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


By one fifty, the crowd was gone, just Eric and Nadia and an old, stringent, functioning alcoholic named Millie who’d amble off to the assisted living place up on Pearl Street at one fifty-five on the dot.

Eric, who had been coming to the bar for shots of Powers for the last hour, pushed back from the table and pulled Nadia across the floor with him. He sat her on a stool and Bob got a good look in her face finally, saw something he still couldn’t fully identify—but it definitely wasn’t excitement or smugness or the bitter smile of a victor. Maybe something worse than all of that—despair.

Eric gave him an all-teeth smile and spoke through it, softly. “When’s the old biddie pack it in?”

“A couple minutes.”

“Where’s Marv?”

“I didn’t call him in.”

“Why not?”

“Someone’s gonna take the blame for this, I figured it might as well be me.”

“How noble of—”

“How do you know her?”

Eric looked over at Nadia hunched on the stool beside him. He leaned into the bar. “We grew up on the same block.”

“He give you that scar?”

Nadia stared at him.

“Did he?”

“She gave herself the scar,” Eric Deeds said.

“You did?” Bob asked her.

Nadia looked at the bar top. “I was pretty high.”

“Bob,” Eric said, “if you fuck with me—even in the slightest—it doesn’t matter how long it takes me, I’ll come back for her. And if you got any plans, like Eric-doesn’t-walk-back-out-of-here plans? Not that you’re that type of guy, but Marv might be? You got any ideas in that vein, Bob, my partner on the Richie Whalen hit, he’ll take care of you both.”

Eric sat back as mean old Millie left the same tip she’d been leaving since Sputnik—a quarter—and slid off her stool. She gave Bob a rasp that was ten percent vocal chords and ninety percent Virginia Slims Ultra Light 100s. [cigarettes] “Yeah, I’m off.”

“You take care, Millie.”

She waved it away with a, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and pushed open the door.

Bob locked it behind her and came back behind the bar. He wiped down the bar top. When he reached Eric’s elbows, he said, “Excuse me.”

“Go around.”

Bob wiped the rag in a half-circle around Eric’s elbows.

“Who’s your partner?” Bob said.

“Wouldn’t be much of a threat if you knew who he was, would he, Bob?”

“But he helped you kill Richie Whalen?”

Eric said, “That’s the rumor, Bob.”

“More than a rumor.” Bob wiped in front of Nadia, saw red marks on her wrists where Eric had yanked them. He wondered if there were other marks he couldn’t see.

“Well then it’s more than a rumor, Bob. So there you go.”

“There you go what?”

“There you go,” Eric scowled. “What time is it, Bob?”

Bob placed ten thousand dollars on the bar. “You don’t have to call me by my name all the time.”

“I will see what I can do about that, Bob.” Eric thumbed the bills. “What’s this?”

“It’s the ten grand you wanted for Cash.”

Eric pursed his lips. “All the same, let’s look in the safe.”

“You sure?” Bob said. “I’m happy to buy him from you for ten grand.”

“How much for Nadia, though?”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

Bob thought about that new wrinkle for a bit and poured himself a closing-time shot of vodka. He raised it to Eric Deeds and then drank it down. “You know, Marv used to have a problem with blow about ten years ago?”

“I did not know that, Bob.”

Bob shrugged, poured them all a shot of vodka. “Yeah, Marv liked the coke too much but it didn’t like him back.”

Eric drank Nadia’s shot. “Getting close to two here, Bob.”

“He was more of a loan shark then. I mean, he did some fence, but mostly he was a shark. There was this kid? Into Marv for a shitload of money. Real hopeless case when it came to the dogs and basketball. Kinda kid could never pay back all he owed.”

Eric drank his own shot. “One fifty-seven, Bob.”

“The thing, though? This kid, he actually hit on a slot (machine) at Mohegan. Hit for twenty-two grand. Which is just a little more than he owed Marv.”

“And he didn’t pay Marv back, so you and Marv got all hard on him and I’m supposed to learn—”

“No, no. He paid Marv. Paid him every cent. What the kid didn’t know, though, was that Marv had been skimming. Because of the coke habit? And this kid’s money was like manna from heaven as long as no one knew it was from this kid. See what I’m saying?”

“Bob, it’s fucking one minute to two.” Sweat on Eric’s lip.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” Bob asked. “Do you understand the story?”

Eric looked to the door to make sure it was locked. “Fine, yeah. This kid, he had to be ripped off.”

“He had to be killed.”

Out of the side of his eye, a quick glance. “Okay, killed.”

Bob could feel Nadia’s eyes lock on him suddenly, her head cock a bit. “That way, he couldn’t ever say he paid off Marv and no one else could either. Marv uses the money to cover all the holes, he cleans up his act, it’s like it never happened. So that’s what we did.”

“You did . . .” Eric barely in the conversation, but some warning in his head starting to sound, his head turning from the clock toward Bob.

“Killed him in my basement,” Bob said. “Know what his name was?”

“I wouldn’t know, Bob.”

“Sure you would. Richie Whelan.”

Bob reached under the bar and pulled out the 9mm. He didn’t notice the safety was on, so when he pulled the trigger nothing happened. Eric jerked his head and pushed back from the bar rail, but Bob thumbed off the safety and shot Eric just below the throat. The gunshot sounded like aluminum siding being torn off a house. Nadia screamed. Not a long scream, but sharp with shock. Eric made a racket falling back off his stool, and by the time Bob came around the bar, Eric was already going, if not quite gone. The overhead fan cast thin slices of shadow over his face. His cheeks puffed in and out like he was trying to catch his breath and kiss somebody at the same time.

“I’m sorry, but you kids,” Bob said. “You know? You go out of the house dressed like you’re still in your living room. You say terrible things about women. You hurt harmless dogs. I’m tired of you, man.”

Eric stared up at him. Winced like he had heartburn. He looked pissed off. Frustrated. The expression froze on his face like it was sewn there, and then he wasn’t in his body anymore. Just gone. Just, shit, dead.

Bob dragged him into the cooler.

When he came back, pushing the mop and bucket ahead of him, Nadia still sat on her stool. Her mouth was a bit wider than usual and she couldn’t take her eyes off the floor where the blood was, but otherwise she seemed perfectly normal.

“He would have just kept coming,” Bob said. “Once someone takes something from you and you let them? They don’t feel gratitude, they just feel like you owe them more.” He soaked the mop in the bucket, wrung it out a bit, and slopped it over the main blood spot. “Makes no sense, right? But that’s how they feel. Entitled. And you can never change their minds after that.”

She said, “He . . . You just fucking shot him. You just . . . I mean, you know?”

Bob swirled the mop over the spot. “He beat my dog.”

* * *

The Chechens took care of the body after a discussion with the Italians and the Micks. Bob was told his money was no good at several restaurants for the next couple of months, and they gave him four tickets to a Celtics game. Not floor seats, but pretty good ones.

Bob never mentioned Nadia. Just said Eric showed up at the end of the evening, waved a gun around, said to take him to the office safe. Bob let him do his ranting, do his waving, found an opportunity, and shot him. And that was it. End of Eric, end of story.

Nadia came to him a few days later. Bob opened the door and she stood there on his stoop with a bright winter day turning everything sharp and clear behind her. She held up a bag of dog treats.

“Peanut butter,” she said, her smile bright, her eyes just a little wet. “With a hint of molasses.”

Bob opened the door wide and stepped back to let her in.

* * *

“I’ve gotta believe,” Nadia said, “there’s a purpose. And even if it’s that you kill me as soon as I close my eyes—”

“Me? What? No,” Bob said. “Oh, no.”

“—then that’s okay. Because I just can’t go through any more of this alone. Not another day.”

“Me too.” He closed his eyes. “Me too.”

They didn’t speak for a long time. He opened his eyes, peered at the ceiling of his bedroom. “Why?”

“Hmm?”

“This. You. Why are you with me?”

She ran a hand over his chest and it gave him a shiver. In his whole life, he never would have expected to feel a touch like that on his bare skin.

“Because I like you. Because you’re nice to Cassius.”

“And because you’re scared of me?”

“I dunno. Maybe. But more the other reason.”

He couldn’t tell if she was lying. Who could tell when anyone was? Really. Every day, you ran into people and half of them, if not more, could be lying to you. Why?

Why not?

You couldn’t tell who was true and who was not. If you could, lie detectors would never have been invented. Someone stared in your face and said, I’m telling the truth. They said, I promise. They said, I love you.

And you were going to say what to that? Prove it?

“He needs a walk.”

“Huh?”

“Cassius. He hasn’t been out all day.”

“I’ll get the leash.”

* * *

In the park, the February sky hung above them like a canvas tarp. The weather had been almost mild for a few days. The ice had broken on the river but small chunks of it clung to the dark banks.

He didn’t know what he believed. Cassius walked ahead of them, pulling on the leash a bit, so proud, so pleased, unrecognizable from the quivering hunk of fur Bob had pulled from a barrel just two and a half months ago.

Two and a half months! Wow. Things sure could change in a hurry. You rolled over one morning, and it was a whole new world. It turned itself toward the sun, stretched and yawned. It turned itself toward the night. A few more hours, turned itself toward the sun again. A new world, every day.

When they reached the center of the park, he unhooked the leash from Cassius’s collar and reached into his coat for a tennis ball. Cassius reared his head. He snorted loud. He pawed the earth. Bob threw the ball and the dog took off after it. Bob envisioned the ball taking a bad bounce into the road. The screech of tires, the thump of metal against dog. Or what would happen if Cassius, suddenly free, just kept running.

But what could you do?

You couldn’t control things.