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Sheba Was A Good Dog
I found Sheba on the median on Camelback when I was living in Scottsdale back in ‘86. About a hundred and twenty degrees one day in August and I’m coming home from work in a Budweiser daze. Traffic’s horrible and I was more or less drunk. Just before rigor mortis set in, I saw movement in the corner of the windshield, and there she was, like she was looking for just the right car.
She had a litter somewhere, because her teats were flopping around almost to the ground, and she really needed to be suckled. But the pups were nowhere to be found. This big, ginger colored dog with a green collar standing there, giving the bean eye to every driver that went by. And every one of those sons of bitches ignored her. I pulled up next to her, and she hit me with those gold colored eyes, and I crumbled. I didn’t even think about it. I opened the door and said, “Get in girl,” and she did, like she’d been waiting there for me all day.
She crawled across my lap, crushing my privates like it was her right to, sat down in the passenger side and looked around like she belonged there. Reclaiming what had been lost to her somehow. I swear I could almost hear her say, “Let’s go.” Once she was in the truck, and we started to roll along, I got a good look at her. She was really dirty; she’d been on the streets for a good while. Her paws were big, about as big as one of my hands, and I’m pushing six-four. She probably weighed close to a hundred pounds, or at least I knew she would be once I got some food into her. She was real ribby-looking. Easy to see that nursing the pups was taking it out of her.
Her tongue hung out like some kind of huge dead fish, heaving up and down in time to her panting. You could tell that she would be in real trouble out there on that island in the hundred and twenty before long. I got to her in time. She started to whine and paw at the door like she wanted out, so I pulled over at a Circle K and got an old bucket out of the bed of the pickup and filled it with water from the stand. She stuck her head down in there and slapped back about a gallon.
When we got back in the truck and started rolling again, she went right back to whining and pawing, and I realized she wanted the pups. I thought about where I picked her up on Camelback, and theorized she went out on the island to forage for food thrown from cars, and was stranded when the traffic got too heavy.
The litter had to be under cover somewhere on the shoulder between the street and the retaining wall behind the retail strip. I decided that we’d come back at dusk when the traffic was down and temps had fallen into the lower teens.
Which is what we did. But, we never found the litter. All we found was one little carcass that had been mauled by something, all torn open and sad looking. The rest of the pups were just flat gone from the den under the retaining wall behind a big acacia. She nuzzled around on it for a while, whimpering and making that keening sound that dogs make. Her milk started to run, and I had to open the tailgate to get her in the bed. She had to finish the ride back there because I didn’t want stale dog milk in the cab of my truck in that Scottsdale heat.
I got Sheba home to the little adobe place I was renting with my girlfriend, JayLynn. The dog let me wash her down in the yard with Breck Baby Shampoo. Stood stock still without a bark or a yip. I wet her down good and worked up a lot of dark, dirty foam. When she was clean and dry, her color really popped. A golden red and the only word that comes to mind for it is “ginger”. She was a beautiful animal.
There was something noble and sad about her. You could read her soul right away—brave, proud, strong. Decent. Neither aggressive nor defensive. She did her best to do right by the pups, but that wasn’t enough. You could tell they must have been hungry, because she was hungry. Like I said, all ribby-looking. It had been a sad life. You have to ask who would let a good dog like that just go out into this world, where people don’t care? You have to wonder about somebody like that. Or, maybe there’s no wondering at all—you know the truth about that person is standing there on four legs looking at you, trying to see if you’re going to be like all the others.
JayLynn came out to watch me wash the dog, which I already knew would be called Sheba .
“Where you get that dog at?” she said.
“Down on Camelback at Scottsdale Road . Standin’ out on the median. You can see she’s had some pups.”
“Keepin’er?” JayLynn asked. Those two words said everything you’d need to know about how JayLynn felt about the dog. She couldn’t see what kind of dog she was. Couldn’t see Sheba’s inside- the part you might say was invisible, which we all have. The invisible part. It’s weird to be talking about ‘seeing’ the ‘invisible’ part of a dog, but I also am willing to bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.
All JayLynn could see was some-thing to take care of. Some-thing that would maybe get in her way, or mess up her things. Or maybe, compete with her for attention, which it seemed she never got enough of. Whatever, just by asking that question, I knew exactly how it was going to be about me keeping that dog. And I knew that JayLynn would sooner or later boil it down to ‘it’s either me or that dog’.
And I knew exactly how that would work out, if it finally come down to that.
* * *
I used to hang around all those little beer and naked places out between Scottsdale and Phoenix back when there was a ‘between’. Nowadays, you can’t tell when you’ve left Phoenix and gone into Scottsdale . Some of those little joints actually pretended to some kind of high purpose, like there was an art form to people getting naked for the entertainment of other people. One of those places was The Night Train, and I was a more or less regular.
This was even before the topless bars come in, where you just walk in and naked chicks are all over the place. No buildup, no drama, no foreplay, no nothing, just naked women walking around. Like nowadays.
Back then, there was still a little bit of the old time strip club going on, and the women were entertainers, or at least that was how it was scammed off. Legitimate entertainers working in a slightly unusual area of self expression. Some even referred to themselves as ‘ecdysiasts’. A dictionary word if there ever was one.
JayLynn tended toward ecdysiast.
She was featured on Tuesday and Thursday matinees, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights beginning at ten for the evening show. She was making an enormous amount of money, something like fifteen-hundred a week. The first time I saw her act, I felt like someone rolled a sixteen pound ball down the alley right into my gut. She was fearless, beautiful, and built like a stripper. God makes football players, baseball players, golfers, tennis pros, track stars, swimmers…and strippers. There are people who are built the right way for their jobs, and JayLynn was built the right way for hers.
Hair as black and shiny as a crow’s wing, eyes like blue ice. Long ass legs, slender arms, tight butt, chesty.
Stripper. A God given talent.
And she was fierce. When she first come out on stage, she would go all along the edge, looking down into the audience, making eye contact with all the customers, and making sure they got their eyeballs full. Then, she’d stop the band, and she would look right at one guy, and take off a shoe and toss it out to him, and then the other, and toss it to another. Then she’d look ‘em in the eye again in a way that said, “Wanna see more?”
And as the act went on, and she moved through the various layers of clothing and got down to the lingerie she just got more focused because this was the part she really liked. She loved to see the jaws drop and the faces go slack and loose when they fell into that trance all men go into around beautiful naked women.
She had pure, raw power. And then, naked except for her g-string and some invisible pasties, the band would go into the final number, James Brown’s I Feel Good, and when the song got to the line I feel nice/like sugar and spice…she would throw down some moves that I know had every guy in the place hard enough to drill rock.
Fearless. And she came home with me the first night I met her.
* * *
Because I was a regular at the Train, they found out I was an electrician, and they’d use me whenever they had trouble. As a matter of fact, they didn’t pay their bill one month, and I helped Tommy Ianni, the old wise guy owner, rig up a hijack line to keep the place powered up for a few days until he could get squared away. Bookies got all his cash, and I didn’t like the idea of the Train closing down, so I ran the jack line and showed Tommy how to goof the meter.
Anyway, right after her first night, JayLynn went back to her dressing room, flipped on her mirror lights, and fried a circuit. Tommy came out and got me from the bar. I wasn’t too drunk yet, so I went out to the truck, got my tools and multi-meter, and went back and met JayLynn, still hanging around in this gauzy robe thing and nothing underneath.
I did my best to act normal, under the circumstances, just going about my business. But it was kind of like going into a church after Mass, and finding Jesus lounging around with a Coke and cigarette.
She could have just thrown her clothes on and gone home, but she stayed around, watching while I tested outlets and light sockets and figured things out. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do anything that night, so I turned to leave but the door was shut. I turned again, and there was JayLynn laid out on the couch with her head back on a pillow and that robe open all the way down, and what two hundred and fifty guys had just paid to see was right in front of me.
She said, “I hope you don’t mind. I’m leaving my boyfriend, and I think you’re just the guy to help me out.”
* * *
Like I said, nowadays a stripper is just someone willing to walk around with no clothes on in a room full of guys. They’re not really ‘strippers’ at all, though the term has stuck. I think of them as just professional naked people. Some of them specialize in prancing around a pole and doing all kinds of stunts on it, but for the most part, it’s just a bunch of kids from bad homes looking for easy money.
In JayLynn’s day, the late 70s, there was still that show biz aspect to it. But one thing that couldn’t be escaped was that for a good stripper, the sun is going to shine bright and hard for a while, and then it will be night time. For good.
JayLynn’s sun burnt as hot and bright as any that ever stood over Scottsdale , and by the end, she was pulling down ten grand a month, with her regular gig at the Train, and then her special appearances. Some guys came out from El Lay and wanted her to do some sex scenes for videocassettes, and they waved some serious cash at her. I told her that if she wanted to go fuck homo’s in pony tails she could kiss my ass good-bye and don’t let the screen door slap ya in the ass.
So, she told the guys from El Lay to go home, forget about it. Then she called Tommy Ianni.
“Tommy, honey. Hi. This is JayLynn Downey. Tommy, I’m quittin’ honey. The crowds are getting’ thinner ever week. I’m quittin’ while the quittin’s good. And no, don’t EVEN try and talk me out of it.”
I was standing there watching her when she hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard, and wasn’t even sure I really wanted her to quit. Saying good-bye to ten g’s a month is a lot to say good-bye to. She had a huge smile on her face. She was as happy as I’d ever seen her, if I’ve ever seen her happy at all. She came over to me and put all those curves into my hands and told me she felt better than she had in years.
“Baby, I’m going to take my savings and start a nail salon. I’ve got almost twenty G’s. That’s a good start. And we can start you a contracting business. It’s time for us to break out.”
“OK,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
* * *
Strippers are people with lots of personal problems. You’d never know it to see one of them work the stage. There’s so much about them that’s what you see, you never really think about what you don’t. There was never no such thing as a stripper who was all right in the head. Or the heart. I guess it just takes a lot out of them, I don’t know. And it doesn’t take too long to figure that out, either. About one or two nights should tell you everything you would ever need to know about what kind of relationship its going to be. One of the flesh and only the flesh. Which is what you get into it for in the first place, isn’t it?
The heart don’t play no part, and the head don’t either.
Cunning? A stripper’s got cunning to burn. Book smarts? Some have it, but not too much, because that would just get in the way of getting naked. Too much smarts, and they’d just think their way through to the end of what they’re doing, and realize they’re getting naked in front of a roomful of drunks, and how do you turn that into a career?
JayLynn would be fine for two or three days at a time, then something, some little thing would go off and she’d be a raging screaming banshee bitch.
“Where have you been?” she’d say.
“At six o’clock ? Dwight, you were WORKING at 6 o’clock on a Monday night? Why so late? Why don’t you go ahead and tell me the real truth? It’s not like I don’t know what’s going on. You think I don’t know what’s going on out there, how it really is? Do you think you can just keep on getting away with THIS SHIT FOREVER? CAUSE YOU CAIN’T, CAUSE I WON’T PUT UP WITH IT!”
“With what, me workin’?”
I’m ashamed to mention this part coming up here, but its all part of the trip, so I’m going to go ahead and tell it. She beat my ass. That’s right. She…beat…my…ass. And although she was probably five-ten and a hundred and forty, I am six-four and TWO-forty. I was never in a bar room punch up that wasn’t over in oh, about a minute and a half. And yet I let this woman beat me like a bag.
Why, it might be asked. And the answer is what came next. “Oh, baby, oh, Dwight, I am so sorry! I am so wrong, what is wrong with me? How could I treat you that-a-way? I love you so much.” And while this was going on, the clothes were coming off and she’d be throwing off heat like the exhaust from a ten ton A/C unit in mid-summer. And all over me. Clothes ripping off, her salty tears in my mouth, lips and tongue sealed over mine, then the boobs and the all the rest happening all at once. Begging me to take her this way and that.
She was a drug, pure and simple. Hell to pay, but the high was like no other. Touching her flesh was like seeing God. After one of those make-up sessions, my mind would be as clear and empty as the water I once saw along a shore line down in the Cayman Islands . All worry, all sorrow, all regret, all fear, gone. For a while, maybe even several minutes, who knows? But it seemed to be worth it.
And when I could pick my head up off my pillow, or the floor, or wherever we happened to be when the explosion went off, I’d look over at her, and she’d be sitting there naked with a lit cigarette in her mouth and her foot crossed across her thigh trimming her toenails. Whatever had hit her before the whole scene went off would be gone, and it would be like nothing ever happened, and it was the first day we met, and we didn’t really know each other that well.
* * *
By the time I picked Sheba off the median, JayLynn and me had been cohabitating eight years. Nails’n More by JayLynn, her shop, was successful, and her clientele seemed drawn to the fact that she was an ex-stripper. Most of them seemed to be involved to some degree in that kind of thing themselves. She posted old glamour shots of herself from back in the day, autographed programs and posters, and pictures of herself with famous baseball players, actors and like that.
My business was in an ongoing state of either impending success or failure, depending on how you looked at it. JayLynn and I hadn’t had any kind of sex in some time, though I did occasionally take in a porn video at home when she was at the shop, or buy a hooker ever now and then.
We hadn’t had Sheba around but a week or two when I come home one day and JayLynn is waiting for me in the living room with a bloody bandage on her arm and Sheba on a chain in the yard.
Just as I walked in, she picked up the remote and killed volume on her favorite show, Wheel of Fortune.
“You’re takin’ that animal to the pound TOMORROW,” she said.
“Whoa! Hang on a minute now,” I said, “let’s tap the brake pedal here a little bit and talk about things. Why’m I taking Sheba to the pound?”
She didn’t say anything, but showed me a rip in her forearm, repaired by a row of tiny black stitches against the reddish brown of the sterilizing solution used to clean the skin.
“Uh, what happened?”
“I was letting her eat in the kitchen and she started getting kibbles all over the floor. So I picked them all up and put them back in the dish, and she did it again, so I picked them up again, and whacked her snout with a newspaper like you’re supposed to, and she just reached up and took a bite out of me. So I collared her, took her out in the yard, and chained her up and went to town on her. No dog’s gonna bite me.”
Knowing JayLynn’s taste for violence, I got a little scared and went out to look at Sheba , who immediately laid her ears down and started bowing and whining and wagging her tail. I checked her over, and she didn’t seem the worse for wear. She was going about one-ten now, and was pretty stout.
I went back in. “Look hon’, this dog’s been treated bad. One thing you don’t do with a dog you don’t know very well is mess with feeding time. Just wait till she’s done, then clean up. And just put her food on the back step. That way, nothing gets messed up.”
“Aren’t you gonna take it to the pound?”
“No, I ain’t gonna take HER to the pound. She’s here to stay.”
I went out for a beer that night with some of my buddies, and took Sheba with me to ride in the bed of the pickup. It was fall in the desert, and she stood back there as we rode along, looking at the yellow desert moon coming up over Camelback Mountain , and it was plain to see she was as happy as a dog can be.
When we got home, the bedroom door was closed and my pillows and other things were on the floor outside.
* * *
Next time was a little more serious. JayLynn had spotted a big gila monster in the yard, and was scared of it, and for some reason, much as she seemed to dislike Sheba , she didn’t want her out in the yard where she could mess with it, so she let her in the house.
And of course, Sheba took a big dump and got herself thrown out of the house, but first JayLynn had to do the one thing you NEVER do with a dog-rub its nose in its own waste while swatting with newspaper. Whoever started that one should get the all time dumb-ass award for bad ideas. Of course, Sheba didn’t do anything but defend herself; one, I am sure, of many, many such times in her life when she was forced to do so. But she bit the shit out of JayLynn in both the forearms, and then kind of rampaged around the house, tearing shit up.
Somehow, JayLynn got her out of the house and back out in the yard. When I got home, Sheba was standing by her kennel looking alert, but went into her greeting routine as soon as she saw me. She had blood all around her mouth. I checked her out, but could find no wounds on her, just blood, meaning she’d killed something. I looked around, and finally found the gutted, mangled carcass of one of the biggest, ugliest Gila’s I’ve ever seen.
How she managed to kill that thing without getting herself hurt, I’ll never know, but I would love to see the film of it in progress.
When I went inside, JayLynn’s mother Jaquie was there, and her sister, Jolene was too. They all looked at me accusingly, like I’d programmed the dog to do the dirty work.
“Dwight, when are you going to understand that dog is going to seriously hurt somebody and take it to the pound?” said Jaquie through clouds of Kent cigarette smoke exhaled as she spoke. She pointed a pair of gloss red nails holding the burning butt tipped with scarlet lipstick like a weapon. Jaquie still considered herself to be in her daughter’s league and wore WAY too much makeup, died her hair jet black and wore leopard skin pumps with pegged slacks and aqua colored leather jackets with big shoulder pads and too many zippers. To say I fucking hated her states the case too mildly.
Basically, she was JayLynn thirty years in the future.
Jolene chimed in with similar shit. I didn’t hate her as much as the mother, and would not at all have minded nailing her ass, because she was a pretty good copy of her sister, but just a copy, nonetheless. “Dwight, if you don’t do something, we’re calling animal control.” And then she dropped her ashes into a non-existent ashtray, onto the floor. Her sister didn’t flinch, and I made up my mind right there I wasn’t going to do a goddamned thing.
* * *
A few days later, more of the same, only now Sheba had growled and bared her teeth at the mother and the sister when they were over at our house minding someone else’s business. Actually, she growled, bared her teeth, snapped and jumped up at the mother, and then attacked her from behind when she turned. Jaquie went down with Sheba coming over the top of her and the two sisters had beaten Sheba off with a ball bat and a tennis racket.
When I arrived, Animal Control was there, leading Sheba out of the yard with one of those lasso things around her neck. All three women were standing on the porch like a bunch of dumbasses.
“Take her off the goddamned leash right now!” I said.
“Sir, this dog is dangerous and needs to be taken in for evaluation.” Said the dyke in the brown City of Scottsdale Animal Control uniform. Dykes are always involved with animals. Why is that?
“She is MY dog, and I will take care of MY dog.” I said.
All three of them up on the porch started together all at once. “Dwight, if you could take care of YOUR dog, then blah blah blah …”
I’d about had it with their shit. Sheba was going through her submissive greeting routine with me, yelping to be let loose, and in general it was a female melt down of the first degree. We had a couple dykes from Animal Control, we had a scared, pissed off female dog, and we had three people on the porch that all looked like off duty strippers. I was in hell.
I went to the main dyke and locked eyes with her. “Look, Ma’am. I am the owner of that dog and I will take care of her. If I can’t, then I will call you myself, and you can come and have her.”
The dyke’s eyes darted around in her head like goldfish in a tank for half a minute, then she said, “If there is one more complaint call on this dog, then we WILL come out and take this animal into custody, no questions asked. There is already a pretty thick file on her, and I don’t think there’ll be any objections from the higher ups. Do I make myself clear?”
* * *
Fall in the desert. Doves cooing from citrus groves. Soft wind coming across the miles of prickly pear, acacia, creosote and saguaro. The moon’s a piece of silver jewelry hung in the turquoise sky at dawn. I walked out to the truck with my .22 rifle and a box of shells, went over to Sheba ’s kennel and threw the leather leash on her. She was excited about an outing, and gleefully bowed and stretched and wagged her tail. She jumped into the cab of the truck and took her place riding shotgun.
I drove way out toward the White Tanks, where I knew there were some side tracks seldom visited. It took a good while to get out there, but traffic was low on a Sunday, and once we started getting out to the Reserve, we saw no one at all except a bunch of guys on bicycles.
I bumped down one dusty side track then turned on another. I was getting butterflies in my stomach real bad, but I knew I had to go on. Wasn’t nobody going to take care of Sheba but me. Finally, I pulled over, parked, and let the dog out of the car. I slammed the door shut. It made an odd ringing sound in the absolute desert silence. Sheba stood looking at me with a smile on her face and her tongue hanging out with the leash trailing away from her.
“C’mon, girl,” I said, and we headed off into the outback. I couldn’t stand the tension anymore and I stopped not too far from the truck. I wanted to get this over with. I took Sheba over to an acacia, tied her up to it, and she promptly sat down to wait for further instruction.
My mouth was as dry as the dust at my feet. I was dizzy, and butterflies threatened to become vomit. I took the .22 and loaded it with five shells, aimed and fired. Sheba yelped and immediately turned to attend to her hip, like she’d been stung by a bee. Tears just started running down my face as I moved in closer and aimed for Sheba ’s chest, right behind her shoulder blade. I fired again, and this time, she sat up straight for a moment in shock, then she tried to run, but the leash stopped her cold.
Just then, I heard a man’s voice. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” It was one of the cyclists, a typical earth type with long hair in a pony tail, some kind of goofy helmet with rear view mirrors on either side, leather fingerless gloves, sun glasses. The kind you’d see hanging around Mother Earth Whole Foods buying granola in bulk.
“I am killing my dog.”
“Why?” said the Do Gooder.
“None of your fucking business, asshole. Try and make it your business and see what happens.”
By this time, Sheba had laid down on her side and was panting, trying to lick the hip wound, but seemingly otherwise no worse for the wear.
“I am afraid I’m not going to be able to stand by and let you do that,” said DG.
“Really?” Something was going on with me, people telling me what to do and not to do with my dog, not just this guy, but the lesbo’s from Animal Control, JayLynn and her crowd. I’d had enough of it. To show him he couldn’t advise me on how to care for my dog, I turned and fired again at Sheba . This one hit her in the paw. She yelped and immediately started licking it and trying to stand at the same time.
“You bastard!” yelled DG as he disappeared into the bush on the way back to the road.
I went over to Sheba , and she was sitting up now, favoring the shattered paw, trying to lick it some more, and giving me the same look she gave me the day I picked her up on the median. It killed me, I was crying out loud now, because I was showing her exactly what kind of creatures we humans really are. And I’d hoped to be the one who’d put an end to her suffering at our hands.
We just looked at each other for awhile, and I swear, she touched my soul in a way that she hadn’t before. And I had already been soul-touched by her pretty hard. It was like- no, not ‘like’- she really did speak to me in my heart. I knew I couldn’t finish it. No way I was going to kill that dog. Come what may.
I was putting together the story I would tell at the Shelter about how some pranksters had shot up my dog, when I heard the Do Gooder yelling at me again.
“Put your gun down, and let’s talk!” he said.
“Shut your goddamn mouth and mind your own business,” I returned. This sumbitch was really getting on my nerves. And then, like he was some kind of hostage negotiator in a movie or something, he come walking toward me from behind his saguaro with his hands up. Like I was afraid a fucking skinny ass hippy like him would be packing heat.
I don’t know-the whole thing just pissed me off, so I took the rifle, which I think had two rounds left in it, and lifted it to my side without even aiming and fired.
He went down like he was dropped from a helicopter. I swear to God. I hadn’t been able to kill my hundred and ten pound dog with three shots, and this one, completely un-aimed, left a perfect red circle on his forehead like one of those Hindustani towel-head creeps you see hanging around in airports. I just could not believe it.
I went over to him, and he lay there working his jaw a little while like he was trying to say something, probably still working on the lecture he was going to give me about animal rights. Like that was what I needed to hear. Asshole.
Anyway, the jaw stopped working, and for some reason, I just had to laugh out loud. This whole thing was so far off into the weeds by now there was nothing for it but to laugh. But I had to figure something out.
First thing I figured out would be to get DG’s body farther from the little side track road. I grabbed him by those stupid wood soled shoes bikers wear and dragged his ass along as best I could, but it was getting hot now, even though it was Fall. I was sweating to beat the band, but I guess I got him a good hundred yards off the road. I soon come up on an arroyo and pushed him down over the edge into a kind of natural depression.
It being an arroyo, it wasn’t too hard to find enough of the right size rocks to cover him up and pretty soon, I had a heap over him that I was able to level into the side of the waterway so you could not tell it was there.
Then, I broke off an acacia branch, and walked back the way I came, dragging it behind me. When I got back to Sheba , I went off a ways and pulled that branch to pieces and scattered them, got her and God bless her if she didn’t gimp her way back to the truck.
The stupid biker dude’s ride was lying on the shoulder next to the truck. I threw it in the bed, and then I got Sheba in, whimpering and crying and trying to get at her wounds. That tore my heart out, to think I’d done that to her. I knew I was going to have to get help for her.
I turned the truck around and slowly bounced back down the road toward the highway, when I saw the pack of bikers coming along real slow, studying the side of the road like they was looking for something. And we know what that was. I had to gun the truck through the group and past a dark haired guy with a heavy mustache and a purple bandanna under his dumbass helmet trying to wave me down. I couldn’t stop, because what they were looking for lay dead in an arroyo a half mile away, and his bike was in the back of my trunk.
They were all waving and yelling at me as I drove through, and a couple of slapped the fenders-like that would do something.
“Hey, Mister, have you seen…blah, blah, blah…”
Yeah, I’ve seen him, I thought. He should’ve minded his own goddamned business, too.
* * *
Sheba was dead by the time we pulled up at the Animal Shelter. When we got there, they hadn’t opened yet, and I went around the back of the truck to check on her. She was still soft and warm, but she was gone. I felt something leap around inside of me like I never felt before. It was powerful and huge, something so big I could not hold it in. It came out as one big, huge sob, like a vacuum cleaner was pulling all the air out of my lungs, and when I finally got a breath, another one hit me and I did it all over again. I picked her up and held her in my lap like a baby, stroking her head, and hating myself with all the hate there was to hate with in this pathetic, sad world.
I also knew I couldn’t go driving around with a dead dog in the back of the truck. I picked her up, climbed out of the truck, and went up to the glass door of the Shelter. I could hear all kinds of yelping and meowing coming from inside, and I knew I better hook ‘em or else the night staff was going to be out front trying to figure out what was going on.
I laid Sheba out on her side, with her head resting on the grass near the front door. I wanted to cover her, but I realized that wouldn’t do her no good. So I left her like that. I felt like I’d been gut shot.
Next stop was the shop, where I lit up the cutting torch and cut Do Gooder’s bike into six inch pieces. I also found a serial number on one of the tubes and burned that out. I threw the whole mess back in the truck and went by the dump and sold the metal.
That done, I checked into the Desert Dunes and took a shower, waiting for nightfall. I called the answer machine at the office, and of course, there were about twenty from JayLynn. “Where are you, why haven’t you called? Why do you have to be such a chickenshit?” I realized she just didn’t get it, and never would.
And I also realized that she was the cause of all this. If she’d accepted Sheba the way she was, and hadn’t tried to pull all that trailer park obedience school shit on her with the newspaper, my dog wouldn’t be laying dead on the front door of the Scottsdale Animal Shelter, and there wouldn’t be a dead Do Gooder laying up under a pile of stone in the desert. I came to understand that I hated her. Her and her mother and her sister, three of the stupidest, most dishonest, manipulative people I ever run up against.
* * *
Midnight , maybe one o’clock in the morning. Intense white moonlight, black shadows. The hump on Camelback clearly seen miles away. I parked down the street, watching the house until Jolene and Jaquie left. Both of them drunk, plain to see the way they staggered to the cars, and stood there talking to each other like they had anything worth a shit left to say. Finally, they lit the cars up and rolled on.
It was another forty-five minutes before I saw the blue light from the TV in the living room go out. And I gave JayLynn another forty-five minutes to get her ass in bed. I got out, pushed the door closed, and took the rifle out of the back.
I walked down the street with a trip wire strung between my asshole and my heart, which pounded like a drummer in a strip club. Come to think. I felt huge walking down the street, like I owned the whole goddamned neighborhood, a spirit in the night, come to take a life. I looked down to see my shadow self walking upside down in lock-step on the other side of some dark looking glass created by the moon. I was an Apache brave come to wreak havoc in the enemy’s village. I shoulda been wearing warpaint.
Like smoke, I glided up to the back of the house, and went to the window with the broken latch. Hell, it wasn’t hard to break into my own goddamned house. Slipping through the little laundry room, into the kitchen smelling of cigarette smoke, tomato sauce, garbage. Things grew brighter and sharper in the dark, my mind oddly clear and empty, senses focused to razors. Down the hall, the bedroom door an open tomb.
A few more quick steps and I stood by the bed, waiting for my eyes to adjust to greater levels of darkness. The time had come. I pointed the muzzle at the head of the bed and decided to freeze until I could see. I wanted one shot and one shot only.
“Dwight” she said from somewhere behind me. “Dwight, you piece of shit.” That’s what she said, and I heard it like the voice of God just before all the lights in the world spun themselves into a spiral and drained down a black hole, taking me along with them.
When I woke up, she was sitting beside me on the bed, wearing nothing but panties and the same gauzy see-through robe she was wearing the night we met at the Train. There was an ice bag on my head, under it a lump the size of a breakfast egg. The headache was un-freaking-believable.
“Did I hurt you, baby?”
“Hell yeah, you hurt me. What’d you do, drop an anvil on my head or fire a cannon at me?” Waves of evil yellow and purple nausea threatened; I felt like I stood on the deck of a raft in heavy seas.
“What were you trying to do?” said JayLynn.
“Me? Oh, I …uh…I couldn’t stand it on my own. I had to come back. I thought I saw a strange car parked out front…and, uh, I thought the house had been broken into and I come in behind him and …uh…tried to get the jump on him.” I could not believe the words coming out of my mouth. Like some ventriloquist had his arm stuffed up my back and was jacking my jaw up and down making his own words come out of it. I guess the lesson to be had is that you should never underestimate the power of a naked woman sitting within arm’s length, no matter how fucked up you are.
She put those turquoise glitter box eyes into mine and we sat there like that for oh, about a thousand years or so. Without saying a word, we told each other the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
At some signal we both recognized, she put her hand on my forehead and said, “Yeah, baby, I knew it was something like that. I am so sorry I hurt you. I’d already swung the bat when I realized you wasn’t an intruder, and I got pissed off that you scared me like that.” She stroked my head and her tears welled up.
“Where’s Sheba ?” she asked.
“ Sheba done run off, best I can tell. I took her shooting this morning out in the Superstition Wilderness. I was just plunkin’ away at jackrabbits and ground squirrels, Gila’s and whatever. She was right there with me and then she wasn’t. I couldn’t raise her up no how. And I looked hard, too.”
“I’m so sorry, baby. I know you loved that dog,” she said, standing as she spoke.
“I guess it just wasn’t to be. I mean, she come to me by chance. Maybe the Lord himself sent her to me, and when she’d done her work, He took her back.” There was that ventriloquist again, but I was beginning to get a sense that maybe that old black magic was going to work, because I was sure feeling it down below.
She dropped the gown and stood by the bed. Aphrodite herself, everything pretty much like it had been in the early days. She took pretty good care of herself. She got back up on the bed, and straddled across me, putting both hands alongside my face to hold me still while she looked at me.
“I am so sorry I hurt you, baby. I don’t know what gets into me, sometimes. You’ll forgive me won’t you?” Then she took my hands and put them on her naked breasts and said, “I need you to hold me, sweetie, like you used to.”
And it come to me then, like a revelation. Sheba really and truly was a good dog. A very, very good old dog. .
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