Thin and straight-backed in black silk pajamas, Dinoli walked out barefoot from under the Japanese cherry trees on his front lawn. He stopped me short with a down-waving hand, silhouetted in headlights,as I pulled up into his driveway.
Cesar stooped to look inside the Saab, and his bony, acne-eaten face got a sour look. “Who’s this other dog?”
“It is a long story.” As Dinoli opened the passenger door for Shaka, I said, “Don’t set Shaka loose yet. Something’s gone wrong.” I got out and shut my door. “I think he may be infected.”
His hooded gray hawk’s eyes appeared above the Saab’s roof, acquiring me, predatory and aloof.
A sideways jerk of Dinoli’s head sent me inside his white-columned, red brick, five-million-dollar Colonial home.
Daring me to say it again, his bass voice rumbled, “In-fected?”
I didn’t answer. Walking silently behind me, Cesar cradled the cage of whimpering, clawing Shaka.
My tassel loafers went tap-tapping across the parquetry of a grand foyer rising three stories up into the shadows over a down-sweeping grand staircase. All these shadows were darker, richer shadows because they were thrown by money.
“This cage isn’t clean. You can smell this cage.” Dinoli’s voice changed timber, became almost petulant. “Gavin, listen to him. I’m taking off the muzzle.”
“Patience, Cesar, for the love of God. Hear me out, first.”
“This better involve a UFO.”
We went into Dinoli’s den. I bypassed the couches and the pool table and baggy old leather arm chairs and followed my father-in-law over to his desk. Cesar enshrined Shaka’s cage in mid-desk.
“I say it respectfully, Cesar. You were mistaken. The Bowlers, even off Our Block, walked tall.”
“But everything’s changed, Cesar, and now a victory and great glory and publicity – Cesar, listen to me – publicity money cannot buy will be ours, but only if we act tonight.”
Cesar frowned. “I’m losing the thread.”
He stood in front of framed photos of a darker-haired Dinoli shaking hands with three ex-Presidents and an elderly Frank Sinatra. We both endured Shaka’s scratching and whining.
“Cesar,” I raised my voice,” the Bowlers ran into a buzz saw.”
I had built my story up to the point where Blondie and the Arabs cut off American heads and praised Allah. Dinoli lifted one hand, and I stopped talking so fast my teeth clicked together.
“Enough, please,” Dinoli turned over his other hand on the blotter and showed an empty palm as if it were
the ace of spades. “What matters’s Shaka’s home.”
I felt the dull shock you get climbing upstairs in the dark when your foot comes down on a last step that isn’t there.
“Cesar, are you listening to me? They speak Arabic – even Blondie. After the hot shots, the Arabs handle the dogs completely differently – fearfully. Even muzzled dogs upset everybody. That’s why Blondie gave away the cages.”
“You said they said the shots were vaccines.” Dinoli looked away from me and down at the cage where Shaka pleaded and pleaded to be let out. “The dogs-for-China business, that makes sense.”
“No, it doesn’t. Look, I appreciate you want proof. The schnauzer and Shaka must be tested. Doc‘s report is due any second now. He’s shadowing their two trucks until the state troopers catch up. Cesar, we stand on the brink of striking a great blow against America’s enemies.”
Not listening, Dinoli stood there, gaunt in black silk pajamas, one hand resting on Shaka’s cage, trying to comfort the little dog.
“Cesar, ask yourself, what does a terrorist do with five hundred infected dogs? You truck the canines downtown tomorrow at lunchtime and let mad dogs loose on White House tourists.”
Dinoli shook his head every so slightly.
“You think I’m making this up? I tell you, these people are Islamic terrorists with a blond beard.”
Dinoli sniffed and looked away. “You’re unfairly singling out Islamic people.”
I could not believe my ears. “Terrorism is a fact. We are at war.”