Obey The Red Hand

Paul happily agreed to walk Boris, his neighbors’ Pomeranian, while they were in Ireland.

“He’s a lovely boy,” Aidan said. “Bit of a psycho around other dogs. You’ll do well to steer clear of the park with him.”

The McGowans said to spend as much time as he liked in their apartment, to keep Boris company, and to eat and drink whatever was in the fridge. As he’d hoped, dog sitting turned out to be a pleasant working vacation for Paul, one that didn’t cost anything and also didn’t require him to leave Chicago. He got a bunch of work done on his thesis, since his wife Marisa was spending the week preparing for a big case at her firm’s office in St. Louis. Best of all, it also provided a welcome respite from Ian, Marisa’s younger brother, who had become stuck in their apartment since dropping out of Valpo after his second year and had so far resisted every social and vocational Heimlich maneuver intended to dislodge him.

Every morning Paul would run Boris out to the strip of grass in front of the building for a quick pee, then go off to teach his 9:30 class followed by some time in the library. He’d return to the McGowans’ in the afternoon to grade papers or work on his thesis. Around 4:00, he and Boris would make the loop up Kenmore to Loyola and back down Sheridan. Then Paul would grab some take-out and keep working while Boris snoozed on his plush little dog bed. Around 11, he’d head back down to his apartment, where Ian was usually still on the couch watching TV and texting back and forth with one of his friends back in Terre Haute.

On Friday, Paul put on his jacket before the afternoon dogwalk and noticed something in the inside pocket: the envelope with the check for the gas bill, the envelope he had assured Marisa he’d mailed the day before she left for St. Louis, a discussion they had because the payment was late. He told her he’d mailed it because he was sure he had mailed it. In fact, he could distinctly remember dropping it in the slot at the big post office in the Loop. So what envelope was that? This question occupied Paul’s mind for much of their walk, along with why Marisa was still so resistant to paying bills online. What, was she 70 or something?

As he and Boris were about to make the turn from Sheridan onto Granville and back to the apartment building, Paul spotted the mailbox on the other side of the street, just outside the entrance to Berger Park. While he was looking, the signal changed from a red hand to a white walking man.

We’ll be back across before the light changes, Paul thought. He scanned the other side of the street for dogs and saw none. Good. He and the little dog dashed across. He dropped the envelope in the box and pulled the door open again to make sure it had dropped. It had. Good. Boris peed on the northeast leg of the mailbox, for luck. Good. But when was the last collection time?

It took a surprising amount of effort to remove the snarling ball of fury that was Boris from the yelping and terrified Great Dane pup which had materialized out of nowhere, and whose owners were both shouting at Paul in what he took to be Polish. Paul struggled to remember how to say, “I’m sorry,” in Polish (or even Russian might be close enough), but all he could come up with was “Con permisso,” which was not well received. The Dane's owners hurried on down Sheridan, the woman looking back occasionally to cartoonishly shake a fist at him.

“Let’s go, killer,” Paul said. He loop the leash around his hand to take up the slack and discovered that there was no Boris at the other end. The bejeweled collar was still there, but there was no Boris in sight. Then Paul heard a distant snarl from inside the park.

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