A Dog to Put Down

      by Brian S. Wheeler / Fantasy

Chapter 9 – Lost to the Wild…

Harmon Fowler mumbled rude words beneath his breath as he pushed his shopping cart down rows teeming with canned soups, dried noodles, frozen dinners and boxed cupcakes. Any trip to the community supermarket strained Harmon’s patience, and meandering through so many aisles crowded with soft customers Harmon despised soon forced him into a strange habit of humming as he fought to resist that temptation to bear his teeth and scream.

The frowning women who slumped in the middle of every aisle, as if exhausted from taking two gallons of milk from refrigeration, blocked Harmon’s path as they positioned their carts and shoulders in ways that congested his progress, forcing Harmon to wait while those women studied the nutritional labels printed on cardboard boxes of macaroni and cheese. Harmon hummed another foul word and navigated through the maze of suburban housewives and soccer mothers that he hoped would eventually lead him to coffee cans and sugar cubes. He glared at every woman who rolled her eyes at the shaggy, old man with the sun-burned face of wrinkle and leather, who growled at their backs while they moved so slowly down every aisle. Harmon hated their privilege, hated their sense of entitlement. Did those women think the world belonged only to them? Did those women think that they had every right to demand the planet stop its spinning while they fumbled through coupons and wrestled to decide if they should toss generic or brand-name mustard into their carts?

Harmon hummed. Those shoppers knew nothing of real hunger. They had never been forced to scavenge for scraps on the street in their childhood. Those shoppers knew nothing of actual danger. They were lucky that Harmon didn’t slam his cart into them to clear his path, or that he didn’t lower his shoulder to knock down all the heavy ladies unable to choose from so many flavors of ice cream. They were lucky that Harmon didn’t teach them all a lesson, that Harmon didn’t scream and snap his teeth to remind them that others also lived in those delicate worlds those women inhabited.

He hated wasting his time amid such soft people. Harmon had almost forgotten how shopping heated his blood. Since he had earned his driver’s license the previous year, John had taken all the runs to the grocery store. That boy’s meek demeanor never seemed to mind how long the lone cash register ringing during peek hours forced him to wait. That boy gathered every item on his father’s list without having the rest of his day spoiled. What else did seventeen-year-old boys have to do with their time? Harmon, however, could name a hundred little duties and chores more in need of his attention.

So Harmon’s nerves frayed by the time he finally dropped the garlic cloves and potato chips into his cart. His nostrils sniffed at the air, sensing some other scent beneath the smell of bleach mopped across a section of linoleum tiles. He sensed the old danger drawing closer. He sensed the approach of the lethal, third man. The fine hairs stood upright on the back of his neck. His good eye scanned for sudden movement. His lips curled, and his fingers craved the comfort his straight-blade’s handle. The wild instinct placed him on guard, and all those slights and distractions Harmon suffered in the supermarket made it very hard to resist that impulse to rage.

Harmon quickly then recognized the threat when he stumbled upon those strangers as he pushed beyond a pyramid of canned energy drinks and arrived at those counters holding chicken quarters and stew meat.

“I don’t know, Luke. I’m thinking that salmon and pesto sound better for tonight.”

“Yeah, Mark, my colon could probably use a break from the read meat.”

Harmon’s body froze as his senses shouted that a turn of his shopping cart carried him before the men who travelled to that small, forgotten town to bury another old street soldier. They didn’t dress in the dirty, denim jeans and the dingy, camouflaged hoodies worn by the male natives. The men wore stylish boots with the pointed toes, and slacks cut to properly fit their forms. The strangers didn’t cover their heads with ball caps of their favored sports franchises, and the strangers’ hair glistened beneath the supermarket’s fluorescent lighting for all the gel holding their parts in place. Those strangers were not the slow, heavy-set clogs who lived in that speck of empty country. The strangers’ slim builds implied dangerous speed, speed that told Harmon they were the men sent for him. Harmon’s hand dug into his pocket and curled around the pearl handle of his straight-blade. Those were the men sent to remind Harmon that the old streets had never forgotten him. Those were the men bred and trained for the killing.

Yet Harmon couldn’t help but smile as he watched all those soft, aging women push against those strangers to grab at pork chops and steaks before those men had a chance to cart those cuts. Those ladies thought Harmon’s growl was rude, but Harmon’s growl at least warned them to beware, that they tempted a dog’s bite when they charged in front of his cart to lunge at a last box of butter crackers. Those strangers might smile, but Harmon knew they would give those ladies no warning before a hand flashed, a blade sparkled, and a woman with dead eyes crumpled upon the floor, her last thoughts wondering if she could beat her rival shopper to that best shrink-wrapped package of prime rib. Those fools had no sense of their jeopardy. They had all lived such comfortable lives. Harmon hated them all.

Harmon waited for the knife to flash as a graying woman in thick spectacles rolled her cart close to that pair of strangers.

The woman cleared her throat. “You’re going to take that salmon?”

The taller of the strangers smiled. “I like salmon.”

The woman shrugged. “I never know what to do with it. I’m too much of a meatloaf traditionalist.”

That made the short stranger laugh. “I’ve missed my mother’s meatloaf for years. Maybe we could share recipes.”

“You think so? You give me an address, and I’ll be happy to mail you an index card with my meatloaf secrets.”

Harmon’s heart quickened. The men must not have yet recognized him. The strangers wouldn’t chuckle over meatloaf recipes if they knew Harmon was standing next to the bakery’s cinnamon rolls. Harmon thought those strangers underestimated his senses. They didn’t know how Harmon relied on cues far more telling than words when it came to seeing threat. The streets must’ve softened since the days Harmon ruled them if street bosses sent such numb men onto his trail.

His adrenaline surged, but Harmon’s mind remained in control for a little while more. Perhaps he should retreat down the pet food aisle and slip back to his property, where his ebony dogs could offer further protection. Perhaps he should run to the supermarket’s manager and beg the man to call the local authorities. For a handful of breaths longer, options raced through Harmon’s mind, until those strangers did something Harmon never anticipated, an act that froze his brain and put the old wild in control of Harmon Fowler.

The strangers took one another’s hands, and they pressed their lips together for a kiss.

Harmon didn’t think of those men as “gay” or “homosexual.” None of the more terrible terms Harmon routinely employed to describe men who took other men as lovers even floated into Harmon’s thinking. But that kiss tossed Harmon’s mind too far into the wild, too far into instinct, where talk was vain, where language forced the speaker to hesitate and die. That kiss proved that those strangers were the “others,” and that was enough to convince Harmon Fowler that they were threat.

Harmon snarled as he stepped forward and approached those men. “Did old man Altadonna send you? Did one of his sons? Or is another family running the old streets now?”

His scowl wiped the smiles clean away from those strangers’ faces. Both men retreated a step, and Harmon’s hand gripped a little harder around his straight-blade’s handle. Harmon waited until he pulled that weapon from his pocket. A supermarket was a very public place, even in a community as small and forgotten as the one in which Harmon hid. Harmon doubted those men would show their guns while surrounded by so many shoppers.

“Tell me the name of the street-boss who sent the two of you. Tell me who runs the streets now. Have the Mexicans moved in? Or have the Asians grown powerful enough to grab it all? Maybe you fags have finally built your own syndicate on top of all that sodomy.”

The tallest man pointed a finger at Harmon. “Mister, I don’t know what you’re talking about, or who the hell you think you are.”

“There’s no need to lie now,” Harmon winked back. “The two of you have found me. You’ve followed my trail all the way back to this miserable place. Best to be straight about it. Best to get it over with real quick.”

The shorter of the men grabbed his partner’s elbow. “Let’s just walk away, Luke. He’s just an old man. The years might’ve softened his brain. Let’s just step away and give him plenty of room.”

“We don’t have to put up with his kind of shit, Mark.”

Mark shrugged. “No one cares what that old man has to say. Let’s just walk away. The old man’s not worth any kind of a scene.”

“Worth it?” The wrinkle’s of Harmon’s face knotted together as anger rippled beneath his skin. “You’re a pair of fools if you think that age has made me so weak. The two of you might think you can just come out to my land and destroy everything I’ve built, but I promise you both, I’m going to put up a fight. I won’t hesitate to spill the blood. I won’t be the one begging for mercy after you bring the fight to me.”

“You’re right, Mark, this old man’s gone senile.”

“Come on, Luke. Let’s get some help.”

Harmon rushed the men. He lost his mind and his blood raged. Instinct controlled his nerves. The wild fired within his skull. He even forgot about that straight-blade in his pocket as his hands lifted before his face and balled into fists. He flashed jabs and hooks at the strangers. Harmon squinted his good eye to better focus on his targets, but he failed to strike with any of his uppercuts as those strangers always seemed a step ahead of his attacks. His hands were so feared during those years when Harmon ruled his street corner. When he was a young man, Harmon’s hands were quick and hard. So many years ago, Harmon had never lost a fight on his turf, regardless of the weapons raised. No matter his opponent’s cruelty, Harmon always fought nastier. Harmon’s feet danced as he ducked and weaved towards those strangers to find the proper range for his strikes. He still felt quick. He felt confident that dancing before those ebony dogs preserved all the grace and speed that made him so lethal when he was a concrete prince.

But none of Harmon’s punches connected with a stranger’s face. None of his jukes or dodges opened any avenue for attack. He couldn’t counter any clumsy strike, for the strangers threw no punches of their own. Harmon panted. His heart thundered, and then it burned. His hands grew heavy. His punches slowed. Yet Harmon continued to press, pushed by the conviction that those strangers who retreated so easily away from his hands had come to kill him.

Harmon’s remaining eye failed to see the attack that ensnarled him. He never sensed the third man creeping, and it was too late for Harmon to defend himself when the third man ambushed him. Legs wrapped around Harmon’s waist. Arms twisted around Harmon’s neck. Harmon managed to draw a breath just as he felt his weight plunge forward. Pain coursed through his back as his attacker took him to the tile flooring. Harmon grunted, and he desperately fought to shake of his attacker, but that third man’s grip only grew tighter the more Harmon struggled. Harmon snapped his teeth, but he couldn’t bit at any of his adversary’s flesh. He curled his fingers to employ them like claws, but Harmon fingernails could reach no skin to tear. Harmon brimmed with anger. He tried to scream, but the attacker squeezed harder upon his throat, so that Harmon couldn’t release what little breath he still owned to make sound.

The third man was always the most capable. The third man was always the most sinister. The third man never fought fairly. Combat was supposed to be a flurry of fists, flashes of blades, the roar of guns. Combat was supposed to make the blood flow. Combat was supposed to be more than suffocation. Harmon squirmed as the darkness gathered in the corners of his eyes. The old street sent cruel killers to take him, and they dishonored Harmon in their failure to exchange blows with him.

Harmon managed to twist his lips into another scowl a moment before he fell into sleep. He had lost his focus. He had turned wild, and so the third man had crept upon him while he threw wild punches at the strangers who distracted him in front of the deli counter.

And as he slipped away, Harmon called for Tonka.
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