by Jill Hand
I was snoozing on the living room couch when I heard somebody at the back door. Instantly alert, I rolled off the couch and onto my feet. Rick and the guys had gone out and I was there alone, guarding the place. If it wasn’t Rick making those stealthy noises, accompanied by the guys he calls his goombahs–and it didn’t sound like it because they tend to make a lot of noise–then whoever it was, he was going to be in the hurt locker.
I walked into the kitchen. Through the glass in the back door I saw a shadowy figure. It was too short to be Rick or any of the goombahs. I tensed, getting ready to take him down.
The door swung open and I relaxed. It was Dalton. She was wearing a hoodie, the hood pulled up, partially covering her face and hiding her long hair, but I recognized her instantly by her smell. I gave a happy woof. I liked Dalton. She came here often to see Rick, but unlike Rick, she was nice. She never pretended to give me a bite of food and then pulled it away at the last second, laughing, the way Rick did. If she had something good to eat, she gave me some. She never hit me, like Rick did, showing off for the goombahs what a badass he was by hitting a Rottweiler. If I wanted to I could have torn him to shreds, but I didn’t because he was the boss. You don’t kill the boss. You don’t even bite the boss, however much you may want to.
Dalton closed the door. “His car’s not here. He’s out someplace, him and the three stooges,” she muttered. By that I assumed she meant the goombahs, Kyle, Jimmy, and Rafe, a trio with big feet, big talk, and not much in the way of brains. Even I could see that, and I’m just a dog.
“They’re probably at some strip club, getting lap dances in the VIP room, paying a hundred bucks a bottle for cheap champagne, the idiots,” she said. I wagged my stump of a tail as she scratched behind my ears. I liked her soft voice and the gentle way that she touched me. What she was doing with somebody like Rick I couldn’t fathom, but there’s a lot about people that I don’t understand.
Dalton got down on her knees and looked me in the eyes. “I’ve had enough, Van Halen. I’m leaving, going someplace far away where Rick will never find me,” she told me.
My tail thumped against the floor, bop bop bop, as I wagged it harder. This was exciting. If she was going someplace, maybe she’d take me for a ride in the car. I love going for rides in the car. Sometimes Rick took me with him when he went to meet a guy called Bruno. He’d give Bruno a briefcase and Bruno would give him another briefcase. Then Bruno would depart and Rick would drive us to get two cheesesteaks, one for me and one for him. He was always in a good mood after he saw Bruno, drumming his hands on the steering wheel, singing along to the radio and talking about how he was going to make mad stacks because Bruno always had good product. I had no idea what he meant by that, but if going to see Bruno resulted in me getting a cheesesteak, then I was all for it.
Dalton went into the bedroom and I followed at her heels, glad for her company. It got lonely being there all by myself. Much as I disliked Rick and the goombahs, at least they were company.
Dalton reached under the bed and pulled out a suitcase. I gave a low, warning growl. It was the bank. Rick said nobody but him was supposed to touch the bank.
“See this, Van Halen,” he said, opening it and showing me the contents. “This is very important; it’s money, a lot of money. Nobody touches this, you got it? Nobody but me, not even Jimmy or Kyle or Rafe, here. You got that? If they try and take it, you chew ‘em up, understand?”
I got it.
The three goombahs protested that they’d never dream of taking the bank. They were highly insulted by the suggestion.
“We wouldn’t never, ever, do that, not ever,” said Rafe, his eyes wide, the picture of wounded innocence.
Kyle agreed, saying they were a team, loyal to the end, all for one and one for all, “like the Three Mouseketeers.”
“Who’re they?” asked Jimmy, the slowest of the three goombahs. Kyle replied that they were old-time French dudes, with swords.
Dalton opened the suitcase and looked inside. “There’s a lot of cash here, maybe fifty or sixty thousand, maybe even more. I can get away and start fresh,” she said. She looked at me and smiled. Let me tell you, I was seriously conflicted. I didn’t want to hurt her, but nobody was supposed to take the bank, those were Rick’s orders.
I followed her out of the bedroom, whining a little, trying to decide what to do. I couldn’t let her leave with the bank; if Rick came back and found it gone he was going to be mad. He wasn’t a ray of sunshine under ordinary circumstances. Something like this would be liable to make him even meaner than he was when the cable went out and he couldn’t watch TV.
I was so worried that I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. My hip bumped into the coffee table, overturning it and sending a pile of junk, including magazines, a full ashtray, empty fast food containers, and dirty socks (Rick wasn’t particularly fastidious) siding to the floor. Dalton clapped her hands.
“Good dog, Van Halen,” she said. “That’s right; I should make it look like a break-in.”
She started opening drawers and dumping out the contents. This was fun! I forgot all about my concern about the bank. I helped her by pushing over the big floor lamp and knocking the couch cushions to the floor. “What would a burglar take?” Dalton asked, looking around. She picked up the laptop and the little flat-screen TV from the kitchen. She left the big TV in the living room; it was a monster of a thing, too heavy for her to carry. Then she went to the back door, stepped outside, and broke the glass in the door with her elbow. Pieces of glass tinkled onto the kitchen floor. “There! Now it looks like a break-in,” she said.
I looked up at her, panting and grinning, hoping she’d announce that we were going for a ride. “Rick’s gonna be pissed when he comes back and finds out you let somebody steal his stuff. I wish I could take you with me, but I can’t,” she said.
That was bad news. I lay down started to whine, picturing a furious Rick, but I perked up when she said, “I could leave the back door open, make him think you ran away, or the burglar took you.” It would take a determined burglar to steal a Rottweiler weighing one hundred and thirty pounds, not if the Rottweiler preferred not to be stolen, but Rick might believe it. He wasn’t the cleverest mouse in the maze, although he was a genius compared to the goombahs.
Dalton said that she’d take me to her friend Kelsey’s. She’d lost her Rottweiler a few months ago and had been talking about getting another one. “You’ll like her,” she said. “She’s nothing like Rick; she’s a really sweet person. She loves dogs.”
That sounded good to me. I followed her outside, happy to be going for a ride. With any luck, I thought, she’d stop and get me a cheesesteak. That would make it a perfect night.
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Jill Hand is the author of The Blue Horse, a science fiction/fantasy novella from Kellan Publishing based on a true story. It contains no zombies, moody teenage vampires, or young people forced to fight to the death in a post apocalyptic future. It does, however, contain humor and some lively historical facts.