I waited as Doc Williams worked as I stared at Miguel’s face wishing him to wake up. He was out cold.
By the time the Doc was finished, I had decided to see Sid and get her take on what had happened tonight. I left the doctor snoozing in the chair next to the bed as I headed out into the mansion. On the stairs, Quince and his wife, Mary, another rawboned cowpoke headed down towards the kitchen deep in conversation. I didn’t want to disturb them, but I had to find out what was going on here.
“Where’s Sid?” I asked as both Quince and his wife flinched at the sound of my voice.
“She’s in her room, Sir” Mary said, her eyes cast down at the floor. “I gave her something to sleep.”
Quince nodded in agreement. “And Mr. Todd is upstairs with – the dog.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
A shot rang out. And then another as the sound of the Glock in action sounded through the darkened halls. Mary immediately headed off to the safety of her kitchen as Quince stood trapped between looking after his wife and investigating this new disturbance.
“Go with her,” I said, leaping up the stairs. “I got this.”
I lunged through the door to the office expecting the worse. Sure enough, Todd stood there, the gun still in his hand, the same gun I had seen in the screening room, and the dead dog on the ground before him. He’d hit with both shots, one to the heart and another to the head splattering the poor animal across the room.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as I knocked the gun out of Todd’s hand.
“The dog was a killer. It had to go,” he sneered. “Once they taste human flesh…”
I shivered in revulsion as I looked at the gun I’d taken away from Todd.
“Where’d you get the gun?” I asked.
“It was on the screening room floor,” Todd said as he bent down to pick it back up.
I slid my foot over the weapon, keeping it in place on the floor. “Is it Jordan’s?”
“It was Jordan’s gun, sure. It’s mine now.”
He pushed my foot aside, picked up the gun and slid the weapon into the back of his jeans. What was I going to say?
Todd turned, his job done according to him, as I took the opportunity to look closer at the dead animal. Outside of the blood and damage done by Todd, the dog was unmarked except for his battle scars. I picked up his front paws and inspected his nails alongside his now-crooked maw. “Not a sign of blood –”
“Meaning?” a voice sounded from the door.
I turned to find Sid, now wrapped in a long chenille robe, standing at the door. Her face was pale, her eyes haunted as she did her best not to look at the dead beast. I moved to block her view as I laid out for her my thoughts.
“This dog didn’t kill your dad. I know dogs like this. Once they draw blood, they keep going. Your dad would have had his guts torn out and –”
Sid turned, burying her face in her robe. “That’s enough.”
I stopped, realizing that I was being inconsiderate. “Todd shot the dog, with the gun your dad had in the front room. He just started blazing away…”
There was a lot I could say about how Todd had screwed up the chain of evidence, maybe even contributed to the crimes that had gone on here tonight. I needed some guidance.
Todd came back, glared at me and dragged Sid away to get something to eat in the kitchen as I dug out my phone and called Diego back in Mexico. He was the one who had got me into this mess. I needed him to help me figure out what went on here. It took a while, but I finally connected.
But Diego wasn’t picking up. I got his voicemail and told him all about Jordan being murdered and that I was in way over my head. Did he know any reason why the man was killed? Or what was going on? Hell, by the end I was sure I asked him to drive up from Saltillo himself as he could be here in about five hours not counting border traffic. A lot of it was fuzzy now that it was past two in the morning and the cops haven’t even showed up yet. I’d be a lot happier having my boss here if he could make it.
I hadn’t been paying any attention to where I was walking or talking so I was surprised when Todd grabbed me and pushed me up against the main staircase.
“What the hell’s the deal with calling Diego? What’s he gonna do? We don’t know what the hell’s going on. How could he?
“We don’t know what he can tell us. It wouldn’t hurt to ask, right?”
The cops showed up around three and all of us were dragging at that point. I’d already fallen asleep once at the kitchen table we’d all grouped around waiting for them to show.
“Morning, people. Hear we got some problems? Jordan’s been attacked?”
Police Chief Pember looked about the kitchen – checking his dance card to see who was here. Quince and Mary held fast by the coffee machine passing out cups of thick joe for everyone as Sid dozed in Todd’s arms. Pember’s thick moustache twitched as he nodded at us all. “Doc Williams is here too, right?’
“He’s in back,” I said. “Looking after the dog man, Miguel.”
“Two questions,” Pember asked, hooking his thumbs into his Sam Brown belt, hitching up the radio and firearm hanging from the well-worn leather. “Who the hell are you and what‘s happened to Miguel now?”
“I pulled my passport hoping that Pember wouldn’t tumble to the fact it was false as Quince filled him in on finding the injured man and Jordan in the big TV room.
“And Doc Williams is attending?” Pember asked as he passed me back my paperwork without comment. My heart was racing as I tried to make sure my poker face didn’t crack.
“Alright, here’s how its gonna go,” Pember drawled as he started pointing at each of us. “I’ll talk to each of your separately and when Miguel wakes up, I wanna talk to him. I’m gonna bring in the EMTs now and get Jordan tucked away proper.” Pember turned to Sid, dipping his head to the half-conscious girl as Todd did his best not to look guilty as hell.
“My condolences for your loss, Sid. We’re gonna find out who done this.”
Quince showed me up to my room, my bag sitting at the end of the narrow single bed that had been given to me. I didn’t care where I slept at this point and passed straight out.
The next thing I knew, Quince was knocking at the door again as I dragged myself up. The rain had finally stopped while I slept and the world was just coming alive in muted grey and brown.
“The Police Chief wants to see you in the screening room, Clint.”
“How’s Miguel doing, Quince?” I called through the door as I scrubbed at my face in the mirror hanging over the worn dresser. I looked like trash, my face pale and drawn with my hair sticking up everywhere.”
“He’s groaning and tossing around some,” Quince said as I opened the door. Jordan’s handyman didn’t look much better than me. I’d at least had a couple hours sleep compared to him. He looked dead on his feet. “He still looks like hell.”
“You don’t look too good yourself,” I smiled as I tried to hand comb my hair.
Quince nodded and shuffled away from me as I headed down to the home cinema.
“You wanted to see me, Chief?” I asked as I pushed my way inside the room. Thankfully Jordan’s body was no longer on the floor – but the blood was. Pember was sitting a row back from where Jordan had been killed, a deep frown on his face.
“From what I’m hearing, Clint, you seem to have a number of opinions about what happened here. You don’t think the dog did old Jordan in?”
“That’s right,” I said. “I’m sure of it. There were no blood stains on the dog. And Jordan’s body, if it had been killed by the dog, was in a lot better shape than most dog attacks I’ve ever seen.”
Pember nodded. “You’re right there, son. His face and balls were still in one piece and those are usually some of the first things to go after the throat.”
My throat felt tight and thick as Pember casually tossed off the damage done by other pit animals in cases like this. Dogs that are trained to kill and bleed don’t stop and pick or choose their targets.
“What do you think did those marks on his throat?” Pember asked as he watched me carefully for my response.
“I think whoever killed Jordan used the hand sickle we found out by Miguel’s body. You could hack a man up pretty good with that blade. Skin rips pretty easy.”
Now it was my turn to be nonchalant. I’d seen a lot of damage done to people and knew it didn’t take much to put a man down for good.
“There was no blood on the sickle you found out in the back. I checked,” Pember remarked as he kept watching me closely. There was no way I could be guilty of any of this based on my arrival time – it didn’t mean that Pember trusted me.
“And the rain cleared up the mess and took care of any prints.” Pember sighed, looking down at the blood on the carpet as he flipped open his battered notebook.
“According to Sid, she left the house about eight-thirty to come get you. She got back here about nine-twenty, right?
I shrugged. I hadn’t been watching the time and was more interested in getting a hot meal and meeting my new business partner. “Okay,” I agreed. “Where was everyone else?”
“Todd claims he was having a nap before all hell broke loose and Mary and Doc Williams were in the kitchen. We don’t know where Miguel was as Quince didn’t see him all evening. Nearest I can figure, Jordan came here around eight-thirty or so to watch a movie once he saw Sid out the door. That is according to her. So, we got about fifty minutes in which Jordan got himself killed.”
I nodded. What else was I going to do?
A knock sounded at the door of the screening room and Doc Williams popped his head in. “Miguel’s awake. Now would be a good time to question him.”
The Doc looked just as bad as Quince. He’d been up all night and was barely standing.
“Let’s get this done because I need some sleep.”
The news of Miguel awake had traveled through the house and everyone wanted to hear what the man would say. Sid, Todd, Quince, Mary – all of them were already waiting on the landing outside Miguel’s door round the back of the kitchen. It had started out as a mud room with windows out towards the back spread and had been converted into a small sleeping space for the dog handler.
“Hold on, everyone. You can’t all go in. He doesn’t need all of you in there. He’s barely awake.”
“That’s right, people. This is a police matter,” Pember said as he elbowed through the crowd by the door. “Go get some shut-eye and I’ll let you know if I need anything.”
Two minutes later, Chief Pember and Doc Williams were gathered around Miguel’s bed as the rest of us waited in the hall straining to hear what the injured man had to say. None of us said a word as Quince gently pushed the door open so we could hear the whole conversation.
“No, no, señor, I don’t know who hit me,” Miguel whispered. “I was near the door in the barn, the big one’s open, and I can hear someone rolling one of the dog cages outside. I ran out in the rain to see who had taken it out when I got hit from behind.”
“You never saw who hit you?” Pember asked as he wrote down Miguel’s statement. We could all hear the fast scratching the grizzled lawman made in his pad as we waited for Miguel to continue. “You never saw their face?”
Miguel started to cry. “Doesn’t matter now. Who cares? Senor Jordan is d-dead, nothing matters. Why would anyone want to kill a good man like him?”
I frowned, figuring that Miguel hadn’t obviously met many good men in his life if his opinion of Jordan was correct. The dead man had made his money with fight dogs and the more I heard of him and everything here in this house, the sooner I wanted to get back across the border.
“I bet it was for drugs,” Miquel groaned, his voice sharpening in anger.
“Drugs? What drugs?” Sid whispered, leaning forward with me as we eavesdropped at the door. I glanced about myself checking the others but everyone there seemed just as confused by Miguel’s statement.
Everyone but Todd.
Todd drew himself up to his full height, guilt stitched all over his face as I watched him plan his next lie, but I didn’t know if he still had Jordan’s gun or if he had given it up to the Chief already. From my position at the door, it would be hard for me to check him without being obvious.
“It was the glass, the crystal meth that came back with us from our last circuit. It was smuggled, but neither Señor Jordan or myself knew about it. Pel’ amor de Deus, we didn’t know.”
Sid had had enough at this point, and she pushed her way into the makeshift interview room.
“Miguel, what are you talking about? What is all this? Who smuggled drugs?”
“Señorita,” Miguel explained, “It wasn’t us. We had just come back from Amarillo with the dogs and after I got the crates away, I decided to come back and check on one of the dogs who’d got hurt bad in the last fight. Señor Jordan wanted me to make sure the dog was sleeping when I saw him…”
Chief Pember ignored Sid as Miguel continued. The rest of us held by the door. Except for Todd. He was edging backwards now so I took the opportunity to slide in behind him and put my hand firmly on his back. Sure enough, the Glock was still stuck in his waistband where he’d left it. I slipped the gun out of his pants and pushed it into his kidney. “Stick around,” I whispered to him as I pushed him back towards the room.
Miguel pushed himself up on his pillow, sweat poured from him as he raced to finish.
“I see jefe Todd opening up the bottom of the road cages taking out bags of meth. I know meth. It’s killing my people. Jefe Todd had drugs hidden in the dog’s cages.”
“That’s a lie,” Todd said as he pushed his way into the now crowded mud room.
Pember held up a hand, halting Todd in his tracks as he leaned over to Miquel. “Who else did you tell?”
“I tell Señor Jordan. He goes and chases down jefe Todd and scream at him. He tells him that he’s no good for his daughter. That she shouldn’t be married to a drug dealer.”
Sid’s sobbing shouldn’t have surprised anyone. In one night, she’d lost her father and found out her fiancée was a drug smuggler. Pember dismissed the crying girl as he looked to Todd.
“Where are the drugs, Todd?” Pember asked as he stood up and grabbed the now-terrified man by his arm. I slid in next to Sid, squeezing her arm in sympathy. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
From outside, a single short shot cracked as the window burst into a hundred flying fragments. I ducked down pulling Sid with me as Pember pushed Todd out of the line of fire.
On the bed, Miguel coughed as a plumb of blood spread across his chest, a black bullet hole over his heart.
I raced to the shattered window and jerked up the window.
Outside, all was quiet except for the sound of the rainwater draining off the roof and onto the ground.
Inside, Sid’s crying told us all we needed to know. “Oh, Miguel…”
“So, who the hell killed Miguel?” Todd demanded. “It wasn’t me. I don’t even have a gun,” he glared as I smiled at him. Given the fact that more bullets were flying now, it didn’t seem prudent to hand over my only advantage to Chief Pember.
“Where are the drugs, Todd?” Pember asked. “It’s the only thing that’s happened tonight I do believe.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Todd muttered. “Only one that said I had anything to do with drugs is dead. And he was a liar.”
“But why would he lie about that?” Pember asked, staring at Todd. “Why would he do it?”
“How would I know?” Todd groused. “Jealous, maybe? I’ve seen the way he looks at Sid. Maybe he thought he could get a shot with her if he got me in trouble?
“He’s right,” I said, as all heads turned to me. “The only people that knew anything about this are dead. It’s just hearsay.”
Pember turned a cold eye on me as I defended Todd. It wasn’t that I trusted Todd or even liked him. But in the last fifteen minutes, a man had been shot dead, we searched the grounds and found nothing, and I‘d figured out why Jordan and Miguel had died.
And who had actually done all the killing.
I agreed to help Todd muck out the cages as there was no one else here to help the dogs and I had energy to burn now. He was pissed when he saw the bait dogs were gone as he fancied a bit of sport after we slopped meat ends and kibble to the fighting beasts. I kept my hands well clear as I shoveled food into the battle animals and made sure I was gone when he led a few of them out to the pit to practice. I didn’t need to see that.
So, I was standing right in the drive when Diego rolled up in his big RAM 250. I was glad that he showed up in person as it would make the next bit a helluva lot easier.
Diego made a big deal of stretching, shooting me a side-eye glance as he clocked Chief Pember’s car still sitting front and center. The EMT’s had made a second run just a bit earlier taking in Miguel’s body.
“Cops still here, eh?” Diego said as he looked about the Jordan spread. “Where are they?”
“There’s only the Chief right now. He’s got some Staties coming in to help him search the area for any brass from the shooting last night.”
“Shooting?” Diego asked as he shook his head. “I thought that Jordan got killed by his dog? You weren’t making a whole lot of sense on your message.”
“We had a shit ton of rain. I doubt he’s going to find anything. Miguel, the dog guy, got shot.”
Diego shook his head. “Ese, the trouble you get into…”
I just glared at Diego. None of this was my fault and the way I had figured I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. All thanks to him. I decided to keep that to myself as I’m not stupid.
I watched as Diego headed off towards the barn looking for Todd as Sid slipped by him at the front door of the house. She didn’t pay him any attention and Diego, to his credit, didn’t even try to hit on her.
Sid wandered over to me, one eye uneasily on the barn and the sounds of the dogs fighting. I could hear Todd yelling his encouragement as they practiced. She’d wrapped herself in a big, hooded sweatshirt that just about swallowed her up.
“Hey Sid,” I called out to her as she stopped and stared at the barn. “How you doing today?”
“It’s Todd’s fault my dad’s dead,” she said simply. It was the first time she’d even called Jordan her dad and I can see that she’d made up her mind about something.
“I don’t think he would have wanted me to marry him. Not if he was dealing meth.”
“Or stole it from one of the gangs that hang out at your dad’s fights?”
Sid nodded. “I hate this. Hate that Jordan made his money in blood. I probably shouldn’t be so picky about the drugs given how I live. But I can’t help it.”
Dogfighting was a tradition out here with farmers and cowpokes stretching centuries back pitting beast against beast. Hell, even Pember turned a blind eye to it, and he was the Chief. But I knew what Sid meant about meth. Crank and crystal had been tearing the panhandle apart and it was one of the reasons I had finally headed further South. I’d gotten clean after two years in the pen and I wasn’t ever going back. I was determined to keep a low profile and I still owed a lot of money to people in Rio Grande that would be more than happy to collect. So, going under and staying as clean as I could was about the only thing I could do as I figured out my situation. Clearly what happened here wasn’t it.
“You tell him yet?” I asked Sid as she fidgeted in the big sweater.
“I…I…don’t want to go in there,” she said, gesturing towards the barn.
“I’ll go get him,” I said. “Wait here.”
Sid nodded her thanks as I walked uphill to the barn steeling myself for what I’d find inside.
“Diego? What are you doing?”
I’d walked in to find Diego pulling into the air a side of cow that hung over the pit as two ravenous dogs leapt to grab the dangling food. Both of them, brindle-coated Pits, slashed at the meat gulping mouthfuls before falling back into the dirty hole.
“Feeding the dogs. You wanna go?”
I shook my head and headed over to Todd.
“Sid’s outside, Todd. She wants to talk to you.”
Todd was by the locked steel gun cabinet piling what appeared to be triple-wrapped kilos of meth in a shrink-wrapped cover. He slammed the door closed quickly as I sauntered up. He gave me his big don’t-screw-with-me stare and headed off out to the front yard.
“I’ll be right back, Diego.”
I watched Todd leave as Diego dropped the last of the meat into the pit. He peered over to watch them work the side of beef as he shook his head in amazement.
“Vicious. Man. Increíble.”
“I know who killed Jordan and Miguel,” I said, watching Diego carefully.
Diego turned and stared me down.
“You,” I said, reaching behind myself for the Glock I‘d taken from Todd. Diego may be my friend, but I knew he was capable of anything. “And Todd.”
“You’re loco, Ese. How could it have been us? I just got here.”
I kept my hands behind my back, not wanting to show Diego that I was strapped. I had no doubt he was packing.
“Just got here, huh? Look at your clothes. They’re filthy. Like you’ve been out in the mud and rain. Your truck’s covered in run-off and brush. And I bet if I checked, your long gun is stashed in the back, right?”
Diego looked down at his loose tracksuit. In Saltillo, AC is a luxury, so everyone has adapted to the heat with lightweight jogging pants and a strap T-shirt, throwing on the top only when it got cooler at night. Diego’s outfit had mud smeared on his knees and on his elbows. Exactly where his weight would have been from lying in the wet ground making a shot through the mud room window.
“You’ve been out in the weather. It poured here last night, and I checked the weather in Saltillo. High 80’s. Not a hint of rain. How’d your clothes get so dirty?”
I watched carefully as Diego’s smile slid slowly off his face. I was shooting in the dark, sure – but Diego didn’t have an answer.
“You made the shot from outside with your long gun.”
Diego sucked his teeth again. Waiting for me to continue.
“I figure Jordan told you about the meth on the phone and that he was going to turn it over to the Chief or make Todd get rid of it. He didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Diego sucked his teeth, shaking his head at me as he tried to talk himself clean. “That’s loco, Ese. Loco. I didn’t know anything about any meth. Who’s got meth?”
“You mean to tell me you weren’t even a bit curious what Todd was doing over in the corner when I came in?”
Diego didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He knew.
“You shot Miguel ‘cause you weren’t sure if he saw you when you got here and released the dog as a diversion. Todd killed Jordan with the sickle in the TV room and figured that everyone would blame the dog, right? After you both snuck the dog out of the barn when it was raining, Miguel saw something, and you clubbed him with the sickle after Jordan was already dead.”
“I should have killed him then too,” Diego sneered as he went to draw his own gun from the fanny pack he always wore.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” I said as I pulled the Glock and had him toss his weapon belt on the floor. “Why’d you even let me go if all you were going to do was kill Jordan and get the meth from Todd?”
“Because he’s an idiot,” a voice snarled from behind me as Todd stepped into the barn, a bright silver revolver in his hands as he bared down on me. I didn’t wonder where that weapon came from. We were in Texas, after all.
I swung my Glock at Todd as Diego dove for his own gun while I backed up towards the pit. The barn had gone dead silent as if the dogs themselves realized what was as stake.
“You were supposed to be here an hour earlier, and Diego was supposed to shoot the old man and then you’d take the fall. We’d shoot you with Jordan’s gun and the cops would write it all off as a deal gone bad,” Todd said as he gestured with his gun. “Drop the gun, Clint.”
“You heard him, Ese. No hard feelings. It’s just business.”
Diego had retrieved his own twenty-two from his belt. It’s not much of a gun but it will still kill you dead enough if you hit the right spot. Diego was pointing it at my head. That would do it alright.
“I came up with the dog idea once Diego got up here way ahead of you. That way it didn’t matter if you even got here or not, the dog was to blame. I killed the dog after I took care of the old man. Problems solved.”
“Oh, Todd,” Sid sniffed as she appeared at the barn door. She’d heard everything and the look of shock and horror on her face was obvious. Todd had killed her dad.
A shot popped off inside Sid’s oversized sweater as she unloaded her weapon into her former fiancé. Diego swung his pistol at her leaving me with no choice. I tagged him twice as he spun on the spot and pitched headfirst into the dog pit. The Pits went to work immediately. I didn’t bother to look inside.
It was just about then that Chief Pember turned up as Sid kept on firing at Todd, her hand outside the hoodie now with a slick little mother-of-pearl shooter. She’d a great eye with every slug hitting home. I dropped the Glock on the ground by Todd’s body as Pember cleared leather and ordered Sid on the ground.
Down in the pit, the dogs kept on keeping on with Diego.
By the time the EMT’s made the final sweep and Pember had locked Sid in the back of his car, I‘d given my statement and promised that I’d stay local in case he had anymore questions. I supposed it was only about forty minutes later when I was on Texas State 4 heading towards the Rio Grande with a load of saleable meth in Diego’s truck that I remembered to toss my burner phone. I was going back, and I guess it was my turn to make good and clean up my mess from the past.
Every dog has his day.
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.