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Sex and the Single Girl
Hot kisses covered my face, dragging me from deep sleep to the rim of consciousness. I groaned and slid deeper under the covers, hoping to sink back into the well of dreams. My companion wasn’t in the humor for rest; she burrowed under the blankets and continued to lavish urgent affection on me.
When I covered my head with a pillow she started to mew piteously. Now thoroughly awake, I rolled over and glared at her. “It’s not even five-thirty. You can’t possibly want to get up.”
She paid no attention, either to my words or my efforts to dislodge her from my chest, but looked at me intently, her brown eyes opened wide, her mouth parted slightly to show the tip of her pink tongue.
I bared my teeth at her. She licked my nose anxiously. I sat up, pushing her head away from my face. “It was this indiscriminate distribution of your kisses that got you into this fix to begin with.”
Happy to see me awake, Peppy lumbered down from the bed and headed for the door. She turned to see if I was following, making little whimpering noises in her impatience. I pulled a sweatshirt and shorts from the heap of clothes near the bed and padded on sleep-thickened legs to the back door. I fumbled with the triple locks. By that time Peppy was whimpering in earnest, but she managed to control herself while I got the door open. Breeding shows, I guess.
I watched her down the three flights of stairs. Pregnancy had distended her sides and slowed her progress, but she made it to her spot by the back gate before relieving herself. When she was finished she didn’t take her usual tour of the yard to drive away cats and other marauders. Instead she waddled back to the stairs. She stopped outside the ground-floor door and let out a sharp bark.
Fine. Let Mr. Contreras have her. He was my first-floor neighbor, part owner of the dog, and wholly responsible for her condition. Well, not wholly—that had been the work of a black Lab four doors up the street.
Peppy had come into season the week I left town on the trail of an industrial sabotage problem. I arranged for a friend of mine, a furniture hauler with steel thews, to run her twice a day—on a short leash. When I told Mr. Contreras to expect Tim Streeter he was deeply wounded, although not, unfortunately, beyond words. Peppy was a perfectly trained dog who came when she was called, didn’t need to be on a leash; and anyway, who did I think I was, arranging for people to come walk her? If not for him she wouldn’t get any care at all, me being gone twenty hours out of twenty-four, I was leaving town, wasn’t I? Just another example of my neglect. And besides that, he was fitter than ninety percent of the young jerks I brought around.
In a hurry to take off I hadn’t heard him out, just agreed that he was in terrific shape for seventy-seven, but asking him to humor me in the matter. It was only ten days later that I learned that Mr. Contreras had dismissed Tim the first time he showed up. The results, if disastrous, were utterly predictable.
The old man met me dolefully when I returned from Kankakee for the weekend. “I just don’t know how it happened, doll. She’s always so good, always comes when she’s called, and this time she just tore away from me and headed down the street. My heart was in my throat, I thought my God, what if she gets hit, what if she gets lost or kidnapped, you know, you read about these labs that hire people to steal dogs off the streets or out of the yard, you never see your dog again and you don’t know what happened to her. I was so relieved when I caught up with her, my goodness, what could I ever have said to make you understand—”
I snarled unsympathetically. “And what are you going to say to me about this business? You haven’t wanted to spay her, but you can’t control her when she’s in season. If you weren’t so bullheaded you would’ve admitted it and let Tim run her. I’ll tell you this much: I’m not going to spend my time looking for good homes for her damned offspring.”
That brought a spurt of his own temper, which sent him back to his apartment with an angry slam of the door. I avoided him all day Saturday, but I knew we had to make up before I left town again—I couldn’t leave him in sole charge of a litter. Anyway, I’m too old myself to enjoy bearing a grudge. Sunday morning I went down to patch things up. I even stayed over on Monday so we could go to the vet together.
We brought the dog in with the angry tension of the ill-assorted parents of a wayward teenager. The vet cheered me no end by telling me that goldens sometimes have as many as twelve puppies.
“But since it’s her first litter it probably won’t be quite that large,” he added with a jolly laugh.
I could tell that Mr. Contreras was delighted at the prospect of twelve little black-and-gold fur balls; I did eighty-five all the way back to Kankakee, dragging out my business there as long as possible.
That had been two months ago. Now I was more or less resigned to Peppy’s fate, but I was much relieved that she seemed to be doing her nesting on the first floor. Mr. Contreras grumbled about the newspapers she shredded in her chosen spot behind his couch, but I knew he would have been unbearably hurt if she’d decided her den was in my apartment.
This close to her due date she was spending almost all her time inside with him, but yesterday Mr. Contreras had gone to a Las Vegas Night that his old parish was running. He’d been involved in the planning for six months and didn’t want to miss it, but he called me twice to make sure Peppy hadn’t started into labor, and a third time at midnight to check whether I’d written down the phone number at the hall they’d rented. That third call was what was giving me malicious pleasure at her trying to wake him before six.
The June sunshine was bright, but the early morning air was still chilly enough that my bare feet grew too cold to feel the porch floor. I went back inside without waiting for the old man to get up. I could hear Peppy’s muffled barks continuing as I kicked my shorts off and stumbled back into bed. My bare leg slid over a wet spot on the sheet. Blood. It couldn’t be mine so it had to be the dog’s.
I pulled my shorts back on and dialed Mr. Contreras’s number. I had my knee socks and running shoes on before he answered, his voice hoarse beyond recognition.
“You guys must have had a good old time last night,” I said brightly. “But you’d better get up and face the day—you’re about to become a grandfather again.”
“Who is this?” he rasped. “If this is some kind of joke you oughtta know better than to call people at this time of morning and—”
“It’s me,” I interrupted him. “V. I. Warshawski. Your upstairs neighbor, remember? Well, your little dog Peppy has been barking her head off outside your door for the last ten minutes. I believe she wants to come inside and have some puppies.”
“Oh. Oh. It’s you, doll. What’s that about the dog? She’s barking at my back door. How long have you left her outside? She shouldn’t hang around out there barking when she’s this close to her time—she could catch a chill, you know.”
I bit back various sarcastic remarks. “I found some blood spots in my bed just now. She may be getting ready to whelp. I’ll be right down to help you get things in order.”
Mr. Contreras started in on a complicated set of instructions about what I should wear. These seemed so pointless that I hung up without ceremony and headed back outside.
The vet had stressed that Peppy didn’t need any help with her delivery. If we got involved with her while she was in labor or picked up the firstborn puppies it could cause her enough anxiety that she might not be able to handle the rest on her own. I didn’t trust Mr. Contreras to remember in the excitement of the moment.
The old man was just shutting the back door on Peppy when I got down to the landing. He gave me a harassed look through the glass and disappeared for a minute. When he finally opened the door he held an old workshirt out to me.
“Put this on before you come inside.”
I waved the shirt away. “This is my old sweatshirt; I’m not worried about what I may get on it.”
“And I ain’t worried about your stupid wardrobe. It’s what you’ve got underneath it I care about. Or what you ain’t got underneath it.”
I stared at him, astounded. “Since when do I need to put on a bra to look after the dog?”
His leathery face turned a dull crimson. The very thought of female undergarments embarrasses him, let alone hearing their names spoken out loud.
“It’s not because of the dog,” he said, agitated. “I tried telling you on the phone, but you hung up on me. I know how you like to go traipsing around the house, and it don’t bother me any as long as you’re decent, which generally speaking you are, but not everybody feels the same way. That’s a fact.”
“You think the dog cares?” My voice went up half a register. “Who the hell else—Oh. You brought someone home with you last night from the gambling den. Well, well. Quite an evening for you, huh?” Normally I wouldn’t be so vulgar about someone’s private life, but I felt I owed the old man a lick or two after all the snooping he’d done on my male visitors during the last three years.