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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Demon Returns For Another Visit

As you all know, Halloween is rapidly approaching. I decided Demon should make an appearance for the third Halloween in a row. This particular saga highlighting my favorite canine star is nearly novella size; because I’m going for a complete YA novel combining Demon’s past stories and what I’m writing now. Please comment on the story in any way you wish. Although not in a Halloween setting, my cast of characters take Demon along on a Friday the 13th bash. As usual, they’re glad they did. I mixed in a few teen issues with humor and a real life incident I knew about. I hope you all enjoy it. It will be up until after Halloween because I'm on a hot streak with Mike and the Demon... at least I think it's a hot streak. :) Here are the links to my first two Halloween Demon segments: Demon and Return of Demon

Mike raised his arms in triumph. The referee signaled him into his ring corner and Mike complied. An arm bar submission hold ended the fight three rounds into what had looked like a sure loss. Mike’s opponent sat wincing in pain with three of his corner mates trying to assess the damage. Stan and Jerry danced around in Mike’s corner, celebrating their friend’s fourth Mixed Martial Arts win in a row. Mike’s Dad walked up to inspect the damage Mike suffered during the match with stoic acceptance.
“He broke your nose, kid.”
Mike, Stan, and Jerry all laughed. Mike’s nose still bled even with the coagulants used. The referee had warned Mike he would stop the fight if the bleeding worsened. Mike’s takedown of his opponent at the opening of the third round allowed some respite from his faster handed opponent, leading to the winning arm bar hold. Mike returned to center ring when beckoned by the referee to be declared the winner in front of nearly three hundred fans. After shaking hands with his opponent Mike left the ring with his Father and friends. A doctor in the locker room reset his nose and did a quick check-up on the young man before allowing him to go. Dan Rawlins’ somber attitude grew more tightlipped each time he looked over at his son. Mike noticed.
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
“Your Mom is going to chomp me up one side and down the other. She’ll probably set Demon on my genitals. Why did I ever let you talk me into this?”
Mike sighed, exchanging guilty smiles with Stan and Jerry. “You knew this would happen sometime. I’ll talk to Mom. It’s no worse than playing football like Stan and Jerry do. Jerry had his jaw wired for months from getting it broken in last year’s final game. He’ll be playing again for UC Davis this year.”
“I’ll need major backup. You head for your room and leave me to face your Mom and Sister alone and I’ll put you in traction.”
“I’ll take the heat until those two harpies give up,” Mike promised. “I’ll redirect the conversation to how well my corner crew did. Between the ice and coagulant they managed to give me a chance to win between rounds. I knew I’d get him.”
“I don’t know, Mikey,” Stan clucked. “If you hadn’t gotten that lucky takedown Rivera would have punched you into next week.”
“Thanks for the reality check you prick.”
“That roundhouse in the second round nearly put Rivera into the front row seats,” Jerry said as the four came to a halt next to Dan’s Chevy Equinox. “I thought it was over but I think it just made Rivera mad. By the end of the second round Stan had to wrestle the towel out of my hand. I figured we needed to save your life with a surrender.”
“Gee thanks, guys,” Mike put his head down comically with hands loose at his sides. Dan laughed along with Stan and Jerry. Mike peeked up from his stance for a moment. “You guys still coming over to watch the A’s/Red Sox game tomorrow afternoon?”
Stan gave Mike the wave off. “You think we’d miss it at your house on the fifty inch HD? I don’t think so.”
“Can we get a beer to celebrate Mike’s win tomorrow during the game, Mr. Rawlins?” Jerry put on his best ingratiating look for the question.
“Bring a note from your Mom and Dad along with a designated driver and it’s okay with me.”
“But we’re in college,” Stan pointed out to no effect.
“I’ll pick you guys up at noon and take you home later. We’ll be eating anyway but I doubt I’ll want a beer,” Mike volunteered with the first hint of nasal tone seeping into his voice.
“Sounds good, Mikey.” Stan waved and put Jerry in a headlock while dragging him toward Jerry’s Toyota. “See you then. Best sleep with an ice pack over the snoz, buddy.”
Dan opened the trunk for Mike’s equipment bag before the two got in the Equinox for the ride home. “You’re going to look like a raccoon, kid. You did pretty well covering up after Rivera busted it. How’d it feel?”
“You mean other than the blinding pain?”
Dan laughed. “I don’t suppose you’d take my advice now and start playing soccer or some other sane sport would you?”
“What’s the fun in that?” Mike gritted his teeth as the Equinox jolted over some rough spots in the parking lot on the way out. The adhesive tape over his reset nose seemed to be bulging as swelling continued along with the ache.
“It’s a good thing Laura left for college already. She probably wouldn’t care much about going out with Rocky Raccoon. I was stunned a little when you told us she won a scholastic scholarship to the University of Florida in biotech. Kind of puts us mech-heads on the defensive, huh?”
Mike nodded in agreement. “She’s in the genius IQ category. Besides, she was shedding me at the end of the year anyway. Getting the scholarship launched her to the moon. I took the hint and gave her space.”
“Now I get it! Boy, am I slow on the uptake.”
“Get what?”
“This sudden self destructive phase with getting your head beat in. That dreamy cloud you drifted around in after taking Laura to the Senior Prom disappeared fast after the University of Florida announcement. It also explains all the weekend backpacking trips with Demon. It’s no wonder your Mom thinks I’m so dense. I’ll bet she’s figured this out long ago.”
Mike started to object but lost faith in his ability selling an alternate explanation to his Dad. “Demon loves the backpacking and getting my head into MMA is a good outlet. I just pretend each of my opponents is dating Laura.”
Dan hooted in appreciation, reaching over to clap Mike on the shoulder. “Good one, kid. Those were great prom pictures though. You were the only junior guy to take a senior girl. That should matter a little to you.”
“Not much since I wasn’t trying to impress anyone other than Laura. We did have a great time though. I don’t think she felt like she was slumming. Thanks to Stan, Jerry, Connie and Janis the other seniors were cool with me being at the prom.”
“Have you heard from her lately?”
“Not even an E-mail after she graduated. In her defense Laura has an aunt and uncle in Florida. Going there for a summer class made a lot of sense. I’m sure it helped her get familiar with the school.”
Dan heaved a big comical sigh. “That’s so… so adult of you.”
Mike chuckled and shrugged. “What choice do I have? Anyway, it’s like that old movie ‘Circle of Iron’. You can’t possess what you love.”
“So you do love her.”
“I don’t remember ever denying that I did. There’s no use in advertising it because I’m only seventeen and most people just laugh when they hear a teenager saying they’re in love.”
Dan thought about Mike working a full five day work week since school ended on top of MMA training and backpacking. He shook his head slightly at his not seeing what was happening before. Taking a great kid like Mike for granted was far too easy when work had finally picked up. Simply paying his son a full technician’s wage didn’t substitute for being a Dad. Thinking about it now, Dan couldn’t come up with anything that would have made it any easier. Not for the first time did he wonder at how intuitively Mike had found something other than trouble to help him through a rough time.
Finding out about how Mike and Demon had saved the day for his sister and friends last Halloween on Gravity Hill from an impromptu interrogation of Joanie at the breakfast table, Dan kept it to himself, thanking God for his good fortune. Joanie idolized her brother now and was well on the way to becoming as responsible. Ever since Demon came into their lives he had been a good luck charm for the whole family. Between the dog’s ongoing comedy act with reading everyone’s mind along with his ever present wagging tail at the shop, Demon’s place in the family was indispensable. Dan considered his next words with care.
“Although your way of coping is a bit dangerous let me handle your Mom. Besides, with that nose it’ll be a couple months before they’ll give you another match.”
“Thanks. I can still train though. With those new masks like the basketball players wear I can keep from doing anymore damage.”
“Boy, you’re a glutton for punishment. You even brush that nose against something and you’ll wish you didn’t have a nose.”
“Yeah, but I won’t be thinking about Laura either.”
“Point taken.”
* * *
“Oh, good Lord!” Mike’s Mom ran over with Joanie following, gripping Mike’s face between her hands.
“Easy Jen, Mike’s okay.”
“It looks a lot worse than it really is, Mom,” Mike claimed, trying to gently disengage from his Mom’s inspection.
Joanie cringed with her mouth and eyes tightening. “Mike! That’s no joke. You look like you’ve been mugged.”
Mike tugged his Mom’s wrists down to her sides before holding up his hands in a defensive stopping motion. “Look. I didn’t go to a boy-scout meeting. It was my decision to get into mixed martial arts. Not that anyone seems interested – I won. Let’s not fight about it all over again. I’m hungry. Hey Demon.”
Everyone turned toward the lop-eared dog standing at the entrance to the kitchen with his head cocked as if hanging on every word spoken. When all eyes watched expectantly, Demon turned his head to the side, his left front paw whipping up next to his eyes in a classic shun. The four family members were reduced to helpless laughter as Demon held the pose. As the merriment subsided Demon peeked back around his paw at Mike. He then ran over to head butt his wounded master, absorbing pats from all around.
“That damn dog makes the hair stand up on the back of my head,” Dan remarked. “He mimics you like a pet monkey.”
Demon immediately growled and started yanking on Dan’s work boot.
“Did I say pet monkey? Sorry… sorry… I meant loyal friend.” Dan extricated his foot from between Demon’s front paws in slow motion.
“Gruuumph!” Demon sat up, somewhat mollified.
“His vocabulary keeps growing. Joanie should be up to his level in another year or two.” Mike received a punch to his shoulder from Joanie pretending outrage.
“He’s managed to help you swerve attention away from tonight’s MMA idiots match-up.”
“Arf!” Demon took up a protective stance next to Mike.”
Jen pointed a warning finger at Demon with exaggerated menace. “One more arf out of you and the next treat you get will be at the kennel.”
Demon immediately backed away from Mike while shaking his head.
“Traitor.” Mike held up his hands in surrender. “I’m done for the night. I need sustenance. May I be excused to go find some leftovers?”
“Very well, young man but we’re far from done. Your plate’s warming in the oven. Your enabler here can fill me in on tonight’s insanity. He’s already eaten.”
“I’ll sit with you, Mike.” Joanie followed her brother into the kitchen with Demon prancing alongside.
Dan waited until the two were out of the room before speaking. “You probably had this figured out already but Mike’s using all his latest adventures to…”
“Get over Laura,” Jen interjected in Dan’s explanation. She shook her head slowly, mouth turned up at one corner with a knowing expression. “This still doesn’t let you off the hook for allowing him to fill in for his romance with getting beat up like a real life ‘Fight Club’ addict.”
“I see you’re in blame mode so fire away. He’s not doing drugs, putting on a dress, or getting drunk. At this stage we can guide him with advice, but issuing edicts for him to not do something he has a passion for ain’t happenin’. I’m not backing your play on this one so let me know if you’ve already decided to go it alone.”
Jen’s features softened. She took Dan’s hand in hers. “I wouldn’t do that. It’s just that MMA stuff is so dangerous. He looks horrible. Is it working?”
“If you mean helping him forget Laura, it is to a certain extent. He won’t be able to do anything but train for a while so we won’t have to sweat out any matches for a few months. Mike won with a submission hold. The loser looks a hell of a lot better.”
“He’s won four in a row since starting. I guess he must be good at it. Should we take him over to the emergency room?”
“The doctor they have on staff there reset it and gave me a prescription for pain killers if he needs them. Other than that he said to watch for any breathing problems. Not much you can do with a busted nose besides ice it up. Stan and Jerry were great in his corner. They’ve memorized all the stuff from that Ultimate Fighting reality show and they’ve really picked up the finer points in patching cuts and spotting weak points Mike may miss. They’re coming over tomorrow afternoon to watch the game. I told them they could have a couple beers. Mike’s driving them.”
“Dan, you don’t think Mike will keep doing this goofy extreme fighting stuff, do you?”
“I don’t know, Hon, but you better be prepared to back him on whatever he decides. He has an uncanny knack of doing the right thing. If this fighting gig helps him we’ll have to support him. Has he heard back from that weasel we have in congress about his request for a recommendation to the Naval Academy?”
Jen shook her head with more than a little angst. “No, and I don’t want to even think about that. Jesus… extreme fighting and then he decides to try for the Naval Academy. What’s next?”
“He’s looking into ROTC around here so he can work at the shop and get his degree locally. The Air Force ROTC guy at the high school recruited Mike for his senior year by promising him a chance at the Cal State Berkeley Air Force ROTC through the Aerospace Department on scholarship. That would be good news. I already told him he’d have to do Berkeley on scholarship because we’d have to win the lottery to afford that place.”
“Oh goody… he can get shot down instead of shot up. What’s the good news?”
Dan chuckled, putting an arm around his wife. “He’d be staying here at home for four years minimum to get his degree unless you chase him out on his own.”
“Point taken.”
* * *
Joanie put the warmed plate in front of her brother, checking out his face uneasily. “Wow, Mike, you look bad.”
Mike shifted the ice pack he was applying so he could eat. “Thanks, Sis. Like I told Mom, it looks worse than it feels.”
“It looks like it hurts like hell.”
Mike laughed, grimacing when the sudden facial movements sent sharp needles of pain through his upper face. “Okay… maybe it does look like it feels. It’ll be better once I ice it for a while.”
“This is probably a rotten time to ask for a favor.”
“What’s up?”
“Tricia wants to camp out at Hetch Hetchy near Lake Del Valle next Friday. A bunch of us are going including at least four parents. She wants to have a Friday the 13th party away from the regular campsites. One of the parents managed to get permission to use the Hetch Hetchy site. Mom said I could go if you and Demon chaperoned.”
“How many do you mean by a bunch staying at this coed campout?”
Joanie blushed. “There’ll be parents there… and probably twenty kids.”
Mike smiled as Demon perked up from under the table, his nose sniffing the air as it jiggled the table cloth. “I think Demon smells something rotten, like how four parents can keep an eye on over twenty teenage sex fiends.”
Joanie sat down, grabbing Mike’s right hand with both hers. “Please Mike? I’ve been doing really good since last year.”
“I know. What do you think, Demon?”
“Arf!” Demon launched across Joanie’s lap.”
“Thanks Demon.” Joanie hugged the dog while enduring a licking assault.
“Okay, we’re in. What kind of festivities did you have in mind?”
“Just a big campfire, music, and ghost stories. Nothing’s going to happen, Mike. Everybody’s heard about the Demon. I’ll tell everyone you and Demon are chaperoning. My girlfriends already want to have your babies.”
Mike gulped his mouthful of Pepsi just in time to keep from spewing it painfully out his nose. He choked a little while pointing threateningly at a laughing Joanie. “Not… not funny!”
“It’s true. You’re a legend. All the parents love you. All the boys want to be like you and all the girls want to be with you. Ride the wave.”
Mike looked at his sister wondering if he had missed some transition period. Joanie had lost her little kid sister look. At fifteen she coped with her own popularity and problems - some of it directly related to their last Halloween near disaster. Hearing her needle him with sexual innuendos gave Mike an uneasy feeling Joanie might have picked up a defense mechanism to cope with peer pressure. When Mike started eating without commenting, Joanie took his silence instead of laughter as an indication she had crossed a line.
“I was joking, Mike.”
Mike nodded, ice pack moving along with his head. “I know. You surprised me a little. Anything going on I should know about?”
Joanie’s face reddened. She glanced down at Demon as if he might have an answer. Demon slid down off Joanie’s lap and took up an inquisitive posture next to Mike. “It was just a joke, guys!”
Receiving another bout of grinning silence from her audience Joanie sighed. “A guy’s been interested in me. I’m not allowed to date yet and he’ll be at the 13th party.”
“Hence your suave sex cracks at big brother to show me how cool you are?”
“I can’t help it if you’re so fragile a little dig cuts you to the bone.”
Mike chuckled and Demon flopped contentedly, head on paws. “Is he in your grade?”
“Yes. His name’s Brad Sanderson. He…”
“The Brad Sanderson who troops around with his own retinue of girl groupies?”
“See! This is why I didn’t want to say anything. If a popular guy’s interested in me it’s not because he sees me as attractive. It’s because I’m a fugly easy lay, right?”
“Why the defensive attitude, Sis? I’d be the same as a stranger on the street if I didn’t point out some obvious signs all might not be as it seems. You would admit every girl hanging on him in the school hall was in the same position you’re in right now. It doesn’t mean Brad’s evil or that you couldn’t have a good time with him. It means you need to have your eyes open going in.”
“Like you with Laura?”
“Ouch!”
Joanie giggled. “Okay… I see what you’re sayin’. I need you to give me a little space at the lake though if he does show some interest.”
“Of course. I won’t be breathing down your neck. Demon will be right next to you just in case Brad gets kinky.”
“I don’t think so!”
“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr…” Demon perked up enough to issue a low pitched rumble to Joanie.
“C’mon! He won’t even talk to me if the hellhound is dogging me.”
“Demon can be very sweet and unassuming with strange boys, right D?”
“Arf!”
Joanie peered suspiciously from Demon to Mike, while leaning back, folding her arms and completing the body language equivalent of disbelief. “I think you two rehearse this stuff at night when everyone goes to bed.”
Both Mike and Demon immediately assumed a confused expression of consternation together, eliciting a sigh and giggle from Joanie.
“Couldn’t he trail me without Brad seeing?” Joanie gave up on ever being chaperone free at the Lake. “Demon sneaks up on everyone in the house and scares the shit out of us. I’m sure he could skulk along without Brad noticing.”
“What about it, D?”
“Arf!”
Mike smiled at Joanie. “Deal - no big brother spy so long as Demon keeps an unobtrusive watchful eye on you.”
“Thanks, Mike. Can I watch the game with all of you tomorrow? I heard Connie and Janis are coming.”
“Where’d you hear that? I thought the guys were just coming over.”
“I saw Connie at the mall yesterday. She said they’re coming whether Jerry and Stan like it or not. They want to see the Demon.”
“Arf!”
“I have no objection. Maybe they’ll pick up the guys so I won’t have to chauffeur them around. What’s with the sudden interest in Connie and Janis?”
“They’re funny and the way they needle the guys constantly is really entertaining.”
“Fine. They’ll get a kick out of what I have in mind for Demon tomorrow.”
* * *
Demon met the arriving guests at the screen door with tail wagging as he pranced back and forth. He wore a miniature Oakland A’s yellow and green t-shirt with matching ball cap complete with cut out slots for his ears. The cap was of course turned around backwards. Mike’s friends erupted in laughter for many moments. When they were inside a hug fest ensued with the Rawlins’ house canine star.
“This dog is so amped,” Janis marveled, holding Demon’s face between her hands while Connie hugged him. “He’s friggin’ adorable. You hide the killer inside very well, D.”
“Arf!”
“I’m glad you and Connie came.” Mike fended off Stan and Jerry’s rough scrutiny of his face. “Lay off, you guys! One brush up against my nose and you’ll make me cry in front of the girls.”
“It looks a hell of a lot better than I thought it would,” Stan told him. “You did a good job keeping the swelling down. There’s hardly any raccoon eye look at all. I guess we better sign you up for another bout next week.”
“I don’t think so.”
Connie and Janis then took turns apprising Mike’s damaged nose, clucking with disapproval. Janis immediately held up her cell-phone and took Mike’s picture.
“Hey! No pictures. I know you, Jan. It’ll be up on your damn My Space or Facebook pages in moments.”
“Calm down, Dempsey. I skipped the usual outlets and tossed it off to Laura’s inbox.”
“Oh thanks.”
The phone rang five minutes later as Mike guided his guests into the living room where his Father had arranged a viewing area with accommodations for their guests. Mike’s Mom walked in with their portable phone in hand, grinning at Mike.
“It’s Laura.”
Mike ignored the catcalls from his friends, taking the phone with only a slight painful stabbing sensation in his gut. He walked out of the room. “Hello?”
“Mike… what the hell did you do to yourself? Your Mom says you’ve been doing that Ultimate Fighting crap. Are you mental?!”
The anger in Laura’s voice annoyed Mike. The stabbing sensation disappeared. “Hi Laura. Nice talking to you. How have you been? You sound a little out of sorts. May I suggest opening up a can of mind your own business?”
Laura’s silence made the next few seconds seem like hours as the stabbing sensation returned.
“I…I’m sorry, Mike. I didn’t mean it to come out like that. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Jan snapped the damn picture and sent it before I knew what happened. They’re all over watching the ballgame. She should have sent you a shot of Demon. I dressed him up as…”
“She sent one. He looks incredible. Is something wrong? Why are you fighting?”
“I’m already taking a lot of heat for doing it. I’m competing in a sport. End of story. Let’s drop the subject. How’s college?”
“It’s wonderful. No, I won’t drop it. Why are you fighting? Is this about me?”
“Not everything’s about you, Laura,” Mike lied. “Look, I have to get back with the gang. I appreciate your concern. I’m sorry Jan worried you with that stupid picture.”
“I should have called more. I’ve been so busy and…”
“Don’t apologize for keeping your head into doing well at college. I’ll E-mail you some pictures and movie from this coming weekend’s Friday the 13th camping chaperone trip at Lake Del Valle with Joanie. I’m taking Demon so there should be some funny ones.”
“Okay, Mike, but please stop fighting.”
“I…” Mike heard Laura disconnect. He held the phone tightly for a moment resisting the urge to throw it across the room. With iron control, Mike walked the phone back to its cradle in the kitchen. His Mother stopped fixing the plate of snacks when her son entered the kitchen.
“How’s Laura?”
“Doing well I think. We mostly talked about my potential as a serial killer.”
Jen laughed. “I didn’t tell her what happened to your nose in that manner. She’s worried about you. Come to think of it… so am I.”
“Noted. Want me to take the tray in?”
“If you don’t mind, Dempsey.”
“Damn that Janis!” Mike picked up the tray as Jen added the last treats. “How the hell does she even know who Dempsey is? She doesn’t know who we fought in WWII but she knows the name of a boxer who fought in the 1920’s.”
“I have a feeling that one’s going to stick.”
“Not if I can help it,” Mike replied over his shoulder.
Janis, who had been waiting for Mike’s appearance, nudged Connie. “Set the tray down right here, Dempsey. How’d it go with Laura?”
“We’re still friends.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Joanie’s been telling your friends about the Friday the 13th camping trip,” Dan told him, hoping to get his son off the hook about Laura. It worked.
“We want to go,” Connie piped in immediately. “We can have a separate grownups camp near the little kids.”
“What?!” Joanie jumped up from her seat, staring at the now laughing Connie in outrage. Seeing she had been handled, Joanie sat back down. “I shouldn’t have told you about it.”
“It’ll be a great sendoff before college,” Stan said. “You don’t have any problem with us tagging along, do you Mr. Rawlins?”
“Nope. I’m just glad I don’t have to go. I figure with Mike and Demon there I don’t have to worry about Joanie. There is a real sad story that goes with the Hetch Hetchy spot though. Back in the early 1990’s a bunch of college kids on a boat with no life jackets had a real bad time in the water next to the Hetch Hetchy camping area. They were all drinking and one of the young men fell overboard and struck his head. His sister was on board and watched hysterically while some of the other teens tried to find him. He drowned and they had to dredge the area for his body. There have been reports of swimmers freaked out over seeing the image of the drowned teen swimming up to them underwater, his face contorted and his hands reaching to pull them under.”
“Good point, Mr. Rawlins,” Jerry said after the story was greeted with silence and the teens looking at each other uneasily. “No boating and no swimming near the campsite. When we swim during the day we’ll go to the main beach.”
“I think that would be wise,” Dan replied. “They have lifeguards there. Although I know Mike and Joanie swim like fish anything can happen in the water. The game’s starting. Dempsey, close the blinds.”
* * *
Mike, Stan, and Jerry spent the early part of Friday the 13th helping and supervising the encampment raising with reluctant assistance from the actual camping organizers. Demon fetched stakes or hammers or even soft drinks during the work in progress upon request. He obtained numerous rewards from Janis, Connie, and Joanie as they supervised the supervisors. By noontime, the tents were all up and the gear stowed. Mike gathered firewood and arranged some for Friday the 13th story night so it would be ready to light in the already dug park fire pit. The four parent chaperones wouldn’t be on hand until after they left work. All but a few of the twenty teenagers were already there playing music and texting each other like they weren’t really in the same place.
“We better lead them down to the beach before we have a rebellion of whiners on our hands, Dempsey.”
Mike wiped the sweat from his face with a towel he had wet from their water jug while growling comically at his new nickname. He looked over at the boy-scout encampment fifty yards away where young boys were already swimming under the supervision of adult scout leaders in the water of Hetch Hetchy Cove. “I don’t know Stan. Maybe it’d be alright to swim here during the day.”
Jerry gasped, hiding his eyes. “Oh my God! Did Mike Rawlins just hint at breaking away from his Dad’s sterling advice?”
“He sure did but in this instance we’ll have to bring this bad boy in line, Jer. They have a concession stand, bathrooms, and real sand on the main beach. Forget the lake ghost. I don’t want to wade around in that muck here,” Stan replied. “I’m taking my beach chair, beer, snacks, and sun block over to a real beach. You’ll need to bring the cane along with your sunglasses, Dempsey. They don’t allow dogs and we’re not going anywhere without the Demon.”
“I’ll bring the big umbrella too,” Mike agreed. “It’s a good thing my Dad loaned us his shop shuttle. Without it, this damn place would have been the pits to get down to. It’s great we’re away from the regular campsites but you know if we mentioned hiking to the main beach some of Joanie’s friends would faint dead away.”
Jerry laughed, nodding his head in agreement while pointing toward where Joanie sat with three of her girlfriends. “Joanie helped with setup but did you see those three move at all today? I think they’ve been in a camp trance since we got here.”
“Yeah, I bet they’ve never been camping,” Stan remarked. “They probably thought it would be like Disneyland or something. At least Connie and Janis don’t sit around looking like invalids.”
Connie and Janis, along with several teenage onlookers, played Frisbee with Demon who elicited many gasps of amazement from his retinue with one impossible catch after another. When one anxious young man attempted to extract the Frisbee from Demon before the dog tossed it on the ground Demon spent the next few minutes playing keep away until the teens gave up.
Jerry pointed at a tall sandy haired form in cutoffs and t-shirt ambling toward Joanie and friends. “Looks like Bradley is making his move. Ah… that’s so cute. Look how the girls perked up. Good Lord, if they’d have been that active during setup we would be on the beach right now. I can’t believe Coach Matthews wants him playing quarterback.”
“Because he throws fifty yards downfield,” Stan replied. “If not for Rumbaugh being a senior I have a feeling Matthews would have benched him to get Brad ready for this year. Uh oh.”
Brad put an arm around Joanie’s shoulders as the four girls clustered around him laughing at something he said.
Jerry grabbed Mike’s arm. “Don’t toast him, Dempsey. The team needs a quarterback in the fall.”
“Lay off me. I’m not throwing Brad around for being interested in Joanie. We talked it out. She realizes he’s a player. Unfortunately, I think she’s considering living by that old clich├ęd phrase ‘use me ‘til you use me up’. When it gets dark, Joanie agreed to the Demon chaperoning discreetly.”
Stan chuckled, shaking his head while watching the teen mating ritual. “Better keep those cutoffs up, player. You’ll be singin’ soprano in the church choir if Deadly D gets wind of you moving past first base, Bradley, my boy.”
“They need cooled off. Let’s round up the stuff and get everyone loaded for the beach,” Mike said. “It’s a pain but we have to get a head count going both ways since the parent chaperones haven’t arrived yet.”
“I’ll get the head count while you and Jer load. You still up for designated driver, Dempsey?”
“Yeah, but on one condition… stop calling me Dempsey.”
“No deal. Get him moving, Jer.”
“On it.” Jerry tugged the glowering Mike toward their equipment.
Mike parked the shuttle and eighteen teen campers made a loud exit with Mike reminding them pointedly about not wandering off anywhere. Mike tensed slightly watching Brad exit with Joanie, his right hand on her hip. Connie gave him a light tap on the head from behind. Mike realized Stan, Jerry, Janis, Connie, and even Demon were watching him. Mike shrugged.
“Hey, I’m human. I can imagine what my Dad would do if he saw that.”
“Relax, Dempsey,” Connie urged. “Joanie needs to work this one out on her own. Janis and I had to learn the hard way how to handle ‘Dumb and Dumber’ here.”
“I resent that,” Stan spoke with the right amount of outrage. “I am a perfect gentleman.”
“Which one of us is ‘Dumber’?”
“If you have to ask…” Janis waved Jerry to silence while slipping past him to the door with Connie giggling as she followed. “Just sayin’.”
“That leaves us with the cooler and umbrella as usual,” Stan remarked. “Are you allowed to carry something and be blind, Dempsey?”
Mike nodded, putting on his sunglasses and grabbing up the cane near him while Jerry helped Demon get into his guide-dog harness. “I’ll be the blind packhorse. Lead me to a spot about ten feet behind Brad and Joanie, D.”
Demon immediately sat down, shaking his head to the raucous amusement of the three young men.
“Okay… but take us somewhere we can at least keep an eye on our group.”
“Arf!” Demon led the way after Mike locked up the shuttle to a place in the center beach area where they could see most of their charges easily. A lifeguard with blond ponytail monitored the activity closely in the rather small area designated for swimming.
Stan and Jerry set up the umbrella, towels, and ice chest while Mike unfolded the fabric beach chairs in an appropriately feeling type manner as he maintained his blindness cover. Jerry arranged the chairs within reach of the ice chest and Demon plopped down in the shade on their towel. The young men sat on the beach chairs, selecting what they wanted to drink – beer for Stan and Jerry, soda for Mike, and bottled water in a dish for Demon.
The rest of the teens set up a makeshift dance area near the water with their portable boom-box next to their own ice chests. The lifeguard made her presence known and nodded at the acceptable music volume level. Although less crowded than a Saturday there were still a sizeable number of families enjoying the beach from the camping areas. Once Mike saw everything lapse into a less hectic scene he relaxed in his chair.
“Did you guys check the ice chests?”
Stan pointed at Jerry and then his watch. “You owe me a buck. It only took Dempsey thirty seconds to start his mother hen routine. Pay up.”
Jerry chuckled, handing Stan a dollar bill. “You’re costing me money, Momma Dempsey.”
Mike shook his head. “Okay… I’ll bite. How long did you have me down for?”
“Five minutes. Stan blew me right out of the water.”
“And yes, we checked the ice chests,” Stan added. “You know the drill though. We’ll still have to watch them like hawks to make sure none of these underage drinkers are drunk when the adults get here.”
“You two are underage drinkers.”
“Yeah, but we have adult supervision… you. Besides, we’re very responsible, right Stan.”
“Of course we are.”
“You two are as responsible as a couple of baby ducks. What did you two confiscate?”
Stan traded glances with Jerry before speaking. Jerry grinned and looked away. “It was a good bust. Three pint bottles of rotgut and one of Smirnoff. I think it was a good haul because they went for the old hide the stuff under everything in the ice chest. When we went diving immediately the groans convinced us we nailed most of the stash. I think they really believed we’d search all their personal stuff. The dopers know better. We can’t say what kind of pharmaceutical stuff made it past us caring teen advisors. Me and Jerry ain’t doing any illegal search and seizures, buddy.”
“I don’t expect you to,” Mike replied. “I’m glad they probably lost most of their booze supply. Although volunteering for this was a favor to Joanie, you guys know who gets the rap if anything happens here, even with four adults present.”
Jerry and Stan ducked their heads and pointed at Mike simultaneously with Demon finishing off the silent accusation with a credible birddog stance.
“Damn D,” Jerry exclaimed, patting Demon’s head, “how much English do you know?”
Stan laughed. “If he hadn’t already saved our friggin’ asses a couple times he’d give me the chills when he does that stuff.”
“You should see him at the house. We never know what the little freak will do next.”
Demon immediately upended Mike’s beach chair to the immense amusement of Stan and Jerry.
“You nearly made me hit my nose you psycho!” Mike righted his chair again. “I was going to give you a couple hotdogs tonight but you can forget it.”
Demon immediately rolled over on his back and played dead. Stan and Jerry hurriedly jumped up with their beers in hand, moving a few steps back.
“Tell him apology accepted, Dempsey,” Stan advised. “You know what happens next if you don’t put the treats back on the table.”
“You should know better, Mike,” Jerry agreed. “Demon lives by the Klingon Code ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’. He’ll nail you tonight when you least expect it.”
Mike considered playing out the threat but good judgment and the memory of what Demon had done to him in front of his friends the last time tilted the argument toward magnanimity. “Okay… okay, you get the hotdogs.”
Demon assumed his former position on the towel. “Grummf.”
Stan slid into his seat once again. “You should have seen your face when Demon trotted into the living room with your pink jockstrap in front of Laura.”
Jerry shook his head sorrowfully but ended up laughing. “Oh man, that was deadly. Good one, D. That ace will live on forever.”
“Arf!”
“Don’t encourage him! I thought dogs were colorblind. You guys didn’t help when I was trying to explain how my Mom mixed it with the towels by mistake in the wash.”
“The girls were screaming in laughter so hard we couldn’t save you,” Stan countered. “Not that we would have anyway. That’ll learn ya’ not to withhold the promised steak bone.”
“The paranormal pup don’t play that, homey,” Jerry said. “You have to pay the piper when you mess with the Demon’s treats.”
“My Mom gets away with it all the time.”
“D knows the chain of command, Dempsey,” Stan pointed out, “and you ain’t in it.”
“Small doubt about that.”
Jerry pointed at two figures chest deep in the roped in swimming area. “Joanie and Brad are sure getting cozy out there in the water.”
Mike kept scanning everything but Brad and Joanie, ignoring Jerry’s needling. The rest of their group danced, grab-assed, and generally remained one step below the lifeguard’s bad behavior radar that would get them kicked off the beach. His options would be limited if they caused that kind of problem. So far no one had questioned Demon’s presence on the beach. Mike figured to walk out of the designated swim area with Demon and cool off out of sight from the lifeguard.
“You have your lifesaving card, Dempsey. How come you never got one of these cushy lifeguard jobs for the summer?”
Mike chuckled. “Think about it, Stan. I make journeyman’s wages at my Dad’s shop. I’d be taking a monstrous pay cut to sit out here baking in the sun and yelling at kids all day.”
“Money ain’t everything, genius.” Stan waved a hand at the bikini clad girls running around on the beach. He quickly pulled his hand back when he saw Connie and Janis staring at him.
“Oh great, now you’ve attracted the wrong attention.” Jerry groaned under his breath as he watched their weekend dates pick up the towel they were sharing and walk toward them. “So ends a hot afternoon of girl watching.”
“Says you. I’m not married to Connie. I only flinched because I saw Janis getting ready to come over and bitch slap you.”
Janis arrived a few steps ahead of Connie. “You three need to quit gawking at underage girls. We want beer and suntan lotion massage… in that order.”
Jerry reached into the cooler and brought out two beers. “I thought you dark skinned princesses didn’t have to be protected from the sun, Jan.”
Janis accepted the beer from Jerry and plopped down in front of his chair. “We burn, you muttonhead. Sit down and do my back.”
Jerry laughed and handed off the other beer to Connie who had already sat down in front of Stan. He slipped into his seat behind Janis, taking the proffered tube of lotion. “We were just raggin’ Dempsey about turning wrenches instead of putting his lifesaving card to good use at a beach somewhere.”
“Demon gets to lie around at the shop,” Janis pointed out, taking a long sip of beer. “I took my car in for an oil change last week. Demon practically runs the place. I doubt he’d go for a gig in the hot sun all day, right D?”
“Arf!” Demon shook his head, drawing laughter.
“My Dad’s made him into the shop mascot. He makes a great complaint department too. When an irate customer starts raising the decibel level Demon trots over, sits next to my Dad, and cocks his head to the side. He’s so funny nobody’s been able to keep from laughing yet.”
“What kind of entertainment do we have planned for tonight?”
“We don’t really have any input on that front, Connie. My sister and a few of her girlfriends are in charge of doing the Friday 13th stuff. Adult chaperones merely observe, stay out of the way, and ruin any plans for underage drinking and drugs.”
“I pick stay out the way,” Janis stated. “If anyone gets testy tonight just sic Demon on them.”
“Arf!”
“Dempsey has D’s dance card filled for tonight. The paranormal pup will be stalking Joanie and Brad,” Stan explained. “We should tell the story around the campfire about how Demon came along.”
“Everybody in the school’s heard that one along with all the variations you guys added to it,” Connie said. “So, you don’t think fabulous Brad is trustworthy, huh?”
“I didn’t say that,” Mike answered. “Demon will observe only… unless Brad gets out of line. Joanie agreed it’s better than me watching over her shoulder. Tonight should be fun. All we do is kick back and listen to the stories.”
Jerry snapped his fingers. “Maybe we should tell the story your Dad mentioned about the college kid who drowned in front of his sister and is haunting Hetch Hetchy.”
Janis shook her head. “I don’t think reciting a real life tragedy is a good idea.”
Jerry shrugged. “You’re probably right. We should stick with listening to fiction. I’ll be glad when the parents get here and we’re not in charge of the head count.”
“Yep.” Mike stood up. “Hand me my cane, Stan. I’ll walk down the shore for a ways and let Demon get in the water. I brought his ball along.”
Mike heard his friends not quite succeeding in holding back laughter as he and Demon did their guide-dog act down to the water. Demon turned right, guiding Mike past the last markers indicating where the swimming area and beach ended. From there, the two walked along a shaded bush strewn path bordering the water. A slight breeze through the surrounding trees added a welcome respite coupled with being out of the sunlight. Demon danced around excitedly, eager to play fetch in the water. Mike undid the harness. Demon leaped into the water and back out watching for Mike to throw his ball. Knowing the dog’s fondness for the game, Mike heaved the ball out about fifty yards from shore with Demon in hot pursuit.
“Did you know where to throw that ball by smelling the water, Mr. McGoo?” A lilting amused voice from behind him asked.
Mike kept his eyes on the water and Demon’s rippling wake. Stunned someone had followed him and Demon without them noticing, Mike answered with what he hoped sounded like plausibility. “Yes, and a little help from my dog pointing me in the right direction.”
Laughter. “Yeah, I’ll bet. Give it up, Rawlins. I know you’re not blind.”
Sighing, Mike turned toward his accuser. The blonde lifeguard from the beach gave him a little finger wave. A head shorter, she peered up at him with an amused expression before deliberately giving Mike a once over with hands on waist. Her one-piece red uniform swimsuit clung to her like a second skin.
“It doesn’t appear my cousin damaged you too badly.”
“Huh?”
“I saw your MMA fight. You were matched up with my cousin Vic. I never figured you’d come back from the elbow.” The lifeguard’s eyebrows crinkled slightly as she made a closer examination of Mike’s face. “Hardly a mark left except for some bruising. Vic’s talkin’ rematch to everyone within earshot. Can I tell him it’s on?”
“I fight who they put me in the ring with.” Demon bounded out of the water, ball in mouth, sitting next to Mike. “You can tell Vic it’ll be a while before my face heals up. That should ease his disappointment.”
The lifeguard stuck her hand out and Mike shook it. “I’m Gail Corbett. I’m on a break. Do you mind some company?”
“If it’s okay with Demon, it’s okay with me.”
Gail knelt in front of Demon, holding her hand out which Demon put his paw on. Stroking Demon’s head while shaking his paw, Gail bonded with the dog quickly. The moment she stood up, Demon spit the ball out at Mike’s feet and streaked into the water. Mike made another long throw to appease his water-dog. Gail shook her head at Demon’s speed in the water.
“Damn… he’s like a motor boat.”
“And he can pretty much keep it up all day long. Where do you go to school?” Mike had made a hasty assessment of Gail’s age.
“I’m a senior at Livermore this year. You and Demon are pretty famous after last Halloween’s party out at ‘Hanging Tree’. A few of my friends were at the little ‘Rave’. They thought you brought a monster along.”
“It was a problem between me and some of my school’s football team they decided to take out on my sister and friends. Demon helped me straighten out the misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, so I heard. I also hear on the beach you’re chaperoning a ‘Friday the 13th’ campout. Any chance of an invite?”
Mike’s pulse speeded up as the blood rushed to his face. Demon head-butted him in the leg to let him know the ball was again at his feet. Grateful for the distraction, Mike pitched the ball far out into the lake. He watched Demon for a moment while he took a deep breath.
Gail smiled at Mike’s obvious discomfiture. “Hey… if it’s a private gig, I can deal. No need to go into a coma, Rawlins.”
Mike nodded, turning to face Gail with a sheepish grin. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to zone out on you there. I’m chaperoning my sister. There will be adults there. This isn’t a wild night of partying until first light or anything. It’s just my sister’s friends swapping stories in the dark on Friday the 13th. You’re welcome to join us if you want.”
“Sounds like fun to me.” Gail tilted her head, smiling. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I have a friend I’ve dated in college at the University of Florida. I think she’s been trying to let me know we’re just friends.”
“I noticed the two couples you’re hangin’ with seem to be together. Since we can’t consider Demon to be a romantic interest, maybe we could get to know each other. I’ll even let you quit playing ‘Three Blind Mice’ on the beach.”
“I’d like that.” Mike waited for Demon to exit the water before sending him after another long throw.
“I’ll call my folks and let them know I’m camping out. I keep a sleeping bag in my trunk for when I stay over occasionally. If I need backup on the adult supervision point would one of the parents you have with the group help me out?”
“Sure. I’m on good terms with them. My Dad and I work on most of their vehicles at his shop.”
“So, you’re a mech-head too, huh?”
“Guilty. I work at his shop full time in the summers and part time after school starts. I believe the term is automotive technician… which my Dad hates. Mech-head is okay too. I have a six man tent set up for Janis and Connie. There’s plenty of room for you.”
Gail grasped Mike’s hand, moving closer. “I prefer sleeping out under the stars. Want to join me?”
Mike took off his sunglasses. He met her gaze with a questioning one of his own. “Gail… not that my heart’s not pounding, but like my Dad told me, if a beautiful woman comes onto you and you’re not a movie star, there’s probably more to it than you think.”
Gail laughed, releasing Mike’s hand and clapping elatedly. Demon returned and sat down next to Mike, watching Gail with interest, the ball in his mouth forgotten for the moment. When Gail regained control, she grasped Mike’s chin in her right hand, shaking it slightly.
“So, you think I’m beautiful?”
“I think you know it too.”
“Contrary to your Dad’s warning I’m a little too forward for my own good… according to my Dad. Besides, I didn’t think anyone could take my cousin Vic. Any guy who can take him with a submission hold is worth a closer look. How about it? We’ll leave the sleep out under the stars up for consideration.”
“Deal.”
“Will the famous Demon be joining us?”
“He has chaperone duty for my sister Joanie and her new love interest.”
Gail knelt down, grasping Demon’s head gently in her hands. “Well aren’t you just the most amazing dog around?”
The ball dropped from Demon’s jaws. “Arf!”
Gail chortled. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Oh, he meant it as a yes. You’ll be stunned at the number of things Demon does and understands.”
“Does that mean I’ll be around long enough to witness them first hand?”
Mike smiled. “Your Dad is right.”
“Okay for you, smartass. I have to get back on duty. Want to come around and pick me up about five in the parking lot?”
“Sure. I guess you’ll let me know if your folks don’t take to the idea of you staying after work, huh?”
“They’ll be fine with it, especially when I tell my Dad I’ve met a guy who agrees with him. Bye.”
Mike watched Gail saunter with a deliberate hip sway towards the beach. She glanced back at him and waved when she saw him watching before continuing on. Mike and Demon traded confused looks.
“I guess you didn’t get a reading on her. She sure made me forget about Laura for a few minutes. Still want to play ball?”
In answer Demon leaped back into the water.
* * *
Temperatures in the nineties remained throughout the day with only a slight decline into the upper seventies at sunset. Knowing the meat-eating wasps which plague the Lake Del Valle region from sunrise to sunset disappear with the sun, Mike reasoned with other parents arriving late to hold off on cooking until dusk. He left Demon on chaperone duty while he drove slowly over the access road to meet Gail at the main parking lot. She waited for him with parka, small day-pack, and sleeping bag in hand. Gail’s long blonde hair hung in loose waves over her shoulders. Tanned legs, black shorts, and red halter top caused Mike’s hands to tighten on the steering wheel in order to channel some of his nervous anticipation into the wheel.
“Is that look on your face surprise?” Gail sat down next to Mike, tossing her sleeping bag and jacket on one of the back seats.
“I think grateful shock would be more accurate. You look great.”
“Thank you.” Gail leaned over to Mike’s side, sliding her hand down his left thigh.
The first caress of Gail’s lips across his sent chills all the way to Mike’s toes. He closed his eyes as the universe shrunk into one wondrous pinpoint of sensation. Warmth, softness, and wet whisper of something more rushed all thoughts from Mike’s head in a split second, his hands wrapping around her upper arms as if by their own volition. In the momentary mind meld, Mike heard or felt Gail gasp before the two teens locked into a wild embrace of surprised attraction. A car horn jolted the two apart as Mike had blocked a car in while stopping the shuttle to pick up Gail. He hastily drove forward, waving an apology at the driver. Mike turned to look at Gail only to find her staring speculatively at him with arms folded over her still heaving chest.
“What the hell was that?”
“I blocked the guy’s car in and…”
“Not that! Don’t play dumb. I rocked your world, Mike.”
Mike shrugged, his mouth trying to form a smile but failing. “I didn’t say I wasn’t attracted to you. You seemed…”
A fist banging on the shuttle door cut Mike’s sentence off. The fist belonged to a bearded, stocky guy a little over six feet tall sporting an outraged scowl. Mike quickly looked out the driver’s side window to see if he had failed to clear the car blocked by his shuttle. After confirming the shuttle was well past the other car Mike opened the shuttle door.
“Why don’t you get your head out of your ass, Romeo?!” The thirty something man exhaled a deadly combination of beer and cigarette breath causing the nearer Gail to turn away from him, grimacing for Mike’s benefit.
“I’m very sorry, Sir.” Mike glanced around to make sure he wasn’t blocking anyone else.
“You should be, shit for brains! People got better things to do than watch you suck face with…”
“Hey, Mister!” Gail cut him off. “I work for Del Valle’s park district. Mike apologized for the five seconds of inconvenience so…”
“Stay out of this you little twit!” The man leaned inside poking an unsteady finger in Gail’s direction. “I got a good mind to…”
“Leave those kids alone, Chuck!” A female voice yelled from the driver’s side of the car Mike had blocked. “We could be half way home by now!”
“Better take her advice, Chuck,” Gail warned before Mike could stop her.
“Oh… that right… you little bitch! Maybe I’ll light you up along with your chump boyfriend. Get the hell out here, asshole! I don’t like talkin’ up to you, punk!”
Mike grabbed Gail by the shoulders before she could launch through the open door. He pulled her back a row away from the door as she struggled.
Mike twisted her around so he could look into her face. “Gail! You’re not helping. Calm down. I’ll talk to the guy. I’m sure he just wants to get home.”
“Okay… okay… I should report him though.”
“That won’t help either. Sit here. I’ll be right back.”
When Mike stepped off the shuttle he could see a rail thin redhead talking animatedly at his assailant to no avail.
“The kid’s not even eighteen! You touch him and you’ll end up spending the next six months in jail, you moron! Get in the car so I can drive you home.”
“Lay off, Shelley…” Chuck swept by her, stumbling toward Mike. “I’m going to make this little shit say he’s sorry from his knees!”
“I apologized already, Sir.” Against all his will power, the thought of Demon doing an intervention on Chuck popped into Mike’s head, causing a smile to spread unbidden before Mike could turn away.
Chuck’s voice lowered to a threatening growl as he perceived a slight. “What you smilin’ about? Get on your knees before I…”
Mike held up both his hands in placating manner wondering if he’d ever get out of the parking lot in anything other than a police cruiser. “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, Sir.”
“Get… on… your… knees!” Chuck accented each word with a stubby finger poke into Mike’s chest.
Mike looked to Chuck’s wife, hoping she could intercede before his encounter escalated beyond the threat stage. What he saw was amused indifference mixed with what appeared to be excitement. Oh boy. It was then Chuck launched his sucker punch. Mike slipped the drunken attempt easily, catching Chuck’s arm in his hands. He allowed the man’s momentum to cause Chuck to lurch by while Mike kept his grip on Chuck’s arm. With a quick side kick to Chuck’s exposed right Achilles tendon the incident ended with a scream of pain followed by Chuck’s collapse to the parking lot surface. Shelley ran over with appropriate cries of sympathy which she turned quickly into a string of expletives directed at Mike. Gail swept past Mike and into Shelley’s face in an instant.
Gail held up her cell-phone. “You better get in your car right now or I will have the cops here in fifteen minutes!”
Something in Gail’s demeanor shut off Shelley’s diatribe in an instant. She gestured at Chuck who was rocking on the ground while cradling his right ankle. “Will you help me get him in the car. Can he walk?”
“I bruised his Achilles.” Mike grabbed Chuck’s right arm, pulling it away from where it had been locked on Chuck’s tendon area. “C’mon, Chuck. You’ll be okay in a few minutes. Walking on it will help.”
The ease in which Mike drew Chuck’s large frame into a hobbling gait toward his car sobered the older man somewhat. Mike supported him but kept at the ready until Chuck was seated on the passenger side of his Buick. Chuck stared with a painful glare at the floor mat while massaging his leg. Shelley started the Buick with an overly angry twist of the key in the ignition, drawing the grinding sound of a starter still engaged after the engine fires. A moment later the Buick sped toward the Del Valle exit gate with the two teens watching it go, relief plain on their faces. Gail laughed in pleasant waves of infectious amusement, pointing a finger at Mike who simply enjoyed not having the worst of what he envisioned happen.
“I saw you from through the window. You… you smiled at him! Oh, Mike… his face lit up like a Christmas tree. What… what were you thinking?”
“I was thinking about how easily Demon could have fixed him without more than one warning growl. I needed my sidekick.”
Gail lost coherent speech for another minute at Mike’s admission, nodding her head in enjoyment.
Mike grinned, guiding Gail into the shuttle. “Actually… I’m probably his sidekick.”
* * *
“Where you been, Dempsey?” Stan asked as he and Jerry waited outside the shuttle.
“Mike tuned up some guy in the parking lot when he picked me up. I’m Gail by the way.” Gail held out her hand to Stan and then Jerry. “Whose Demps… oh, the old time boxer. I like it.”
“Damn, Stan, I knew we should have gone with him. He’s like a trouble magnet. All the excitement goes on in his plain of existence. All we ended up with was starting up the grills.”
“You guys didn’t miss anything. It was a slight misunderstanding, contrary to Gail’s description. The parents are cooking tonight, right?”
Jerry nodded his head, and gestured for Mike and Gail to follow him. “Yeah, some of the Dads took over the grills. I want to get a beer before we eat. Is Gail allowed to have one?”
“It’s okay with me.”
“A beer sounds great to me. I’m starving.” Gail lowered her voice. “I was going to say something later but a friend made some special brownies. I had one. If anybody else wants one, I’ve got a few extras in my pack.”
“Just our luck. Me and Jerry play football. They give us random drug screens. I thought I saw a little red in your eyes. Janis and Connie might take you up on your offer. They don’t like beer all that much. I can answer for Dempsey too. He won’t take one either.”
“Why, because of training?”
“Nope. His Dad reads him like a dog-eared comic book.”
“I don’t know if I’d take one anyway, but Stan’s right. My Dad’s like that guy in ‘Lie To Me’ on TV. The night after last Halloween’s Rave, my Dad broke my sister Joanie in about two minutes at the breakfast table while I was taking Jerry to get his car the next morning. He had the whole story waiting for me when I got back. I gave him my word I wouldn’t keep anything from him in the future. As he explained it, ‘I can’t help you or Joanie if I don’t know the truth’. Count me out on the brownies.”
Gail gripped Mike’s hand. “No problem. I love that ‘Lie To Me’ show.”
At the campsite Mike introduced Gail to everyone before the older teens split off from the parent chaperones and their younger charges. Janis and Connie gratefully accepted Gail’s offer while Jerry and Stan sat down with beers in hand, giving one over to Gail when she sat down with Janis and Connie. Mike grabbed a soda after glancing around the immediate area.
“Before you ask,” Connie volunteered, “Joanie and Brad went for a walk. Demon slinked off after them a minute later.”
Mike sat down. “Thanks, Connie. I figured the Demon was on duty. Joanie’s one of the originators of this Friday the 13th party so she better figure on being around to keep things going.”
“Anyone up for a swim later?”
“You don’t know the story about the teen that died right out there by the pier?” Stan pointed in the general direction. Darkness ate away at the fading light, leaving only less apparent outlines where the lakeshore began.
Gail laughed. “I know that old ghost story. The teen latches onto startled swimmers in the water, right? I think I’ll put it to the test later tonight. How about it, Dempsey, want to go ghostbustin’ with me?”
Mike hesitated.
“We don’t play that, Gail,” Janis replied for Mike. She related their first get together as a group to Gail with the others filling in small details. Gail listened intently, peeking over at Mike during the story telling.
Gail waited for a moment when Janis finished the story, expecting the teens to start laughing. When they sipped their drinks quietly Gail broke the silence. “Wow. I don’t know what to say. That’s the only first person witness ghost story I’ve ever heard. I’m still taking a dip later but I can understand why the rest of you don’t want to. Is Laura the one away at college you mentioned?”
“Yes. Laura was at the Rave last year too. I’ll go out on the dock and sit with you. It doesn’t feel like the temperature’s dropping the way it usually does.”
One of the parents called out that the hot dogs and hamburgers were ready. Two folding tables set up near the grills displayed all manner of condiments, chips, dip, and side dishes brought from home. Mike noticed Joanie and Brad grabbing plates for food after everyone else had already served themselves. Demon plopped down on the spread blanket a moment later, eyeing Mike with apparent expectation. Mike put the extra plate he had carried over down in front of the dog with two hotdogs and a hamburger on it. Demon wasted little time devouring every morsel before licking the plate completely clean.
Stan reached over and patted Demon’s head. “I don’t think you even tasted those, D. You inhaled them. Did you have to give Bradley a little attitude adjustment?”
“Grumpf.” Demon shook his head slightly, eliciting a gasp from Gail.
“Oh my God this dog is so dope!” Gail dropped down next to Demon, sharing the food still left on her plate.
“He’d light up your life if he ever goes DEFCON on something in front of you,” Janis said. “We still don’t know where he came from… probably outer space… or a dimensional rift. Man… that brownie is soooooooo… good. I’m going to have to go all ‘Jenny Craig’ for the next six months after I scarf another plate down.”
“Go swimming with me after the fireside Freddy Kruger hour.”
“Not me, girl. I’m a believer. Stan and Jerry like to tug on Superman’s cape. They’ll go.”
Jerry waved her off with a flourish. “I don’t think so. We’ve been to the pit and back. No way we’re sightseeing some Casper’s personal underwater crib.”
They finished eating in quiet ease. Connie giggled every few seconds until Janis smacked her lightly on the forehead.
“You shoulda’ had a V8, lightweight. If you think I’ll listen to you giggle all night, you’re cat lady crazy. Now get a grip or I’ll chuck yo’ bony butt in with the lake Casper.”
Connie rubbed her forehead plaintively, staring at Janis. “That’s not funny, Jan. They’re all gathering around the fire. Let’s get some chips and listen for awhile.”
Janis stood, giving Connie a hand up to her feet. “Okay… but no giggling. Anybody know if they have any gags planned? I hate it when some parent jumps out with a gorilla mask on.”
“We’re not in on the details, Jan,” Mike replied. “Don’t let Connie get into any extended conversations with the parentals, okay?”
“I won’t. Let’s stick together. I’m trippin’ too.”
The guys finished off their beers while Janis and Connie waited, giving them a kick every few seconds to hurry them up. Mike helped Gail to her feet before bending down to stroke Demon’s head.
“You hang back, D. Keep up with the Joanie/Brad connection if you see them head out on their own. I’ll bag a couple more hot dogs for you.”
“Arf!”
Gail leaned into Mike with her arm wrapped around his waist. “Is half the stuff I’ve heard tonight true?”
“All of it is except I don’t know for sure if Demon came through a dimensional rift or from outer space. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Gail giggled, pulling away from Mike and slapping his arm. “Hey, did you ever see that old Sci-Fi classic with Don Johnson when he was really young called ‘A Boy and His Dog’?”
Mike nodded his head, grinning over at Gail. “Yeah, I saw it. The girlfriend doesn’t fare too well at the end. We all watched it together when Stan brought over a copy. The girls did not like it at all. Laura was with us then. Janis and Connie enjoyed warning Laura about getting eaten by me and Demon. Are you worried about getting eaten?”
“Let me get back to you on that.” Gail moved in close to Mike again. “Do you miss her?”
“Since we’re just getting to know each other could we leave Laura out of it?”
“Works for me. How do you like me so far?”
“Just fine. Were you nervous about tonight?”
Gail sighed. “You mean because I did a brownie? I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t anticipate that parking lot throw down though.”
“I might as well let you know now - I’m one of the tin foil hat paranoids when it comes to expecting the worst.”
“Good to know. Maybe I can change that. Are you going to intro me to your sister?”
“Heading that way right now.” Mike led Gail over to where Brad and Joanie were standing by a table, picking at the food they’d gathered. Once the pleasantries had been exchanged Mike and Gail walked away toward the campfire where Stan and Jerry were diligently keeping Connie and Janis in the background.
“Did you notice how Brad reacted to me?”
“Thanks for that, Gail. Joanie noticed too. The player can’t help himself. You outed him better than I ever could. Demon might have an easy night of it after all.”
“I was just being my irresistible self. I figured by the way your friends were kidding you about it Joanie thought she was golden in Brad’s eyes and the rest of you knew better. You don’t seem to be under my spell yet though, Dempsey.”
“I think you’ve underestimated your powers. Besides, since you did take a magic brownie I have to wonder whether that’s the source of the attraction for me. I did admit to being a paranoid, right?”
Gail grabbed Mike by the throat, shaking him with comic exaggeration. “Magic brownies make chili dogs more attractive… not people.”
“My bad, Princess.”
“Get him, Gail,” Stan urged. “Dempsey’s out of control. He needs an attitude adjustment. Quit grab assin’ and get over here. The first story teller is on tap.”
The next couple of hours were highlighted with urban legends both old and new. Surroundings played a big part as the darkness away from the main campgrounds and flickering campfire light enhanced each tale no matter how silly or old hat. A costume attired Jason leaped into the firelight to appropriate screams along with a later appearance by ‘The Hook’. As the storytelling wound down, Mike noticed Brad and Joanie were no longer standing where they had been. He glanced quickly back at their campsite where Mike had left a small battery operated lantern to indicate where their site was and grinned as he could see Demon was no longer on the blanket. One of the teens stood in as a DJ, taking music requests on a portable sound system.
“I’m going swimming before it gets any colder.” Gail tugged on Mike’s arm. “Come with me.”
“Didn’t you get enough time in the water today?”
“Hardly any. I want to take on the lake legend. C’mon, Mike, the brownie wore off an hour ago. Don’t you want to find out if I’m still attracted to you now?”
The thought of their first kiss in the parking lot rattled back into Mike’s mind with a vengeance. He could nearly feel her hand running over his thigh and the tingling urgency Gail provoked in him when the simple kiss had evolved into passion. Mike framed Gail’s face with his hands.
“I don’t need to be convinced by a swim in the darkness.”
Gail moved against him. “Hummmmm… someone could use a cooling dip I think. Whose being forward now, Dempsey?”
“Fine. You got me. I’ll go, but don’t get too crazy in the water.”
Gail pulled Mike by the hand toward the pier in the distance. “Define crazy.”
* * *
Brad’s left hand moved down over Joanie’s hip, his body pressing against her on the towel he had brought for them to sit on – supposedly to star gaze from. They were halfway along a path between the teens’ site and the boy-scout encampment. Darkness and dense foliage hid them from sight. A confusing jumble of new emotions streaked through Joanie, her anger at Brad’s reaction to Mike’s date fading quickly, an awakening heat flowing wherever Brad touched her. She pushed at him weakly, mumbling no but unwilling to force him away.
Joanie felt Brad’s hand move inward from her hip, startling her. Guilt at wanting more and distrust of Brad’s actual feelings for her resulted in a firm push away. “I said no, Brad.”
“C’mon, Joanie. Don’t be like that.” Brad again returned to stroking his hand down along Joanie’s side to her thigh and back again. “You know how much I care for you, baby.”
Confusion more than belief allowed Brad to move back over Joanie, lips and tongue working in fevered unison with his hands. Joanie gasped, her body betraying an attraction she had never experienced before. The thought of her Dad suddenly standing near them jolted Joanie into a near panic as Brad had deftly undone the clasp on her shorts. Joanie began struggling.
“Hold still, I…” it was then Brad felt a wet pointed vice clamping down on his roving hand. He tried to pull it away to no avail and looked into the glowing eyes of Demon. The low rumbling growl vibrating against the skin of his hand shocked the young man into frozen terror. “Jo…Joanie?”
Joanie squirmed out from under Brad, fixing her clothes hurriedly. She knelt down next to Demon, her hand stroking his head. “Let him go, D. He didn’t mean me any harm. I’m okay now.”
Demon released Brad’s hand, sitting and placing a paw on Joanie’s knee. For his part, the moment Demon let go, Brad had shot up off the towel as if launched on a rocket. He rubbed his hand, anger rapidly replacing fear.
* * *
“This water’s freezing!”
“Swim Mike, you big baby.” Gail laughed. She used an easy breast stroke to glide out further into the water while keeping her head up to instruct the reluctant Mike. “You’ll warm up if you keep moving. Now where’s the ghost?”
“I don’t know.” Mike caught up to Gail, pacing along beside her. “It’s not nice to taunt them you know.”
“Boy… you got it bad.” Gail began clucking like a chicken. “Watch this Chicken Little.”
Gail dove underwater. Mike swam in small circles, mentally counting the seconds, his heart racing not from swimming exertion, but from vivid memories of past experiences. He could hear the music and laughter from the teen camp. It sounded far away when compared to the silence in the dark water. Gail’s head popped up after nearly a minute. A gasping forlorn cry burst from her lips before she plunged out of sight again. Mike dove. To his credit, Mike’s dive took him directly to Gail in the jet black water. She momentarily flailed against him as he dragged her to the surface. They broke the water together with Mike tugging Gail toward the distant pier.
“Wait! Mike… stop, damn it! I was just playin’.”
Mike twisted in the water, rage and relief battling across his features. “That’s not funny… ever! You’re a friggin’ lifeguard. You know better than to pull something like that!”
“Calm down, will you?” Gail seemed genuinely surprised at Mike’s reaction. “It… it was just a joke.”
“I’m going in.” Mike swam toward the pier. He almost missed hearing Gail’s scream. Turning around to vent his anger, Mike saw Gail’s panicked hands just before they disappeared below the surface. An eerie yellowish glow marked the spot where she went under. “Oh… shit.”
* * *
“You little bitch! You… you brought the damn dog!”
“Don’t call me that. I don’t like it. He watches out for me.” Brad’s words and vehemence cooled the fever in Joanie as if she had plunged into an ice water bath. “Demon didn’t hurt you. He just held you.”
“We’re through, bitch! I don’t need this crap from some little tease. You came onto me, bitch! Remember that!”
Joanie stood up, fists knotted at her sides. “Go away, Brad, before I do something I’ll regret.”
Brad glanced down at Demon, who panted happily next to Joanie, his eyes never wavering from her face. Disdain stupidly flowed over Brad in a rush. “What the hell you gonna do, bitch? I ought to kick your dog’s teeth down its throat. Maybe then I’ll…”
“Demon!” Joanie cut him off. “Please escort Brad part way back to camp please.”
“What…” Brad was again cut off. Demon barreled into Brad, sweeping him yelping to the ground where the dog immediately set about herding the scrambling Brad toward camp with a combination of teeth, snarls, and yanks.
Nearly halfway to camp Demon broke off from his mission, watching the young man lurch to his feet and run for the music and campfire light. Demon padded back to Joanie, waiting for her to fold the towel before prancing along on point in order to guide his charge along the darkened path. As they reached the outskirts of tents and campfire, Joanie saw Demon tense. He then streaked toward the water. Joanie ran after him. Demon raced out onto the pier and dived into the water. Joanie stopped where she saw Demon leap and began screaming for help.
* * *
Mike stroked out to where the glow reached the surface and dove again. Beneath the water’s surface hellish light illuminated the murky water. In an instant he saw Gail’s arms grabbing helplessly at the water above, her face a mask of twisted horror. He grabbed hold of her hands as Gail mouthed his name in silent agony. Mike pulled, his feet and legs stroking powerfully. He purposely avoided the smiling haunt he had seen dragging at Gail’s legs. Mike felt a give as the popping in his ears lessened, only to have the ghastly face weave up next to his. Jerking Gail backwards, Mike witnessed the drowned teen’s likeness transform into something from the seventh level of hell. Elongated hollow eyed death skull with snapping fangs, floating over disembodied talons, reached out for him in cold fury. Mike twisted Gail behind him just before another set of fangs ripped into the monstrous apparition’s skeletal neck, tearing until the thing disintegrated within Demon’s slashing jaws. The glow faded and Mike broke the surface. Cries and flashlight beams washed over him as he hauled the choking Gail to the pier with Demon paddling next to them. A myriad of hands reached down to help Mike pass Gail up onto the pier.
Stan’s face bent down toward him. “You okay, Mikey? What the hell was that glow in the water?”
“The trouble magnet… working once again.” Before Mike could get up on the crowded pier, Demon had already raced toward shore and then up around onto the pier again. Stan and Jerry gave Mike a hand up and threw a towel around his shoulders. Demon sat down next to him.
Mike looked at Demon with more than the usual awe. “How’d you know, D?”
“Arf!” Demon answered with his usual one syllable confidence.
“Yeah, okay… I get it.” Mike hugged his paranormal dog. He looked up at Joanie and his friends. The other teens and parents were escorting Gail back to the campfire. “Where’d all of you come from?”
“I ran after Demon,” Joanie answered.
“Then she started wailing like a banshee,” Stan added.
“And here we are,” Janis finished, snapping her fingers. “Another damn night of ghost huntin’. I never thought I’d say this… but I need a beer. I think Demon ought to join me.”
“Arf!” Demon agreed.