I put my helmet on the bar and ran my fingers through hair in great need of a cut. I was wondering if I had another hundred and twenty miles on a Fat Boy in me. Tomorrow would be the Fourth of July, not a good time to ride a bike. An older couple were at one end of the bar talking to the bar maid, and at the other end was a Mexican drinking to forget. I drained half a glass of beer and swiveled on my stool. I leaned back against the bar. A big scruffy dog of indeterminable breed was lying under the pool table. I clucked at him and he came over to have his grey head patted. He wagged his tail in appreciation of the affectionate gesture. When I swiveled back to the bar the dog returned to his place.
The bar had a back door at the end of a short hall where the poorly vented toilets were. A cowboy walked in that way, you could hear his boot-falls. The bar maid nodded toward the pool table and said, “He’s in his spot.”
I watched the cowboy in the mirror take off his sweat-stained hat and swat the old dog. He grabbed him by the collar and pulled him away.
“Say hi to Sandy,” said the bar maid.
The back door slammed shut and a moment of embarrassed silence followed.
“You can’t blame old Dumar,” said the woman who was drinking with her husband.
They told me the story. Dumar belonged to a woman who used to tend bar there, Sandy. The dog came to work with her and loved the bonhomie and the considerate way people treated dogs they happened to encounter in a bar. When Sandy quit and took up with that cowboy, Dumar would trot off to the bar whenever the new boyfriend came home.
“That dog has no idea why that man came in and swatted him,” I said.
“He should be used to it by now.”
“More’s the pity,” I said. The bar maid asked if I wanted another beer, but whatever my sense of failure or loss or cheerless witness or grim duty done, one more beer would not serve to correct it. “A dog like that could be a good companion for a man like me,” I said, and I asked where Sandy and that cowboy lived.
The cowboy came out of the single-wide to a little porch that was attached, holding a sweating bottle of Coor’s, alerted I was sure by the rumble of my Harley. Dumar was tied to a dog house outside. He raised his head but did not bark. Maybe he remembered me from the bar. He looked a tad larger than I first thought.
“Cecil? Who’s out there?”
“Damned if I know. Some fifty-year old accountant on a Harley,” he said, leaning against the rail.
Cecil was not far from wrong.
Sandy came out and asked if she could help me. She had seen some desperate days.
“I always wanted a dog like that,” I said. “If you give him to me I promise you I’ll give him a good home.”
“My dog? I ain’t giving you my dog. What is your problem?”
“How ‘bout selling him to me. I’ll give you a hundred dollars.”
“Sell the mutt,” said the cowboy. “He’s old and gonna die soon anyway. Save me the bullet.”
Sandy fussed over it with Cecil while I stepped aside and petted old Dumar and waited to see how it would turn out. It took a while but Sandy finally agreed to the deal.
“Thing is,” I said, “I don’t have the hundred on me. Over and above gas money, I’ve got ten.” I looked at Cecil. “And that’s as much accounting as I know.”
“Hit the road, asshole,” he said.
I had to jump up to land the punch, but it was right on the button. The cowboy’s nose spurted blood. After the shock of that, he jumped over the rail and onto me. I did okay, but we were mismatched. He had the bulk and I had the years. Sandy and her cowboy left me lying in the dirt and went back inside to stop the flow from Cecil’s nose and resume whatever.
From my place on the ground I was eye to eye with Dumar, who looked sorry for me. I lay there and thought, there are two kinds of dogs in the world: those that like to ride motorcycles, and those who…oh, hell, they all like to ride motorcycles.
On a blue highway I imagined Sandy and the cowboy sleeping through the Fourth of July parade but rallying for the fireworks. They would have noticed I was gone but would they notice Dumar was, too? That old dog sat snug up against my belly, paws braced on the gas tank, wind into his open mouth, puffing up his old dog cheeks.
Over the next two years, five months, and four days we took some shorter rides together, and lots of long walks, and then in the evenings Dumar would snuggle next to me on the overstuffed sofa and watch baseball on TV. All in all, I’d tell him, we were a couple of lucky dogs.