(an excerpt from the novel, now available as an e-book)

 

Whatever they’d been doing to the poor bitch, they’d been doing it a long time.

 

Number 402’s brick is going green with mold and the lopsided porch rambles away from its pillars, one corner of it propped up with cement blocks. A tattered chain link dog kennel runs down the side, the cement floor smeared all over with fresh dog shit and dirt. Pike raps three times on the door.

“What do you make of her story?” Rory asks. “About the Ben Ishmaels?”

“You stick your arm into any of these local histories, you’ll come out shit up to your elbow.”

“I could tell you didn’t think much of it.”

“It was her using my daughter as a bookmark I didn’t think much of.” Pike raps on the door again to no more response than he got the first time. He thumbs his glasses up his nose and unholsters his .357.

“We’re starting with the guns out?”

Pike holds a hand up for him to be silent. Movement inside. A scuffle, a crash and the quick harsh rasp of a dog barking. Pike rears back and kicks the door in.

“Should’ve figured that was coming,” Rory says.

The house is a double of Maude’s. Pike takes the dingy hallway in three strides. Rory follows, kicking through mounds of garbage, fumbling the Glock clear of his pants. A huge bald man huddles in a wheelchair at the kitchen table, his eyes wobbling in his head like bulbs of fat. Next to him, a kid with a wispy blonde goatee scratches through a pile of cigarette packs and Black Label cans. Pike plants the muzzle of his .357 about two inches from the kid’s head, but he keeps scrabbling through the trash, oblivious, his brow furrowed in concentration. Then he finds what he’s looking for and spins, holding an electric stun gun at Pike, electricity arcing blue between the metal prongs.

Pike thumbs the .357’s hammer back, unimpressed.

“I’d drop it,” Rory says. “He’s been looking for somebody to shoot all day.” The stun gun clatters on the tile floor and Rory winks at the kid. “Good choice.”

“What do y’all want with us?” The kid’s wearing faded blue jeans and a filthy white T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. “We ain’t got nothing to rob.”

“Nothing?” Pike picks a syringe off the table and tosses it on the floor.

“We ain’t got none left.”

“We ain’t here for your smack.” Pike raps the kid’s forehead with the muzzle of his gun. “We’re here to talk.” He cracks the kid on the forehead again, raising a welt. “Now.”

The kid throws his hands up between the gun and his face. “Jesus, man,” he squawks. “What the fuck do you want to talk about?”

“Start with your name.”

“Bogie.”

“Suits you.” Pike flicks his eyes at the idiot. His wheelchair fidgets back and forth in short jerks and a spit bubble wavers on his mouth like a water puddle in an earthquake. “You?”

“His name’s Wood,” Bogie says. “He don’t talk.”

Wood nods his fat head violently, the fat under his chin jiggling like pudding.

“Where’s the dog?” Pike asks.

“Dog?” Bogie says innocently.

Pike barrel-raps him on top of the head again, spotting the welt with blood. “Jesus!” Bogie shrieks and points across the kitchen. “She’s right there.”

Pike looks. Rory looks. The room stands still.

She’s a smallish black pit bull, a year or so from being a pup. She cowers in a narrow alley between the refrigerator and the grease-crusted stove, whimpering and rasping at the air with her tongue. One of her front legs is twisted impossibly back and she’s bleeding from a ragged gash on top of her head, the floor around her layered with dog blood and shit. Whatever they’ve been doing to the poor bitch, they’ve been doing it a long time.

Rory tosses his Glock into his left hand and slaps Wood across the face with a hard right palm. Wood’s head rollicks furiously on his fat plug of a torso and tears spring into his eyes.

Pike flashes him an appreciative grin. “You’re picking up on this.”

Rory stares Wood in the face. Wood snuffles and chokes, trying to hold back his tears, but he can’t. His jaw drops, his eyes squint shut and he cuts loose with a long wet wail. Rory reaches back to let him have another palm.

“Hold up,” Bogie screams hysterically. “Hold up.”

Rory looks at him.

“That ain’t right. He ain’t but a kid, man. Up here.” Bogie taps his temple. “He’s retarded. He don’t know no better.”

Rory turns to him. “You do?”

“Hey, man, we was only having fun.” Bogie’s face is pinched and cringing. “No big deal.”

“Let’s see it.”

“All right, man.” Bogie shuffles on the floor for the stun gun, his eyes fixed on Rory. “Watch the dog,” he says, and crawls to her on all fours through the shit and the blood. Rory watches the dog. Bogie punches a button and jams the probes into the dog’s ribs.

Her jaw gapes and her head vibrates, flinging dog blood and spit in stringy arcs across the kitchen. Her eyes roll in her sockets, her broken paws pound an electrified tap dance on the kitchen tile. Wood’s round face explodes in a huge smile and he bangs on the arm of his wheelchair, erupting in a high-pitched screech of joy.

Bogie pulls the stun gun back. The dog collapses on the floor like her bones have disintegrated under her skin. “See, it ain’t no big deal.” Bogie stands and his eyes flinch up at Rory’s hand. “I kind of think she likes it.”

Rory swallows thickly and his gun hand drops limply to his side, the way a man run through in a duel might drop his sword.

“You knew my daughter.” Pike’s voice is low and level. “Her name was Sarah, and we know you knew her.”

Bogie scratches the back of his head. “No, I don’t believe I do.”

Pike swings his .357 on the dog and pulls the trigger. The muzzle blast haloes his fist in fire and the bitch’s head sprays blood vapor and bone chunks. Woods shrieks wildly and smacks at his ears as though the boom of the handgun is an insect swarm he can slap away. Pike levels the .357 at his chest. “Your friend’s next,” he says to Bogie. “Then you. I’m looking forward to you.”

Bogie’s chin bobs up and down frantically. “She was a hooker. Used to live across the street. We had some of the same friends. She come over a couple times and partied with us. She’s dead now.”

“What else?”

“Nothing else. I barely knew her.”

“You said you had mutual friends. Who?”

“Bitch named Dana.”

“I know Dana. Where do we find her?”

Bogie hesitates, weighing his answer. Rory takes the stun gun out of his hand. He turns it over and finds the power button. “Hey, man,” Bogie says, eyeing him. “There ain’t no need for that. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

Rory grabs the top of Bogie’s head in one hand and rams the probes against his throat with the other, crushing in his windpipe. “I know where her mom lives,” Bogie coughs out. “We broke in once, stole her TV. I can take you there.”

Pike holsters his .357 and pulls a cigarette out of his pocket. He lights it with his brass lighter and snaps his lighter shut. Then nods at Rory.

Rory punches the power button. Bogie’s head lurches forward, then back. The tendons in his neck hop and squirm to the tune of the juice and he tries to scream, but he can’t. He gurgles on his saliva for a second or two. Then collapses on the shit-covered floor, pawing his neck and coughing, his face the color of a bruise.

“You’re coming with us to Dana’s mother’s,” Pike says. “If she ain’t there I’m gonna shoot you in the face and dump you in a ditch.”

Bogie hacks at the saliva in his windpipe, his face blotched all over with vicious red patches and all sickly white underneath. He tries to talk, can’t.

“You understand?” Pike kicks him in the ribs with the point of his cowboy boot. Not lightly.

Bogie yelps and claws his side. “I can’t leave Woods. He can’t take care of himself.”

“Sure he can.” Pike boots the dog’s food bowl across the room. It knocks up against Wood’s wheelchair, sloshing runny shitlike dog food onto the floor. “Some food for you, you dumb motherfucker.”

Wood’s big face splits with sobs like a canvas awning splitting under the weight of a rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

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