My daughter's chihuahua, André, looks more like a rat than a dog. Last Saturday she asked me to babysit him when she went out of town, and I only agreed because I'm a doting father and like to think chivalry isn't dead.
"But he's not sleeping with me," I told her.
"Oh, please, Daddy." she begged. "He'll be cold and lonely if he has to sleep alone."
"But he squirms around under the covers and I wake up thinking there's a rat in my bed."
"He can be your foot warmer. The weather report did say tonight would be chilly . . ."
Abby delivered André into my arms that evening, and after a dinner of Dog Chow and a roast beef sandwich, André and I settled into my easy chair to watch my favorite cable station. It runs the old Western TV shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza 24 hours a day. I love those old shows where there are clear-cut good guys and bad guys without any postmodern haziness, shows about times long past when possession was nine-tenths of the law and a man could defend his honor with a duel rather than sucking up to avoid getting sued. The good ol' days.
André and I lucked out with an episode of Bonanza about Little Joe. He's my favorite character because he reminds me of myself, not only because he's not big and buff but because, despite his good heart, he repeatedly gets into scrapes--beaten up or shot or abandoned by a woman, to name a few. André was apparently more used to fashion shows and other Abby favorites, so it wasn't long before he was snoring in my lap. I carried him to my bed, set him next to my pillow, and tucked him in. Later that night, when I got in next to him, he woke up and burrowed under the covers.
I must have drifted off pretty quickly.
I'm inside a saloon leaning against the bar, a full bottle of Scotch next to me. I hear a group of men at a poker table say that a small gang of outlaws recently killed a local farmer right in front of his daughter. Before I can take a swig of my Scotch, the saloon doors swing open and a guy, well over six feet, who looks like a burly John Wayne, walks in. Two little punks closer to my size walk behind him. It's obvious who they are. I look straight at them.
"I hear you killed a woman's father," I say. "That wasn't very gentlemanly of you."
"That ain't none of your business, now, is it?" the John Wayne look-alike says. He walks over to me and grabs my bottle of Scotch and then, raising it over his open mouth, empties the whole thing down his throat.
"There's no room for you in this gentlemen's town," I say, my confidence brimming, "so I think you'd better leave." I reach down and touch my holster. Where's my gun?
The big guy smirks and takes a swing at me, but I'm too fast for him. I duck and get into a boxing stance and give him two uppercuts in his sunburned chin, but that only makes him madder than hell. The smaller guys then pull my arms back, splaying my chest open, and the big guy pummels me over and over, chest, stomach, chin. I can't breathe, and the saloon starts to spin. Then I realize there's only one way out of this mess. I lean back, pull my legs up to my chest and with everything I've got I kick the big guy in the chest, sending him flying backwards. His head crashes into a light on the wall, shattering the glass, and he collapses onto the floor, dead. Then the saloon turns gray and hazy like it's filled with smoke. I hear a woman outside crying . . .maybe the one whose father was killed? I want to run outside and help her, but the men are still holding my arms . . . Wait a minute, what's this? . . . I sit up to find my arms tangled up in my blanket. I can hear André whining on the floor at the foot of the bed, his whimper a long thin note in the night. I free my arms and lean over the foot of the bed. I see the two tiny whites of his eyes in the darkness, and then I realize what I've done.