Teeth

A short story

Literature Text
Illustrations by Connor Willumsen

We trunk dogs on the weekends for extra cash. It’s been in the news lately, with all those spics down in Miami getting popped for it, but it’s nothing new.

What you do is you meet up with the guy in a private location, agree on the terms, then load the dogs into the trunk and shut it. You ride in the car with the other guy while his guys follow in a separate vehicle. That’s to make sure no one fucks the other one out of any cash.

You’re going to need a car with a decent-sized trunk, both height and length. The Camry and Chrysler 300 both have great space for the job. What you don’t want is an SUV or something with that thin sheet you pull back over the third seat. That’s when the dogs end up right in the fucking driver’s seat with you. Some guy I knew trunked in an Escalade and wound up wrapping the fucker around a tree out in Port Kent.

Privacy’s a big thing. If you’re doing this in an alley or out along Cumberland Bay, you don’t have to worry about a family of four walking out of a Burger King while you trunk the dogs.

When the dogs are in the trunk the two of you hop in, turn the music up real loud and drive for about fifteen minutes or so. Make sure you got a CD or something, radio commercials are lower than the music and can give you away. Stay away from city streets, because there’s too many red lights and stop signs and people can catch on pretty quick. Also, avoid the Northway because you know the first thing some trooper’s going to do when he pulls you over for going too fast is ask to open the trunk so he can check out the noise. Fuck that. I ain’t about to do three years in Dannemora and pay a hundred grand.

You also want to make sure these fuckers are snarling and ready to go when you close the lid, or else you’re going to make a fifteen minute drive for nothing. Last thing you want to do is drive out to Chazy and pop open the trunk to find the two fucking nuzzling each other and smelling their asses.

It’s best to pull off somewhere near the woods or lake when the fifteen minutes are up, that way if you have to ditch one, and you’re always going to have to ditch one, you got an easy place to do it.

Finally, money is exchanged and you guys pull a Fleetwood Mac until the next meet. If you lose however, you’ve got the job of dumping the body or putting the dog out of its misery, so it’s best to keep a piece under the driver’s seat. Go for something small caliber, like a .380. You want to take it out quietly, not blow the thing apart all over your pants and shoes.

I usually don’t have to worry about this final rule, though.

I’m the best fucking dogman in the Empire State.

The Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital called to let me know that I should come see my grandmother. She’s been pulling her teeth out, they said, it’s the second time we’ve caught her doing it this week.

“Caught?” I said.

“What was that?” responded the lady on the end of the line.

“You said caught?”

“Yes sir.”

“Like a kid with a joint?”

“Sir, you know what we mean.”

The lady on the end of the line kept it very formal, all sorts of medical terms. Neurofibrillary tangles, neuritic plaques, senile plaques. “With the proper tests, we may be able to see how far the disease has progressed,” she said. I knew I wasn’t talking to a nurse. I was talking to some middle-aged bitch from HR.

“You said she’s pulling out her teeth,” I said.

“Yes.”

“I’d say it’s progressed pretty fucking far.”

“Sir, with all the new advances in the field of neurological medicine — “

I hung up the phone.

I’ve got an actual job, you know. Trunking isn’t my main source of income or anything like that. Lot of people up here keep normal jobs and then moonlight on something less than legal.

I work security at Easy Self Storage off Cornelia Street. It’s your typical four on, one off type deal and the people who run the place are pretty cool. I go in, check the units, make sure no locks have been broken, fuck around the security room for about twenty minutes, then go back and do it all again. They gave me a uniform and utility belt with a master key to all the units, plus they even gave me a Mag-Lite, which makes no sense because I work from 10 to 6. They told me it’s the only protection they can offer me since I can’t carry a gun.

I was sitting in the security booth keeping an eye on the monitor when the owner, Grace, came in with a distraught customer.

“Scott? This woman here says her unit has been broken into.” She turned to look at the woman who cast a long sad nod back her way.

“When did this happen?” I asked, taking out the burglary form we have to fill out.

“I don’t know,” she sniffed. “Maybe last night. I was just in here yesterday and everything was fine.” It didn’t happen on my shift, so I didn’t know why this applied to me. I got her information and logged it into our book while Grace stroked her hand and assured her that we were going to find all of her things. I put the call into Plattsburgh P.D. so they could come down here and investigate. They’d go over the footage to see if they could catch anybody breaking in.

They were still investigating when my shift ended. As I walked out to my car, two of them were standing in front of the woman who was still upset. She kept saying “I don’t understand why it happened to me.”

After work I check on my kennel.

Mark Vecchio is half a retard who trains the dogs for me while I work. His trailer’s back near a patch of trees so if someone’s driving by they can’t see what’s happening. We used to use Rottweilers for the fights because we heard the Romans used them to scare the piss out of the Gauls and barbarians and the Nazis used them at the camps, but they’re pretty slow, so we use Staffies now. Real loyal fuckers. They’ll take a beating then sidle up right next to you as if you’re their best friend.

When I got there, Vecchio had one of the prospects leashed to the treadmill and Romulus hanging by his jaws from a tattered tire on the tree. Romulus is my grand champ. Six wins in a row.

“How’s it going?” he said as I climbed out of the car. He sped up the treadmill a little bit.

“Fine.”

“Hey, hand me that bottle of Dasani.” He snapped his fingers at a crate of bottled water. I threw it to him and he cracked the top off and let the prospect on the treadmill drink while it ran. “Thanks again for the heads-up on the cameras.”

“Plattsburgh Police’s all over it now,” I said and stretched my legs out. “What’d you take anyway?”

“The usual,” Mark said, yanking on the tire to get Romulus used to more tension. “They had a VCR and an old TV, plus a couple of bikes. It’s not much, but I figure I can hock most of it. The rest I’ll keep for myself.” He let the tire rest and Romulus dropped down.

“C’mere, Rom!” I barked and the dog ran over and sat down next to me. I gave him a hearty slap on the side. “Fucker’s getting strong. You aren’t doping him, are you?”

“Hell no. I’m getting this dog strong the old-fashioned way. Good diet and exercise.” Mark opened up the kennel and whistled and Romulus ran over and went inside. “That one right there,” he said pointing to the prospect, “is about ready.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, tough little fucker. I threw one of the bait dogs in to him earlier and he took him apart in under three minutes.”

“Where’d you get the bait?” I asked.

“Stole it. Some rich bitch left her yappy little Chihuahua in the back. That thing must’ve thought I came to rescue it or something, its tail all wagging and shit.”

We both sat in silence for a bit watching the prospect on the treadmill. We weren’t going to trunk him, no way. We were going to use him for the convention in a few weeks out near Westport. Supposedly we had guys coming up from the city to show us their champs. In the meantime, some Dominican guy from Halseys Corners contacted us to trunk with Romulus, so we had that on the agenda.

“Hey, take a look at this.” Mark dug inside a cardboard box next to the door of the trailer. He pulled out one of those trophies for soccer, you know the kind you get when you play as a kid. It had the cheap piece of marble with the name plate and jersey number on it and a little plastic kid made to look like gold kicking a soccer ball. “I nabbed this when I did the unit.”

“What the fuck are you going to do with that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Can’t fucking sell it. It’s got the kid’s name on it,” he laughed. “I got a whole box of stuff like this.”

“You stole a box of personal shit from a family knowing you couldn’t sell it? What’s the point?”

“For kicks.” He grinned that half-retarded grin he always did. It got me real angry for some reason. Right then and there I wanted to snatch it out of his greasy hands and smash him right in those half-retarded teeth. I slapped it out of his hand instead. “What was that for?” he shouted.

“You fucking moron, I got the Plattsburgh cops down at my job looking for this shit and you think this is some fucking joke?”

“It is kind of funny,” he giggled.

“If this gets back to me,” I said, “I’m going to take the champs and burn your fucking trailer to the ground with you in it. Next time you steal shit you need.” I stormed off to the car, the trophy in my hand.

“The fuck’s wrong with you?” he shouted after me.

I drove to the hospital. I was going to make it at the tail-end of visiting hours. As I was driving, I looked down at the trophy. Jacob Thurman, #55. I got one kind of like it for playing hockey as a kid, and another one for baseball, but never one for soccer. Never played it. It was a participation trophy. The kind that doesn’t come with a medal or a handshake from the coach or a loud applause from the parents packed in the tiny meeting room at the YMCA. No, that’s for the champs of the team.

I wondered, though. Did Jacob Thurman sit there in anticipation waiting for his name to be called?

Along Lake Champlain, I rolled down the window and heaved the trophy into the water.

When I got to the hospital, most of the visitors were leaving. You could tell who they were, because most of them stood around in the parking lot smoking cigarettes and crying. Some of them brought friends with them who were now rubbing their arms in a reassuring way. It’s okay, they’d say. Everything is going to be fine.

When I got up to the ward I could see her through the glass before I went in. She was just standing in the middle of the hallway running her hand back and forth along the wood trim on the wall. Esther, the big Jamaican woman who runs the shift saw me and came right over.

“Mister Regan, so nice you come to visit your dear granny,” she said, taking me by the hand.

“How’s she been?” I asked. I already knew the answer.

“Not so good. Did Miss King tell you about the, uh, you know.” She lifted her top lip and made this side to side motion in front of her teeth.

“Yeah. I know all about it.”

“Shame, she had such pretty teeth.”

“How did it happen? I mean, was it loose and she just popped it out, or — “

“No. She pulled on them for some time. She didn’t even make a noise when she did it.”

“So is she not feeling pain, or what?”

“I don’t know. I’m no doctor. I just run the night shift.” She smiled. It was the same smile as the reassuring friends in the parking lot. “Why don’t you go in while I get Miss King for you. She’s about to leave but I know she wanted to talk when you came in.” Esther turned and headed down the hall.

I watched as my grandmother continued to run her hand along the trim, tapping along at times like it was a piano. She never played so I didn’t know why she would. When I was younger she had one of those old radios, the kind you see in movies from the Forties. The wooden ones that came together at the top like the front of a cathedral, whose face would light up when you turned it on and the light looked like sun coming in through stained glass. She had this thing for big band music. She was a kid in the Thirties so it made sense, but she would sit me down next to it and tune in to the jazz station every Wednesday night for the big band hour and we’d listen to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman and she’d close her eyes and tap her small foot along.

I wanted to remember her like that, not like this. I leaned my head against the glass. Eventually she turned in my direction. She smiled at me and I saw where she had pulled two teeth from the bottom row and one from the top.

I turned and walked away toward the elevators when Esther came back with Miss King. “Mister Regan! Mister Regan!” she shouted, but I was in the elevator and pushing the close door button. Those shouts echoed off the clean floors and a janitor turned from mopping to look in her direction, then mine. He raised his hand as if to say something, but the doors closed.

I met with Mark and Romulus in the alley behind the Hannaford. He was squatting next to the dog, letting it lick his face. He was doing this baby-talk, saying, “Yes, yes, you are a good dog. Yes you are.” The minute Romulus saw me, he yanked away from Mark and trotted over.

“You shouldn’t baby-talk him.” I gave him a scratch behind the ear. He leaned his big head back and looked like he was grinning. By the looks of it, you couldn’t tell he was a killer.

“I don’t get it, man,” Mark said. “I spend all day with him and the minute he sees you, I’m chopped fucking liver.”

“You better hope he doesn’t get wise to your shit or he will turn you into chopped fucking liver.” Romulus edged in front of me, then sat down on my feet.

“Anyway, this guy we’re meeting, Armando, says he’s got five on this. I told him we could match it.”

“What, with all that bike and trophy money?” I said.

“Fuck you,” Mark said. “Besides, you took the trophy.” He lit a cigarette.

“Nuh uh,” I said. “Put that shit out.”

“What for?”

“I’m not about to have this dog breathing that shit in.”

“I’m fucking eight feet away from him!”

“Secondhand smoke can travel up to twenty-five feet. Put it out.”

“The wind’s fucking blowing!”

“Put it out.”

He stamped it out as a 300 came around the corner and flashed its lights. I waved and we headed toward them. A couple Dominicans got out. The one out front, with the cornrow ponytail came up. “You Regan?”

“You Armando?”

“Yeah.” He motioned to the other Dominican, big fat guy with a goatee, who reached into the backseat and pulled out this snarling white pit bull. He gave it a smack on the snout to get it real pissed. Romulus’s hackles went up and he started growling back.

“Your car or mine?” I asked.

“Homeboy, I ain’t a sucker and I ain’t an asshole, we’re taking mine.”

“Fine. Fat man can ride with Mark in my car, then.” The fat man sneered at me. Armando turned up his CD and blasted some reggaeton bullshit while Mark and the fat man got the dogs riled up. You’ve got to be quick with trunking, so we put the dogs on a bathroom scale to make sure they were evenly matched, then poured some water over them to make sure there wasn’t poison on the fur. Cajun rules. Got to follow them.

Armando and I flipped a coin to see who’d drop it to signal to the fat man and Mark to throw the dogs in the trunk. He won. He dropped the coin and the Fat man and Mark heaved the dogs into the trunk and slammed it shut. We then got in our cars and I set a timer for fifteen minutes. “When you can,” I said, “get on North Margaret and head toward Woodruff Pond.”

“You’ll have to guide me, homes.”

I guided him toward the pond and he skipped forward a couple tracks on his CD.
“The fuck are you doing?” I said. “You want everyone to hear what’s going on back there?” I could hear the two dogs scrapping. They were growling and moving around so much that their claws on the trunk floor sounded like we were hitting patches of gravel in the road.

“Relax,” Armando said. “I’m just trying to find my jam.”

“Fuck your jam and put the music back on.”

He finally stopped and said, “Here it is.” It was fucking “Hungry Like the Wolf”, that fucking Duran Duran song.

“Since when did you Latinos become such big Duran Duran fans?”

“Since when did you become a fucking critic for Rolling Stone? I love this song, because I am hungry and Ernesto is hungry. Hungry like fucking wolves, man.”

“Who the fuck’s Ernesto?” I asked. “The Fat man back there?”

“No, man. My champion in the back.”

“Either way, this song’s pretty fucking gay.”

“Bullshit! At the end, there’s totally the sound of this chick getting fucked.”

I’d never noticed it before, but he was right. There was some broad being fucked in the song. It started off with heavy breathing during the bridge, then she was flat-out moaning and shit near the end.

“You hear that?” Armando asked. “The bitch is ready to come!”

I looked back and saw that Mark and the fat man were following close behind. They weren’t speaking to one another. I’m sure that was fine with the both of them.

By the time we got to Woodruff Pond, it was back to that reggaeton shit. It didn’t matter   anyway. The fifteen minutes were up, which meant the fight was over. Armando seemed pleased. “You better believe that my champion is going home grand champion tonight!” We walked around to the trunk as Mark and the Fat man pulled up.

“Would you like the honour?” Armando held out his keys. He was grinning.

“Just open the fucking trunk,” I said.

He popped open the trunk and there was Romulus. He cocked his head a little at me and started wagging his tail. His right ear was a little chewed-on, but he seemed fine beyond that. I mean, his fur was slick with blood and the trunk reeked of piss and shit, but it looked like Romulus was more or less okay. He hopped out and sidled alongside me again. Mark brought a towel over and began to wash the blood off him with a bottle of water.

“How’s he looking?” I said.

“Got a couple bites along the ribs, but he looks good,” Mark said, shining a pocket flashlight over the panting dog.

Armando was silent at first, surveying the trunk of his car, his dog. He then let out this low wail. I didn’t look in the trunk itself, but I could see from the lid that it wasn’t a good fight. Blood was splashed all along it and was dripping down.

The fat man came over with the cash and handed it to me and as Mark and I made our way back to my car, Armando ran over with the dog in his arms.

“Regan, you fuck!” he hissed.

“Fair’s fair, asshole,” I said. “We agreed on the terms.” I motioned to Mark, who opened the driver’s side door just in case he needed to grab the .380. “You lost. Train up another prospect and we can do this again, if the money’s good. In the meantime, fuck off.”

We put Romulus in the backseat. I had a little dog-friendly seatbelt that we strapped him into. He stretched out across the back and rested his head between his paws. Just then, Fat man came running over with the dog in his arms, its head lolling about. I rolled down the window.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Can you bury him?”

“What?” Mark exclaimed. “We’re dogmen, we’re not a funeral home!”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” fat man growled. “Look,” he turned to me, “Armando’s not going to bury it and I’m not going to throw it in the pond. This dog was a champion, almost grand champion. He deserves a real burial.”

I could understand where he was coming from, but asking me to bury it seemed strange.

“You took his money and his dog. You could at least bury it,” Fat man said.

“All right. Mark, pop the trunk and wrap the dog in a towel, will you?”

He took the dog from Fat man and wrapped it up, before setting it gently in the trunk. The dog’s lip got hung up on its own teeth, no way  it could fight back, especially without Armando back there to unfang him.

“Thanks.” Fat man shook my hand. He then went back to Armando’s 300 and the two of them drove back to Halseys Corners.

“Mark,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Forget the towel. Throw him in one of those lawn bags I have back there, the big black ones.”

We drove back into Plattsburgh and threw the bag into one of the dumpsters behind Hannaford.
 

CVPH called again and insisted I come in or else they would not be able to continue treatment. “This isn’t some firehouse,” Miss King said, “you can’t just drop her off here like an orphan on the doorstep.”

We sat down in her office later that day and she went over the financials. Ongoing treatment, follow-up care, prescriptions, full-time residential care services, bank and brokerage accounts, insurance policies. What a joke. I didn’t have a pension and my grandmother’s was shit — thirty years she worked at CVPH as a nurse, and what now? Couldn’t even afford to stay in the place she dedicated her life to. I told her I’d try to take care of most of the bills myself.

“That’s admirable,” Miss King said. “Especially coming from a younger man. May I ask, why aren’t your parents taking care of her?”

It was none of her business and it didn’t matter anyway. I just gave her a look and she turned away. When the initial paperwork was squared away it didn’t amount to shit. With the money I had ready to go, it only covered treatment for the next few weeks. Five grand gone like that, with just a signature. Miss King told me I had to meet with someone in billing before I left, but first she wanted me to sit down and meet with some grief counselor.

“He’s quite good,” she explained. “Those who meet with him come up to me in the halls when they see me to tell me how much it has changed their lives.”

I met with the guy, Matthew Paules, wanted me to call him “Matthew.” Not “Matt” or “Matty” or anything, “Matthew.” I asked him how much me meeting with him was going to cost and he just laughed, “Don’t worry, this one’s on the house.”

After explaining to me what he did and how this was going to affect me and my grandmother, he stopped for a second and asked why I was doing this.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“You know, why are you taking care of her? Why are paying for all of this?”

“Because I love her.”

“I understand that, but Miss King said that even when you show up here, you don’t go in.”

“And?”

“What are you afraid of?”

I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy. Like I’m afraid of my grandmother or some shit. I told him I wasn’t afraid at all.

“Then let’s go see her,” he said. So we did. When we saw her, the nurses had her sitting in a chair by the window.

“Look who’s come to visit,” Matthew said to my grandmother. She turned and smiled that toothless smile at me. That look came back over her face.

“I know you,” she said. She looked like she was trying real hard to remember. “I know you.”

“It’s nice to see you, grandma,” I said. She nodded and went back to looking out the window. For a second there I closed my eyes and tried to remember sitting at that little card table in the kitchen, listening to the Wednesday night big band hour with her tapping her small foot along to “April in Paris”. It wasn’t like that, though. There was no music, no cathedral radio. It was just me, a little old woman missing some teeth looking at the sky, and Matthew in his sweater vest with his hands on the back of our chairs smiling a little too big at both of us.

Before the Westport convention, we’d run into some trouble. Our prospect, the one we’d trained up on the treadmill, ate bread dough that ended up killing him. Can you believe that shit? Mark was making bread and left it on the counter. The prospect jumped up and ate. It expanded in his gut and he suffocated. Why the fuck was Mark making bread?

We had to use Romulus. I didn’t like the idea of using him in the ring, but he was good in the trunk, so I figured he’d be good outside of it. We had no other options, either.

Mark and I drove out there early with Romulus in the back, sleeping on the seat. He was a good dog, you know. A real grand    champion. We weren’t going to fight him twice tonight, only assholes do that. In the trunk, we had the bottled water, the towels and soap, the choke-chain, plus I got him some peanut butter. Mark had robbed some vet of rimadyl, which is used for arthritis, but that shit’s like dog speed, so if Romulus got hurt we could dope him with rimadyl or even some morphine, then drop him off at the vet’s, then adopt him if he wound up in the pound.

When we got there, the guys from the city were already waiting. They’d brought up a bunch of pits and were throwing money around like this was fucking Vegas. The music was playing and there were some guys with the barbecue going in a tent next to the ring. The State Dicks were here, too. Doyle and Flynn, two fucking flunky Mick cops who were stereotypes through and through. They were here as half-assed security. And to win some cash.

Franklin, the old Indian who ran the ring, met us at the gate and took our entrance fee. A lot of money was here tonight, so he had a couple of Onondaga with rifles walking around outside the ring making sure no one was going to pull any shit. He knew me and Mark pretty well and we’d brought in money for him in the past, so he let Mark hold onto the .380 for me.

By the time we got to the ring, some guys were walking out with a dog, its body all limp and its breathing strained, we could hear it rasping as they walked by. Another guy was hosing all the blood out of the ring. Money was changing hands and the guys from the city were holding up the champion dog from the last fight and yelling about victory. These guys were fucking amateurs, not professional dogmen. Bunch of weekend warriors from the city, coming up here to show us backward-ass country people how things are done.

“Hey white boy!” one of them yelled to me.

“The fuck d’you say?!” Mark shot back.

“Ain’t no one talking to you, I’m talking to the main man here,” he said, pointing at me.

“What do you want?” I said.

“When mah Bowser gets in the ring with yo’ fuckin’ mutt, that nigga dead,” he said, pulling his index finger across his throat. He grit his teeth at me and he had this big obnoxious grill in them. Cheap gold-plating and all.

“When who?” I said back.

“Bowser, motherfucker,” he responded. “Mah champ.” He pointed to the blue pit behind him. “Like Super Mario, bitch.”

“You named your dog after a video game?”

“You don’t know mah dog, motherfucker, you don’t know him!”

I turned to Mark. “Keep an eye on this fucking guy.” He nodded.

It came time for the fight and we prepped the dogs. Around that time I got another call from CVPH. It was Miss King. I told Mark to finish the prep and I jumped around the back to take the call. It’s not that I didn’t trust him with the dog or anything, he was a decent trainer, but he was dumb and made dumb mistakes and Romulus was my stake. At the same time, I wanted to hear how my grandmother was doing.

“Mister Regan?”

“Yeah, what is it?” I was trying real hard to muffle out the music and the sound of barking dogs but it wasn’t working.

“Is this a bad time?”

“No, no, it’s fine. Sorry about the noise, I’m just at this . . . thing right now.”

She said they were still waiting on the next payment and that there’d been some trouble with the last one. “You paid in all cash,” she said. “Normally, we don’t take these types of transactions. We have to take a check next time. I understand that this seems ridiculous, I mean, money’s money, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, I understand.” I wanted to get back to the ring. I heard the ref reading out the rules.

“It’s just that it looks a little suspicious, you know.”

“I understand,” I said. “I’ll be there by tomorrow and I’ll have the check.” She said she would look forward to seeing me and hung up.

I got back and the fight was under way. Romulus had Bowser on his back and was gnawing on his left ear, really yanking on that fucker. Bowser took it, though, and jammed his paws under Romulus’s belly and shoved him off. Romulus charged right back, sank his fangs into Bowser’s front leg and pulled his other leg out from under him.

“I’m glad we got him trained on that tire,” Mark said. I agreed. The guys from the city seemed pretty calm, like maybe someone knocked the wind out of their sails. I grinned at them. That’s right, motherfuckers, that’s right. You think you can come all the way up here and pull some shit with us? You thought we were stupid and weak. We’ve got teeth, motherfuckers, real teeth, real grit, and when you take that long drive down the Northway back to the city, you tell all your friends that the boys in Plattsburgh fucked you and your fucking champions.

“We got this, we got this,” Mark said.

Then Romulus turned.

During a fight, if a dog turns and the ref calls it, then you and the other owner have to get your dogs and return outside the ring until the ref calls the round to begin again. He called and we got Romulus over. Mark took a drink from the water bottle in front of the ref who gave him the nod so we could give it to Romulus.

“Why’d he turn?” I asked Mark. He shrugged. Neither of us had seen him do that before. This was his first ring fight, but even when we trained him back at the trailer with the bait dogs and some of the weaker prospects, he’d never turned before. I gave the once over and Mark checked close at some of the nips in his side and snout.

“He’s fine,” Mark said. The other guys motioned their dog was good as well, so the fight started back up again. Romulus charged in there like a fucking champ. I mean, he started tearing Bowser to fucking pieces. Ear here, paw there, ribs and haunches, snout and all. Mark and I were already shaking hands and collecting cash when Romulus started coughing. It was more than coughing you know, I mean, he was hacking, choking. He leapt back from Bowser and placed his head between his paws on the ground and tried rubbing something out of his eyes. Then he vomited.

“What the fuck is going on?!” I roared at Mark.

“I don’t know. Stop the fight, stop the fight!” he yelled to the ref. The ref shook his head.

“He’s fucking choking!” I made to step in the ring. The guys from the city weren’t having it.

“You step in the ring, nigga, the fight over!” one of them yelled. It was true. That’s Cajun rules. If you step in, the fight’s over and you lose. I needed the money, I needed it fucking yesterday. Romulus kept hacking and pawing at the dirt. He was yelping now, like something was really hurting him. Bowser was on him the entire time, chewing and biting away. Rom didn’t even fight back. “Fuck this,” I said to Mark.

I jumped into the ring and placed a kick square in Bowser’s side, sending him against the wall with a yip. When he hit it, it sounded like when fruit slides out its tray at the supermarket and hits the tile floor.

“Nah, nah, nah, fuck that shit,” the first city guy said. Franklin stepped in between us and had a few of his guys hold the crowd back. Romulus was on his side and wheezing, now and gasping for breath. I looked over and Mark was surrounded by angry bettors, demanding their cash back. Romulus looked at me and I pet his side, letting him know it was going to be okay. He didn’t understand, he’s a dog, you know? But it looked like he knew what was going to happen. He closed his eyes and let out this wail that sounded less like a dog howling and more like a man groaning. Then his eyes got wide like he was surprised and his whole body relaxed. That was it.

The guys from the city were pissed. Pissed that I’d kicked their champ, pissed that I took Bowser off Rom. Rom had this weird smell on him so I rubbed his fur a little and smelled my hand. Fucking Combat. Fucking roach spray.

“Let me see that fucking dog!” I roared and moved over to Bowser. I snatched up by the nape and bent down to smell him. Combat. He was covered in it. I turned to Franklin. “They sprayed their fucking mutt in roach spray, mixed it in with the water, something.”

“How do you know?” he said.

“Fucking smell him.” I got away from Bowser and Franklin gave him a smell. He gave me a look and nodded. One of his guys smelled the towel used on Bowser, too.

“Frank?” he said, holding the towel.

“Yeah?”

“Thing’s soaked in it.”

Franklin got up and talked to one of the bookies and then made the announcement.

“This fight’s forfeited on account of rule violations. No money will be collected. All bets are off. Any money placed is now gone.” This got everyone real mad, but what were they going to do, go to the fucking cops and tell them some old Indian took all their money at a dogfight? The State Dicks were right there, they’d lost money, too. Even being associated with one of these things carries a hefty fucking fine.

Mark came over and said “Let’s go, man. Let’s go.” I wasn’t done, though. They took my fucking cash and my champ, my Rom, my dog. I reached inside Mark’s coat and pulled out the .380. I heard one of the guys from the City say “Oh shit.” I swung the piece around and shot Bowser. The .380 jumped in my hand a little and I realized how long it’d been since I fired it last. The slug caught the pit just behind his left haunch and Bowser yelped and dropped his back legs. I brought my left hand up to support the pistol and fired two more shots into the dog. Each shot sounded like someone pounding raw steaks against a countertop, a series of wet thuds. The last round caught Bowser right under his ear and he jerked back against the wall, leaving a red smear along the concrete.

“Fuck no, man, fuck no,” Mark said over and over. It felt good. I was aware of every muscle, every tendon in my outstretched arm. I could feel every hair and every bead of sweat all at the same time. Most of the people had cleared out by now, taking their money with them. All except the guys from the City. I whipped the pistol up to square off a shot on their leader, but Franklin’s boys were all over me. As I went down, I squeezed off another shot, but missed him entirely. It hit one of his boys in the leg, directly below the knee. It sounded like someone breaking a stick underwater.

“Agh!” he screeched. “Oh, you mothafucka! You mothafucka!”

I got tackled to the ground. There was Franklin and about three Onondaga on top of me. Franklin made a move for the gun and yelled. “That’s enough, Regan!”

“Drop the weapon!” Doyle screamed and jammed his Glock up under my nose.
“I can’t breathe,” I gasped.

“Drop the weapon!” screamed some Onondaga on top of me. Everyone was getting in on it.

I couldn’t breathe.

“Drop the fucking weapon!” Doyle screamed louder, the vein bulging in his forehead. He pressed the Glock harder. I could smell the gun oil.

I let go of the pistol and Doyle grabbed it. He told me and Mark to fuck off or else they were going to be burying us with the dogs.

“Nah, nah,” said the city boy. “Fuck that shit! He killed mah champ and clapped on mah boy. I’ma kill this motherfucker.”

Flynn jammed his finger in the guy’s chest. “You’ll get your black ass back in your car or you boys will disappear off the face of the fucking planet. Dig?”

“Thanks, Flynn,” I muttered.

“Shut the fuck up, Regan. If it didn’t bring heat, I’d let this nigger trash cap you and that fucking tard.” He pointed at Mark.

“Ooh, that mothafucka! That mothafucka!” the city boy with the hole in his leg yelled as they loaded him into their car. “I’ma kill that piece o’shit! Nigga, lemme go so I can kill that piece o’shit!”

I scooped up Romulus and cradled him to me as we walked back to the car. Outside Plattsburgh, Mark turned to me and asked, “Do we need to stop by Hannaford?”

Sometimes I get a call when I’m at home late at night. Caller ID shows a 212 area code, so I know it’s from the city. You fucked up, they say. Don’t think we’ve forgotten. Look over both shoulders. Sleep with one eye open. All the shit you hear in bad action movies with equally bad villains. Most nights I just let the machine get it.

We don’t trunk any more, no one will work with us. He’s unstable. Fucking crazy. With no dog money coming in, the money to CVPH stopped. The last time I went in there, they’d moved my grandmother from the nice ward into some dank shithole that no one goes in. She doesn’t know the difference.