[Last year, Bunny Butts solicited ideas for an article in the Pem-Welsh Corgi Assoc of Canada magazine. Sam suggested "crossing the Canadian border with your corgi". This is the final rewrite of Al's contribution. He's been reading too much Raymond Chandler.]
Yes. Crossing the Canadian border with your corgi. I remember it well:
A dark night in a small town that knows how to keep its secrets about as well as a drunk knows how to keep a cap on a bottle. I was glad I was just passing through.
The customs station near Abbotsford, B.C. is a quieter, more relaxed port of entry than the busy I-5 crossing near Vancouver, but I was nervous. Something seemed vaguely not-quite-right, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Yesterday, we'd slid on in from the American side as slick and easy as the well-oiled bolt of the 9mm Glock automatic resting comfortably in my shoulder holster (I hoped the wide lapels of my dark blue double-breasted pinstripe suit would conceal its bulge). Yeah, it'd been easy. Too easy. A setup? Could be. It's a dog-eat-dog world, ya don't get to be alpha male by making friends, and all of Boss's enemies were my enemies, too.
And the American customs agents can be unpredictable, suspicious, not all of 'em on the payroll. They can sniff out items as fast as a Welsh corgi can sniff out bacon. What if they asked me to open the trunk? Sure, it's often good to hide things in plain sight, but... unbleached white cake flour!? Whoever came up with that brilliant disguise was either sharper than a Border Collie on meth or dumber than an Irish Setter huffing glue. One thing was sure: he wasn't sitting in the driver's seat right now. I settled back into the plush black leather of the red Mercedes' bucket seats, lit up one of Boss's long Havana cigars, and tried to look inconspicuous.
Although it was midnight, I put on my dark shades and tilted my wide-brimmed fedora down low to cover my scar. Who knows? Maybe some hotshot border agent would remember that unfortunate incident with Bebe the Beagle. I didn't want no questions. I glanced over at Big Al, curled up in the passenger's seat beside the violin case. "You'll get us through, won'tcha, buddy?" I asked. He glanced back with his habitual sangfroid, tongue hanging out of his grin as usual, and said nothing. Al never said much, and nothing ever fazed him. He was either the bravest or the dumbest dog in the world, and I knew he wasn't dumb -- not after the way he framed Mochi the Moocher for that tooth job on the piano leg. Somehow, I felt that with this little guy by my side, I could get through anything. I just wished his papers were in better order than my recycling bin -- sometimes they check. I patted the reassuring Glock. At least I kept my shots up-to-date.
The queue was moving slow but steady. Our turn soon. Outwardly cool, my palms were sweating. My mouth was dry. I took another pull from the half-empty bottle of Scotch under the seat. Why did Boss insist on three hundred kilos!? The back end was so loaded down, the tires almost scraped the fenders. This was a luxury convertible sports car, not a doggoned truck. This was crazy as a coyote on peyote. I was tired of taking orders, being jerked around like an expendable stray. The top dogs never ran any risks, never did any time in the pound. Someday, I told myself, I'd slip my collar, jump the fence, and set up on my own.
The car ahead began to roll. Our turn! I swallowed a lump in my throat as big as one of Al's beef bones, pulled up to the Customs booth, lowered the window, and looked the agent in the eye.
He was a she... and if she'd been a dog, she could've walked away with best-of-show at Westminster without having to bribe any judges. One look, and my heart leapt like a springer spaniel chasing a tennis ball with gravy on it. On a pair of stems that would make a greyhound look slow, she glided up to the car with all the predatory grace of a she-wolf closing in on a cornered rabbit, and in a low voice as soft and smooth as the fur of Al's ruff, started asking the customary questions:
"...and how long have you been in Canada, Mr. Corleone? ...I see. Any firearms or liquor? …And are you bringing back more than 300 U.S. dollars' worth of Canadian merchandise? ...Your trunk looks heavily loaded, what do you have back there? ...300 kilos of cake flour? I see. That’s a pretty big cake, Mr. Corleone.”
“It’s gonna be a pretty big wedding,” I lamely replied.
“Open the trunk, please.”
“RARK!” rarked Al, transfixing her gaze with the Corgi Mind Control Stare.
I tell you, Big Al’s rark carries the kind of authority that usually requires either a .38 or about 38 more pounds of dog. It says, “Play with me! Throw the ball! Give me love -- or food -- and nobody gets hurt!” When Big Al rarks, people listen. And when anybody makes the mistake of looking into his eyes, they're all his.
“Oh, that is one SWEET-looking passenger you have there! Is that a Welsh corgi?
“Actually, he’s a sawed-off shepherd, the latest in family and home protection.”
“Why are his legs so short?”
“Terrible accident with the lawnmower. The vets were able to reattach the paws.”
“How come he doesn’t have a tail?”
“There’s a reason you’re supposed to face the door in an elevator. He didn't know.”
What's his name? ... Big Al? Big Al Capone? What an adorable cutie; he looks just killer! May I pet him? .... aw, of course he's friendly... anybody with eyes like that could get away with murder, just by smiling." As she scritched his chin, I thought Al grinned askance at me, as if to say, “This is how it’s done, pal. Ya make ‘em an offer they can’t refuse.”
As usual, the female attention was going to the other end of the leash, and for once, I didn't mind.
“All right, sir, you may proceed. Here’s my card. Call me up next time you visit Canada... and don't forget to replace that missing license plate."
It's true: Dogs will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dogs, and the right kind of dog will get you through anything at all.
Driving south to the monotonous rhythm of the wipers in the Puget Sound rain, I thought about Al and that Gwynnie dame he hangs with. Not big, not tough, not loud, not mean, yet somehow they command as much respect as a hundred-dollar bill -- sailing through life getting everything they want, plus 25% -- more friends than Santa Claus, and no enemies except the vacuum cleaner. How do they do it? Maybe they’re trying to teach me something...
copyright John Wolff 2010