Animal Rescue
by Dennis Lehane
(read by James Colby)

a crew = a group of criminals; a gang
a drop = a place to temporarily keep criminal money
a fence = someone who buys and sells stolen goods
blow; coke = cocaine
merch = merchandise
a 9mm = a 9mm caliber pistol
blow his brains out = shoot himself in the head
kid-diddler = child molester
loan shark = an illegal money lender
skimming = taking money for personal use from the cash receipts of a business
nutbag; loonies = crazy person / crazy people
old biddie = old woman

At Cousin Marv’s, where he tended bar twelve to ten, Wednesday through Sunday, he told Marv all about it. Most people called Marv Cousin Marv out of habit, something that went back to grade school though no one could remember how, but Marv actually was Bob’s cousin. On his mother’s side.

Cousin Marv had run a crew in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It had been primarily comprised of guys with interests in the loaning and subsequent debt-repayal side of things, though Marv never turned his nose down at any paying proposition because he believed, to the core of his soul, that those who failed to diversify were always the first to collapse when the wind turned. Like the dinosaurs, he’d say to Bob, when the cavemen came along and invented arrows. Picture the cavemen, he’d say, firing away, and the tyrannosauruses all gucked up in the oil puddles. A tragedy so easily averted.

Marv’s crew hadn’t been the toughest crew or the smartest or the most successful operating in the neighborhood—not even close—but for a while they got by. Other crews kept nipping at their heels, though, and except for one glaring exception, they’d never been ones to favor violence. Pretty soon, they had to make the decision to yield to crews a lot meaner than they were or duke it out. They took Door Number One.

Marv’s income derived from running his bar as a drop. In the new world order—a loose collective of Chechen, Italian, and Irish hard guys—no one wanted to get caught with enough merch or enough money for a case to go Federal. So they kept it out of their offices and out of their homes and they kept it on the move. About every two to three weeks, drops were made at Cousin Marv’s, among other establishments. You sat on the drop for a night, two at the most, before some beer-truck driver showed up with the weekend’s password and hauled everything back out on a dolly like it was a stack of empty kegs, took it away in a refrigerated semi. The rest of Marv’s income derived from being a fence, one of the best in the city, but being a fence in their world (or a drop bar operator for that matter) was like being a mailroom clerk in the straight world—if you were still doing it after thirty, it was all you’d ever do. For Bob, it was a relief—he liked being a bartender and he’d hated that one time they’d had to come heavy. Marv, though, Marv still waited for the golden train to arrive on the golden tracks, take him away from all this. Most times, he pretended to be happy. But Bob knew that the things that haunted Marv were the same things that haunted Bob—the shitty things you did to get ahead. Those things laughed at you if your ambitions failed to amount to much; a successful man could hide his past; an unsuccessful man sat in his.

That morning, Marv was looking a hair on the mournful side, lighting one Camel while the previous one still smoldered, so Bob tried to cheer him up by telling him about his adventure with the dog. Marv didn’t seem too interested, and Bob found himself saying “You had to be there” so much, he eventually shut up about it.

Marv said, “Rumor is we’re getting the Super Bowl drop.”

“No shit?”

If true (an enormous if), this was huge. They worked on commission—one half of one percent of the drop. A Super Bowl drop? It would be like one half of one percent of Exxon.

Nadia’s scar flashed in Bob’s brain, the redness of it, the thick, ropey texture. “They send extra guys to protect it, you think?”

Marv rolled his eyes. “Why, cause people are just lining up to steal from coked-up Chechnyans.”

“Chechens,” Bob said.

“But they’re from Chechnya.”

Bob shrugged. “I think it’s like how you don’t call people from Ireland Irelandians.”

Marv scowled. “Whatever. It means all this hard work we’ve been doing? It’s paid off. Like how Toyota did it, making friends and influencing people.”

Bob kept quiet. If they ended up being the drop for the Super Bowl, it was because someone figured out no Feds deemed them important enough to be watched. But in Marv’s fantasies, the crew (long since dispersed to straight jobs, jail, or, worse, Connecticut) could regain its glory days, even though those days had lasted about as long as a Swatch. It never occurred to Marv that one day they’d come take everything he had—the fence, the money and merch he kept in the safe in back, hell, the bar probably—just because they were sick of him hanging around, looking at them with needy expectation. It had gotten so every time he talked about the “people he knew,” the dreams he had, Bob had to resist the urge to reach for the 9mm they kept beneath the bar and blow his own brains out. Not really—but close sometimes. Man, Marv could wear you out.

A guy stuck his head in the bar, late twenties but with white hair, a white goatee, a silver stud in his ear. He dressed like most kids these days—like shit: pre-ripped jeans, slovenly T-shirt under a faded hoodie under a wrinkled wool topcoat. He didn’t cross the threshold, just craned his head in, the cold day pouring in off the sidewalk behind him.

“Help you?” Bob asked.

The guy shook his head, kept staring at the gloomy bar like it was a crystal ball.

“Mind shutting the door?” Marv didn’t look up. “Cold out there.”

“You serve Zima?” The guy’s eyes flew around the bar, up and down, left to right.

Marv looked up now. “Who the fuck would we serve it to—Moesha?”

The guy raised an apologetic hand. “My bad.” He left, and the warmth returned with the closing of the door.

Marv said, “You know that kid?”

Bob shook his head. “Mighta seen him around but I can’t place him.”

“He’s a fucking nutbag. Lives in the next parish, probably why you don’t know him. You’re old school that way, Bob—somebody didn’t go to parochial school with you, it’s like they don’t exist.”

Bob couldn’t argue. When he’d been a kid, your parish was your country. Everything you needed and needed to know was contained within it. Now that the archdiocese had shuttered half the parishes to pay for the crimes of the kid-diddler priests, Bob couldn’t escape the fact that those days of parish dominion, long dwindling, were gone. He was a certain type of guy, of a certain half-generation, an almost generation, and while there were still plenty of them left, they were older, grayer, they had smokers’ coughs, they went in for checkups and never checked back out.

“That kid?” Marv gave Bob a bump of his eyebrows. “They say he killed Richie Whelan back in the day.”

“They say?”

“They do.”

“Well, then . . .”

They sat in silence for a bit. Snow-dust blew past the window in the high-pitched breeze. The street signs and window panes rattled, and Bob thought how winter lost any meaning the day you last rode a sled. Any meaning but gray. He looked into the unlit sections of the barroom. The shadows became hospital beds, stooped old widowers shopping for sympathy cards, empty wheelchairs. The wind howled a little sharper.

“This puppy, right?” Bob said. “He’s got paws the size of his head. Three are brown but one’s white with these little peach-colored spots over the white. And—”

“This thing cook?” Marv said. “Clean the house? I mean, it’s a fucking dog.”

“Yeah, but it was—” Bob dropped his hands. He didn’t know how to explain. “You know that feeling you get sometimes on a really great day? Like, like, the Pats dominate and you took the ‘over,’ or they cook your steak just right up the Blarney, or, or you just feel good? Like . . .” Bob found himself waving his hands again “. . . good?”

Marv gave him a nod and a tight smile. Went back to his racing sheet.

* * *

On Sunday morning, Nadia brought the puppy to his car as he idled in front of her house. She handed it through the window and gave them both a little wave.

He looked at the puppy sitting on his seat and fear washed over him. What does it eat? When does it eat? Housebreaking. How do you do that? How long does it take? He’d had days to consider these questions—why were they only occurring to him now?

He hit the brakes and reversed the car a few feet. Nadia, one foot on her bottom step, turned back. He rolled down the passenger window, craned his body across the seat until he was peering up at her.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I don’t know anything.”

* * *

At a supermarket for pets, Nadia picked out several chew toys, told Bob he’d need them if he wanted to keep his couch. Shoes, she told him, keep your shoes hidden from now on, up on a high shelf. They bought vitamins—for a dog!—and a bag of puppy food she recommended, telling him the most important thing was to stick with that brand from now on. Change a dog’s diet, she warned, you’ll get piles of diarrhea on your floor.

They got a crate to put him in when Bob was at work. They got a water bottle for the crate and a book on dog training written by monks who were on the cover looking hardy and not real monkish, big smiles. As the cashier rang it all up, Bob felt a quake rumble through his body, a momentary disruption as he reached for his wallet. His throat flushed with heat. His head felt fizzy. And only as the quake went away and his throat cooled and his head cleared and he handed over his credit card to the cashier did he realize, in the sudden disappearance of the feeling, what the feeling had been: for a moment—maybe even a succession of moments, and none sharp enough to point to as the cause—he’d been happy.

* * *

“So, thank you,” she said when he pulled up in front of her house.

“What? No. Thank you. Please. Really. It . . . Thank you.”

She said, “This little guy, he’s a good guy. He’s going to make you proud, Bob.”

He looked down at the puppy, sleeping on her lap now, snoring slightly. “Do they do that? Sleep all the time?”

“Pretty much. Then they run around like loonies for about twenty minutes. Then they sleep some more. And poop. Bob, man, you got to remember that—they poop and pee like crazy. Don’t get mad. They don’t know any better. Read the monk book. It takes time, but they figure out soon enough not to do it in the house.”

“What’s soon enough?”

“Two months?” She cocked her head. “Maybe three. Be patient, Bob.”

“Be patient,” he repeated.

“And you too,” she said to the puppy as she lifted it off her lap. He came awake, sniffing, snorting. He didn’t want her to go. “You both take care.” She let herself out and gave Bob a wave as she walked up her steps, then went inside.

The puppy was on its haunches, staring up at the window like Nadia might reappear there. It looked back over its shoulder at Bob. Bob could feel its abandonment. He could feel his own. He was certain they’d make a mess of it, him and this throwaway dog. He was sure the world was too strong.

“What’s your name?” he asked the puppy. “What are we going to call you?”

The puppy turned its head away, like, Bring the girl back.