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


First thing it did was take a shit in the dining room.

Bob didn’t even realize what it was doing at first. It started sniffing, nose scraping the rug, and then it looked up at Bob with an air of embarrassment. And Bob said, “What?” and the dog dumped all over the corner of the rug.

Bob scrambled forward, as if he could stop it, push it back in, and the puppy bolted, left droplets on the hardwood as it scurried into the kitchen.

Bob said, “No, no. It’s okay.” Although it wasn’t. Most everything in the house had been his mother’s, largely unchanged since she’d purchased it in the ’50s. That was shit. Excrement. In his mother’s house. On her rug, her floor.

In the seconds it took him to reach the kitchen, the puppy’d left a piss puddle on the linoleum. Bob almost slipped in it. The puppy was sitting against the fridge, looking at him, tensing for a blow, trying not to shake.

And it stopped Bob. It stopped him even as he knew the longer he left the shit on the rug, the harder it would be to get out.

Bob got down on all fours. He felt the sudden return of what he’d felt when he first picked it out of the trash, something he’d assumed had left with Nadia. Connection. He suspected they might have been brought together by something other than chance.

He said, “Hey.” Barely above a whisper. “Hey, it’s all right.” So, so slowly, he extended his hand, and the puppy pressed itself harder against the fridge. But Bob kept the hand coming, and gently lay his palm on the side of the animal’s face. He made soothing sounds. He smiled at it. “It’s okay,” he repeated, over and over.

* * *

He named it Cassius because he’d mistaken it for a boxer and he liked the sound of the word. It made him think of Roman legions, proud jaws, honor.

Nadia called him Cash. She came around after work sometimes and she and Bob took it on walks. He knew something was a little off about Nadia—the dog being found so close to her house and her lack of surprise or interest in that fact was not lost on Bob—but was there anyone, anywhere on this planet, who wasn’t a little off? More than a little most times. Nadia came by to help with the dog and Bob, who hadn’t known much friendship in his life, took what he could get.

They taught Cassius to sit and lie down and paw and roll over. Bob read the entire monk book and followed its instructions. The puppy had his rabies shot and was cleared of any cartilage damage to his ear. Just a bruise, the vet said, just a deep bruise. He grew fast.

Weeks passed without Cassius having an accident, but Bob still couldn’t be sure whether that was luck or not, and then on Super Bowl Sunday, Cassius used one paw on the back door. Bob let him out and then tore through the house to call Nadia. He was so proud he felt like yodeling, and he almost mistook the doorbell for something else. A kettle, he thought, still reaching for the phone.

The guy on the doorstep was thin. Not weak-thin. Hard-thin. As if whatever burned inside of him burned too hot for fat to survive. He had blue eyes so pale they were almost gray. His silver hair was cropped tight to his skull, as was the goatee that clung to his lips and chin. It took Bob a second to recognize him—the kid who’d stuck his head in the bar five, six weeks back, asked if they served Zima.

The kid smiled and extended his hand. “Mr. Saginowski?”

Bob shook the hand. “Yes?”

“Bob Saginowski?” The man shook Bob’s large hand with his small one, and there was a lot of power in the grip.

“Yeah?”

“Eric Deeds, Bob.” The kid let go of his hand. “I believe you have my dog.”

* * *

In the kitchen, Eric Deeds said, “Hey, there he is.” He said, “That’s my guy.” He said, “He got big.” He said, “The size of him.”

Cassius slinked over to him, even climbed up on his lap when Eric, unbidden, took a seat at Bob’s kitchen table and patted his inner thigh twice. Bob couldn’t even say how it was Eric Deeds talked his way into the house; he was just one of those people had a way about him, like cops and Teamsters—he wanted in, he was coming in.

“Bob,” Eric Deeds said, “I’m going to need him back.” He had Cassius in his lap and was rubbing his belly. Bob felt a prick of envy as Cassius kicked his left leg, even though a constant shiver—almost a palsy—ran through his fur. Eric Deeds scratched under Cassius’s chin. The dog kept his ears and tail pressed flat to his body. He looked ashamed, his eyes staring down into their sockets.

“Um . . .” Bob reached out and lifted Cassius off Eric’s lap, plopped him down on his own, scratched behind his ears. “Cash is mine.”

The act was between them now—Bob lifting the puppy off Eric’s lap without any warning, Eric looking at him for just a second, like, The fuck was that all about? His forehead narrowed and it gave his eyes a surprised cast, as if they’d never expected to find themselves on his face. In that moment, he looked cruel, the kind of guy, if he was feeling sorry for himself, took a shit on the whole world.

“Cash?” he said.

Bob nodded as Cassius’s ears unfurled from his head and he licked Bob’s wrist. “Short for Cassius. That’s his name. What did you call him?”

“Called him Dog mostly. Sometimes Hound.”

Eric Deeds glanced around the kitchen, up at the old circular fluorescent in the ceiling, something going back to Bob’s mother, hell, Bob’s father just before the first stroke, around the time the old man had become obsessed with paneling—paneled the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, would’ve paneled the toilet if he could’ve figured out how.

Bob said, “You beat him.”

Eric reached into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a cigarette and popped it in his mouth. He lit it, shook out the match, tossed it on Bob’s kitchen table.

“You can’t smoke in here.”

Eric considered Bob with a level gaze and kept smoking. “I beat him?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh, so what?” Eric flicked some ash on the floor. “I’m taking the dog, Bob.”

Bob stood to his full height. He held tight to Cassius, who squirmed a bit in his arms and nipped at the flat of his hand. If it came to it, Bob decided, he’d drop all six feet three inches and two hundred ninety pounds of himself on Eric Deeds, who couldn’t weigh more than a buck-seventy. Not now, not just standing there, but if Eric reached for Cassius, well then . . .

Eric Deeds blew a stream of smoke at the ceiling. “I saw you that night. I was feeling bad, you know, about my temper? So I went back to see if the hound was really dead or not and I watched you pluck him out of the trash.”

“I really think you should go.” Bob pulled his cell from his pocket and flipped it open. “I’m calling 911.”

Eric nodded. “I’ve been in prison, Bob, mental hospitals. I’ve been a lotta places. I’ll go again, don’t mean a thing to me, though I doubt they’d prosecute even me for fucking up a dog. I mean, sooner or later, you gotta go to work or get some sleep.”

“What is wrong with you?”

Eric held out of his hands. “Pretty much everything. And you took my dog.”

“You tried to kill it.”

Eric said, “Nah.” Shook his head like he believed it.

“You can’t have the dog.”

“I need the dog.”

“No.”

“I love that dog.”

“No.”

“Ten thousand.”

“What?”

Eric nodded. “I need ten grand. By tonight. That’s the price.”

Bob gave a nervous chuckle. “Who has ten thousand dollars?”

“You could find it.”

“How could I poss—”

“Say, that safe in Cousin Marv’s office. You’re a drop bar, Bob. You don’t think half the neighborhood knows? So that might be a place to start.”

Bob shook his head. “Can’t be done. Any money we get during the day? Goes through a slot at the bar. Ends up in the office safe, yeah, but that’s on a time—”

“—lock, I know.” Eric turned on the couch, one arm stretched along the back of it. “Goes off at two a.m. in case they decide they need a last-minute payout for something who the fuck knows, but big. And you have ninety seconds to open and close it or it triggers two silent alarms, neither of which goes off in a police station or a security company. Fancy that.” Eric took a hit off his cigarette. “I’m not greedy, Bob. I just need stake money for something. I don’t want everything in the safe, just ten grand. You give me ten grand, I’ll disappear.”

“This is ludicrous.”

“So, it’s ludicrous.”

“You don’t just walk into someone’s life and—”

“That is life: someone like me coming along when you’re not looking.”

Bob put Cassius on the floor but made sure he didn’t wander over to the other side of the table. He needn’t have worried—Cassius didn’t move an inch, sat there like a cement post, eyes on Bob.

Eric Deeds said, “You’re racing through all your options, but they’re options for normal people in normal circumstances. I need my ten grand tonight. If you don’t get it for me, I’ll take your dog. I licensed him. You didn’t, because you couldn’t. Then I’ll forget to feed him for a while. One day, when he gets all yappy about it, I’ll beat his head in with a rock or something. Look in my eyes and tell me which part I’m lying about, Bob.”

* * *

After he left, Bob went to his basement. He avoided it whenever he could, though the floor was white, as white as he’d been able to make it, whiter than it had ever been through most of its existence. He unlocked a cupboard over the old wash sink his father had often used after one of his adventures in paneling, and removed a yellow and brown Chock full o’Nuts can from the shelf. He pulled fifteen thousand from it. He put ten in his pocket and five back in the can. He looked around again at the white floor, at the black oil tank against the wall, at the bare bulbs.

Upstairs he gave Cassius a bunch of treats. He rubbed his ears and his belly. He assured the animal that he was worth ten thousand dollars.

* * *

Bob, three deep at the bar for a solid hour between eleven and midnight, looked through a sudden gap in the crowd and saw Eric sitting at the wobbly table under the Narragansett mirror. The Super Bowl was an hour over, but the crowd, drunk as shit, hung around. Eric had one arm stretched across the table and Bob followed it, saw that it connected to something. An arm. Nadia’s arm. Nadia’s face stared back at Eric, unreadable. Was she terrified? Or something else?

Bob, filling a glass with ice, felt like he was shoveling the cubes into his own chest, pouring them into his stomach and against the base of his spine. What did he know about Nadia, after all? He knew that he’d found a near-dead dog in the trash outside her house. He knew that Eric Deeds only came into his life after Bob had met her. He knew that her middle name, thus far, could be Lies of Omission.

When he was twenty-eight, Bob had come into his mother’s bedroom to wake her for Sunday Mass. He’d given her a shake and she hadn’t batted at his hand as she normally did. So he rolled her toward him and her face was scrunched tight, her eyes too, and her skin was curbstone-gray. Sometime in the night, after Matlock and the ten o’clock news, she’d gone to bed and woke to God’s fist clenched around her heart. Probably hadn’t been enough air left in her lungs to cry out. Alone in the dark, clutching the sheets, that fist clenching, her face clenching, her eyes scrunching, the terrible knowledge dawning that, even for you, it all ends. And right now.

Standing over her that morning, imagining the last tick of her heart, the last lonely wish her brain had been able to form, Bob felt a loss unlike any he’d ever known or expected to know again.

Until tonight. Until now. Until he learned what that look on Nadia’s face meant.