When I returned to the bathroom to fetch Dooley, I opened the door to a gagging stench. He had belatedly shit himself. I unfastened his pants to check his preferred style of basement furnishings.
Whew. Saved by the tightie-now-not-so-whities. Now I could only hope that their elastic would contain his shame long enough that nothing would spill out as I hefted him up and away. Miracle of miracles, rigor mortis had yet to set in.
Only two moments of panic punctuated his transport. The first was getting him to the truck. The longer it took to seat him on the passenger side, the greater the chance one of the neighbors could spot me.
I had his top half drapped over the seat, my arms around his waist, and his squishy, ample butt pressed up against my groin when I heard that tell-tale crunch of gravel. But the car passed, the driver oblivious.
I shoved him in without further incident, popped the glove compartment, and put a pair of sunglasses on his graying face.
The second moment came when I was pulled over by the highway patrol. Fortunately, it was Dwayne, an old family friend.
"Hey guy. Sorry to stop you like that, but a few of these came flying out of your pick-up. Thought you should know." He handed me a rippled, dirt-stained Jack Chick tract. "Never thought you'd be one for this crackpot stuff."
"Oops. Sorry about that. They must belong to my friend here."
Dwayne craned in a bit, his brow knotted behind reflective aviator sunglasses. "Say, your friend-"
"Yeah, your friend Bernie there. He doesn't look so hot."
"Um, yeah, he had a few too many at the Saloon. Gotta get him home and in bed before his wife gets off work."
"Ah. Okay, you hurry along. Just be careful. Give a hoot and all that."
"Will do. Thanks!"
A few miles and switchbacks later, the tower loomed ahead. As a child, I had always imaged the London Tower to be taller, and with fewer of what seemed to be outbuildings. It was only after I had seen a documentary on television did I realize that what people of antiquity thought constituted a tower did not need to have anything in common with, say, Isengard from Tolkien's ouvre (which, incidentally, you may find in Adult Fiction, alpha by author, as often as you may find it in Juvenile Fiction -- it depends on your local library's system).
In truth, the Tower of London is a sort of castle - a lazy trapezoid of several towers, circumscribed and linked by mounts and a wall, and enclosing, among other monuments, the White Tower. It would have been easy to get lost in that full-scale reproduction, especially as it was under construction, but I knew my way because I'd been paying attention. If you're lucky, kids, your local library has useful and educational texts on the Tower in the low 940s. And remember, your best Internet connection is your librarian!
Knowledge of schematics notwithstanding, I could not be sure just which time period Dooley had reproduced. The four turrets of the white tower had blue decorative caps, meaning he was thinking post-Henry VIII, but some of the garish medieval colors reminded me that he may not have cared about anachronisms. From where I parked my car, by the Middle Tower (doubtless Mr. Dooley would have preferred my entering by the Traitor's Gate, but was of the essence), I noticed flying pennants, and the lack of cannons, and thought briefly about the reign of Henry III. I wonder why so many people romanticize this time; sure, the people had courtly manners, but I doubt they bathed often enough or wiped their tushes all that carefully...
I crossed the dry moat, passed the Byward Tower gate, turned left just before Wakefield Tower, and stood at the edge of his partially complete Tower Green. I gaped at the obvious expense -- centuries old trees just transplanted like it's nothing! -- and tsk-tsked at the extravagance: Why waste water on grass like this in Northern California? If you're going to use a piece of land just for beheading your enemies, a rocky stretch of poor clay is as good as anything, verisimilitude be damned.
I stood for many minutes, in full view of the Gentleman Gaoler's lodgings, transfixed by the freshly assembled gallows, imagining the racks and thumbscrews and all the other delights of the torturer Dooley must have tucked away elsewhere, until I realized I was staring at exactly what I needed: A tumbril on cracked wooden wheels stood nearby, waiting to receive the headsman's first victim. Entertaining other plans, I wheeled it down to my pick-up.
Lifting and maneuvering a payload of self-soiled godbotherer that weighs well over 200 lbs. is trying even if you are more massive than my meagre 5'9", 160 lbs. But I made it -- barely -- because I lifted smart -- with my legs -- and had spent many years training not only my mind, but my body (for more on weight-training, why not look in the 796s?)
Cutting back across the greensward, I dragged the two-wheeled wagon bearing its hideous cargo to the entrance of the White Tower.
It was better than I'd hoped. There was an uncompleted spiral staircase where his contractors had taken some liberties, using modern concrete and local slate. Dooley's bulk squeezed awkwardly into a single stair -- I had to work fast, as he had finally begun to stiffen. For hours after I stuffed him in, I labored against the clock, mixing concrete and laying the stones all by myself.
Trembling, dizzy, and exhausted, I finished just before three in the morning.
For many weeks after, life went on as usual. Winter bled into spring, the larkspur exploded into bloom, and twice I had to break up middle-schoolers coupling in the children's section.
One fine day, as the Stars and Stripes fluttered beside my outdoor books-for-sale-display and the honeybees hummed among the clover, a large, black SUV with County markings parked just outside the entrance.
A statuesque red-head of a certain age emerged and loped over to the circulation desk, and leaned towards me, calm and friendly. She said her name was Kate, and that she had a few questions for me regarding the disappearance of one Mr. Dooley. She flashed a badge. I offered to show her everything. I had nothing to hide.
As I guided her back to the boiler room, a thought struck me. Her face -- those eyes, those fabulous cheekbones, those sensual-yet-no-nonsense lips -- was so familiar. Perhaps commenting on that familiarity might cement a rapport, and knock her off her guard.
I opened the broad, poster-laden boiler-room door, and turned to her with my most guileless smile. "Hey, has anyone ever told you you look like that slutty girl from 'China Beach'?"