I clambered down from the bus remembering again why I hated travelling by the Dog. No legroom, the seats bit your ass after the first hour, and the stink from the john stayed with you the whole trip. I felt like crap and figured that things could only get worse. I wasn’t wrong. The bus had broken down halfway and we had to wait for parts out on the side of the highway. Just like I told my business partner back home.
“Because that’s the business we’re in,” I told Diego earlier that morning. “We’re thieves and smugglers and nobody knows crap like us. It follows us.
“How bad can it be?” Diego muttered as he broke open another carton of the Marlboro’s we’d liberated, all missing the state tax stamp needed to sell them in the US. No problem this side of the border though.
“Bad enough,” I muttered, already regretting the fact that I’d agreed to hop back across from Saltillo, Mexico to Brownsville, Texas and hook up with Mr. Jordan for Diego. “He’s sent me a Greyhound ticket already, for Chrissake. Nothing good happens coming in by bus.”
“You’re too stuck up, Ese,” Diego sighed. “Nothing wrong with a bus. You don’t got a valid license to drive in the US anyway.”
I shrugged. Diego was right. I couldn’t afford to turn down any opportunity to make some real money. My time here in Mexico hadn’t been by planning and I needed something. Doing runs for Diego and ripping off Yankee tourists wasn’t making me enough to get back home or set up for myself. So, he’d thrown me a bone and I grabbed it fast.
“Jordan’s good people. Go find out what he’s got for me. Who knows? Maybe he’s got some rocks or hot jewelry or tools? People always buy tools. They don’t care where they come from. Diamonds don’t worry who own them.”
“Well,” I agreed, “I gotta do something. Just waiting here for something big to break is killing me.”
So, that’s how I ended up in rainy Brownsville at the bus depot doing a favor for one old friend and hoping that I could make some real cash off another new pal.
I was the only idiot dumb enough to be standing outside of the depot as the rain hammered down. I’d watched the other black and brown passengers I’d shared the ride with race off to their rides or hunker down inside for their next trip as I lit a smoke and waited. We’d been running long because of the weather and the bus problems, and I’d arrived two hours later than planned. Everyone else here seemed to have either someone to meet them straight away or a warm place to go. Not me. I just prayed that my ride would still materialize.
Jordan originally said he’d send a driver, so I checked my phone again for any messages from Diego in case he sent word through. My burner didn’t work for shit this side of the border and the only text I had was from an unknown number asking me where I was? I texted back telling whoever was on the phone that I just arrived, and they responded right away telling me I had to hang tight. ‘Sid’ would pick me up.
Yet, looking down the length of the nearly empty bus station, I couldn’t see anyone waiting for me. Nobody with a little sign saying ‘CLINT’ or looking like they were anticipating some mystery gringo who was way late.
“Are you Diego?” a quiet voice called behind me.
I turned and there she was – about a buck twenty soaking wet with an old denim shirt tied up tight and a pair of work shorts that showed a lot of long country leg.
“Do I look like a Diego? I’m Clint,” I smiled as I looked her up and down. She had a mane of wet blond hair and was chewing watermelon gum from what I could smell. “I’m Diego’s…partner,” I explained, figuring that it sounded a lot better than what I really was.
“Oh, we were expecting Diego,” she frowned as I shrugged at her confusion. “I’m Sid.”
I nodded to the girl, figuring she was sixteen, maybe seventeen tops. Diego had told me that Jordan’s tastes ran young and who was I to judge? From where I stood, she looked great and smelled even better.
“Nice to meet you, Sid. You wanna get out of this rain?”
“I gotta call Jordan. Tell him that you’re here instead of Diego. I don’t know what to do.”
“Let’s do it,” I said as I wrapped my arm around her and steered her towards the parking lot figuring that her ride had to be somewhere out there in the dark. Sheets of warm rain kept pelting down on us as we hurried through the downpour to her beat-up old truck.
“I can’t get a signal,” Sid muttered as she tried calling back to Jordan’s spread. She didn’t want to leave the safety of the lit parking lot with a strange man – or end up back at the ranch with someone she wasn’t supposed to bring. I rolled down a window and smoked watching her out of the corner of my eye as she did the math. One thing I learned robbing tourists down in Mexico was that you let them make up their minds about you before you can rip them off. I’m good-looking enough, not movie star quality, but I got a face that people trust, and it goes a long way in helping them decide to follow me to some sketchy hacienda or barrio bar where I’d roll them and let them loose once they were good and loaded.
Sid, sneaking her own peek at me, had made up her mind that she was going to drag me back to Jordan’s place. After all, I said I was Diego’s partner, and I didn’t look untrustworthy to her.
“I’m gonna chance it,” Sid said as she put the truck in gear and rolled out.
I smiled, stretching my arm out slowly so as not to spook her as I patted her on her wet bare leg. “You got nothing to fear from me. I’m one of the good ones.”
Sid shook her head, pushing my hand way. “Mister, If I had a dollar for every man that said that to me.” But she smiled as she said it, not brushing me off too hard or shutting me right down. I made sure I kept my hands to myself though as we bumped outside the city limits and headed towards the levee and the full dark countryside.
“Diego’s tied up back in Saltillo. I didn’t get a lot of details on what Jordan’s got on hand. You got any idea what he wants to talk to us about?”
Sid shook her head, raindrops spattering me as she peered out into the night. “Haven’t a clue, Mr.…Clint. He plays his cards close.”
I nodded as I watched the mileage counter on the dash and tried to determine which direction we were headed. If I had to leave fast or make my own way back, it would be good to know which direction was which.
Sid was driving fast, a little too fast for the rain that slicked across the hard-packed road. We’d gotten off State 4 quickly and out here, all I could glimpse was sagebrush and shadowy trees whipping past by the truck’s headlights.
“You always drive this fast?” I asked, a little concerned when a near-miss with a large cactus caused Sid to fishtail the truck and then back on course. “What’s bothering you?”
Sid sighed; her eyes tight on the road as she grimaced. “Jordan’s pissed off about something. Usually, he tells me about what’s going on. Not this time.”
“Maybe he don’t want to worry you, sugar. Sometimes, your man…”
Sid snapped a scowl at me, shaking her head. “Jordan ain’t my man. He’s my dad.”
I smiled, turning away from the angry girl as she sheered through the brush. His daughter?
“Something’s got him riled. Badly. Are you sure he didn’t tell Diego?”
I shrugged, noticing a thin light in the distance of what I assumed was our destination. Out here in the back country, it’s pitch black so even a small porch light stands out like a lighthouse. I held onto the door handle as Sid rattled us across a small cattle catcher and into the front courtyard of Jordan’s spread inside the barbed wire fence. Even through the car windows and the rain, I could hear the fighting dogs barking in the barn.
“All I know was that I was to haul ass north and go speak to your dad. That’s all I got.”
Sid was clearly disappointed that I didn’t know more. She bit down on her cherry red lips as she made up her mind about me. “You scared of dogs?”
I shrugged again. I’d been around angry dogs most of my life and in Saltillo had been to the fights there more than once. It’s a sick sport that’s been around forever and people still make a lot of money off them.
“I wouldn’t be here if I was.”
Sid nodded. She pointed out to the house and the barn next to it through the rain-streaked front window as she gave me the tour. “That’s the main house, you’ll be in here with us and the dogs are out there. Don’t go in the barn unless Miguel the dog guy is with you. Okay?”
“Diego did tell me about the dogs at least. I’m not stupid enough to go in there without an escort.”
“They’re all caged up, but they go crazy when they get a smell of someone they don’t know.”
“How crazy?” I asked as I looked at the large barn. A place that size could hold twenty fighters not including bait dogs or other critters. I had no intention of going in there if I could help it.
“Count Miguel’s fingers and that’ll give you a good idea,” Sid said as she pushed open the door. “Follow me to the porch.”
Sid raced off under the long porch that wrapped around the three-story farmhouse mansion that stood alone out here in the middle of nowhere. Jordan had spared no expense on the construction and the place reeked of bad money and someone else’s good taste, an unlikely pairing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch Sid as she wiggled her way under cover of the porch. Grabbing my wet duffel from next to me on the bench seat, I took off after her.
“Wait here,” Sid said as she shook the rain off herself and slipped inside the front door. “I’m gonna get Jordan and you two can talk.”
The dogs had quieted down from when we rolled up, but the rain continued to pound the courtyard in staccato hammers as water streamed downhill from both the barn and the main house. I dropped into a cane-backed wicker rocker there on the porch as I watched the ball lightning across the way.
It wasn’t long before the door opened and a lean, gray-haired farmhand-looking guy poked his head out of the door. I stood up, sticking my hand out, hoping to make a good impression.
“Jordan? Nice to meet you, I’m Clint…”
The man shook his head, waving at my gear and me to follow him. “Nah, I‘m Quince. I’m supposed to take you inside. Follow me.”
I stood, as the man pushed open the door, frisking me quickly for a weapon or gun as he rifled through my stuff. I knew better than to take a gun with me over the border. He pulled my knife from my bag though and he stuck it in his belt.
“I’ll give you that back when you done with Mr. Jordan.”
The front entrance was a showpiece. A big central staircase leading upwards with corridors off to what I assumed where kitchens on the left and the main room on the right. Quince pointed to the right. “Head over to the screening room and grab a seat. I’ll go round up Mr. Jordan for you.”
I rubbed the cold out of my hands as I stepped inside the movie-quality space. Jordan had a big projection setup here just complete with theater-style seats all done up in leather. I stepped inside the room glancing about the shadows to make sure that I was alone. You never know in a setup like this just what might go down, so I’d learned it paid to be prepared.
Halfway down, a pair of legs stuck out into the space. I stopped dead and took a moment to take a breath. “Hello, you okay?” I called out as I moved cautiously to the person on the floor.
Whoever it was wasn’t okay.
I peered over the seat back to see a man, his neck torn open, lying in a pool of ever-widening blood. The dead man had a Glock 17 lying just by his limp hand and I sniffed the air for the telltale scent of the weapon having fired. There was nothing but the sweet sick smell of the newly dead.
Judging from the age of the man on the floor, I assumed that maybe this was maybe Jordan and that my job was over before it had even started. I thought about Sid and how she’d take this if it was indeed her dad. That’s when Quince opened the door and stepped in.
“I can’t find…”
Quince saw the body lying on the floor, ignoring me as he raced over to the prone man.
“Mr. Jordan? Oh, shit… Mr. Jordan…”
Quince went to touch the now confirmed corpse of Jordan and I grabbed him before he could touch the body.
“What the hell’s going on, Quince?” I demanded. “Don’t touch the body.”
Both of us stared at the dead man, the raw wound of his torn throat, clearly the cause of his death. “Who’d want to kill Jordan?” I asked as a woman’s scream tore through the house from the upper floor. It was Sid.
I spun on the spot and pushed my way up the big staircase chasing down the crying that continued to echo through the mansion. Quince, to his credit, was right on my heel. I was halfway up the stairs before I remembered the gun that had been on the floor of the screening room and wondering if I’d need it?
Then I saw Sid.
She was holding onto a door at the end of the corridor, hanging onto the doorknob with both hands as the sound of a pissed-off dog could be heard barking and scratching furiously at the solid wood.
“Dad’s office. There’s a goddamn pit dog in there. Her eyes flashed wild at me, terror lending her additional strength as she babbled. “I went in to see Dad – and the goddamn dog attacked me. We — never have dogs — in the house….”
I flashed back to Jordan lying dead in his movie room, bled out from his throat wound. A pit dog could have done it no problem. Most of them were bulls and they could take down a bear or a deer without a problem. But how had the dog got up here? Why hadn’t Jordan shot the damn thing if that’s what attacked him? And how did it get in the house anyway?
Quince grabbed the door handle and took over, holding it as the frame rocked from the dog inside throwing itself against the wood.
“Sid, what the hell’s going on?!”
I looked up to see two men racing towards the office. One of them was straight out of a romance book with long hair and bright blue eyes. He was the kind of cowboy handsome you don’t usually see in real life. I hated him on sight. Next to him was the complete opposite – a nerdy looking guy with glasses that was at least as old as Jordan was.
“Damn dog’s in Jordan’s office. He’s gone mental.”
“Well, he’d stopped now, right?” said the handsome guy who opened his arms to Sid. She slid right into his embrace as he turned to me. “You don’t look like a Diego?”
“I’m not, I’m a Clint… Diego’s partner.”
The guy hugged Sid as she buried her face in his chest. “He almost got me, Todd.”
“I’m going in,” Todd said, pushing Sid over to his rumpled companion. “Look after Sid, Doc.”
Sid pushed back against the Doctor who tried to comfort her.
“Don’t, Todd. He’s dangerous. He could attack again.”
Todd drew a small Taser from his jeans and thumbed it to life. Lightning crackled across the twin micro-points as he moved closer to the locked door.
“I’ll give him the juice if he attacks. Won’t come back for more.”
I felt my breath hitch as he carefully opened the door to the office. Todd slowly stepped forward as I peered over his shoulder inside the room.
The dog, at least 130 pounds worth of beef, had pulled himself up on Jordan’s desk stretching himself out across the surface. He’d knocked over the desk lamp and between the crazy quilt of the storm outside and the long shadows cast up on the walls, the whole scene was like something out of some horror movie. The dog’s monstrous shadow loomed up against the back wall and the closed door leading out to the balcony.
I held my breath as I stared at the beast. Despite the long claws that gripped the solid wood desk, there was no blood on the animal’s muzzle or paws. Was this the animal that killed Jordan downstairs? How had it gotten up here? Why wasn’t there any blood on its face?
That’s when it leapt without warning down to the floor and launched itself towards Todd. He fell backwards surprised by the animal’s sudden motion as Quince slammed the door shut again with a bang. Once more, the dog’s savage assault tore at the door.
“Where the hell is Miguel?” Todd yelled as he hauled himself up off the floor. “Get him up here,” he continued as he jabbed Quince in the chest. It’s his job to look after them.”
“Sure, thing Todd. But we gotta problem, downstairs…”
I cut in, looking at Sid as she once again slid next to Todd. He threw his arm about her as he glared at me. “Quince, go find Miguel. I’ll… I’ll tell them what happened.”
Quince nodded, happy to be relieved of the duty of telling Sid that her dad was dead. He locked the office with a key from his belt making sure the door was secure and took off after Miguel as Todd switched positions with him at the door. Inside, the dog was still growling but had stopped throwing himself at the frame. For now.
So, I told them what happened downstairs and waited for Sid’s reaction most of all.
At first, she just stood there, her thin hand up by her lips as she processed what I was saying. The next thing I knew she was hauling ass back down towards the room I‘d just left with Todd racing behind her.
My first inclination was to follow the girl. I’d forgotten all about the beachball of a companion that was with Todd. “You sure he’s really dead?” the man asked.
I nodded. “Throat’s gone. Blood everywhere.”
“Well, I better go check and call it in. The cops are going to want to see this.”
The man turned, not exactly hurrying out to see the dead body. I couldn’t remember his name, or if we’d been introduced. I know Todd had called him Doc. Doctor of what? Jordan’s?
Inside the office, the sound of the large dog whining slipped under the doorjamb as I stared at the locked door. Why had Jordan wanted to see Diego? What was so important? And what the hell had I got myself mixed up in?
Doc Williams was an old school medical guy it turned out who had been by to check in with Quince’s wife, Mary, and wasn’t used to the horror and shock of Jordan’s attack. He looked positively green as he observed the body from a distance agreeing that Jordan was decidedly dead. Todd had been able to keep Sid from touching her father and he’d then shuffled her off to another room apparently while the Doc and I got stuck with waiting for the cops.
“This is horrible,” Doc said as he sank into one of the thick leather chairs.
“Wasn’t what I signed up for,” I agreed as I thought about the cops that would be on site sooner than later. My passport was a good forgery and should hold up to a check – but you get what you pay for, and I hadn’t spent much.
“How the hell did the dog get upstairs?” he asked as I stared at the corpse. Something was wrong. I just couldn’t place it. Something was missing.
“Someone should just shoot that damn dog,” the Doc muttered as I suddenly realized what was gone. The Glock.
“Where’s the gun?” I asked, talking to myself more than the Doc.
“What gun?” Doc Williams asked as he looked at me.
“There was a gun here when I found the body. A Glock. It’s not here anymore.”
“I have no idea.”
“Where’s Todd and Sid?” I asked as Doc Williams crossed over to the wet bar in back by the projector.
“I think Todd took her to her room to lie down before the police get here.”
I slid over to where the doctor had poured himself three fingers of bourbon and pointed at the bottle. He slid a clean rocks glass over to me and I poured myself a large drink.
“Where were you earlier, Doc?”
Doc Williams glared at me, sipping quickly from his drink as his eyes darted from the body back to me. “You don’t think I had anything to do with this? It’s clear that the dog did it. I’d already told you I was with Mary. I raced up the stairs and met Todd and…”
I scowled at the floor, sure that the dog upstairs had nothing to do with the attack on Jordan.
“It’s weird though, Doc. An attack like this, somebody should have heard something. Hell, the dog makes enough noise just barking.”
As if on cue, the sound of the beast locked in the office started up again. If he’d attacked Jordan, everyone would have heard it.
“Maybe the dog got him before he could make a sound?” Doc Williams offered up as he slammed back his drink and made a point of avoiding looking at the body.
“Where’d the gun go, Doc? Why didn’t he shoot the dog? I would have if it had been attacking me, I‘d have emptied the whole damn clip.” I slugged back the rest of my drink and waved the bottle away when the Doc offered me another snort.
“Well, you’re the only one saying there’s a gun,” Doc mumbled as he poured another splash of straight mash into his glass. He had the narrow eyes a drunk gets when he’s dead set on his way – or the highway.
“I want to look at where they keep the dogs,” I said as I stood and moved towards the door. “You can tell the cops they can find me in the barn. I want to see how he got out.”
Doc Williams nodded at me as he concentrated on his drink. Somehow, I seemed to be the only one not buying the death-by-dog story. There’s too much missing here and nothing’s adding up.
The barn stank, the cages for all the dogs thick with feces that hadn’t been cleaned out for the day. Miguel spared no expense when it came to looking after the dogs it seemed with just a thin palette of straw thrown down in the large, locked cages. The west side had the fighting animals, thick shouldered pits, and boxers, all torn and tattered. More than a few of them were almost feral. All of them started barking the minute I entered the dimly lit barn.
“Miguel, Miguel… you here?” I called out as I stepped out into the light.
The barn was swathed in shadows with dim lights visible only at a small desk with a cot nearby. As I pushed through the space looking for the dog’s handler, I tried not to look at the east wall where all the bait animals were kept. Runaway dogs, strays and other smaller domesticated animals were jammed into smaller cages, often four or five to a space only one of the fight dogs had. Unlike the other animals, these ones didn’t make a sound as I crept through the barn as I carefully navigated around the practice pit that Jordan had dug in the floor. Eight feet deep, it was too big a hole for any of the dogs to jump out of and was the same size as the rings that were used out in the dog fight world. Jordan would teach his animals to attack here tossing in one of the bait beasts as a way to teach the animal to kill. I tried not to look as I scooched by, but the blood and torn fur coating the walls of the pit made it hard not to look. I felt sick to my stomach as I thought about the number of stray dogs and cats they’d probably thrown in the pit.
Since no one was here and the cops were due any minute, I decided to cut the feeder animals some slack and started opening their cages. They didn’t have to be told twice. Every cage door I opened had animals scrambling for the open barn door disappearing into the night. Their chance of surviving in the wild was slight – but it was a helluva lot better than waiting for their turn to die here. I figured Jordan was beyond caring. If he ever did.
I kept calling for Miguel as I looked about the place, but I couldn’t find the cage that held the dog in the house. All of the fight dog cages were in place and could be lined up and loaded onto a truck anytime. With the exception of an open space towards the back where a cage might have been?
The sound of footsteps outside spun me to the door as Quince stuck his head in from the rain. He was wrapped in a huge western slicker that kept most of the water off him. He tore off his hat, his voice a husky whisper as he pointed outside.
“I found Miguel. I think he’s dead too.“
Not quite. I staggered out after Quince as he led me around the side of the barn. There by the house, a large cage, much like the ones inside the barn, was open with the body of the small Mexican handler sprawled on the ground next to it.
My heart pounded as I dropped down next to the man, pulling my cellphone from my pocket to shine my flashlight in the man’s face.
“He’s not dead, he’s breathing,” I gasped as I checked the wounded man out. He had both a huge welt over his left eyebrow that was cracked and bleeding and another contusion on the back of his head.
“Someone must have hit him pretty hard?” Quince offered as he helped me pull Miguel to his feet. Underneath the unconscious man a hard steel brush sickle lay, wet with rain.
“That what they used on him?” Quince asked as he held Miguel up as I examined the hand blade.
“What do you use this for?” I asked as I turned the blade in my hand. The handle was heavy in my hand with a thick grip and a cast-iron hilt that would make a formidable weapon without even using the hooked cutting edge.
“Both me and Miguel cut brush with it. It shouldn’t be out here.”
“Let’s get him inside. This rain isn’t doing him any favors. Let’s see if we can get Doc Williams out of the bottle to have a look at him.”
We carried the limp body of Miguel through the back door of the mansion into the large kitchen. Quincy’s wife Mary must have gone to help Sid, so they dragged Miguel to his bedroom in the servant’s wing.
“I tripped over him when I was coming back from looking. He wasn’t in the barn when I came out this way and I was just going round the back way when I saw the cage and him lying there on the ground.”
Doc Williams chose this moment to wobble into Miguel’s small room. “I’ll go check on Miss Sid,” Quince remarked pushing past the portly doctor.
I stood back and watched as Doc dressed Miguel’s wounds and started to wonder who had attacked him? And why? When he comes to, he’d be able to at least fill us in on that. And maybe who let the dog into the house? Hell, he might even know who killed Jordan?
Part 2 will be published in the February 25th edition of The Chamber.
Julian Grant is a filmmaker, educator, and author of strange short stories, outlaw poetry, full-length novels/ non-fiction texts and outsider comix. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work has been published by Dark Fire UK, Quail Bell, Avalon Literary Review, Crepe & Penn, Alternative History Magazine, Granfalloon, Altered Reality, The Chamber Magazine, Dark Lane Books, Clever Magazine, Peeking Cat Literary Journal, Danse Macabre, Fiction on the Web, Night Picnic, CafeLit, Horla, Bond Street Review, Piker Press, Retreats from Oblivion, Free Bundle, Filth Literary Magazine, Horror Sleaze Trash, The Mythic Circle, Murderous Ink Press, Superlative Literary Journal & The Adelaide Literary Magazine.
Find out more about him at www.juliangrant.com.