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Fiction, Short Fiction, Humor
Stunt Dog Demonstration
by: Mike Johnson
I was with Jackson when he gave his remarkable demonstration. A sparkling summer's day. Late summer when unrelenting heat is spent giving way to more amicable conditions. This sweet California morning came with early brightness, promising rewarding exploration along forgotten mountain trails.
Jackson chose to break his chains of bondage confounding the evil slave system that inhibits true expression from a free spirited artist. He called in sick. With freedom thus ensured for a day, he determined to take some photographs of California high desert country. Jackson was my friend. I accompanied him on his artistic voyage. My work ethic was never questioned. I work Saturday. I take Monday off. A simple convenient arrangement.
Jackson had a dog. A fine old fellow, delighted to break routine for a few hours and participate in our photographic odyssey.
So it was then. Jackson, myself, various cameras, all necessary photographic equipment, and our good companion Old Red the pit bull terrier. Off we sailed on that fine morning to meet whatever challenge lay ahead.
Must have taken about half hour driving along quiet country roads before we reached the little turn out where the mighty Chevrolet impala would anchor safely until our return.
The old car was a monument in Jackson's life. Somewhat battered. Dark red paint faded in places but beneath a shabby overcoat beat the heart of an eight cylindered champion. In the drivers door a small hole was covered with a band-aid. A permanent reminder that Jackson's expertise with a thirty eight-caliber pistol left room for much improvement.
We fussed with equipment for a few minutes and released Red. Before his temporary freedom could begin, Jackson delivered a stern lecture on social responsibility. Red grinned amiably, having received similar directives as daily routine for many years. Jackson shaded his eyes, gazing at a distant hill and considered the prevailing light. Red lifted his leg and pissed happily upon a small sage bush. Into the hills we went. Jackson searching for an unforgettable panorama that would surely be revealed. Red, with no interest in any grand vision scampered ahead delighting in his unexpected freedom.
I believe it was an hour at least before we stopped for a break. French bread, adorned with thick crudely cut slices of sharp cheddar cheese. A bottle or two of cool dark beer definitely enhanced our simple snack. There is a quality of stillness in these high desert hills and canyons. Echoes of living perhaps, from far distant times when Indians lived in these lands.
We sat for a while in peace. Each of us absorbed with our own thoughts. I reached back lazily through five, six years to a time when Jackson and I first met. A chance meeting, discovering that we lived within two streets of each other. There were many shared interests, including a fascination for the history of the great American Pit Bull Terrier.
At that time I happened to share my somewhat limited house space with eight of these much-maligned animals.
Two adult "yard dogs" and a sudden influx of ten-week-old pups. Six rough, belligerent and lovable little babies that I now found myself responsible for. Suffice it to say that the house was overflowing with dogs.
My newfound friend took a male pup from the litter. A sprightly intelligent animal, bright yellow eyes and a dark red rust colored coat.
For several days Jackson pondered.
Rejected many alternatives, studied with intense concentration before arriving at a suitable name.
With a defining stroke of originality he decided to call him Red.
Time to move on.
Remembrances of years past now gave way to keen regard for narrow sandy trails waiting ahead.
We reached the crest of a rounded hill.
Simultaneously we stopped, each for our own purpose. To my left, rough sloping ground dropped away steeply to reveal a clearing several hundred yards below. A small truck was parked there tailgate down. Distant but unmistakably came rippling sounds of music, chattering voices and laughter. Jackson glanced quickly below then held his left hand in front of his face, fingers spread in a gesture reminiscent of a traffic cop at a busy intersection. His interest was not in the clearing below but the scene before him.
About ten yards ahead a natural gully perhaps ten feet deep, probably several yards wide. Beyond that the terrain smoothed with short dried grasses and a few blackened tree stumps. Uneasy reminders of a great fire that swept through these hills a few years ago. In the middle of that somber field rose a jagged outcropping of sandstone rock. It was the stony monument that excited Jackson's interest.
Our soon to be award winning photographer shrugged the pack from his shoulder. With unflinching gaze intent upon the rocky vision ahead, he bought the old Nikon to his eye. Dropping to one knee, switching to the other, flat on his stomach, up on his haunches. Certainly, a perfectly framed photograph would eventually be recorded if; on this occasion he had remembered to load a roll of film.
I looked away from these athletic demonstrations to the truck below. A red shirt and a brown shirt could be seen, little else was revealed at that distance. Red shirt waved several times. I waved back to acknowledge the greeting. It seemed that both shirts were now moving steadily upward, in our direction.
Old Red spotted that distant movement, heard their music perhaps and decided to investigate the source of this disturbance. I grabbed him about his shoulders calling to Jackson to pass me the lead.
Red is an amiable fellow wishing harm upon no living creature, except possibly the neighbor's cat across the street. However from previous encounters with nervous people and enthusiastic Pit Bulls, constraining Red until our visitors had arrived was a favorable course of action.
Jackson came lead in hand and with a flourish passed one end through the hand loop and attached the snap to Red's collar.
I stared at the lead that Jackson held.
His hand passed through a slipknot that he had just formed. To what purpose though? There was already the hand loop to hold. Let me have him I said. Ill hold him until you have finished shooting. Jackson grinned. "No problem, watch this. I trained him."
Red and Jackson walked purposefully to the edge of the gully. Jackson bent down, pulled the loop wide and slipped his left foot through the noose pulling the lead tight about his ankle.
Red was now secured to Jackson's leg and sure enough the dog lay quietly beside his master. This unorthodox method of restraint had presumably worked to secure Red on previous occasions. My vague misgivings were probably unfounded.
Two figures came slowly into view. A woman, red shirt with a boy, brown shirt. Attractive, forty-ish, the boy perhaps eleven or twelve. "Hope we are not disturbing you." Her voice husky, slightly out of breath. I smiled. She smiled back. Red turned and smiled. Everyone smiled except Jackson. With the camera to his eye he was probably not smiling.
Most pieces are now in play but the end game is not yet revealed. Two hikers, two strangers, one Pit Bull Terrier. There is just one more player to meet in this great drama.
I started to reply that my friend would only be a moment or two. As I spoke the last piece on the board was revealed. A sudden rustling and snapping of twigs, a short cry of surprise from the woman as a large gray-white jack rabbit bounded across our path seemingly to materialize from beneath her feet.
Red hurtled like a flame of vengeance after the disappearing rabbit. Jackson's left leg became momentarily horizontal, parallel to the ground like a ballerina or martial arts expert. His shoe flew into the air. The lead, instead of tightening around his leg as intended, was wrenched instantly over his ankle. Shouting, cursing, flailing limbs and a small cloud of dust. Jackson disappeared from our sight. The only witness to his presence in this quiet place was a cheap tennis shoe and a small backpack.
I stared at the woman.
Her mouth was moving but no sound escaped her lips. A moment of silence like a lake of calm water stretched before us.
The boy, transfixed with joy and admiration was grinning like an idiot. "Oh cool, way cool. Did you see that mom? Did you see the way he did that? Did you see the dog? I just knew they were stunt men. That dog was trained wasn't he?"
I nodded in reply. "Oh yes," I said, "he was trained all right. My friend trained him personally. Please excuse me for a moment though; my pal may need a hand."
Peering over the edge of the gully about eight feet or so below, partially obscured by dry stunted desert vegetation, lay the wreckage of a potentially award winning photographer. I scrambled down to the thorny bushes where Jackson was detained. The boy followed behind me.
My friend was now attempting to stand. He looked like an evil enraged troll half crouching coughing, grunting, and covered with dirt and leaves. The kid babbled excitedly unaffected by that horrifying vision. He extolled many heroic virtues of Jackson's daring leap. "Oh that was so cool mister, will you be doing it again today?" Jackson turned his head slowly. Stared at our enthusiastic visitor for several long seconds.
He wiped away blood from his nose with the back of his hand. He meant to say, "Go get the hell away kid" but trying to clear his mouth from dirt and grass it sounded as if he mumbled "G'day kid."
The boy grinned hugely. "Your Australian? Oh that's too much; my mom was born in Australia."
"Yeah" he continued, "I gotta go tell her that you're an Australian stunt man". Up the side of the gully he scrambled to relay the joyous news to his mother.
I thought Jackson was going to cry.
He took the canteen, rinsed his mouth and splashed water onto his face. He glared at me with fury. "You sonofabitch" he said, "you push me over the side then tell that moron kid I'm an Australian stunt man. What the hell is wrong with you?" Took me a while to explain. It was necessary to repeat many details before he could accept that old Red had committed such an unthinkable act of betrayal.
I sympathized, told him how glad I was that he was not badly hurt. My innocent remark uncorked a further tirade of indignation.
"Hurt! Oho please. Everything's just fine," he said with heavy sarcasm.
"Hell my ribs are broke, my nose is busted, my hip is dislocated my mouth is jammed with sand and shit and a goddamed cactus is sticking out my arse. Oh no, everything is just great with me."
How about the camera then?
He glanced down at his faithful Nikon swinging from the shoulder strap.
"Looks OK, probably a lot better than I am."
Handing him the canteen again, I noticed that the lens mount was bent beyond redemption. I went to retrieve his shoe.
The shoe was found easily, just a few feet from the where Jackson preformed his magical disappearing act. He was not alone in his ability to disappear though. No sign of our visiting mother and son. Suddenly came the worrying memory of Red the vanishing Pit Bull. Jackson was reunited with his left shoe. I walked behind as he made his way with some difficulty to the top of the trench. There we stood for a minute or so when he pointed to the brow of the hill.
Mother red shirt appeared with two boys in tow. There were two red shirts now for she held the lead that secured our highly trained stunt dog.
Jackson was temporarily distracted by a grand vision of revenge. Red and the rabbit. Both secured with chain around their testicles suspended above a boiling cauldron of tar. This veil of fantasy was soon replaced by reality. The merry trio was upon us, mother and son contributing much laughing and chatter.
Introductions were made.
Mary told us that she had come with her son Larry to finish a school nature observance project.
They were intending to grill a burger or two when Mary realized that neither of them had any means of lighting the coals. "Yeah" said Larry.
"We hoped you would have matches or something. But soon as I saw mister Jackson dive into the bushes I knew you must be stunt men."
Jackson placed a fatherly hand on the boys shoulder. "Used to do a lot of training like that son. But now I just like to keep my hand in. Not stunts for movies though, my training was for the real thing."
I stared at the reinvented Jackson. Found myself listening to tales of bravery and devotion to duty. No longer a featureless installation engineer, pathetic slave to the Phone Company but agent Jackson. Fearless operative for a highly secret branch of the US government.
Young Larry was lost in admiration.
Mary with her head tilted in an attitude of confusion and disbelief, was probably not convinced.
"Did you work together?"
Larry looked at me wonderingly.
No, I confessed.
The government is far too scary for me. I am just not tough enough. I have seen the training they require for special agents. Mister Jackson had to sit in an ant's nest for half an hour without making a sound. They stuffed his mouth with uncooked broccoli, made him run across a meadow in his underwear and threw old shoes and vegetables at him. Poured gasoline in his shoes and…Jackson glared furiously at me, ending further description of secret agent qualification.
I shook my head.
"Larry," I said, "I didn't even make it past the ants nest." The lad glanced at me quickly, smiled a fleeting condescending smile as if to acknowledge and forgive the weakness of a lesser man. Mary suppressed a giggle. "It was a wonderful demonstration," she said slowly.
We chatted for a while then walked together in pleasant bantering camaraderie down the slope to Mary's pickup.
A small respite, relaxing for a little time to savor burgers and hot dogs while enjoying the most pleasing company.
I wanted to provide some exercise for the two cameras that I carried. Of course Jackson could not continue although he protested otherwise.
Mary came with a simple solution.
She elected to drive the battered Jackson to his house. Vehicles would be exchanged later, perhaps down a beer or two and commiserate with my old abused friend.
Their truck slowly found a path leading to the road. A cloud of gray dust eventually obscured the vehicle as it prepared to confront civilization again. I was not alone.
Red was to be my companion for the remainder of the day. We were free. No longer squeezed between the thumb and finger of other peoples schedules.
Must have been five hours at least before we returned to Jackson's house.
The porch light showed a piece of paper taped to the door. A note explaining that Mary and Larry had gone to dinner with Jackson.
Also instructions to replace the door key and, would I please leave Red in the house.
The small manufacturing company for whom I worked accepted a tendered bid from the government.
This required me to work many overtime hours for the first six months of contract. I saw little of Jackson during that time. Little of anybody else come to think about it. As the weeks faded into months with summer's pleasures soon forgotten, came winter suddenly approaching. Jackson came even more suddenly approaching. One morning about six, as I made ready to leave for work.
Uncharacteristically he refused offers of coffee and toast. Something was not in place, no idle insults or chatter. Suddenly a premonition. Old Red was gone. His dear companion had died. I put my arm around his shoulder.
I truly am so very sorry I said.
Jackson stared at me for some time.
"I truly am so very sorry as well" he replied. " I truly am so very god dammed sorry that you are such a miserable, deluded, asshole".
All was instantly well with the world again. The righteous, obnoxious, indignant and surly Jackson of old had returned.
Then Red is ok? I asked.
"Yeah of course. He is doing just fine. As a matter of fact he is looking a lot better than you ever did. Can't seem to reach you any more." He continued. "Decided to drop by to see you. Tell you that I am getting married."
I mean you don't know any girls.
I stared in disbelief for several seconds before a coherent conversation could resume. I grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. That's fantastic, congratulations when's the date. Who's the girl?
Many seconds elapsed before he continued. "As a matter of fact old buddy Mary and I decided to get married." Mary? I ran through a mental list of Mary's that we had known. No Mary of any possible marrying potential registered with me. I stared. Oh Mary.
Hey Jackson that's, great but when.
He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling shaking his head. "When was the last time we got together, last time I saw you?" He asked.
Unable to recall, I shrugged my shoulders. "Remember that desert hike months ago? Remember when I fell down the embankment? Do you remember Mary?"
Suddenly the images were recalled.
Oh yeah, course I remember. Old Red kicked you into a ditch. That woman and her kid took you home.
Jackson nodded and sat down. He continued, "We have been seeing each other. Dating for three or four months now. Just decided to get married. Thought perhaps you would be best man."
I realized that at least an hour had evaporated in pleasant reminiscing. My friend pushed himself up from the chair and walked towards the door. "Gotta go."
Turning back he stopped for a few seconds then said "how about next Wednesday?
You and me both sick.
Into the desert, take a few pictures eh"? I nodded.
Sounds good to me pal.
Meet at your place in the morning; pick up old red and head on out? Jackson smiled.
"Give you a call this evening then bout eight?"…………