he dog’s eyes returned the flicker of the streetlights as it followed its’ new owner. The freshly frayed leather was tucked neatly in Dean’s calloused hands. A smile crept over his face and increased in size with each step away from Cherise. His pace quickened, not from fear but ecstasy, Dr. Nolan will be pleased. He smiled down at the german shepherd who returned the gesture with the addition of a pink and black spotted tongue. Dean never liked dogs because of their resemblance to people. They needed affection and had easily spent attention spans and a strong compulsion to bury their heads in the crotches of passerbys. This dog is different. It only looked straight ahead and up to its’ master.
The pair continued south and the city crumbled at the outskirts. Dean straightened his shoulders and heightened his senses. The dog pushed forward. The street was empty and had no sign of movement except for the flicker of shadows that dashed across the concrete. He pressed the unlock button and the lights of his 2013 black Volvo S80 flashed. He opened the passenger door and the german shepherd dug its nails into the leather interior. A sigh escaped from Dean’s clenched jaw as he situated himself in the driver’s seat. He locked the doors and adjusted the rearview mirror. The key turned in the ignition and he reached for his shifter and found a puddle of fresh saliva. The dog leaned against the passenger seat and let out a whine. Dean reached his hand out and patted the dog’s head twice. It tilted its head back to redirect the affection to its’ neck. Dean complied,
“Don’t get used to this.”
The dog blinked back in response. Dean reached behind the dog and unlatched the leash from its collar. The leash released and the dog shook its head and revealed a nickel plated dog bone that read:
IF FOUND PLEASE CALL: 541-309-7803
Dean took the keys out of the ignition. The key ring had four keys. He took the smallest of the keys and scratched out the second line. He nodded.
“Well now it’s final.”
He let out a smile at his new pet but after two seconds redirected his eyes to the road. He cracked the window and Sergeant pressed her nose into incoming air. After fourteen minutes Dean arrived at the Walmart which sat at the opening of the suburbs. Dean placed his hand on Sergeant’s head,
“I’ll be back in eight minutes.”
Dan and Kyle Bateman were having a typical friday night. The twenty-six year old brothers got off work from Walmart at eight and would spend a couple hours salary on Coors Light and Cheetos. Then Dan would hop in the shopping cart and Kyle would push him to their parents, in exchange for a dime of marijuana. It was 7:55 P.M and theez boys were having visions of white-trash partying. Before Dan and Kyle could clock out it was pertinent that they restock the dog food pallet or Mr. Barnes, the middle-aged Walmart manager, would make his empty threats a physical reality.
“Dan, Kyle, stock the pallets correctly tonight, I created a list of cat and dog food brands so this should be idiot proof.”
“But….Mr. Barnes we get off in five minutes.”
Dan elbowed Kyle in the ribs and interjected before Mr. Barnes bald spot turned the same shade of red as his face,
“We should get back to work.”
Mr. Barnes raised his eyebrows and pressed his glasses over his rounded nose. He sneered in attempt to look menacing but the two idiots were unfazed and stared in his direction until their eyes glazed over. He pivoted on his black polished shoe while simultaneously pulling up his pants and disappeared down the aisle.
“Dude you’re going to get us fired.”
“Well.. we get off in five minutes, it’s bullshit!”
An old woman with a cart full of cat litter glared at Kyle behind her glasses and read his name tag but soon fixed her gaze on a young man of about thirty-five wearing a crisp business suit. He walked over to Kyle and broke the respectable personal space barrier. Out of habit Kyle straightened his slacker slouch and jerked his neck so that his greasy blonde hair parted to the side .
“I need large dog food.”
“Yeah we have that.. and the only bags we have are big”
“You misunderstand, I need food,for a dog ,that is large.”
“Oh the bags say on them what they’re for.”
Kyle turned around and started heaving bags onto the pallet. Dan shoved Kyle’s shoulder,
“Kyle, hand him one of those bags, off the cart.”
Kyle picked up the nearest bag and held it out for the man to grab.
“That’s not what I need.”
“You said you needed a big bag of dog food…”
“That’s not what I said.”
“ Just take it man, I get off in like two minutes.”
“That’s Meow Mix.”
Kyle let go of the bag and looked to Dan,
“Well I tried.I’m gonna clock out and get our stuff.”
“Yeah me too Kelly is coming over so we’re gonna need some girly shit”
“Like Mike’s Hard Lemonade?”
The man stepped forward in between Kyle and Dan,
“Are either of you going to assist me?”
The brothers looked at him and took off their blue polos revealing what used to be white tank tops.
“Sorry bro, we’re off the clock.”
The two Walmart employees continued down the aisle and disappeared into the rest of the store. Dean stepped over the bags of pet food and went to the cart that the two idiots had left in the middle of the aisle. He read the ingredients of each bag until he found a brand that claimed to be all natural. Dean hoisted the bag on his shoulder and turned to see the old woman dragging the bag of Meow Mix to her cart. In one movement Dean placed the cat food on top of the woman’s cat litter and made his way to the front of the store.
“Thank you so much! I could have never gotten it up there by myself!”
Without breaking stride he answered her,
“I noticed that. You should only by things you can carry.”
He glanced at his watch it was 8:02 and had been seven minutes since he left Sergeant in the Volvo. When he arrived at the cash register he already had his card out and was able to make it to the car during the first few seconds of 8:03. Sergeant’s ears perked up as she heard the car unlock and pop of the trunk. The dog food fit in the trunk and did not require shoving or rearranging. He looked forward and as he lowered the lid. Fifty feet ahead of Dean, Kyle pushed Dan, along with four cases of Coors Light in a Walmart shopping cart. Dean shut the trunk and hopped into the driver’s seat after pushing the dog back into its’ designated area. Going behind the building was the shortest way into the suburbs. It led to a back road that connected to the residential streets. Dean parked the car at the street entrance and turned the head lights off concealing himself in the shadow of the building.
“I have to take care of a situation. We will be home in twelve minutes.”
She went to lick his face but was left alone before her tongue escaped her mouth. The trunk released and Dean put his coat on a wire hanger and laid it on top of the dog food before closing it again. He placed his keys and wallet on the back wheel well and waited on the sidewalk. Dan and Kyle could be heard long before they were seen. A mixture of yells, stupidity, and broken laughter.
“What now, Kyle?”
“ I forgot the girly shit!”
“ We got some of that Lemonade stuff.”
“That’s not a bitch drink!. If you drink like ten you get a pretty good buzz.”
“ We can’t go back, Mom is gonna lock the door at 8:30”
During their argument they had failed to notice Dean standing in the middle of the sidewalk. If they would have saw him they would have gone around to the main exit in attempt to not waste any “party-time”.
“Uh, Hi Sir how ya doing?”
Dan pulled his legs into the cart and sat cross legged.
“Get out of the cart.”
Kyle looked at Dean,
“There’s plenty more, man, go get one yourself, I’m not your bitch.”
“Taking that cart off the premises is a crime.”
“You just saw me, I work here.”
“Regardless of where you work it’s larceny.”
“I don’t even know what that is! Just leave us alone!”
Kyle pushed the cart forward. Dean grabbed the sides of the cart and put his face an inch away from Dan’s nose.
“Hey man there’s two of us, do you really want to try somethin?”
Dan sat motionless as Kyle made his way around the cart. Upon Kyle’s movement many things happened at once. Dean grabbed Dan by the shoulders and lifted him out of the cart. In panic, Dan flailed his limbs and causing the cart and its contents to fall on top of Kyle. Dan wet himself. Dean flung Dan on to the concrete and went to the man under the cart. Kyle was far more surprised than injured,
“What the hell is your problem?”
“Take the cart back.”
“NO. Get the FUCK out of here.”
“I am going to tell you one more time. Take the cart back.”
Kyle stared into Dean’s relaxed face. Dean’s calm demeanor made the vein under Kyle’s translucent skin bulge and his fingers curl into a fist.
“I… I.. .I’ll take it back it sir. Right now.. I.. I’ll do it right now.”
Dan got to his feet and emptied the cart and ran in the direction of the parking lot. Kyle rose to his feet and took quick steps towards Dean with his fist cocked. Dean did not wait for the fist to make contact before he broke Kyle’s nose. After he forced Kyle’s nose upwards he took a few steps back in the direction of his car as the Walmart employee writhed in pain on the bloodied concrete.
“Don’t do this again. It will be worse next time.”
He turned around and retrieved his jacket and his other belongings on the wheel well. He entered the vehicle and drove off into the suburbs.
“Sorry about the inconvenience, I’m sure your hungry.”
Sergeant blinked one eye at a time.
Dean sighed. The dog wasn’t smart but at least it didn’t talk back. It’s biggest crime was not understanding, and that could be forgiven. Intent was what mattered but everyone was responsible for his or her actions. The dog was a victim.
After four minutes Dean parked his car along the sidewalk. He popped the trunk, grabbed the dog food and opened the door for Sergeant. The houses were two story and respectable. Ideal for large families with children. Plenty of sidewalks and slow speed limits so even the most responsible of people could afford to neglect the very children that they chose to bring into this world. Each house had green grass and sprinklers that came on after dark to help aid in preserving water. The light posts were littered with yard sale posters and neighborhood watch signs. It was quiet and secure.
They walked a few houses down and stopped in front of a two story house with brown trim. The lights were off and the air was still. The long sloping driveway was empty apart from a red 98 toyota camery which was in relatively good shape but showed sun damage through chipped paint. Dean walked his normal route; he hugged the right side of the camery, careful not to step into the freshly watered grass. Sergeant followed him with her nose to the ground. When he got to the top of the driveway there was a gate that lead to the backyard. A lock sat keeping the latch closed. He pulled out his keys and placed the small one inside and the lock released with a click. Before the pair passed through Dean knelt down and held his hand over her throat. He applied pressure not enough to make her squirm but enough to feel her gentle pulse against his callous fingers.
“You need to be quiet.”
Dean wanted her to nod or blink twice but she just began to squirm for her frame did not support stillness. Dean released her and moved forward. Sergeant followed Dean through the gate but then followed her nose off the concrete and into the grass. After 45 seconds she returned after finding that the backyard was being kept from her via a wooden gate. Dean had made the gate and was proud of it. The wood was of high quality and stained to match the trim of the house. The latch and hinges were well kept and did not split despite the graininess of the wood. Sergeant ears lifted before barreling over to the gate for a second time. This time her nose was under the fence and she was met with the same fast paced nasally inhale. He opened the door and Sergeant was greeted by six mutts. All well fed and collared. He shut the gate behind her and walked back towards the locked gate. He pulled out his key ring and fingered to the key labeled “HOUSE”. He stopped before the aluminum alloy fate that he had entered through and turned right towards the door that lead into the garage.
The key fit and he went inside. It wouldn’t be right to call this room a garage. There was no car let alone room for one. The perimeter was lined with stacks of boxes that reached to the ceiling. Each box was labeled with Dean’s hand writing despite that none of the contents inside belonged to him. There were boxes labeled, “CHRISTMAS”, “RECEIPTS”, “QVC JEWELRY”, and “AMAZON PURCHASES”, along with multiple others. The inside of the room was somewhat bare but had what Dean considered essentials. There was a full sized bed with 1200 thread count creme colored sheets located right next to the door. Across from the bed a battery operated analog clock was mounted to the cardboard wall. On the other side of the bed was a white oak desk with nothing on it except for a laptop. in the corner there was a dog bed with minimal wear. In the adjacent corner there were six three drawered file cabinets and next to the cabinets there was a locked box. Inside there was a Smith &Wesson .357 magnum, three worn boxes of 50 count .357 rounds, a California Concealed pistol license, a Taser C2, and a tactical knife. Running along the perimeter of boxes were extension cords and power strips that served to fuel the floor lamps that lit the room. One lamp was by the bed, the other by his desk and the third by his “closet”. The closet was made from stacked boxes and a stick that had belonged to a broom. There hung his six identical suits on “Thank You For Your Patronage” hangers draped in plastic. Next to his suits were fourteen dresshirts varying in colors. Underneath the hanging items sits two boxes. The first filled with folded delicates,fourteen pairs of socks, and a black cotton shirt and black pocketed pants. The second box was sectioned. The section on the left was filled with ties, tie pins and cuff links and belts that he wore daily and the right was filled with red and blue ties that he no longer wore for they no longer fit his purpose. Sharing floor space with these boxes were two pairs of identical shoes, a brief case, and an aluminum bat.
When Dean entered the room he did a run through to make sure everything was in place. This took 27 minutes. After his run through he placed the dog food in the bowls that he had placed outside. He called Sergeant from the backyard and enclosed her in the dog run. He patted her on the head with force that caused her ears to flatten and walked back into his room. Before lying on the bed he unlatched the dog door, grabbed his bat, and closed his eyes.
Dean slept 5 hours every night. There was no need for an alarm, alarms were noisy,abrupt and unhelpful. People choose to wake up and should get up every morning for more than halting an annoyance. At 2:47 he opened his eyes but kept his breathing slow. He let his ears check for any disturbances. His body tensed at the sound of breathing and tapping. He sat up bat in hand and scanned the room. He turned the light on and scanned the room. Sergeant eyes winced and the new light sources but she kept her eyes shut and her breathing stayed slow. Her silver haired foot twitched and tapped against the cardboard wall. Dean clenched his jaw and stood up. He slipped his shoes off and walked towards the boxed perimeter that bordered the door that lead to the house. He walked to the centered where the boxes were stacked in a straight up and down pattern unlike the rest of the permitter which were laid like bricks. Dean slid one row of boxes to the side and slipped through. The door to the house could not open all the way due to the amount of boxes but there was a space just big enough for Dean to fit through.
The lights were off and it smelled like cardboard,dust, and soiled sterility. The house was quiet except for the distant buzz of a humidifier upstairs and a gear in a grandfather clock that clicked because it had not been wound correctly. Dean was silent despite his size. He moved gracefully due to muscle memory and necessity. His eyes had adjusted to the dark and he could see bags and boxes filled with items that were bought but never used. They filled what would have been den. The carpet was powdered with dust. A well worn path void of dust particles led from the garage to the guest bathroom. On the other side of the bathroom there were stacks of boxes that shielded Dean’s walkway from the rest of the house. He pushed the handle down and walked inside. There was faux wood floors that might have been nice when they were installed. The panels needed to be sealed again for the moisture from bathroom use had caused the panels to peel upward. He reached towards the sink and pressed the button on the nightlight. The nightlight was stained glass mural of a fairy wearing pink petals. The lightbulb behind was browned with age. Dean opened the cabinet beneath the sink and pulled out a clean and crisp brown towel and a bag with travel size toiletries: toothbrush,toothpaste,deodorant,razor, shaving cream, soap, and shampoo. The bathroom was bare and sterile. Dean placed each item of his bag into the shower, undressed, set the temperature to warm and hopped in. He let the water run over his face to wake him up fully. He kept the shower door cracked along with the bathroom door. He had been gone for four minutes and had 7 minutes left of his morning routine. At the start of minute five, Dean’s shower was interrupted by a “BARK”. The silence of the house had been broken and the ceiling creaked under the shifted weight. Before the faucet could begin its residual drips Dean was back in the garage. Sergeant was laying on his bed with one paw crossed over the other, her ears perked up and mouth ajar so the happiness could escape from between her teeth along with the glisten in her eyes. Her joweled smile began to waiver when Dean grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, Her ears folded downward he threw her off the bed. She closed her eyes when she saw her owner pull back his arm. The anticipation was heavy on her eyelids. After six seconds she opened her eyes. Her owner was no longer in the room.
The house was quiet once again when Dean turned on the shower. He cracked the door so he could hear the silence. Dean hated showers. He valued cleanliness and hygiene but not the vulnerability of having to close his eyes to shampoo his hair while being cornered behind an opaque curtain. Water running over his ears obscuring the sound waves that tried to enter was but another discomfort. The door pushed open and padded paws followed with the occasional click of a claw. The shower curtain dimpled in the shape of a nose. The smell of crisp lemongrass was overpowered by the dirt and musk the steam had pulled from Sergeant’s fur. Dean ignored and focused passed the echoed lapping of toilet bowl water. The house was still and quiet and not disturbed by the beat of a tail against a wooden cabinet. Dean was angry but he couldn’t convey that message without yelling. He had gone to hit her but didn’t. He could justify pulling his hand back, she had made noise, failing to follow an order but he could not justify making contact, enacting punishment on something incapable of competence and responsibility. Discipline was necessary but it would have to wait. Dean was twelve minutes behind schedule.
Dean had planned for an extra twenty minutes but that was not something to be abused. He placed his toiletries back under the sink and took the rest of his belongings back to the garage. He used his towel to wipe the moisture off of his watch and then hung it on his desk chair. No time was spent on deciding what to wear. It was Monday. He pulled out the the suit furthest to the left and pulled out his black dresshirt. He buttoned it up and grabbed his keys and walked over to the bottom file cabinet. He grabbed the file in front labeled: AUGUST 12. Inside there was one piece of printed paper.
AUGUST 12 SCHEDULE
3:45 AM – LEAVE
6:31-10:06 AM- DR. NOLAN
10:07-10:38 AM – BANK
10:39-11:55 AM- LUNCH
11:56-1:04 PM- PARK
1:05-2:42 PM- COUNTY
4:01- 4:32 PM- GROCERIES
4:33-6:07 PM- DINNER
6:08- 6:27 PM- GAS STATION
6:28-8:35 PM- SUBURBS
8:35 PM – HOME
Dean’s eyes glanced at the paper and shut the folder. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a shredder, attached it to his trashcan and shredded the file. The watch on his wrist read 3:35. Dean pushed the boxes aside and entered the house. Instead of following his trail he stepped over boxes until he found two coolers, one red the other blue. He picked them up without strain and took them back to the garage. His wallet and keys already in his breast pocket made it easy for him to leave the garage without hesitation. as he went through the door to outside he nodded towards Sergeant.
Sergeant had been sitting on her bed watching her master pace across the room. With each change of direction, she would stand up and become alert waiting for instruction. After a half an hour of this her bones grew tired so she retreated to laying on her bed watching Dean’s every move. She understood the nod and got up with a stretch and a tail wag. Dean loaded up the trunk with the coolers and opened the back seat for Sergeant. She hopped up without trouble and with some half hearted circling she found comfort.