When Jim applied for the dispatcher job the fire department turned him down, but the Fire Chief offered him something else.
"Our fire dog, Rex, is retiring. You might want that job. Pays good and the retirement is great."
"Fire dog?" Jim said.
"Well, I don't know . . . ."
Jim considered. "I suppose I could give it a try—"
"Actually, we prefer greater dedication than that. We don't just want someone to give it a try. Being fire dog is an important job."
"Very well," Jim said. "I'll take it."
The Chief opened a drawer, pulled out a spotted suit with tail and ears, pushed it across the desk.
"I have to wear this?"
"How the hell you gonna be the fire dog, you don't wear the suit?"
Jim examined the suit. It had a hole for his face, his bottom, and what his mother had called his pee-pee.
"Good grief," Jim said. "I can't go around with my . . . well, you know, my stuff hanging out."
"How many dogs you see wearing pants?"
"Well, Goofy comes to mind."
"Those are cartoons. I haven't got time to screw around here. You either want the job, or you don't."
"I want it."
"By the way, you sure Goofy's a dog?"
"Well, he looks like a dog. And he has that dog, Pluto."
"Pluto, by the way, doesn't wear pants."
"You got me there."
"Try on the suit, let's see if it needs tailoring."
The suit fit perfectly, though Jim did feel a bit exposed. Still, he had to admit there was something refreshing about the exposure. He wore the suit into the break room, following the Chief.
Rex, the current fire dog, was sprawled on the couch watching a cop show. His suit looked worn, even a bit smoke-stained. He was tired around the eyes. His jowls drooped.
"This is our new fire dog," the Chief said.
Rex turned and looked at Jim, said, "I'm not out the door, already you got a guy in the suit?"
"Rex, no hard feelings. You got what, two, three days? We got to be ready. You know that."
Rex sat up on the couch, adjusted some pillows and leaned into them. "Yeah, I know. But, I've had this job nine years."
"And in dog years that's a lot."
"I don't know why I can't just keep being the fire dog. I think I've done a good job."
"You're our best fire dog yet. Jim here has a lot to live up to."
"I only get to work nine years?" Jim said.
"In dog years you'd be pretty old, and it's a decent retirement."
"Is he gonna take my name too?" Rex said.
"No," the Chief said, "of course not. We'll call him Spot."
"Oh, that's rich," said Rex. "You really worked on that one."
"It's no worse than Rex."
"Hey, Rex is a good name."
"I don't like Spot," Jim said. "Can't I come up with something else?"
"Dogs don't name themselves," the Chief said. "Your name is Spot."
"Spot," Rex said, "don't you think you ought to get started by coming over here and sniffing my butt?"
The first few days at work Spot found riding on the truck to be uncomfortable. He was always given a toolbox to sit on so that he could be seen, as this was the fire department's way. They liked the idea of the fire dog in full view, his ears flapping in the wind. It was very promotional for the mascot to be seen.
Spot's exposed butt was cold on the toolbox, and the wind not only blew his ears around, it moved another part of his anatomy about. That was annoying.
He did, however, enjoy the little motorized tail-wagging device he activated with a touch of a finger. He found that got him a lot of snacks from the firemen. He was especially fond of the liver snacks.
After three weeks on the job, Spot found his wife Shella to be very friendly. After dinner one evening, when he went to the bedroom to remove his dog suit, he discovered Shella lying on their bed wearing a negligee and a pair of dog ears attached to a hair band.
"Feel frisky, Spot?"
"Whatever. Feel frisky?"
"Well, yeah. Let me shed the suit, take a shower . . . . "
"You don't need a shower . . . and baby, leave the suit on, will you?"
They went at it.
"You know how I want it," she said.
After sex, Shella liked to scratch his belly and behind his ears. He used the tail-wagging device to show how much he appreciated it. This wasn't so bad, he thought. He got less when he was a man.
Though his sex life had improved, Spot found himself being put outside a lot, having to relieve himself in a corner of the yard while his wife looked in the other direction, her hand in a plastic bag, ready to use to pick up his deposits.
He only removed his dog suit now when Shella wasn't around. She liked it on him at all times. At first he was insulted, but the sex was so good, and his life was so good, he relented. He even let her call him Spot all the time.
When she wasn't around, he washed and dried his suit carefully, ironed it. But he never wore anything else. When he rode the bus to work, everyone wanted to pet him. One woman even asked if he liked poodles because she had one.
At work he was well respected, and enjoyed being taken to schools with the Fire Chief. The Chief talked about fire prevention. Spot wagged his tail, sat up, barked, looked cute by turning his head from side to side.
He was even taken to his daughter's class once. He heard her say proudly to a kid sitting next to her, "That's my Daddy. He's the fire dog."
His chest swelled with pride. He made his tail wag enthusiastically.
The job really was the pip. You didn't have fires every day, so Spot laid around all day most days, on the couch sometimes, though some of the firemen would run him off and make him lie on the floor when they came in. But the floor had rugs on it and the television was always on, though he was not allowed to change the channels. Some kind of rule, a union thing. The fire dog cannot and will not change channels.
He did hate having to take worm medicine, and the annual required trips to the vet were no picnic either. Especially the thermometer-up-the-ass part.
But, hell, it was a living, and not a bad one. Another plus was after several months of trying, he was able to lick his balls.
At night, when everyone was in their bunks and there were no fires, Spot would read from Call of the Wild, White Fang, Dog Digest, or such, or lie on his back with all four feet in the air, trying to look cute.
He loved it the when the firemen came in and caught him that way and ooohheeed and ahhhhhed and scratched his belly or patted his head.
This went on for just short of nine years. Then, one day, while he was lying on the couch, licking his ass — something he cultivated after three years on the job — the Fire Chief and a guy in a dog suit came in.
"This is your replacement, Spot," the Chief said.
"Well, it has been nine years."
"You didn't tell me. Has it been? You're sure? Aren't you supposed to warn me? Rex knew his time was up. Remember?"
"Not exactly. But if you say so. Spot, meet Hal."
"Hal? What kind of dog's name is that? Hal?"
But it was no use. By the end of the day he had his personal dog biscuits, pin ups from Dog Digest, and his worm-away medicine packed. There was also a spray can the firemen used to mist on his poop to keep him from eating it. The can of spray didn't really belong to him, but he took it anyway.
He picked up his old clothes, went into the changing room. He hadn't worn anything but the fire-dog suit in years, and it felt odd to try his old clothes on. He could hardly remember ever wearing them. He found they were a bit moth-eaten, and he had gotten a little too plump for them. The shoes fit, but he couldn't tolerate them.
He kept the dog suit on.
He caught the bus and went home.
"What? You lost your job?" his wife said.
"I didn't lose anything. They retired me."
"You're not the fire dog?"
"No. Hal is the fire dog."
"I can't believe it. I give you nine great years—"
"We've been married eleven."
"I only count the dog years. Those were the good ones, you know."
"Well, I don't have to quit being a dog. Hell, I am a dog."
"You're not the fire dog. You've lost your position, Spot. Oh, I can't even stand to think about it. Outside. Go on. Git. Outside."
After a while he scratched on the door, but his wife didn't let him in. He went around back and tried there. That didn't work either. He looked in the windows, but couldn't see her.
He laid down in the yard.
That night it rained, and he slept under the car, awakened just in time to keep his wife from backing over him on her way to work.
That afternoon he waited, but his wife did not return at the usual time. Five o'clock was when he came home from the fire house, and she was always waiting, and he had a feeling it was at least five o'clock, and finally the sun went down and he knew it was late.
Still, no wife.
Finally, he saw headlights and a car pulled into the drive. Shella got out. He ran to meet her. To show he was interested, he hunched her leg.
She kicked him loose. He noticed she was holding a leash. Out of the car came Hal.
"Look who I got. A real dog."
Spot was dumbfounded.
"I met him today at the fire house, and well, we hit it off."
"You went by the fire house?"
"What about me?" Spot asked.
"Well, Spot, you are a little old. Sometimes, things change. New blood is necessary."
"Me and Hal, we're going to share the house?"
"I didn't say that."
She took Hal inside. Just before they closed the door, Hal slipped a paw behind Shella's back and shot Spot the finger.
When they were inside, Spot scratched on the door in a half-hearted way. No soap.
Next morning Shella hustled him out of the shrubbery by calling his name. She didn't have Hal with her.
Great! She had missed him. He bounded out, his tongue dangling like a wet sock. "Come here, Spot."
He went. That's what dogs did. When the master called, you went to them. He was still her dog. Yes sirree, Bob.
"Come on, boy." She hustled him to the car.
As he climbed inside on the back seat and she shut the door, he saw Hal come out of the house stretching. He looked pretty happy. He walked over to the car and slapped Shella on the butt.
"See you later, baby."
"You bet, you dog you."
Hal walked down the street to the bus stop. Spot watched him by turning first to the back glass, then rushing over to the side-view glass.
Shella got in the car.
"Where are we going?" Spot asked.
"It's a surprise," she said.
"Can you roll down the window back here a bit?"
Spot stuck his head out as they drove along, his ears flapping, his tongue hanging.
They drove down a side street, turned and tooled up an alley.
Spot thought he recognized the place.
Why yes, the vet. They had come from another direction and he hadn't spotted it right off, but that's where he was.
He unhooked the little tag that dangled from his collar. Checked the dates of his last shots.
No. Nothing was overdue.
They stopped and Shella smiled. She opened the back door and took hold of the leash. "Come on, Spot."
Spot climbed out of the car, though carefully. He wasn't as spry as he once was.
Two men were at the back door. One of them was the doctor. The other an assistant.
"Here's Spot," she said.
"He looks pretty good," said the doctor.
"I know. But . . . well, he's old and has his problems. And I have too many dogs."
She left him there.
The vet checked him over and called the animal shelter. "There's nothing really wrong with him," he told the attendant that came for him. "He's just old, and well, the woman doesn't want to care for him. He'd be great with children."
"You know how it is, Doc," said the attendant. "Dogs all over the place."
Later, at the animal shelter he stood on the cold concrete and smelled the other dogs. He barked at the cats he could smell. Fact was, he found himself barking anytime anyone came into the corridor of pens.
Sometimes men and woman and children came and looked at him.
None of them chose him. The device in his tail didn't work right, so he couldn't wag as ferociously as he liked. His ears were pretty droopy and his jowls hung way too low.
"He looks like his spots are fading," said one woman whose little girl had stuck her fingers through the grating so Spot could lick her hand.
"His breath stinks," she said.
As the days went by, Spot tried to look perky all the time. Hoping for adoption.
But one day, they came for him, wearing white coats and grim faces, brandishing a leash and a muzzle and a hypodermic needle.
"Fire Dog" was originally published in 2003 in The Silver Gryphon, an anthology published by Golden Gryphon. It was later included in Bumper Crop (Golden Gryphon, 2004). "Fire Dog" © 2003 Joe R. Lansdale.
Head back here next Thursday for more three-alarm fun! We'll post another short story by Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale on Thursday, December 12!