By Leo Hines
7:45 a.m. on Key South-Bay island meant tourists buses, motor-scooters and bikers were hogging the highways. The harbor was a ball of confusion with anxious tour groups meandering to their rental boats. Long crooked lines were at the Amusement park.The snow birds had arrived. Smiley Lehman, age 18, needed to hustle with thirty minutes for breakfast and getting to work, after dropping his sister, Allie, at high school. However, Smiley’s family were islanders; he knew enough back roads around the island to bypass the tourist bedlam.
Smiley silenced his alarm clock and hurried to the shower. The teen arrived on time at B&B Stables and Kennels Boarding. Their clientele were the pets of vacationers. To date, he had a perfect attendance record, and he aimed to stay in the good graces of his new employer, Ms. Connie Cinister.
After almost six months, the teen still liked his job, and he had acquired a new best friend, Mr. Angus Gainey, an old Jamaican man, whose property was adjacent to the boarding stables. Like Smiley, he was a loner. His best friend was his big calico cat; Smiley’s only buddy had been Leroy Jackson until recently.
Both youth had been arrested for drug trafficking and a possible prison sentence. Fortunately, Mrs. Josephine Flack, a family friend of both boys, had interceded with the judge and gotten them released.
The elderly black woman had also helped him him attain his job at B &B Pet Boarding. In return, he promised to attend a youth Bible study at her home. Still, his biggest challenge was being civil to Bunky Bastille, his sister’s boyfriend. Allie, was happy yet surprised at his radical change.
“Smiley, you’ve changed so much,” she sighed, “and that’s great—but what caused you it?”
Embarrassed, he shrugged. “Oh, I thought it was about time for a change…don’t you? Actually, it was getting a real after-school job.” He reflected. “And it’s kinda nice, getting paid to help people care for their pets.”
“Yeah—that must be nice,” she smiled. “Mom has been so worried about you…She thought you might be sick or something. She’ll be glad to know you’re okay.”
“Good grief! I guess everybody is thinking the same thing, huh? Well, I am still mean as always. I am nobody’s push-over, Little sister.” He winked.
“Oh, stop trying to be so macho,” she quipped. “You’re still my favorite brother.”
“I am your only brother,” he chuckled. Suddenly he was reflective. “Did Bunky put you up to talking to me? If he did—I am going to give him a fat lip, when I see him again.”
“Big brother, just relax and watch your driving,” said his 16-year-old sister, getting out of his pick-up truck at school.
Smiley had been working at B&B Boarding stables two weeks before he first met Mr. Angus Gainey. His co-workers had told him some scary stories about the old man. Most of all, never trespass on his property. The locals had nicknamed him the “Emperor of 2nd Street” because of his loyalty to his Jamaican homeland.
That morning, he had arrived at work, content with his new employment. However, his supervisor, Bart Baldwin, and his younger brother, Bobby, were not in the main office when he arrived.
Ms. Lucille McCall, the receptionist, greeted him. “Hello, Smiley, Bart is conducting a riding class…So start at the stables and do your regular chores.’
“Where is Bobby?” he asked. “I haven’y seen jim lately.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that youngster,” she shrugged. “He will show up soon. Get on with your chores.”
The lanky youth signed the employee’s time roster and scurried out the back door. Aside from the main building, there was only the large stable and the kennels situated in the middle of five acres of lush pastures for the horses to graze or be ridden. The dogs had their own enclosed area for daily walks, where Smiley usually supervised.
The nearest neighbor was the Jamaican man, Angus Gainey, whose property was to the west side of the B&B establishment. Smiley usually glimpsed the burly, black man outside working in his vegetable garden in the afternoons. The teenager was tempted to amble to the fence to speak to the old gentleman, but he sensed the old man was not very neighborly.
So Smiley ocused on his duties, caring for the animals. Smiley enjoyed the wide-open spaces, with sunny skies and lots of green space to roam with animals. The tall trees and under-brush provided a perfect barrier for obscuring the busy traffic, several streets away, especially now that the high school, next door, was closed for the afternoon.
Smiley was almost to the large, bright red barn, when he saw someone coming to meet him. Coming closer, he recognized Bart Baldwin, a tall, strapping blond man, in his late twenties.
“I am glad to see you, Smiley. I had to stop my riding lessons,” he shouted. “That rascally hound has dug out again, under the fence. He’s probably somewhere next door on the old man’s property. We’ve got to find that dog, Smiley, and fill in that hole…I never should have agreed to board that dog!”
“What do you want me to do, Bart?” Smiley asked half-heartedly. “That dog has been nothing but trouble since he has been here.”
“Look, Smiley, I will take care of the hole. You go next door and see the old man,” Bart decided. “Just be careful over there. He’s a little peculiar, but he is really harmless.”
Smiley was not very encouraged. “I don’t trust that old man, Bart. What if he don’t like me, coming on his property…I have tried to wave to him a couple of times, but he always ignored me…. couldn’t someone else go?”
“Look, Smiley, just do it…he won’t bite you.” Bart relented.
“All right…I will go over, but remember I warned you.” He said reluctantly and started next door.
The gangly white youth usually considered himself to be brave and resourceful enough to tackle most situations. He had been clever enough to out maneuver most of the local educational officials for years. He had prided himself on being a master bully. No student, teacher or guidance counselor had been his match for patience and scheming.
Right that moment, Smiley’s courage was suddenly drained as he was forced to meet the feisty Angus Gainey. He was convinced the grouchy, old man did not want to be disturbed. He had never seen visitors next door…The oldster’s only companion had been his large yellow calico cat. Maybe he was not totally unfriendly, if he liked animals.
Cautiously, the boy made his exit from the B&B property, slowly approaching the old gentleman’s gated residence. A big sign proclaimed “No trespassers!” He yelled before entering his gate, “Hey! Mister! I need your help! Can you hear me!”
Unfortunately, Mr. Gainey did not appear on the front porch. Still, the youth did not retreat because his supervisor was determined that he recover the errant k-nine, which was probably somewhere on the old man’s property. After several minutes, Smiley gently unlatched the metal gate and crept up the walkway, hoping the old man would appear. No such luck for the boy.
Reaching the porch, he knocked on the door seemingly forever, but only a few minutes passed, with no response. Determined to achieve his mission, he left the porch and meandered down into the big yard. Possibly the man was in the back yard, working in his garden.
However, the man was not here, as he stopped to admire his lush green garden. Smiley’s attention was attracted to the large, red tomatoes and the dark green cucumbers hanging from a sturdy trellis. Smiley was tempted to pick a few vegetables as souvenirs. After all, the old man would not miss just a few, he decided. Looking around, he glimpsed nobody, so he bent to pick some vegetables.
“Can’t you read the sign!” an angry voice bellowed. Startled, Smiley stood up to his full height, caught red-handed. “What are you doing, here, in my garden!”
Smiley was six feet tall, but he felt like a midge, standing next to the old, suntanned Jamaican man, who seemed in good health for his age. Mr. Angus Gainey was average height, powerfully built, with dark brown skin and thinning salt-n-pepper grey hair.
Later, Smiley would appreciate his good will and rich, baritone voice, which heralded his Jamaican culture. Mr. Gainey had come to Key South-Bay, Florida thirty years ago with his wife, now deceased, and his two young daughters, Mamie and Maya. He had supported his family as a deep-sea-fishing guide. Contrary to Smiley’s co-workers, Mr. Gainey earned his nick name because of his generoisity, his Christian faith as well as his zeal for his native Jamacia: “the Emperor of 2nd Street.”
Presently, that afternoon, Smiley only glimpsed Mr. Gainey’s anger rather generoisity or regalness. The old man’s big, calloused hands were very intimidating and what weapon could be concealed in his work pants. Trembling he waited for the man to attack him.
Unexpectedly, something peculiar happened. A large Calico cat scurried out and nestled at Mr. Gainey’s pants leg., determined to be acknowledge. The old codger stooped down and rubbed the cat’s bulging belly. The cat purred contently and the man smiled. Smiley breathed easily. Maybe the old gentleman’s anger was subsiding and he could safely retreat back to his work site.
“Look, Mister, my boss—next door—sent me here—we think one of our dogs is on your property.”
For a few seconds, the old black man remained silent, his attention still on his furry pet. Smiley glanced around cautiously, surveying whether the man was carrying a weapon. Fortunately, his large, callused hands were empty, but the old codger could still be a deadly foe, so the red-headed boy pleaded. “Look, Mister, you can call my boss next door, if you don’t believe me. He’ll vouch for me.”
Momentarily, the Jamaican was silent, then, he mumbled. “You’re still trespassing and pilfering my vegetables…I could have you arrested.”
“Please let me go…I will pay you for the tomatoes,” Smiley pleaded.
Unexpectedly, the man smiled, but the youth was still perplexed. He did not dare to make a sudden move, anxiously waiting for the man to respond. Desperately, Smiley prayed for a reprieve, though he was not religious.
“Well, let’s go and look for your hound,” the man said. “Otherwise, Bart will come looking for you, and he might even want to deduct from your pay.”
“Sounds like you’re well acquainted with Bart.” Smiley grinned. Together, they strolled across the sprawling yard, with the large calico cat darting along with them. They checked the big hole under the fence before heading to the wooded area, at the back of the old man’s acreage.
“I have known Bart and his kid brother, Bobby, since Bart was about your age,” Mr. Gainey reflected. “They used to come here during the summers to vacation with their uncle. Well after Bart graduated from high school, their uncle let Bart manage the business, and he went back to Miami…and Bart’s done mighty good job.”
Shortly, they disappeared into the wooded area behind the man’s land, which was populated with tall palms and tropical fruit trees. The clusters of trees made their search challenging, causing them to proceed with caution, Also the big calico cat darted along at the man’s ankles. Smiley permitted his new friend to do most of the talking.
“So how do you like working with critters,” asked Mr. Gainey, genuine to get his response.
Smiley considered his response before replying. “Actually I like my job, Mister…At first, I didn’t know what to expect, since I’ve never had a pet…I had my doubts,” he shrugged. “I’ve seen all the time and energy that some people spend on their dogs…it really kind of discouraged me, until Bobby persuaded me to apply for the job at B&B Boarding Kennels…finally, I really got the hang of it.”
“Yeah, I have watched you from my garden,” the man grinned. “You’re a hard worker and you seem to bond nicely with the dogs and horses…I think you’re going to stick around for a spell.”
“Thank you, Mister,” he replied reluctantly. “I don’t really know your name.”
“My name is Angus Gainey,” the old Jamaican beamed,” but you can call me ‘Angus,’ since we’re friends. And I have heard Bart calling your name quite often: Smiley.”
“And you have a cat…why not a dog?” Smiley replied, curious for his reply.
“Oh, I have had my share of dogs,” he shrugged his broad shoulders. “My last dog, Marley, was killed by a motorist, almost a year ago. Marley was a one-of-a-kind-dog… you couldn’t replace him in a million years, so I didn’t try. He was a great companion…so I decide—no more dogs! Now it’s just me and Sparky.”
Momentarily, he paused, deeply moved…Then the big cat nestled against his pants leg. “Then somebody left this cat on my porch one morning. I tried running it away, but the she lways came back, so I decided to let her stay,” he chuckled. “I have never regretted my decision. Now it has been Sparky and me, since my wife passed two years ago. I seldom see my two married daughters—One daughter lives in Miami and the other is Jamaica.”
Smiley was feeling a strong bond developing between them, and that was a good feeling. He had no male-figure in his life since his father’s death and Leroy disolved their friendship. “Well, I only have my mother and my sister, Allie,” he intervened. “And we don’t have any pets…Maybe that will change now.”
“I have a feeling you’re right,” Mr. Gainey grinned. Eventually, the old man concluded that they should halt their search after almost an hour. “That ole hound is really ornery, but I wouldn’t worry too much about him right now. He’ll come back once his belly is empty, with nobody around to feed him…So so let’s sit a spell on my front porch, and I will get us something cool to drink…What’s your pleasure—bottled water, fruit punch or soda pop?”
“I will like a soda pop—Coke or Pepsi, if it’s no bother,” Smiley replied, as they abandon their search.
“No trouble at all,” he grinned. “Make yourself at home on my front porch.” He ambled inside his home, with Sparky at his ankles. Smiley dug out his cell-phone from his jeans and notified Bart. “Hello, Bart, Mr. Gainey is helping me find the hound, but it might be awhile…So I might be a little late finishing my other chores.”
“Don’t worry about that…You just come back with that hound-dog,” he said. “I need him back in his kennel, just in case his owner shows up for him…So enjoy your visit. Mr. Angus can be very hospitable. The neighbors nicknamed him the Emperor of 2nd Street…Bye for now.”
“Why do they call you the Emperor of Second Street, Mr. Gainey?” Smiley asked Mr. Gainey when he returned.
The old Jamaican shook his head and smiled. “I got that title years ago, when I first relocated here from my homeland. I am always bragging abiut my homeland, Jamaica, the land of wood and water!:” He beamed.”I stay in touch with my familt and friends there.”
“My wife and daughters and myself came here with humble means, but I never let that discourage me. We worked hard and were content, knowing that we would survive with God’s help…Being rich is about treasuring our Lord’s word in our hearts, not what’s in our bank account. So folks started calling me the Emperor.”
“Do you attend the same church as Mrs. Josephine Flack?” the teen asked; now the man was surprised. “Yes—I do…She is a mighty fine Christian woman, but I have never seen you at our services, Smiley.”
“Mrs. Flack has been trying to persuade me to come to Bible study,” he replied sheepishly, “and maybe I will some day.” He sat down his drink, suddenly distracted by the big Calico cat, which was tugging frantically at his master’s pants leg. “Mr. Gainey, I think Sparky is trying to get your attention.”
The elderly gentleman glanced down at his pet. “What’s the matter, girl, huh?” the man ruffled the large animal’s thick fur, and the cat scurried toward the yard, apparently wanting them to follow. “I think she wants us to go with him, Smiley. Maybe she has spotted that ole hound.”
Good naturally, they both moseyed from the porch and gave pursuit. “It sure would be great if he leads us to that troublesome dog, Mr. Gainey.”
“Sparky certainly is good at tracking down mice, maybe she’s on the right track.” The old man chuckled, as they gave chase. Overhead, the afternoon sun was still a dazzling presence. They shielded their faces with their hands. Walking briskly, they darted pass the garden, toward the hole under the fence. Then they beheld a surprising spectacle. The big, dark brown hound dog was barking.
“Looks like you were right, Mr. Gainey.” Smiley shouted. “I guess that rascal is ready to be fed…Bart will be happy to have him back inside his kennel…and I thank you and Sparky for your help.”
The old Jamaican winked. “Me and Sparky make an awesome team, I guess. You both better be on your way…by the way, you can stop over anytime and pick tomatoes and cucumbers—no charge.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gainey—and I will.” He shouted, as he and the big dog got back across the fence. The hound was leading the way, eager for his afternoon chow, after its’ morning of freedom. The youth and the hound had not gone far, when he heard somebody shouting to him. “Hey! Smiley, wait up for us!”
Startled, he turned to be greeted by Bunky Bastille and Dexter Steveland, two youth he knew only casually. Coming down the side walk, Dexter had three golden retrievers on leashes and Bunky had a tiny, white rat terrier on a leash. “Hello, dudes, what’s going on?” Smiley shrugged, going over to greet them.
“What were you doing over at Mr. Gainey’s house,” asked Bunky. “He goes to our church.”
“So you are the new dog-walkers,” smirked Smiley, “but where is Otis, my buddy?”
“Otis is home with his Dad, who just got out of the hospital,” said Bunky, a husky Hispanic youth. “He was in an explosion over at Biggs Imports. You still did not tell us what you were doing over at Mr. Gainey’s home.”
“Look, that is none of your business!” Smiley snapped. “But I will tell you anyway. Mr. Gainey and his cat, Sparky, helped me locate a missing hound.”
“But you don’t own a dog,” Dexter, the tall, athletic built, black youth, intervened. “And you’re a long way from home, Smiley.”
“For both of your information, I now work at the B&B Kennels over there.” Smiley said, getting impatient. “I know, it’s hard to believe, but I finally have an honest job…well, I better let you both get going, with your dog-walking…tell Otis, I am sorry about his Dad, but I hope he gets better.”
“We’ll tell him,” smiled Dexter, “and good luck with your new job. Allie must be very happy for you, huh?
“Just leave my sister out of this! I got this job on my own,” he said proudly. He glanced at their four canines and shook his head. “I don’t see what Otis sees so special about that puny little, white mutt, He bragged about him all week—and this is the famous Colonel Parker, huh?”
The tiny rat-terrier started barking, seemingly in disapproval of Smiley’s remark. The other dogs also commenced to get rowdy. “I guess, they’re getting restless” said Bunky. “We better keep on trucking, Dexter. See you around, Smiley.”
“Yeah, sure,” Smiley grinned, surprising himself. Normally, he loathed these boys, especially the husky Hispanic youth, who was his sister’s boy friend. “Hey, I promised Mr. Gainey—that I am coming to the Bible study at Mrs. Flack’s house, next week. What do you both think of that?”
“You have always been welcome, Smiley.” Dexter replied cordially. “That is great news. Isn’t it, Bunky?”
“You bet cha,” smiled Bunky, starting down the road, with the little Colonel Parker. Dexter and three golden retrievers also joined him and they disappeared down 2th Street.
Smiley and the hound scurried toward the B&B Kennels, ready for familiar territory. Smiley shook his head at his good fortune. He had left trembling with apprehension, but he was returning with a new friend as well as the hound. Even more, he felt as if he had just aced a pop quiz and he was feeling awesome. As they approached the boarding stables, the big hound commenced barking, anticipating his evening food chow