Just Bill

Just Bill

by Barry Knister

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Overview

Have you ever wondered what your dog was thinking?

Meet Bill. He’s a big, affectionate Labrador mutt who lives with his master Vinyl and the missus at the Donegal Golf and Country Club. Rescued by his owner after escaping a puppy mill, Bill is a bit of an oddity among all the other purebred dogs: Emma, the miniature poodle, Hotspur the loyal border Collie, and Wolfi and Stanzi the fearless and courageous dachshunds.

Bill spends most of his days hanging out with his doggy friends and trying to obey all the rules that the missus has. But when his master’s granddaughter Ruby shows up, things suddenly go from good to bad. Ruby has it out for Bill, and she’ll do anything to get her way.

Told from a dog’s perspective, this heartwarming, insightful, and emotional story of Bill and his four-legged group of gutsy companions will have you understanding life from a dog’s point of view—and believing in the power of kindness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946848130
Publisher: BHC Press
Publication date: 11/14/2017
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

After a career of college teaching, Barry Knister returned to writing fiction. The Dating Service, his first novel, was published by Berkley. He's written four other novels, including Just Bill (releasing 2017), The Anything Goes Girl, Deep North, and Godsend. Knister is the past secretary of Detroit Working Writers, and the former director of the Cranbrook Summer Writers Conference. He has published travel and humor in local markets, and writes an occasional blog/column for the Naples (Florida) Daily News. He lives in Michigan with his wife Barbara, and their Aussie shepherd, Skylar.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE FLOOZY

It's not your fault, it's my fault. Don't you see, Hotsie? God, out buying pots ..."

On the grass behind the Gilmores' pool enclosure, four dogs watch as Glenda Gilmore again breaks down. She's on the couch in her living room, dressed in a black leotard and shorts. "My fault, my fault —" She shakes her head, pounds her knees. As he has for twenty minutes, Hotspur sits opposite, bolt upright on Cliff Gilmore's BarcaLounger. His black coat glistens under track lighting, chest and muzzle pure white. As if to console Glenda, he raises a paw.

— She keeps talking about a sale, Emma says. — She was shopping when it happened.

— Sale?

Emma, a miniature poodle, glances at Chiffon lying next to her on the grass. Chiffon is a bichon frise. The look of separation anxiety on her face comes any time something disturbs her lapdog life. Emma turns back. — More tears, she says. —'All my fault, should have been here.'

— Fault?

The sun is setting. Again the poodle turns, this time to look out on the golf course. Everything is just now turning pink, the lawn and white sand traps, the blank row of condos to the west. Late-afternoon players are all in now, the last golf cart back in the shed. Here and there the eleventh fairway is traced by wide tire tracks. On the far side, the coming of darkness is marked by the bone-white trunks of melaleuca trees. Birdcalls in the upper branches mingle with Glenda Gilmore's crying. Ditzy, Emma thinks. She doesn't know what it means, but often hears the word used with Glenda Gilmore. And floozy.

— She is a good missus.

For emphasis, Bill lowers his big body to the grass. He settles with paws extended and head erect, intent on the Gilmore living room. — She likes to walk. She likes playing Frisbee. She goes with her mister when he takes Hotspur to the beach. Glenda is a good missus.

Emma looks again to the open doorwall. Still seated and motionless, Hotspur has not taken his eyes off the crying woman. He can't, of course, he's a border collie. But Glenda Gilmore won't see it that way. To her, Hotspur's unwavering gaze means he's paying attention, being sympathetic. That's why she loves him so much tonight, confiding in him, apologizing, confessing. They're more or less all like that, even Emma's own mistress, Madame.

— Stop crying, Luger growls. — People get old, people die. Geddagrip.

The toy schnauzer on Emma's left shakes his head free of gnats. Geddagrip is something his mister says all the time.

— I feel sorry, Chiffon whines. — Crying isunhappy. When my missus cries, I cry too. She's old, she says so. Her mister died and she cries. It's sad.

— Feel sorry for Hotspur, Emma says. — He has to keep sitting there.

— Hotsie is a dog.

— So are you.

— No. I'm Babycakes. Snookums. Love muffin.

She's old, it's sad. But "old" does not apply to Glenda Gilmore. Not at Donegal Golf and Country Club. Before she married Cliff and came here, she was a Lands' End model. That's why the other club wives call her a floozy.

Rising now with the Kleenex box, she disappears behind half-closed vertical blinds. At last Hotspur is free to look out. He's heard and smelled the other dogs all this time and wants to run out through the open doorwall. But he must now weigh this impulse against his sense of duty. It's bred into him, like his border-collie stare. Finally deciding, he hops down and trots after his mistress.

— People die, Luger says again. — They live, they die.

— You told us, Emma says.

— Work hard, play hard, die. No crying.

— You told us.

— Work hard, play hard —

She barks at him. The single, harsh report echoes out into the darkness. Silenced, after a moment the schnauzer takes a breath and lets it out. He rises on his haunches.

— Time for the walk, he says. — Night. The walk, the news, then sleep.

He turns and trots along the brick path at the back of the pool cage. Luger may or may not stop to tell the three Yorkshire terriers about Cliff Gilmore. It depends on whether the Dog speech is still going on in his well-groomed head. Once under way the speeches are hard to stop, something like the prey drive in certain breeds.

— I'm going too.

Rising, Emma stretches luxuriously. Chiffon also stands. She hates walking alone, and this is also true of her mistress. Like Emma, the bichon was raised from puppyhood by one person. Few would believe how closely such dogs come to resemble their owners.

— What about you?

Bill shakes his head. He is standing again, still intent on the open doorwall. Compared to the other dogs, he is huge.

She turns and begins walking along the brick path. Buddies. That's the human word for Bill and Hotspur. Chiffon is not a buddy, but she now catches up and trots alongside.

CHAPTER 2

VINYL

Bill watches them follow the narrow footpath. From the back they look like littermates, but two dogs could not be more different. Chiffon seems never to have had an actual thought, but Emma has real intelligence. And she knows words, lots of them. Hotspur is smart, too, but border-collie smart. That means something else.

He turns back to the Gilmores' pool cage, hoping the collie will come out. The open doorwall reveals a comfortable interior. Like the house he lives in, it has high ceilings. There are colorful pictures on the walls, furniture and area rugs. Being tall, Bill can see to the front foyer. His long legs and deep chest, his big head and serious face all make him an oddity at Donegal. With few exceptions, the dogs here are small breeds, easily carried on planes or crated in cars.

Again the Gilmore woman appears in the opening. She is tall, with broad shoulders and short red hair. No longer crying, she reaches up and the doorwall rumbles closed. Vertical blinds begin tracking across the glass.

Resigned, Bill flexes long, solid legs, then stretches. Half Labrador retriever, he is black with short hair. His muzzle is longer than those of purebreds, and his height leads people to speculate on his parentage. His broad chest has a white streak, giving him what his missus calls a well-dressed look.

He turns away and regards the jungle rough on the far side of the fairway. Against the deepening night sky it looks thick and black. Maybe the Gilmore missus will feel better when she takes Hotspur for his walk. That's something everyone with a dog has to do. Work, play, knee or hip pain, parties, brunch, church — no matter what, they have to walk the dog. Bill's mister sometimes sees Glenda out with the collie. The next time this happens, he will tell her he is sorry.

Bill begins trotting along the brick path in the opposite direction taken by the others. All the houses here have pools and spas protected by screen cages. He passes two with doors and windows already sealed behind storm shutters. Come the rain and sultry weather of hurricane season, half the houses at Donegal will look like that.

Sorry. People stopping to talk use the word often at Donegal. Bill's mister always takes off his cap, holding it behind his back as the other person tells about someone who's died, or gone to assisted living. Or just had or is about to have surgery. Restaurants, church, scramble tournaments, shotgun starts, owner assessment fees — understanding none of it, Bill waits patiently.

He nears the Telecoms' big house. That's what Madame calls them, Emma's missus. Madame is one of the original residents at Donegal, and she knows telecom stock is how the family made their money. Inside, both white-haired Telecoms are on their red couch, watching TV. They each hold a dachshund, and all four are watching the screen.

Bill continues along the path. The birds have stopped, but insects are now diving and buzzing around his ears. Although they're floppy they stand high on his head, giving him a vigilant look. It makes some people nervous. Along with being half Labrador, there is German shepherd in him. A quarter of Bill is Great Dane.

Vigilant, yes, but not fierce. Bill is what's called a soft dog. He likes the dachshunds and other small dogs, letting them bounce around and sniff him. Mrs. Telecom loves Mozart, and that explains her dogs' names, Wolfi and Stanzi. Her husband takes them with him when he plays golf. They are a fixture at Donegal, and a source of envy among other dogs. How can you not feel envy, seeing them seated side by side on a platform between golf bags, their small, proud heads raised as the cart trundles over the course? Before hurricane season they fly north, in a satchel placed under the missus' seat. When they get there, the car is waiting, shipped in a truck.

* * *

AS HE NEARS the Vinyl house, Bill trots faster. His hearing grows precise, ears more erect. He was saved by his mister, and there is nothing he can ask that Bill won't do. Reaching the screen cage, he sees the man inside, on a chaise. It fills the dog with longing. The reading lamp is on, Vinyl stretched out next to the pool reading a magazine. A sound comes from Bill's throat, something between a whine and a yodel. It's impossible not to love what he sees, impossible not to want to be with the man — lying, sitting, walking — anywhere at all.

The mister lowers the latest issue of Time. "Old Bill, old scout —"

The cage's screened door was designed to open out, but Vinyl has reversed it. Bill places his left paw on the frame, and shoves. Quickly he noses in and begins slipping through. Door and frame rub his sides, and sometimes his tail gets banged — but not tonight. The door claps shut as he trots over. The mister is sitting up, ready to greet him.

"Good old Bill, what've you been up to?" Using both hands, Vinyl begins scratching the dog's neck. Now he scratches behind the ears. I love it, Bill thinks, eyes closed. Always the same, every time. "You digging anywhere? Don't be digging, Bill, no more of that, right? We agreed, didn't we?"

Digging. Of course not, Bill thinks. Never. Eyes closed, barely able to stand, he feels transported. This perhaps is the best, to be greeted this way and scratched in the best places as the mister speaks to you and you alone.

Vinyl likes it, too. At such times he often thinks about the dog's name. The Depression-era song "Bill" had still been popular in his boyhood during the war. Fifty years later, having done well in vinyl siding, he sold his business and bought a place in Florida, then one on a lake in Michigan. And two years later, up in Michigan sometime after eight in the morning, walking as he did every day before breakfast along a tree-canopied dirt road, he had glanced back. Trailing him by fifty feet was a long-legged, skinny stray. "A bag of bones" is how he later put it. For half a mile this went on, until Vinyl at last stopped and waited. Sick with parasites and not yet a year old, the dog was already big. In one of those moments that alter every day to follow, Vinyl put out his hand. The stray touched it with his nose. They had walked home, where Vinyl fed him against the protests of his wife.

The glass slider opens. With the scratching still in progress, Bill looks over as the missus steps out. She dislikes him less now, but that first day she saw him as a nuisance. What if it's sick? she called from the house as they came up the drive. What if it's dangerous? It's a mutt, a mongrel. What are you thinking? No papers, no breeder. We're retired, we don't need the aggravation. Vinyl didn't answer. At the door, he knelt on the walk and looked in Bill's eyes. He opened his mouth to see the teeth, felt along the ribs, then placed his fingers in the gaps between. He's letting me touch him all over, Vinyl said. He trusts me. They do the choosing, just like women. But the missus had already gone inside. Still kneeling, the man cupped the dog's face. You're a hobo, he said. A Depression dog. Your name is Bill.

"What a nice night," the missus says. "Want some tea?"

"Sounds good."

She is again holding the thing, looking down at it in her arms. For days she's been doing this. Wrapped in a receiving blanket like a real baby, it has a shiny face. The eyes blink as the missus rocks, and now it makes a sound something like a cat. "What do you think, Bill? This is Jeremy. You'll meet the real Jeremy tomorrow. Yes you will, just as cute as they come."

She reaches down and holds it in front of him. It smells like the shower curtain. He looks up and sees the missus is smiling. She straightens and goes inside. "It's something she read," Vinyl says, still scratching. "She thinks you might be jealous of the baby, so she's getting you ready with a doll. Her middle name is worry."

All Bill understands is that the missus has stopped making a fuss when he's wet. The first time he came out of the lake in Michigan, with the great pleasure of water still delighting the Labrador part of his nature, Bill shook himself on the dock. Mrs. Vinyl yelled about her dress, the chair cushion. She demanded the mister do something — lock the dog in the garage or tool shed — anything, so he wouldn't do what was in his nature, to plunge into the delicious Michigan lake and lunge at fish.

Vinyl stops scratching and sits back. The dog quivers from a strong wish to jump up and sprawl on the man, to mold himself into the presence that loves him, that is warm and generous and walked along the road at the most important time. But he doesn't. Not on the flimsy chaise. On the couch inside, sometimes, but only when the mister is taken with a need of his own. Usually it happens when the missus isn't with him. At such moments the small need flows from Vinyl's head and heart to his hand — and he pats the cushion next to him. When this happens, Bill jumps up and settles close. It's like what the missus calls all the things that make her voice happy. Certain people, and things to eat, and weather. She calls them all heaven.

But not on the chaise. Bill spreads himself on the cool, smooth concrete at Vinyl's feet. He smells chlorine. Sometimes when it's hot, if the mister is in the pool and makes a certain move — Bill always watches for it, sprawled and panting in the midday heat — if he calls and claps his hands, oh what goodness! It's almost equal to the big lake in Michigan, spreading from sandy shore and dock, out beyond the diving platform.

No. Eyes closed, hearing the phone ringing inside, Bill knows the lake is better than the swimming pool. Better even, he decides, hearing the missus talking now in her high voice, than the times the mister takes him to Naples Pier. Together they walk out over water, filing between rows of men talking, smoking, the air loaded with scents of ocean and fish. Bill feels proud to be taken, sensing eyes on him, hearing questions asked, hands stroking. Then they go down steps to the beach. Yes, that is wonderful, too. The Gulf, the mister calls it, tasting of salt. Fish are everywhere, more than at the lake, almost too many. Half asleep now, he remembers barking and lunging, seeing flat, wavy things that flap and scoot, leaving plumes of sand.

Many things make no sense to him. Lying under the dining table is one, looking at the feet of strangers, everyone talking, nicking the plates with knives. Bill stays still and listens, smelling food, smelling strange bodies and shoes, and what's on the shoes. Sometimes the voices rise. When this happens, it makes him nervous. Like all dogs, Bill is a pack animal, with strong loyalty to his leader. When Vinyl seems for some unknowable reason to not be himself — shouting, banging the arms of his chair — Bill leaves.

The missus comes out again. This time, she doesn't have the doll. "That was Rita Fisk. Cliff Gilmore died two hours ago."

"Oh God."

"He had a coronary playing Frisbee with Hotspur. At the tennis courts. He died in the EMS van."

"Was Glenda with him?"

"Shopping. It was on her answering machine when she came in. Talk about insensitive. You're shopping, you come in and find out about it that way. Rita's there now. Such a nice man."

"Cliff was a wonderful guy. The best. How's Glenda?"

"Rita says not well. Because she wasn't there. Of course they weren't married all that long, who can really know?"

Vinyl doesn't answer right away. "None of you like her because she's young."

"Don't be silly."

"'Trophy wife, floozy, bimbo —'"

"Rita thought you might be willing to walk Hotspur."

The mister stands and Bill does the same. It's time to walk, and the missus said Hotspur.

"I don't want you hanging out over there."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Just Bill"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Barry Knister.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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