Susie’s Tab

I wrote this several years back, and it is based on a true story.  I am not reactive enough to make this stuff up!…..



            I had worked for Susie since I was a teenager.  At the start, I washed her champion dogs and cleaned the kennel.  It was an honor. My parents were not dog people, and this was a great way to learn about dogs, and the fancy.  My parents had gotten several dogs from Susie over the years, and my sister had after she got married.  Susie raised West Highland White Terriers.  Not really my breed, but cute dogs. They make good pets.

            We had known each other over 20 years by this time.  I had just gotten back from Peace Corps, and needed some work until school started. So, I agreed to stay with the dogs while she and her husband, Clay, went on vacation, fishing, for 2 weeks.

            Usually,they went up to somewhere north of Minneapolis, and were unreachable by phone. By choice.  If there was an emergency, they expected me to use my judgment and handle it.

            Also, usually, it was just the adult dogs I had to take care of. Maybe a few unsold puppies and usually she had no more than 10 adult dogs.  All of them were in the kennel.  Sometimes, she had a litter of puppies, but this time, she told me in advance that there would be three litters:  1 was just about a week old. They would have just been born, and she had a whelping pen set up in the dining room.  Not too much of a problem. One litter was about a month old, so I would have to start the weaning process, and one litter was about seven weeks old—needing much more socialization …and they would be a pain-in-the-neck to clean up after, too.   Puppies are cute, right? Except when you spend all your time cleaning up after them and they are biting your shoes and ankles..

            Well, I wasn’t doing anything else, really, and I could bring my retired champion Afghan Hound with me.   Hamid was a typical Afghan.  You had to let him make friends with you on his own time frame, this is somewhat important, as he complicated everything.

            When I walked in, Susie took me aside and told me that a friend had arrived out of the blue, the day before. They co-owned a dog, who was out on a show circuit, and, for some reason, he had to move suddenly, some sort of disagreement with his roommate.   Susie told him that they were leaving on vacation, but he said he’d be out in a few days.

          What kind of adult man, a guy who showed dogs, didn’t have an active checking account?  What kind of guy had enough money to campaign a dog, but not enough to rent an apartment?  Susie told me  his checking account was tied to a trust find and due to a bank snafu he could not access it temporarily.  It sounded fishy to me, but there was a lot going on that Susie had to explain to me.

            Well, what could I do?  Susie walked me into the family room. In a haze of smoke, I could see an old man in shorts.   Derrick was sitting on the edge of one of the sofas, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  “Don’t mind me… I won’t get in your way.  I’m Derrick Nickerson. Susie and I co-own Ch. Downtown Snow Blind, and he’s out on the circuit now.  I’m just an old Jewish  fag (his words), and  I’ll just be around until I get  my Illinois nurse’s license and access to my  trust fund at Harris Bank. It won’t be more than a few days.”

            Derrick said he was 60, but he looked much older.  He chain-smoked (ugh!) and nursed a vodka gimlet.  He told me that he and his partner had a falling out, so, since he and Susie co-owned a dog, he decided to move to the Chicago area from Detroit.    He was also buying a car, a new Porsche.  He was paying cash  for it and blah, blah, blah… 

            Whatever…I didn’t really care, because I had enough to do.  Susie’s set up was not ideal.    She ran all her dogs together, except you had to get all the dogs in and then carry out an in-season bitch. Or, a stud dog that took a dislike to the other stud dog, or one of these nursing mothers, and usually, there was at least one dog that didn’t come in with the pack, so you had to count heads and then go around the kennel to the gate and fetch the recalcitrant dog.  You know how terriers are:  snap first, ask questions later.  I was always amazed that Susie didn’t have more fights in her kennel.  There were a lot of tattered ears, however.  That litter in the dining room, from a bitch she had sold on a breeding contract,  she didn’t want to put with the kennel dogs (not that she had room for another litter in the kennel), really added to the  work load, as I had to carry food  from the kennel across the house.  I also had to schlep a big plastic garbage bag  through the house with whelping box papers full of poop to the trash cans, which were back by the kennel.

            Derrick liked to talk, but he didn’t like to help.  He had one old bitch with him that he’d take out into the yard, but he asked me to prepare her dish when I fixed dinner for the kennel dogs.   He knew I had to prepare  3 dishes with vitamins for the three mommy dogs, and one of the stud dogs also got a special meal, but to him, it was ‘just’ one more special thing. He was always on the phone, either calling Harris Bank,  the department of registration about his nurse’s license, or the car dealer.  The aura of cigarette smoke engulfed him and you could see the haze  across the room from the light of the TV,  which he turned on as soon as he  got up in the morning. The ritual:  light a cigarette. Turn on the TV, mix a gimlet.  Meanwhile, I was either  preparing  dog and puppy food, cleaning up or grooming a dog.

            If things weren’t complicated enough, Hamid really didn’t want to go anywhere near Derrick, and this annoyed him, since he was such a dog lover. Not normally friendly (typically aloof, as Afghans are), Hamid gave new meaning to the term high strung.  Whenever Derrick got up off the couch, Hamid got up and moved to the door of the room, keeping an eye on Derrick.  I told Derrick to ignore him, and for the most part he did, but he couldn’t help commenting on how Hamid got to be a champion.  How did a judge get near him?  How?  The dog was trained.  We shaped his behavior to stand and stay in the show ring.  His own life outside the show ring was typical Afghan.  He had enough friends  I was sort of glad Hamid stayed clear, as I could imagine  Derrick’s tobacco stained hands in  his coat.

            “You seem pretty intelligent, so what are you doing working for Susie?”  Derrick asked onr morning, cigarette smoke blowing out of his nose as he sashayed over to supervise my cleaning of the dining room puppies.

            You mean you can’t be intelligent & take care of peoples’ dogs?  Maybe he had a point.

            “I’ve worked on and off for her since I was 13.  I’m in grad school now, but we’re on break,and I just got back from Peace Corps.  So I said I’d stay with the dogs while she and Clay went fishing.  It usually works out ok.  Usually, there is only one litter, and only one bitch is in season.  This time it’s a little more complicated.”  I was leaning over the whelping pen set up in the dining room, trying to roll papers and put new ones down without losing any of the whelps.  I was also hoping Derrick would take the hint.

            “I’ve known her for over 40 years.    We’ve bred to each others’ dogs a lot. What are you studying?”  He took a swig of a vodka tonic.  It was only 11a.m. and this man was drinking already.

            “Animal behavior.”  He didn’t move except his arms.  One had brought the cigarette to his mouth, and as that went down, he raised the vodka tonic.  He was watching TV and me.

            “So how is it that you have an Afghan and not a Westie?”  he asked, not seeming that interested.

            “Oh, long story.  I actually started with an Afghan and my folks had the Westie, but it’s so hard to keep a Westie in coat. You only have, what?  8 weeks after all that work? And then the dog is out of coat  more time than he is in coat.  & keeping a white dog white?  No thank you.  There’s nothing to an Afghan once it’s totally in specials coat.   You wash it once a month  and boom you’re done.   Plus, the Afghan tends to be quiet.  Westie’s bark at everything. You’re probably inured.”

            “Ahh, yes….”  he said, blowing more smoke into the room.  Two weeks of this.  I was going to kill Susie.

            Man, what a talker.  He knew (a famous dog handler, recently deceased) and he used the guy’s initials in all his dogs’ names (that he bred).  He knew Mrs.Harris of the Harris family that owned Harris Bank.  She’d straighten out the snafu that was preventing him from accessing his trust fund.  Then he’d have money for his Porsche.

             I mentioned to Derrick that I was going to go food shopping, and he asked me to get chicken for him and charge Susie.  He’d settle with her later.  Once, when I mentioned that I was going to take one of the kennel dogs to the veterinarian, as he has unrelenting diarrhea ( which I didn’t know if it was related to stress or bacterial infection), he asked me to take his bitch to Susie’s veterinarian for shots as long as I was going. He had to wait for a phone call.  That was on Susie’s tab, too.  While I was at the veterinarian with the dogs, I don’t know what went on, but, as Derrick said, Hamid went berserk and climbed on every window in the place.  “He’s very high strung,” Derrick said, through the choking fog of cigarette smoke.   Ya think? He’s an Afghan Hound. No news there.  But Hamid wrecked all the screens, and I later had to reimburse Susie, which is why I ended up losing money on that job.

            My sister came over.  Making small talk, Derrick asked Paige what she did.  She told him that she worked for an automobile finance company.  He went on about the Porsche he was going to pay cash for, but the dealer hadn’t ordered it yet, and blah, blah, blah.  Paige looked at me, incredulous.  Paige finally said, “Well, they probably haven’t ordered the car because they aren’t making any money on it.  They only make money when you finance the car”.

            Derrick looked at us, confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.  “If you pay cash, the profit is the salesman’s commission, “  Paige added.  “There is no other profit unless there is a payment stream, which they get when you finance.”

            “I didn’t know that.  That’s interesting. I’m going to call Harris bank again, “ and then he was going to call Springfield to inquire about his nurse’s license.  Paige took me aside and whispered to me, “He’s never stopped smoking.  How can that guy be a nurse?”

            “He’s probably a private duty nurse, like for somebody in a coma, or who can’t complain,”  I  told her.  We both rolled our eyes.

            I prayed that Susie would come back on time, but sure enough, she called to say they’d be late because they were stopping at the casino (they played Blackjack).  Derrick continued to smoke, drink, talk, phone Harris Bank and the State, and spook my dog.  He complained that Susie didn’t own a vacuum cleaner (she didn’t have any rugs), that he didn’t have enough money for gas for his car.  Three weeks of this.  I wondered where he kept the stash of cigarettes, but I knew he was draining Susie’s vodka.

            Susie finally got back late on a Monday night, a week after  her original return date.  I gave Susie receipts and she wrote me a check.  She asked me how it went and expressed surprise that Derrick was still there.  I rolled my eyes.

            We didn’t talk for about a week.  Then, Susie called and asked, “What went on  while we were away?”.  I told her.  She told me that Hamid had torn or punctured every screen in every window on the first floor, and that they would cost $236 to replace, as he had bent some of the frames.  That sucked, because I had only charged her $225.  I asked her if Derrick was still there.  She said he had left quickly the morning after they got back, and she had no idea where he went.  He left an outrageous phone bill.  She called Harris Bank, and they had never heard of Derrick.  Besides that, the day after he left, she got a call from Delta Airlines. They were looking for Derrick because he had a bitch shipped to him, and Susie had to schlep to Midway Airport, an 80 mile round trip, because she couldn’t just leave the dog there in  90 degree summer heat..  She wondered how anyone could ship a bitch in this heat.  She called the owners and told them that Derrick wasn’t there, and she didn’t know where he was, and the dog they wanted to breed to was out with a handler in Texas, not here, and she’d ship the bitch back unbred.  She told the owners of the bitch that she didn’t understand why Derrick had told them to ship the bitch to Chicago. It didn’t make any sense. Too bad.

            I talked to Susie every few weeks.  She never heard from Derrick, but she kept getting bills he ran up for the next month or so.  “He told me would pay to campaign  Snow, and  he just disappeared.”

            About a year or so had gone by.I came home from work, sat down & automatically turned on the TV.  The news had just started, and I was only half listening until I heard the reporter say, “…was picked up for attempting to arrange the murder of his roommate, Derrick Nickerson.”

            What????  The reporter was saying that Nickerson had been shot at and accused his former roommate of hiring a hit man.  His former roommate?  I would think that people would be getting in line to hire a hit man.  The story was that they roommate ended up hiring an FBI informer. What bad luck!

            I called Susie.  Oh, yeah.  The phone had been ringing all day.  Dog club members. 

            Susie said everyone was calling, but she knew that Derrick wasn’t in Chicago.   She had heard via the handler that he had been moving around, and the handler  expected her to pay the bill for showing the dog they  co-owned if Derrick didn’t turn up.

            So, we lived and lived, and I stayed with the dogs about once a year for the 2 weeks that Susie and Clay fished…or gambled.  I asked her if she ever heard anything about Derrick, as the dog they had been showing was now in her kennel.

             “Oh, yeah..  He’s in California. One of my friends overheard Derrick talking on a cell phone at ringside at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills.  He was saying he had to move suddenly, and he was just waiting for his nurse’s license and the release of his trust fund from Harris Bank.”

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