The Barnum Dilemma

Rose gasped, her eyes going wide. Mac smiled playfully, pulling her close, relishing her reaction to his proposition.

"In the light--It's huge, Mac--I'll never be able to handle something this size!"

"Sure you can. I was thinking about the two of us, practically on top of each other most of the time as it is--Rose, trust me. Let me show it off to you," he begged gently.

She quivered, unable to resist his pleading look, and touched his cheek, sighing. He added in a seductive whisper, "I could make it good--just tell me what you like."

"Riiiiight. You think it's all going to be a matter of a couple of quick moves, and instant paradise for the two of us, but I need more time, Mac--it's not going to be that easy to get comfortable. You've put me in a very tricky position here, you know."

"True, but only because I know how well you can handle big things like this, Rose. We're up to the physical challenge," he responded, kissing her shoulder. Rose groaned.

"Stop trying to butter me up, Stud--if I'm getting the shaft, at least let it happen with my eyes open--I'm not falling for your soft soap that easily."

"You love it," MacGyver scoffed with a grin. "I can see the wicked gleam in your eyes, Brat. Can't wait to get your hot little paws everywhere--"

She flushed, caught in right in the middle of licking her lips. With dignity, she looked into his eyes. "As long as you don't force it on me, I might give in . . ." she teased, "But remember, size isn't everything."

"Oh yes it is," he countered happily, "Let me prove it to you--"

 The two of them gazed around at the empty warehouse and sighed almost at the same time. MacGyver motioned to the far end, which had a raised platform under a skylight.

"Bedroom, with or without walls, whichever you prefer. I can put up railings, or curtains or screens or whatever. There's a huge storage room with plumbing that will make a perfect bathroom right there to the left--" he pointed. Rose studied the walls around her, which were exposed brick. She walked towards the far end, looking up at the ceiling. A wide catwalk circled the huge skylight above. Hanging lights and industrial fans dangled here and there. Spinning around, she glanced back down the length of the enormous room to the industrial bay door. MacGyver was over by a wall, examining wiring with a practiced eye.

"What about a kitchen?"

"Over by the front doors, on the supporting wall there . . . we've got wiring and a gas line. I figure that a corner kitchen would work, and we could put in a booth or a table--what?" he trailed off as she burst out laughing.

"Oh God, Mac, you sound so, so . . . domestic! Mr. Builder Fix-it guy!" she spluttered. "Honestly, I half expect you to start talking about term life insurance and carpeting or something--"

For a long moment he stared at her, his expression flickering through a variety of changes; she bit her lip and walked back to him, wondering if she'd hurt his feelings. He stepped behind her, wrapping his arms over her shoulders, leaning down to speak softly in her ear.

"If you're only going to do something once in your life, doing it right suddenly seems like a good idea. Think about it, Rose--if we were in cave man days, I would have dragged you here by your hair, and you wouldn't have a damn bit of say about what color the painting on the walls were, or how big the fire pit would be--"

"If we were in cave man days we'd be so busy dodging predators and finding food that we probably wouldn't even have a cave," she replied, squeezing the arms that rested on her shoulders. Mac laughed.

"True, but the point is that we're not, we have choices. The way I see it, this place is big enough to hold all our combined household stuff without cramping either of us, it's in a good location, the price is certainly fair, and it's structurally sound. I don't mind painting and weekend carpentry to get it into shape, Brat, how about you?"

She looked over her shoulder at him, and back at the warehouse. Her hands found hands, just over the swell of her chest and she interwove her fingers with his.

"It's a very nice cave . . ." she admitted gently, "Considering we could park about four mobile homes in it--"

***                              ***                              ***

And so it began. Most Saturdays and Sundays were dedicated to renovating the Grotto, as Rose named it. The walls and floors were methodically scrubbed and sealed. Three weekends in a row, Mac measured and took notes while Rose scraped paint off of the high frosted windows that ran the length of the building. They argued about painting the brick, they disagreed about the carpeting; they ended up making hot and sultry love up against the industrial door once. Life was progressing at a good pace. And then one Saturday--

"It's no use--I need some bigger brackets, Rose," Mac tossed the one in his hand down on the worktable in disgust. His green flannel shirt hung open. The sleeves were rolled up his forearms, and the thermal undershirt sleeves underneath were dusty. Rose looked up from the can of varnish she was stirring and shrugged. She had her hair in a braid across the crown of her head, and wore faded jeans with a tight pink T-shirt that read So Many Fish, So Little Time.

"And I'm about ready for a break from the fumes myself, so why don't we go to Build Mart and then grab some lunch?"

They locked up and took the jeep, enjoying the unexpected sunny warmth of the late February afternoon. As they pulled into the lot, Rose glanced over at the truck next to theirs and drew in a breath. She nudged Mac, who followed her gaze.

"Not good . . ." he admitted warily. They climbed out of the jeep and swiftly moved to peer into the back of the flatbed in the next space.

Hunkered down in a metal cage too small for him, a large dog lay panting in the bright sunshine. His big paws protruded from between the bars, and a faint buzz of flies surrounded his head. Rose pointed at the bone-dry water bowl; Mac nodded, and made a faint whistling noise. The dog raised his head, ears pricking up at the sound.

"Hey boy--you don't look so hot--" Mac spoke softly and simply. At his tone, the dog's tail thumped twice against he truck bed and stopped, as if the effort of wagging was too much. Rose climbed up on the back gate of the truck for a better look.

"Oh Mac, his neck--you see it?"

"Yeah--looks like someone's been using a choke chain pretty brutally on him. We've got some water in the jeep--" He fished for the bowl, keeping an eye on the dog. "I wonder what breed he is?"

"Something big. Hey buddy, want some water?"

At the sound of Rose's voice the tail thumped feebly once more; encouraged, Rose held out a hand. Mac winced.

"Brat, that's a good way to get bitten--this truck is his turf, and he's liable to be protective about it!" he reminded her. She shook her head.

"Most of the time you'd be right, but look at him, Mac--he's more dead than alive. Where the *hell* is his owner anyway?"

Rose was bristling; the dog gave a whine of fear at the anger in her voice and she flinched. Mac was busy pouring water into the bowl. He pushed to towards the dog, who tried to reach it. His big muzzle didn't fit through the bars, but his tongue did, and he managed to lap a good bit of it up.

"I can count his ribs," Rose grumbled, "and it looks like there's an infected gash on his head. That's what the flies are getting into--Yech."

Mac looked at the cage. A heavy padlock held the door shut, and the dog lay on bare wire mesh underneath. He shook his head decisively.

"You stay here--I'm going to see if I can find the owner. If he comes out before I do, stall him."

"I'll try--" she muttered, pulling off her windbreaker and draping it over the top of the cage to make some shade. Mac jogged into the Build Mart, looking for a clerk.

Hey--you folks have a PA system here? There's a tan truck out there with it's lights on," he fibbed easily. The old lady behind the register nodded, asking,

 "Did you get a license number?"

"Yes Ma'am--it's JT24396."

The clerk cleared her throat and made the announcement, her voice echoing through the vast building. Mac waited by the door, watching. He glanced at the parking lot where Rose was still leaning over the flatbed talking to the dog.

Finally after a long five minutes, two men approached the door. One was tall and angry, his greasy blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. The other was squat and muscular, with a sour expression and a marine buzz cut. They seemed to be arguing.

"I know didn't leave no lights on, Tony--it's bullshit."

"Maybe, but it won't hurt to check. Besides, this place doesn't have any of the size PVC pipe we need anyway," the shorter one responded. Mac stepped up to them.

"Hey--you the guys with the tan trunk?" he asked as mildly as he could. They stared at him for a second. Finally the taller one replied,

"Yeah?"

"Actually, your car lights aren't a problem, it's your dog," Mac commented. The two men looked at each other and then at him. Without further discussion, the shorter one swung a haymaker right at MacGyver's face, catching him full on the nose. Alarmed shoppers waiting in the lines looked up as Mac's head rocked back and his spine hit the doorframe. Blood spurted out in a spray. He grunted.

"Outta here, asshole--" the blonde muttered to his partner. They bolted, only to nearly be hit by the jeep as Rose screeched it to a stop at the front doors. Leaping out, she grabbed Mac around the waist, hauling him to the car as he groaned, red streaks dripping down his shirt. The two men flipped her the bird and ran across the parking lot to their truck as Rose revved the engine and sped away.

"Swow gown, swow gown . . . Ahhhh!" Mac groaned through his fingers as each bump and jar of the vehicle sent fresh pain through him. Rose patted his thigh.

"Oh God Mac, you sound like Elmer Fudd, but you're sooo brave-- I'm trying to drive softly, but let's just get home and I'll get both of you taken care of--"

"Bof of uf?"  Suspiciously, Mac craned his head to look in the back of the jeep. A mournful face looked up at him, and he gasped. 

"WOSE, YOU STOWE DA DOGGGG!" came his anguished yell. She nodded grimly as she drove on.

"Sure did--and you bought us the time too--I knew you had some bolt cutters in here, and those two dipshits weren't about to take a lecture on the ethics of owning a dog, so I just jacked him."

"Arrggh!" Mac slumped in the passenger seat, saying nothing more until they reached the Grotto. Rose pressed the remote to unlock the door and jumped out, running to the small refrigerator and grabbing an ice pack and some paper towels. When she turned around, she saw Mac carrying in the shivering bone bundle from the back seat, grunting under the weight.

Looking at him, her heart swelled up, and she felt tears rise in her eyes.  Mac had bloody streaks running down his chin, and his nose was completely puffy, but his focus was on the dog. He set the animal down on the worktable, absently wiping his upper lip on his thermal sleeve. She wrapped the ice pack and handed it to him, gingerly he pressed it to his face.

"Pwatchett dose a good vet?"

Yeah--" Rose fished for her cell phone as he gently patted the dog, examining it closely. The animal lifted his head and licked his fingers; Mac reluctantly smiled.

***                              ***                              ***

"Yes, well it's in bad shape, but with some loving care and attention it's going to be fine."

"Ah--danks, doc, but whad about da dog?" came Mac's reply. Grinning, the gaunt man in the lab coat handed back the ice pack to him and winked at Rose who was holding the dog.

"Hey, last time I looked, humans were animals too--I'm a non-descriminating sort you know," he replied cheerily. The badge on his jacket read Daniel Ibarra DVM.  With his shoulder-length grey hair and tinted round glasses he looked like an older John Lennon, and Rose smiled back. Stepping over to the table, he ran a gentle hand down the dog's back and began a soft monologue as Rose and MacGyver watched.

"Hmmmmm, let's have a look here . . . you're quite a big boy, aren't you?  Great Dane in your make-up, maybe some Mastiff too-- I see you've had a rough time of it sport, and we may have to do some stitching on your head here . . . haven't eaten in a while, have you, poor fella . . . bit of a fever, and will you let me look at your teeth? Good boy, yes you are . . . about eight months old I'd say, still got quite a few puppy canines in here . . . not neutered, so we better plan on taking care of that . . . dehydrated too . . . where did you find this big old sweetheart?"

"Uh--In a cage in a parking lot," Rose blurted. Ibarra frowned as he gently felt each leg and paw.

"Lemme guess--the cage had a mesh bottom, and was too small for him?" came the question.  Mac spoke through his ice pack.

"Yeah."

"Shit," Ibarra muttered, shaking his head. "They're back. We've got a very lucky baby here--he was destined to be a sacrifice at a dogfight, most likely. They starve and dehydrate the victims so that the fighters can tear them apart before the real match--the taste of blood gets the adrenaline flowing."

"Oh God!"

"Sweetie, they haven't got one unless you count the almighty dollar--every vet in the state is on the alert for this group."

"Are they a gang?" Rose asked softly.

"Not officially," Ibarra murmured as he studied the dog's eyes. "Those of us in the animal business call them the Abattoir. I'll alert the police that they're back," Ibarra looked over at Mac keenly, his expression serious.

"You get that crunched nose rescuing this dog?"

"Yeah," Mac admitted. Ibarra nodded.

"Then there's absolutely no charge for the house call or the treatment. I'm gonna take this big boy with me for stitches, fluid replacement and overnight observation and you two can probably pick him up tomorrow," Saying this, Ibarra scooped up the shivering animal and staggered with him out to the van. Rose followed him out while Mac reached for the cell phone.

"Hey Bete--no it's nod a coad," Mac grumbled, taking the ice pack off to speak more clearly. "Listen, who do we have as community liaison for SPCA? And while you're ad it, can you pass on a license plate to them for me? Long story, but its aboud a dog-fighting cadre called the Abattoir. Yeah . . . the plate's JT24396. Thanks."

They went back to Rose's place in silence. She could tell Mac was sulking; it wasn't just his nose that was bruised but his ego too, and it was partially her fault, she knew. Rose sensed he could be coddled out of his bad mood with the right incentives; fortunately there were plenty at her fingertips. She climbed out of the jeep first and scurried over to his side.

"Let me talk to Mr. Pratchett a minute while you hop in a nice hot shower. I'll be right up to make you some soup, okay?"

He made no reply.

 "--A rich golden mushroom bisque with garlic and pepper, with French bread and a tossed salad," she offered in a consoling tone.

Mac's eyes lit up, but he waited for a long moment. "Dessert too?" His lower lip jutted out and it was all Rose could do not to laugh.

"Dessert too--I've got some peach cobbler from my mom," she offered, reaching up to rub his back. He slowly nodded, and she turned away, stifling her smile. Men. Always little boys underneath.

Mr. Pratchett looked up at her from the leash display he was re-arranging. He was a bushy-browed scarecrow of a man with a full beard and a bald head.

"Briar Rose! How's the dog? Did Danny look him over?"

"He did--the dog's going to be fine I guess. I wanted to thank you for convincing Dr Ibarra to come out."

"Oh Danny loves to get out of the office, trust me--" Pratchett smiled. "Says it gives him more time to pursue the ladies."

"Really?" Rose grinned, "He didn't make any passes at me."

"He saw the ring, I'm sure--besides, Danny's type is more along the lines of your average librarian or teacher--shy and ladylike--not all boisterous like yourself."

"Thanks a lot! But honestly, I appreciate your help."

"Will the dog be needing anything once he comes home? Bedding, kibble, chew toys?" Pratchett asked thoughtfully. Rose shrugged.

"I guess so--"

"Let me put together some things for you then, he offered. "Make things easier once you bring him back."

"Thank you Mr. Pratchett," Rose beamed.

Once upstairs and in the kitchen, Rose concentrated on cooking, pulling together the fresh mushrooms and cream, keeping an ear out for MacGyver. Just as she finished setting the table he emerged from the bathroom, toweling his hair dry. She felt her knees go weak at the sight of him in the plaid bathrobe.

"Oh babe--" she sat him down and took a good look at his nose. He gave her a crooked smile and Rose knew his bad humor was weakening.

"I don't think it's broken, but it's pretty sore," he sighed. "I'll be looking like Rudolph for the next few days."

Rose tenderly cradled his cheek against her full chest; Mac sighed and slid his arms around her hips.

"Do you know how incredible you are, Mac? You're brave and smart and kind--" she murmured, kissing the top of his head, "--And handsome and wise, and--hey!"

"You promised dessert," he mumbled. She swatted his roving hands away and motioned to the table.

"Dinner first, besides, you might need your strength," she lightly threatened. He arched an eyebrow at her, but said nothing, preferring to concentrate on the soup for a while. She ate as well in the comfortable silence, making sure Mac had at least two bowls full. When they were done with dinner, Rose sighed.

"I'm taking a bath," she told him. Mac stacked the bowls and nodded absently.  She disappeared into the bathroom, humming while he did the dishes. Once he'd finished, he wandered over to the nearest bookcase, looking over the spines.

"Rose?"

"Yes?" she called back through the door.

"Why do you have so many books about knitting? I've never seen you knit."

"Ah. Well, for a while my granny tried to get me interested in it, and I didn't have the heart to throw the books out," came her honest reply. Mac nodded to himself, looking further long the case. With an inquisitive look, he selected a volume, tugging it from the shelf.

"And all the--erotica?"

"College course--those were all required reading!" Rose told him. He shot a skeptical look towards the bathroom door and she must have sensed it since she added,

"They were--check the inside covers, smarty pants--those things cost me a fortune! I wanted to take the psychology of Death and Dying, but all the sections were full, so they bumped me to psychology of Sexuality instead."

Mac flipped the book open, seeing the college stamp and price across the title page. Cautiously he thumbed through the rest of it, shaking his head, a knowing grin on his face. Engrossed, he didn't hear Rose come up behind him. She cleared her throat.

"A-hem"

"Boy, I bet the study groups for this course were fun--"

"Not really," she replied, chewing her lower lip. Mac looked at her and his teasing expression softened. She was wearing her short terry robe, and the ends of her hair were wet from the bath. He set the book back on the shelf. Rose reached up to his nose.

"Let's get a bandage on that, and then you need to get to bed." Meekly Mac allowed her to tape some gauze across the bridge of his nose and fuss over him, secretly enjoying every moment of it.

Rose ushered him into her bedroom and pulled up the covers on the four-poster bed."Get in and let the aspirin have a chance to work, okay?"

Before he could say anything, the phone rang. Rose picked it up from the nightstand.

"Oh hello Pete--uh, yes, he's right here--" she handed Mac the phone with a dry smile. Mac took the receiver and leaned back against the headboard, sighing.

"Yeah Pete?" He muttered.

"Well I talked with Lloyd Thuy, he's our connection to the SPCA--do you mind telling me how you got involved in something as repugnant as dog fighting, Mac?"

It took a few seconds for MacGyver to respond since Rose had slowly peeled her robe off and dropped it, artistically on the floor, revealing a tiny pink lace nightie that clung to her curves."Ah . . . the Brat and I sort of rescued a dog today  . . ."

"I see--well it turns out that Lloyd's got a file on the subject that's as thick as a two by four.  This blood sport goes back about seventy years."

"Really?" came the distracted reply. Rose flicked her hair off her shoulders and slid up on her side of the bed, her hands gliding gently up Mac's chest, pulling open the plaid robe.

"Oh yes. It's definitely a serious crime, and the foundation's just the sort of group to get behind a crackdown against it. If you can come in sometime tomorrow I can set up a meeting."

"A . . . meeting?" Mac replied, trying to keep his voice neutral. Rose was smiling; her hands slid down his chest across his stomach. He swatted at her and recupped the receiver against his ear but she dropped her mouth to the hollow at his throat and kissed him.

"Yes, a meeting. If you rescued an animal, any information you can share with Lloyd is going to help. Did you see anyone?"

"Two guys--one cracked me in the nose pretty good . . . ah--" He gurgled. Rose lay on top of him, nipping at his collarbone, her hands sliding down his ribs in wickedly tickling strokes. She pushed herself up to straddle his hips on her knees and took his hands, bringing them up to her breasts.

"Then you definitely want to talk to Lloyd," Pete insisted. MacGyver struggled to keep the receiver pinned in the crook of his neck while he tugged at the lace nightgown, but it was difficult to concentrate. Rose stifled a giggle. She began to grind against him as she licked her lips.

"Yeah, okay Pete, we'll meet with Lloyd tomorrow, look I gotta go--something big's just come up--" Hastily Mac cut off the call and dropped the phone over the side of the bed. Rose squealed as he grabbed her shoulders, pulling her up to his face.

"Briar Rose I oughta spank you!" came his growl. She laughed into his face delightedly.

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Wanna bet?" With one yank he tugged her across his lap; she grappled at one of the pillows when his broad hand came down across her firm barely covered fanny in one swat.

"Hey!" Rose tried to protest, but she was still giggling. "I'm a good girl!"

"No you're not--" he replied, although it was hard not to smirk. She squirmed across his lap, and Mac bit back a groan at the sensation. Gradually she managed to rise to her hands and knees and looked over her shoulder.

"Now look at me, a marked woman--" she muttered, examining the faint pink imprint of his hand across her bottom.

"I'll kiss it and make it better . . ."

Rose tossed her hair and gave him a seductive gaze; he returned it with one of his own. Within minutes the pink nightie and plaid robe had joined the phone on the floor.

 

The Barnum Dilemma Part II

The pick up truck pulled up in front of a building with a sign that read "Pine Street Animal Clinic" and in smaller letters, Daniel Ibarra DVM. Rose looked at Evelyn with a grin.

"Thanks for coming with me on such short notice--he's a big dog."

"Happy to help. I had Dobermans as kid, so big boys don't scare me. Where's Mac?"

"Meeting with the SPCA rep and Pete. I hope they nail the guys who did this," Rose muttered. Both she and Evelyn were in jeans, ready for dog handling as they walked into the clinic. A smiling girl with long dreadlocks greeted them from behind the counter.

"Here for the Dane mix? He's a sweet boy--Doctor Ibarra needs to talk to you," she directed. They were ushered into an examining room. The clattering of dog toenails alerted them and they looked up as Daniel Ibarra led the dog in. Rose beamed.

"He looks a lot better!" It was true. Washed, the dog was a lovely fawn color, his coat longer than a Dane's but smooth.  He had a small bandage on the top of his head and a dressing around his throat as well. His muzzle was darker, and his short ears dangled. He surged towards Rose, but Evelyn stepped forward and caught his muzzle, gripping it lightly in her two hands.

"Yo cutie, calm down, okay?" she murmured softly. The dog's tail wagged happily and Ibarra grinned.

"Ms Clowderbock I remember, but who is this charming creature?"

"Evelyn Trot--" she held out a hand. Ibarra swiftly took it in his.

"Very pleased to meet you--"

 Rose hid her grin and turned her attention to the dog.

He obviously remembered her and licked her enthusiastically, washing her fingers, hands and wrists. Rose stroked his face and head, working around the bandages as best she could while the vet spoke.

"All right--he's doing very well, Ms Clowderbock. I cleaned out the wound on his head and put in about three stitches--you'll need to put some ointment on them twice a day. The same ointment goes on the bandage around his neck. Don't put a collar on him for at least three weeks. Use the body harness to put him on a leash. We wormed him and gave him some initial shots, and I've put him on an antibiotic for this coming week. Pratchett will give you the right dog food, and I strongly suggest you bring him in for neutering ASAP."

"Who, Pratchett?"

"No, the dog," Evelyn managed as both Ibarra and Rose chuckled.

"So--what's his story?"

"Best guess, he's off of a farm somewhere--" Ibarra replied. "Probably picked up through the newspaper for a few dollars, or simply stolen. The fighters want a big bait dog, and Danes are an easy choice because they're fairly mild-tempered. He's not a pure Dane, so he came cheap. You plan on keeping him?"

"I don't know," Rose confessed shame-facedly. "When I got him out of the truck I didn't really think it through."

Ibarra sighed. "Can you at least keep him for a week or so? I've got some breed rescue contacts, but they're off judging a show in Reno."

"Yes, we can do that."

"Good. Now what about you--do you have a dog?" He asked Evelyn. She shook her head.

He persisted."A cat? Hamster? Goldfish?"

"No, no, and no. I'm currently without animal companionship, Doctor Ibarra," she replied, arching an eyebrow at him. He shook his head and looked at her over the top of his John Lennon glasses.

"We need to correct that immediately, or how else am I going to see you again?"

"Are you always this direct?"

"Why waste valuable time? I can tell you're a woman of beauty and taste--" he teased. Evelyn looked at Rose, who put on an innocent face and turned back to the dog.

Ibarra chuckled. "Another one slips past my charm, ah well. The girl up front will give you the ointments and pills, Ms Clowderbock. By the way, we also need a name. Dog is pretty generic, and this one's got personality. Think of something good."

"Goodbye and thank you--" Rose shook his hand. Evelyn did the same, murmuring,

"Keep this up and I might consider a goldfish, Doctor,"

"A ray of hope! Check with Pratchett and tell him I sent you--he'll throw in the gravel for free."

They managed to get the dog out to the truck and into the crate there; he settled in easily.

Evelyn nodded. "He's crate trained--that's pretty lucky. Now Rose, what was up with that vet?"

"He's got the hots for your type--I forgot that when I asked you to help me, honestly." Rose climbed in and started up the truck. They pulled away from the curb.

"You forgot--oh sure, I buy that," Evelyn scoffed. "I know you, Briar Rose, and that was a matchmaking move if ever I saw one!"

"Maybe. He's pretty cool, though, huh?"

Evelyn didn't reply, and looked back to check on the dog while Rose grinned to herself.

 

"This one. He was with the guy who punched me," Mac announced firmly as he tapped the photo on the desk. The familiar blonde held up the mug shot information as he sneered out of the picture.

"Marcus Ingersoll. He's been convicted twice on B and E at pounds up north. We stuck him in the file, but haven't been able to tie him directly to any group up to now," Lloyd Thuy muttered. He was a trim man with spiky black hair and a small goatee.

"If he's in the area, maybe the police can pick him up for questioning," Pete offered. Thuy shook his head.

"Maybe, but he's probably transient. We've got the plate, though and even if the truck isn't his, we can find out who else may be involved. Any of these other faces look familiar?"

Mac checked the photos again carefully."Hard to say--the other guy had a buzz cut. He was built like a fireplug and had a pretty good punch."

  "Could be a local boy--"Thuy speculated. "I've got some places I can check. Anyway, thanks for your help, MacGyver. I appreciate you coming in on a weekend for this."

"It's okay--anything we can do to shut these guys down, I'm ready to help."

 

When Mac returned to the Grotto, he found Rose and the dog hard at work. Rose, anyway. She was putting down the last coat of varnish on the raised wooden platform, and chatting away to the dog as if it understood her.

"I was thinking that maybe a sort of lattice fence up here, sort of a deck would look nice, but--oh hi Mac!"

The dog bounded over to him, swiftly covering the distance from the back of the warehouse to the front in a few seconds. MacGyver dropped to his haunches and patted him affectionately.

"Hey buddy, you look about a hundred times better," The dog snuffled delightedly, trying to lick his face; Mac stood up again grinning. He strode over to Rose as she skipped down the wooden steps to greet him.

"How'd it go?"

"Well they've got a mug shot of the blonde guy, and they're going to run the plate, so it's a start. Now it's a matter of catching a lucky break," he told her. She sighed in discouragement; the dog bumped up against her leg comfortingly.

"Doctor Ibarra asked if we could hold onto the dog for a week--he's got some folks who can take it, but they're out of town right now,"

"For a week, I guess. Don't get too fond of him, Rose--" Mac warned. "It's going to be hard enough to give him up in a few days."

"Oh look who's talking, Mr. Marshmallow Heart--" Rose teased gently. Caught in the very act of caressing the dog's muzzle, Mac flinched

Trying to regain his dignity, he changed the subject. "Lunch?"

"The park down by the marina--and let's take tiny boy here--" she agreed.

The Sunday afternoon was overcast and cool; the park was not crowded and Mac found them a quiet spot near the water. The dog was content to stick close to them, occasionally sniffing at something or resting quietly. Rose brought a food dish and fed him; he ate rapidly and sighed with obvious contentment when he finished.  Mac watched him carefully.

"How much bigger is he going to get?"

"Well, a full-sized Dane is about a hundred and fifty pounds," Rose admitted. "But he's not a purebred, so he might end up smaller."

"Take a gander at those paws, Brat--we've got a pony that's going to be a horse," Mac scoffed, stretching out on his back on the park bench. Rose sat on the ground, gave a resigned shrug and patted the dog's back in one long stroke; the tail thumped happily.

"We do have to give him a name, though--Ibarra insisted. What does he look like to you?"

"He looks like a very big hole in my savings account," Mac replied, but there was no sting to his words. Thoughtfully, he rolled over to stare at the dog. "Okay, if we're going to name him, he's gotta have a real name. No adjectives like Fluffy or Spot--"

"Fair enough," Rose agreed. For a moment they both gazed at the dog.

"Irving?" Rose offered. Both the dog and Mac arched eyebrows at her and she laughed.

"Irving? Brat, I wouldn't even name a person Irving," MacGyver snorted, "It's just a shade worse than Angus."

"I think Angus is rather nice, myself, but fine--how about Lewis?"

"No, not right either," Mac studied at the dog once more. "Let me see--John? Peter? Sam? Max? Ted? George? Ed? Tony? This is harder than it sounds--"

"No kidding. Albert? David? Leonard Patrowski?"

Mac stared at her. "Who's Leonard Patrowski?"

Rose was blushing and didn't meet his eye. "Oh a kid I knew a long time ago . . . he was, uh, the first boy I ever kissed . . ."

"So you want to name a dog after him?" bewildered, Mac made a pained face. Rose got the giggles and rolled over on the grass, laughing as the dog nuzzled her nose and cheeks. "Not really, but doggie boy here kisses just like he did--"

"Yuck--" MacGyver muttered.

"I agree. You're sooo much better. I'm just a sucker, born for your smooches--"

"Better me than Leonard Patrowski or P.T. Barnum."

The dog barked happily. Rose and Mac looked at each other.

"P.T. Barnum?"

Again, a happy bark; the dog looked expectantly at them and Rose beamed. MacGyver tilted his head to look at the dog.

"I guess you picked your own name, pal. Barnum it is."

 

The Barnum Dilemma Conclusion

 

Monday morning presented a problem neither Mac nor Rose had anticipated; Barnum didn't want to be left behind. He stood blocking the door and his soulful stare and pitiful whines were enough to make both of them look helplessly at the other.

"I'll take him," Rose finally conceded. "He can stay with me down in Marine Studies and keep out of trouble there at least. I hope Trevor likes dogs--"

"Hey it's just for a few weeks, right?" Mac tried to be reassuring. "I can come get him for a run in the park at lunchtime, and we can finish up that errand at Build Mart tonight."

"Sure," Rose grunted, trying to hold Barnum back by the body harness. "But we better plan on keeping him at the Grotto--neither your place or mine has enough room for the three of us now--"

"Gee, I guess all that space does come in handy," Mac chided her with an I-told-you-so look. She stuck her tongue out at him and let Barnum drag her down the stairs to the pickup truck.

The day went surprisingly well. Barnum settled in on the carpet under Rose's desk, peeking his head out to watch the comings and goings in Marine Studies. Trevor was delighted to have a visitor, and frequently stopped by to pat the dog. Rose took Barnum on her rounds through the labs, where he sniffed at starfish and watched rays glide through their shallow pools. His only bad habit was his tendency to try and drink the water; every time he lapped at a tank, the briny taste would make him sneeze, and Rose would laugh.

"They're all salt water, genius," she told him lovingly. "Haven't you figured that out yet?"

Apparently not; he continued to try drinking from them most of the morning. When MacGyver showed up at noon, He was amused to see the dog happily chewing on one of Rose's old swim fins, gnawing away at the black rubber.

"Teething--" Rose explained. "Go run him hard while I get some of these water tables cleaned out. And I wouldn't mind some lunch myself, hint, hint."

"So what should we bring her, Barnum? Kibble or canned?" Mac teased while the dog washed his fingers.

Rose shot him a look; he chuckled. "Oh right--biscuits--"

"Maaaaaac--" Rose warned in exasperation, but he and Barnum had already scooted out the door.

Barnum had good speed and a puppy-like clownishness that endeared him to MacGyver. A huge scrunched-up ball of duct tape made a perfect retrieving toy; no matter how far or how hard Mac threw it, Barnum managed to bring it back within a minute. True, by the third throw it was a soggy warm mess of saliva, but Mac couldn't really fault the dog for that. They played the game for the better part of an hour, and wound down with a long stroll through the park, ending up at a garbage can to drop the tape ball. Barnum gave a mournful chuff as he watched it fall in the can, and Mac tousled the dog's ears comfortingly.

"We'll get you a real one, Barn--" he promised, loading him up into the back seat of the Jeep and hooking his harness to the loops on the back of the seat.

"Both of you look tired," Rose commented as she glanced up from the microscope. Mac nodded while Barnum trotted his way under the desk and settled down with a sigh. Mac handed Rose a paper bag and checked his watch.

"Oops, gotta run--see you two at the Grotto after work?"

"Cream cheese and jelly, you remembered! Yeah, six is fine," she took a huge bite of the sandwich and chewed happily.

Mac bent to give her a kiss, licking away a smear of strawberry from her upper lip as he did so."Interestingly tasty--sorta like you, Brat. See you at six--"

***                              ***                              ***

"Green."

"Blue."

"Green."

"Blue--"

"Greengreengreengreen--"

The initial argument had degenerated into a stubborn seesaw of friendly contradiction between them. Barnum was supremely uninterested in a color for the bathroom tile and kept nudging Rose's thigh. She absently stroked his back as all three of them stood in the doorway, trying to picture the color scheme.

"How about green and blue?" Mac offered in mild compromise. "We could kinda checkerboard the tiles or make a pattern with them."

"Won't that be hard to do? I'm not really artistic--"

"It shouldn't be too tough--let's go look and see what they have in stock," Mac scooped up his jacket. Rose followed him out the industrial doors with Barnum loping alongside her. Mac stopped suddenly, snapping his fingers.

"A ball, promised Barnum a ball--can we stop in at that Pet Central on the way?"

"Sure--" Rose agreed, grinning at his eagerness. "Just don't let Pratchett see us, or he'll be hurt that we went to the competition."

They walked into the store, Barnum wagging his tail, obviously enjoying the scents and presence of other dogs. Mac took a cart; Rose gave him a look.

"We need more kibble," he told her in a slightly defensive tone. She said nothing, but her grin was enough to make him roll his eyes.

Down the aisle they trotted, and things began landing in the cart. A ball. A huge rawhide chew bone. A black leather collar. A ceramic food bowl. Rose waved a squeaky toy at Barnum, who tried to nab it from her. Mac shook his head.

"The only thing I want to hear squeaking late at night is you Brat--" he muttered in a tone meant only for her ears. She blushed. Both of them were so intent on each other that they almost missed Barnum's sudden tension. The dog looked up and gave a tiny whine and when Mac turned his gaze up the long aisle he recognized an unpleasantly familiar face. Thinking quickly, he steered Rose and Barnum around the corner to the next aisle, hissing,

"Rose, take Barnum out, now!"

She looked over her shoulder and understood at once. Wordlessly she handed Mac her cell phone and latched onto Barnum's body harness, murmuring soothing words to the restless dog as she led him out of the store. Mac kept a wary eye on the shorter man as he dialed the phone.

"Pete--I'm at the Pet Central on Azusa. Ingersoll's nose-thumping buddy is here right now--"

"Has he spotted you?" came Pete's terse question. Mac could hear him frantically typing something--probably a pager message to Lloyd.

"Not yet. I'm going to follow him if he takes off before you and Lloyd get here--there's a good chance he'll be heading back to where the fights are going on."

"Okay, but be careful--you know people have been mauled to death, Mac--"

"I watch my step--" Mac promised. Shutting off the phone, he kept an eye on the man, slowly following him through the store. With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Mac noticed what was in the other man's hands--two large choke chains, and a heavy wire muzzle. Gradually he sauntered up to the checkout line and Mac trailed behind him, keeping a low profile. Purchases made, the man left, Mac behind him. Rose and Barnum were waiting in the jeep, the engine running.

"Damn--no way to mark his pickup." Mac grumbled, reaching for his seatbelt in the darkness.

"I did." Rose pointed. "Remember those battery stick-on lights you got for the stairway? Barnum and I planted a whole row of them right across the back of his truck."

Mac glanced up and saw the bright discs. "That's great!"

"Hey, I guess your style is rubbing off."

Mac flashed her a dimpled smile as they took off, chasing the roll of glowing lights on the battered pickup truck. He handed her the cell phone. "Call Pete again, give him the cross streets so they can keep up."

"Right," she dialed as Mac drove. The pickup got on the highway, and eventually took an exit on the less populated side of town. Rose kept relaying information to Pete, but it became more difficult as fewer and fewer landmarks appeared. They were on a country road now, and houses were few and far between.

"We've got to hang back a bit or he's going to notice us," Mac warned. "You okay?"

"Fine--what's that smell?" The pickup ahead turned off on an unmarked gravel road; Mac pulled up to it and stopped for a moment as all three of them listened. The faint sounds of dog barks could be heard in the distance. A sickly sweet odor drifted around them, getting stronger.

"Should have guessed," Mac sighed. "They're running the fights on a pot farm."

"Oh man--they're indulging?" Rose sounded shaky and Mac looked at her. "Not just growing but smoking it right now?"

"Smells like it--are you okay?"

"Mac, I have a hypersensitivity to THC."

"What?" he turned the engine off and leaned closer to her; she shook her head and coughed.

"THC, the stuff in marijuana--about two more lung-fulls and I'm gonna be hiiiiiiigh as a kite." She turned a bleary gaze at him. "Body chemistry thing. I have to stay . . .  away from it if I wanna . . . walk straight."

"Great." Mac sighed. He watched her sway and rubbed his face. "You know Brat, at any other time, this would be pretty funny, but we are talking about large dogs trained to kill around here."

"Yeah . . ." she burst into giggles and Mac covered her mouth with a hand. Hastily he took the cell phone from her.

"Pete?"

"Oh boy--is she okay?"

"Oh you heard that?"

"Be glad I did--We've got police and animal control people about three minutes behind you--maybe you better leave."

"Not until you reach us at the turn off--it's not marked and I don't want you to miss it."

"Okay, but after that, get out of there--I'm not about to have you and Rose in any more trouble if I can help it," Pete insisted.

"Right."

The crunch of feet on gravel made Mac look up; Ingersoll grinned at him, an aluminum baseball bat on his shoulder.

"Hey, it's our bait dog and his two good Samaritans!" The bat swooped in a strong arc, hitting one of the jeep's headlights. Rose leaned forward and blinked; Mac struggled with his seatbelt.

"Hey! You're the fucking jerk who's an asshole to good doggies and men with noses!" she yelled. Beside her, Mac winced, but managed to free himself. Barnum was growling a long low note of menace deep him his chest. The baseball bat swung closer, leaving a dent in the hood. Mac jumped out and darted forward as Rose lounged back against the seat, her hands stretching behind her.

"Don't you hurt my Mac's nose again you heartless dog hating meanie! You suuuuck!" she shrieked. Mac fought a serious desire to laugh, and concentrated on staying out of the swing range of the bat. Something flew by his left hip as Barnum shot forward. Rose waved his leash in her hand.

"Go Scooby Doo!"

Barnum needed no urging; he plowed fearlessly into Ingersoll, knocking him flat. Mac grabbed the bat just as the headlights of the first police cruiser lighted the scene.

***                              ***                              ****

"More?"

"More. Just leave the carton. So what did Pete say?"

"Thirty dogs, about a dozen operators, fifty spectators and about fifty thousand dollars worth of guns and drugs. A regular swap meet of illegal activities. You want a bowl?"

"Nah, just a spoon. We have any chocolate syrup?"

"Maybe on the nightstand."

"Mac! Give me a break--this is a medical condition--I didn't choose to be susceptible to THC you know."

"I know Brat, but it's pretty funny--I suppose you figured it out around Newt?"

"Yeah--He's not as bad as I am, but it was tough on both of us through college. Most of his band know and try to keep their indulgences to themselves. I don't think I can face Pete in the morning."

"He's pretty understanding. Even about the nudity."

"Oh GOD! I got NAKED! Mac! Tell me I didn't GET NAKED IN FRONT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE FOUNDATION!!!"

"More ice cream?"

 

END