DAVE & STRANGER
by E.S. Rodriguez
The call came in the blackness of the winter morning. I
glanced at the red numbers flashing 3:12 AM, ran a hand
over my face and answered with a tight-lipped, “Yes.”

“It’s me, Dad. Annie. I saw Dave in Reno. He was in one of
those alleys behind the casinos.”

“Did you talk to him?” My feet slapped onto the hardwood
floor.

Sharon stirred across the bed from me. “What’s going on,
Rich?” she asked, rubbing her eyes and brushing thick,
chestnut hair from her face.

I raised the receiver. “It’s Annie. She saw Dave in Reno.” I
returned to Annie. “Hold on. Let me put Mom on the other
phone.”

Sharon hurried to the next room and came on the line. “I’m
here now, Annie. Tell me about it. How is he?”

“He looked bad, Mom. His clothes were torn and his hair was
matted and long.” Annie sniffed. “Mom, what are we going to
do?”

“Did you talk to him?” I asked again.

“We just got home, Dad. Ray is putting the kids to bed.”

“I didn’t ask that. I asked if you’d talked to him. Did you?”

Her voice became quiet once more. “Ray couldn’t find a place
to pull over. By the time we got back, he was gone.”

Sharon had complained more than once that I treated our
kids like small children.

“You go rest now, Annie.” Sharon’s voice was soothing. “Call
me in the morning. Your Dad and I will figure out what to do.”

I was still holding the receiver to my ear when I heard the
sound of both women hanging up. My hand was placing the
phone back in the cradle when Sharon returned.

“Annie did the best she could. Stop acting like an ass. She
and Ray aren’t stupid.” She poked a finger at me. “Give them
some credit? If they had talked to him, they would’ve let you
know. You’re going to have to find him.”

“How do you expect me to do that? Or am I supposed to use
magic?”

“I don’t need your sarcasm. What I do need is that you to go
to Reno and bring him back. I don’t care how you do it.”

“I can’t—”

“Don’t tell me that you can’t. You’re a cop. You’ve spent
twenty years helping everybody else. Now it’s our turn.
Damn you, Rich, we should have been looking for him all
along.”

“He has to fix himself. It’s not something we can do for him.”
It was my recurring response whenever she tried to convince
me to help him. I had seen enough helpful families of addicts
compounding and intensifying the problem. It rarely came
out well.

“You have to go there and find him.” It was an edict.

“You’re asking the impossible.” I knew the objection was
useless even as I said it. Nothing I might say would change
what she expected.

In the past, I’d been able to show her the futility of
searching for him, but now she was demanding that I find
him. A demand I knew I wouldn’t be able to set aside.

Sharon didn’t speak. She sat on the bed watching me with a
cold, unsmiling mask. I dressed and packed a backpack with
a few extra clothes and other odds and ends.

“I’ll call with the name and number of where I’m staying
when I get to Reno.”

She wiped her eyes with a tissue, nodded and clenched her
jaw as I bent to kiss her. She was hurting, but, as always, I
didn’t know what to say

* * *

On the drive out of Chico, my thoughts were of Dave. When
he was a small boy, before I became a cop, we were
inseparable. I took him everywhere. At five, I taught him to
fish. On his sixth birthday, we rescued two dogs from the
local shelter. One for him and one for me.

When Annie was born, her huge brown eyes captured my
soul. Having Sharon and the children in my life made me
want to live forever.

I joined the department and, slowly, I accepted that
wariness was necessary. I learned to be vigilant. To watch
out for the children and Sharon. I needed to make sure they
remained safe. Even though they failed to understand the
reasons for my caution.

I arrived in Reno before daybreak. After checking into a
motel on Keystone north of downtown, I called home. “I’m at
a motel called the Driftaway. I’ll be here for a couple of hours
catching a little sleep. I’ll go looking for him when I wake
up.”

“Ray called to ask if you’d like him to go there and meet you.
He wants to help.”

“What’s an accountant going to do? For Christ’s sake, just
tell him to stay home. I don’t have time to babysit him and
hunt for Dave, too.”

“Stop acting like an idiot. He wants to help. What’s so bad
about that?”

“I don’t need him.”

“Did you go to the police department and ask for help?”

“No. There are hundreds of these men wandering around
town. The police don’t have the resources to help me search.
They can’t do anything.”

“If you tell them you’re a cop, they might.”

“No, Sharon, they won’t. Besides, I don’t want them knowing
my business. This is private. It should be between you and
me. No one else.”

Sharon paused. A long, silent pause. And then, “This isn’t
the time to worry about your pride, damn it. Bring him
home.”

“I’ll do all I can,” I said into an empty phone.

I woke at ten-thirty and searched the area west of Virginia
Street to Keystone. Everywhere I looked I saw groups of the
dispossessed, from teens to seniors. Most were leaning
against railings or walls, or sitting on their haunches, passing
a bottle or a joint between them, watching their present pass
into the future.

* * *

Dave joined the Air Force right out of high school. He had the
grades, even an athletic scholarship, but he decided to
bypass college and go out on his own. Even though I thought
postponing his education was foolish, I felt military discipline
might do him some good. That was my mistake. I knew he
had experimented with pot, but now he was out of my reach,
and in a different world. One I wouldn’t be able to control.

It was four in the afternoon when I realized I was dog tired
and hadn’t eaten since the night before. I returned to the
motel and called Sharon.

“Where is he?” she asked without waiting for me to speak.

“I haven’t found him yet. I’m going to grab something to
eat, get a few hours sleep and then go out again.”

“Did you go to the police department?”

She was back to that. “No, I didn’t. I told you I’m not doing
that. Why should I bother them? They’re going to tell me
‘There’s nothing we can do’ or something like that.”

“Please talk to them, Rich. I know it’s hard for you, but we
need all the help we can get.”

Dave’s disappearance had magnified problems in our
marriage. Old, minor rifts were growing into chasms. Sharon
had become silent. When he was twelve, Dave’s dog died
while I was working. He was heart-broken. Sharon called to
let me know and ask me to come straight home after my
shift. I told her I couldn’t because I was busy. He’ll get over
it, I told her. She didn’t respond. She just hung up the
phone.

After Dave left, the second dog died. I donated the
doghouse, brushes, leads and whatever to the local animal
shelter. I was never going to have another animal. They were
always underfoot. In my mind, friends and family became
almost non-existent. Sharon and I stopped enjoying each
other’s company and spent most of our waking hours apart.

“Leave me alone, Sharon. I’ll figure out a way to find him. I’ll
call you later.” I hung up, shucked my clothes, and took a
hot shower. I went to bed without eating.

* * *

The alarm crashed through some disappearing dream and
forced me awake at two. One good thing about Reno: there’s
always a place open to grab a bite, even in the middle of the
night. I dressed and found a coffee shop in a casino on
Virginia Street. A busboy in his mid-forties, with slicked back
short, brown hair I guessed had been straightened with a
hairnet came from the kitchen and glanced at me. He wore a
well-trimmed mustache, a ‘brush’ as the boys in the joint
termed it. He began wiping tables, head down and eyes
focused on his task. Even though the coffee shop wasn’t
crowded, he was working hard cleaning tables with a spray
bottle and cloth rag. His actions were quick, efficient, and
thorough. Men in the joint learn to bury themselves in their
work. A cop can always spot a con.

When he got to my booth, I stopped him. “Excuse me. Can I
ask you something?”

He looked at me with the same recognition, a con making a
cop. “I not supposed to talk to the customers, officer.” He
turned back to his task with his head down, and his eyes
averted.

“I just need a little help. I’m looking for a guy named Dave.
Used to drum for a lot of the house bands around town.
Mainly blues-rock. I need to get a message to him.”

“I told you, sir, I don’t know anything.” He continued with
his head down and his eyes glued to his task. He was
hurrying so he could move away.

“I need to give him a message from his family. He’s not in
any trouble.” I was rushing my words now, my voice a bit
louder. “He’s a bit over six foot and has dark brown hair. He’s
thirty years old and uses meth. His family’s worried, so they
asked me to find him.”

The blank face changed. The man’s features softened, he
pursed his lips and blew out a breath. “He’s your kid, right?”

I almost lied. “N . . .” I hesitated a moment, then began
again, “Yeah. We’re worried about him. We haven’t heard
from him for three years, then my daughter saw him here
the day before yesterday. She was in her car and wasn’t able
to talk to him.”

He studied me before answering, “Look, sir, I don’t know
him, and I don’t see what I can do.”

“I really need help.”

He finally looked at me. “Officer, I don’t want to get involved.
I just want to stay straight and get on with my life. Besides,
I wouldn’t know who I could ask about him. This is a big
town.”

“It would be easier for you to ask certain people. They’d
always make me as a cop. What about your family? What if it
was them looking for you? I’ll pay you.”

He paused, his lips pursed, his eyes squinting before he
answered. “My family gave up on me when I was a kid.” He
paused again, staring at me, and then answered. “I’ll do
what I can. I don’t need money.”

I wrote my name and cell phone number on a napkin and
handed it to him while I showed him an old picture of Dave.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you, but if you have to put
out any cash on this, I’ll cover it.”

“I don’t think I’ll spend anything. My name’s Mike. Mike
Wallis. If you need me, I’m always here during graveyard
shift.”

* * *

I started my search once more. It felt as though I was trying
to swim in a cast iron suit. My feeling of impotence was
growing. Except for the encounter with Mike Wallis,
everything seemed pointless. The search had become
fatiguing, frustrating, and fruitless. At seven, I went back to
the motel.

Sharon was right. At least, if Ray had joined me, he would’ve
been an extra set of eyes. It had been over eight years since
Ray married Annie and yet, I still couldn’t be close to him.
Something had to give, and it would have to be me. I simply
couldn’t do this on my own. If I let the local cops in on my
search, I was sure they would, at least, offer some good
advice. After all, it was their city.

In my room, I called Sharon. She answered on the first ring.
“Have you found him?”

“Why is it you answer the phone with a question without
even asking how I am or just saying ‘Hi’?” I was tired, and I
felt as if I was on everyone’s dump list.

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself. I’m sorry if I can’t be more
supportive, but all I want is to find my son.”

“Sharon, he’s our son. Not yours. Not mine. Ours.”

She began crying. That was something she didn’t do easily.
“I’m sorry, Rich.” Her voice became quiet. “Since Annie told
us she saw him, all I can think about is how he’s doing. Is he
alive or dead? Is he hurt?” Her voice steadied, “I shouldn’t
take it out on you. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

“No, don’t be sorry. It’s just that I’m tired. I’m back at the
motel, and I’m going to rest for a while. I met someone at a
coffee shop this morning. He’s an ex-con, and I wound up
telling him our problem. He said he would ask around. He’s
going to call if he hears any news. For some reason, I believe
him.”

“Wait a minute.” Her voice rose, “You told someone you just
met your private business, as you call it, but you won’t go to
the police.” I could almost feel her fury as she spoke.

“You’re right. It’s just that it embarrasses me to let other
cops know about Dave. I agree with you. I decided this
morning to go to the PD. I’ll go after I get some sleep.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice softened, “I love you. Go rest and call
me when you can.”

Sharon hadn’t told me she loved me since we lost touch with
Dave.

* * *

I was beginning to recognize the incredible mistakes I had
made as my view of the world had hardened. I had become
rigid. And in my rigidity, I crushed the spirit of those people
I held the most dear.

I was beginning to understand how our dysfunction had
happened.

Dave, who was assigned to an air base in Seattle after boot
training, called home once a week, most often to speak to his
mother and sister. Then, after a year, he called with the news.

After hanging up, Sharon announced that Dave had met a
girl. “Her name is Rose, and he’s in love with her.”

“What the hell does a nineteen-year-old know about love?” I
shook my head as I spoke.

Dave and Rose were married two months later and stayed in
Seattle after his discharge. He enrolled at City University on
the G.I. bill at Rose’s prodding. Meanwhile, he played drums
with several local blues-rock bands on weekends for a little
extra money. The playing became partying. Booze and weed
became speed and heroin. Dave was lost. Rose threw him out
a few years later. That was five years ago.

* * *

I was up and back to my task by three in the afternoon. I
grabbed a burger and coke before going to the police
department. An officer sat at the front desk reading the
paper while listening to some country music station on a
radio beside him. He didn’t even turn the sound down when I
approached him.

I gave him my ID card, “Hi. I was wondering if you could
help me locate someone?”

“Okay, Sarge, who is it and where do they live?” The officer
looked at me with a little interest.

“That’s just it. He’s homeless. He used to play drums with
house bands around town, but he hasn’t been around the
union office for quite a while. I’ve got an old picture of him if
it’ll help.”

“Is he a drug user?” he asked.

“Yes, he’s a meth head.”

“Well, you’ve dealt with enough of these dirtbags, sarge.
Who the hell knows how to find the one you’re looking for? If
he’s looking to score, most of the small-time dealers hang
around the downtown casinos. I would check there. Also,
they’re a lot of homeless over on the east side between
Sparks and us. Why do you need to find him? Is he wanted
for something in California?”

“No, I’m just doing the family a favor.”

“Well, you know what it’s like, sarge. We’re too damn busy to
look for some asshole just because he’s missing. There are
too many of them and too few of us. Sorry.”

“Unfortunately, this asshole is my son.”

He sat up, turned off the radio, and stood. “I’m sorry I called
him that, but it doesn’t change anything. We don’t have the
manpower. Believe me, I am sorry. I wish I could help. I’ll
tell you what, leave me your number and where you’re
staying, and I’ll spread the word to the patrol crews. If we
come across anything, we’ll call you.”

I left my number and the description of my car, said my
thanks, and left. I was feeling even more exhausted than
before I slept, and I hadn’t started yet. A cold wind kicked
up. I wondered if my windbreaker would be enough. I’d
worked plenty of surveillance operations under similar
conditions and with even less rest. This was different. This
was my son.

I worked the area on the east side the officer had mentioned,
between Reno and Sparks. He had been right. This was a
prime area for dealers and the dispossessed. It was getting
so dark I couldn’t see anyone on the street. Huge black
clouds rolled in and took over the sky. The thunderheads
over the Sierras were beginning to envelop the mountains.
The car radio announced the temperature was in single digits
now and a major blizzard, maybe a record-setter, would hit
sometime the next morning before nine. I shut the windows
because the cold was making my face stiffen. He’d been
gone for three years, but the thought of Dave out here under
these conditions was weighing on me.

I drove back to the coffee shop and asked for Mike. I
wondered if he had learned anything. That was important,
but just a somewhat friendly face would help me.

He came out of the kitchen, his ever-present table rag in his
hand, and walked to my booth.

“I was getting ready to call you. He’s been seen wandering
around West Fourth Street on the other side of McCarran. If
you haven’t been around that area, most of the ground is
rocky with brush and cottonwood trees growing down by the
river. It’s open country, so there aren’t many people around.”

He put his hand on my shoulder as if offering solace. It was
probably the first time he had ever touched a cop without
getting in trouble. It was certainly the first time a con had
ever put his hands on me without some strong reaction.

“Thanks, Mike. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what
you’ve done for me . . . us. Are you sure I can’t do anything
for you?”

“Don’t sweat it. Just find your kid.” There was a slight catch
in his voice as he spoke. With that, he began wiping tables
without looking back.

* * *

The frigid March wind blustered through Donner Pass, down
the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and down into Reno.
My car heater was making little headway against the freezing
cold. It had been three days since I began looking for Dave.
The freezing wind seeped through the loose window
insulation attacking the exposed skin of my face and hands.
My nose ached, my face felt punctured by countless needles,
and my hands had stiffened.

I stopped for coffee, hoping the hot liquid would keep my
hands warm. I was on Fourth Street just opening the car
door to walk to a coffee shop when my cell rang. A woman’s
voice began without prelude.

“Sergeant Ballmer, would you come over to the alley north of
Fifth just east of Virginia? It’s behind the Golden Shamrock.
We have a man down. We’d appreciate it if you could come
check him for us.”

“I beg your pardon.” My temper flared. “Who is this?”

“I’m sorry, sergeant. This is Officer Jablonsky from Reno PD.
My partner and I are at a dead person call. The body matches
the description you gave the desk officer.”

My throat tightened and the pit of my stomach cramped. “I’ll
be there as soon as I can. Thanks.”

I didn’t bother getting coffee. It took a little over five
minutes to get there. Two patrol officers, a tall woman with
her blonde hair in a bun and an even taller male officer were
standing beside their cruiser. I motioned to them as I parked
on the opposite side of the street.

As I stepped from the car, the cold bit through my
windbreaker and my hands started to ache. The weather was
bitter and almost unbearable.

The woman approached me. “Sarge, the body is in a doorway
on the other side of our car. He looks like he might have died
of exposure. He’s a close fit to the description you gave the
desk officer. He has no ID. Would you take a look for us?”

I walked with her to the other officer. “I’m Tredlow, sergeant.
Sorry about this but if you would check him, we’d appreciate
it.”

The body was lying in a fetal position. I couldn’t see much
from where I was standing. A dark, hooded sweatshirt hid
the face. He was built like Dave, tall and broad-shouldered,
curly, dark brown hair and those long muscular hands. The
sight brought back memories of Dave as a boy lying in his
bed with his hands clasped in front of him. In those days, I
would come home after an evening shift and stand over him,
watching in wonder. What in the world had gone wrong? I
should have been looking for him all this time. The thought
kept ringing in my mind. What if? What if?

“Is that him?” Tredlow asked.

“I can’t tell until I get a better look at his face.” As I looked
down at the fallen form, I realized that I was shivering. And
it was due to more than the cold. His build and coloring
looked like Dave. My God, what would I say to Sharon and
Annie? My breathing became shallow and labored.

Tredlow reached out and lightly held my elbow. “The coroner
has okayed us to move the body, so we can uncover the face
if you want a better look.”

With that, he stooped and pulled back the hood. Ice crystals
were forming at the opening of the body’s nostrils and the
corners of his closed eyes. His skin seemed almost delicate.

He had a soft, scraggly beard and his hair was dirty and
matted. His thin clothes were filthy. I pulled the long hair
back from his face and stared for what seemed a lifetime. A
loud, sputtering breath broke from my mouth, and my knees
wobbled. I staggered and reached out to the wall to steady
myself.

“Are you okay, sarge?” Tredlow’s voice was a whisper.

“Is it him?” Jablonsky was straightforward and professional.

I couldn’t answer at first. When I tried to speak, a hoarse
croak came from my lips. I clenched my mouth and tried
again.

“No, that’s not him. Thanks for calling me.”

I turned and left as quickly as I could. I couldn’t speak
further. I didn’t want them to see the tears in my eyes.

* * *

I returned to search the area Mike had suggested. After
hours driving back and forth, I was almost ready to call it
quits. I was eastbound on Fourth toward the rising sun, my
eyes flicking from one side of the road to the other, when I
saw him. He was walking out from behind an old abandoned
gas station above the river about a hundred yards ahead of
me.

It was a few minutes past seven in the morning. I opened
my window and used my small monocular to get a better
look. The freezing weather hit me. The icy cold stung my face
like the slap of a giant hand. It was difficult to focus the
telescope because my hands had stiffened so much. Dave,
his rail-thin body, covered by an old army overcoat wrapped
tightly around him, was leading a small red pit bull pup by a
hemp rope tied to the dog’s collar. The change in him was
stark. His eyes were sunken deep into his gaunt, unshaven
face. His dark, curly hair was a ragged nest. He rummaged
through a dumpster while the pup sat on its haunches and
watched. I was afraid that Dave would bolt if I drove into the
gas station, but there was no other choice.

I eased my car down the road and into the station. “Dave,” I
called to him in as calm a voice as I could manage. He
stepped away from the dumpster, grabbed the dog’s rope
leash, and walked to my car as I opened the door and
stepped out.

“Hi, Dad.” He didn’t blink or show any emotion. It was as if
we’d seen each other yesterday.

“Hi, Dave. How are you, son?”

“I’m doing okay.” He paused and stared at me with a slight
frown as he squatted and stroked the little dog. “What are
you doing in Reno?”

“Annie and Ray were visiting friends a few days ago.” I kept
my voice quiet and subdued. “When they started for home,
they saw you. They weren’t able to stop in time. They looked
but couldn’t find you, so they called Mom and me when they
got home.”

“Really. So, what did you do? Jump in your car to come see
me?”

“Well, almost. I came right after Annie called us. Your Mom
and I decided I should come find you. I left home in the
middle of the night, and I’ve been here searching for you for
three days.”

“What happens now?”

I wanted to cry. I had found him. Now, what?

“Where are you living?” I began again.

“I’ve got a campsite set up on a little ridge over by the river.
I’ve been there for about two months.”

“I’m staying at a motel close by. Would you like to come over
and take a shower? I don’t imagine you have much hot water
available.” My heart was breaking, but I needed to remain
calm as possible. I needed to talk him into coming home
with me.

“Can I bring him?” he asked as he pointed to the dog.

“I guess so. We can keep him at the motel while you and I
get breakfast.”

Dave picked up the pup with a gentleness I remembered
from his boyhood. He climbed into the passenger’s seat and
continued stroking his dog as we drove to the motel.

This was all so different from what I had imagined our first
meeting would be. I thought Dave would back away or bolt.
At the least, I expected him to be surprised by my presence.
Instead, he acted as if this was an everyday occurrence.

“How’s Mom? Is she okay?”

“She’ll be fine when I tell her I’ve found you. She never
stops worrying about you. It would be great if you would go
back with me. Spend a little time at home with her and your
sister. Just for a while so you can get your bearings. What do
you think?” I was pushing it, but after seeing that dead
youngster in the alley, I needed to do something.

Dave didn’t seem to react. He kept stroking the dog.

“He’s a good-looking little pup. When we finish, we can
figure out what to do with him. We can find a rescue shelter
that will take him.”

“No, Dad. I can’t just dump him. He’s my friend. The closest
friend I have.”

“You can’t be sure he isn’t sick. He might have something
wrong with him that needs medical attention.”

“Dad, you taught me how to take care of a dog. I’ve wormed
him. I’ve washed him and made sure he doesn’t have fleas
or anything. He's fine.”

“Okay, let’s talk about it later. What’s his name?”

“Stranger.”

“Stranger? Well, that’s different. How’d you come up with
that for a name?”

“I don’t know. We just kind of adopted each other. Two
strangers with problems finding each other, so it seemed
natural.”

At the motel, I pulled out some of the clothes he’d left at our
house when he’d left. He picked through what I’d brought.
He chose a T-shirt, jeans and some underwear and went into
the bathroom.

Stranger, bursting with energy, spent his time first sitting
and then running around the room at full speed, sliding into
walls and furniture. His tail slapped back and forth like a
runaway windshield wiper. He alternated between nipping at
me and jumping on my lap, then running about the room
again. Dave came out of the bathroom and I realized how
much he’d deteriorated since I last saw him. When he first
came to us after his divorce, he was six-foot-three and
weighed a well-muscled two hundred twenty pounds. Now,
his shoulders and elbows were bony points on an incredibly
thin body. I doubted he weighed even one hundred fifty
pounds.

“Why did you come looking for me, Dad? I was doing okay.”

I looked at him with wonder. How in the world could he
believe he was doing well? “Dave, you aren’t okay. You have
a lot of problems that need solving. Let’s go get breakfast.
We can talk when we get back.”

“I don’t mind going to eat, but I don’t want to talk anything
out right now. That okay?”

“Sure, Dave. Whatever you say.”

We broke up three sticks of jerky I had in my backpack, put
them on the bathroom floor beside a bowl of water and
locked Stranger inside the little room. The small diner next to
the motel was almost empty. A short, stout, older woman
with dyed red hair came to the table and scribbled our order
on her pad. Except for speaking to the woman, we both
remained silent until the food arrived.

The waitress brought Dave his scrambled eggs and bacon
and my oatmeal. Dave placed small bits of egg on his fork
and ate slowly. After each bite, he set the fork back on his
plate while he chewed. Dave picked up a sliver of bacon
between the tips of his thumb and forefinger. He nibbled on
it between bites of egg. He left the other piece of bacon and
the toast untouched.

“Tell me about your dog. How’d you get him?”

“I woke up one morning, and he was sitting beside me. I was
pretty sure he didn’t belong to anyone. He had been
wandering around with nobody caring whether he lived or
died. He followed me around for about a week. When I
scavenged for food, he did too. He didn’t seem to need
anything. Just to be near and belong to someone. He chose
me, so I chose him. We’ve been together for a few months,
now.”

When we finished eating, he put the second piece of bacon in
a bag the waitress had given him. “It’s for Stranger.”

When we returned to the room, Dave let the dog out of the
bathroom. He sat on the floor at the head of one bed. He
stroked Stranger, now and then breaking off a small piece of
the bacon strip and offering it the pup. When Stranger
finished eating, Dave rubbed the dog’s head with a soft,
gentle hand. The dog lay down beside Dave and rested his
head on Dave’s leg. He was asleep in a matter of seconds.

I began trying to convince Dave to come home. “Your mother
and your sister worry about you. Your habit is destroying
you, and none of us can stop thinking about you. I came
looking for you to see if we can help. We miss you, Dave. We
want you to get better. We’ll do anything to help you.”

“What about Stranger?” Dave looked at me, before turning
back to the pup.

“Stranger might be a problem. Neither your Mom and I nor
Annie and Ray have the time to take care of him and take
care of you as well. Come home with me. We’ll find a good
rehab program for you. One you think will help. We’ll find a
good home for your dog.”

“Can’t Stranger stay with you and Mom?”

“We’re going to be busy helping you. We’ll find a place where
people can get him into a good home. That way we can
concentrate on you and do what we can to help you.”

“You don’t understand, Dad. He and I belong together. You
can’t ask me to just forget about him. Give him away. The
way I feel, if he isn’t worth keeping, then neither am I.”
Dave watched me with a look I had never seen on him. “I
stopped using over two months ago. It’s been hard. I
stopped for a month. I couldn’t do it and fell off the wagon.
It took me almost a month before I tried again. You’ll never
believe this. I stopped because of Stranger. It was the first
time since Rose and I broke up that anyone depended on
me. I don’t know if I can stay sober, but I know I won’t be
able to do it without him.” As he finished, his eyes glistened.
“God, Dad, I’m so tired of this.” His voice was a pinched
whisper.

He looked away from me and placed his head in his hands.

He was in pain and I was still hesitating.
What the hell was
wrong with me?

My fingers reached out and touched his shoulder. I raised
and lowered my stiff hand onto the back of his shoulder
almost like burping a baby. Then memory kicked in, and my
palm rested on him while my fingers gently patted and
rubbed his back. It was awkward as if I was regaining
something, some humanness maybe, that I had lost
somewhere in my past. I stopped being a cop and began
being a father.

“Come home. We’ll bring Stranger with us. We—I love you,
son. We’ll find a good program for you. We can be home in
three hours.” I put my arms around him and held him close.
It was the first time I had hugged him since he was a boy.
Tears I didn’t know I could produce began spilling down my
cheeks.

“Okay, Dad.”

I didn’t answer him. I simply called Sharon, “I’ve found him.
He’s here at the motel with me, and he’s decided to come
home. He’s bringing his dog with him.”

“Let me talk to him, please,” she asked.

Dave took the phone and said a quick, “Hi, Mom.” He held it
to his ear and listened intently. He didn’t speak. He just
grunted a series of assents until he ended with, “Thanks,
Mom. I love you, too.”

I took the phone from his outstretched hand and said, “We’ll
be leaving soon. We should be home in two or three hours.”

Her soft voice stuttered. “Thank you, Rich.”
SEPTEMBER 2019