The one who finds the hot dog


Turtle enjoys his evening walks; she was never so able to make Julian Eastman do anything before the wheelchair. Even though he has an assistant who's supposed to care of his daily needs -- the current one, to her recurring amusement, is named Doug, and he'll probably last a month at most -- Turtle often takes over the 7pm stroll around the park. Doug thinks it's because she wants to cherish her last moments with the dying old man. Such sentimentality is why he probably won't last; Eastman can be a terror of an employer on the soft ones. The assistant before Doug, Yuko, thought it was because Eastman wanted to talk about business at all hours, and wouldn't let poor Ms. Wexler go home to her imagined family. After Yuko cornered her with grave concern, poor Ms. Wexler (who has no shortage of money and who believes she is spending her evenings quite fruitfully, thank you very much) barely managed to restrain her mad cackling until after the dear girl had made a worried exit.

The truth is much simpler. When Turtle is pushing the chair, Eastman goes where she wants him to go. For years she's been trying to boss the old man around and failing; it's a heady feeling, finally being able to drive him crazy.

"Turtle, I said I wanted an Italian ice," he grouses.

She strolls nonchalantly past the fork in the path which would take them to his favorite Italian ice stand. "Too bad, old man," she says. "I want a hot dog."

"Excuse me, young lady," he says sharply. "What exactly do I pay you for?"

"For keeping Westing Paper Products from violating SEC regulations," she says. "You pay Doug to get you frosty confections."

He cranes his neck around in the chair to glare at her, and she snickers. "Then why are you out here with me, instead of suing somebody or doing some lawyer thing?" He waves a liver-spotted hand airly, dismissing the entire American legal system.

"Because I want a hot dog," says Turtle, passing the hot dog vendor enough money for a dog for herself and a kielbasa for her passenger. "Here," she continues, handing it to him.

He continues to grumble as she pushes the chair to a nearby bench so she could sit next to him while she eats her hot dog. "How can you eat that crap?"

"It's a hot dog! As American as baseball, apple pie, and --" she takes a huge bite, leaving her speech muffled. "-- July fourth fireworks."

"You're disgusting," he says, but his eyes twinkle and he smiles at her.

When she's finished her hot dog he's barely eaten half his sausage. "Here boy," he calls to the white dog that trots up and begs shamelessly by the park bench. "I didn't see you yesterday. We were worried."

"You were just grumpy because there was nobody to dump your food on and I made you finish the whole thing," Turtle murmurs, but she leans over and pets the dog, who is greedily swallowing the kielbasa. "Time to go?" The dog obediently trots off down the path, then turns and looks over its shoulder as if waiting for them. "Hold your horses, we're coming," she says, as she rises and tosses her mustard-stained napkin in a trash can.

She pushes the chair after the dog. Near the park's entrance, a cluster of mostly old men stand huddled around two men at a chess board. The dog runs up to the younger player and licks his ear.

"Hey! Hey! Stop putting me offa my game, you mangy mutt," says the player, but he turns away from the board and gives the dog an energetic ear scritching. "Yes, I bought you a doughnut."

One of the few younger observers coughs delicately. "Ray, must I remind you that doughnuts are not --"

Ray grins. "Yeah, I know." He leans in closely to the dog's ear, and says in a whisper that is clearly intended to carry, "Later. When he's not looking."

"Aha," cries his opponent, triumphantly. "Checkmate!"

"What?" Ray spins back to the board. "Aw, hell, H. I though I had you."

"Well, it was a good effort," says the winner, patting his hand kindly. "But my next opponent is here." He looks up and waves. "Hello, Julian, Ms. Wexler."

"Hello, H," says Turtle, as she pushed the chair up to the table. "Good to see you." And she walks back toward the Italian ice cart, accompanied by a hopeful white dog.