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No one thought as highly of Lieutenant Spencer Watley as he did himself. This selfish cop met 14 year-old Justin Andrews during an important stakeout. Determined to nab a group of cyber killers, he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way, especially a smart mouthed teenager like Justin.
After Spencer bids him good riddance, he is killed by the hackers and stands before the gates of heaven. But – what’s this? After a life of putting dangerous criminals behind bars, he’s locked out?
He yells at the angel blocking his entrance, only to find out he needs to go through the J.R.P. program before he can enter. That’s the Jerk Redemption program, otherwise known as sensitivity training boot camp, which to his horror consists of non-stop Oprah and Dr. Phil reruns. Or he can go back to earth and help Justin’s dysfunctional family. Spencer opts for the lesser of two evils, to help Justin.
But the Angel pulls a fast one on Spencer. He can only go back to earth in the body of his K9-Partner. Spencer refuses, but like it or not, Spencer becomes a dog. He falls back to earth and is slowly morphed into a dog that closely resembles a mop.
And if being a dog wasn’t bad enough, Spencer also swallowed an important microchip his killers need to hack into PC’s and steal millions. Now the criminals are hot on his trail for the only existing microchip that’s logged in his belly.
Justin and Spencer butt heads constantly; both are stubborn and willful, neither one wanting to give an inch. Spencer needs to find out what the killers are up to, so he swallows his pride and forms a bond with the boy. Spencer relays to Justin his past and together with the help of Justin’s girlfriend, Shahla; they discover the hacker’s plans. Spencer has broken down Justin’s reserve and he finally learns the meaning of unselfish love.
But it’s too late, the hackers have captured them.
Can Spencer maul the shins (and other choice areas) of his kidnappers and stop them from their evil plan?
Can a selfish man find a heart?
You bet. He just has to become a dog first.
Justin Andrews’ heart pounded so hard he thought it would punch out his throat. He trudged across St. Ignatius High School’s elm tree shadowed lawn, trying to keep up with his father who strode briskly. The half hour spent in the principal’s office sent ruts of adrenaline coursing through Justin’s veins. Even the balmy Seattle afternoon didn’t lighten the day’s heavy mood. The skin peeking out the back of Mr. Andrews sport coat collar was already flushed red. It wasn’t sunburn.
A spring wind blew through the private school’s grand hall window. Solitude and long shadows contrasted with another day of classes and activities. The daily exodus of uniformed schoolboys took place an hour ago, without Justin.
He opened the computer lab door and politely stepped aside as his father entered the flower-scented room. Baskets of bright, freshly cut bouquets covered every flat surface, including half the floor. Condolence tags hung on most.
“You were lucky to get a scholarship to this school,” muttered his father, Eugene Andrews, as he steepled his hands and assumed a confident expression.
Mr. Andrews was thin as a rule, which even his hair obeyed, and his business suit hung on his spare frame in straight-ironed lines.
“We can barely afford their activity fees, and how do you show your appreciation? By spending valuable time in Principal Hammersmith’s office because of your usual antics!
I hope you were as embarrassed as I was.” Mr. Andrews’ red face had grown haggard, but he returned to his normal tone. “I’m trying my best to understand you, but it’s difficult when you act before you think.”
Justin stopped tapping the keys of one of the classroom computers. He brushed back his sandy colored hair and tried hard to look unruffled by his father’s venting. Tall for his thirteen years, his even features were dappled with impish freckles, and his deep blue eyes sparkled. He frowned, recollecting that Principal Hammersmith had accused him of having “an understated confidence that bordered on impudence.”
Vicky Andrews, Justin’s sixteen-year-old sister, lounged in a computer lab chair, black backpack on the floor, waiting to go. She plucked a daisy from one of the bouquets, broke off the stem and stuck the blossom in her hair. She casually twisted the hem of her black T-shirt and listened to the scolding, ready to spring in as mediator if needed. Her eyebrow ring and bright pink hair screamed independence; an attitude she freely cultivated in her public high school.
“Chill out, Dad,” Vicky said, as she chewed away on a sizable wad of gum. “You’re making such a big deal out of this.”
“Big deal? It’s a disgrace. Your brother pasted Principal Hammersmith’s face on a picture of a mountain goat.”
Vicky tried to muffle her giggle with little success.
Her father glared at her. “So you think it’s funny, do you?” he asked as he continued to pace the floor.
“Not how your mother and I raised you. Did you see his screensaver?”
Justin had photoshopped Sister Constance’s face on a female goat in a very compromising position with the Mr. Hammersmith goat. Eugene glared at the twenty- nine monitors of goat love, floating red chubby hearts and Cupid with a compound bow and lots of arrows, then he and Vicky high-fived one another behind their father’s back while he gazed once more at Justin’s computer animation.
Justin’s fingers tap-danced across keyboards. He deleted another goat screensaver and set it back to the original portrait of Principal Hammersmith’s stony face sternly guarding the entrance of St. Ignatius. More clicks, another computer, another step closer to undoing his creation. His father walked over to the window and his voice rose as he spoke to Vicky.
“It would be one thing if his disrespect was limited to the school, but . . .” He yanked the curtains wide open and pointed at the athletic field. The computer lab famous goat love played on the new billboard-sized screen looming over the football stadium. And at Main Street’s busy intersection. And on Interstate Five.
“This is an offense punishable by a year of kitchen duty.”
Justin’s father bobbed his head back and forth in that parental duck-neck way.
“I’m not even going to ask how you accomplished that.”
“It helps to know the operator.”
“You mean an adult helped you do that?”
“Yeah. A guy who works here at the school who operates the billboard liked it too. He downloaded The Love Hammer’s-”
“It’s the file name! Okay, Hammersmith. He had him as a teacher when he was in school, before Mr. Hammersmith became principal. Anyway, he wanted to pay me for the file of the screen saver image he saw in the lab.”
“You received money for that?” his father asked outraged. “No. I gave it to him for free.”
The veins in Mr. Andrews’ thin neck stood out in vivid ridges.
“Ah, come on, Dad, you know The Hammer, I mean Mr. Hammersmith had it in for me. It’s just not fair what he did to me.”
“You still need to have some respect for authority, Justin. Do you really believe your revenge was justified? That any revenge is justified? What if someone had done that to your mom’s picture?”
“No fair.” The words sank into a dark place within Justin’s mind where rationality always triumphed over emotion, and his breath caught. “Yeah, no, I was wrong, I’m sorry.”
“You’d better be sorry, though that’s not a big help now!” Mr. Andrews stopped pacing, leaned in and whispered, “I have to pay to have the whole newsletter reprinted and I still need to buy groceries. Do you want to know where the cash is coming from? Remember that allowance you had?”
Vicky’s slouch perked straight up. “Newsletter? What newsletter?”
“Justin put an obituary of Principal Hammersmith in the school’s newsletter.”
“Those weren’t supposed to get mailed. Besides, I’m writing a letter of apology, and you’ve got to admit,” he gestured to the bouquets, “the school did receive a lot of flowers. Aren’t they beautiful?” Justin smiled nervously then returned to de-goating the computer lab.
“You’re lucky they’re not going to expel you!”
Vicky raised a challenging pierced eyebrow. “The reason Justin wasn’t expelled was because of the special grants this school receives. His high test scores sure bumped up the school average. They’re not going to get rid of him.”
Mr. Andrews sighed and rubbed his face. “Maybe your Mom and I shouldn’t have let them put Justin two Grades ahead.”
“But he still gets straight A’s, Dad. Academics aren’t the issue. It’s Mom.”
“He still needs to learn discipline.”
“Come on now, it’s tough for Justin. Put yourself in his place. He’s only thirteen. Most of the other guys are already sixteen. They give him a hard time.”
“I’m almost fourteen, and I can take care of myself.” Justin puffed up as one more pair of amorous goats disappeared.
“He misses Mom,” Vicky sighed. “We all miss Mom. Don’t be so hard on him.”
Mr. Andrews’ cell phone played a disco jingle. He sighed before answering, “Eugene Andrews. Yes Ma’am. Sales projections ready by tonight. Fine.”
Vicky winced and gave a pained expression as the call ended.
“Look, I have to get back to work before I get fired,” Mr. Andrews said to Vicky and blew a heavy sigh. He straightened his tie, and picked lint off his sleeve as he crossed the room.
“As for you, young man,” Mr. Andrews said looking back at Justin, “you’ll receive your punishment tonight after dinner.” Dad slammed the classroom door behind him.
A vision of stacks of dirty dishes and a lonely soapy sink hovered in Justin’s mind. “I know Dad’s going to ground me until I’m eligible for Medicare. After I finish changing these screen savers I’m going to the park. I need to be alone.”
Vicky patted him on the shoulder. “If I want to find you, you’ll be in your tree, right?”
Justin’s mind drifted again. He gazed through an unseen window in the fabric of space and time. Sister Constance and The Hammer – how dare they attack his family? Especially his mother!
Memories of her replayed so high-res in his mind, he almost smelled her favorite lilies-of-the-valley scent perfuming the room’s air. He remembered when he had run into snags building a model airplane. His mother had drilled into him how one can do anything if one only sets their mind to it. He built the plane. Quick to punish Justin when he blew up the plane, she was just as quick to forgive him as he stood before her with his guilt-ridden face. She knew he hadn’t thought through the danger and that he really was sorry. She loved him unconditionally.
Mom had been a devout Catholic all her life, and she never lost that all-important cool factor, making the Andrews home an extremely popular sleepover spot with young people in the neighborhood. Once, Dad had pulled over to help change a mini-van’s flat tire. By the time Mom had finished chatting up the family, everyone was laughing. The guy said, “I’m almost glad I had the flat.” They got a Christmas card from them last season.
And music, she had loved music. One could find her strumming her guitar in church with the priest (who sported dreadlocks) and grooving with the choir to the newest rock music. She sang her heart out. If she hadn’t met Justin’s dad, she most certainly would have become a great nun, probably one of those wisecracking ones whom the parishioners loved to be around.
She even invited strangers to her sing-alongs, Jews, Protestants, Muslims and even an Atheist or two “for good measure,” she would say, “God made us all and we all need to feel loved. It’s the meaning of life.” Then her eyes sparked like Justin’s.
Mother’s belief in giving people a second chance sat with the older traditionalist members of the church, such as Sister Constance, like Jack Sprat on a candlestick. The anti-guitar crowd, she called them. So it started with the lecture in Sister Con’s Middle Age church history class. Justin scribbled notes.
The nun’s stone-cold face never cracked a smile, and her fire and brimstone passion for the subject gave Justin the impression that her eyes swelled when describing torture or suffering and that she relished the horrible punishments imposed upon anyone called heretic.
He would have loved to shout out, “Why don’t you get Freddy Krueger, or better yet, Jason, armed with his trademark hockey mask and chainsaw; to finish off those nasty Atheists and Muslims, Sister Con?” If only.
Justin knew all the answers when Sister Constance drilled the class on historical dates, and the saints, but he spat them out with cynicism. The Sister’s face pruned in disapproval and venom dripped from her tone.
“I know your problem, Justin Andrews. Your mother was in my class when she was your age. What a disgraceful student! Oh, the trouble she stirred. How she questioned the tried and true values of the church was shameful. It is because of people like your mother that the church has turned into the liberal wasteland it is today and lost its rich history of traditions and disciplines.”
“You mean like the Spanish Inquisition?” Justin asked with a righteous passion.
So there he stood in front of Principal Hammersmith’s office, searching for a seat, fighting the queasiness in the pit of his stomach. He would never forgive Hammersmith for not hearing him out; for taking Sister Con’s side.
“I hunt troublemakers, young man. Some spirits need breaking.” He sat in his desk chair, stoic. “You are wasting your God-given talents in technology for mischief and scandalous behavior.”
Justin survived this hour-long lecture on obedience and reverence, and even prevailed against The Hammer’s angry looping finger, which was famous for “going off” once he started shifting foot to foot. That was when you knew that whatever you had done was not worth it.
At a pause in that scolding sermon, Justin attempted to wedge in an explanation, “But–”
“Don’t you interrupt me, young man. This is another example of your impudence.” The Hammer’s finger wagged higher and looped with greater fury.
“Hey Justin, you awake?” Vicky snapped her fingers in front of Justin’s face.
He blinked and stammered.
Vicky looked scared. “Justin, are you okay? You’re always drifting off into never never land.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking about Mom again.”
“They say as time goes by it doesn’t hurt as much. But time has gone by, and we still miss her,” sighed Vicky.
One thing about Vicky, Justin thought as he continued to destroy another example of his digital artwork, was that she understood him, which was more than he could say for his father.