CHAPTER 8: Peas In A Pod
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As Julie kept asking question after question, all I could think of was how desperately I needed a normal, healthy relationship. As far as most of my relationships went, mine with Julie was great. But it was great in all the wrong places. There really wasn’t much more to it than sex. Even though it was a mind-numbing, bathe-in-gasoline-to-slough-the-shame-from-my-soul kind of sex, it didn’t matter. At the end of the day we were just objects to each other. We couldn’t talk about anything else. We’d tried before, but it had usually led to an afternoon of power-fucking in every changing room on
“I don’t understand, Dingo.” I couldn’t tell if it was the 12 stitches over my eye giving me the headache or Julie’s prattling. I bit off a stretch of red tape and put it over the empty socket where my taillight should have been while I balanced the phone between my shoulder and swollen cheek.
“Julie, I told you. Darby took the box.”
“I get that, but—.”
“The box my dad hand-carved just before he died.” I could feel the two edges of skin stitched together pull at each other every time my jaw moved.
“Yes, yes, and the box protects your family’s dirty little secret or your mother’s pride and joy or whatever the hell it is you’re calling it this week.”
“Hey, I told you not to go digging—. ”
“I don’t care what it is, Dingo! I couldn’t give a shit about that damn box or what’s inside. The only thing I want to know is what the fuck your ex-wife was doing there.”
So there it was. And I thought she was jealous just because somebody else got to beat the living crap out of me for a change. “Julie, I didn’t even know she was in town until after I was in the hospital.”
“Bullshit. Let me ask you, Dingo. Did your brother really leave that box in the trunk or was this just an excuse to see her again?”
“Oh, for the love of…” I checked under the rear tire well to make sure the tire wouldn’t scrape against the dented frame. Fortunately, the damage was mostly cosmetic. Still, I was going to have Benoit’s balls on a stick for this.
“Answer the question, Dingo. Was this just a trick?”
“She shot me in the face, Julie! Do you understand that? She pointed a pistol directly at my head and pulled the trigger. What, in all that is unholy on this planet, makes you think I would ever want to see that psychotic bitch again after that?”
“I thought you let her shoot you?”
“No!” Everything was part of some twisted sex game with Julie. The one time I had opened up to her about my ex-wife, she saw it as just another tawdry tale of my sex life.
“Then why are you going after her if you don’t want to see her?”
I fumbled through my pockets and found my prescription bottle. I knew that if I screamed, my head would break and my brain would leak through the gaping hole in the side of my head, granting me the sweet, sweet release of death.
I took in the deepest breath I could muster. “To go after THE FUCKING BOX!”
Oh. So that’s what an aneurism feels like.
“You’re an asshole. And I’m leaving.” I tried to speak but my brain was slowly imploding. “Oh, and Dingo. I’m taking the ferret with me.”
She might have said more, but I couldn’t hear her. I was too busy trying not to pass out from the immense pain ricocheting around inside my skull. By the time I pulled myself up from the concrete skillet that was the parking lot, she had hung up.
It was the first time a woman ever dumped me without making me bleed first. A rather sad milestone when I thought about it.
Normal and healthy. Might as well ask to win the lottery.
After a quick stop at a grocery store, I headed to the pound. Fortunately, my headache had dissolved into a mild migraine by the time I got there. But the second I walked in, it escalated to a constant hammering. The smell of urine and fear crept through the overbearing stench of a pine-scented antiseptic that was making my eyes water. A woman with a fake henna tattoo around her neck and no make-up sat behind a faded green counter. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could smile in a place like this.
“Hello! May I help you?” she asked. She gave my broken face a quick scan, but kept smiling.
“Yeah, my dog was brought here last night. Name’s Cerberus.”
“Oh, thank god!” Her smile disappeared.
She just scowled at me. “Follow me. This way.”
I followed her to a back room where I could hear the deep rumble of an air-conditioning unit. Once inside, I saw cages stacked and arranged in neat rows. The room smelled like bleach.
In the cages there were cats, dogs, and a few of those god-awful ferrets. All of them were cowering in a corner, shivering or burying their heads underneath their paws. A few of the dogs were mewling weak and pathetic howls so hoarse that they obviously must have been at it all night. I thought it must be a natural reaction to being in this place and seeing the humans that kept them here, but as we walked past their cages, I noticed that they weren’t shying away from us. They were recoiling from a larger cage in the center of the room. Cerberus.
The dog was stuffed inside a wire cage that allowed him to stand up only if he kept his head down. A small bowl of food sat untouched at his feet. His fur stuck out away from his head in wild strands through the wire bars of the cage and his fangs were bared through a thick, leather and steel-buckled muzzle that stretched around his mouth. The noise that I thought was the air-conditioning unit was actually coming from the dog. His growl was shaking the whole room. And though the room was at least thirty degrees cooler than it was outside, it was by no means cold. Yet I could still see subtle traces of Cerberus’ breath.
The girl turned to me and said, “Your dog killed one of the other dogs last night.”
“Really? Oh, sorry. Look, he was in a car accident with me and he probably just attacked because—”
“He didn’t attack the dog. He just scared it to death. I mean look at them all!” I scanned the room. She was right. Every animal in there was as far from Cerberus as their cage would let them be. Blood dripped from one of the ferrets’ mouths as it tried to chew through the metal bars of its cage.
“I think you’re imagining things, Miss.” Even I didn’t believe it when I said it.
She crossed her arms and said, “Look mister, I don’t know what kind of dog that is, but it isn’t healthy.”
“Not healthy? What, he’s got worms or something?”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I mean he’s just…just…”
She turned to me and her face relaxed a little. “Yeah. Wrong. That’s what he is. Wrong. I think you should put him down.”
I stepped forward and let Cerberus sniff my hand through the bars. He pressed his nose against me and tried to lick my hand through the muzzle. “I should put him down because he scares you?”
“I know dogs, mister, and this one’s dangerous. You can see it in his eyes.”
I hit the latch and opened the door. Cerberus unfolded himself out of the cage and stretched, his giant claws scraping across the cool linoleum. “Oh, you’re right. He is dangerous. You’ll get no argument from me about that.” I unbuckled the muzzle.
“What are you doing? You can’t do that!” She started to back toward the hallway. “He has to be muz—”
I tossed it to her. “Don’t worry. You’re safe.”
“Mister, that dog is dangerous. He’s…wrong. You said it yourself.”
Cerberus licked my hand and pushed his massive head against me. I scratched him behind the ears. “There are a lot of wrong creatures in the world, Miss. But just because we’re wrong, doesn’t mean we’re bad.”
As the dog and I left the room, the animals all moved about their cages, putting as much distance between them and Cerberus as possible. When we got out to the lobby I turned to the girl and asked, “How much do I owe you?”
“Nothing. Please, just go.” She stood behind the counter, never once taking her eyes away from Cerberus.
“Come on, dog.” When we stepped out of the building, the heat hit us like a blackjack. I could feel the moisture in my mouth evaporate when I opened it. I was almost tempted to spend a few more minutes inside, enjoying the cooler air, but it would probably be more comfortable to just stay out in the searing sun.
Cerberus didn’t seem affected at all as he ran to the Jeep and hopped up onto the hood, vaulted over the windshield and into the passenger seat. I got in and grabbed a plastic grocery bag from the back. Inside was a bottle of water and a ten pound ham.
I set the ham down on a paper bag on the floor of the Jeep then tried to unwrap it, but Cerberus kept pushing me out of the way with his gargantuan head. “Fine, fine. Eat the plastic, I don’t care.”
I took a swig of water then headed out onto the road. I knew that Darby most likely wasn’t still in town, but if she was, she’d be with Benoit. Or at the very least, that bastard would know where she was. Either way, his house was still standing. And that was just simply unacceptable.
I grabbed my phone and pulled up Julie’s number. I didn’t want to call her and I certainly didn’t feel guilty enough to do so, but my finger still hovered over the “Send” button.
Deep down, I knew I should just let it go. Just let Julie and her ferret slouch off to
I looked down and saw that Cerberus had devoured nearly all of the ham. Including the hambone. There were tiny bits of plastic sticking out of his fur. “Yep. There’s no doubt about it, dog.” I pressed the button. “You and I are definitely wrong.”