From Thereby Hangs A Tail
Charlie went to a private school – meaning you have to pay money to go there even if you live two blocks from the best public school in the Valley, where you don’t have to pay a dime – a big long thing I’d heard Bernie say more than once, in fact every time he cut the check. He saw us and came running across the school’s beautiful broad lawn, mowed like a putting green – for some reason, whenever I get on a putting green, and it hasn’t happened often, the urge to run around hits me, crazy running with lots of sharp back-and-forthing – and gave Bernie a big hug. Then a big hug for me, and soon after that I was taking him for a ride on my back. Hey! He’d grown a bit, but still nothing for me; I could have carried him all day.
“Is that your dog?” said a kid.
“His name’s Chet,” said Charlie. “I call him Chet the Jet ‘cause he’s so fast.”
“Can I pat him?”
Kids patted me. Were we having fun or what? It was a nice school, worth every penny.
Back home, Charlie was hungry, so we had a little snack: milk and cookies for Charlie, a biscuit for me, and then another, since I turned out to be hungry, too, and a beer and some pretzels for Bernie, me helping out by finishing off what was left in the pack.
After snack time, Bernie said, “Got any homework?”
“Nope,” said Charlie.
“Then how come your backpack’s so heavy?”
“It’s a mystery,” Charlie said.
“That’s what you do, right?” Charlie said. “Solve mysteries?”
“Sometimes,” Bernie said.
“How many bad guys have you killed?”
Bernie was silent for a moment. “What makes you think I’ve killed any?”
“Mom says so.”
Bernie nodded, took a deep breath. “In this job, solving mysteries, we’ve sent some bad guys to jail, Chet and I, but I’ve never killed anybody.”
“But Mom – “
Bernie held up his hand and Charlie went quiet right away. “In the war, that’s another story.”
“You killed bad guys in the war?”
Bernie licked his lips. I’d seen plenty of humans do that, including just about every single one Bernie’d ever interviewed, but I’d never seen him do it himself till now. “I don’t know, exactly.”
“More than two.”
“Less than nine.”
“Somewhere in between?”
There was a silence. Then Charlie said, “That’s not too many, Dad.”
Bernie looked away, out the window. Charlie drained the last of his milk, leaving one of those white mustaches behind. I loved those!
“What was the war about?” he said.
“I’m not sure,” Bernie said. “I don’t think anyone is.”
“But it happened anyway?”
“Some wars are like that – the real reasons come later,” Bernie said. “How about we go outside and play catch?”
“Teach me how to throw the curve ball,” said Charlie.
“You’re too young to throw the curve ball.”
“But I need an off-speed pitch.”
“I’ll teach you the cutter.”
“Just like Rivera.”
Or something like that: I couldn’t hear too well on account of I was already at the front door, waiting as patiently as I could.
Paperback edition of Thereby Hangs A Tail: on sale today.
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