One Man’s Dog
The alarm clock’s ringing reverberated through his skull like a cacophony of madness. Mad…right. That’s exactly how this all seemed to him now.
It was midnight. It was time. Thinking back, he wasn’t exactly sure what made him decide this is what he had to do. Maybe it was the blood, the whimpering of the dying dogs or the applause of the cheering, blood-thirsty crowd, as they watched the slaughter of humanity right then and there in the fighting pit. Whatever it was, it had come far too late.
“God…today will be the last time these fucks get to enjoy their show,” Frank mumbled as he pulled on his gloves and pushed open the door to his van.
He had already notified the local police that the illegal dog fighting syndicate was going to have their weekly session today. The first and last time he would ever rely on the police. Crossing the street towards the abandoned warehouse, where the whole thing was taking place, he looked up. It was a cloudless sky he saw, lit up by the mural of stars and the full moon, making it seem like it was the middle of the day. “Heh, just like last time my life took a turn for the absolute worst.” He didn’t want to think about it now. Not now, not ever. Frank knew he had to be focused for this. No second chances.
He reached the rusted metal door that marked the entrance to the warehouse just as he banished the last painful memory. Pulling it open, he was greeted by a dimly-lit hallway.
“Frank! Boy, get over here!“ At the end of the hallway, Malcolm, his slim face perfectly framed by a stubble of hair on top and a stubble of beard below, was amicably waving him over. The tall man was well-dressed as though he was attending a formal event. Not only was he the bouncer of the warehouse, he was also the one organizing the dog fights and acquiring new dogs. Frank never wanted to hate someone as much as he wanted to hate Malcolm. And yet he just couldn’t. In a life full of sorrow, full of death and loss, Malcolm was one of the only people that didn’t treat Frank as what he was: a failure.
“Malcolm, already got the show on the road, I assume?” They shook hands and Malcolm took a long puff of the cigar in his right hand.
“Frank, today is a BIG day. We got a huge audience here today because today, it’s less about the betting and more about the fighting. We’re gonna crown a champ here today,” he boasted.
“‘s that mean you got that mean sonuvabitch of a Rottweiler here today you told me about last week?”
“You know it. It’s gonna be one hell of a fight between him and that Rhodesian Ridgeback that tore up the arena last week. All bets are off. Anything could happen today.”
“Anything, huh?” Frank probed, “In that case, can I just take look at the contenders before I place my bet?”
“Be my guest. Just go through, you already know where we keep the dogs.” Malcolm opened the screeching door behind him, and Frank went through into the adjacent room.
The main hall of the warehouse was a spacious area, full of discarded boxes, barrels and construction machinery. The air was turgid with sweat and smoke and in the middle of it all the arena was set up. Like some sort of morbid pentagram summoning whatever demons this hellhole might conjure up. Or in this case, the audience. And what a gathering it was. Half-wits, social outcasts, people desperate for money, bettors looking for a thrill, junkies and even some who find a sort of sick, perverted pleasure in the dog fights.
Frank was in no place to talk. He had been all those things at one point. The thought of it made him retch. The idea that “Maybe I should have ended it all” had been floating around in his mind an awful lot lately; and maybe he should have. Whatever the case, at least he could do this one good thing today. As a way to ease his mind, to help someone besides himself for once in his life. Not as atonement. Frank knew it was already too late for that. He just hoped they had a nice, quiet place reserved for him in hell…
He made his way to the room in the back, where the hell hounds were kept.
There they were. Ten cages neatly lined up in a row. A death row in a way.
“What do ya want, Frank?” A plump, sweat-covered face was suspiciously eyeing him out of the corner of the room. Michael; torturer, tormenter and personal trainer of the dogs. He rationed their food so they were starved, which brought out the fear and viciousness of the poor beasts. With his whip always at his side, he was ready to dish out pain and suffering to everyone who wouldn’t obey his commands. A slave master, really. A particularly nasty one.
„Just checking out the fighters. Heard you had some formidable specimen lined up for the fights?“ Frank knew exactly how he had to handle Michael: appeal to his pride. And as usual, he took the bait immediately.
“That’s one hell of an understatement. I got the best fighting dogs here you’ll ever find”, he bragged as a big grin spread across his face; like a pampered rich kid that considers everyone and everything his plaything.
The bulky, broad-shouldered man got out of the chair that was far too small for him anyway and walked past Frank towards the cages. As he kneeled down in front of one them, he started speaking in a low, almost dreamy voice: “Ah, yes, Malcolm told you about this one. A beauty of a Rottweiler. Well-kept, well…starved. He’s ready to tear the others apart, even that Rhodesian trash. That dirty mutt NEVER listens. Heh…his loss. He doesn’t seem to enjoy the whip too much, always growling, whimpering, cowering. I will enjoy seeing him cower in in th-!”
He never saw the bottle coming as it struck him square on the back of his head with as much force and impetus as Frank could muster. The bottle he had picked up from the table the pig had been sitting at, burst into a hundred shards of glass, its content diluted by a shade of red and Michael slumped to the ground, unconscious, maybe worse. “Who’s cowering now, asshole.”
Just as he was picking up Michael’s keys, Frank heard them in the distance. The police sirens. Took them long enough. He should have another minute or two to open all the locks and scram before it all went to hell. Yet he had only just opened the first cage when the door behind him sprang open. Malcolm was standing in the doorway, anxious but clearly ready to fly off the handle any second. For what felt like an eternity, they were just standing there, while Malcolm’s eyes wandered from Michael’s body to the wound on his head to Frank and finally to the keys in his hand. His expression rapidly changed. Realization? Anger? Was that…pity? Whatever it was, Frank didn’t care anymore. He just wanted to get away and leave all this madness behind him. Leave it all behind him, like he always does. Like everyone always does…
„What is this, Frank?“ Malcolm asked, his voice tense. „Is this why you wanted to see the dogs? So the police is also your doing, I assume. Why? Didn’t I give you a place when you had nowhere to go? When you had no one to turn to? Why do this now?“
„I’m sorry Malcolm. I am grateful to you, I am. But…this is not about you.“
„THEN WHAT IT IS ABOUT!?“ The sudden outburst made Frank flinch. He had never seen the tall man like this. His expression twisted with rage, one hand already on the trusty switchblade strapped to his belt.
„I…I just couldn’t bear to see these dogs in any more pain.“
„Oh, what a saint you are. Please, spare me your moral bullshit, hypocrite. You’ve been coming here for weeks, months even. You’ve been participating, betting, cheering.“
And yet you remained a fuck-up your entire life, haven’t you?
That one stung.
“Whatever, I don’t have the time to listen to your nonsense. I can still get away through the back. Sure, I have to give up the dogs but oh…you have no idea how easy it is to get new ones. Shelters, stray ones. Or we simply abduct them. And Michael was always…disposable. Now, are you gonna let me through or do I have to get rid of you, punk?”, he spat the last word as he pulled out his switchblade and held it out in front of him.
Frank knew the threat was real. He had seen Malcolm deal with other people before. People who wouldn’t pay up, who tried to cheat at the fighting pit. It wasn’t pretty. But it’s not like he didn’t come prepared. The ringleader’s eyes widened when Frank pulled out the gun he had been reserving for a special occasion.
“Look at you, holding that tiny gun with two hands as though it’s a magnum. You really want to do this? ”
“I don’t. But I will if I have to.”
“Well that’s gonna be a problem!” Malcolm yelled as he broke into a sprint, the knife aimed at Frank’s chest. A gunshot resounded through the room. Malcolm swerved, staggered. Blood ran down his left arm. His face a mask distorted by pain but he kept going. Before Frank was able fire the second bullet, he felt an exploding sensation in his abdomen. He was screaming now, trying to push Malcolm away from him. Trying to push the deafening pain away. Yet Malcolm held tight. A mad grin adorned his face. Frank knew he had to do something. The gun! Where was the gun? He didn’t know, didn’t know anything; couldn’t see straight. His vision was fading…”Not again, why do I always have to fuck up…”
Then suddenly the pressure was subsiding. The immeasurable pain remained but it wasn’t blocking out his other senses anymore. Bit by aching bit his eyesight returned. What he saw next punched the last bit of breath right out of his gut. Malcolm was lying spread-eagled on the floor, a pool of blood forming below the area around his neck and next to him, the Rhodesian Ridgeback was standing, his teeth coated in a deep crimson. Yet he wasn’t growling, wasn’t snarling. He was simply sitting there, looking up at Frank with his head slightly tilted, panting. Saved by a mutt meant to kill.
“I’m…sorry, for what they did to you. But…you stay here. You-you’re gonna be fine now.” Every breath was another dirty wave of anguish. Frank made his way towards the back entrance. Dying or being saved by the police to rot in prison for the rest of his life? Only one sensible choice. If he died here, he wouldn’t regret it. At least for once in his life he didn’t screw everything up. At least…the dogs would be okay.
He knew the knife had to stay for now, the blood loss would be too much for him too handle. Then again, all of this had been.
A few more steps…
The night sky bathed Frank in radiant light…
The world started spinning…
And finally went black…
The last thing he felt was a dog’s cold, scar-ridden back.
Frank opened his eyes and promptly squeezed them shut again. His head was booming and it felt like he was gonna throw up any second. Once more, he made an attempt to check his surroundings. Was that…his van?
„Hey…“, he muttered wearily and looked down. It was the pup that had saved his sorry ass, licking his hand with such fervor, Frank thought he considered it a snack.
„How did you get in here? How did I get here?
Frank tried sitting up. The world was still spinning but it didn’t feel as though he was gonna die anymore. Checking his stomach, he was surprised to find a hefty set of bandages tightly wrapped around his waist. Whoever had bandaged him up clearly understood their trade.
As he took a look around his bed chamber, something on the shelf to his right grabbed Frank’s attention. A piece of paper of some sort. A…letter?
“Good morning, sleeping beauty. I hope you had a good rest, you deserve it!
Just take it slow for a while or your wound might open back up. Take care, my hero.
Ps: I named the doggy Pompidou
Frank’s mouth stood open. “R.” He hadn’t the slightest inkling of a clue who this letter could be from but it sure sounded like a girl wrote this. “Well, I guess you’re gonna be Pompidou from now on.” he said, looking at the mutt. “Saved twice in one night, huh? Once by a dog meant to kill and once by a stranger. Guess it’s just been one of those days…”
As he sank back down into his bed he felt Pompidou jump up onto the mattress and curl up beside him. “Alright, buddy, but only this once.”
Frank closed his eyes and was once again greeted by the sweet embrace of sleep.
The last thing he felt was the warm, scar-ridden back of a dog.