Excuse me, I gotta go.”
Frankie didn’t know if she was relieved or annoyed. But then she’d made her dad a promise to not encourage Eldon. Everyone liked the guy, women adored him. He was a hunk, and a fireman and hunky Firemen were chick magnets to every woman but her. If they didn’t live with mom, at least they ate Sunday dinners with her until they managed to snag a girl who cooked like mom. No thanks. Her preferences leaned toward guys who swilled Jameson’s and had no regrets on bedding a fire-chief’s daughter.
And after her break-up with Kevin, she put up a no cop rule to that list. No future for her with firemen or cops and she had to remind herself of that promise every time she saw Eldon. But there was always that fleeting second when she wondered if he was as tender a lover as she thought he might be. No, no. It was best to keep Eldon in the no-can-do category.