He had done it half a dozen times before, and had messed up. This time would be a success. Finally, there was a way he could impress Rachel. He looked over at Gordy, slumped against the passenger’s door snoring blissfully. Rex—a stiff smile on his face, his fingers on the dashboard—drumming, didn’t bother to slow down for bumps and ruts in the road, until the truck bounced over a ditch. He slammed on the brakes as they pitched forward and landed with a thump against an embankment on the side of the road. A bundle flew over the cabin of the pickup and landed smack on the ground in front of them. “Damn,” Rex screamed. He swung the door open, stumbled out of the seat and walked around the truck to survey the damage. Then he went back to the front of the truck, looked down at the bundle. A pair of incandescent eyes gleamed out at him, wide and lifeless. Reluctantly, he picked it up and tossed it back into the bed of the pickup.
When he came back, Rex focused his eyes on Gordy, and made a face. “They’re all shit if you ask me.”
“I never asked. Who’s shit?”
Rex gave a short laugh. “Never mind, just remember stay in the truck when we get to Rachel’s apartment.”
Earlier in the evening, Rex was sitting in a reclining chair, his mouth twisted and unsmiling. For a while he had lain in bed, wakeful. He had been sleeping, but his brain didn’t shut down. It had been two weeks since the fight with James and the confrontation with Rachel, yet Rex still felt the sting of anger and hurt pride. He kept going over in his mind what had happened there, as if by doing so he could erase the event of the fight and save face. He had a bad case of heartburn to boot. So rather than lie there, he’d decided to get up and go to the kitchen and uncap a bottle of beer.
Once settled in the living room at his favorite chair, Rex put a cigarette between his lips and nimbly struck a match with one hand. Maybe he should try to call Rachel again. It was awful she ran out on him after all he had done for her. He expelled a gust of smoke. His heartburn was beginning to turn from a dull, but persistent burn, to an acute blazing glow. He thought he was in love with Rachel. She was still in high school when they met at Beer and Wine. She was seventeen and he was twenty-eight. She had run away from home and he was going to be her savior. She had moved in with her possessions. He even bought more pieces of furniture to fill in the gaps.
Like everybody else he knew, she couldn’t be trusted. He’d given her everything she’d ever wanted, mostly clothes and money. All she’d had to do was be there whenever he needed her, clean the place, and look what she’d gone and done.
He thought he spied a mouse skittering among the pile of garbage in the kitchen. The mobile home was gloomy and neglected. The steps leading to it were broken. It had rotting window sills, the faucet never stopped dripping, and the odor of Chinese food always hung in the air. Since Rachel left, there was no one around to take the garbage out, so it piled up in all the corners of the house; no one to wash the dishes, so they balanced precariously in all kinds of formations in the kitchen sink, on the counter. His place needed a woman’s touch. According to Rex, women were there to please men. Besides, Rachel was a good lay; he smiled to himself.
Despite the disarray around him, his life was fixed—as were the buck’s head, fishing lures, and rifle mounted on the walls of his living room. He lived within the limits of his habits, of knowing where he was going and coming back from, and twice a week—after a nap and a meal—he’d drive over to Mable’s Beauties clapboard house that stood behind concealing bushes in the industrial part of town. He had a job within a few miles of the trailer park where his mobile home stood—a good paying job as a mechanic at Two and a Half Corners Body Shop.
He leaned back in his chair, and felt the caress of the breeze from the open window against his hairy chest. Closing his eyes, he thought again about the fight, replaying it back. He had confronted James, the moron, about swiping his girl away from him. In a state of elevated testosterone, words escalated to a show of drunken blows at which point Rex had been smacked square between his eyes by one of James’ fortuitous jabs. He had taken a nasty spill in front of his beloved Rachel. The shame of it all. Just thinking about the fight fanned his heartburn. He screamed invectives, then, and threats that should have made James’ blood run cold. Instead, James just stood over him and laughed.
Gradually, he began to sense an anger growing inside his body, anger directed at all women. She was foolish, taking up with that James, the moron. Maybe he’ll win her heart with flowers and more phone calls. Maybe after a while she would stop hanging up on him. Lord knows he tried. But he was short, pudgy, and hairy; James was tall, blond, and handsome. He had a reputation with the ladies. They flocked to him like flies, and it irritated Rex to no end.
A dog barked. Damn dog. Rex roused from his reverie, rubbed his hands over his unshaven face, then he took a long swig of the beer, nearly draining the bottle and belched sourly.
As he smoked his cigarette down to the nub while contemplating ways of easing his discomfort, he took it into his head that there might be another way to regain his favor in Rachel’s eyes, make her forget all the beating she endured from him. He meant no harm. It was all her fault anyway. Now, he was trying to squint into the future in the vain hope of coming up with a plan that might impress Rachel.
It was after consuming several more drinks, and while cracking the joints of his fingers until they hurt, that Rex knew he wanted to drive to Mable’s Beauties. His tongue flicked across his lips. He’d call Gordy and the two of them would make a night out of it. The thought sent an excitement that crept up his thighs to his groin in anticipation.
He drained the last drop of beer from the second bottle, tossed the butt of his cigarette into an empty can of baked beans. Then he picked up the phone and dialed Gordy’s number.
It was four a.m.; Rex and Gordy were leaning against the wall in the alley behind Mable’s Beauties.
“What are we going to do now? I’m hungry,” said Gordy, rubbing his hands together. Gordy was Rex’s closest and only friend since childhood. What united them was their distrust for people. Like Rex, Gordy routinely ended most days with vomiting in the alley of bars. The fact that he was married and had two kids didn’t mean much when it came to carousing with Rex.
Rex was staring accusingly at Gordy under the dim light from the moon. “You’re always hungry, man.”
Rex searched for his car keys, a search that involved an extensive body check and turning his pockets inside out and finally remembered that he had left them in the ignition of his Chevy. They walked swaying unsteadily through the dusty parking lot of Mable’s Beauties. Rex stumbled. His hand shot out to steady himself, but he lost his footing, scraping his hands and elbows in the fall. Gordy knelt over him, trying to balance himself. His pants slid down, exposing soft flesh that hung around his fat middle.
“Rex, you aw’right, man?”
“Goddamnit, help me up. Of course I’m not okay. Look at me, I must be bleeding.”
“I can’t see, buddy.” Gordy bent down further, lost his footing and collapsed next to Rex.
Rex’s head ached, and the world around him looped at an unpleasant pace. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. After a few minutes, he rose slowly, brushed his jeans, picked up an empty bottle of beer, emptied it of its last drop and threw it toward the wall of Mable’s Beauties, but somehow it landed on Gordy, instead. He looked at Gordy’s limp body, nudged him with his boot. Gordy blinked a few times, rolled over, stood up and swayed on tremulous legs. “I’m hungry,” he said.
Rex fished into his pockets and came up with a pack of chewing gum. “Here, take one. We gotta get back. I need to call Rachel.”
As they approached Rex’s truck, they came up against a bony dog and Rex recoiled in disgust. A deep, guttural growling rumbled in the dog’s throat and Rex was convinced he would be pinned to the ground with the animal’s teeth tunneled in his flesh. Fear of dogs was one of the things that he and Rachel shared. Having been attacked by a German Sheppard when she was a little girl, she still had the scar above her upper lip to show for it.
Rex felt his knife pressing suggestively against his body, the metal bleeding coolness into his skin. He reached into his pocket, and caressed the handle of his knife. The knife was folded in half, but he could imagine running his finger over the sharp blade with complete pleasure.
A thought began to bud in his foggy mind, cultivating quickly into a plan. He stood there for a second relishing the brilliant idea. It was thrashing around in his head with promising possibilities. He stood perfectly still and placing a finger over his lips, he motioned for Gordy to do the same. No one ever cared for the fate of stray dogs. With his eyes fastened on the dog, he slowly pulled out the knife, slipped his hand behind his back, and pressed the release on the handle. It sprang forward quietly.
“C’mere, doggie. Here, here,” Rex chanted in a mellifluous tone.
The dog—bony and grey, mud crusted into its matted coat of short hair—stayed where it was, slowly wagging his tail, but didn’t move.
Gordy extended his left hand for the dog to smell. “Here, here, good doggie.”
The dog fixed its watery eyes on Rex, its head sharply cocked. It made no move to come to him.
With his left hand, Rex pulled out the chewing gum from his pocket and extended it as far as he could.
Salivating, the dog took one tentative step forward, then another, until he was almost within reach of Rex’s left arm. He sniffed the air and ambled even closer. In one swift motion, Rex shot his leg forward and thrust his boot in the dog’s body. The dog yelped, stumbled, fell and struggled to rise again. Rex ran forward and plunged the knife in the dog’s body. The dog let out a piercing squeal, and collapsed in its own gushing blood, his legs twitching convulsively.
“What the hell you do that for, man?”
Rex squinted at Gordy as if it was a trick question. When he was young, his killing spree began with kicks to get the dogs or cats out of the way, and then he discovered the pleasure that went along with it. But Rex wasn’t interested in conversation. As the dog whirled in his blood; with one long stroke, he sliced open the dog’s body.
“Let’s get outta here, man.”
“Wait a minute,” Rex ordered. As quickly as he could in his drunken state, he went to the back of his truck, rummaged through some boxes containing hunting and fishing paraphernalia, and found what he was looking for: a dirty blanket. He went back to where the dog was lying and wrapped the blanket around it.
“What’re you doing, buddy?’
Rex looked at the covered body of the dead dog. “Shut your trap. I’ll tell you later,” he said. “C’mon, hurry up. We gotta go.”
Rex dragged the soaking wet blanket, panting from the exertion. “Shit,” he said. “My hands are all bloody now.” He hoisted the dead dog onto the back of the truck, and searched for a rag. Then he had to go back, steady Gordy, and help him into the passenger seat of his truck.
“Thanks buddy,” Gordy said, slouching down on his seat.
Rex landed hard on the gas pedal, gravel spewing out from under the truck. He laughed gleefully.
Panting from the exertion, the blood-soaked animal lay heavy in his arms, but everything was looking brighter. Rex put the bundle down and rang the doorbell. No answer. He rang again, and then pounded the door with his fist.
“Honey…James, is that you? You came back?” The door flew wide open. Roused from sleep, Rachel’s freezy hair was flattened on the left side of her head. Rex walked toward her and didn’t stop until he was standing directly in front of her.
She recoiled. “Back up,” Rachel shrieked.
Rex slapped her hard, and then stepped back. “This is for you,” he said and folded back the blood-soaked blanket.
Pudgy hand on her cheek, Rachel looked down at the stiff dog, then looked up at Rex. “Oh, honey, you did that for me?”
Rex shook his head, and she flew into his arms.