Read Part One.
I PARKED IN FRONT OF THE HOUSE that Tom shared with his wife and kid until his heart imploded. Tom and Kelly never bothered with a divorce, even after Wally caught us. The marriage had been in a tolerable stasis before that, with separate beds in a shared room, a workable labour arrangement on food and bills and an increasingly useless son.
They managed it a lot better than my wife and I had until I forgot to lock the garage behind me that afternoon. Wally walked in and found the Chevy still tarped over and unmolested by the contents of our toolboxes, while his dad and I went at each other on the camp mattress we stored in there. Neither of our families had gone camping in fifteen years.
Wally made a wispy moan and ran into the house. Nothing was changed in him, I’m convinced of that; he kept going the exact same way he had been. The day probably took about four years off Tom’s heart, though, and Kelly got real hard. Every time I saw her after that, at the house or on the street, she’d stiffen up like she was about to salute, ending the movement there.
I walked out of the car and knocked on the door of the Schuster house like I used to when Tom was around, before Kelly knew about us. She’d give me a sitcom eye roll and jerk a thumb toward the garage. I did find that hot, her silently inviting me to go ahead and fuck her husband, unaware as she was.
But she didn’t answer this time. Maybe she was at work, maybe trying to clean up after Wallace down at the courthouse. I’d emailed the names of some sympathetic psychiatrists that morning, using my paralegal’s account, not attaching my name at all. There was a barking from the back, and I remembered another thing about Wally’s seventeenth birthday. The rottweiler.
She was tied to a pole stuck into the middle of the bare, yellow-grassed yard. The disused garage was the back boundary of her small orbit, the gate that I was unfastening the front limit. Bigger now, of course, built thick and low with groups of muscles that stretched and bunched when she ran, rolling over each other under her black and brown hide.
“Sadie,” I said. I opened the gate and backed away as it swung inward. Respecting her territory, something that worked for most dogs. Sadie included, apparently. She quieted down, sat. When the chain slackened, her collar slipped down a bit, showing scabs and raw flesh. Well-fed dog, not well taken care of.
Without any barking to take my focus, the rest of the scene around Sadie started to sharpen up. The garage, padlocked. The lid of Tom’s open toolbox leaning against the dirty window. Unintentional burglar bait. The grass, except for a couple of recently mowed swaths right in front of the gate, was deep—longer than the dog’s legs. And there was a stink, too.
Burnt plastic, with something electronic to it, like when a hair dryer over-heats. When she had hair, Emily used a flatiron that she sometimes forgot to turn off before leaving the house. Once, it had burnt through its own wire, made a mess of the sink countertop. The smell that I tracked to Tom’s open kitchen window was like that. There was a little smoke, too. Enough so that I felt I had a good excuse to enter without knocking. Behind me, Sadie started barking again. She’d had incredibly soft ears as a puppy, on the morning Tom handed her to Wally, who didn’t seem to care much. Emily spent the rest of the party sitting near the barbecue with the dog in her lap, whispering to it and kissing its head, even chewing lightly on those ears a couple of times.
The smoking object was on the kitchen table, resting on a bed of tinfoil. The oven door was open, the inside a mess of dripping ochre-black stalactites of hardening plastic that wouldn’t be coming off in self-cleaning mode. The thing on the table had once been a ThinkPad laptop, the one Tom had given his son. In death, it had turned the air gray and acrid.
“The cops will be mad,” Kelly said from the living room. If nothing had been moved, there was an easy chair in there that let you see into the kitchen, but wasn’t visible from the spot where I was standing. I didn’t move.
“It’s me, Kell,” I said.
“Fucking know that. Who else would let themselves in?”
“I forgot about the dog.”
“We forget about her half the time. She’s got enough space to run around in out there, though. I send Wally out twice a week with a Safeway bag and a piece of cardboard to pick up the shit. He hates walking her.”
“Don’t come any further in, by the way, I really don’t want to see any more of you. Right now I’ve got your right shoulder and your knee, tip of a shoe, and that’s definitely enough.”
“Wally’s in it for real this time, Kelly. We should talk it over, strategize what you can say.”
“What can I say? That I married a fag and birthed a retard? Really the best-case-scenario storyline, right now, in terms of what everyone in town knows to be true. Better than a faggot-husband, pedophile-son combo, but not so much better that I’m willing to fight for it.”
“It’s Wally we have to be concerned about.”
“Stop moving, I caught the tip of your huge nose there for a second. Stay still, unless you want to move the other way.”
“He’s going to jail without your help.”
“He’ll be going to jail with my help, too, though, right? There’s no way around it at this point.”
“Don’t be so hesitant. Christ. He belongs there, or the hospital they’ll stick him in, you know that. Should have been there for a long time. Last favour I was willing to do for him was roast the laptop. He asked me to get rid of it when they were arresting him, whispered at me after he begged them to let him to go to the bathroom. He’s cunning for a dummy, my kid is.”
“Oh, go away. Honestly, I’ve done my part—you think I’m being cold, I’m sure, which is hilarious when you consider what I’ve done versus what you’ve done—and I am fucking done. House is getting sold, I’m leaving. Smooth the baked computer thing with the cops if you want to do your beloved Tom a last favour.”
I edged to the right a bit, caught a look at the side of her thigh, a breast. Kelly was naked on the recliner, staring up at the ceiling. I got back into position before she saw me.
“And take the dog, too, if you want. That or I’ll call the SPCA for her when I go.”
“We’ll just say that he hid the laptop in the oven before he got arrested, you roasted it when you were preheating for something.”
“It stinks in here, Kelly.”
SADIE WAS SO HAPPY to be taken out of the yard that she forgot I didn’t own her, trying to jump into the backseat of my car through the open window, but her legs were too short. She scratched the paint before I got the door unlocked and let her inside. She licked the back of my neck a couple of times, making me twitch the wheel right, getting honks.
I washed her with the hose in my front yard before I took her in, got her collar off and poured peroxide on her neck. We watched Emily on the news, waiting for her to come back home. Sadie got up when she heard the key in the door, and Emily screamed when she saw the dog waiting inside. I tugged her ears when she ran back to the couch, followed by Emily.
“What the fuck is that?”
“Sadie, the Schusters’ dog. You met her when she was a pup.”
“We’re pet sitting for sex offenders? Is that on your business card?”
“Nah, I’m taking her. Giving her your room, actually.”
“Maybe this will give you a shot at not hating me forever, Emily. I’m going to give you six months worth of rent tomorrow, and a little time to look around, and you’re going to get out of the house. I’ll be done with Wallace, as a favour to you. I won’t involve myself in his case at all. I’m not going to picket, but I’ll let the state and you guys have your way with him.”
“So I crossed some line you’d set up, and now you get to replace me with a dog?”
“No, Emily. Really, no.” I realized I didn’t have a follow-up to this, a way to make it less of a statement and more of an explanation. She was on her way downstairs already, anyway, taking her laptop out of her bag as she walked, ready to digitally publicize this latest injustice in a way that somehow didn’t betray that the leader of the town’s most prominent gender-politico movement still lived at home.
I got Sadie a new collar the next day, one that matched Tom’s taste. Brown, plain, beat-up looking from the beginning. Dan Lipton called a lot over the next few weeks, leaving messages that were partially about Wally, but eventually just massive hints about openings at my office. I didn’t get back to him, once I had the melted computer sorted. I did my best not to get back to any of them, and for the most part, I succeeded.
Read Part One.