Introit black dog, p.2
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       Introit- Black Dog, p.2

           Oliver J Olinger
 
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  ***

  Paul Auxten pulled into the parking lot of a fairly upscale hotel driving a beat-up, rusty Nissan. He stopped in a parking space between a Corvette and a minivan. As he set the parking break, he inexplicably reached across to open the passenger-side door.

  Toma emerged from an unseen location and approached Paul's car. “Get in!” Paul said, nonchalantly.

  “How did you know I was standing out here?” asked a perplexed Toma.

  “Well, you're a cryptic and cautious fellow. Figured you wouldn't want me to know your room number, at least not yet,” Paul answered Toma's inquisitive confusion, “And I doubt you'd want to talk about 'paranormal' topics anywhere as public as a busy hotel lobby, so I guessed that out here in the parking lot was the best option. That, and I saw the shadow of a short, skinny man popping out from behind this van here when I pulled up.”

  Toma raised his eyebrows, impressed. “And that is exactly the reason why I've chosen you for this job,” he said.

  “Whether or not I'll accept the job remains to be seen.”

  “Of course, but I have faith in you.”

  Toma and Paul sat for an awkward, silence moment before proceeding. Both seemed to be waiting for the other to begin the business negotiation. Finally, Paul couldn't take the tension any longer. “So, what's this two thousand dollar job, then?”

  “I'll get to that in a moment...” Toma began, looking around him at the parking lot and hotel.

  Paul smiled. “Try not to be so obvious when you survey your surroundings. Use mirrors, reflections in glass or anything reflective, and do a full visual sweep of the landscape before you even enter an area, if you can. Without looking around I can tell you there are newlyweds at 5 o'clock, leaning against a red Mustang convertible. A guy in a suit smoking a cigarette who just cheated on his wife with another man at 9 o'clock by a white Beamer. And there's a family from Michigan packing their stuff into a Chrysler minivan over there behind that truck.”

  Toma looked around to verify Paul's claims. They all stood the test of an initial observation. “That's impressive, Mr. Auxten... Very impressive. I take it you haven't always been a bartender. I can only assume that you're government trained with a history of military service.”

  “That would be a fair assumption, but...”

  “Why would someone with that kind of knowledge, possessing such a highly valuable skill set, work for pennies tending bar at a filthy pub in a building that should have been condemned decades ago?”

  “Honestly, to stay away from characters like you. No offense.”

  “That type of lifestyle didn't agree with you, then?”

  “No, it did not.”

  “Good... Then this job will be a welcome change for you. Like I said last night, there is nothing immoral about what I'm hiring you to do.” Toma took out a black and white printed photograph of a small group of unsavory-looking characters. One face in the center was circled in blue ink. Toma handed the picture to Paul, who took one quick look at it and handed it back.

  “Ed Washburn. A lowlife thug who goes by the name Wash-N-Burn, hyphenated with an 'N' in the middle,” Paul looked slightly disappointed at the lack of challenge in the job thus far.

  Toma's eyes widened again with no small amount of wonder at Paul's ability to deliver fast and accurate intelligence. “It took me three weeks to learn his name. You just did it in less than a second.”

  “Well, this is my town and I've come in contact with lots of undesirable sorts over the years. Let's just say he's made a noticeable splash in these parts,” answered Paul in a matter-of-fact tone, “So, what kind of trouble has Wash gotten himself into this time?”

  “He's been holding several underground dog fights in the area.”

  “Yeah, I've heard about those. But that kind of sounds like something for the local animal services department. Can I ask what dog fights have to do with paranormal research?”

  Toma looked over at Paul, momentarily dumbstruck. He wasn't prepared to answer questions of such a direct nature. “Nothing... directly. This is more like a...”

  “...a side job?”

  “Exactly.”

  “So, what do you need me for?” Paul asked with a slight undertone of impatience.

  “This Edward character recently acquired a certain black dog from an Englishman a few months ago... acquired without permission, I should mention. The owner of this dog hired me to retrieve his… pet.”

  Paul nodded in acknowledgement.

  “And before you ask,” added Toma, “I stumble when I use the word 'pet' because it's more his charge than his pet.”

  “He's responsible for the dog, but it doesn't belong to him?” Paul clarified.

  Toma took a deep breath and responded, “It doesn't belong to anyone. I need you to help me retrieve the dog safely and as silently as possible. I'm not really built for this type of field work, as I'm sure you've noticed, and underground dogfights aren't exactly my cup of tea.”

  “Oh, I'm sure you would be just fine at field work. You just don't know how. I could teach a 90-pound, teenage cheerleader how to handle these types of people. You're able, you're just not equipped to handle this job.”

  Toma folded up the picture and put it in his pocket. “So, you'll take the job?”

  Paul sat silently for a moment. He thought about the rules he had devised to govern his life, not without due concession to his less-than-empty bank account and his recent eviction notice. He stole another quick glance at Toma, from head to toe, and saw expensive shoes and designer clothing. The short, seemingly insignificant man sitting next to him could obviously afford luxury, but a cheap, five-dollar haircut and average-priced wristwatch suggested a deeper well of mystery to this man. He felt a sudden urge to find out more about Toma Pietruszka, so he agreed to take the job. “Okay, I'll take it. The building they are standing in front of in that picture is an old, decommissioned school bus depot. I used to stop there all the time when I drove a cab. One of the bus drivers was a morning regular of mine. They built a new one closer to the center of town a few years back. It's a great spot for dog-fights, come to think of it. Off the police patrol path and far away from anything residential.”

  “Once again,” said Toma with a deep sense of satisfaction, “It appears I've chosen the right person for the job.”

  “Just one question,” Paul asked, almost hesitatingly.

  “What's that?”

  “I don't believe in the kind of stuff that I'm guessing you believe in, but I assume you believe that this dog has some sort of supernatural juice running through him, am I right?”

  “I suppose, in a manner of speaking.”

  “So, to translate that into a language I can understand, I'm gonna go ahead and assume that we're talking about a dangerous animal?”

  “That would be a good precaution to take. But the dog is not evil. In fact, it's extremely protective, under the right circumstances.”

  “What circumstances?”

  “None that you're likely to encounter during this excursion. However,” Toma reached into his pocket and pulled out a cloth necklace with a small tag at either end. He handed it to Paul, who took it and inspected it thoroughly. “It's called a scapular,” Toma stated, “The tags both contain images of Saint Frances of Assisi and third class relics of the same.”

  “What's a third class relic?”

  “A piece of cloth that was touched to a relic of Saint Frances himself.”

  Paul presented an almost comical, questionable expression, holding the scapular as one would handle an object potentially infected with some deadly disease. “And by relic, you mean something like a tooth or a bone, right?”

  “Yes.”

  Paul attempted to hand the scapular back, but Toma refused to take it.

  “You can't do this without the scapular, Mr. Auxten.”

  “I'm not superstitious, I think you'll get more out of this than I will.”

&nb
sp; “Just think about it for a moment. We're talking about a hound with a keen sense of smell typical to that breed.”

  “OK...”

  “So, either the dog will identify you as a friend by the scent of this scapular, or via the supernatural essence contained therein. Either way, wearing this will protect you from a violent attack.”

  “Fair enough.” Paul put the scapular over his neck and tucked it securely under his shirt. He tried to reposition it in various ways, but eventually gave up. “It's itchy,” he finally said.

  “Yeah, I'm afraid that they're always itchy and you'll never get used to it completely.” Toma pulled his shirt collar down far enough to reveal his own scapular.

  Paul rolled his eyes and reached across Toma's lap to open the passenger door. “I'll come back here tonight around midnight with the dog.”

  Toma dug into another pocket and produced a rubber-banded stack of cash. “Two thousand dollars, sir. I thank you for your assistance.”

  “Most people pay after the job is done.”

  “I'm not most people,” replied Toma, “I have faith, remember?”

  Paul nodded, uncomfortably. Toma was now standing outside the car. He leaned over to speak to Paul one more time. “I'm curious,” he asked, sheepishly, “how did you know about the infidelity and sexual orientation of that man over there.” Toma motioned toward the aforementioned BMW in the parking lot.

  Paul smiled, obviously complimented by the mere posing of such a question. “Trade secret, Boss.” Paul leaned over and shut the passenger door. He watched Toma walk away via the vehicle's rear-view mirror until he disappeared, then he drove off while shoving the stack of money into his pocket.
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