“You’ve got to talk some sense into him,” said Sheila. They strolled along the riverwalk, loosening up after a three hour banquet for Sheila’s father, twenty years on the bench for the county. The suit Lester wore made him feel in command.
“Rupert’s your brother,” Lester said. “If you want him to break up with her, you talk to him.”
“If you can’t help me with things like this, there isn’t much point in us getting married.”
Lester stopped, his mouth agape. “You can’t be serious. Do you mean to say you’re stipulating our nuptials on the fate of their relationship?”
“That’s precisely what I’m saying.”
“First you ban me from billiards, and now this.” Lester grimaced and caught up. “You take a pitiless approach to me sometimes, Sheila.”
“A girl does what she must to survive.”
“To lord it over, more like,” Lester muttered.
“What’s that?” Sheila asked.
“Nothing, just thinking.” He fiddled with his tie’s knot. “This is really the kind of thing for Mauri and Tish.”
“So engage them, already, Lester. Anything you have to do.” They finished their walk and called it a day.
Lester tracked Mauri and Tish down at The Fox and Hound lounge.
“So you see my problem,” he said.
“It’s quite clear,” said Mauri.
“Can you help me, then?”
“Assuredly,” said Tish.
“Lester.” Mauri steepled his hands. “You need to assault the matter at its weakest point.”
“I’m given to understand Rupert has a great fondness for his Jack Russell,” said Mauri.
“Fondness? The boy can’t spend an hour away from it.”
“But his fiancé doesn’t like it, does she?” asked Tish.
“Oh, no,” said Lester. “It’s quite the sore point between them. The poor cur likely won’t make it into the household.”
Tish patted his hand. “I have a friend—”
Mauri leaned in with a conspiratorial expression. “A real dog lover—”
“She has a Bichon Frise—”
“Cute little devil,” said Mauri. “The dog, too.”
“If we could arrange their acquaintance, perhaps it would show him the slice of life he’s missing, if you’ll pardon the crudeness.” Tish raised her eyebrows and gave him a tight smile.
“You think it would work?” asked Lester.
“I think it might solve your problem,” said Mauri.
“It’s settled, then,” said Lester. “Let’s do it.”
They chose a fundraiser picnic as the occasion to make introductions. Lester found Mauri and Tish with a beautiful, blonde woman named Sally, cuddling with a Bichon she called Ruth.
“Like Anne McCaffrey’s white dragon?” asked Lester.
She told lively stories, mostly about puppies, and she was a font of humor. Rupert wouldn’t stand a chance against this one.
“Sally, there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” said Lester. “You seem quite the dog lover, and there’s a young man I think you might get on well with.”
Sally leashed the dog, and while they looked for Rupert, he discovered that Sally loved billiards.
“Real crack shot, are you?” he asked.
“I hold my own.”
“We’ll have to test that sometime.” They walked past the park’s pavilion and found Rupert playing frisbee with a few pals, his Jack Russell running after the frisbee with every throw. The dog suddenly turned and rushed for the Bichon.
“It’s all right,” said Rupert. “He’s friendly. Be nice, Digger.”
Sure enough he stopped short of Ruth and wagged his tail. Sally took the leash off, and a few sniffs later they were playing happily.
“Hey, Rupert,” said Lester. “This is Sally. A real dog lover like you. I thought it would be fun to exchange puppy stories about Digger and Ruth.”
They hit it off immediately, extolling the virtues of their canine friends, so Lester eased away to let nature take its course. He found a table full of appetizers and foraged.
“Well?” said Sheila.
“What?” asked Lester.
“What about Rupert?”
“Ah. Yes. It’s in hand, my dear.”
“Make sure it works,” she said.
“I will not depart until a swap has been made.”
Sheila pecked him on the cheek. “I’m off to the house for a makeover.”
Lester smiled. “Enjoy your scrub and paint.”
Lester found a cluster of lounge chairs and pulled out his Kindle to read some Robert Sheckley stories.
“Hi, Lester.” Sally smiled. “Nice man, that Rupert. Mind if I sit?”
“Er. Not at all.”
Ruth lay down as Sally clipped the leash to a chair and sat.
Lester lowered his Kindle. “I thought you’d be a while, your dogs and all.”
She shrugged. “We ran out of dog stories and then didn’t have much to say.”
“Unfortunate,” said Lester.
“Not at all. He’s a very sweet man. Did you know he’s giving up Digger because his fiancé’s allergic?”
“Is that so?” asked Lester. Sheila had failed to mention that tidbit.
“Yes. I’m going to help him find Digger a home.”
“Nothing at all like his sister.”
“Nothing. Just thinking.”
Across the park he saw Sheila returning from the house. His anticipation of the ensuing conversation regarding his failure gave him no joy. In fact, he was downright averse to the idea.
“Sally? I have a sudden hankering for some billiards. Care for a few rounds at The Fox and Hound?”
“I’d love to!”
On the way to the parking lot he caught sight of Mauri and Tish smiling at him and high-fiving each other.