"Pleeeeeeease, can we keep him?"
"Tiffany ... " Joanne rolled her eyes in exasperation. Living with Tiffany was like living with a four-year-old ... if a four-year-old could be a combination of blonde cheerleader and total ditz.
"Tiffany ... look, when you brought home a hamster, I said no. When you brought home a snake, I said no ... "
"You mean you screamed."
"Yes, but I said no. And when you brought home that bum ... "
"He was not a bum! ... He was just waiting for the right job."
"As what, a doorstop? Anyway", Jo said, cutting Tiff off, "I said no. What makes you think I'll say yes this time?"
Tiffany looked down at the floor, then shyly back up at Jo.
"Because I can't take him back?"
"Well, I can't! Besides, if you could've seen him, with his cute little smile, begging for me to take him home ... "
"Okay, okay, let's see him."
As Tiffany led the way to the bedroom ... the bedroom? ... Jo had to wonder what the strawberry blonde space cadet had brought home this time. As she watched, Tiffany opened the door ...
And out bounded a large Labrador Retriever.
"Tiff ... "
"Please, Jo? I know he's a little big, but ... "
"A little big? Ohhhhh, no, Tiff, Hulk Hogan is a little big, George Foreman is a little big, this thing is HUGE! There's no way we can keep him fed ... Fed, nothing, we'll never keep him hidden! When Mr. Waters finds out ... !"
"Oh, c'mon, Jo, just look at that face!" As if on cue, the Lab fixed her with a sad, tearful gaze that seemed to look right through her. Suddenly, Jo couldn't help but feel like a prize heel. Still, she steeled herself. "No, Tiff. No."
Tiffany pouted, but the Lab pushed itself under her hand, whimpering as it pressed its cold nose into the palm of her hand.
Later that night, as Jo fed Jimbo (Tiffany's name for him) the rest of her supper, she wondered where she'd gone wrong.
Joanne woke up, her nerves jumping as her ears strained into the darkness. Just as she thought she'd been hearing things, it came again.
"Well, I couldn't help that, y'know."
A man's voice.
In THIS APARTMENT!
Okay, Jo, she told herself, just calm down, take it slow and easy and don'tyoudarepanicifyouvalueyour I'm calm, I'm calm, I'm calm ...
"Listen, when's that package going to get here, anyway?"
As she moved in on the source of the whispers, Jo moved carefully across the carpet, step ... by ... step ... inch ... by ... inch ... left ... right ... lef ... *thump*
Wincing, she moved the vase off of her toes ... just as she heard the phone slam back into its cradle. Limping to the door, she tore it open to find ..
Jimbo, staring at her with his head cocked.
Moving past the dog, she checked the door. Locked. The phone was on the hook, of course. Just to be safe, she edged slowly toward the swinging door to the kitchen. Quietly, she moved up on it, inching closer and closer ... before slamming it open.
Scratching her head, Jo went back to her room. "I know I heard someone", she muttered, "I just know it ... "
With a doggy grin, Jimbo curled up on the carpet in front of the sofa.
"Tiffany", Jo asked her the next morning, "were you on the phone last night?"
Tiffany thought hard, then shook her head. "Nope. I was dreaming I was in the jungle. There weren't any phones to use."
"No, I mean did you use the real phone?"
"Don't be silly, how could I use a real phone in a dream?"
Jo shook her head to clear it. "Never mind."
Tiff turned to Jimbo, who was waiting on his haunches with his front paws in the air, and held out half of her scrambled-egg sandwich. "You want some, Jimbo? You want some?", she singsonged in a baby-talk voice. "Yes, you do. Yes, you do. You know you do. Now, sit up, you shweet thing, you. Yes. Yes. Yes." Just as Tiffany's voice came dangerously close to a squeal, Jimbo seized an opportunity and jumped high enough to seize the sandwich, which he promptly gobbled down. "Yeah, you're a sweet puppy, aren't you, you big sweet puppy", Tiffany cooed as Jimbo tried to lick her face and she rubbed his ears. "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah."
"Tiff ... "
"Cut it out, I'm trying to eat here."
Just then, Tiff caught sight of the clock. "Oh-oh!"
Jo turned and saw it too. "Oh-oh is right! C'mon, Tiff, let's move!" Quickly gulping the remains of their coffee, the two girls ran for the door, locking it behind them ... but not before Tiffany gave out with one last, "Now, you be a good boy, you sweet widdle puppy".
For a few minutes, Jimbo just stood there, watching the door. Then, with a yawn, he jumped over the back of the couch, lay down, and curled up for a nap.
Suddenly, his ears perked up. From the door he heard the sound of a key in the lock. Quickly, he ran for the bathroom.
Moments after the door slammed shut behind him, the front door opened, and in walked Mr. Waters. "Hmph", he snorted, looking around at the apartment. He knew the girls wouldn't be back for hours. It was the perfect time to make sure they didn't have anything illegal ... or immoral, you can't be too careful after all ...
He jumped. Had the shower just come on?
As he advanced on the bathroom, he was startled
to hear singing ... sounded like, "I'm Gonna Love You Forever", or somethin'
"Darlin', I'm gonna love you forever,
Forever and ever, Amen,
As long as old men
Sit and talk about the weather,
As long as old women sit and talk about old men..."
A man? In this apartment? With a hint of confusion, he knocked on the bathroom door. The singing stopped, to be replaced with, "Coming! Just a minute!" After a few moments, the door opened to reveal ...
A large man, well-built, wearing nothing but a towel around his hairy middle, dripping wet. "Oh, you must be Mr. Waters. I'm afraid Jo and Tiff ren't in right now ... "
"Oh, I'm Jim", the stranger said as he stuck out a dripping hand. "Pleased to meet you."
As he shook his hand dry afterwards, Jake Waters studied the new guy. "You ain't from around here, are ya?"
"'Fraid not. Grew up a little ways from Houston. Little town called Barken. Ever heard of it?"
"Can't say as I have."
Jim's smile grew wider. "That's okay. It isn't all that well known. Was there anything I could help you with?"
"Uh, no, no, nothin' at all", Waters stammered as he realized he was standing in the middle of a tenant's apartment talking with a naked man ... well, naked except for the towel.
"Well, if you don't mind showing yourself out, I'd like to get back to my shower."
"Uh, sure, sure."
As he headed for the door, Jim disappearing into the bathroom, Jake sniffed the air. He knew it was impossible, but he could almost smell ...
"Listen, I need that suitcase."
Joanne sat bolt upright in bed. It was the same voice as last time.
"Hey, I called this afternoon, didn't I?"
Easing her feet onto the carpet, she started tiptoeing for the door.
"No, I don't think they've guessed yet."
Guessed? Of course. This must be the guy Mr. Waters had asked them about, when he was asking them about whether or not they were asking someone else in to split the rent. Jo smiled grimly as she picked up the lamp from her bedside table. She'd show him a thing or two. Quietly, she eased forward ...
And stopped as the cord, still anchored to the wall, almost jerked the lamp from her hands. Reaching down, she unplugged it, careful not to make any noise.
"Hey, I wish I could find it too, but I can't."
Carefully, cautiously, she eased the door along its path and peeked around the jamb.
There, silhouetted in the dim glow from the complex' neon sign filtering through the curtains, was a man.
A *big* man.
He had his back to her, but she knew that could change at any moment. So, she crept across the carpet toward him.
"I'm lucky I found this place. And next time, keep your cheap travel ideas to yourself, okay?"
Good, he hadn't heard her. Stepping up behind him she raised the lamp high over her head, took careful aim ... and SWUNG with all her might, bringing the light fixture down atop his head with a satisfying CRACK!
As the pottery lamp fell apart in her hands, she was faced with large, hairy, naked ... NAKED!? ... man lying on the floor rubbing his head. Pressing the switchhook, she dialled the number for the police just as Tiffany came running out of her room. "What happened?"
"This guy was calling some place. Listen, I'm calling the police. I need you to ..."
"Where's Jimbo? You nasty man, where's Jimbo?", Tiffany squealed as she started hitting the man in his hairy chest, seemingly oblivious to his ... *ahem* ... unclothed condition.
"Please", he yelled from the floor, "Please, just let me explain!"
"Yeah, well start explaining, buddy, 'cause I'm callin' the cops!"
With his arms tented over his head, he called out "Okay, just get her off me!"
Jo pulled Tiff back ... and gasped.
As she watched, the man seemed to get even hairier than he already was, the hair growing and merging until all trace of skin vanished beneath it. At the same time, the two girls could see his nose go dark and shiny, while his arms and legs stuck straight out from the shoulder and hip joints.
As he fell over, they could see a tail forming behind him, a long, black curve. Then, with a final blurring and flexing, the change was completed.
And Jimbo sat up in front of them.
"Hello? Hello?" Jo suddenly realized the police had picked up.
"I'm sorry", she said in a forcibly calm voice, "I seem to have dialed the wrong number."
She hung up.
"Jo? Jo? Come on, Jo, wake up!"
Slowly, Jo opened her eyes.
She sighed with relief.
Then she saw Jimbo.
As she tried to burrow into the carpet, Tiffany started talking.
"Oh, I'm so glad you're all right, Jo, I mean, Jimbo was sooo good with the police when they showed up, and then he told me the silliest story ... Jo, are you listening to me?"
Jo nodded as she scooted farther from the dog.
"Well, it turns out he wanted to take a trip here, to Dallas, to get a new job, but he didn't have enough money, so a friend of his told him he should just send his suitcase and come as a dog. Well, that's silly, even I know they won't let a dog pick up a suitcase, and they can't even buy tickets, and ... Jo?"
"And when he got up here, he found out he was looking at the wrong bus station, and now he can't find his clothes! Anyway, that was when I found him and brought him here. Isn't that neat?"
"Jo, why are you scooting around on the floor like that?"
"Tiff, move away from the dog."
"Why!? Tiff, he's a ... a ... "
"He' s still a sweet liddle woof-woof, yes he is", Tiffany said as she grabbed Jimbo by the ears and started rubbing him. "He's just a woof-woof who can turn into a big, strong man, isn't that right, baby?" Jimbo, his tail wagging, licked her chin.
"Besides, Mr. Waters said we could keep him."
Jo just sat, stock-still, as the shock set in. "You mean you told him about ... " She pantomimed what had happened.
Tiffany giggled. "No, silly! We just told him that Jim ... that's what Jimbo likes to be called when he's a big ol' man, right, precious? That Jim was giving us Jimbo to help us feel safe. And we will be safe, won't we baby?"
"Tiffany, I'm not sure this is such a good ... "
"Oh, come on, Jo. For me?"
Between the still-potent liquid eyes of Jimbo and the pouty expression on Tiffany's face, Jo couldn't keep it up ... besides, she needed some sleep after all of this. "Okay. But one *hint* that something's wrong, and out he goes."
"Ohhhh, thank you, Jo. Se, Jimbo? I knew she'd let you stay. Now you just wait here while I go and get my robe and I'll get you some nice din-din, yes I will!"
As soon as Tiff was out of sight, Jo turned to Jimbo and said, "And as soon as your clothes get here, you help out with the rent, deal?"
By the way", she asked, "just out of curiosity ... do you really like the way she talks to you?"
Jimbo's tongue lolled out as his canine grin widened.
"That's what I thought."