The woman walked into Jack Driver’s ramshackle trailer as he finished puking into the trashcan that he’d stolen from Walmart a couple of weeks before, after they fired him for showing up drunk again. He wiped the remains of last night’s cheap beer and Hungry Man dinner off his chin and looked up. The woman was a looker, dressed in daisy dukes and a black wife beater, with green bra straps hanging halfway off her freckled pearly-white shoulders.
“The sign says you’re a PI. Is that true?”
For a moment, Jack didn’t follow her. What sign? Then he remembered. A couple of night ago, after an eighteen pack of crap beer, he’d decided that he’d read enough mysteries to solve a couple himself, and had made a sign out of cardboard with a Sharpie message that said—PI for Hire—which he’d hung on the front fence of his lot.
“Yeah, it’s true.” Jack tried to piece together the previous night, but couldn’t remember past going to the little dive bar called Jimmies, a couple of miles outside of the trailer park.
“You don’t look so good,” the woman said in a voice that was just gravelly enough to give Jack another round of morning wood. He looked down and saw that he must have puked on his own wife beater at some point, the front covered with a large brown stain. He flicked a chunk of chewed salisbury steak off the cotton and said, “Yeah, well, I been sick. Must be the flu or something.”
“Sure,” she said, looking around the room at the piles of aluminum cans and stacks of paper beer boxes. She stared overly long at the shelf of Hummel figurines that Jack’s ex-wife hadn’t picked up yet. “Flu. Or something. Anyway.” Her face tensed and she looked out the window and then at her cell phone, scrolling on the touchscreen until she found a clock. “I need to make this quick. My dog, Chichi, he’s a chihuahua, he’s missing. I want you to find him. Bring him by lot 203 and I’ll make it worth your while.”
She smiled, gave him a wink.
Jack grunted and stood, which was a mistake, because the world swirled and he fell over into a pile of cans next to the desk, taking the full trash can with him, causing it to spill its contents onto his pants. “I charge eighty bucks an hour,” he managed to say before he heard the woman clomp out and let the screen door slam behind her.
Later, in the shower, Jack remembered another piece of the last night puzzle. How he’d driven his El Camino home from the bar, had tried to jump it over the ten speed bumps that lay like fat snakes across the narrow loop road through the park, and on the last one, had managed to get enough speed to bounce the front tires off the ground. When they came down, though, he remembered a little brown streak with pointy ears that had run under a wheel. At the time, the small splat sound had made Jack giggle as he stumbled and rolled into his trailer. Now it wasn’t so funny.
Shit, he thought, I killed her dog.
# # #
Jack felt guilty for a total of three minutes; the time it took to dry his hairy skin after his shower. The feeling left as he dressed in clothes he plucked out of a pile on his bedroom floor, smelling them first to see which had been worn the least. It might not have been her dog. Could have been any number of residents’ dogs. Chihuahuas were as abundant as cockroaches in the park, chasing cars and biting ankles. He tried to rationalize away the canine homicide with numbers.
Even if it wasn’t her dog, he still needed one to replace hers. The plan was simple and made him sure that he would get either eighty dollars or a peek under the green bra. He found a porkpie hat that he assumed he had bought when he hung the sign outside, cocked it to his right ear, then stepped out of the trailer into the hangover hating sun.
Next door, or rather, the next lot separated by disparate grass-length and a holey chain link fence, resided a man with a dog. Or dogs, to be more precise. Chihuahuas. He had a plethora of the little Satan shrimp and Jack doubted that the man could tell any of them apart or would notice if one was gone. Outside of their physical appearance, there was nothing to distinguish the little bastards. The personality was the same. Bark, bark, bite, curl up and nap. Jack would simply grab one out of the yard and walk back to his trailer. Easy peasey.
Jack was in no mood or shape to jump the fence, so he went through the rickety front gate. The first little furry asshole that ran toward him, yipping and snarling, was as good as any, he thought. So he booted the little thing into the fence, then picked up the whimpering bundle of hair and walked back to the gate.
“Hey,” said a little voice behind him as he fumbled with the latch. “What you doing with my dog?”
Jack turned and saw a little boy, maybe eight, standing on the piss-killed lawn, his hands on his hips. The kid wore a superman tank top and running shorts that were much to big for him. His nose was running like a gooey fountain and he’d recently lost teeth.
“I’m the vet?” Jack said.
“No you ain’t. You’re the neighbor man who barfs and pisses off his porch most nights, thinking that no one can see you. But I do. Put my dog down, or else.”
“Or else what, you little shit?” Jack thought the threat was insanely funny, coming from a fifty pound mucus machine. He pulled the dog closer to his chest and opened the gate.
“Dad!” It was the little shit. He’d ran back onto his porch and opened the door, hollering into trailer.
Jack made it three steps before he heard the much more masculine voice. “Stop right there, fucker.”
He stopped, dropped the dog, and when he saw the owner of the voice, he may have peed a little. He felt the warm trickle run down his hairy thigh as he watched the tattooed, muscular brown man march off his porch.
The dog scurried across the yard as the dad approached. Jack tried to act nonchalant, looking off into the distance above the tire studded roofs.
“Who the hell takes a kid’s dog, man? And why the hell you on my property?”
Jack tried for a quick answer, but was slowed with the realization of who his neighbor was. It wasn’t just some guy with a bunch of dogs. It was Emmanuel Rodriquez, local three-time middle heavyweight MMA fighter that he’d seen fight last time he went to the Cellar. The guy was good. Scary good. Jack’s depleted bladder squeezed out an ounce more that darkened the front of his jeans.
“Come here,” the brickhouse said.
Jack could have run away. Should have run away. The dog was gone and it was maybe twenty steps back to his place. But something pricked up in his lizard brain, something that told him if he was going to be a PI, well, maybe he should act like one. He asked himself what would Magnum do, then squared himself up and pushed the brown man in the chest.
“Seriously?” the inked man in the wife beater asked, as he glanced back at his house. His son was standing smugly on the porch.
Jack nodded, knowing that it was a horrible idea. But his hungover brain acted like a cheerleader, reminding him he’d been a lineman in high school, and had survived quite a few pool hall related spats, so he could handle a guy that was at least twenty pounds lighter.
“Yup,” he said, pushing his neighbor again. “Your kid stole my dog.” He had no idea why he’d said it, or where the idea came from, but he prayed that it would work.
“Bullshit. My kid didn’t steal nothing.” He ripped off the white tank top and threw it in a wad against the chain link. “You don’t have no dogs.”
“I did,” Jack said as he balled his hands into shaking fists. “Until your kid stole him.”
The man shook his head sadly, like he would have at his son if the kid had pooped his pants. “Last chance,” he said as he hunched over in a fighter’s stance.
“Bring it,” Jack said, thinking the man was too far away yet to do any real harm.
He was wrong.
The man took one lightning quick step and leaped into the air, his fist back and ready, and when he landed he was two inches away from Jack and the fist was moving.
Jack didn’t have time to react. Just saw the fist coming, then felt it blast into his jaw, then saw brief images of wrecking balls and semi-tractors and icebreaker ships before his world went gray. His legs buckled and he went down, but the blows didn’t stop. The man straddled him and rained blow after blow onto his unprotected head while in the background Jack could hear the little bastard kid yelling, “Go Daddy go!”
It was over in less than a minute, with the dad standing back on his porch, his arm around his son. It seemed an eternity to Jack. His mouth felt as if it had been stuffed with sharp gravel, something warm ran down both cheeks, and his breath was stuck somewhere between twisted and torn ribs. The kid had picked up the frightened little critter and was petting it between the pointy ears.
In the time it took for Jack to breathe somewhat normal, the dad and kid were gone. Back inside watching TV or playing video games or whatever the hell murderous fathers did with their shitbag kids. Ten long minutes later and he had rolled to his stomach and got an arm under him. Twenty hot, hurt, and hungover minutes after that he was pulling himself along by his arms, army-crawling out the gate and onto the street, trying to turn to his house that now seemed as far away as Africa.
He didn’t hear the car. Couldn’t have heard the car, because it was a Prius and it moved like a metal panther. It stopped, brakes and tires squealing, but not before the tires bumped into Jack’s already damaged ribs. He screamed like a little girl on her birthday, but the old lady getting out screamed louder.
“Oh my God, son. Oh, heavens what have I done?”
Jack mumbled something about gray-haired drivers, and how he’d be fine after a beer, then tried to continue crawling.
“For christsake child, you are not all right. Here, let me help you up.”
She tugged on his arm and yanked at his shirt and it felt so pathetic to Jack that he pushed himself to his knees and stood. He wavered, blood oozing into his shirt, and the old crone almost passed out.
But she didn’t, the tough old bag, and somehow led Jack back to the car and coerced him inside, then drove around the loop to her trailer. Jack didn’t know why he’d gotten in, had done it on impulse. Maybe an instinctive reaction to motherly affection that most men react to. Maybe some deeper mother issues that he didn’t want to think about. Either way, didn’t really much matter. What did were those damned speed bumps that someone had painted yellow ten years ago, and now looked like gangrenous land turtles and hurt like a bitch when the Prius hopped over them.
By the time the car pulled into it’s assigned driveway, Jack had recovered some of his wits. “Take me home, lady. I need a beer.”
“I’ll do no such thing, young man. I made a terrible mistake and need to make up for it. Come inside. I’ll patch you up, fix you some tea, feed you some pie.”
Jack hesitated for only a moment—wanting more than anything to crack a cold one on his couch and forget about the day—but then he saw the dog.
Another Mexican pigrat sat on the carpeted porch of the trailer, relaxing in a pink crocheted sweater.
“Sure,” Jack said. “What kinda pie you got?”
Once inside, the old lady did as she’d promised. She gave him a washcloth for his face. She made some kind of god-awful tea made with a boiled mushroom, and fed him vanilla ice cream with a slice of pecan pie that had just come out of the little stove. The whole time the dog lay curled in a furry ball in its rhinestone studded dog bed beneath the wall of framed cross-stitch.
Jack sipped the nasty tea, shoveled the sugar down his throat, then pushed his vinyl chair away from the Formica table. “I gotta go, lady. Still got a hell of a headache, though. You got any aspirin?” He mad-dogged the contented creature on the floor as he asked.
“I do. Let me get it.” She started down the wood-paneled hall. “Would you like me to drive you home soon?” she shouted from the hallway.
Jack was pulling a pillow out of its case as he yelled back, “No, I’ll walk.”
He opened the pillow case, lurched at the dog, scooped him inside, put the case inside his bloody shirt, and banged out the door. He half ran, half limped his way back to the trailer, fighting to keep the squirmy little dog inside his shirt.
# # #
Jack knocked three times on the thin wooden door of the trailer that sat on lot 203.
Before coming to the lady’s house, he’d locked the dog in a cabinet below the bathroom sink while he took a shower. Then he took a slug of cheap whiskey after dabbing on cologne and donning his fanciest dirty clothes. The little dog bit him when he let the shivery shit out of the cabinet, but hadn’t drawn blood. Just gnawed on him like a toothless geriatric piranha.
Now he stood on the porch, looking and smelling as good as a man could that had just recently been bit and stomped to a pulp. His legs shook, the dog squirmed in its tight arm-crook hold, and Jack’s mind reeled. He couldn’t believe he’d pulled it off. Couldn’t wait to see what his prize would be.
The woman took her time answering. Jack thought he may pass out if she didn’t hurry. Eventually she answered, wearing cut-off pink sweatpants and a running bra. Sweat sheened off her brow and tiny rivulets ran down her tight midsection.
“I found him,” Jack said as he sat the dog on the threshold.
“Chichi!” She crouched and opened her arms, as if she were going to hug the little bastard. To Jack’s surprise, the little thing ran straight to her, let her pick him up and didn’t mind the sudden affection. Stupid shit probably couldn’t tell humans apart.
“So . . .” Jack said, trying to be as nonchalant as he could, hoping something was coming his way sexy enough to make up for the jaw smashing.
She kissed the dog on the mouth, then said, “Oh, yeah. Sure. Let me get my checkbook.” She moved with the dog toward her kitchen, the stopped and turned. “Or, I could call a friend.” The words sounded innocent enough, but the way she arched her eyebrows and bit her lower lip told him that something more was planned.
She made the phone call, petting the dog who by now was really starting to enjoy the attention. He licked her hand as she put down the phone and said, “Twenty minutes. You can wait here. Go ahead and get comfy on the couch. I’ll be in my room, oh, and thank you so much. I just couldn’t even live without my little Chichi.” She took the dog and went down the hall. He watched her sculpted legs wiggle the soft fabric of her shorts as she disappeared.
Her friend was punctual. Twenty minutes on the dot later and the door opened. Jack crossed his fingers and undid his belt, hoping that the woman walking in would be at least as good looking as the dog lover, and possibly a redhead.
He was wrong on both counts.
As if Jack’s day hadn’t been shitty enough, the person that walked through the door wearing a tight polo shirt and crisp slacks was a man. A man who didn’t notice Jack sitting on the couch with his pants open. And what the man said next was the icing on the crap cake of a day. He ran his hand through his hundred-dollar haircut and bellowed into the next room, “Honey, I’ve just got to see this private dick you were telling me about. God almighty, I hope he’s like the ones in Hammett. They just get me so worked up.”
Erik Storey doesn’t get a lot of time to write, but when he does, he spends it writing what he calls hardboiled contemporary westerns. Readers call them crime stories. He lives in the high deserts of Western Colorado with his wife, two daughters, and a couple of busy dogs.