The door slowly opened, revealing the stooped man behind the rusty, suspicious voice. "Dog? I have no dog. Years ago he ran away, a handsome shiba inu."
"We found him," Valeria said, her voice on edge.
"Are you sure you're not Jehovah's people?" Mr. Fallopian asked. "Do me a favor, will you? I've got some postcards for my neighbors. 'Aloha from
Mr. Fallopian looked toward the panting dog and his eyes narrowed.
"That's not my dog! That's some mangy two-bit, B-list Lassie stand-in."
Norman's and Valeria's hearts sank as the old man turned to go back into the house. "I'll be back with the postcards," he said.
"We're toast," Valeria said. "What can we do?"
the dog, with contrasting patches of white fur and “honey-glow amber,” ran forward, yapping and wagging its tail merrily. It ran forward and started licking Mr. Fallopian's hand.
Valeria noticed his eyes had the unregistering gaze of a blind man. "How I wish my Agnes were here to see this day," he was saying. "She passed a year ago in March. She was brave, I never heard her complain once about the cancer. Not once." Teardrops streamed out the crinkly corners of his unseeing, sun-faded eyes. "She was getting treatment. And then one day she was driving in our Caddie convertible on
Seeing his distress, Valeria said gave him a consoling hug. The blind man wept like a baby, and then started to French kiss her.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Mr. Fallopian said. "I lost all decorum. It's been lonely without Agnes." He sniffled loudly. "But today is not the day to dwell on past losses. It is a day for rejoicing. Boku has returned."
Serenity and joy lit up the old man's face.
"What can I do for you? How can I possibly repay you for returning my dog?"
"Well, a $10,000 cashier's check wouldn’t be a bad start," he said.
"A $20,000 cashier's check would be a better start," Mr. Fallopian said, smiling. "Alas, there is no more reward money. There were a lot of expenses to have Mrs. Fallopian's body jackhammered from the Cadillac."
As he spoke, Mr. Fallopian was petting the dog with great affection.
"You do feel a little shorter, Boku," he remarked.
So Norman and Valeria left the dog and the old blind man in their cloud of happiness. For them the reward of giving him the heart-kindling satisfaction of his dog's return was the greatest reward of all.
In a euphoric state they went back to their car. As they drove home,
"If you love something set it free," Valeria said. "If it comes back, it will always be yours. If it doesn't come back, buy a new one."
"Val, I think I'd be peeved if I had an animal, washed it, and fed it year after year, and it ran off with a stranger."
"O.K.," she admitted, "I would have liked at least a whimper."
In the silence that followed, they felt something odd. Suddenly they became aware of a figure in their back seat.
"Hello, my young delinquent student-loan holders," said Mr. Big, adjusting his bow tie. "Where's the ten grand?"
"We don't have it”¦ on us,"
"Don’t pull that old trick on me," said Mr. Big. "You don’t have it, and now you two can prepare to suffer torments, hideous, excruciating torments that Dante shrank from describing in his last circle of hell."
Norman and Valeria held each other's trembling hands, bracing for the worst.
"And now, by the authority vested in me by the
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