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The dust of 100 dogs, p.17
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.17

           A. S. King
 
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  I wasn’t five minutes into my walk the next morning when a jumpy Doberman approached me and a man appeared on the deck of the glass house. When I first saw him I got an awful rush of adrenaline, the way I do when someone cuts in line or a Quiz Bowl match is about to start. And when he waved I felt threatened somehow, as if he were some sort of bad omen. The dog was great. I’ve always liked Dobermans (having lived as one twice, I have insight into their goofy, loving nature). It was the man who worried me—especially now that I’d paced enough to know that my treasure was somewhere near his house.

  As I walked homeward along the beach that night, the huge orange sun dipped lower and lower into the horizon. It was a moment I can’t explain. Emer flickered inside me, and I longed for what she longed for. She ordered me to take a sunset swim, so I did, and it was like wrapping myself in a warm blanket of familiarity—even though I’d never once swum in an ocean as Saffron Adams.

  Hector and I left for Black River early the next day. He dropped me in the center of the morning market and gave me two hours to check it out. I figured there was ample time to get to the bank and get a few things, so I pointed to a meeting place on the opposite side of the one-way road, and he sped off.

  The market was loud and it smelled of day-old fruit and damp cardboard. There were busy Jamaicans moving tall stacks of pallets from stall to stall and women yelling at me from behind their goods, announcing the discount they would give and demanding I try on their hats and jewelry. I continued toward the town center and crossed over a wide bridge. The river was crammed with boats carrying tourists, fishermen, and children, and the water had a thin layer of gas on the surface that shone like mother of pearl.

  No sooner had I arrived at the bank and felt the relief of the air conditioning than this old guy, rushing in the opposite door, walked right into me and nearly knocked me over.

  He looked up at me from the floor. “My apologies,” he said in an English accent. “I’m very sorry.”

  I bent over a little, covering my face, and rubbed the intense pain on my head where his chin had hit me. Then Emer Morrisey came alive and I got instant goose bumps.

  He scrambled to get up. “Completely my fault,” he said. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

  I was still rubbing my head, which was starting to throb. “Okay.”

  I got in line and looked over at him periodically. He looked like somebody I knew. I figured I’d seen him in the village, or maybe I’d just seen him on the street and it hadn’t registered.

  It wasn’t until we met again, less violently, on our way out, that I realized who he was.

  “Do you need a lift back to Billy’s Bay?” he asked.

  “Huh?”

  “Would you like a lift?” he said, annoyingly louder.

  I squinted at him, confused.

  He smiled and nodded, then stuck out his right hand. “We should start again. My name is Fred. Livingstone. We saw each other yesterday on the beach, remember?”

  I squinted harder, until he did a lame reenactment of his wave. “Oh. Right. The glass place.”

  “And you are?”

  “On vacation?” I said hesitantly.

  He didn’t like that. “Are you sure I can’t give you a lift?”

  “No thanks. I have one.” I had an overwhelming urge to carve my initials into his back.

  “How about dinner tonight?”

  “No, thanks,” I said. I wanted to rub salt into the S, into the A.

  “Oh. Well. I’ll see you later then,” he stuttered, and left quickly.

  My whole body felt cold and nervous, like it did when I saw Junior on the road on prom night. Did an old guy like that really want to take me to dinner? How did he recognize me after only seeing me from a hundred yards away?

  And why did I feel like Emer was back now, twice as strong as she ever was, commanding me to kill him on the spot?

  DOG FACT #6

  Bad Habits

  Your dog is capable of doing some pretty awful stuff. It’s up to you to maintain consistent affection, training, and discipline in order to prevent your dog from doing awful stuff. However, sometimes this is not enough. Some dogs are just born bad.

  I’ve done it all. I’ve bitten letter carriers and chased cars and tractors and bicycles and tanks. I’ve worried more sheep than a shepherd can count. I’ve chewed on everything, from homework to framework to the family cat. I’ve even fought and killed my own.

  Back in 1958, I was a Pit Bull Terrier bred by an alcoholic ex-con who called himself “The Master.” He was one of those in-and-out-of-prison guys who came to crave the systematic abuse he’d been a victim of his whole life.

  When the Master brought me home to his rundown wood-shingled house, I was nine weeks old. He threw me into a filthy coop where the only other occupant was an aggressive Jack Russell who was always injured. A few times per week, the Jack was pulled from the cage and taken to the barn for an hour, and then deposited back in the cage, bleeding, missing lumps of skin and hair, and soaked with urine. Once he had healed and felt a little better he’d nip at me, and that made me mad. It made me mad enough that at two months old, I nipped back and took the little twerp’s ear off.

  The Master began “training me” then—starving me, beating me, chaining me, and teasing me. Twice he stood me on a concrete pad an inch deep in water and ran electricity through it, making me jump and howl. Sometimes he would shoot me with his BB gun all afternoon and then spray me with salt water. And other times, he would throw me, hungry, into a ring with a drugged rabbit or cat and I’d tear it to pieces.

  One week when I was still a pup, I was brought to watch some older dogs fight at a neighbor’s barn. The Master invited a bunch of his friends because they liked to drink beer, bet, and watch dogs kill each other. Before the real action started, they had a “warm up.” It took two minutes for my sire, a two-year-old Pit Bull Terrier champion, to kill my old cage mate, the Jack. They’d muzzled the Jack with a few strips of duct tape and he never had a chance. This was my destiny, the Master said. I was to follow in the footsteps of my father and make him lots and lots of money, which is exactly what happened.

  I kept winning and winning, and he kept betting and betting, until I’d killed at least a hundred dogs. Some had their snouts tied shut or their teeth pulled out. Some were already so injured by the time they got to me that I couldn’t figure out how they could call it a fight, but I fought anyway.

  Fact was, I knew it was wrong. But once my canine-self got accustomed to life as a killer, I just couldn’t stop. When they busted the Master two years later, they found me—crazy with rage—tied with a short tow chain, ribs showing, and they couldn’t get near me without landing two tranquilizer darts in me first. Then, they put me to sleep on the spot.

  Your dog doesn’t have to be a killer to be dangerous. A nip leads to a bite. And regrettably, biters are rarely cured. You need to be responsible for what your dog does, and this requires serious consideration. As hard as it is to face the act of euthanizing a pet, think about how much doggie prisons would cost. Aren’t we feeding enough incurable scoundrels already?

  What great things would you attempt

  if you knew you could not fail?

  Robert H. Schuller

  As the Vera Cruz neared a port on the westernmost island of the Bahamas, Emer’s crew didn’t notice the three men standing on the dock with loaded pistols. The ship was in need of serious repair—her sails perforated by Spanish chain shot and her hull covered in thick sea growth that made her move too slowly through the calm water. The men worked to steer the ship in, secure it, and then reported to David that they had landed successfully.

  David crept silently from the cabin, leaving Emer to catch up on rest she surely had missed the night before. When he approached the gangplank, the three men began to walk toward him.
He could sense they were trouble.

  “Who are you?” David asked.

  “I am the new governor here. This is my friend Mr. Thomson.” The third man stood behind the other two, running his fingers through his thick black hair.

  “What do ye want?” David asked.

  “Are you the captain of this ship?”

  David stared.

  “Are you the captain of this ship?” the governor repeated.

  The other two men began to walk toward David, and he held out his arms so they were unable to pass.

  “We have serious business with your captain.”

  “Let me fetch him for you,” David offered, but the men pushed past him and walked toward the ship.

  Emer was dragged out of her cabin, up the ladder, and out to the deck. She’d managed to dress herself in a long-sleeved nightdress, and David was relieved.

  As the two men pushed her down the plank, the governor leaned down toward Emer’s ear. “What’s your name, woman?” he whispered. Emer told him, feeling defeated. All that killing, and still nameless! Surely a man guilty of the same horrors would have his name in history books already!

  The governor spoke loudly so that the entire crew could hear him. “Emer Morrisey, you are under arrest on this tenth day of March, 1663, for piracy and murder! You shall be tried, and then you will hang from our gallows where many other scoundrels have suffered the same fate. To these accusations how do you plead?”

  Emer wrestled with the two men. One tied her hands behind her back with thick hemp rope while the other tried to keep her from jumping off the gangplank.

  “Woman! How do you plead?”

  The two men pushed her to the base of the plank and onto the dock. The governor asked again, “How do you plead?”

  When she didn’t answer, the man with the black bushy hair leaned toward her. He whispered something in her ear and she spat at him. He turned to the governor and said something, softly, and they started back toward the town, Emer stumbling behind, tugged by her bound hands. David followed, all the while looking at Emer’s face and trying to gain some sort of idea, any idea, of what to do. She looked genuinely terrified, and said only one thing he could understand before the three men put her onto the back of a cart and took off.

  She said, “French bastard!”

  The small prison smelled like death—a mix of shit and sweat, gangrene, vomit and fear. Emer was locked in a cell by herself, the only light a reflection from above where one small window, too skinny for escape, graced the stone wall. She could hear nothing but the muffled sounds of the village outside and the few other prisoners moaning.

  When David came to see the governor to plead for her freedom, at the risk of his own, he was sent away before he had a chance to speak.

  “Do I look like a stupid man to you?” the governor asked. “I know who that is down there.”

  “But—”

  David was ushered out by the Frenchman, who smiled at him the whole way and spoke only when he reached the door. “She’s mine,” he said. “Forget about her.”

  Two days passed before anyone came to see Emer. She’d been given no food or water, and had lapsed into a determined trance. She sat cross-legged with her arms folded in her lap, refusing to lie down in the filth. She prayed a little, but knew that no matter how hard she prayed, the Frenchman would return and she would have to endure him. When she heard footsteps outside her cell door, she tensed and readied her body for what was about to happen.

  But he only reached in and grabbed her by the hair, pulling until she finally regained enough balance in her numb legs to walk behind him. Before they came to the prison exit, the Frenchman pulled two wrist cuffs from his pocket, twirled them on his fingers, and fastened them tightly around her. He straightened her hair with his greasy hand and caressed her left cheek.

  “We meet again, my little Irish girl. This time you will not run away, I assure you.”

  He walked her upstairs to the governor’s small office and stood her in front of him. She shivered in her own sweat, looking pathetic and felt a louse crawl in her hairline.

  The governor was a slender man, too skinny (Connacht skinny in Emer’s eyes), with a pointed face and large ears. He wore an excessive amount of jewelry for a man, and a ruffled blouse with an enormous collar.

  “Do you admit, now, to the charge of murder, woman?” he asked, spreading his ringed fingers before him, tapping his fingertips. “Are you hungry enough?”

  Emer thought about this for a few seconds and nodded her head. Hungry or not, she wasn’t ashamed of murder anymore.

  “Can you not speak?”

  “She has little English,” the Frenchman offered.

  “Are you an ignorant, then?”

  Emer stretched her shoulders and made a clinking sound with the cuffs.

  The governor turned to the Frenchman, laughing. “Some good she’ll do you as a wife, man! How will she know what you want for your dinner?”

  Emer eyed two sweet pastries on the governor’s desk. “Do you want these?” he asked her.

  “When is my trial?” she asked.

  The governor looked over to the Frenchman, raised his eyebrows, and shrugged.

  “Two weeks,” the Frenchman said.

  “Two weeks,” the governor said.

  “Can I go back to my cell now?”

  “I don’t see why not,” the governor answered, looking to the Frenchman for clues. “Would you like to take her back?”

  He grabbed her roughly and walked her back to the prison below. When they reached the entrance, he left the cuffs on her and ran his hands over her body, stopping twice at her bosom and once at her bottom, where he squeezed her and left bruises. “God you stink, woman,” he said. “We’ll have to wash you before you board my ship.”

  “I’ll be swinging in two weeks,” Emer said, “so you had best get your fill of me while I’m alive.”

  “Oh, you silly girl!” He unlocked her cuffs and kicked her into the tiny cell and locked the door. “You still don’t understand anything, do you?”

  Emer sat in her cell for two weeks. Once a day they brought a bucket, a handful of dirty animal fat, and a small cup of sour water. She spent her time thinking about everything—the Frenchman, the governor, the prison, but mostly about David and her crew. Had they taken her share and gone back to the cruising ground?

  What had the Frenchman meant when he’d called her a “silly girl”? She’d seen how the governor relied on him. She’d seen how the Frenchman seemed to be the one in charge. Would he steal her now and finally make her his slave? She thought about killing him.

  Four weeks later, she’d seen no one but the guard who brought her food and water. Two months later, she took to sobbing at night, wondering what would become of her life. Four months after that, she made a plan to bribe the judge and governor. Six months passed, then eight months.

  Ten months since her capture, and Emer still sat cross-legged in the small cell. She’d lost so much weight and energy that she could hardly do more than sleep. Her legs suffered from a lack of circulation and one of her toes had begun to rot. The stink was unbearable—a sort of inner stench, which she could taste in the back of her throat—and she wondered if she’d live long enough to hang at all.

  One day she heard more than a single set of footsteps approaching her cell at feeding time, and two voices mumbling to each other. The Frenchman took one look at Emer, gasped, and turned to the prison keeper.

  “What the hell have you done to her? You damned idiot! She’s nearly dead!” He stormed back toward the stairway and up the steps. Emer could hear him cursing and yelling the whole way, saying things like, “She’s no good to me now! How would you like it if I killed your woman?”

  She sat very still and put her hands to her face. Bones jutted from
every angle and her eyes blinked uncontrollably. Did she really look as bad as she felt? As bad as she smelled?

  When the Frenchman returned, he carried two blankets. He unlocked the cell and helped Emer crawl out. Her limp leg dragged behind and embarrassed her, but he didn’t seem to notice. She felt nothing in one foot below the ankle, and her muscles were so weak she couldn’t move from exhaustion. The Frenchman wrapped the blankets around her and picked her up like a small child. Only then could Emer feel how weightless she’d grown. In the light of the stairway could she see her legs—skinnier than any in Connacht, not to mention a lot more discolored. Emer had gone green and yellow—not just on her feet but everywhere. Just a glimpse made her head flop down, and she went unconscious.

  When she awoke in the governor’s office, she was alone. Since she was too weak to escape, they hadn’t handcuffed her or tied her to any furniture. On the desk, there was a plate of fruit and a large washing bowl of water. She heard quarrelling in the next room.

  “You wanted her imprisoned. I did what you wanted.”

  “I didn’t want her dead.”

  “If you wanted her healthy and strong, why didn’t you take her with you?”

  “You fool! You brainless idiot!”

  “What did you expect from me? It’s not my fault she was left for nearly a year!”

  “You could have given her more to eat! You could have let her walk a bit.”

  “I have no say in what they feed the scum down there. And I most certainly took your orders seriously when you said not to let another man touch her. Did you think I could do that if I was parading her around the prison at the same time? You told me to keep her safe. I kept her safe. She’s not dead. You can have her now. There’s nothing so wrong with her that food can’t cure.”

 
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