Bob Dwayne Goodall was God’s gift to women; he just didn’t know it.
Bob’s scalp held only a few sparse hairs, the ones remaining clustered around his ears and about five years ago, a few started sprouting out of them. His facial hair grew faster than a Chia Pet. He shaved every morning, but by 5:00, his shadow resembled most men’s seven-day growth. True, he had wide shoulders and mammoth-size biceps, but under these magnificent forms protruded a friendly, round belly. It did not hang unbecomingly over his jeans, but neither did it fool anyone into thinking it was just muscle. Beneath this torso Bob had legs; he thought they were too short, and yet they brought his height to almost to 6 feet.
In spite of his large proportions, Bob did not look imposing. Perhaps the round cheeks or the long lashes disarmed some folks, but for most it was his eyes. Bob could befriend anyone in any mood, no matter how foul, frustrated, or distressed.
Bob was a handyman. He had his own business and was never short of customers, although at times, the invoices were paid sporadically. He drove around in his cobalt-blue van, wearing jeans or coveralls, over sturdy work boots in all types of weather across several counties in the Bay Area. His vehicle not only held the tools of his trade, but a complete first aid kit, towing equipment, blankets, leashes, a cat carrier, snacks, water, and cash.
He used to rescue damsels in distress by himself, but these days he had a partner, Sheila Roosevelt.
She had been one of those damsels. He found her standing outside the Youth Hostel with her two young boys on a crisp Fall evening. The dashboard thermometer said 35 degrees and there she stood, wearing only jean jacket with a comforter wrapped around her shivering youngsters. He remembered pulling over and stepping out.
“Cold night to be outside, can I help you?” He said as he walked over. It was dark but even without light, his magic disarmed the young mother.
“The Hostel can’t take us tonight and we have no where to go.” He looked at her and the two boys.
“You can stay in the apartment over my garage for tonight. A gal named Cecilia is there now, but I warned her I might have visitors from time to time. I’m afraid I only have one bedroom for the three of you. The name’s Bob Goodall.” He put out his hand and shook Sheila’s and then the two boys, Jamal and Keeshon.
The boys crammed in between tools and supplies on the bench seat in the back. Sheila studied him from the passenger seat. He sensed her hesitation and, so chatted about himself.
“My name is Bob Goodall, as I told you. I am not married but I have a crush on the woman that owns a mobile pet grooming service.” He babbled on about growing up in the area and then spending a few years in Mexico with his parents before returning to the Bay Area.
As they drove through the night, Sheila explained she moved out from Baltimore, Maryland, for a job only to be laid off a year later. She had been working temporary positions and making ends meet, but then her landlord left a letter on her door last month informing her of a rent increase of over $500 from what she already paid.
“I looked at every housing office, Craig’s List, and web site I could find. Every time I called it was already rented or worse. When I could check out a place, so would fifty other people. Without a permanent job and two children to look after, I was not their first pick, as you see.”
That night was three years ago. Since then, she, Jamal, and Keeshon, acquired their own two bedroom apartment. “I can’t hire you as an employee. I have a policy; No Employees.” She looked visibly disappointed before he added, “But you could be a partner!” Her face beamed as he presented a contract of partnership and insisted she take it to a lawyer to check it out. “You need to get used to dealing with lawyers if you go into business. I put something in the contract that shouldn’t be there. A good lawyer will catch it before you can say ‘bill me’.” In the end Sheila used a friend’s sister who had just passed her Bar, and sure enough, the gal had issues with the third clause, paragraph four. In no time, the they all hammered out the contract and began work.
Sheila and Bob were a good match, as Sheila oozed efficiency and managed to make coveralls look stylish. She also was a meticulous painter and wall-paper hanger much to the delight of their customers.
However, to Bob, Sheila’s greatest assets were that she was patient and flexible. Every day brought new challenges, as he rarely made it anywhere on time. His work was solid, reliable, and affordable, but lacked any schedule. Working with Bob meant adventures day after day. One day he would rush a kid to the hospital or run an errand for an elderly lady or pick up a hot meal for a family.
Everywhere they rode, Bob helped women. Sometimes they just ran into these damsels in distressed while they bought a lunch or picked up parts. But other days he would guide her to a troubled female like a stud-finder on drywall. By the end of the first month, Sheila hinted he had issues. After six months as his partner she told him he had the worst Prince Charming Complex she had ever seen. Now, he noticed she had given up trying to cure him. Usually she left the rescuing to Bob and chose to hang back and manage their clients.
This morning, they pulled out of his driveway, the two-bedroom cottage in front and an apartment peeking out from atop the three-car garage. Sheila checked the street and sidewalk twice before she backed the lumbering blue vehicle into traffic. Bob sipped tea from his battered Oakland Raider’s cup, then said,
“We’re heading to Mrs. Gready’s house to finish the plumbing job.” Sheila nodded. “You don’t believe me?” He added.
She smiled. “Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.” He nodded.
“I know, I’m hopeless.” They had had this conversation before. “I guess I have the Prince Charming Syndrome.” He gave her a lop-sided smile.
“No, don’t stop, Bob. God put you here for a reason.” She sighed and drove through the cool morning. “When are you going to ask one of these women out? Don’t you get lonely?”
Bob shrugged. “She’d have to put up with me helping folks.”
“Helping women, you mean.”
“Turn left here.” He gestured.
When Bob began giving random instructions, Sheila knew they were off to rescue another lady. He directed her to a dumpy little neighborhood not too far from their morning commute. He had her drive slowly down Sycamore Street until they reached a battered bungalow bordered by bug-infested roses with a neatly-trimmed dead lawn enclosed in a waist-high chain link fence. They parked on the street and he stepped out of the truck just as a woman opened the front door.
She stooped and attached a leash to a mid-size dog with long ears, black and white mottled fur, and back end that wouldn’t stop wiggling.
“Okay, just a short walk, Mixie.” she whispered, her voice choked with emotion and when her eyes rose to meet Bob’s he saw they brimmed with tears.
“Sorry, it’s, it’s her last walk.” Then she saw his truck and read the sign. “I don’t need any work done; our landlord does everything himself.”
“I’m not here for work. Why is it her last walk?”
“We can’t keep her anymore. My son is allergic to her. He can’t breath sometimes.” More tears splashed down her cheeks. “She’s been my best friend. I put an ad on Craig’s List but no one answered. Now I have to take her to the pound. She’s six-years-old and has separation issues. I don’t think she’ll ever be adopted.” The young woman knelt and enveloped the reluctant dog in trembling arms. She buried her face in the fur.
Bob looked at the dog and the woman. “Is she friendly? Does she bite?” He liked dogs but hadn’t owned one since he was a kid.
“No, no, she’s super sweet and has never even growled. She’s great with my toddler. He pulls her tail and ears and she just moves away.” The woman stood up and looked expectantly at Bob. He scratched his chin.
“I guess I could take her on my jobs today. Maybe one of my clients would like her.”
They exchanged contact information and the woman, named Susan Hoffman as he learned, gave Bob the leash, a bowl, a small Ziploc bag of dog food, and an old wool blanket. They agreed he would call her that evening to tell her how the day went.
Mixie leaped into the truck and sat on the back bench as if she’d been with them all her life.
Sheila pulled out of the parking spot and used her cell phone to find their way to Mrs. Gready’s home. Bob was great at finding folks in trouble but awful at navigating back to his job. In a few minutes they were pulling up to a tudor-style home in a gated community.
Mrs. Gready opened the door to them and showed them back to the bathroom with the plumbing issues. She was a tall, trim, middle-aged woman from England, who had followed her husband here when he landed a lucrative finance position. She was not one of Bob’s Damsels, as Sheila called them. No, Mrs. Gready heard of Bob’s services from a neighbor who recommended his work and his fee, and warned her of his ever-shifting schedule. Thus far, Bob had not disappointed her on any points.
“Mrs. Gready, I am watching a dog for the day, do you mind if I bring her in?”
Her spine stiffened. “First, we must let Bran greet her. If they get along, yes, we can put the dogs in the yard.” She closed the door on Sheila and Bob and came back with her dog, on leash. “Bring your dog on lead as well.” She ordered.
Bob brought Mixie to the front yard. After sniffing and tail-wagging, Mrs. Gready relaxed and took both dogs behind the house. Bob worked on the bathroom and realized he needed an “o” ring of a different size. Sheila wrote down the exact size and left before he could offer to come along. They were sure to be side-tracked at Home Depot. She had learned that hardware and gardening stores were packed with maidens waiting for Bob to rescue them.
It did not take long for Bob to complete his tasks until all he needed was the missing part. He heard a playful bark and realized he hadn’t seen Mixie for over an hour. He made his way downstairs and as he crossed the dining room, through the french doors he watched Mrs. Gready brushing Mixie’s fur. The dog closed her eyes in pure pleasure as the woman stroked her long ears.
“Mrs. Gready, I’m just waiting for Sheila to bring me an o-ring. After that, it’ll only be another twenty minutes and we’ll be out of your hair.”
She nodded. “Such a lovely dog, reminds me of my mother’s spaniel.”
“Is that what she is? A spaniel?”
“She is a mix, that’s probably why they named her ‘Mixie’.” The woman kept brushing. “I suspect she’s part Australian Shepherd or Cattle Dog. It is hard to say.”
“She needs a home. The mother’s little boy is allergic to her; gives him breathing problems.”
Genuine concern crossed her face. “Oh dear, that is difficult. Must be so hard for the mother; such a sweet dog.”
“Can you take her?” Mrs. Gready shook her head.
“No, I can not. We will be returning to London next year and it is nearly impossible to bring a dog into Great Britain. Even Bran has a special veterinarian that sees to her shots and papers.”
Bob nodded. He had heard something about a young boy with cancer being the first one to get a dog into Britain or something. But that was years ago. At that moment, Sheila walked in with a small paper bag and the two handy-people finished their job. Mrs. Gready wished them luck and gave Mixie an extra pat before they all got in the blue truck and drove to the next destination.
Sheila and Bob were supposed to head across town to an auto mechanic who wanted his front office updated. However, on the way, they picked up lunch at McDonalds; another magnet for troubled women.
They strolled in from the warm sunshine and the quiet hum of traffic into total mayhem. A child, no more than three-years-old, shattered glass with his piercing screams. The flustered mother tried to soothe him, as her other baby unlatched the belt on his high chair and climbed on the table. Unfortunately, no one moved fast enough to prevent the infant from tipping over his eldest brother’s chocolate milk. Another wail joined the first banshee, and soon, the baby, seeing both his brothers’ upset, began an impressive solo.
Bob pushed another two dollars at Sheila and yelled through the din, “Buy another chocolate milk, quick.” She didn’t need to told twice.
Bob rushed over and using his special charm, he picked up the precariously perched child and settled him on his hip. The boy, stunned by a strange man holding him looked to his mother. She, still trying to clean up the mess with one, soggy napkin, gave Bob a tightlipped smile of gratitude.
“You have your hands full! Big healthy boys, too!” His booming voice carried over the cries and as quickly as they started, the boys shut their mouths. Tears trickled down red, sweat-stained cheeks. Sheila arrived at his elbow and put the chocolate milk down in front of one boy and a fresh wad of napkins in front of the mother.
“Justin, my middle one, won’t sleep. It has been three days now. He won’t nap and he wakes me at all hours of the night. Now he is so tired he cries, I don’t know what to do.” She scrubbed furiously at the spilled milk.
Bob looked at the boy, huge dark ovals encircled his baby-blue eyes under a mop of blond hair. Next he looked at the mother; she looked too drained to drive anywhere. He thought about what might help her little boy fall asleep and an image of Mixie’s wool blanket and the warm van appeared in his mind.
As if reading his thoughts, Sheila offered, “I used to drive my boys around until they fell asleep.” The mother nodded.
“I was trying that when we got hungry and stopped here. He just can’t seem to settle down.”
The three discussed the situation like doctors before a surgery. Finally, they decided to drive all the children and the mother around in the blue van. “We’ll drive to our next job. It’s just an estimate. If he looks like he’ll fall asleep, than either Sheila or I will drive some more.” Bob offered.
The young mother looked hopeful but skeptical. The whole clan headed out to the blue truck, Bob and Sheila’s lunches in a bag. He opened the door and Mixie hopped out and enthusiastically greeted the children.
“A dog! Mommy, he has a dog!” They chattered as the adults installed the child seats in the back. Then each boy climbed into his chair and waited patiently while their mother buckled them in. Mixie jumped into the back and squished herself between the oldest and middle child. She licked their faces and rested her head on their laps, instantly winning their hearts. The mother climbed in and sat behind Bob and next to the baby.
Sheila drove down the street and merged onto the freeway. Unfortunately, an earlier accident blocked the freeway a few exits ahead and they ended up sitting in traffic. As their van inched closer to the mechanic’s offices, Mixie fell asleep. And a few minutes later the baby nodded off.
Sheila and Tracy, the young mother, discussed handling boys and infants, as the former deftly maneuvered through the mess. Finally, she looked in the rear-view mirror and saw three slumbering souls. Her smile lit up the cab and spread to the other travelers. Bob looked back at the dog snoozing between the young boys and thought, She sure has a way with kids.
That afternoon, Sheila taxied the sleeping boys around town while Bob figured out the estimate, took measurements and made calls. She didn’t feel comfortable yet with assessing that size of a job on her own. Finally, late in the afternoon, she returned to pick up Bob and together they took Tracy and her kids back to their minivan. Sheila and the mother performed a little magic of their own by shifting the two sleeping boys and their seats without waking them. Tracy drove ahead of Bob and Sheila out of the MacDonald’s parking lot with a smile on her face and a talkative older boy in the rear. They waved and headed back to the freeway. As they passed the second exit, Bob began giving Sheila directions again.
Sheila rolled her eyes, but drove until they pulled off the road near the entrance to one of the county parks. As Bob opened his door Mixie whimpered from the back seat. The little dog wagged her tail so hard he thought she’d break it. He clicked on her leash and began walking up the dirt trail. While her partner headed out to find his next maiden, Sheila texted her sons in after-school care. They responded immediately and soon they were conversing in real time.
Runners passed Bob, as well as a few dog-walkers. Mixie did her business and he picked it up with a bag he grabbed from the trailhead. Looking around for a garbage can, he realized he probably wouldn’t see one until he returned to the van.
“Well, that’s a pain, Mixie.” He complained to her. Her chocolate brown eyes met his and her tail gave an uncertain wag.
When he looked up, he saw the woman who needed him. She strode with a headset on, cussing loudly. The language harsh and ugly; her expression murderous.
However, Bob Goodall was probably the bravest man on earth. Men can fantasize about blasting away armies like Rambo or flattening combatants like Jackie Chan, but these heroes would turn to trembling piles of jello facing a woman like Christi.
Christi had gone to the best schools, graduated at top colleges, and had the classic beauty produced by a life of money, spas, and good health. On any other day, her long black hair and tall athletic form would turn heads; today they crossed the path and fingered their cell phones. She was in the foulest of moods for this moment marked the darkest of her life. Just hours ago she learned the slimy bastard she had been dating for over six months had been screwing her coworker as well.
Rage burned from her body like a demon’s aura, blurring everything in sight until a voice emerged cut through the mist.
“Bad day, huh?”
She snarled and longed to gouge out the eyes of the speaker. The fog cleared a little in her mind long enough to see a man and dog.
“Yeah, whatever, leave me alone.” She snapped. She didn’t pause or slow her pace but continued to the trailhead like a general advancing into battle.
“You look like you need to talk to someone.” He and Mixie followed her.
“Drop dead.” She growled.
“Let me guess, ‘a woman wronged?’” he pressed. Remember, Bob is not a coward.
She froze and whirled on him. “A woman wronged?” Christi did not scream or yell, she rasped. His question blew her emotional dam to smithereens. She let loose a torrent of unintelligible phrases. As she told him more, her tone evened out and her speech became more coherent. He listened and she vented. He didn’t offer advice or even agree with her. He noted what she said and how she said it. After a while he pushed the dog leash into her hand. Mixie pulled the woman back down the trail; away from the start.
Before they had turned around, Sheila, in the van, caught sight of Bob and Mixie and an angry young woman and knew it would be a while. In between chatting with her boys, she updated her budgets and finished her homework for an online class in bookkeeping.
Back on the trail, Christie’s rant turned to talks of revenge. She schemed several alarming scenarios. Bob said nothing. She mentioned causing severe torture, doing unspeakable physical harm, or irrevocably damaging lives. On this scenic trail, Christi became as ugly and evil as possible. They stopped in the shade of an oak tree, and looked out over the massive brown suburbs drowning in filthy smog.
She stopped talking and breathed deep. He waited until just the right moment and asked.
“You will really do one of those things?”
The demon left her face, she relaxed and she even laughed a little; a weak laugh. “No, no, it is not worth it; he is not worth it.” He nodded.
“What will you do?” He asked. She told him as they strolled back towards the van, Christi still walking Mixie. When they neared the gate, she said,
“Thank you for listening,…” She extended a hand.
“Bob, Bob Goodall”
“I’m Christie” They each gave a warm, firm shake, and a smile peeked at the corner of her mouth. “And you just walk your dog out here to listen to distraught young women complain about their lives?”
“It happens more often than you’d think. But she’s not my dog, perhaps she’s what you need?”
Christi shook her head, looking down at the speckled spaniel. “I’m strictly a cat-person. Thanks again for listening. I, I think I really needed that just then.” And she climbed in a beige convertible and drove away.
The sun dipped to the horizon behind him as he opened the passenger door. Mixie leapt to her spot in the back and curled up on her blanket.
“Good timing! Let’s pick up the boys!” Chirped Sheila.
“I’ll have to call Susan and tell her I couldn’t find a home for Mixie.” He looked back at the doe-eyed dog and sighed.
“Yes you did, Bob. She’s your dog. God’s gift to you.”