Fred wore the title of town drunk with distinction, although in practice he was neither the town drunk, nor did he make drinking a state of existence. True, he could tie one on with the best, but he usually limited his imbibing to Saturday nights in particular, and any other night when he felt thirsty.
Fred’s inability to read, write, or perform basic mathematical functions aggravated his reputation in town, and citizens played him for the fool to his face but ridiculed him behind his back. On daily visits to the barbershop to spread and receive gossip, Fred became the butt of cruel jokes instigated by patrons.
“Say, Fred, how old are you?” a man waiting for the next open chair might ask.
“Well, let’s see,” Fred would reply. “I was born in 1929, and it’s now 1984, so I’m 47 years old.” In truth, the current year might be 1987.
The men in the shop would give a predictable answer by staring at him in amazement and telling him he did not appear that old, and they would never laugh at him while present. After he left the shop, though, they cackled and hooted and said they could not wait for the next day, for then he might say he was 73 years old.
Despite his reputation, Fred possessed a gentle spirit, loving animals and children, and both groups reciprocated his affections. Children, who generally have a sense about good and evil about them at a young age, felt safe around him, while their parents harbored the same feelings and never shooed Fred away.
Fred had a long-time companion wherever he went, one of the ugliest dogs ever to walk the face of the earth, a severely mixed breed named Harold. Fred said he had named the dog after his own father because the dog resembled him. His father’s name had really been Jackson, but no one bothered to tell Fred that. Jackson had been a businessman and important person in the town, had served on town committees and had helped establish the bank. He also had spearheaded the drive to improve the local schools. Fred barely recalled his father, though, who had died 40 years previously.
One morning Fred awoke and reached over his arm to pet Harold, but for the first time in remembrance, Harold was not there.
“Harold! Harold, where are you?” he yelled. He kept calling as he walked through the rooms, but no reply came.
When he got to his front room, a room most families would call their living room or family room, Fred looked with dismay at an unexpected sight. Someone had come into his house overnight and had stolen some things, knocked over a few pieces of furniture, and broken lamps and bowls. Technically, it could not be labeled a break-in, for Fred never locked his doors, not possessing the knowledge of how to lock and unlock them.
He cussed for five straight minutes as he walked about the house, examining the damage. Then he washed his face and walked to the police station, walking because he could neither ride a bicycle nor drive a car, even if he owned one.
“What’s the matter, Fred?” asked the chief, Willard Barker, with a smile. “You look all out of sorts this morning.”
“Someone’s robbed me,” said Fred. “While I was asleep. Came in my house, broke things, stole things from the living room, turned over some chairs and such.”
Barker became serious. “Robbed you? Robbed you? That’s hard to believe.”
“It’s true! Come on down to my place and check it out. I ain’t touched nothing. Left it just like it was. It’s a shame a body can’t live in his own home in this town without the fear of getting robbed when he was asleep.”
The chief and Fred got in the squad car and headed towards the house.
“Can you turn on the siren?” asked Fred. “I want everyone to know this is official police business.”
The chief complied, even letting Fred turn the switch.
At the house, the chief surveyed the damage and shook his head while taking notes.
“Did they get anything valuable?” he asked.
“Durn tootin’ they got something valuable,” snapped Fred. “They took Harold!”
“Harold?” quizzed the chief. “Your dog? Why would they want your dog?”
“He’s my bestest friend in the whole world. He’s the most valuable thing I got.”
“I’m not understanding this,” said Chief Barker. “How did this happen when you were home? They had to have made some noise. And they took Harold. Wouldn’t he have barked or something and woken you up?”
Fred cussed around a little bit and hung his head before saying, “Well, Willard, I weren’t really feeling well last night when I fell to sleep. I-I-I guess I was pretty well dead to the world.”
“Oh,” replied the chief, “you mean you might have drunk a little too much last night?”
Fred still would not look the chief in the eye.
“I suppose so,” he replied. “I mean, I got started and…well, I didn’t stop. Now you know I don’t do that often! Just every once in awhile, particularly when I’m feeling a little lonely, and last night I felt pretty low. Not as low as I’m feeling now. Why’d they have to take Harold? They could’ve had anything in the house they wanted. I ain’t got no use for chairs and tables and dishes and lamps and glasses, but my dog! They took my dog!”
Chief Barker resumed writing, making descriptions of things as he saw them. Then he turned to a blank page in his book and asked, “Could you tell me exactly what they took? Do you know?”
Fred fumbled around for words and walked about the room. Chief Barker felt sorry, knowing that Fred actually did not know what the thieves had taken because he did not know what he had in his house.
“Aside from the dog,” Fred said at last, “the only thing I really know is missing is a box of coins and medals from on top of the fireplace, along with a sword that hung over it. My dad left all that for me. He said they were given to him by his grandfather, or maybe even his great-grandfather, I don’t remember. Dad said they had some value. I guess they did. Never meant anything to me, though.”
He walked sullenly around town the rest of the day. Everyone had heard about his loss, so people treated him with kindness. At the barbershop, the owner, Lawrence Tyler, asked if the police had any leads.
“Nothing,” replied Fred. “All I want back is Harold. They can have the rest. What am I going to do without Harold? He’s my onliest friend in the world. He helps me get home when I’ve been out drinking. If I go the wrong way, he barks until I’m back on the right path. Smartest dog in the whole world, he was.”
Fred openly cried, the only time anyone in town could remember him doing so when he was sober.
Night fell about eight o’clock, and Fred meandered back to his house, crestfallen. He did not bother to turn on the lights, but went directly to his bed and flopped on it, but sleep would not come.
A few minutes after ten o’clock there was an urgent pounding on the front door, followed by a loud voice he recognized as Chief Barker’s.
“Fred! Open up! It’s important! Open up!” yelled the chief, who came to the house personally because Fred did not have a telephone.
Fred cussed at the chief as he walked through the house and mumbled, “Can’t leave a man alone when he’s at his lowest point. Have to disturb a man in the middle of the night,” he mumbled. “What do you want?” he barked at the chief when he opened the door.
“Fred! Come with me! Down to the station! There’s something—you won’t believe it—there’s something you’ve got to see!”
“I ain’t in no mood to come to the station,” said Fred. “I want to stay here!”
“It’s about your robbery. Come on!” and he grabbed Fred’s hand and drug him out the door. Fred had to return to the house to retrieve his shoes, however.
At the station, the chief took Fred to his office. “Look!” he said, pointing at a sword lying on his desk.
“What? Where’d that come from? That looks like my sword!”
“It is your sword,” replied the chief.
“Did…did you capture the thieves?” asked Fred.
“No, not yet anyway. Sit down. You’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you.”
Fred handled the sword and sat down.
“I’m glad to get it back, but it’s not really what I want,” he said. “I want Harold.”
“Harold was here!” said the chief.
“What?” said Harold, who perked up. “Where is he now?”
“He was right here. Right here in the police station. He came walking into town with this sword in his mouth, and I was sitting outside on a bench, When I saw it was him, I called him over. He walked right up to me and dropped the sword at my feet. I picked them both up and took them inside.
“I started to look at the sword to see if there might be prints or anything else on it that could help us find the thieves, Harold took off out the door when an officer opened it. I took off after him, but he ran away too fast and it was dark and I couldn’t find him. This was about 25 minutes ago. I’ve got a couple of officers out looking for him. Hopefully they can find him.”
Fred started crying again, saying he wished he could have Harold again. He said he would give anything—even give up drinking—if he could only have his dog back.
An officer radioed the station and told the chief they had not found Harold and did not even know where to begin looking. The chief told them to ride around for another half an hour and maybe they could spot him.
Fred sat dejectedly in the office while Chief Barker examined the sword some more. Suddenly the chief yelled, “Fred, do you know what you have here?”
Fred looked up and replied, “A sword, but no Harold. What’s it matter?”
“No, no. This sword! Do you know what it is?”
“It’s a sword. An old sword.”
“Yes, it’s a sword. Listen, Fred, I collect swords myself. I go to shows and see collectors. Do you have any idea how much money this sword is worth?”
“I’ll sell it to you for twenty bucks,” said Fred. “That’d give me a couple drunks, probably.”
“Fred, I can’t give you twenty dollars for this sword. It’s worth thousands of times that much. It’s a—“
Barking at the police station door interrupted the chief. Fred and Chief Barker raced outside, and there stood Harold. At his feet was the box from the fireplace. His tail wagged briskly, and when he saw his master and friend, he jumped into Fred’s outstretched arms.
“This is all I need,” said Fred joyously. “Keep the sword, keep the box with the coins and stuff. Just let me go home with Harold. I’m the happiest man alive.”
However, when Fred placed Harold on the ground, the dog took off running again, stopped about a hundred feet away, and barked repeatedly.
“He wants us to go,” said Chief Barker. “He wants us to go with him.”
Chief Barker and Fred got in the police car and followed Harold slowly. The dog took them to a house in the country, where the chief found two drunken young men. A little examination of the room determined that these were the thieves.
The entire town rejoiced in Fred’s good fortune and marveled at Harold.
“Smartest dog I’ve ever known,” echoed the entire contingent in the barbershop.
People greeted Fred and Harold on the street with exuberance. Children wanted to pet the dog, something the dog did not object to.
Chief Barker came to Fred’s house two days later.
“I’m not going to go into detail about all thsi, because I don’t think you’d really care,” he began. “Just let me say that’s an extremely rare sword. There are people who would pay you probably two hundred thousand dollars to buy it, maybe more. But that’s not all. Do you know what was in that box? Have you ever looked in it?”
“No, not in years” said Fred. “My dad said it was some coins and some papers. I can’t read so I didn’t care about the papers. The coins were pretty, though.”
“Some of those coins,” said Chief Barker, “are priceless. They’re not safe to keep in your house, same as the sword. Some are over 200 years old and date back to before the American Revolution. If coin collectors knew you had these, they’d be begging you to sell them, and they’d pay you more money than you can imagine.
“That’s not all,” he continued. “Those papers are important. Some of them are bank stock. As of this moment you are one of the most important stock holders in the bank, and you are an extremely wealthy man. Between the sword, the coins, and the stock, Fred, you are undoubtedly the richest man in town.”
“Is that so?” replied Fred, apparently not caring. “Chief, I don’t know nothing at all about money. I can’t add or subtract. Can’t even sign my own name, so I don’t know where having a lot of money does me any good. But one thing I do know—I am the richest man in town because I’ve got Harold. He’s all I care about, and he’s all I need.”
Chief Barker took care of Fred’s financial interests by putting the sword and the contents of the box in a safe until he could find a permanent home for them. He also managed his affairs concerning the bank stock and helped to insure a secure, stable life for Fred as long as he lived.
“What about that dog?” asked the barber of Chief Barker one morning shortly thereafter. “Did you ever figure out why he brought that particular stuff back?”
“It’s beyond explanation,” replied the chief. “I’ve thought about it for a long time, and you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve come to think maybe the dog is the smartest one in that house. Who knows? Maybe the dog has been sent to look out for Fred. Are there such things as angels in the form of animals?”