EVERY DOG - RICHARD C. KATZ
“Happy fucking New Year,” says Billy. He presses a finger against a nostril, blows snot into the snow, then wipes his nose on his sleeve. Doc sits on a piece of cardboard pulled out of the dumpster, his back against a brick wall glazed with ice. Everything is dusted with fresh snow, including Billy and Doc. There is not much of a moon, but feeble light from a nearby streetlamp illuminates part of the alley, making even the snow look yellow. Billy says, “I’m so fucking cold,” then slips into a bow stance, punching and kicking the air to stay limber and warm. He squints at his watch. “Jesus, where is this guy?” Doc sighs and regrets it as cold air fills his lungs like poured cement. He starts coughing from the bottom of his chest. Billy looks down. “You sound like shit,” he says. “When we get our money, you should come with me and Tiff down to Miami.”
“So you finally made up your mind?” asks Doc.
Billy shrugs. “You never know, but she’s been good. You like her, don’t you?”
“Sure, I do,” says Doc. “She set this up, didn’t she?”
The two men laugh. Doc takes a quick look around the corner of the alley into the empty street. Freezing wind slaps his face, turning numb cheeks to leather and watery eyes to burning ice. He looks back at Billy and shakes his head. Nothing. Nobody. No Mitch. Not even a stray dog risks this storm. Just a couple of chumps hiding in an alley instead of partying on New Year’s Eve.
Billy and Doc are on Boylston Street just past Tremont, in the narrow alley between Boston Music and Milton’s Flower Shop, just three doors down from the Shawmut Bank and a block and a half from The Golden Box, a strip club they no longer frequent. The Boston Commons is across the street, deserted in this weather and time of night, so there is little chance of someone seeing them, but nothing to block the wind and snow. Doc is the lookout, but regrets it now. Both men wear heavy coats, black wool ski caps and leather gloves to conceal their identities as much as to conserve warmth.
“Got to piss. Be right back.”
Doc nods as Billy slips off his gloves and crunches through snow, deeper down the alley. Doc turns away like a proper Bostonian when Billy stops to piss against the wall. Steam rises from the stream and Billy cups his hands to catch the warmth without getting wet, but is unsuccessful on both counts.
Doc tries to ignore the block of ice that used to be his ass. Boston winters suck – he knows that with every breath – but in a couple of months, the sun will hook him again. Stay with me, the city says. The days will get longer and warmer. Night breezes will cup his face like the hands of a lover. Then, like a classic bait and switch, the trees will change, and all that color will distract him from noticing the days are getting shorter. The wind will turn cold and sharp, digging deep into his old bones, and just like that, snow will smother what’s left of the color and everything will die. Winter. Black and white but mostly gray, like an old movie on TV where nothing really matters because you know all along how it’s going to end and the actors are all dead anyway. On TV you can just switch channels, but Doc is trapped in this cycle. Until now. If I got to mop floors, he thinks, might as well do it someplace warm. Maybe move to the southwest, maybe Los Angeles, where the sun shines three hundred and sixty days a year. Palm trees. Fresh fruit. The warm Pacific. Fast cars and movie stars. Could take some classes. Maybe meet somebody who reads books.
“Hey, old man. Wake up.” Billy is standing over Doc. Doc is confused, then realizes he nodded off. Damn it to hell! He braces himself and looks around the corner. “Look, man,” says Billy. “My balls–”
“He’s coming!” says Doc, turning back to Billy.
Billy forgets about his balls. “Is he alone?”
Doc stands up carefully, working through the stiffness without a grimace. “Yeah,” is all he says.
Mitch is co-owner of The Golden Box. According to Tiffany, a dancer who works at The Box, Mitch and his brother, Donald, deposit the day’s take in the bank’s night deposit slot each night after closing. New Year’s Eve is their biggest night. Both brothers are always armed, but three weeks ago Donald broke his leg while skiing Mt. Stowe so Mitch makes the deposits by himself. The take should be about six grand in cash. Doc’s share will go a long way towards making up his mind about L.A.
Doc and Billy pull their ski caps down into ski masks that cover their faces. They pull guns out of their pockets. Doc delicately slips the safety off his 9mm Tokorov, an ugly, pitted piece of old black metal. Billy takes a big RG 38 out of his pocket. He has owned the cheap gun for years, but fired it only once, preferring to club his victim and avoid escalating a rap. He grips the eight inch, pound-and-a-half gun in his gloved left hand and slaps the side of the grip into the palm of his right.
Doc peeks out again. “He’s at the curb. One, two, three...” He matches the speed of his count to the pace of Mitch’s steps then ducks back into the alley and continues counting at the same speed. Billy, the same height as Mitch, already paced off seventy-four steps from their side of the corner of Tremont to the alley, so they will be set to move on Mitch when the count gets to seventy.
Both men lean against the brick wall, Billy looking over the top of Doc’s head at the street. Billy is nervous and concentrates on slowing his breathing, like Doc taught him, but it is not working. He tells himself he’ll be all right once the action starts. The falling snow, seemingly suspended in the dim light, distracts him and at that very moment his breathing begins to slow.
A few scraps and a Breaking & Entering are all either of them had ever pulled off before tonight, but Doc learned what to do and say from the best while in Walpole. And Billy, an adrenaline junkie, is a willing disciple. Billy glances down the alley, reassured they are alone, and turns back to Doc. He sees Doc’s lips move. Doc whispers, “70,” and points to the street with his nose. A moment later, they hear Mitch’s footsteps flopping in the snow.
Mitch suddenly walks past the alley. Billy is behind him, gun raised high in the air. He slams the butt into the back of Mitch’s head. Mitch crumbles almost to his knees. His right hand reflexively moves toward the blow, but Billy grabs his wrist tightly and twists it down and back.
“What the fuck?” Mitch says, trying to turn around to confront Billy.
“Shut up, you hunk of shit. Don’t move,” Billy says in the deepest voice he can manage. Mitch feels the cold hard barrel of a gun against his neck and gropes for his gun. Doc grabs his arm with his left hand and jabs hard with his right, aiming for Mitch’s solar plexus, but instead hitting low in the gut. The punch still takes the air out of Mitch and doubles him over. Billy’s grip is firm and Mitch wrenches his own shoulder. Doc reaches into Mitch’s coat and removes his gun, a shiny Colt Commander, a compact beauty. He slips it into his back pocket as he sticks the Tokorov a half-inch from Mitch’s right eye. Flanked between two guns, Mitch stops struggling, his eyes focusing on the ugly gun’s barrel.
Good, thinks Doc. Look at the gun. Not me.
They push and pull Mitch into the alley. Doc forces Mitch’s other arm behind his back, securing both wrists together with a nylon tie.
“You don’t know who you’re fucking with,” shouts Mitch, trying to attract attention. Doc punches Mitch hard in his mouth and Mitch screams, “You asshole!” Blood flows from Mitch’s split lip and Doc hits him again, this time in the jaw with an uppercut, throwing Mitch’s head back and splattering blood up into the air. Drops of blood twinkle like stars in the yellow light, but turn black when they land in the snow.
“I told you to shut the fuck up,” growls Billy. “Make another sound and he’ll cut your throat. Got it?”
Billy does not wait for an answer. He grabs the back of Mitch’s collar, and pulls him deeper into the alley. Running along side of them, Doc slips a blue knit ski cap over Mitch’s head, yanking it down over his eyes. Billy tugs harder. Mitch tips backwards, loses his footing, and Billy ends up dragging him the rest of the way. When they are about 100 feet from the street, Billy lets go of Mitch, who falls like a rock onto his back. Even in the weak light, the front of the blue ski hat and his coat shine black with blood. “Hey, man,” Mitch pleads. “You got the wrong guy. Be reasonable.”
Billy kicks him hard in his side and a girly squeal comes out of Mitch. He bends over the crumpled form. “I know who you are,” Billy whispers. He presses his mouth to Mitch’s ear and the muzzle of his gun to the top of Mitch’s head. “Do not say anything or move a fucking muscle.” Mitch lays still as Doc binds him at the ankles and knees with more nylon ties. Doc reaches into his pocket for a roll of duct tape.
He wraps tape around the blue wool cap, securing it to Mitch’s head and covering his eyes and mouth in the process. He leaves Mitch’s nose exposed so he can breathe. It is messy and bloody, but effective.
Mitch stays limp as Billy drags him closer to the side of the alley. Doc feeds another nylon tie between Mitch’s arms and a thick water pipe that comes up from the ground and enters the brick wall of the building at about waist level. He tightens the tie, securing Mitch to the pipe, then nods to Billy.
Billy squats next to Mitch and pokes the tape covering Mitch’s mouth with the barrel of the gun. Mitch’s head pulls back at the touch. “Let me be explicit,” Billy says in a oddly calm, straight forward way. “Stay still and we will not hurt you. Move, and I will kill you. It is that simple, OK?”
Mitch risks a muffled sound and single nod. Billy rests the muzzle against Mitch’s forehead and looks up, giving Doc the go-ahead. Doc kneels down and opens Mitch’s coat. He goes through all his pockets, transferring three bulging blue deposit bags and Mitch’s wallet to a white plastic grocery bag. Mitch starts sobbing through the tape. Doc stands and jerks his head towards the other end of the alley. Billy nods. He puts his mouth close to Mitch’s covered face. Even in the cold and the wind, he can smell Mitch’s sweat.
“Frankie is watching you from over there,” he lies, “so don’t make a sound or move for twenty minutes. You will get cold, but you will not freeze. If you stay put, Frankie will call 9-1-1 and the cops will find you. Otherwise, he will call nobody and come over here and cut off your balls.” Billy taps Mitch’s groin with the barrel of his gun to emphasize the point and Mitch’s body jerks, making Billy smile. Billy stands and he and Doc walk toward the other end of the alley, looking back once at Mitch, and then they run, ripping off their masks and stuffing them in their pockets, slowing down only as they enter Stuart Street.
Tiffany takes the tea kettle off the counter and fills it half-way with water from the tap. She drops four Roofies into the kettle, moving the kettle in a circular motion to dissolve the pills. She places the kettle on the stove, but does not turn on the burner. Her preparations complete, she sits down at the kitchen table, opens a bottle of water and takes a sip. Then she lets out a big breath and shakes her shoulders and arms. She glances at the wall clock – Mitch should have left by now – then scans the kitchen, her face full of disgust. She hates this apartment, hot and stuffy in the winter because of the steam heat radiators. The whole building is a dump, but it is close to work, and a sublease for cash. Off the grid. No one in Boston even knows her real name. Her mother would be proud, she thinks, and she smiles and sits up a little. She thinks more about her mother and her face becomes blank. Her mother never let an opportunity pass by. Her mother always had a plan. Her mother did what was necessary.
“Everybody got a bottom line,” Tiffany’s mother would say, “and a woman who wants to survive in this world got to recognize what a man wants.” It wasn’t hard once she started dancing and learned to recover from her mistakes. Rock bottom was like anywhere else once you stay for awhile and have a good look around. She no longer feels panic when things fall apart, and that makes her feel strong. It puts her in control of, she believes, not just her own destiny, but the destiny of others. She makes her own opportunities. Men may own the world, but if she plays her cards right, a woman can own all the men she needs.
Tiffany stands up. She can not believe her luck. The Golden Box crowd was a mix of worthless college kids, gnomes in ties, and greasers living paycheck to paycheck. Brown Eyed Girl was the song, and she hears it now in her head and shifts her hips in time to the music. She remembers strutting toward a table of college boys, her posture, rhythm and attitude perfect, when she passed the odd pair, young white muscle boy, old black man with glasses. She caught Doc’s smile from the corner of her eyes and she reflexively turned and smiled back. She stopped and struck a pose, but Doc kept his eyes on her face. She was impressed by his self-control. She threw together the outfit – red corset, red bikini bottoms, and clear platforms – to highlight her assets. But he kept looking at her face and into her eyes. She remembers how that felt and smiles the same genuine smile she returned to Doc that night. That night, she began to think that maybe she danced for him before, but then realized his bottom line. He was lonely, not horny. Not yet, anyway. Then Billy motioned her for a dance. Her smile became hard again, but she felt pretty good after they talked for awhile and she realized how easy it was going to be.
By tonight she will be in Toronto, and from there, she can go anywhere she wants. The cash will be in her luggage, not a problem since Customs going into Canada rarely searches cars, and even when they do, they look for drugs, not cash. The mob will not recover their money, but they will have their two robbers. They will not get anything useful out of them. She and her money will be safe.
Tiffany walks out of the kitchen, flicking off the light switch to save electricity – another lesson learned from her mother – and enters a dark living room. Ugly yellow light from a streetlamp below her windows reflects off the ceiling, barely illuminating the room. Almost by instinct, she steps around the ottoman and sinks into a grimy naugahyde couch, stretching her legs to rest white sneakers on the large low glass coffee table. Under the table, an old thin rug covers the scratched wood floor. A corn plant in a giant terracotta pot sits at the far end of the couch, its leaves casting long shadows against the wall. Tiffany leans her head back into the couch, no longer aware of the creaking sound of naugahyde, and stares up at gray space where the ceiling should be.
An odd couple. Billy was a known. She handled Billies her whole life. Abandoned as kids, growing up in foster homes and living in boarding houses with no sense of family. Acting like the world is theirs, but still not in on the joke. Big baby boys who can not wait to get what they want, mostly tits and toys, pussy and pizza, blowjobs and beer. This one is not so full of life as full of himself. To Tiffany, Billy had three buttons: stay, heel, and roll over.
Doc was another thing. Like a lot of ex-cons, he had his story, if you believed him, which she did, mostly. He was a Theater major at UMass when a fight broke out at a basketball game. Some kid from UConn got stabbed and Doc was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He did seventeen years for attempted murder. Tough luck, she thinks, but better him than me.
She listened to their stories, like she did with every customer to keep them buying dances. The two men worked at Parker Bros. Suits and Dresses. Billy loaded boxes onto trucks for ten years which got him nothing but minimum wage. Doc mopped floors and cleaned toilets. The two men began to hang out together and became friends.
Billy saw an opportunity for a quick buck – a small stereo store with a thin back door and no alarm – and brought Doc in to help carry the goods, but Doc offered more than a second pair of hands. No matter what Doc had been like as a kid, he developed the skills and attitude needed to survive almost two decades at Walpole. It was an education no one predicted for him. Doc taught Billy the tricks to breaking and entering without getting caught. They made $1300 a piece when they unloaded the equipment. When Tiffany approached them with her idea of a robbery, it was Doc again who came up with the details, the art and science of confrontation and intimidation. Billy needed Doc’s direction and Doc needed Billy’s muscle. Tiffany needed two fall guys and knew it was a good match all around.
Tiffany also knew both men wanted to feel something, Billy her tits and Doc something else, so being Billy’s girl and Doc’s friend made it easy for her to talk them into robbing Mitch. They did not need to know that Mitch was connected and they were stealing a lot more money than they thought. And they certainly did not need to know that the money belonged to the mob.
Billy’s whole body aches, and he wonders how the old man keeps going. They see only one man in the distance, his head down and walking fast toward Tremont, as they run in the early morning light down deserted streets and finally turn onto Lagrange. Billy follows Doc to the back service door of Tiffany’s building. Doc has the key out before he gets to the door and jams it into the lock. Together they push, and the heavily dented metal door screeches open. Billy piles in behind Doc. Doc is already scanning the dark room before his eyes even adjust. Billy leans against the door and pushes it closed, making the room even darker. He turns around, but sees only shadows. A streetlamp shines through a high window protected by a security grate, projecting a crisscross pattern of shadows and light everywhere. The room starts to spin.
For the first time in the past four-and-a-half hours, Doc is not getting colder. He stand on a small landing at the foot of the stairs, his eyes blank as he soaks in the relative warmth and lack of wind. He looks up at the door at the top of the stairs to see if someone heard them enter, but it’s difficult to concentrate and his mind drifts. His fingers and toes tingle, and he wiggles them as feeling returns. His face and ears are no longer numb, but ache instead. These must be good signs, he thinks. Each breath fills his body and soul with warmth and he imagines this is what a vacation does for you. Maybe he’ll find out soon, he thinks. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts and hears retching.
Billy is on his knees throwing up. Not sure what to do, Doc does nothing. Billy looks up and wipes his mouth with his sleeve. The crisscross pattern of shadows project onto both of their faces. “Sorry,” he says. “Sorry.”
“You did good, Billy,” Doc says. “You okay now?” Billy nods. Doc starts climbing, and Billy follows him up to the fourth floor. He carefully closes the heavy fire door behind him, preventing it from making any noise. They walk down the corridor to apartment 43. Doc knocks gently and waits. Nothing. He knocks again. Billy starts to speak, but Doc holds up a hand to silence him. Doc puts his ear to the door, then knocks again, longer and louder this time. They hear footsteps and then the sound of a deadbolt and a latch. The door opens. They rush into the apartment without looking.
“Hi, boys! You look cold,” says Tiffany. “I’ll put the kettle on. Want some hot tea?”
“Two hundred sixty-two thousand seven hundred and sixteen,” says Billy, laying the last bill – a battered single – down on the coffee table. An open box of Oreos is in the middle of the table surrounded by stacks of cash. Billy sits on the floor with Tiffany next to him. Doc is stretched out on the couch next to the corn plant. Their coats are draped over an upholstered chair and ottoman set. Three empty deposit bags lay on the floor. Counting went quickly because the cash consisted mostly of packs of hundreds wrapped in gold bands stamped by a New York bank.
Billy grins big. He finishes his tea and rubs his eyes, then grabs a cookie and shoves it into his mouth. Tiffany collects Billy’s and Doc’s empty mugs, and takes them into the kitchen for refills. She wears a delicious smile that neither man misses.
“Tiff looks happy,” says Billy, unfocused eyes directed toward the kitchen door.
“She should,” says Doc. He sits up. “You know, Billy,” he says, trying to get Billy’s attention. Billy’s head is still turned toward the kitchen. “Bill, this is a lot more than we expected. I don’t know—”
“Hey,” Billy says suddenly grabbing a stack of hundreds and examines it. “Why is Benjamin Franklin on money?” His speech is slurred. “He wasn’t a president, right?”
“Neither was Hamilton or Chase,” says Doc, shifting his weight. His voice sounds far off to Billy. “You don’t have to be... Listen, Bill—”
“Here you go, guys!” Tiffany returns holding two mugs. “Tea with milk and sugar for Billy. Straight up for Doc.” She places the mugs on the table and sits across from Doc on the ottoman.
“Thanks.” Doc wraps his left hand around the mug for warmth. He does not drink. “You’re not having anything.”
Tiffany laughs and holds up her bottle of water. “You locals and your tea. Water’s healthier.”
Billy sips delicately at his tea. “Man, I’m bushed. I think I...” His head wobbles, and empty eyes look around the room. “Doc, who’s Chase?” Billy watches his own arm fall and his mug drop to the floor, spilling the tea on the rug. He collapses sideways and his head smacks the wood floor through the thin rug.
Doc looks from Billy to Tiffany. Her face is blank. She is holding Doc’s Tokorov in her right hand. Doc thinks, It’s ugly, all right. He looks her in the eyes. His expression is gentle. His eyes register resignation.
“Reds?” he asks.
“Something like that,” she says and grins. “Where’d you spill the tea?” Then, with mock seriousness, “You better not have ruined the couch. I don’t want to lose my deposit.”
Doc snorts politely. “I’ll tell you, but tell me where the extra money came from. I’m curious.”
She hesitates, figures what the hell. “Big deposits for the bar are expected on New Year’s, St. Paddy’s Day, Fourth of July, that sort of thing. Mitch and Donald launder funds for McNeil’s organization. So that’s when they take the mob money to the bank.” She smiles proudly. “I got the idea when Donald broke his leg.”
“Wish I’d thought of it first,” he says.
“Bet you do,” she says and sits up straighter. “Now drink your tea, sweetie, so I can be on my way.”
Doc picks up the cup with his left hand and blows on the tea. It’s still too hot.
“Drink it!” louder this time. She shakes the gun at him.
Doc smiles at Tiffany with wide eyes like a delighted child. “Don’t you want to know where I dumped the tea?” he asks, and, not waiting for her response, shifts his eyes left toward the corn plant. Tiffany lifts her chin and parts her lips, but reflexively looks toward the plant.
She feels it first, a pressure on the left side of her neck so intense the pain radiates instantly to her face and shoulder. All she sees is dark red. Then she hears the gun as her vision returns and realizes she’s on her back, looking up at the ceiling. Then everything goes away.
Doc stands, Mitch’s gun steady in his right hand. Tiffany’s throat is a mess of blood and flesh, the big bullet severing her left carotid and jugular. She’s on her back, head hideously twisted, legs propped up mid-calf by the ottoman. The spent shell from Mitch’s Colt is on the floor to his right, the Tokorov is on the floor to his left. Doc bends to pick up both and jumps back as Tiffany’s legs kick twice, her right sneaker falling to the floor. Then she is still again. He leaves her like that. She’ll bleed out fast that way, he thinks.
He listens for voices or footsteps, and hears nothing. But he knows his hearing is not so good anymore. In the bathroom he finds a stack of towels that he stuffs around Tiffany’s head and neck to keep the blood from spreading and leaking down to the ceiling below. Satisfied, he puts on his leather gloves and searches the apartment for anything that might link him or Billy to the crime. In the bedroom, he rifles through the two suitcases by the bed. He swipes keys off the dresser and two driver’s licenses from the top drawer. The California license is current but the Texas license expired over three years ago. Neither of the names are hers, but the pictures are close. He finds about seven hundred under some sandals in a shoebox. He stuffs the keys and money into his pockets. He rinses the mugs, drying them with paper towels to prevent leaving prints or saliva, then burns the paper towels and licenses on the stove, washing the ashes down the drain. He wipes down everything he and Billy touched. He leaves nothing to point toward him or Billy.
Doc looks at his watch. He throws the money, the deposit bags, Mitch’s wallet, and the RG and Colt into the plastic bag. He puts on his coat, the Tokorov in his right pocket. He looks down at Billy. He could run, leave Billy to take the rap, but he can not do it. Not to Billy, his only friend in the world.
It takes Doc an hour to hike the two miles to his furnished room on Beacon Street. He drops the Colt and deposit bags into different sewers along the way. He washes up, grabs a bite, puts on some fresh clothes, and throws what few possessions he has into his duffle bag, along with the cash and guns. On the way out of the building, he slips a note under the landlord’s door saying he is moving out unexpectedly for family reasons, and understands he will be forfeiting his deposit. He throws the duffle into his trunk and drives to Tiffany’s, parking in front of the adjacent building. It stopped snowing and the sun, just below the horizon, turns the sky from black to gray. Nearly exhausted, he rides the elevator up four flights to Tiffany’s apartment. Billy is still unconscious. He avoids looking at Tiffany, but cannot ignore the stench of coagulating blood. He half lifts, half drags Billy into a worn office chair with wheels he finds in the spare bedroom. He pushes Billy in the chair out the door to the elevator. The lobby and street are empty this New Year’s morning, and he pushes Billy to his car without incident. Ten minutes later, with Billy snoring in the backseat, Doc heads for the Mass Pike.
They are on I-90 about a half hour from Cleveland and a-fifth of the way to Los Angeles. Good Lovin’ is playing on the radio. Doc thinks about buying a duplex on Venice beach. He can live in one half and rent the other half while taking acting classes. Billy can handle maintenance. “Got to pee,” he mumbles, then more clearly, “Where are we? Where’s Tiff?”
“There’s a rest area coming up,” says Doc. “We can take a piss and get something to eat. I’ve got a story to tell you, my friend.”
BIO: Richard C. Katz was born and raised in Boston. He wrote and published a text book, book chapters and over 50 articles in professional journals, and won four awards for commentaries on science fiction film and television, but only recently has begun writing fiction. He has been a fan of classic and neo-noir in film and text for years. His last crime fiction story, ‘The Oath’, describing a murder at a VA hospital, was published (read as an audio file) on Seth Harwood’s CrimeWav (episode #37) and a shorter version of the tale appears on Darkest Before the Dawn. Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.