Monthly Archives: November 2014

Night life in Happy Jack’s: A dog and fish story

by Dell Franklin

IMG_6070A packed Friday night, the band’s cranking, the fleet’s in, the crowd’s juiced just enough to release inhibitions but not yet stuporous or apeshit, a magical time for a bartender, and then this wolfish-looking guy in a hooded sweatshirt and knee-high rubber boots comes in with a pit bull and not just any pit bull. He’s a fisherman, no doubt, but I’ve never seen him in here before and right off my fellow emotional tyrant of a bartender, Jessi, is hysterical at the sight of his dog, both of them wedging into the crowd as those well-behaved dogs of several local fisherman perk up under the feet of their masters along the bar, between stools and under tables. Jessi, known to tongue-lash and punch out guys, quails like a terrified kitten.

My policy is to allow dogs in Happy Jack’s. Though the county has banned dogs in bars for health reasons, supposedly, it’s my contention the dogs owned by violent prone patrons of this particular bar work as a calming affect, like a tranquilizer, and, since all their dogs get along splendidly, it gives them a chance to compliment each other and brag about their dogs, all of them ideal companions on the high seas.

I ask Mel Sylliphant if he knows the guy dragging his pit bull toward the poolroom, freaking out all the women, of which there are plenty. But no, Mel, who’s from up north, has never seen this guy before.

“Look at the balls on that pit,” he says with awe and respect. “Those suckers are fuckin’ tennis balls!”

The dog is black with a spiked collar. The fisherman is built like a barrel and, after pulling down his hood, sports a watch cap, his beard is red in an angular hawk face encasing two fierce eyeballs surveying the crowd.

Jessi, vibrating with paranoia, jabs me. “Dell, we gotta get that dog outta here. Please, I’m scared!”

I go out from behind the bar. A path is cleared. A space is between the crowd and the fisherman and his pit bull, and when he spots me coming he grins, displaying two incisors and no front teeth. I stop before him while his dog eyes me with keen vigilance. The fucker could take off my calf with one chomp.

“Pal, I suggest you take your dog outside,” I say. “He’s freaking everybody out. Why don’t you tie him up somewhere and come back in for a drink. That’s all I ask.”

He peers around. “Folks got dogs in here. Spike ain’t gonna attack nobody ‘less they attack him.”

“No human or dog’s gonna attack your dog—they’re all scared of that monster.”

“That ain’t my fault. Spike goes where I go. I don’t like my dog bein’ discriminated against cuz he’s a pit. At the Bear Flag in Moss Landing, they let me bring Spike in alla time.”

“Well, this ain’t the Bear Flag.”

“What is this—a pussy bar? You head pussy?”

“All right, that’s enough outta you. If you’re gonna pull that shit, YOU’RE outta here.”

“What if I ain’t leavin’, boy?”

Boy? I’m 53 and he’s at least 15 years younger than me. “I can call the cops.”

“Ooooooo, I’m so scared. ‘Sides, they ain’t gonna do squat for bringin’ my dog in. So go on an’ call the motherfuckers.”

“That’s a last resort. I don’t want the cops in here. It’s your dog I’m concerned about.” I fold my arms. “I don’t know your dog. I KNOW the dogs in here. They’re not fighting dogs. They’re scared of your dog. That’s why they’re not out here sniffing. Fear leads to fights among dogs…”

“What’re you, a dog shrink?”

I sigh. “I don’t want a dog fight with this place packed. This is business, man. People’ll walk out of here or they won’t come in when they see your dog, and it’s my responsibility to keep this crowd and do a big business. This is a good night. Everybody’s having a great time. Your dog, even if he’s a peaceful dog, which I trust he is, is still a pit bull the size of a fucking mastiff, and he’s gonna run everybody out of here. It’s business, not personal. I got nothing against you or your dog. Okay?”

He stares at me, eyes empty. “I want a beer.’

“I know you do. I’ll gladly serve you a beer, but not until you get your dog out of here. Okay?”

“I don’t like bein’ away from my dog,” he explains. “The Bear Flag in Moss Landing, the Buena Vista in Eureka, LaRocca in ‘Frisco, they all let me bring Spike in. What’s wrong with this dive? I heard this was supposed to be a man’s bar, and Morro Bay was a tough town. Why are all these pussies afraid of Spike?”

I unfold my arms. “You want a beer, take Spike out.” I reach down and pet Spike’s massive cranium, for he’s gazing up at me with a benign, hopeful look, like he’s been through this before and wants no trouble. “Good boy,” I coo. “Look, I don’t wanna separate you from Spike, man. I can see you two are tight. It’s my opinion a dog like Spike is a far better companion than any woman. You can’t trust a woman like you can a magnificent specimen like Spike.”

He’s still gazing at me with those empty eyes. But I see a glimmer is registering. “Well…” he says.

“You see, the rest of these dogs, well, they’re just ordinary run-of-the-mill mutts. They’re not exceptional studs like Spike. With a dog like Spike, we have to make an exception. The other dogs are spooked by his superior physical gifts. Okay?”

“Well…okay,” he says, not happy. “But this dive, Happy Jack’s, I’m real disappointed. I heard this was a man’s bar. Looks to me like a bunch-a cake-eaters.”

“I gotta get back to work now. You go ahead and take Spike outside, guy, and come on in for that beer.”

I walk him out the front door and watch him continue bow-legged down the street half a block to his pick-up with camper shell. He deposits Spike inside and stands talking to him. He’s got Oregon plates. I return to the bar and Jessi heaves a sigh of relief and we catch up because she fell behind while I conversed with Spike’s master. We do a shot of Crown Royal.

Then he returns. And now he’s holding a fish skeleton about a foot and a half long, at least. This fish skeleton has immense jaws, like a barracuda. The sight of this skeleton is terrifying and women are squealing and edging away into the crush as the lunatic walks with the skeleton thrust out in front of him as if to pave his way. Christ! Again, Jessi is quailing.

“That dude’s crazy!” she cries. “Look at his eyes!”

Though fishermen in the bar are not even slightly aroused, they are also aware of being in the company of a madman, whose goddamn fish skeleton, with its soccer ball-size head and massive jaws, looks prehistoric, like it was manufactured in a Hollywood special effects studio for a horror movie where a blown up version of this fish skeleton prowls the earth and gobbles up a panicky stampede of humans.

And now, as a girl moves gingerly away from him, he thrusts the skeleton at her and she shrieks and flees, pushing through the throng toward the band area up front. Now the maniac is thrusting the fish and clacking its jaws at every woman in the vicinity and grinning, his incisors flaring, having a big time. The fishermen clustered in or near the poolroom seem amused, their dogs out of danger. Most of them have been to the Bear Flag and other dangerous dives in various ports, and so it’s I who must calm down Jessi and restore order in the bar.

I go out front, out of range of the fucking fish. “Hey, you gotta get that fucking thing outta here,” I tell him. “That is the most evil-looking specimen I’ve ever laid my eyes on, dude.”

“It ain’t like it’s alive, boy. It don’t bite. They let me bring it in the Bear Flag in Moss Landing and LaRocca in…”

I put up my hand. “I want that goddamn thing outta here, bub.”

“Yer getting’ huffy with me, boy. I don’t like that.”

“Yeh, well, tough shit. Every girl in here’s freaked out with you thrusting that ugly fish at ‘em.”

“Fuck ‘em. If they can’t take a little joke, tough titty.”

“I’m gonna ask you one more time—get that fucking ghastly fish outta here.”

“And if I don’t?” He regards me with utter disrespect. “What yah gonna do about it, boy?”

I step forward. I take a deep breath. “I’m gonna kill you.” I say it as quietly as possible in the din, without emotion. I do not mean to say this; it just comes out. I realize I mean it, too.

“You’re gonna…KILL me?”

I nod, staring into his eyes, which for the first time show some recognition of what is going on.

“That’s a pretty drastic reaction to my goddam fish,” he says. “Yer gonna kill me over a fish? A dead fish?”

I nod. “This bar is MY territory. I make the rules, and you’re in my territory breaking my rules. This bar is also my livelihood. You’re driving people out, fucking with my livelihood. Those are grounds to kill you. Men have killed over less. I will kill you right here and sleep like a baby, and my only regret will be making poor Spike an orphan. Go ahead, try me.”

My spiel is registering. “Jeezus, yer serious, ain’t yah?”

I’m still staring into his eyes, having moved closer, giving him the same look my bad-ass father gave any threatening person before kicking their ass, a look which in most cases paralyzed them if they had even a shred of sense and self-preservation.

“All right, all right.” He’s backing up. “Jeezus, and I heard this was a cool bar. Settle down, man.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, motherfucker, I’m ready to kill!”

“All right. I’m takin’ my fish back to my truck. It was just a joke. Don’t know why everybody’s uptight over a dead fish. Up in Alaska…”

“Get the fuck outta here. You’re eighty-sixed for life, motherfucker.”

“All right. Jeezus.” He leaves with his fish. People make a path. He doesn’t return, but a few minutes later, after I’ve shared another shot of CR with Jessi, somebody tells me to look out the window and when I do, there he is, across the street in front of Legends, along with a crowd of regulars out on the sidewalk, trying to get in with Spike, and the bartender, Lou, is in the doorway pleading with him and seeming to get nowhere, and in Legends, of course, no dogs are allowed, period. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he shares his beach shack with the million-dollar view with Wilbur, a rescue dog. Dell is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad who played professionally in the early days of baseball, The Ball Player’s Son.

How beautiful it is

She abused me
for good and bad

and I hurt
her more than she

hurt me.

It’s such an intimate
thing to be taken

that way
to let someone else

have control

until it hurts
so much

you cry out
stop! or harder


until you lose
your mind

swimming in the pain
thinking how beautiful it is.

 —Stacey Warde

Walking Wilbur in Carmel-by-the-Sea


When a friend visits, he tries to climb atop them, lay his head on their chest, and gaze up with sad, needy eyes, a shameless glutton for affection.

by Dell Franklin

My mostly part-time woman of over 25 years, Colleen, and my full-time dog, Wilbur, and I made a getaway two-day trip to luxurious, upper-than-up-scale Carmel-by-the-Sea to celebrate our birthdays. I found Wilbur in a Labrador rescue shelter down south last Thanksgiving. He’s a hefty, floppy Chocolate Lab with a white beard. He was around 8 when I got him, had been in the shelter over seven months, weighed around 63 pounds, his coat more dun than brown, and he was wild and suspicious of strangers and dogs, with a left front fang pulled, his fleas so bad when they found him abandoned in San Pedro that he had chewed off his original coat and grown a new one.

When I brought him to sleepy, dog-crazy Cayucos, he was hyper-vigilant, and so aggressive (like he’d been in prison) I couldn’t take him to the Morro Bay dog park, where he fought, and had to walk him in places where there were no dogs. His abandonment issue was so severe he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. But eventually he calmed down and adjusted and became a model citizen at the dog park. He now weighs 85 pounds and his coat is a rich chocolate and he nuzzles strangers and plays with other dogs and goes out of his way to make friends with neighbor cats. When a friend visits, he tries to climb atop them, lay his head on their chest, and gaze up with sad, needy eyes, a shameless glutton for affection.

After we settled in our cozy third-story room with private balcony and an ocean view of Carmel-By-The-Sea, I decided to take Wilbur for a walk before a sauna, swim in the pool, shower, and booze hour. We started off down San Carlos Street, headed for the main downtown drag, Ocean Avenue. An athletically thin woman in designer sweat suit, ball cap and shades headed toward us on the same side of the street. She began looking nervous as we approached, Wilbur pulling because he wanted to nuzzle and sniff her two immaculate toy poodles who looked to have come from a dog show. The woman hastily, one hand holding cell phone, the other a double leash, dragged her yipping dogs across the street like a frightened hare as Wilbur quickly dragged me to the tree where the poodles had pissed and lifted his leg. I waved to the woman, but apparently she was no longer aware of my presence and skittered away.

CITY LIFE.WALKING WILBUR IIWilbur dumped a good load into a bush so dense I could not recover his turds, which was just as well, because I had no intention of toting around a bag of shit in trendy Carmel-By-The-Sea.

We continued on. A slender man around my age with a mincing walk, whose sparkling leash pulled a small pedigree of Asian extraction, saw me coming and darted across the street as Wilbur continued to pull me along like a cork, even though I weigh 190. I finally reached the main drag, which was a-flow with Asian and European tourists, a few American tourists and locals, flawlessly tanned, sporting $200 haircuts and a thousand bucks of casual wear, who carried tote bags, cell phones and walked manicured mini canines almost as spiffy as their masters. 

I noticed that the bejeweled dogs, like their masters, avoided eye contact and marched by an anxious-to-make-friends Wilbur and me as if we didn’t exist and were perhaps a plague. I admit to having worn a $3 pair of thrift store shorts and a dollar T-shirt, and haven’t had a haircut since last Christmas, and won’t shave until we go to the five-star French restaurant tonight, but still, in Cayucos, all us locals make eye contact with each other and our dogs, who are beseeching in their need for a pet, a nuzzle, perhaps a biscuit; while their masters engage in small town chit-chat, the dogs smiling and sniffing. 

Up and down the main drag we plunged, big old Wilbur clearing a path as Carmel-By-The-Sea denizens (among the highest dog owning population per capita in the country) avoided Wilbur and me and scurried to the edges of the sidewalk and sometimes into the street! When Wilbur decided to take a shit at a manicured bush on the sidewalk, I was embarrassed, quickly pulled him away, and he was docile as I explained this was not Cayucos, this was Carmel-By-The-Sea, where there were no price tags on any items in any of the myriad galleries and boutiques, not even in the drug store, and it was low class and a poor reflection on your master to shit in the street, even if I did sport a poop bag. 

Wilbur held on, though he did pee on everything (I saw no foo-foo poodles and rare breeds peeing) and we continued our prowl, making sure to journey in our rambunctious way to the end of the business section before starting back up the other side of the street, where a local cop on foot flashed us the stink eye as Wilbur lunged at a Cocker Spaniel with fur combed clear to his paws, the master wincing as I held him back. 

Finally we veered off the crowded main drag and entered a side street and headed to a residential area, where Wilbur dumped a good load into a bush so dense I could not recover his turds, which was just as well, because I had no intention of toting around a bag of shit in trendy Carmel-By-The-Sea.

We emerged near the post office, across from Friar Tuck’s diner, to the side of La Dolce Vita restaurant, and spotted two park benches in a tiny area with one tree. I was limping badly at this point from recent knee surgery, and Wilbur was winded.

“Let’s take a load off our feet, Wilbur,” I said. “We still got a few blocks back to the room.”

CITY LIFE.WALKING WILBUR IIIWe sat down, me lounging on the bench, Wilbur on his hind legs. Not ten seconds passed when I spotted a beautiful middle-aged woman coming out of the post office, perfectly coiffed, though dressed as if gardening. From across the street she smiled at us and reached into a very slick SUV and retrieved a package and headed toward us in full stride. Wilbur straightened, tail wagging frantically as the woman handed me a bag of treats and immersed herself in Wilbur, who lay his face upon her breast and gave her the needy, sad eyes. The bag held super-nutritional organic beef jerky.

“Oh what a beautiful Chocolate Lab,” she gushed. “What’s his name?”


“Oh, what a perfect name—he is a Wilbur.” She smiled at me. “I think Wilbur will enjoy his treats.”

“Well, thank you. Wilbur’s very pleased.” I fed him a beef jerky and he devoured it.

“Oh thank you, for letting me meet Wilbur.”

They hugged some more, but then she had to leave, wished us a good day, and drove off.

Wilbur and I headed back to our room. More masters and dogs avoided us. So what. Wilbur had chewed four treats and wanted more. When we reached the hotel and our room, I told Colleen everything, ending with the wonderful, beautiful Samaritan giving us treats.

“Oh for God’s Sake,” she scoffed, long suffering. “The woman probably felt sorry for Wilbur, the poor thing being with a homeless-looking, crazy old man.” §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he shares his beach shack with the million-dollar view with Wilbur, a rescue dog. Dell is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad who played professionally in the early days of baseball, The Ball Player’s Son.

The tricksters

They run like ghosts
the coyotes
twirling from head
and tail

turning with the swift fury
of the stirred dust devil

and just as quickly
on a small outcropping
with a sharp stillness

to gaze and make
contact, to let

you know they’ll be
gone in a flash,
just like you, leaving
their markings

in secret places
of the field.

—Stacey Warde

Culinary relativism: The last temptation of Greer

FICTION.Killerwhales_jumpingby January Anderson

“Aw, come on, Airy! Tell me the killer whale story? Please?”

“Again?” Ariel loosened her waitress apron and fell onto the couch, tossing her “Capn’s Catch” nametag on the coffee table. She rolled her eyes at 9-year-old Timmy, the neighbor’s kid who visited often. She’d just gotten off the graveyard shift—Timmy’s Saturday morning was her Friday night.

“For Pete’s sake, Timmy! You’ve heard it so many times you gotta know it by heart. Why don’t you tell it?”

“Okay, okay…um…” Timmy squirmed. “You know this guy, and he’s an abalone diver and…I forget. Pleeeeeeeeese, Ariel?” he pleaded.

“If I tell you again, you promise to go outside and pull weeds or something and let me sleep?”

Timmy agreed readily. Ariel sighed and began the tale that an abalone fisherman friend had told her years ago.

“Kenny is an abalone diver who’s been making a living at it since he was about 15. He learned from his father, who learned from his father. When Kenny goes to work, instead of wearing a jacket, he puts on a rubber suit connected to an air hose and basically pokes around the bottom of the ocean for snails—that’s what abs are, just big snails, but really good to eat.

“He’s been in the water with all kinds of things. Seals, dolphins, hammerheads, Great Whites, you name it. He’s seen a lot of killer whales and says they’re really, really smart—smarter than dolphins, maybe as smart as people. Orcas mostly eat fish, not people, even though they could, easy. Kenny says they just seem to have a rule not to eat humans.

“Well, one day, Kenny and Panama Pat had been diving out by Santa Cruz Island from Kenny’s boat, the Sally J. They were done for the day and crossing the channel to Santa Barbara. A ways from the boat a couple of killer whales surfaced, looked at them, and disappeared.

“Kenny and Panama waited for the whales to come back up again close to the boat because killer whales always do that, Kenny says. But instead, the whales surfaced further away.

“‘That’s weird,’ Panama said to Kenny. ‘Maybe they’re gonna go around and come up astern.’

“After a few minutes, the whales surfaced even farther out, looked back, and swam away from the Sally J as fast as Kenny and Panama had ever seen orcas go.

“‘Boy, that’s strange!’ Kenny said. ‘I’ve never seen killer whales act that way.’

“‘Yeah,’ Panama said. ‘They’re acting almost like they was guilty or something….’”


Greer Dettins thumbed the stiff plastic laminating on the menu and reviewed the list of hamburger variations. Cheeseburgers. Swiss cheese mushroom burgers. Onion burgers. Hamburgers with bacon, avocado and cheese. Hamburgers with nothing but a scrap of lettuce and a blood-like dab of ketchup.

Anymore, his stomach didn’t squelch at the barbarity of it, but his mind did. It made him, Greer thought, out of place, alien—a familiar feeling most days, but not the kind of thing you got used to. Sure as hell not in a place like this.

It had looked decent enough from the road, a 24-hour converted Denny’s called “Capn’s Catch,” on the freeway’s edge of a wind-bitten California waterfront town. Greer figured the half-dozen customers charging their hands on warm coffee mugs, settled in booths or elbow-propped at the counter, to be garbage workers, commercial fishermen, farmers. It was four o’clock in the morning.

With a businesslike weariness, he caught the waitress’s eye.

“What can I get you?” She leaned against the booth, pen and pad poised.

“The chef’s salad without the meat, cheese, or egg, double tomatoes and avocado. Oil and vinegar, whole wheat rolls, margarine, no butter.”

Her pen twaddled across the pad. “Sounds healthy. Juice to drink?” She nailed him levelly with eyes so blue it was like looking into sky. She was young, a few pounds crowding thin but not quite fat. No wedding ring, maybe five years younger than himself—and nearly pretty, he thought.

“Coffee, and not de-caf,” he said.

She raised her eyebrows.

“What?” Greer was annoyed.


“I’m not a health fanatic. I just don’t eat animals, that’s all.”

“S’fine with me,” the waitress shrugged as she left. Vaguely flattered, Greer felt himself blush. By the time she was back with the coffee, he’d willed the heat from his face. He avoided her eye while she leisurely appraised the stream as it poured into the cup.

“You look like a tired working guy in for a quick bite before heading home,” she ventured. “On this shift, you get so you can spot ‘em from the wierdos.”

“That’s me,” he mumbled, wishing he’d brought something to read. He grasped for the coffee. She wasn’t wrong—he was returning home from a month-long road tour of county fairs, and he was tired of hotels. He’d decided to drive straight through the night.

“What do you do?” she persisted.

“I’m an animal trainer. Reinforced behavior specialist. I train parrots.” He said the words dryly.

“Oh! Yeah.” She nodded, as if satisfied. “That’d give you a different perspective on things.”

“It does.” His tone was short. She lifted a brow in acknowledgment of the dismissal as she left. Greer frowned.

It was another five minutes before his salad was up. The waitress announced it by setting on the table a wire-handled holder of oil and vinegar and a saucer of sliced lemon.

“So what made you say that?” Greer asked, allowing a slim smile.

The waitress paused. “Say what?”

“That being an animal trainer would give me a different perspective.”

Mechanically inventorying the table’s contents, she answered, “Probably because you didn’t order the cheeseburger.”

“Of course I didn’t order a cheeseburger. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know that. You may think I’m nuts, but I can hear people thinking food. I can be back in the kitchen and hear some guy in booth seven thinking ‘pie.’ No kidding. I’m really good at hearing people think coffee. I thought I heard you thinking cheeseburger, but now I can see why…why not.”

Greer was intrigued. “Dogs can sense when their owners are thinking about going out. Must be the same kind of thing.”

The waitress was all business again. “Might be. Never thought of it that way.” She hurried off to return shortly with his salad.

“You know,” Greer said, leaning back as she set his dinner in front of him, “what you do for a living isn’t all that different from what my birds do.”

“And what’s that?”

“I run a little parrot circus with a macaw and a couple Amazons. We do shows at county fairs and schools, things like that. The birds aren’t pets—I think of them more as business partners. They’re the ones paying for this meal.”

“Smart birds?”

“They’re more intelligent than most people think. They can learn almost anything—how to water ski, paint pictures, drive cars, answer telephones, play basketball, ring bells, shoot cannons…you name it.”

“That’s one way to make a living.”

Greer’s eyes fixed on her face. He was enjoying himself. “One of the first things I teach them is how to retrieve. When they walk a ball or get in a scooter, it’s just a variation on retrieving. Like you retrieved this salad from over there.” He grinned. “And you did it for the same reason.”

“You mean me bringing you food is like a bird doing a trick?”

“They’re not tricks.” Greer bristled. “They’re behaviors. Kids at school assemblies always ask, ‘How does the bird do that trick?’ I tell them, ‘He sees the ball, he picks it up, puts it in the basket, and I give him a sunflower seed. It’s exactly the same thing as your dads when they go to work and get a paycheck.’”

The waitress regarded him solemnly. “That’s why you didn’t order a cheeseburger?”

Disconcerted, Greer dug into his breast pocket for the sunflower seeds he sprinkled on salads to boost the protein—seeds and nuts were vital to a human vegetarian diet, but few restaurant menus reflected it. He was about to say as much to the waitress, but she spoke first.

“Can I bring you anything else?”

“I think I’ve got everything,” he said. She smiled an “okay” and bustled off.

Halfway through his salad, Greer decided to ask for more bread and coffee after all. He was craning his head to spot the waitress when she rounded a corner and headed toward him with a steaming coffee pot and a basket of rolls.

Greer gasped. “That’s incredible! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a human.”

“No?” She stood with the coffee. “You know, I still could swear I heard you thinking cheeseburger when you first came in.”

“Kind of.” His fork pinned an avocado slice against a chunk of lettuce. “In my business, you come to hate the idea of people eating meat. Working with animals, I’ve come to realize there’s no difference between us and them. They fall in love, get their feelings hurt, feel happy or sad. They even blush when they’re embarrassed, but you can’t see it through their feathers or fur.

“And really, we only do a few things. We push—when you’re writing with your pen, you’re pushing it across a piece of paper. We pull. We walk, run, and retrieve. And that’s about it. Everything else is just a variation.”

He triumphantly lifted a fork-full of salad and planted it in his mouth, crunching loudly.

“I guess this means you’re only going to leave me a sunflower seed for a tip.” She laughed at her own cleverness.

Greer smiled in spite of himself and pointed his fork at her. “You remind me of an Australian shepherd-type dog I used to have. Orca. He was a mind reader with a sense of humor.”

“I know those dogs,” she said. “You named him Orca because he was black and white like a killer whale?”

Greer nodded, mouth full.

“We get killer whales along the coast here.” She pulled her order pad from her apron and tallied his check. “Commercial fishermen say they’re so smart it’s scary. One diver I know says he wants to be reincarnated as one. He says they’re ‘free spirits.’”

“‘Killer whale’ is a misnomer. It’s a myth that they eat humans. I figured you were smarter than that.” He popped a piece of roll into his mouth.

The waitress refilled his coffee cup.

“Mister,” she said sweetly, slipping the check on the table, “orcas eat whatever they want.”

Greer snorted good-naturedly at her retreating back. After he finished his meal, he turned the check over and unhurriedly counted out money from his pocket. He wrapped a couple of dollar bills around some sunflower seeds and, smiling, slid it beneath the plate. She wouldn’t find it until after he was gone.

He was pushing open the front door to leave when he heard her call him.

“Wait,” she said. She held a small paper bag, weighted at the bottom. “I think your old dog Orca would really want this.” She hesitated. “You said there’s no difference between us and them.” She put the bag in his hands and ushered him out the door. “Have a safe drive. Come back again.”

Greer lifted the bag in an awkward salute and walked to a dusty cargo van with “Paradise Parrot Circus” painted on the side. Feeling the waitress’ eyes burning a hole in his back, he drove away.

He’d gone a few miles before he pulled the van to the side of the coast highway. The broad hulk of the Pacific surged darkly in the west. The air was heavy with pre-dawn’s secret, poignant stillness.

After awhile, Greer looked at the bag on the seat. The rich smell wafting from it slammed memories into his gut like softballs. Summer afternoons and riding bikes. The Foster Freeze. Greer rolled down the window and gazed at the sea. The rich salt air infused his head. A hint of dawn made the ocean seem restless…ruthless…waiting….

He opened the bag and gingerly withdrew a cheeseburger with a pretty frill of lettuce and poppy-gold cheese at the corners. It was tucked into silky wax paper, the replica of a thousand cheeseburgers he’d gulped as a boy. Its warmth felt good in his hands.

The birds’ cages were covered and tucked among the circus equipment behind him. Their occupants, perhaps dozing, were silent in their isolation.

She was essentially correct, he knew. Killer whales ate whatever they damned well pleased.  And Orca would have wolfed this burger in a heartbeat and grinned from ear to ear.

Slowly, Greer brought the cheeseburger to his nose….

Five minutes later, gravel spurted from the van’s tires as it high-tailed away.


“Air-eee!” Timmy cajoled. “What happened next?”

Ariel had paused too long, smiling over sunflower seeds she’d fished from her apron pocket. She hoped the handsome customer who’d left them for her would be back, even if he was cranky. She popped one of the seeds in her mouth.

“You know exactly, Timmy. I’ve told you six million times.”

“Please?” Timmy sat straighter.

“Alright. So the killer whales were high-tailing away from the Sally J like the law was after ‘em. Panama said to Kenny, ‘They’re acting almost guilty, like they done something bad. Like they robbed a bank or something.’

“But Kenny and Panama saw a lot of strange things on the ocean, so by the time they got home they’d forgotten about it.”

Timmy’s eyes were bright. “Then what?”

“So, next day, Kenny saw a story in the paper about how a couple of empty kayaks were found floating off Santa Cruz Island the day before. A guy and his girlfriend were gone, no trace. The Coast Guard figured they’d been attacked by a Great White.

“But Kenny laughed at that theory. There wasn’t any mess, and sharks are so stupid they’ll bite anything—a chunk of Styrofoam, fiberglass, an oar. But killer whales are smart. And neither kayak was scratched, just one floating upside down. The only things gone were the people.

“Kenny said, ‘Something got ‘em alright, but it wasn’t any Great White. I bet it was those two killer whales me ‘n Panama saw lookin’ guilty that day. They tipped those people out of those kayaks and ate ‘em. They were bad boys.’”

As always, Ariel ended the tale with widened eyes and a “spooky” face.

Timmy shivered and grinned. He could hear that story a thousand times. §

January Anderson, a freelance writer and former New Times contributor, grew up in Morro Bay and now lives in Southern California where she writes, swims, and tries to corrupt vegans in her spare time.