Billy and I looked at each other with puzzled expressions, and then we both looked at Todd who always seemed to have a confused look on his face.
“What the heck?” I blurted out.
“You sure that’s Loca?” asked Billy. “Sure isn’t acting like her.”
“It’s Loca alright,” said Todd, pointing at her. “There’s that scar across her snout, the one she probably got killing a crocodile or anaconda.”
Sure enough, the scar was there.
“Okay, it’s Loca,” I said. “So, now what are we going to do? Stay up here all afternoon until someone comes looking for us?”
Billy pulled his slingshot out of the back pocket of his Levis and loaded it with one of the small ball bearings he kept in his front pocket. He had his brave face on now. It always happened that way. At first he’d be all scared and wussy, but then he’d put on his gunfighter face and start to talk in his slow Texas drawl. He’d start being a famous gunslinger and not afraid of anything.
“I say we each go down there with our sling shots and loaded for bear,” he said. “It’ll be three against one.”
“Four if you count Mati,” added Todd, who had just used up the best of his math skills.
“Okay,” I said as I grabbed for my own slingshot. “Sounds like a plan.”
The Machaca gang stood at the base of tree side by side, with Mati behind us peeking through our legs. We had our slingshots armed and ready, pointing at the ground, but ready to draw. It was like the standoff at the OK Corral. I was Wyatt Earp, Billy was Doc Holliday and Todd was Virgil. We had played the game lots of times. Only this time it wasn’t a game, and we weren’t facing off with pretend Clantons and the McClaurys. We were facing something a heck of a lot scarier. We were facing the meanest, most vicious dog that ever walked the face of the earth. But Loca still hadn’t moved, or growled, or anything. She just sat there looking at us with her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth, smiling. It was like she knew something funny that we didn’t know.
“Why’s she just sitting there?” said Todd.
“No idea,” I replied.
“Let’s just shoot her on the snout and get this over with,” said Billy in his tough guy voice.
But there was something different about her. I got the feeling that she wasn’t going to try to hurt us. I put myself in her place. Her master was gone and Lieutenant Sanchez and Guillermo Santos were in prison. Those were the only people she knew.
“Guys, I think she’s lonely,” I said. “I think she just wants to kiss and make up.”
Billy and Todd looked at me like I’d gone nuts.
“I ain’t getting my lips anywhere near those fangs,” replied Todd.
“You try to give her a kiss and she’ll rip your lips off and eat them in front of you,” cried Billy. His girly voice had returned. “Loca’s just waiting for the right chance to get us.”
But I had already made up my mind. I handed my sling shot Todd.
“You guys cover me, but don’t aim at her or shoot unless she comes after me.”
I started walking toward the big dog. Mati whined, and so did Billy. When I was half way there I stopped and looked back at my buddies.
“See? She hasn’t moved,” I said. Then, all of a sudden, before I had turned around to again to face the dog, I saw their eyes get really big and their mouths open up wide, but they didn’t – or couldn’t - say anything. I froze.
“She’s right behind me, isn’t she?” I said.
They both nodded at the same time. The hair on my neck stood up.
“She going to kill me, isn’t she?”
They nodded again.
I turned around, really slowly. There she was, not more than a yard in front of me. But she wasn’t showing her fangs. She was looking straight into my eyes and her tail was wagging slowly. When she barked I nearly died of a heart attack. It was the same bark she did that day on the washed out bridge when Pablo Malo’s body had fallen into the flooded river. It was a bark with a question mark at the end of it.
I kept my hands at my sides. I didn’t want her to get the wrong impression.
“Amigos?” I said. “Friends?”
Loca barked again, this time without a question mark at the end, more like an exclamation point. It sounded like a yes to me. I slowly got down on my knees and even more slowly reached my hands out to her. I heard Billy whispering to Todd behind me.
“He’s going to die.”
But I didn’t die. Loca walked straight into my arms and licked me full on the face. I gave her a hug, the kind you give dogs, and her tail started to really motor. We had kissed and made up.