There were nine pups. Then four. Then three. Then, somehow, four again. Gay chose the only female and gave Junior $60 to hold Suzette. James, a nice young man who worked in the neighborhood, fell in love with the largest one and put down $50 for Jordan.
During the day, Junior held court in the park. An old man came each morning, chatting at Junior in Chinese. A batch of private-school boys dropped by every afternoon to hold the little blind babies. Yuppies and drunks gathered to peer into the basket. Animal Control paid a visit. “Everything’s wonderful,” Junior beamed, passing out the pooper-scoopers they had left. He joked about the next litter.
At night, Junior dragged the basket, the mom loping along beside, to whereever they would spend the night. Sometimes they stayed outdoors and sometimes they slept in an old truck that belonged to Hitler.
“Midnight’s really stressed,” Gay reported, when the puppies were about a week old. “She’s barking and running after everyone. I’m afraid she’s going to bite someone.”
And bite she did. First, a cable-car driver. The police came. Junior was arrested and released. The next day, another bite, another arrest. Midnight and the puppies were taken to the pound for a 10-day rabies observation. Junior cried.
Our goal became to keep the puppies nursing for six weeks until adoption, then maybe rescue Midnight, too. Junior was frantic. “I’ve got to get my dog back,” he cried. I couldn’t decide if I thought it was worth “sacrificing” the dog for the happiness of the man.
On the release day, Gay and I went alone to the pound, feeling guilty and sneaky. We’ll take them all, we said.
Then, to our astonishment, Junior arrived, claiming ownership. Legally, he was right. I snagged an animal control officer, who led us through an hour of tense negotiations. He got Junior to agree that all the dogs would come to the gallery. Junior could walk Midnight during the day, but she would continue to mother the puppies for three more weeks. After that they could go to their new homes. Midnight would still be Junior’s dog. He promised to have her spayed. We all felt better. “This is a real nice place,” Junior said. He took a copy of the Questionnaire for Volunteers. Gay paid the fees. We all left in her car.
The gallery turned into a kennel. A show for a famous photographer I’d worked years to organize now looked down on shreds of newspapers, puddles and Purina crumbs. My assistant, Myung-Mi, disappeared for hours to coddle the little brown runt. The neighboring architects hung out in our space to watch our roly-poly cutie-pies. Passing children and tourists peered through the windows. Clients still came, and while I was initially mortified, they were enamoured. “You can be forgiven a great deal for a litter of puppies,” a friend said. He was right.
Junior bought Gay a book on puppy care. Gay bought him a watch. He came every morning at 10 to take Midnight to the park. He brought newspapers and mopped, too. “These puddles are arranged like art,” he laughed, catching on to us. At night, Midnight curled up on a quilt. Junior walked back into the chill.
The little ones grew bigger and bolder. They learned to eat and drink from bowls. They came when called. Unlike a matched set of purebreds, this litter had brown, black, white and tri-colored. No two of our puppies were exactly alike.
March 3 was an opening for a new show. We decided the dogs would move to Gay’s house. They still had another week to nurse. Junior arrived at moving time, drunk. Midnight jumped happily into the car. “Come on,” Gay said to Junior. “You can see where they will be staying.” “No,” snarled Junior. “I’m sick of all this shit. I’m sick of you. Gimme all my dogs.”
“Hit me, if you want to,” said Gay, “but you’re not taking the puppies.”
“Gimme my goddamn dogs,” he shrieked. Hitler showed up with Crack, on a chain.
I called 911. “Are there guns?” the dispatcher asked. The responding police officer proved to be another excellent negotiator. Jordan and Suzette, already paid for, were set aside as out of contention. We had to hand over the white one as promised to Hitler. Myung-Mi helped me put together $50 to buy Brownie on the spot. Junior left with Midnight. It was over.