All I knew was, he was missing and when he didn't come home I figured he was dead or run off and I was free at last.
The third night, Karl Halpern stalled his tractor in the driveway and the headlights glanced off a set of shiny green eyes twinkling from the storm drain. Karl said he thought it was a coon and he took out a baseball bat with a nail in the end which he carried just for these occasions and rustled down through the dewy razor grass. He figured he had the "sombitch" was eating his corn.
"He came pretty close to having an air hole in his forehead, that's for shore," Karl said with a grin and a shake of his ruddy, almost featureless head.
"You want me to kill him anyway?" he asked.
Jake was jammed in behind the storm grate, breathing hard and nearly crazy from thirst and when I hauled him up he yelped pretty loud because the shoulder was broken and his flank was torn open.
"He's good as daid, anyway...whyn't you let me finish him?" Halpern urged from the roadside as I tried to convince the panicking dog that I was not going to punish him for being smashed up like that.
I hauled him over to the car and lay him out in the back seat on an old rug. All the way to the vet he whined, real soft and low, almost like Indian chanting.
The vet said to put him down otherwise it was going to cost me ten centuries but I told him go ahead: "If I let you put him down it will deprive me of the pleasure of shooting the bastard some day."
He was in the hospital four days and when I came to get him he wagged a bit and then just fell on the ground trying to climb into the car. I helped him up and he slept all the way home but he woke up pretty chipper when he started to smell his own territory again.
He thumped around the yard better part of three months content to let most of the cars pass unmolested while his bones knitted and his insides got used to their new locations and shapes. Occasionally he'd rocket out after a school bus or something for a few feet, just like he was showing them he could still do it if wanted to, but he'd turn and thump listlessly back to his dog house and lie down for hours, just breathing hard and worrying the cast. When he panted like that I knew he was in pain, and anyone will tell you a dog don't complain unless it is severe.
I had almost started believing he had quit the habit. Then about two weeks after the cast come off and he was shave-legged ugly and full of wild rabbit, he showed his true nature once again.
It was a Saturday morning, and I was up a twelve foot ladder changing a light bulb in the stairwell when I heard someone trying to chop down my front door.
"Better not be one of them goddamn Jee-hovah's Witnesses cause I'll levitate the bastard straight to heaven myself," I shouted. They're always showing up on a Saturday morning when you're twelve foot up a ladder.
Jake was howling and barking and snarling out in the yard.
"Shut up you gawdamn son of a bitch!" I yelled, just for good measure, figuring that should run the Joho off. Then I made my way down the ladder and cursed the dog all the way down the hall.
I opened the door and sure enough there was this striped suit standing there, his face bunched up like a bouquet of elbows and his eyes like the chinks in a cabin wall. They always were suits, like it makes em respectable or something.
"Yes?" I says.
"I just about kilt your dog," this guy says.
I looked down at Jake who is standing off a few yards, his bristly old leg and shoulder kind of blue and rancid looking, like good porterhouse. His neck hair was stiff and his eyes were popped like a pair of frost-busted cherries.
"Looks okay to me," I said.
"He chased my car," the suit informs me.
"Did he run it off, then, and you need a ride somewhere?"
The suit just shakes his head and walks down the driveway, calling back to me about "irresponsible pet owners," and "animal cruelty," and such.
Well, Jake takes after him, snarling and howling and the guy turns on the dog and sort of shoos him off like a fly or something. And this just makes Jake mad and he backs off a few yards and digs his feet in for a good grip and starts grumbling and growling.
"Jake! Jake," I yell and he turns his head my way. The dog-lover is almost snarling himself, by now, and he turns to me too and yells: "I'll kill the son of a bitch," and I just tip my hat.
Jake lay down by the pump. He didn't even look at me when I spoke at him.
"You're gonna get a goddamn bullet one day," I assured him. "I don't need this aggravation."
He barely glanced my way. Just rolled over and over in the dust and looked at me like I was just never going to understand. I swear there was pity in that bastard's face.
When I got him, he'd already spent nine months tied up in a back yard somewhere. My ex saw this sign in a grocery store around the corner from our house in the city and she went to see what it is all about. There she found a nice doggie, a cross-eyed hybrid that probably fathered it's own mother. It had been tied to four-and-a-half feet of chain, rain, shine and moonlight, since he was born. My ex recounted how when she got there she found this overly distraught woman standing in the back yard with a little boy while this canine equivalent of Jimmy Hoffa tried to choke himself to death. He was pulling so hard on the chain the links were cracking. Her husband had taken off and left the dog and the little boy. The little boy cried a lot and finally his mother let him go and he started petting Jake and kissing him.
The little boy starts to wail now which makes Jake howl and bark and his mother says, "We'll have to take him to the pound, honey."
"Is that where they pound 'em?" the kid says, bursting into tears again.
My ex can't stand this of course, and she bends down and tells the little boy: "I'm going to save his life."
I'd just finished building this backyard fence and I was sitting there sucking a beer bottle when the two of them walked in through my new gate.
"What's that?" I asked her.
"It's your dog," she says."
She closed the gate and unhooked the leash and Jake took off like he was fired out of a slingshot. He started running around in circles, faster and faster till I though he was going to run right up his own asshole. It was like his legs were on fire. All you could hear was the scraping of his nails on the ground and his breath coming in gasps. He ran until he collapsed and lay on the ground panting and heaving, his tongue hanging out and flecks of foam all over his face.
"He'll calm down," she said, and disappeared into the house.
I never chained him up after that. Almost.
The problem was, he never got over what happened to him as a youth. He'd take off for a few hours just about every day, chasing cars, snatching bags of garbage from behind restaurants. He was addicted to garbage. It was like a drug for him. He'd smell some rotting cabbage behind a grocery store and nearly punch his way out of my car to get at it.
And he'd get picked up, of course, and I'd have to go bail him out. I'd be pissed and he'd hang his head and avoid eye contact; but he really didn't give a damn what anybody thought.
A couple of times I just couldn't take his running away and I slapped a leash on him and tied it to the door. He'd just sit there, still as a tree-stump. He wouldn't move except to look at me when ever I came to the window to see how he liked it. I couldn't take it more than an hour or two. It was like he was saying, "Aw come on, Harry, you ain't gonna leave me here; you ain't got the stomach for it."
And when I untied him he'd just wander off to the dog house I built for him and crawl inside and sulk for a while. Of course, when I came out to see how he was doing, he'd be gone again.
Then we moved out here, to the country -- doggie heaven.
My ex said it would calm him down, appeal to his nature and the like, and he'd relax, become more confident and less hostile to his environment. She talked like that.
He was perky enough at first. He was out sniffing here and there, pissing on the fences and trees, chasing old cats back into the barn. Scared up plenty of rabbits and caught a few. Scared up a skunk, of course. Mugged a porcupine.
He watched the seasons change around us. It was silent, even with the wind and the rain and the far-away blat of a diesel horn on the highway; silent as a front porch on a Sunday afternoon in November.
The empty fields vibrated. It was a low sound, almost like a hummingbird if you've ever heard one sucking at a feeder. Jake could hear it when he would sit still long enough. In the fall you look out and there would be Jake standing in the middle of all that turned earth, not understanding anything but aware that something was alive underneath him, wondering, maybe, what happened to the corn. The geese would land and pick over the field and he would scatter them, and at dawn a deer painted between the trees at the edge of the wood lot might catch in his nostrils.
One day I came outside and he was sitting in the gravel, his eyes hard as allies, his head cocked to one side while he listened to the wind. You could see the change in his face, a kind of inside-outness that told you he had changed and he wasn't changing back again. He didn't look at you; he studied you. Every flutter of leaves would set him off. It got so he just plain didn't like anybody or any thing. Living alone out here preyed on him until he just stopped making room for anybody. Didn't want anybody around; not even nearby. If somebody was to come on the property, he'd be as rude as a dog could be.
Then me and my ex would have this big spat and he'd end up chained to the goddamn doghouse for an hour or two until I gave in and set him loose. He didn't even mind anymore. That's the way it would always end and he knew it. That's why he was so patient. He knew me better than I knew myself -- or him.
My ex used to walk him every day when we lived in the city.
She complained that he pulled her all over the graveyard and never passed up a fight with another mutt. He was always pushing it, she said, always the one who started it. It was an addiction. He'd fight every dog he passed, just for spite. He didn't care if he won. It wasn't meant to solve anything or prove anything. It wasn't even mount or be mounted; it was just mindless barbarity, is all it was. And he didn't accept defeat with equanimity. The other dog might do the dog thing, clamping the teeth down over Jake's throat just long enough to make his point and figure it was done; but soon as he turned his back, Jake would jump him again until the other dog gave in or the two of them nearly died trying to sort it out.
I'd get a telephone call and some woman would be on about her vet bills and her poodle's left hind tit.
"Jake don't mean nothing by it," I'd say. "He couldn't help it. He had a troubled youth."
He could tell when I was talking about him even if I didn't say his name and he'd slink off out the kitchen door to the dog house. I made it a matter of policy that if he got to the doghouse I wouldn't go in after him no matter how mad I was. I figured he had to have a place he knew was safe no matter what.
My ex got so she wouldn't talk about him and eventually she wouldn't even speak in his direction and when he wandered up for a little nice-nice she'd ignore him. But he was pathetic and persistent. He'd lay his head on her lap and stare at her with big, wet, brown eyes until she came around and petted him and wept over his skunk-dipped face. As soon as that was over, he'd head out to the doghouse and plan his next adventure. He had the most sociopathic personality I have ever observed in a quadruped.
She used to walk him across an enormous graveyard that had about three miles of paths through it. He liked to piss on the gravestones.
I guess it was about six o'clock one morning when he found the German walking the shepherd.
My ex showed up back at the house dragging Jake like an eight-year-old boy who just got picked up at the local cathouse by his mother.
"Your fucking dog," she screamed at me.
"My dog!" I says. "You brought the sonofabitch home."
"Well you're his father, you three-legged son of a bitch..."
"I ain't the one looking for a child," I hollered.
You can probably make up the rest of the conservation.
About an hour later the telephone rings and it's a Kraut, telling me that Fritzie has got a game leg or some goddamn thing and what was I gonna do about it. Now there is nothing that gets me going like a Kraut on a first name basis with his dog.
"Hitler liked animals too," I told him, "and Goering was a fucking vegetarian."
"You a Jew or something?" he says, and I says, "One you shouldn't've missed, you baby-rapin bastard," and he starts sputtering into the phone like we had a bad connection or something.
Finally he says: "Your dog attacked Fritzie for no reason!"
"He don't like dog Krauts, neither," I told him and slammed down the telephone.
It wasn't long after that I got a letter from a lawyer about some kind of suit. Jewish guy named Rosenblum or something like that. I call him up but he doesn't want to talk to me.
"It's between lawyers," he says.
"I can't afford no high-priced Jewish lawyer," I says, "so I'm representing myself." There's a silence and then Rosenbaum says:
"Don't you mister me, you sonofabitch," I cut in. "I'm not the one defending a goddamn war criminal. Hitler loved animals too, you know."
I never heard from either of them again.
It was shortly after that we decided to try obedience school, an in-home tutoring course at $25 a yelp guaranteed to teach "the latest developments in pet-management techniques."
There's a knock at the door and some guy with hands like a meat cutter and a big, round expressionless face is standing there holding a horse lead and a choke collar.
Jake is silent. I'm impressed already.
The man reaches out and touches Jake's head. No response. The man slips the choke-chain over Jake's head and attaches the lead.
"Watch this," the man said, leading Jake as peaceful as a new nun down the front stairs.
"Heel," he says.
Jake looks up at him and cocks his head. The man jerks the chain a bit and Jake's ears pitch forward.
"Heel," he says.
Slowly, but almost like he was all of a sudden going through the next phase of evolution, old Jake stands up on his hind legs. Now he's like a big dancing bear, his forelegs crossed over the man's leash arm and his mutt face straining to get a lick at him.
The guy's eyes bulge for a second and Jake starts waltzing him, groaning, swaying his hips.
"Heel," the guy says, his voice getting a little panicky. "Heel."
Everybody is watching from the window now. They are laughing like crows.
The dog trainer is walking backwards, trying to shake himself loose, but Jake is groaning and swaying his dog hips and licking at the guy's face. Jake weighs 110 pounds and he's almost six foot stretched out like that.
The guy yanks down with both hands and Jake's front feet hit the cement for a second; but he just springs right back up, yipping and jitterbugging and moaning. Only now the trainer is kind of bent over and can't straighten up all the way.
"Heel," he shouts.
Jake nips a piece of the guy's shirt and starts to whip it back and forth like a rat.
"You son of a bitch!" the guy yells.
I happen to glance down and see that Jake's got a big, red, bobbing eight-inch erection about the same time as the guy sees it.
"No," he hollers. "No." He looks at me in a panic -- it wouldn't be too good for his business if he got humped by dog in public on their first date. Jake has got the guy's left leg in a scissor-lock and he's doing the Elvis on him.
"Heel," the guy yells.
I finally pried them loose and the guy staggered back to his vehicle.
"You forgot your stuff," I called, waving the leash at him, but I don't think he heard me.
That was the end of the walks for old Jake, all right. He'd see her going off in the morning and get all worked up and start to pant and jump up and down, but she wouldn't even look at him by then. We'd just hear the door slam and Jake would run to the window and stand on the sill with his front legs and watch her, his face getting tighter and tighter. He'd whinny and bark and finally he'd howl but she wouldn't take him.
I watched old Jake through the window.
He finished his dust bath and just sat down in the middle of the yard and tested the wind with his nose, a quiet, dreamy look on his face. I thought he was asleep until he leaned forward and howled. It was a long, sorrowful, unwinding sound that reeled off for more than a minute and vibrated in the air for another minute afterwards, like the peals of a bell.