THE HUNTING CLUB membership was gathered one morning around the large corner booth in Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Cafe when Henry Winstead reached the glass doors with what appeared to be a large box full of shifting weights.
He worried the doors open and slipped inside.
Henry gave us a nod and wide grin as he crossed to a table in the center of the cafe. Setting the box down, he waved at us, Scott Arney, our local vet, and Morgan Tomlinson, the Baptist preacher.
Doreen came around the counter to hug Henry’s neck. We hadn’t seen him in months. “Whatcha got in there?”
“Christmas presents. Who wants one?”
Hands went up around the cafe as Henry opened the box. Tiny black heads popped up when he removed the lid, and eight black Lab puppies struggled to get out.
Doreen usually squealed whenever a live animal came into the cafe, and that often included individuals such as Delbert P. Axelrod, a man with the intelligence quotient of a slug. This time, though, she squealed in delight and picked up one of the pups.
Trixie the waitress, who is…splendid, hurried across the room and hugged a fat, wiggling puppy to her chest as it tried to lick her face.
We envied the puppy.
She held the pup to her nose and breathed deeply. “She’s so keyuuuttteee! Puppy breath!”
Club members inhaled as one, some recalling how puppies smelled, others watching her face.
Henry held one up. “Who wants a free puppy?”
“There ain’t no such thing,” Wrong Willie said, joining the crowd and lifting out a pup. “They all come with hidden costs.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Henry agreed. “That’s why I’m here. I was on the way to Scott’s office to get them vaccinated, but when I saw his truck in the parking lot, I figured I’d stop by.”
Willie put the inquisitive puppy on the floor, where it immediately made a puddle.
“Get that up,” Doreen ordered. “People eat in here.”
“Not off the floor.”
She glared at Doc. “There’s something called the Health Department that drops in from time to time.”
“Couldn’t tell it,” he mumbled.
“What was that?”
Scott finished his breakfast and joined the growing crowd at the center table. “Y’all drop ‘em back in the box here. Henry, I can’t vaccinate them here for this kind of house call, but I’ll give ‘em a look right now and that’ll speed things up when we get to the office.”
While Willie mopped up the puddle, the customers dropped the puppies back into the large box where they joined their wriggling brothers and sisters. The eight black puppies were carbon copies of each other, and the only way I could have told them apart was by rolling them over for a brief examination of their nether regions.
Scott selected a pup and poked and prodded for a moment, then paused. “This isn’t going to work. The minute I put it back in the box, he’ll get mixed up with the others. For all I know, I’ll check the same one two or three times. Why don’t we do this at the office?”
Preacher Tomlinson stepped forward with a glass of water in his hand. “Let me help.” He dipped his fingertips in the water and wet the puppy’s head. “There you go.”
Scott grinned. “I could use you at the office. All right, let’s get to it.”
As he finished examining each Lab puppy, Morgan wet the little head and put it back into the box. They were halfway through when a female customer I’d never seen tugged at my arm.
“Excuse me, can you tell me something?”
“Does it cost more to have the puppies baptized?”
I shrugged. “You’ll have to ask the Dream Team there. I’m just an observer of Life.”
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]