LIE DOWN WITH DOGS - JASON DUKE
Dog cries carry on the raw wind.
My breath, fast and heavy, parts the shadows on the cold night air.
I hide in the shadows, at the side of a 24/7 Mexican fast food joint. The Hilbertos, Albertos, Robertos, that are a dime a dozen throughout Phoenix – I don’t give a shit which.
Across the street, I hear dogs whine and bark at the place I’ve been staking out for the past twenty minutes, called Alpha Dog. I’m here because of another man’s wife, and a dog. I regrip my .45 Glock, squeeze tighter. I see my breath, squat down, lower my head, cup a hand over my mouth.
It all starts with a dog: a one year-old female Heinz-57 Pointer I adopt for my dead Army buddy’s wife. Her name is Pollyanna and she gives good head. The dog pisses on the floor, I don’t give a shit, as much as Pollyanna loves the mutt, she bitches about it pissing on the floor, until one day I come home and Pollyanna’s crying because the dog ran away.
I duck walk backward into the shadows.
I adopt the dog from the Arizona Humane Society. I read about animal euthanasia out of a pamphlet while I wait. Some of the different methods of animal euthanasia include Somulose and Tributame injections, carbon monoxide poisoning, snapping the neck, and putting a bullet through the head.
I meet Pollyanna while her husband’s in Iraq.
His name is Sergeant Thoman.
He brags about her all the time. Then he gets home on his 15-day leave, and breaks the news that he and Pollyanna get hitched. He tells me how he’s on his laptop all the time e-mailing her and instant messaging her.
He has photos of Pollyanna, or him and Pollyanna together, or Pollyanna with her friends, with cute little pussy-whipped frames painted in faggoty flowers and hearts.
I steal one of the photos from him and jerk off to it the whole time he’s gone.
I tell him before he leaves back to Iraq: “You’re a lucky man, buddy, but you should’ve waited until you got back for good.”
He asks me why, and I say: “A girl like that, sometimes they don’t wanna wait around, you know?”
He says it’s different with Pollyanna, so I smile and end it at that.
Two months later, I get word that Thoman’s part of a convoy of Strykers transporting some troops from Camp Taji to Camp Liberty. He’s pulling guard in the left gunner’s hatch, they’re passing through a hot grid for sniper activity, one of the Strykers breaks down, they exit the Strykers to pull security, and bang. The sniper knows what he’s doing and hits Thoman in the side just under his armpit, where the side plates don’t cover, and the round bounces around inside his body armor like ping pong.
I call Pollyanna before his body is cold. I offer my condolences, offer a shoulder to cry on, dry her tears. We go to Vegas about a month later. She’s a widow on the rebound who’s been married only two months to a husband she barely knew. Pollyanna has nowhere to go and no one to turn to, so I fill the gap. I pay for everything; throw down two grand easy for a three night stay – room at the Hilton; $200 dollar dinner at Ruth’s Chris and $80 dollar bottle of Chardonnay; lots of gambling; lots of drinking and shows; $40 bucks to get into the VooDoo Lounge at the Rio and $400+ for a bottle of Cristal and seats in the V.I.P booth.
She sinks her head into my chest and I wrap an arm around her, she looks up into my eyes and we kiss, then she says, “Tell me a story... something about you, about your past.”
I look out of the large glass panes behind the booth, enjoying the Vegas view, considered one of the best on the strip. All the lights of every casino and high rise has a fuzzy glow and sway back and forth because I’m lit up from a night’s worth of drinking.
I think about it for a moment and say, “I used to work security for a Macy’s... you know, catching shop lifters and shit like that. Did it for years. The last year or so, I was struggling to pay bills, keep my head above water, so it was important I didn’t lose my job, otherwise I’d be fucked. I had been sick for about a week this one time... had some kind of cold or flu I couldn’t get over. I couldn’t take any time off work because I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t afford any medicine because I didn’t have the money, so I went to a nearby Walmart, grabbed a thing of cold medicine off the shelf, ripped open the package, and stuck the bottle in my pocket.”
“So you stole it,” she smiles.
“Yeah, I stole it.”
“Then what happened?” she says.
“I got busted trying to leave the store, spent a night in jail, and ended up losing my job.”
“Awwww,” she says and rubs the inside of my thigh, “poor baby. I know how to make it better.”
I stalk across the street, hunched low, gun at the ready. Alpha Dog is small, no bigger than the Mexican joint, with the same ugly brown stucco and red tile roof. The windows and door are barred, everything’s locked up tight.
I creep along the side, through the shadows, follow a narrow driveway between the shelter and a foreclosed shop for sale that are even more common in Phoenix than the Mexican joints. When I get the dog from the humane society, one of the workers tells me a story about a pit bull at a no-kill shelter that’s been locked in a tiny cage for over 12 years. Now it’s fucked in the head, spends all day slamming its body against its cage, and everyone’s scared of messing with it.
The driveway leads to a small parking lot behind the shelter. A floodlight over the back door lights the lot up like an afternoon sun. I lurk at the edge of the building, where the reach of the light ends and blurs into shadow then darkness.
Pollyanna is a complete mess ever since the dog runs off. Every time I go to touch her, she withdraws and pulls away. She had a dog when she was married to Thoman, but it got loose and got hit by a car. I adopt the new dog for Pollyanna from the humane society and when it runs away she swears she loves it, piss and all.
I snatch up a rock, chuck it at the light, smash the glass case. Sparks explode and fizzle through the air.
I look at the piece of paper with Matt Sherman’s address.
Sherman is a dead-beat dad who’d rather smoke meth than take care of his kids. I hate pricks like this, so when Sherman’s brother-in-law hires me to track him down and persuade him to pay up, I’m more than happy to take the job.
The Monroe Street Abbey off of 4th Avenue and Monroe Street in downtown Phoenix is the rusty steel grate in the gutter that collects all the grime and shit as it passes through to the sewers – a hollowed-out square building around a gravel courtyard with a small island of grass and a few trees.
The residents are prisoners of their social security checks. The rest are the gutter trash hoi polloi of society, live here because the $465 a month rent means more money for dope and booze and the hookers one block up strutting their stuff on Van Buren Street.
Sherman doesn’t expect me.
He answers the door, sees me looming in the threshold, and the shock registered across his face says he knows what comes next.
Sherman is bone-thin, long greasy black hair, thin goatee, sunken face full of rings and studs. His ribcage pokes out. Like his skeleton is a convict doing twenty-to-life of hard time, trying to break free.
At the rate he’s going, the life sentence won’t stick.
I kick in the door before Sherman has a chance to close it. I charge inside, nail him square in the nuts. He crumples to the stained carpet riddled with cigarette burns; screams, holds his balls. I pull out a roll of duct tape, tear off a piece, and slap it over his mouth.
I ask him: “You ever heard the moral of the mousetrap?” but he cries, and I tell him: “Don’t be a little bitch, man up, you did this to yourself… you had this coming.”
I yank a temple piercing from his face, and he screams through the tape: “A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. ‘Time to eat,’ the mouse thought, but couldn’t believe it when he saw it was a mousetrap. The mouse was scared shitless, so he ran out to the farmyard and started shouting, ‘There’s a mousetrap in the house!’ The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, ‘Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is life and death to you, but I don’t give a rat’s ass.’ Get it? Stay with me. That’s not the moral. She said she couldn’t be bothered.”
I yank out the other temple piercing, and he screams some more. I pinch his eyebrow stud between my fingers: “The mouse turned to the pig and said, ‘There’s a mousetrap in the house!’ but the pig said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there ain’t shit I can do about it except pray, so I’ll keep you in my prayers.’ The mouse turned to the cow and said, ‘There’s a mousetrap in the house!’ and the cow told the mouse to go fuck himself.”
I rip the stud from his eyebrow, spray out a little squirt of blood. He screams hard, starts to choke and gurgle: “The mouse returned to the house alone to face the farmer’s trap, its little head down, bummed out none of the other animals would help him. That night, a sound was heard throughout the house... like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The wife ran to see what was caught, but it was dark as shit, and didn’t see it was the tail of a rattlesnake, so she got bit. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, she returned home with a fever, and we all know how you treat a fever... with chicken soup, right?”
I finger his bull ring, flicking it with my fingers. His eyes grow wider: “But the wife didn’t get better, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her round the clock, and to feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The bitch still didn’t get better and she died, a shitload of people came to the funeral, and the farmer slaughtered the cow for food. And the mouse...” I pat him on the cheek, stand up, looking down at him: “...the mouse looked upon everything from his crack in the wall with great sadness.”
I post missing dog posters everywhere, waste fifty bucks on the posters at Kinkos, but no-one ever pays attention to missing dog posters, so I spend another fifty bucks on more posters advertising a $500 dollar reward. This will get someone’s attention, I figure, because money talks and bullshit walks, and I know people will eat their children for money. I put giant dollar signs across the top and bottom of the posters, figuring this will grab people’s attention even more.
The back door of the shelter opens and a young brunette chick, maybe 19 or 20, in daisy dukes and flannel tied off at her midriff like she’s fresh off the farm, pokes her head out and looks around. I rush the door, she sees me, lets out a little shriek. She tries to slam the door shut, but I’m faster and throw my shoulder into the door.
The dogs are going crazy now. Alpha Dog sounds like a fucking insane asylum for dogs. I can barely hear anything above their cacophony. I knock her back on her ass, bulldoze inside. Daisy Dukes screams as I wave the gun around, jumps back up and runs inside a room.
I leave Sherman’s apartment after collecting the cash. I’m on my way back to the office when my cell phone rings. The guy on the other end says he saw one of the missing dog posters; says he knows where I can find the dog.
“For $500 I can tell you where your dog’s at... meet me at Pink Cabaret off Glendale Avenue just past...” and I cut him off and say I know the place.
“Good,” the guy says. “Meet me there tonight... bring the cash and I’ll tell you where to find her.”
The place is low-key. Judging by the handful of cars in the parking lot, doesn’t seem to have a lot of business. A parked jet black ’87 Camaro has a bumper sticker: ‘Fuck Off, This Message Brought To You By The First Amendment.’
The girls are sexy, not drop-dead gorgeous sexy, but definitely sexy. I’ve blown both kinds of wads here once or twice.
The cabaret sits just past the overpass and railroad tracks at Grand Avenue and Northern Avenue. There’s a portico out front, pink neon lights along the trim of the roof. Everything looks new and clean. The hot pink neon sign in graffiti sans-serif and the brown marble paneling is a veneer of high-class and high-dollar.
I walk inside.
Mirrored walls; deep plush chairs and tiny oval tables; hot pink dance poles and creamy white stages; flat plasma TV screens; fully stocked bar; twin mezzanine balconies.
I scan around, take a seat at the bar.
Middle-aged low-lifes wave dollar bills at the dancers. Most of the crowd is young and thugged out in hip-hop fashion. I hate these pricks the most. Some wear suits and sit up on the balconies getting lap dances.
“You the guy looking for the dog?”
I feel a hand on my shoulder, turn around. Standing there is a middle-aged slob, with the worst outbreak of herpes on his lips I’ve ever seen.
Dickie licks his lips, picks at his mouth. I shrug off his hand, but he shoves it back at me for a shake.
“You gotta be kidding,” I say.
“What?” he says sheepishly.
“I’m not shaking your fucking hand... you need to get that shit looked at.”
“Whatever,” he withdraws his hand. “You have the money?”
I pull a wad of rolled twenties out of my pocket, pass it under the bar to Dickie, and tell him: “You better be for real. If not, I’m gonna fuck you up bad.”
He sizes me up for the first time, swallows, then says, “Don’t worry, it’s legit, your dog’s at a place called Alpha Dog.”
“How do you know this?” I want to know, and he says he’s been there before, saw the dog there firsthand with his own two eyes.
I tell him to hand over his drivers license: “If it checks out, you get it back, and if it doesn’t check out, I pay you a visit and fuck you up.”
He hesitates, sighs, reluctantly gives his drivers license to me, then says: “Don’t worry, it’ll check out.”
I have second thoughts about my whole approach. I think maybe I got it all wrong. I wave the gun around, the dogs go ape shit, Daisy Dukes screams her head off and runs inside the room. The place is rank with stale dog, dog hairs float around in the air, get in my mouth, and I swear I hear moaning, like some chick in mid-orgasm getting her brains fucked out.
I move toward the room. A man runs out, buck naked, with a rock hard dick flopping up and down. The prick yells at me. He wants to know what the hell is going on, and I shoot him in the leg. He drops to the floor, screaming. Daisy Dukes is screaming. All the dogs are in a frenzy, when two more doors open and gorgeous naked chicks pour out of the rooms, all screaming their heads off, too.
I look inside the first room. Daisy Dukes cowers in the corner, holding the dog in her arms. Camera equipment and microphones are set up all over the room. Dog kennels line the walls. Alpha Dog is a freak show menagerie of dogs.
I walk up to the girl. She begs me not to shoot, please don’t kill her, for the love of God, just let her go. I shove her away with my boot, grab the dog, point the gun at her and hold it there.
The hallway is a bedlam of screaming naked chicks fleeing every which way.
I drop the gun to my side, do an about face, walk out into the hall with the dog tucked under my arm. I look inside one of the other rooms. Tethered to a post is a miniature horse or pony, I can’t tell which.
I take the dog home, it licks my face, happy to be back, happy that I found it. The dog shakes, so I set it down, it lies down in the corner, as Pollyanna runs in crying tears of joy. She scoops the dog in her arms. She squeezes it tight, kisses its face. The dog pisses down her front. Pollyanna drops the dog on the floor, and starts in on her bitching all over again.
BIO: Jason Duke is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and served 15 months in Iraq as part of OIF 07-09. He was borderline before going to Iraq, but now he's totally fucked in the head. He mostly misses killing shit and blowing shit up. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Spinetingler Magazine, Pulp Pusher, Flash Fiction Offensive, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, 3AM Magazine, Suspect Thoughts, Shred of Evidence, Outsider Ink, The Hiss Quarterly, Dungeon Magazine, The Murder Hole, A Cruel World. He’s also branched out into horror with his story “Route Cobra” which can be found at House of Horror.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago