Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
Scott parked on the street in front of Ed's rental house. He knew the area, but couldn't remember anybody who had lived on the street. The homes were mostly simple shotgun shacks, on the older side of town.
He opened the SUV's rear door and let Jobe out. The dog looked toward the house and lifted his nose, testing the air.
The screen door squealed open and Ed Mendoza, his best friend, held two bottles of beer. "Home is the conquering hero!"
Scott met Ed on the porch and accepted a beer.
"Come in, come in," Ed insisted.
"You mind Jobe?"
"No problem. He's probably more house-trained than either of us."
The interior of the house was not what he expected. A large flat screen dominated one wall, and a couch and two recliners were arranged neatly. He could see no clutter or empty beer cans. There was even a plant in the corner.
"You were never this neat," Scott said.
Ed smiled, "I have a little help."
"From Amy Strickland?"
"Rene and her big mouth," Ed said. "They should close the paper and let her tell everybody the news."
"She was eager to pass along the latest gossip. You have an old bowl or something? The beast needs some water."
Jobe's nails clicked on the kitchen linoleum. Ed rummaged through his cabinets and found a suitable bowl. He filled it with water and put it on the floor.
The shepherd lapped at it.
Ed cracked open another beer from the fridge and pointed to the living room. Along the way, he turned the TV sound down with a large remote.
"You don't mind me crashing on your couch? I'd hate to cramp your style."
"No worries," Ed took a swig of beer. "She stays here a few nights. I'm there a few nights. It's all good."
"What's your mom think about that?"
"We don't shove it in her face. What about you, got anything on the hook?"
"Old prom dates?"
"You know what I mean."
"Not at the moment," Scott said. Jobe sniffed around the living room and parked himself by Scott's leg. "Between getting out of the Corps and starting back to school, I've not had the chance to drop a line in the water."
"You wait," Ed said. "Give my mother and Mrs. Delgado half a chance and they'll have all the single broads lined up for your inspection."
"Don't give them any ideas."
"Want another beer?" Ed asked, as he got up and headed to the kitchen.
"I'm still working on this one."
"Whatever happened to those two Chicago hotties?" Ed asked.
"I trade e-mail with Lauren once in a blue moon," Scott said. "She's in Japan, teaching at Tokyo University on an exchange program. I lost track of the other one."
"You ever..." Ed made a rude motion with his fist.
Scott shook his head, same old Ed. "I stopped in Chicago for a day the first time I took leave. They liked the idea of a high school kid they could flirt with, but the Marine version scared them."
"Hell," Ed said. "You did shoot up two inches and gained what, fifty pounds of muscle?"
"Not hardly. I'm barely thirty pounds over what I weighed in high school. What about you?"
"You got a nice beer gut started, Ed."
"Shit," Ed rubbed the belly in question. "Amy likes it. Keeps her warm."
They were still laughing when Ed's phone rang. He showed the incoming caller's photo to Scott.
Scott used the interruption and went in search of a bathroom. By the time he got back, Ed had finished another beer.
"Your plans for the evening are set," Ed announced.
"I'm supposed to be having dinner at Honour's."
"Null and void," Ed said solemnly. "Your surprise welcome home party has superseded all previous plans. The appropriate parties have been notified and instructed to show up at my parents' place."
"I'll remember to act surprised."
"You do that."
"We'll take my vehicle," Scott said.
"You don't have to."
"I've only had the one beer."
Ed held his hands up in mock surrender, "I'm not arguing."
Vehicles were scattered up and down the street in front of the Mendoza house. He spotted Hector Mendoza, Ed's father, waving at him from the yard. He was doing an impression of an aircraft handler, indicating that he should park at the end of the driveway.
Scott parked and they got out. Jobe, tail wagging, headed for the line of people streaming off the front porch.
"Welcome home, Scott," Mr. Mendoza said.
"Good to be here, is there anybody you didn't call?"
"We've got a few stragglers yet to arrive."
Scott was swarmed with well-wishers. Connie Mendoza, Ed's mother, kissed his check and nearly squeezed the breath out of him. "So glad you're home."
"Mijo!" Luisa Delgado said, elbowing her way past her friend Connie to hug him. "Are you hungry?"
"Of course he is," her husband Jorge said. He pumped Scott's hand and smiled.
Scott saw Joseph Black on the porch and waved. Joseph picked up his daughter Cathy and waved back.
"Jorge, take a picture," Luisa said.
Jorge obediently produced his phone and motioned for the group to stand closer together.
People reached for their phones and Scott was hustled between picture groupings. There were smiles and laughter to go around, and he lost track of how many photos he posed for.
Joseph waited for the crowd to clear before making his way off the porch, escorted by Jobe. He walked toward Scott hand outstretched as he carried his daughter, "Welcome home."
"Honour's inside with Junior," Joseph said, juggling the weight of his daughter. "You're getting too big, Cathy."
The five-year-old squirmed and he set her down. She grabbed Jobe's collar and off they went.
"What can you tell me about this package coming from California?" Joseph asked.
"I met with one of the detectives while I was there. She offered to send what they had. You mind looking it over to see if there's anything I should know?"
"I'll call you with a time."
"Sounds good," he said.
"Hey!" Ed shouted from the porch. "Why are you standing around? The grill's hot, food's cooking. Let's move this party to the deck."
A car horn sounded from the street.
"Who's that?" Connie Mendoza asked.
Jorge Delgado replied, "The Upcotts."