With twelve years of experience under my belt, I considered myself an extremely adept and formidable negotiator of the highest order. Combined with two other agents, we had nearly forty years of combined training and real-world experience in the art of clandestine operations. Those skills were tested and refined constantly, especially when handling risky, volatile adversaries.
The recon of our target was thorough. We analyzed the overall state of our adversary and agreed on the mission objective well in advance. We played Devil’s advocate against our own strategy and rated our likelihood of acquiring our mission’s goal. We studied and took note of our enemy’s weakness and accepted the risks of their formidable strength and their legendary reputation for swift retribution.
Our mission was simple. Camouflage our original intent; utilize stall tactics if at all possible; tailor a mutual but beneficial agreement and negotiate a truce or détente if failure was imminent, all within the allotted time frame. With varying tactics at our disposal, we were prepared to address each negotiation counterpoint with equally strong counter measures. We came to succeed and failure was not an option.
As much as we prepared, we knew there was a distinct likelihood we would be armed with nothing more than our personal wits. If talks suddenly broke down, we were to prepared to evacuate immediately, and if at all cost, retreat without confrontation.
Relentlessly training using mock trial exercises, we choreographed our escape plans with precisely timed repetitive routes. Knowing our hosts held a superior edge in weaponry, we accepted that an adverse situation would translate having mere seconds to initiate any successful retreat.
I replayed the route I would use in my head a hundred times. I would leap off my chair, take three quick gazelle-like steps and forcefully shove myself off the left side of the adjacent wall. This would assist the negotiation of the ninety-degree right-hand turn into the next hallway. The inertia would cause a controlled half roll off the wall. Using four quick sprinting steps, I could commence a headfirst dive which would carry me the last three feet along the hallway floor. Finally, as I slid past the opening, I would use my right hand to perform a closure of the exit door.
This was a crucial step for it would secure the momentary protective barricade against the attacker. Failure would only unleash the enemy’s full fury and be my certain demise.
Since I was the swiftest, my escape route had the highest degree of success. I feared for the safety of my team for I had little confidence they would fare as well. Although their routes and plans were as disciplined and carefully masterminded, I realized my likely success would make them more promising targets of opportunity.
Sitting across from them in the dimly lit room, a cordial approach to lighten the mood was initiated by the most senior agent. After several tense moments of doubt, we reached the accord we were seeking. We would have that extra time we sought. A tenuous jubilation ensued but we knew to be careful so as not to insult the graciousness of our host. As we feasted upon the low-grade snacks set before us, we remained wary of the time. We glanced at the clock tower and played out our gracious departure in advance.
My memory fades with uncertainty as to how the harmonious accord disintegrated. Before we had time to gather our wits, the imminent wrath of our adversary was upon us. As if dipped in liquid nitrogen, we froze in fear and begged for mercy. We used a barrage of safe haven tactics to guarantee a safe retreat but it was all for naught as our least experienced agent stumbled into the most egregious of all mistakes. Indulged in self-complacency, our youngest negotiator recklessly tempted fate and requested additional time!
We tensed as our host’s head pivoted and reeled in disgust. A slight hiss sound formed; like a king cobra slithering from an uncovered Egyptian snake charmer’s woven basket.
We grew smothered as the air vacated the room. Even today, I can barely speak of the horror as our adversary’s tone turned caustic and we heard the weapon being cocked back into the firing position.
“Queenie?”, growled Mom in a half-disgusted manner.
Postured near the television, Queenie lifted and tilted her head ever so slightly; with her ears raised and rotated directly toward my mother’s direction. It wasn’t one of those cute, quick inquisitive tilts full of mischief but that slowly manifested stare that indicated a monstrous and devilish intent. We felt petrified as the fear and panic grew inside us.
As she turned, Queenie’s ears perked then pressed back against her neck. The hair on her mane raised and bristled. She gazed intently at my Mother, indicating the steadfast loyalty and excited anticipation of the next command. She was ready for anything.
As a child, your heart raced and your palms sweated if Mom called for Queenie. We knew full well Queenie was waiting patiently for the next order. The command that made every child cringe. We begged our mother for a safe retreat but Queenie was already in the ‘locked and loaded’ position. The only thing we didn’t know was when Mom would pull the trigger.
Our team mentality and shamefully dismantled as all level of loyalty flew by the wayside. My oldest sister and I pointed at our younger sibling in disgust; asserting that she was a rogue agent in this tenuous situation. Using all manner of facial expressions to convey our united shock, awe and dismay, we sought Mom’s mercy. We wanted Mom to know that we were acting in good faith and we were emphatically denying any prior knowledge of this coup by our younger sister. We were not asking to to stay up another thirty minutes more.
We pleaded for mercy using our patented high pitched, feigned squealing voices, “Oh my God, Mom! Don’t say it. Please — don’t say it!” As the gravity of the situation mounted, I closed my eyes and I began reflecting on what it was that got me to this terrifying moment.
Throughout childhood, my parents always had a dog. More likely than not, the family dog turned into Mom’s loyal guardian and steadfast soldier. Queenie, the tricolor Border Collie, was infamous around the neighborhood for rounding up us kids. The dog was beloved by all neighborhood parents and entrusted emphatically because they knew Mom trained Queenie with military precision. Queenie was so efficiently trained; she could read hand signals and gestures that only Mom could utilize.
If Mom wanted you, she sent Queenie to get you. Whether it was the ball field, the school playground or the deep dense woods, Queenie was the Sgt. Schultz on steroids that herded us back to Mom’s war bunker. Queenie was so intelligent that she could sever the requested quarry from any pack like a surgeon’s blade and then guide that particular person home; with force, if need be.
“What good is a cocked gun — if you’re not going to fire it?” my Dad muttered as he continued watching the Lawrence Welk show. Of course, Mom took this to heart. We sought Dad’s clemency and understanding, hoping that the terror in our eyes would parlay into a stay of execution. Whether by mock gesture or utter helplessness, Dad remained silent and would only shake his head, as if succumbing to the inevitable slaughter for which he was now going to be a witness to.
In a frame by frame slow motion fashion, Mom’s angelic voice turned maniacal as she squeezed the trigger on Queenie, “Get ’em!”.
We bolted like lightning, each of us carefully choreographing our gazelle-like leaps and bounds so as not to hinder the others escape. Doing so would only slow both parties down; leaving the slowest as sacrificial prey to the nipping and biting upon our gluteus maximus.
To this day, I’m still in profound wonderment of how Mom trained Queenie to only go for this tender meaty area of our anatomy. Even during the vilest of attacks, Queenie would not bite any other region. If you shoved a hand or a foot in her direction, she would deflect it and stand over you until you exposed your posterior. It’s the only part she wanted. It was the only part of you that she was trained to take.
Lying motionless on your back and playing possum would never work with Queenie. So evil was this dog, that she would actually paw and jab at your midsection in order to entice you to roll over.
My older sister had it the worst. Armed with long, beautiful athletic legs, she had to negotiate stairs to her second-floor lair. If that wasn’t bad enough, her escape required her to synchronize with my youngest sister’s bolt down the hall. At just the precise moment, she would body check my youngest sister into the opening of her bedroom door. Like an NHL All-Star lineman checking an opposing player, my sister knew that as long as her toppling, younger sister thudded against her bed and suffered minimal damage, she could continue in good conscience her frenzied escape to the stairs. As long as you were in your room, you were safe from Queenie.
Gaining speed with every step, Queenie closed in on her prey like a cheetah hunting an antelope on the Serengeti plains.
Contrary to belief, she wasn’t a weapon of mass destruction. Instead, she was a cold, heartless hunter who could interpret the weakest and most opportune victim faster than any known military targeting system in our day. She knew in an instant who the frailest quarry would be.
During the twelve years we had Queenie, me and my youngest sister personally lost several pairs of flannel sleep pants and acquired a collection of Wrangler jeans with half-ripped rear pockets. Queenie took special delight in tackling and tripping my oldest sisters’ legs, then grabbing her panties and dragging her backwards several steps down the carpeted stairs. Any skirt quickly turned into the material that could have masqueraded as a shredded pompom.
Sensing compliance was acquired, Mom would issue the “Cease” command and Queenie would instantly let go of any victim and return to Mom’s side for ample praise and admiration. A good head petting and ear scratch was all that Queenie required.
Then one evening, without warning or any sign of distress, Queenie passed away on the living room floor. It was on a Friday evening and she succumbed very suddenly to what we all assumed to be natural causes. For as much terror Queenie posed upon us throughout the years, no one could contain their emotions as we all felt the tremendous grief and loss. We praised her as the coolest dog we could ever have. We also knew that no one was taking this loss harder than Mom.
Dad was never insensitive to the unique bond that Queenie had with my mother. Without saying anything to anyone, he went to his workshop that evening to fashion a hand built, custom wooden casket. The next day we would bury her in a special remote spot in the backyard.
As we prepared ourselves for sleep, our visibly shaken mother visited each of us in our bedrooms. Without making direct eye contact, she sat on the edge of my bed, held my hand and whispered, “Queenie is gone but if there is anything you want to place in her casket, you can do that tomorrow morning. Okay?” I could sense the trembling in my mother’s lips as she leaned over and placed a warm kiss on my forehead. I felt hollow and remorseful as I slumbered off to sleep, with the constant visions of my mother crying and grieving the loss of her beloved Queenie.
With the Sun beginning its ascent into the morning sky, I awoke refreshed. As the rays blazoned through my bedroom curtains, I laid quietly as the last of the morning haze diminished. I could hear that there was a light conversation coming from the kitchen. Leaving my bedroom, I tucked a package under my arm which I had prepared the night before.
Expecting my parents, I was surprised to see that only my sisters were in the kitchen making toast and having orange juice. I asked where Mom and Dad were and everyone pointed toward the back yard.
As I peeked out the kitchen window, I saw that both of my parents were near my Mother’s favorite flower garden that had the small rock wall built around it. Without any additional words spoken, we began to make our way out to the backyard.
The Sun was now soaking my mother’s garden with its full morning brilliance. The garden seemed alive as the countless daffodils orchestrated a wondrous enveloping chorus of rich colors that waved gently in the cool morning breeze. Nestled in the middle of this oasis was my mother, who was knelt down beside Queenie’s open casket and the hole that my father had dug out the night before. Inside the casket, Mom had already placed Queenie’s personalized collar, leash, a few bones, rope toys and her favorite Frisbee.
As we walked up, Mom glanced over and grabbed each of our hands and smiled. You could see that she had been crying. “If there is anything you wish to give Queenie, you can. She would love that.”
Without consulting with each other, me and my sisters discovered we all had the same idea on what our fitting tribute would be to this wonderful animal. With my mother fighting back tears, one by one we placed our gifts into Queenie’s casket.
I placed a pair of jeans that Queenie was always so fond of gnawing at. My younger sister placed a pair of her flannel sleep pants next to Queenie’s head and yes – my older sister tucked some nice panties on top of Queenie’s paws. Mom’s sniffles increased as we placed each garment into the coffin.
After giving Mom a moment to view her beloved dog one last time, Dad placed the lid on top and lightly nailed the casket shut. With my help, we laid the casket carefully into the hole. As soon as Dad transferred the final shovel of dirt and gently patted it down, we all waited for a response from Mom.
With a shaking voice, Mom thanked all of us for the very special, thoughtful gifts we gave to Queenie. With tears now flowing freely off the end of her nose, she clenched a handful of dirt from the top of Queenie’s grave, leaned closer and whispered one last command to her most loyal soldier and ever beloved companion.
“Okay, Queenie. You know what to do — Get ’em!”
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