A Life Less Ordinary

by Highlander II and KB

Regular Cast:
Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney

Guest Stars:
Jamie Denton as Mr. Lyle
Leland Orser as Argyle
Kenneth Mars as Benny
Rena Riffel as Mona


Prologue

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

In response to the knock on her door, Miss Parker coughed and looked up from the latest security report she was filling out to see Sydney and Broots standing in her doorway.

“What?” she barked.

“Um, M…Miss Parker?”

“What is it, Broots?”

He stepped forward and dropped a sheet of paper on her desk. Picking it up, Miss Parker couldn’t help noticing the smile that was curling Sydney's lips. “Something amusing you, Pavlov?” Not expecting an answer, she looked down at the sheet of paper and groaned. “And why, in their infinite stupidity, are we being sent to the funeral of some guy in Receiving?”

She rolled her eyes and glared at Broots, who responded indignantly to her jibe. ”Bennie was a friend of mine!”

“And is he the one with no tongue, no toes or no…”

“No fingers. On one hand,” the technician admitted, eyeing at his own ten digits. “And missing some on the other.”

Miss Parker rolled her eyes before blowing her nose, then looked more carefully at the page before glancing at Sydney. “I can’t help thinking there’s more to this than meets the eye. They’d never pay for us just to go to a funeral.”

Sydney let the door shut behind him and spoke in a lowered voice. “The report I got suggested that one of the missing Blue Files might also be in the same location.”

“So why doesn’t Lyle have to don his best black suit and go? That’s his job, not mine. We don’t have an official finger in that pie.”

“Mr. Lyle’s on vacation.” Broots didn’t look as though the fact was upsetting him too much. “That’s why we’re being sent.”

“And to which wonderful corner of the world are we being sent?”

“Y…you should be happy, Miss Parker. We’re going to California.” She glared at him and he tried to justify his remarks. “You might be able to get rid of your cold.”

* * * * * * * * *

Los Angeles, California

Jarod’s Story

Sunny California on a beautiful Tuesday evening and I'm beginning to have very serious doubts about my sanity. Not only because I'm being chased down an alleyway by a woman in six-inch stilettos. If you ask me, that's more her problem than mine. It's more a case of what I was doing here in the first place. And what four-legged creature is running down the alley ahead of me...

It’ll probably come as no great surprise to find out that, yet again, Argyle is involved. I managed, somehow, to avoid seeing him last year. I guess it was really too much to hope that I could do the same thing this year. Still, there’s nothing wrong with hoping, right?

Wrong!

But, as usual, it's better to start at the beginning....


Act I

The Beginning was when I decided, for the first time, that maybe I deserved a bit of a vacation. Considering the things I've been through over the last couple of years, there are some who might say that it was overdue. Or maybe I'm just a workaholic. I guess it could seem strange to be taking a vacation in January, but since getting sunburned -- very badly sunburned -- in late October, my view of the seasons has been a little inverted, so I thought I’d try and head for some place warm, or warmer than where I’d been. Somewhere south-ish…

Anyway, I had managed to find myself a nice, sandy and, surprisingly warm and sunny spot on a strip of beach in California and was just about to relax when I felt something pawing at my arm. I lifted the sunglasses off my nose, glanced down, and saw something that made my blood curdle.

* * * * * * * * *

Dog’s Story

Argyle. Love him and hate him. I was relaxing this morning on the couch, enjoying my slumber. One can never have enough beauty rest. Well, as one might guess, Mr. Argyle decided that I needed to go for a walk. Alone. Now, I love to walk as much as the next dog, but this was utterly ridiculous. Los Angeles, California, and I'm traipsing around all on my lonesome. Hmpf. And, if it was not enough of an indignity that he sent me out alone, I was compelled to model this atrocity of a sweater. Whoever heard of such a thing -- clothing for dogs. We were created with coats of our own, we require no additional covering.

Sigh.

So, I obeyed the behest of my loving master and trotted along the boardwalk, searching the sandy beach for this Jarod person. Yes, yes, yes. I remember Jarod. And I remember he has helped us, Argyle and I, out of more than a few mishaps, but that does not mean that I was pleased with having to locate him.

Ah, I have found the tall man with the deep voice and dark hair. Pretty-boy, if you ask me, but Argyle likes him, so I shall oblige -- in this instance. But, aw man, I’m wearing more clothes that he is. Oh, the humanity. If I could walk with one paw over my face, I would, but that would look stupid. Well, I'm here. Guess I'll just, as they say, "grin and bear it." I shan't bark as that might annoy him and attract undue attention. A more subtle approach will suffice.

* * * * * * * * *

I have to confess that it was tempting to roll over and ignore the little guy, much as I like him. Still, like his owner, he's very persistent. Sitting up, I saw another blood-curdling sight, and this one had me up on my feet in short order. With Dog tucked under one arm and the other holding my towel, it had me running down one of California's nicest strips. No, it wasn't Miss Parker. That I could definitely have coped with. It was far, far worse. You’ve probably guessed that, for lack of anything else to do, Lyle was sunbathing. You may not have realized that it was the sort of beach where what you wore didn’t matter so much as the fact of whether you were wearing it in the first place. Ewww!

* * * * * * * * *

Centre Jet
Somewhere over Virginia

Miss Parker sat back in her seat, glancing over to where Sydney was perusing a book and then to where Broots was sitting, trying not to get sick all over the seats that had only been installed in the jet the previous week. Sniffing, she reached into her purse for a tissue, looking up to find the older man offering her a bag of something.

“Try one of these. They were recommended to me as being good for a cold.”

“Thanks, Syd,” she responded damply, trying to suppress an urge to sneeze and cough at the same time. “But I prefer to take my chances with the genuine article rather than the all-natural alternative.” She pulled a throat lozenge out of her bag and slipped it into her mouth, speaking around it. “Broots!”

The other man looked up, trying to ignore the fact that the plane had hit a pocket of turbulence. “Y…yes, Miss Parker?”

“The funeral of this friend of yours is on Tuesday, right?”

“Uh, yes.”

“So the three of us go to California, find the Blue File, go to the funeral and leave again.”

“Umm, kind of.”

Miss Parker glared at him. “What do you mean, ‘kind of?’”

“Well…it’s just…”

She stamped her foot on the floor of the plane impatiently. “Well, what?”

“The…the order said that we have to pick up Lyle on the way. That’s where he’s on vacation and he’s supposed to help us with this…hunt…”

”Great!” Miss Parker snorted, rolled her eyes and wrapped herself in the blanket on the seat next to her. “We take the thumbless wonder along for a ride to the funeral of a man with no digits. And I bet he won’t lift a finger to help us find his missing Blue File either.”

* * * * * * * * *

Once we were a safe enough distance away from the beach, I put Dog down and contemplated what the sight of him probably meant. As none of the ideas that were being presented were at all to my taste, I then tried desperately to think of a way to escape. In the meantime, the poor little guy was trying to draw my attention to something that was tucked into his collar.

* * * * * * * * *

Do I look like a sack of potatoes? Is Jarod crazy? Okay, so that last one is still up for debate, but geez, what could he have seen that would make him take off so fast? Especially considering he wasn't wearing very much.

* * * * * * * * *

I’ve heard of carrier pigeons but carrier Dogs? That’s a new one on me. I have to say that he did a good job, too. I pulled on a pair of shorts, relieved Dog of his burden, put him on the front seat, leaned against my car and read it. Before I tell you about the contents, though, it might be worth going over a little past history. Argyle and I first…met is probably the wrong word here, I think. Collided seems somehow ineffective. We were brought together with a sickening thud by one of my pretends several years ago and each subsequent meeting was only a slight improvement on the previous one. No wonder I need a vacation.

* * * * * * * * *

Damn that Argyle. He is always doing this to me. I cannot believe he wanted me to traipse all over Los Angeles to find this guy. Sure, I like Jarod and all, but my paws hurt and this abominable sweater Argyle's put on me, it itches like crazy. I tried to shake it off, but somehow it's attached to my front legs and just will not release its hold. Not to mention, he stuffed a very poorly folded sheet of paper under my collar. I’ve been shaking my head for over an hour, to no avail. However, one must remind me to thank Argyle's friend, Jarod, for removing that uncomfortable sheet of paper. My best guess is that is what I was to bring to Mr. Jarod. I shall have to remember to snub Argyle for several hours for this disservice.

* * * * * * * * *

So, to come back to the immediate past, I opened the note and read it. Then I read it a second time and, still trying to fully comprehend the meaning - some genius, huh? - read it again. It was a wedding invitation.

* * * * * * * * *

A wedding invitation? Is Argyle kidding? Oh, and by the way, yes, I can understand English. Simply because I am a dog, of the Jack Russell Terrier persuasion, does not mean that I am in any way unintelligent. Argyle wants to wed. Fantastic. Where does that leave me? I suppose I shall be put out on the doorstep to survive the elements all on my own. My master is in dire need of an education in the care of one's pets. I am, after all, a part of the family too. Maybe I will appeal to this friend of Argyle's. Jarod may be in need of a travelling companion. I do know he moves around a substantial amount. It’s just a thought in the back of my mind. (And yes, dogs have thoughts too.)

* * * * * * * * *

I got into the car beside Dog and followed the surprisingly clear directions to a tall and luxurious apartment block a few miles down the strip. I might as well mention here that the last time Argyle needed my help, it was with a woman. Not to work out the right things to say, or, more aptly in his case, the right things to wear, but to locate the woman herself after she was kidnapped. Luckily it all ended up okay and nobody got hurt - except me, a couple of times. As I looked at the towering building in front of me, I began to wonder just what it was that Argyle needed this time. Casting a glance at the clothes the doorman was wearing, I figured he probably didn’t have enough ‘green’ to pay the rent.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Jay-man!”

* * * * * * * * *

Dear God, Dog here, can you please get me out of this now?

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod submitted to the enthusiastic embrace with which Argyle greeted him after opening the door of the apartment. He walked in and looked around before holding up the piece of paper that he had found on Dog’s collar.

“What’s this supposed to be?”

“What’s it look like, Jay-Dog? It’s a wedding invitation! Me and Mona…” He gave an eager wink, prodding Jarod in the ribs with his elbow. “We’re tying the knot!”

“What?!” Jarod moved out of the way of any more enthusiastic gestures, his eyes widening.

”We’re getting hitched, man. Walking down the aisle, saying ‘I do,’ you know.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “You’re getting married.”

“That’s what I said!” Argyle picked up Dog and hugged him. “And my little four-legged friend here was sent on an errand to find me a groomsman.”

Jarod allowed his jaw to drop as he leaned against the wall for support, slowly trying to take in what Argyle had just said.

* * * * * * * * *

THAT was why he sent me out into the hot sun wearing a wool sweater? To find someone to be his best man? Now I know I am moving in with Jarod. That is, of course, granted he survives his stay with Argyle. What ever am I to do with him? Argyle, that is.

* * * * * * * * *

It took me a while to get over the words that had come out of Argyle’s mouth, but I didn’t bother asking him to repeat it. Not because I didn’t believe it or anything as complex as all that - I just didn’t really want to hear him say it again. A wedding? Okay, so Argyle and Mona are supposedly mature adults and should reasonably be expected to work things like that out, but really: Argyle getting married? And to Mona? The only individual in that whole apartment with any sense, until I showed up at least, was Dog! Oh yes, and, of course, Benny. And his room was the first place that Argyle took me. Don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t a problem. I’d always had a bit of a soft spot for ‘Pop.’ Why else would I go to all the trouble of trying to save his son’s life? It was, after all, something that, for a while at least, started to look like an annual event.

The break had been nice for me, but not for him. Argyle ushered me, ignoring my protests, into Benny’s bedroom, where I found him lying in bed. When I’d first met Argyle’s ‘pop,’ he had been faking a brain tumor while trying to cope with the loss of his wife, Adela. I didn’t have to look at him to know that he wasn’t faking it this time. And I could hear in Argyle’s voice as he let us speak for about half a minute before ushering me out of the room and into the kitchen that he didn’t have a clue ‘Pop’ probably wasn’t going to live long enough to see his son walk down the aisle.

* * * * * * * * *

Something is wrong here. Jarod has that look in his eyes that says he knows more than he is willing to inform Argyle. I must say, that I now feel dreadful for some of the things I said about Argyle. Why? Look at Jarod; he knows something is not right. I would wager that "Pop" is not well, and may not live for the wedding. I could not live with myself if something were to happen to Argyle's father and I was not around to comfort him. Argyle is sweet like that; he requires the presence of all family members when something is not right in his life. I will remain by Argyle's side as long as he needs me. I am a very loyal pet after all.

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach Airport
Long Beach, California

Miss Parker pulled her sunglasses down a notch on her nose and looked around as Broots tried to make the wheels of the luggage trolley all move in the same direction at the same time.

“Well?”

“Well, what?” Broots puffed, numerous beads of sweat rolling down his neck and dampening the collar of his Hawaiian-style shirt.

With both hands on her hips, the woman turned to face him, her expression demanding. “Where is he?”

The technician looked around for a moment, bemused. “Who?”

She snapped her fingers in his face. “Lyle, Broots. Where’s Lyle?”

“Oh…he’s…probably on the beach somewhere.”

Her eyes widened in disbelief. “What?!”

“Well, he is on vacation.”

Miss Parker waved the order in Broots’ face. “Not anymore.”

“Yes, Miss Parker.” Broots peered around it. “But you’re the one who gets to tell him that.”

Miss Parker heard the sound of a muffled laugh from behind her, turning to glare at Sydney, who, as he pocketed a well-thumbed book, had approached in time to hear the discussion. Rolling her eyes, she headed for the nearest exit, muttering under her breath.

“I really need a drink…”

* * * * * * * * *

I entered the kitchen to find the bride-to-be standing in front of the sink, a sheaf of papers in her hand. She didn’t see me at first and continued waving her arms around in the air and noiselessly mouthing words that she read. It was only when Argyle came in, a minute later, that she finally noticed I was there and I regained enough self-control to speak.

“What the…?”

Okay, so it wasn’t my most inspired statement. Sorry.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Oh, my Mona, Jay-man…”

Argyle hugged Mona, and Mona turned and hugged Jarod, who sincerely hoped that he wasn’t expected to complete the circle.

“My Mona, she’s auditioning for a play.”

“Auditioning?” Jarod's eyebrow got another workout.

“That’s right.” Argyle pulled out a chair and sat on it. “After all, we are in the actor’s capital, right?” Reaching out an arm, Argyle pulled Mona into his lap and, before wrapping both arms around his neck, she pushed the pile of pages across the table to where Jarod was standing.

“And my Mona, Jay-Dog…”

* * * * * * * * *

Words apparently failed Argyle at that point. They were failing me, too, but for a totally different reason. An actor? Mona? A serious actor? I mean, sure, I’d dabbled a little in theatre. I’d even had a spot on a television show for a while, not that anybody noticed. At least, I hope they didn’t notice. Still, I’ll be the first to admit that Mona had had practice on the stage. To be more precise, a few years back, she’d been a showgirl. In Vegas. In fact, that was the whole reason that she and her soon-to-be-husband had met. Her boss had needed protection and, well, it’s a long story. Come to think of it, those involving Argyle usually are.

Argyle decided at this point that he, Mona and I should go for a walk so we could discuss plans. I didn’t really want to think what plans he might want to discuss. If they had anything to do with me, I felt that it would somehow be better for all concerned if I wasn’t involved. Unfortunately, without hurting anybody’s feelings, I couldn’t think of a way to avoid it. So I decided to stick around. For a while. At least until I saw the way things were going to go.

* * * * * * * * *

This, I am not looking forward to. Argyle wants to take a walk and talk about something? He's making plans. Great. You know what this means, right? This means that Argyle is probably going to screw something up and I shall be left, well, I guess I would not be holding the bag as I have no hands, but I know something will happen to me. Something always does.

* * * * * * * * *

While Argyle and Mona were getting dressed, I knocked on Benny’s door. In the short time we’d had together before, I hadn’t been able to work out exactly what was wrong with him and now I was wondering if he’d tell me.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Come in, come in. Don’t stand there, letting the cold in.”

With a smile, Jarod did as he was told. Shutting the door, however, blocked a lot of the fresh air coming in from the hall and strengthened a smell that he had first noticed when he had gone to be reintroduced by Argyle. Glancing around, Jarod could see the incense burner on the table and nodded at it.

“Did Mona give you that?”

Benny nodded. “She sure did. Said a nice smell made a real change to a room’s atmosphere. Good Fung Sway or something.”

Jarod made a quick mental note to find out more about that and glanced around, his eyes quickly coming to light on a series of bottles that Benny had pushed in behind other things on his bedside table. Looking up, he saw that the older man had spotted what he was eyeing.

“You’re still sharp, Jarod.”

He smiled. “I’ve had a lot of practice of late.” Walking over, he picked up several of the bottles to read the labels before looking at Benny. “Real or sugar again this time?”

“Real.” The man shifted uncomfortably. “Don’t know why they’re bothering about it, though. Ain’t gonna do me a lot of good. Not now.”

Jarod nodded slowly and returned the bottles to their places on the table, making sure that they were almost out of sight.

“You haven’t told Argyle?”

“Not yet.” Benny glanced up. “He told me that you were coming and I was kind of hoping that you might be willing…”

“How about Mona?”

“Those two tell each other everything and letting it out to one is the quickest way of spilling the beans to the other. Just like me and my Adela.” Benny glanced up, a look of concern on his face. “Jarod, I know that this is asking a lot of you…”

The younger man nodded and tried to smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”

* * * * * * * * *

I didn’t really know what else to say. After all, I could hardly refuse, could I? But it was going to take a delicate touch to get that point across and I had a feeling that I was about to discover some very good methods of procrastination. Such as that walk we were going on…

When Argyle called me to say that he and Mona were ready, I don’t know what I was expecting. Scratch that, I did know what I was expecting. I was expecting the unexpected. And I got it. It was Argyle’s shoes that first caught my eye. Now, my own taste might not be great -- I prefer ease to variety. But cream sandals with dark socks? Even that wouldn’t have been so bad if there weren’t a gap -- a short one; he’s not that tall -- to his shorts of a bright Hawaiian pattern -- a pattern that clashed in every possible way with the print of his shirt. In hope of escape for my brain that was suffering under the clash of color, I looked down at Dog. Now, I’ve seen canine fashion. Heck, I even helped them to come up with the idea in the first place. But I couldn’t help feeling that, while the top, shorts and even cap were a good idea, the sunglasses with a strip of zinc on his furry little nose were going a little overboard. And from the look he was giving me, I think he thought so too.

* * * * * * * * *

Ahem -- have I mentioned lately that I am prepared to kill my Master, Argyle, with only a moment's notice? He must be certifiably insane. As though the wool sweater from this morning was not nearly enough, he thrust my poor dog body into this T-shirt, a pair of blue shorts (he is crazy), and sunglasses. Does he really believe these will remain firmly in place on the bridge of my nose? I would shake them off now, but he would return them to their improper location, then find a strange manner in which to attach them to my face. Oh, but the horror of it all is this goop he smeared along my nose. What is that? I would wipe if off, but then it would be all over my paw. I could use Jarod's pants, but he has been so kind to me that I shall refrain. For now. Oh, the humanity.


Act II

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

Miss Parker stood in the lobby, her arms folded and tapping an impatient foot as she glared at the clock above the reception desk. She told them twenty minutes and she’d meant every word of it. A single second longer and she’d go up there and drag them out of their separate suites herself.

“Hello, Miss Parker.”

Sydney stepped out of the elevator and she eyed the outfit he wore, from the white button-down to the deck shoes, her gaze pausing momentarily on the well-cut khaki pants, before noticing the sunglasses tucked into his top pocket.

“You look -- casual.”

He smiled. “Well, we are in California, even if it’s not quite at the height of the tourist season.”

Sydney looked at her outfit. If the eyes of every single man on the beach weren’t popping out of their heads at the cut of her pale lilac shirt, they certainly would be at the shortness of her skirt. Turning in time to see Broots getting off the other elevator, the psychiatrist knew that he had put his finger on it. At the sight of the technician’s attire, however, Miss Parker simply rolled her eyes and averted her gaze as quickly as possible, heading for the limo.

* * * * * * * * *

I pulled the sunglasses from the pocket of my white button-down, sliding them on as soon as we exited the building, not so much in need of protecting my eyes as protecting my identity. However, I do have to admit that Mona’s light purple shirt did more for her than Argyle’s entire outfit did for him. Although the apartment block was nice, it was some distance from the beach itself and also from a place that Argyle said he wanted to show me, where, as he put it so well, he had ‘financial concerns.’ That tidbit of information had me worrying right away, because I’ve seen a number of Argyle’s financial concerns and most of them usually end up with their windows boarded and the word ‘repossessed’ scribbled on a piece of paper and taped to the door.

As it turned out, I wasn’t too far wrong. The paper wasn’t there, but the two heavies at the door were doing the job well enough. And I could see Argyle and Mona’s dreams for a big wedding flying out the open top of my car. Of course, Argyle went over to find out what was going on. Rescuing him brought back memories of that fateful trip down in Atlantic City. But at least this time I got to him before they broke his fingers.

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, that's it, Pops or no Pops, I am not tolerating this any longer. Argyle has completely lost all his marbles, not that there were too many to begin with in that skull of his. Why does he think that these 'get-rich-quick-schemes' will work? Did he not learn from the last thousand times? That man truly needs to reconsider his current occupation, or lack thereof. Sigh. Can I please have a normal, dog, life?

* * * * * * * * *

We decided that -- business looking like it was going as well as business usually does where Argyle’s concerned -- we’d go for a walk along the strip. I’m not quite sure what really happens to my mind whenever I’m around Argyle, but I do know that it’s affected in a way that’s never good for the rest of me, although I’m not sure I can blame the amnesia I had the first time on him. Still, the fact that I was half-drowned the second time and repeatedly punched the third definitely had to do with Argyle’s inability to coordinate the actions of his brain with those of his mouth.

By now I’d entirely forgotten the reason for my earlier abrupt exit from the beach. I was soon reminded. We’d barely stepped onto the sand when we saw them. And it was “them.” I spotted the bad outfit first. If it hadn’t been for the lack of hair, I might have thought we were looking into a mirror. That and the fact that Miss Parker's skirt was a little shorter than Mona’s. But not by much…

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

Miss Parker walked towards the trio, watching as one girl of very obvious Asian descent poured suntan lotion onto his back and the other rubbed it in. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out wads of cash and tossed them in the direction of the women as the man reclined before looking up to see her.

“Work just ended, ladies. Have a good vacation.”

Lyle glared up at her from his position on the sand, even less pleased to see her cohorts appear on either side, as his two companions seized both the money and opportunity, and fled.

“Parker, I’m on vacation.”

“Not any more.” She dropped the order on his stomach. “Daddy wants to see you pull your finger out.” After a few moments, as he remained unmoving, still stretched out on the towel, she lowered her sunglasses and glared at him over to the top of them. “And I think he meant today.”

Lyle got to his feet and turned to pick up his towel. The sharp sound a second later made several beach-goers look over as Lyle straightened up, red finger marks clearly visible on his white behind and a towel covering his front, his face creased into a glare. “Why is it that any time you show up, my life gets much more unpleasant?”

Miss Parker shrugged as she turned to go back to the car, trying to ignore the sinking feeling she had as the heels of her shoes disappeared into the sand with every step. “Just lucky, I guess.”

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, so we didn’t get much chance at conversation. In fact, I hustled the two of them back to my car so fast that their heads were probably still spinning when we drove away.

Oh, yes.

Two.

Unfortunately, in certain situations, the smallest guy tends to get overlooked, and that was exactly what happened then. Usually the smallest guy would be Argyle -- there aren’t many who are smaller than he is -- but Dog has to fit into that category too. As I sped away, I looked into the rearview mirror and spotted him facing off against Miss Parker.

* * * * * * * * *

Ahem - JAROD!! I believe you have failed to realize that YOU FORGOT ME!! Damn! Now what am I supposed to do? Ow, ow, ow! This sand is hot! Still, maybe those people that Jarod was looking at could help me. Hmm, now there’s a familiar face. Still, at least he’s covered up a little this time. A little, I said. And those finger marks on his backside are quite attractive (and if dogs could laugh, I would).

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

“Hey, look, Miss Parker.” Broots knelt down in front of Dog, who was snarling and trying to look aggressive. “Isn’t he cute?”

“Adorable,” she commented dryly, her voice displaying anything but enthusiasm. A moment and a second glance later, however, she couldn’t help smirking.

“Still…”

She turned and eyed the outfit that Lyle had just donned.

“…they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

* * * * * * * * *

Excuse me, ma’am, but those are my paws you nearly trod on with your stiletto heels. Would you mind watching where you step?

Now she’s acquired quite an entourage: the balding, skittish one, the distinguished one, and now, the thumbless one. My, my, what a group.

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

As Lyle added a cap and sunglasses, she had to avert her eyes in a bid to retain her dignity. The choking sounds from away to her left suggested that she wasn’t the only person who had noticed the similarities of the two -- human and canine -- but, as she turned on her heel and stalked up the sand, she could at least be confident that nobody else would want to stand out like a sore thumb by trying to imitate the man who was following them, shaking sand out of his cream sandals and brushing it off his dark brown socks.

* * * * * * * * *

The thumbless man has raided my wardrobe. I will say that I believe the outfit may be better suited for him; however, I cannot believe he allowed someone to place that gob of white stuff on his nose. How does he tolerate that?

Hey, now, hold on just a minute, ma'am. I am NOT your dog, so please do me the honor of returning me to the ground. Excuse me? Please move your face away from mine. I am not in any mood to deal with humans.

You failed to heed my warning; I shall have to attempt another approach.

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

"Aw, damn it." Miss Parker relinquished her hold on the small canine and clasped her hands over her nose.

"What? What happened?" Broots scrambled to her side, concern enveloping his face.

"The little bugger bit me." She looked around for the dog, ready to kick him for his action, but he had scurried away. The Jack Russell terrier poked his head around Sydney's leg and growled at her.

Sydney extended an arm, holding the woman momentarily at bay. "Miss Parker, he is just a dog. He was only defending himself. How was he to know you weren’t trying to harm him?"

She made no reply, only crossed her arms over her chest and turned away, snarling at Lyle who was chuckling under his breath.

* * * * * * * * *

“What are we going to do, Jay-man?”

Argyle’s face was wearing a familiar, that is to say frightened, expression and his tones weren’t exactly that unexpected either. I knew fate must have had a twinkle in its eye when it made him fall in love with a woman called ‘Mona,’ and that was probably about all that joke deserved too.

Sorry.

“Don’t worry, Argyle.”

“That was the green I was planning to use to pay for the wedding, man.”

Argyle, having managed to recover from the pace at which he had been hustled back to the car, obviously now managed to forget that he was in one and tried to stand up. I reached over and yanked him back into his seat.

“We’ll work something out, Argyle!”

“Yeah, but…but man…man…that was the green, man! That was the cash so we could have a really big bang-up!”

“Like I said, Argyle, I’ll figure something out.”

I have to confess that my mind was somewhat otherwise engaged, trying to work out the problem of avoiding the Centre team, who obviously caught up with me pretty fast this time. Considering I hadn’t left any clues or hints in my last lair, I was beginning to wonder just how they’d managed it. Still, I gave half an ear and a lot less of my thinking processes to Argyle’s moans, having a good idea of their content already. Not that that was particularly cheering. You see, I’d been planning to pay for the wedding myself, out of Centre funds, naturally. The only problem was that if any of the foursome on the beach had actually seen me, they’d make darned sure I couldn’t. So I had to find some other option and right now that was the one thing I was clean out of.

Even as those thoughts were being considered, another struck me. We were going to need to find some way of paying for Benny’s funeral too and I knew that that, even from the little I’d seen, was sadly not too far away. So we had to find ‘green’ for two big events and the one thing we had was a boarded-up restaurant and a very large source of funds that was tantalizingly out of reach. No, not tantalizingly. Annoyingly.

* * * * * * * * *

ARGYLE! Not only did he force me to trot down to the beach with him, but, then those… people… appeared and he became impassioned in his escape with Jarod and forgot about me. FORGOT? ME? H-E-L-L-O! I am the DOG. Man's best friend. How does one forget man's best friend? Okay, so this IS Argyle, and he is more apt to forgetting simple things like that, but I am his best friend -- or so he has told me on several occasions.

Fine. I shall just TRY to find them. I can always go home and sit with "Pop."

At least I would if… Do you mind?! Put me down! You, sir, who appears to have as much dress sense as my so-called ‘beloved’ owner, how dare you pick me up and march off with me like this. Help!!! I’m being dog-napped!

* * * * * * * * *

Long Beach, California

“Shut that thing up,” the woman snarled as they reach the car.

“I’m trying, Miss Parker,” Broots protested. “But it won’t!”

“Well, it’s not coming in the car making a noise like that,” she told him firmly, picking up the furry bundle and dumping it in Lyle’s arms. “The twins can go in one car and meet us at the hotel.”

Lyle opened his mouth to object, but she was already seated in the driver’s seat and had started the engine before he could speak. Sydney shrugged and got into the passenger seat as Broots scrambled into the back and Lyle was left holding the canine with one hand and his towel with the other as they drove off.

The animal had fallen silent and Lyle glanced down to meet his eye, letting the dog drop to the ground and considering sending it on its way with a hard kick. The Jack Russell terrier moved several paces away, turning to eye the man once more, at which point Lyle’s face creased into a dark glare.

“What are you looking at? Scram!”

* * * * * * * * *

That was rude. No matter, I don’t much like being around you either, Thimbles. Now, which way was it back to that hotel? At least, if I go there, I stand a chance of being able to get a bowl of water or something. I know from personal experience that that large blue expanse isn’t something that a delicate canine palate like mine can bear.

* * * * * * * * *

And I think this just about brings us to: The Middle.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Jarod pulled his computer out of the case as soon as the door was closed safely behind them and sat down on the sofa in the living room. Accessing the Centre’s travel log took almost no time and he was glad to see that Lyle had been in Long Beach for almost a week. That meant he wasn’t in town as a response to any sightings or other reports. But that still left the other three. Thoughtfully, Jarod leaned back against the cushions and stared out through the large windows that faced the ocean. In the background he could faintly hear Argyle telling Benny all about his latest ‘financial expedition’ and Jarod suddenly wished he’d stopped the man before he got into the bedroom. As if Benny needed any more stress than he had right now. Knowing there wasn’t anything he could do at that moment, Jarod pulled out his cell phone. He needed to find out what Sydney could tell him about the current situation.

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“This is Sydney.”

“If I didn’t think that it was almost impossible, I’d say you sounded relaxed. You’re not lying on a beach in some sunny corner of the US, are you, Syd?”

“Not exactly, no.”

“Well, thank goodness for that. After all, what chance would the pursuit have if its four members just up and headed for the west coast whenever they felt like it?”

The psychiatrist tried to keep the amusement out of his voice. “Were you wanting something in particular, Jarod?”

“What are you doing in California, Sydney?”

“Attending a funeral.”

”Anyone I know? Lyle, for instance?”

“Keep hoping, Jarod,” the woman broke into the conversation as she entered the room, a damp cloth over the bite marks on her nose.

“I know you will be, Miss Parker, so I don’t need to bother. Is that it? Seems kind of extreme for the Centre to go to all that length just for a funeral.”

“How did you find out where we were? I don’t suppose you’re at a hotel just a few blocks away or something like that?”

“Oh, come on, do you really think that’s likely?” There was a pause. “That’s it? A funeral? Nothing else? No stray Files around, for instance?”

“Even if there were, Jarod, do you think we’d tell you?” The man leaned against the doorframe and straightened the glove on his left hand.

”Lyle, what a pleasant surprise! Shouldn’t you be trying your casket for size?”

“Keep dreaming, Pretender.” Walking over, the man abruptly cut the connection.

* * * * * * * * *

I returned the phone to my pocket before going out onto the large patio, where Mona was already lying on an inflated mattress floating on the clear water. A gloomy bridegroom was sitting on a sun lounge and staring up at the sky so I sat down on the next seat.

“So what was that about, that restaurant? I thought you got over that sort of idea when we were in Atlantic City.”

”B…but this was certified, Jay-dog! This was a sure bet.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. This all sounded far too familiar.

“So how much ‘green’ have you lost by the sinking of this little investment?”

Argyle reached into his pocket and handed over a sheet of paper. As I took it, my eyes fell on the figure at the bottom, circled in red, and I could feel my eyes pop.

“Are you insane? How did they convince you to part with this much?”

”Well, they said it had to happen, that it couldn’t fail, and that I’d double it, easy, in no time.”

Figuring that even a basic lesson in market economics would be inappropriate at this moment, I leaned back against the seat and shut my eyes. Usually doing that makes it easier to concentrate but Argyle started to tell me, all over again, that he had planned to use that money to finance the wedding and I could only come up with one way to distract him. Unfortunately that wouldn’t make him any happier. Still, desperate times…

“Argyle, we need to talk.”

Putting a hand on his arm, I stood up and steered him through the door, back into the apartment. Shutting the door firmly, I pushed him into the kitchen.

“Listen Argyle, I’ll find the money for the wedding. Don’t worry about it. But we’ve got something else that we have to pay for as well, pretty soon, and it’s going to be kind of expensive.”

He eyed me without speaking and I could see that he wasn’t following at all, so I tried something else.

“Remember a few years back, when your dad was taking those pills?”

“Yeah, but he stopped after you said they were fake.”

”Well, he’s taking them again. But they’re not made of sugar this time.”

“Y…you mean…”

He stared at me. Argyle may not be the brightest spark in the electrician’s kit but, where Pop was concerned, he could get the drift pretty fast.

“I’m really sorry, Argyle, but your dad won’t be able to be at your wedding. Even if he lives that long, he won’t be able to get out of bed by that time.”

“What is it? What’s…?”

“It really is a brain tumor this time. It’s not painful for him, but he doesn’t have long before he can be with your mother again.”

I’d guessed from Benny’s earlier fascination with the Pope that he was probably a member of the Catholic faith. I don’t follow a specific religion but I know more about that than some of the others. Sydney’s a Catholic, as was Catherine Parker, so I got to know a few things over time. Now, as Argyle went towards his father’s bedroom, I was hoping that what I’d said might be comforting for him, in a way.

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“So which file are we looking for?”

”All that we know is that’s it’s one of the Blue Files,” Sydney responded calmly.

“And how do the three of you even happen to know this much about it? The Blue Files, if you will remember, are my responsibility.”

”And you’re doing a fine, fine job,” Miss Parker muttered under her breath but audibly and Sydney tried not to choke for the second time that day.

The phone on the table interrupted the sentence that Lyle had opened his mouth to begin, and he reached over, turning on the speaker.

“What is it?”

”Mr. Lyle? Your father just gave me some more information about that Blue File he wants you to track down. I’m sending it to you now.”

“Have we got anything as useful as a name, Valentine?”

“It’s Andromeda, Boss.”

“And how did I get the Three Stooges ‘helping’ -- and of course I mean that in the loosest possible terms -- with this one?”

“Apparently Jarod could be in the area too.”

Miss Parker stared at the floor and tried to stop her lips from twitching as she recalled moments of their last meeting, but the man standing in front of her never noticed.

”’The area’ being the city, the state or the country, Valentine?”

”I didn’t get that many specifics, Boss, but they can go running around after him while you keep an eye out for Andromeda.”

“Thank you, Valentine.” He disconnected the call, turning. “Well, now that we all have our proper duties allocated, perhaps you can leave me to do my job and concentrate on your own.”

He was about to leave the room when Miss Parker tapped him on the shoulder. “But I hope you haven’t forgotten about our poor, deceased friend Bennie in Receiving, Lyle? After all,” she eyed his hand. “You two have so many missing things in common that I’m sure you’ll want to join the grieving family.”

* * * * * * * * *

I decided to take the opportunity to find out more about what ‘they’ were doing here. Tapping into his bank account, I discovered that Lyle had obviously come prepared for this vacation, having withdrawn a substantial sum of money before leaving Blue Cove. As I was beginning to wonder if I could use this to my advantage, Argyle reappeared in the living room.

“Pop wants to talk to you.”

Judging by the look on Argyle’s face, Benny had told him the same thing as I did and I could only hope that my words had softened the blow a little. I watched him going out to the pool as I moved towards Benny’s room and could only hope that Mona might have the ability to be, at least, a little comforting.


Act III

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Jarod tapped gently on the door and, hearing a voice calling from inside, pushed it open. “Argyle said you wanted to see me?”

“Thanks for telling him, Jarod. I really appreciate it.”

Jarod smiled. “It’s not a problem, really. Is there anything else I can do?”

“Sit down.” He nodded to a chair in the corner and took something from the drawer of his bedside table. Looking up, he fixed Jarod with a stern eye. “I know what that son of mine’s like -- he can’t keep a coin in his pocket if there’s somebody around to tempt it away from him -- and he told me all about his latest fiasco. You saw it, right?”

Reluctantly, Jarod nodded. “We…drove by, yes.”

“In other words, my boy tried to find out what was going on and you had to save his skin again.”

“Something like that.” Jarod grinned faintly and Benny nodded.

”I knew it. After my Adela passed on, I started putting a little something away for myself and, a couple of weeks ago after I found out, I went to the funeral home and set things up.” He handed over a long, white envelope. “That’s got all of the details, including the plot and everything. It’s all arranged.”

“Next to your wife?”

“That’s right. When I began to think that something was wrong, that’s why I came here with the two of them. This is the same apartment we were in…”

Jarod nodded again. “I understand. Uh, I hate to have to ask, but…”

”Don’t worry, Jarod. The rent’s paid for until the end of next week.”

* * * * * * * * *

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Benny knew what was going on. He seemed to have a sixth sense where Argyle was concerned and it was one that his son was lacking - the common variety. After taking the envelope, I went out to the poolside and told the two of them that I would be back in the morning and we would work something out then. Mona reminded Argyle that he’d made an appointment for both of us to try on suits for the wedding and that acted as a reminder of the reason he’d sent for me in the first place. The sight of a weary-looking Dog outside on the doorstep as I was about to leave was another and I guess I deserved that nip he gave my ankle.

* * * * * * * * *

And not just that, dear Jarod. I had figured that you of all people would never leave me to the elements all on my own. Guess I was wrong about THAT! Instead you are all just lounging around the pool? Sigh. Where’s my dog bed?

* * * * * * * * *

Getting back to my hotel, I opened the envelope and looked through the pages inside. Benny had certainly planned ahead. He had paid for the funeral, casket and the gravesite. The envelope also contained the receipts showing that, as he said, the apartment was paid for. That was certainly a weight off my mind. All we had to do now was find enough money to pay for what I had no doubt would be a very expensive wedding. Taking out the bankcard I usually used to access the Centre funds, I dropped it on the bed in front of me and stared at it. I knew, to the last penny, how much was in it and the thought that it would perfectly cover an expensive wedding and honeymoon for the happy pair was now rapidly becoming a thorn in my side.

My mind went back to the money that I knew Lyle had withdrawn from his account and, a couple of rapid calculations later, I knew it would be the perfect sum for a wedding on a slightly smaller scale. Putting on my jacket, I left the room. Their hotel was just a few blocks away and it only took a few minutes to get there.

Skulking around the parking lot, I was trying to think of a way to get Lyle out of his room for a while when my eye was caught by something familiar. LYLE-4. Well, at least he’d got himself a replacement after I ‘accidentally’ pushed the last one over a cliff. Oops. Anyway, I was pleased to note that it was in a spot on its own, a safe distance from any other vehicle. For several moments, as I unlocked the gas cap and unscrewed it, I admired the beautiful red of the paintwork. Although I hate admitting it, the man doesn’t have bad taste.

Taking off my socks, I replaced my shoes and then tore the socks into strips, shoving them into the gas tank. A discarded lighter lying near by provided me with the small flame I needed and then I ran for cover.

With the explosion distracting all eyes, I sidled up to the building and peered around it, working out in my mind how long it would take for them to inform Lyle and for him to come down the stairs. Less than two minutes later, he appeared, and, as he tried to approach the flaming car, I slipped into the reception and, finding it deserted, looked up Lyle’s room number. Going around to the rear of the building, I went up the fire escape and in through an unlocked window.

Looking around, I was pleased to note that at least most of my lairs were neater than the room Lyle had been occupying and, for a moment, I had no idea where to start. Suddenly a box, poking out from under the bed that looked as if it had been recently used, caught my eye and I snatched it up. A quick glance was enough to show me that I had found the object of my search and I was just about to hotfoot it back through the window when I heard a familiar voice outside the door. For a few seconds I considered grabbing her to ask her why all three of them were in California but, although I know Miss Parker’s attitude towards me has changed in recent times, particularly with what we had shared at Barrow, I made the sudden decision that if I was going to help Argyle, Mona and Benny, this wasn’t the time to be testing it. Closing the window took just a few seconds and I was on the ground again inside of two minutes.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Argyle?”

The door opened when Jarod gently pushed it and he walked in to the apartment to find Mona sitting on the sofa.

“What’s going on?”

”Argyle’s in with his dad.” Nodding, Jarod sat opposite her, and she looked at him. “You were serious about that, right?”

”I’m afraid so.”

“How long?”

”I don’t know for sure, but maybe only a few days. These things can be sudden.”

”And -- is it hurting him?”

”No. Like I said to Argyle yesterday, it’s not painful. Benny probably won’t wake up one morning, that’s all.”

She nodded. “Did you figure something out?”

Jarod was about to respond when Argyle walked out of the bedroom.

“Hey, Jay-dog.”

The quiet tones were a contrast to Argyle’s usual manner of speaking, but no great surprise, and Jarod produced an envelope, holding it out.

“I have something for the two of you.” He smiled. “Think of it as an early wedding present.”

Argyle took the envelope and opened it, pulling out the bundle of notes, several of which drifted out of his grasp towards the floor. Dog grabbed one between his teeth and started to wrestle with it as both Argyle and Mona stared at the pile of wealth sitting on the table in front of them.

* * * * * * * * *

Money, eh? Where did Jarod find this? While I am still hurt at being left with that awful thumbless man, Jarod bringing this money to Argyle seems to have lifted the mood a bit. And when Argyle is happy, Dog is happy. (grrrrrrrr - shaking head and clenching a twenty).

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

“Jay-man, what…?”

”I told you, Argyle.” Jarod smiled in satisfaction. “It’s my wedding present and it should also cover a nice, quiet honeymoon somewhere, as well as a week or so in Dog-paradise at a kennel near here.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

”Does that look like I’m kidding?” Jarod nodded at the money. “I understood why you didn’t want me to pay for your dad’s trip to the Vatican, but this is different.”

* * * * * * * * *

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Argyle hugged me, nor when Mona did, and I was glad to see the grin back on his face. Bending down, I rescued the note that Dog had been trying to shake to death and added it to the rest of the pile, putting the lot back into the envelope before looking up.

* * * * * * * * *

Dog paradise? Does that mean I actually get a vacation away from all this, with some time to myself and maybe the chance to meet some new acquaintances? Well, I always knew there was a benefit to going out and finding Jarod that day, except for the fact that he seems to want to take away my new toy and is manhandling my jaw in order to do so! Hey, pretty-boy, I was playing with that!

* * * * * * * * *

“Did you say something yesterday about a fitting?” Mona queried as Argyle finally stopped staring at the pile of money I was replacing in the envelope.

Watching him nod gleefully, I began, for the first time, to wonder just what colors and styles Argyle had been thinking about wearing. Knowing that nothing I would say could make him change his mind, I could really only hope Mona had more taste than he did. Eyeing the outfit that she was wearing that day, I had to doubt if that would be the case…

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“Lyle?” Sydney looked up as the man stormed into the room. “Is something wrong?”

“You mean apart from my car?” the man snapped.

“Yes,” the psychiatrist responded calmly. “Is there a problem?”

“Where was Miss Parker yesterday afternoon?”

“All three of us were here, together, until we went to get you for dinner. When you weren’t there, we went down to the restaurant, still together.”

“She didn’t sneak back upstairs for anything?”

”Of course not. Why, what’s wrong?”

“I’m missing a lot of money.” The man threw himself into a chair that groaned in protest and the psychiatrist hid a smile. “All the money I brought with me disappeared while I was trying to put out the fire.” He glared at the other man. “Do you have any idea where my money might be?”

“None, but I’m sure you could withdraw some more for the rest of your time here, couldn’t you?”

“Dad wants me back at the Centre as soon as this whole fiasco’s over.”

“Well, never mind.” Sydney attempted to speak soothingly, smothering his amusement. “I’m sure, with the way you can twist your father around your little finger, you’ll manage a vacation at some other time, and you’ll probably have earned enough money by that time to pay for a couple more escorts.”

Giving the older man an indescribable look and muttering something inaudible as he did so, Lyle got up from his chair and stalked out of the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Thankfully the fitting didn’t take too long -- only an hour, to be exact. It was just the choice of color that made me feel slightly nauseated. I could cope with a black tuxedo. I could even deal with the pale cream shirt. It was when they produced the bright orange bowtie that I started to get worried. The lime green waistcoat, covered with purple checks, almost induced motion sickness, and the blue shoes brought back memories of Bernie Baxley. Still, as I once heard someone say, it wasn’t my…sorry, that’s not in great taste, is it? Anyway, you know what I mean.

* * * * * * * * *

And Argyle’s still trying to put things around my neck. What is this anyway? It looks the same as the object that some stranger just tied around Jarod's neck. Great, so now we’re going to be dressed the same as well? But if he tries to put anything like that on my feet, I’m taking the first chance to disappear out the door, no matter how far it might be back to the apartment.

* * * * * * * * *

Getting back to the apartment was the hard part. Dog was still wearing his bright orange bowtie, Argyle wanting to show it to ‘Pop,’ but there was a distinct lack of noise in the apartment when we got there. I’ve never claimed psychic powers among my abilities, but something told me what had happened, so I went to Benny’s bedroom while Argyle was still finding a place for Dog to ‘diddle.’ As I’d told Mona it would, the whole thing had clearly been easy. Coming out of the room again, I stopped Argyle before he could go in.

* * * * * * * * *

Funeral Home
Long Beach, California

“Will you stop moaning about the money?!” Miss Parker rolled her eyes, trying to concentrate on the road.

“I swear, Parker, if you so much as laid a finger on it…”

”I don’t like dirty money,” she replied sweetly. “And all three of us know precisely what you were planning to use it for.”

Parking in front of the funeral home, Miss Parker ignored the glare Lyle shot in her direction and got out, followed by the others. As they walked into the building, Miss Parker pulled Broots aside.

”Do we know exactly when on Tuesday this funeral is?”

”N…no, Miss Parker, not exactly. I’m hoping they can tell us here.”

Nodding and trying not to cough at the incense in the air, she followed him to the desk and waited for him to make inquiries. In a few minutes he joined the others.

“It’s at three. It’ll take about an hour and then there’s another right before it, so we’ll have to wait until it’s over before we go in. Oh, and apparently it’s a private burial for Bennie’s funeral.”

“How devastating,” Miss Parker responded, turning on her heel.

“But we can view his body.”

Freezing, she turned, lowering her voice to a menacing whisper and glaring at the technician. “And you want to?”

“L…like I said, Miss Parker, Bennie was a friend.”

“Fine. But make it quick.”

She swept in through the door but was stopped by security personnel who indicated the visitor’s book. Casting a baleful look at Broots, she scribbled her name in the relevant place and led the way inside to one of the rooms where the deceased were on display. Just as the door shut behind them, the front door opened again and a group of three humans and one dog entered.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle had taken the news better than I expected him to. He didn’t even seem all that surprised about it and, not believing that my words had had that much of an impact, I wondered briefly what Benny had said. Argyle suggested we could go to the funeral home so that he could see what his father had set up, so that was why we turned up so soon. It was no surprise to me that Benny had even set up the date and time for his funeral and it was also going to take place before Mona and Argyle got married, meaning that they could go away for the honeymoon that they had planned, using the money I’d provided, courtesy of Lyle.

We found out that the funeral was going to be held on Tuesday at two, fitting very well around the planned wedding that evening. Both would be short and we were likely to be the only people in attendance at either one. That all suited me just fine. I just had one small problem, and that was when I happened to look down at the book of people currently inside the funeral home. I think the four of us -- we didn’t forget Dog this time -- left there faster than we’d abandoned the beach.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Jarod arrived at the apartment the next morning in time to see the bride-to-be on her way out the door.

“Where are you…?”

”Audition.” She grinned. “Wish me luck.”

Keeping the surprised expression away from his face, Jarod gave her his sincere best wishes and watched as she jumped into the elevator. Going inside, he sat down beside Argyle as he stared at the photo of himself and his parents. “You know,” he began carefully. “In a way, this is quite good.”

”How?”

“Well, had you thought about the future? After the wedding, where were you and Mona planning to live? Here with your Pop or somewhere else?”

The surprised expression on Argyle’s face told Jarod that, as he’d surmised, this wasn’t a point that had been considered.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Argyle shrugged.

“But you’ve got somewhere for the honeymoon, right?”

”Yeah.” He gave Jarod a weak grin. “But that’s only a week.”

Taking the envelope Benny had given him out of his pocket, Jarod took out the receipt showing the lease of the apartment. “You’ll have until the Friday after you and Mona get back to find some other place, or to find the money to pay the rent for another month.”

“Pop did this?”

Jarod gave him a sad smile. “Yes, Argyle. Yes, he did.”


Act IV

The End

The next day was looking like a big one. According to what Mona told me when she got back from the audition, she’d find out in the morning of that day whether or not she got the role. Apparently it was to play a guest spot on a long-running television series about a man on the run or something. Funny the way art reflects real life sometimes, isn’t it?

After the funeral at two, we’d have about half an hour to get to the church for the bridal ceremony. Although the idea seemed strange at the start, I began to think that it would work quite well -- after all, what better way to distract Argyle from his Dad’s funeral than to have him married and off on his honeymoon? They were going to a five-star hotel about two hours’ drive from the location of the ceremony. I agreed to put Dog into his own little canine hotel before going on my way.

Most of the wedding was already planned, right down to the music to be played and the words to be spoken. The whole thing was expected to take about half an hour and then I was free to get out of the outfit as quickly as possible. We’d have a drink together before they left and everything would be wonderful. It was about at this point that I began to hope that it all would run that smoothly, because if it didn’t, after the stresses of the last few days, then you’d better book a place for me in the nearest mental hospital. Again.

Stresses? You’d better believe it. I’d taken all three of them -- including Dog, of course -- to dinner the previous night. We’d just walked out when they walked in. It was the same when Argyle and I went out for a walk during the time of Mona’s audition. If Argyle hadn’t been so wrapped up in his own thoughts, he’d probably have thought I was losing my mind and I know that thought definitely crept into Dog’s mind at least once.

* * * * * * * * *

I must say that this Jarod fellow, a friend of Master Argyle's, has completely cracked. Lately, each time we have gathered for a meal or an evening constitutional, the man grabs, pushes, and shoves us all in a different direction. Granted, it is generally as a direct result of seeing those four strange people from earlier -- the one missing a thumb, the bald skittish one, the older, distinguished one, and the bitch, no, please forgive me, the woman who is now in need of a bandage for her nose; or not, I might not have nipped her that hard. Anyway, Jarod has lost all his faculties and is in dire need of mental stabilization. Too bad none of my canine friends has a place in one of those lovely mental institutions.

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

“Look, Andromeda’s obviously not here,” Lyle snarled. “What are we still hanging around for?”

“The funeral, remember?” Miss Parker rolled her eyes. “Believe me, none of us are too keen to be here either.”

“Why don’t we just give the whole operation the thumbs-down and you three can go back to Blue Cove?” he suggested.

“Didn’t you say your father wanted you back when we came, Lyle?” Sydney reminded him.

Lyle muttered something inaudible and turned to stare out the window.

“Look, we’ve only got another twenty-four hours,” Miss Parker told him, surprising both herself and Sydney by the calmness of her tone. “Then we’ll be able to give up on what seems to be a complete goose chase that we’ve been sent on, simply in order to amuse the Triumvirate, and head back to the Centre.”

“Fine,” the man growled, storming over to the door and pulling it open. “But there had better not be any disruptions to that plan. I don’t want to find myself running all over Long Beach, chasing after loose ends.”

* * * * * * * * *

The big day dawned with the nicest weather that could be hoped for at that time of year, and I went out for an early-morning walk to try and clear my head. No, we hadn’t been drinking the night before or anything like that. At Argyle’s insistence I’d tried on the tuxedo again instead. If that isn’t enough to give a person a hangover, I’m not sure what is. Apart from a quick duck into an alleyway when I saw Lyle out for a jog, it was quite an uneventful outing, so I got to Argyle’s apartment just in time to hear the phone ringing.

* * * * * * * * *

Argyle's Apartment
Long Beach, California

Argyle let Jarod in and hustled him into the kitchen where Mona had just picked up the phone to find out if she had been given the role. As the two men watched, she listened silently, thanked the person on the other end and then sat down at the kitchen table and began to sob. Exchanging worried glances, Argyle and Jarod moved to either side. Finally she looked up.

“I got it.”

They looked at her skeptically.

“Are you sure?” both men asked simultaneously.

”That’s what they said.”

She began to sob again happily as Argyle hugged her. “I knew you would!” He ginned at Jarod. “I told you, Jay-man! My Mona…”

Smiling, Jarod stepped back and let them celebrate. He also made a very firm decision not to turn on the television in any of his future lairs, should it happen to have one, just in case…

* * * * * * * * *

The Capital Hotel
Long Beach, California

Miss Parker blew her nose and then dropped the tissue into the bin that, despite being only ten o’clock in the morning, was already full to overflowing. Muttering a curse, she walked over and shut the window that some overly helpful maid had left open after cleaning the room while the four people had been at breakfast. Impatiently she began to pace the length of the room. Sydney looked up from the sofa, where he was reading.

“Time passing slowly?”

”It’s like having teeth pulled,” she growled, sitting down in the seat opposite him.

“Only a few more hours, Parker.”

“Great, thanks,” she muttered, getting to her feet again and continuing to pace. A moment later, the door opened and Broots walked in, a can of drink in his hand.

“Don’t you knock?”

“Well, I…I didn’t think that…I thought that with Syd being here…”

Even as the psychiatrist looked up, the man dropped the can onto the floor where it popped open, the contents fizzing out all over the carpet. Rolling her eyes, Miss Parker was about to snap out an appropriate response when Lyle marched through the doorway. Stepping on the can, where it lay on the floor, he skidded, causing the mug of coffee in his hand to fly through air, landing with a tinkle of broken china on the floor. Stifling a laugh at the look on both men’s faces, Sydney turned back to his book while Miss Parker simply shook her head.

“Well,” she commented loudly to the room in general. “We’re certainly all fingers and thumbs at the Centre, aren’t we?”

* * * * * * * * *

So, despite the excess emotion, the day was off to a good start. The funeral that came next was a quiet and somber affair. As I expected, there were only three of us there -- sorry, four. The whole thing lasted about half an hour and then, after seeing Benny laid to rest beside his beloved Adela, we all made our way to the church. Thankfully, I didn’t have any nerves to calm in Argyle. With Mona being in the vestry, he could hardly worry about her not being on time, or not turning up at all. Once we were dressed, I made a determined effort not to look in a single one of the mirrors we passed on the way into the church.

* * * * * * * * *

I cannot cease the laughter. Have you seen the get-up Argyle put Jarod into for this wedding? Though, I suppose I should not be laughing too loudly; Master Argyle has tucked my doggy-self into an orange bowtie. ORANGE. Firstly, I am a dog; dogs do NOT wear bowties. Second, the thing is orange; no one wears orange bowties. Well, with the possible exception of Argyle, but he’s not mentally stable, therefore excused in this case. This wedding had better not break into my napping time.

* * * * * * * * *

Funeral Home
Long Beach, California

Miss Parker gazed superciliously around the room at the assembled mourners, a slight smirk on her face as she looked around at the group. To one side Broots stood, trying not to sniff to loudly after the warning glare that she had shot him earlier and Sydney, on her other side, was sitting with no expression on his face whatsoever. At this point she was forced to suppress a sneeze, making her eyes water, and she took out a tissue to wipe them. This caused a woman along the row to give her a sympathetic look, which, much to her annoyance, Miss Parker was completely unable to explain the non-necessity of. She contented herself with glaring around the building before beginning an in-depth examination of the new six-inch stilettos that she had purchased the day before.

* * * * * * * * *

Despite the fact that the only taste the two of them had was in their mouths, their ceremony itself -- once I could forget the outfit I was wearing -- was actually kind of nice. Once Argyle and I were in position, Dog began to make his way down the aisle in time to the music that was playing. In his mouth was a basket in which sat a ring that Mona would give Argyle when the time was right.

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, not to step on Jarod's toes here, this is his story, but what the…? Not only am I obligated to don this horrific orange bowtie, but I am now, also, required to cart this basket down the aisle of a church. I do not recall this being one of my duties as a dog or a pet. Argyle's book must be an out-dated copy or missing a few key pages.

Now, back to Jarod.

* * * * * * * * *

Following him was the bride herself. Okay, so the dress might have been a little overdone. A lot overdone. But we’re not too surprised by that, are we? No, I didn’t think so. Still, it was obvious from the look in Argyle’s eyes that he was still just as in love with her as he had been when she walked into Dick Dixon’s office and traded his heart for a bucket of quarters. Just watching the two of them, I could almost forgive them for the outfit they were making me wear. Almost.

As soon as the ceremony was over, I shot off to the back room and got out of the tuxedo as fast as possible, making a firm mental decision at the same time not to let anybody else choose my clothes for a long time. Coming out of the room, I found all three of them waiting near the church exit. This was the nice part -- a nice, stress-free chat before waving them goodbye and finding my next challenge. At least that was the way it was supposed to be…

* * * * * * * * *

Funeral Home
Long Beach, California

Miss Parker was the first person out the door when the funeral ceremony was over. Impatiently, she stood by the church doors, waiting for the other three to appear, and seriously considering leaving without them if they didn’t hurry. As soon as they did appear, she hustled them over to the vehicle.

“Right, we go back to the hotel, grab our things, head straight for the airport, get rid of the car and jump on the jet. Any complaints, objections, whatever, you can save them for when we get back to Blue Cove.”

The car shot out of the parking lot so fast that several people had to move out of the way to avoid being run over. They made record time back to the hotel and she glanced at her watch.

“Five minutes.”

Glaring at the three men, she stormed into the building without giving any of them the chance to say a word, and was back at the car herself in less than two, both hands impatiently tapping the steering wheel. As soon as they were ready, she left the parking lot as if the police were after them. They got two blocks before a stretch-limousine, parked outside a church, blocked their way.

* * * * * * * * *

Neither Mona nor Argyle had bothered to change their clothes. I think both were so pleased with the color scheme that they decided to stay in them until they got to their hotel. Just as we were finishing our drinks, the stretch-limousine that had been ordered to take them to the hotel where they would spend their honeymoon pulled up, blocking traffic as it reversed into the driveway of the church. With Dog at my side, I waited until Argyle had given his pet one final hug and turned to me.

“Jay-man…Jay-dog…”

It wasn’t often that Argyle was truly speechless, but I guessed, on this occasion, that he had good reason to be. I accepted a warm hug from Mona and also one from Argyle.

“Take care of yourselves. Have a good time.”

“Thanks, Jay-man.”

“No problem, Argyle. Just go and enjoy your honeymoon.”

I waved as they got into the car and saw it pull out into the traffic before looking down to where Dog was pulling on my trouser leg. Bending down, I picked him up, gently removing the bow tie that, despite stringent efforts, he hadn’t been able to take off before.

“What is it?”

That was when I saw it.

Them.

All four of them.

Less than a hundred yards away.

And I saw them see me.

And that was when I started running.


Epilogue

And so we’re finally back to that chase I mentioned at the very start…

I round the corner, knowing I’m far enough ahead to be safe now, and throw open the door to the room that constitutes my “back-up plan.” Okay, so old habits die hard. Putting Dog down, I wait for a few seconds until I hear the pounding footsteps. As she appears, I grab her and pull her into the room, shutting the door firmly behind us and glaring at her.

“What was that for? I thought we were beyond this, Parker.”

She shrugs, leaning against the wall to catch her breath. “Just trying to keep up appearances.”

“For who? Do you know how many blocks ago Lyle gave up the chase?”

“Well, I didn’t notice, did I?”

I eye her empty hands. “So that would explain why you’re not carrying your gun.”

“Better aerodynamics.”

Snorting, I bend down to pick up Dog who has been looking from one to the other as if we’re both crazy. Actually, come to think of it…

“So what are you doing here anyway?”

I eye her in amusement. “You weren’t paying a lot of attention when you got stopped outside that church, were you?”

“I was…distracted.”

I can see her eyeing my left hand and can’t help grinning. “No, Parker, I’m not the person getting married. Don’t worry, I’m not going to dive in to something like that, at least not with anyone else, not after what we went through in Barrow. ”

As I’m about to leave the room, she grabs my arm.

“Have you heard from Rebecca lately?”

I shrug carelessly. ”I haven’t talked to her for a few weeks. Why?”

“Lyle got a report that Andromeda was down here. I thought you might know.”

Why on earth couldn’t somebody have told me when I called? All the things I’ve been imagining, and that’s all it was. Rolling my eyes, I glare at her again. If she knew what I’ve gone through in the last four days…

“So now I get to find out what the lot of you were doing here. You could have told me at the start. It would have made things a lot less complicated.”

”For who?”

“Oh, everybody.” Reaching into the pocket of my jacket, I pull out a small pack of all-natural cold remedy. Something about her voice on the phone a few days ago gave me the clue…

“If you’d thought to mention it at the beginning, you could have already been back in Blue Cove, curled up on the sofa with a good book in front of the fire, instead of the fun little thunderstorm that the weather report mentioned you’re going to have to fly back through this afternoon, with one person reading and the other trying not to get sick all over your lap while the third sulks in a seat opposite you, unless, of course, you’re lucky and Lyle thumbs a lift with someone else.”

In my best flight-attendant manner, as I put the package into her unresisting hand and open the other door of the room, I smile. “Have a nice day!”

Even as I’m climbing into the car, I can hear her snort. With such a blocked nose, that can’t be pleasant …

End of Episode
A Life Less Ordinary