Tuesday, February 2, 2010

WHAT THE DOG SAW ~ By Eric Beetner of Harbinger*33


WHAT THE DOG SAW
by Eric Beetner
{ IT'S A BIJOU TALKIE! LISTEN UP ABOVE }

              Buddy had been around so long that he was just as familiar and ignored as the ottoman he liked to nap beside. Twenty-one years is a long time for a dog. He’d gone nearly deaf about five years ago and his hips were creaky like the back porch screen door but he could still see and could still smell a squirrel in the front yard while squatting for a dump in the back.
              His still presence was a part of the house, ignored and outdated as the encyclopedias on the shelf in the living room. They’d long outlived their usefulness but it was more trouble than it was worth to toss them out. Many nights the lights would be turned off when Greta and Karl went upstairs to bed and Buddy would go another night without supper simply because they forgot he was there. If he was smart he would have taken up snoring to make his presence known but he just lay silently in the evenings as Karl berated Greta for her lousy housekeeping and Greta screeched at Karl for his lack of hygiene.
              Buddy’s deafness was more than likely self-inflicted.
              When he was brought home as a puppy Sheila still lived at home. A high school sophomore, she loved Buddy and praised him and let him sleep in her bed. Then she left for college, graduated and moved to Chicago and never even came home to visit anymore. Who could blame her? Listening to your parents curse each other and wish one another dead through the thin walls of your childhood home is no way to spend Christmas break.
              Buddy was left with two aging owners whose hatred for each other deepened each day. The cancer of familiarity had infected the house. Two people who merely tolerated each other while Sheila lived there now had no excuse to get along in the least. But, just like the encyclopedias, they were each too lazy to get rid of the problem.
              Karl moved into Sheila’s room six years ago and that ushered in the cold war but the skirmishes were becoming more frequent on the open battlefields of the living room and kitchen.
              Buddy watched it all through watery eyes.
              He saw the sour faces Greta made when Karl turned his back. He saw Karl thrust up his middle finger when Greta left the room. 
              One morning, as he stood patiently by his dish waiting for a dinner that hadn’t come the night before, Buddy saw the start of something else.
              “Did that old bastard forget to feed you again, Bud? Lazy son of a...”
              The salivating smell of an open can of Alpo made Buddy’s tail wag and it gave Greta an idea. She scooped out a spoonful of the gravy-soaked meat and tossed it in the pan with Karl’s omelette. Making his breakfast was a holdover from over thirty years of marriage. She just did it each day out of habit and it only deepened the bitterness between them, as if it were a chasm that could go any deeper.
              Buddy tilted his head, confused, as a mouthful of his meal went in the pan but he was just glad to fill his noisy belly with the rest.
              After that Buddy noticed little things. Actions that Karl or Greta would never do in front of a person but Buddy was just a fixture and he wasn’t going to tell.
              Karl drank straight from the milk carton and always on his last gulp he swished the milk around his mouth then spit it back in, smiling with drops of white beading on his stubble.
              Greta brought the mail in and singled out Karl’s new issue of Golf Digest and sent it immediately to the recycling bin.
              Karl took her keys down off the hook by the back door and stuffed them deep into the junk drawer before taking his own keys and leaving for the driving range, not to return for hours.
              Little things, innocuous things, harmless things. Until...

              Greta made the coffee every morning. Part of her job as wife. Mostly she just wanted coffee and it wasn’t worth the argument to make only enough for herself so she made the whole pot and Karl saw it as some sort of service, a last little bit of obedience from a disobedient wife.
              After pouring her cup she hesitated. Buddy couldn’t, but she could hear Karl stirring upstairs. That loud, spine shivering snort he made when he cleared his throat in the morning. What did he get lodged in there during the night anyhow? And why did it take such superhuman effort to knock it loose?
              She was a one-cup-a-day woman. Much more than that and she got jittery, so the rest of the pot was his. She knew he would nurse it all day long.
              Buddy watched her cross the kitchen to the pantry. He got excited and pushed himself up on arthritic hips. Could he be in for a biscuit? No. Rat poison. It hadn’t been used in over a year, ever since they saw droppings and knew that Buddy would never do anything about a rat. That’s cat work.
              Greta stopped before she crossed back to the coffee pot. Ideas spun in her head. A devil on her shoulder, an angel on the other. The devil won out.
              Greta tipped the packet and a fine blue powder spilled out into the coffee pot. She swirled the pot around until the poison dissolved. It was barely enough to kill a rat, let alone the giant throat-clearing, unshaven, pot bellied rodent she had living upstairs, but it made her feel good to do it. Surprisingly good.
              When Karl finally came downstairs, threadbare robe untied around his waist, he poured himself a cup, pat Buddy on the head and sat down at the formica table.
              “Christ, what is this shit?” Karl spit his mouthful back into the cup. Greta’s heart slowed back to normal speed. “Now you’ve forgotten how to make coffee? Jesus, what next?”
              Two days later a cold snap hit. Golf season was over for Karl but he knew he was stretching it anyway. Buddy always had a bladder of steel so he never minded the cold much. He could wait it out most days. Greta was upstairs taking her shower, or more likely waiting for the hot water to make the long journey up through ancient pipes before she got in.
              The trees that lined the front walk were brittle and the branches heavy with ice. Karl hunted under the sink in the laundry room until he came up with his prize; a bucket. He filled it in the utility sink next to the dryer and snuck quickly to the front door. He leaned out and sent the bucket of water splashing over the three steps down to a flagstone pathway. Three buckets and two minutes later it was an ice rink. Karl grinned to himself as he dance-walked back to the laundry room to put the bucket away.
              “Did you put the antifreeze in my car?” Greta shouted upstairs.
              “It’s not that damn cold!” Karl yelled back. He sat in his room, Sheila’s old one, and waited for Greta to exit the front door.
              “If I stall out it’s your damn fault!”
              “Don’t blame me you don’t know how to put antifreeze in. Hell, Buddy’s smart enough for that!”
              At his feet Buddy wagged his tail twice at hearing his name.
              Like a child watching for Santa’s sleigh Karl sat at the window trying not to fog it up with his breath so he could see clearly. His excited breathing won that battle and he had to keep changing sides when one window pane clouded until he fogged the other and switched back.
              He heard first. Greta’s choked off “whoop!” and then a dull thud of her body hitting the concrete of the steps. He saw her shoot out like an olympic luge rider without a sled. She went legs first down the steps and slid a good six feet along the flagstones. It took him a full minute to stop laughing until he could run to her rescue.
              Buddy followed him outside and slid on the ice himself which didn’t do wonders for his hip, one Karl and Greta never bothered to have examined by a vet. He sat panting Alpo scented clouds into the frigid air as Karl feigned shock and sympathy for Greta’s fall.
              Karl’s plan backfired on him when Greta was laid up for six weeks and couldn’t leave the house. He felt like he had tied his own noose.
              Things were quiet in the house. Buddy spent equal time laying next to each of his two feuding owners, not taking sides, just busy being loyal and true. If not for Buddy’s good nature the house itself would hang a dark cloud of anger and bitterness over the whole street. The cold outside was balmy compared to the hearts inside the aging split level. 
              Greta faked a little to hide her recovery. She moaned when she didn’t need to, refused to make coffee even though she was dying for a cup. Karl claimed ignorance as to the workings of the machine. If Buddy could have supported his weight on his hind legs he was about to jump up and do it himself, having watched the ritual for so many thousands of mornings.
              Greta was idle but her mind was not still. Since Karl’s dig at her over her lack of car knowledge, over antifreeze and the whole art of driving, she saw some poetic justice in her plan. When Karl would go out, to places he never told her where, Buddy sat by her feet as she searched the internet for car sites and advice that was all-too readily available.
              The morning of her plan was punctuated rather ominously by two huge spikes of ice breaking loose from the front porch overhang and cracking the flagstone path. It was as if the house had shivered, fearful of what was to come. 
              Thinking she was still immobile Karl retreated upstairs to fall asleep in front of a hockey game on TV. Buddy stayed inside as Greta got up, slid on her coat, stopped by the back door to retrieve a stash of supplies she had set aside, and slipped out into the garage to slide under his car and use the new knowledge she gained to cut his brake lines.
              When she came back in she scratched Buddy’s ears with a cold hand. “I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, huh Bud?”
              She wasn’t the most original murderess around and she gave little thought to getting caught but her experience with planning a death was limited to the half dozen cozy mysteries she’d read in airports over the years and a decade old memory of Murder, She Wrote.
              The next day Karl backed out of the driveway and continued backing across the street right into the neighbor’s pickup. Fortunes did not smile enough that a dump truck was passing at that exact moment to crush the Buick in a twisting gnarl of metal and flesh the way Greta fantasized.
              Damage was minimal, the ice was blamed. Buddy knew better.

              When he was a puppy Buddy was allowed to use his retriever instincts with Karl on duck hunting trips. Karl hadn’t been in over a decade. Buddy stopped hearing the ducks overhead years ago.
              He recognized the shotgun though. The stale smell of the open gun safe brought Buddy back to his puppy days. The gun oil, rotten leaves still clung to the soles of Karl’s boots, the brittle leather of his shell case. All sweet smells of happier times. Buddy shook and vibrated with anticipation. It would be cold but he could handle it. For one more shot at bagging a mallard, he could suffer through.
              But Karl did not put on his coat with the suede shoulder patches, he did not wear the bright orange hunters cap. He brought the gun upstairs.
              Buddy used to bound the stairs three at a time, especially when Sheila came home from school. He could be outside in the back yard and when she called his name from her second floor window he would stop his stalking of whatever squirrel had invaded his domain and race to Sheila’s side. Now it was slow going and Karl got out ahead of Buddy easily.
              Buddy caught up to Karl in Greta’s room. She was seated at the sewing machine, back to the door, and Karl was behind her leveling the shotgun at the back of her head. Buddy didn’t hear the ratchet of the hammer as Karl pulled it into firing position. It make Greta turn though.
              She jumped in shock and stepped down on her sewing machine foot pedal sending a zig zag stitch wildly off track.
              Karl squeezed the trigger but no explosion came. The trigger was locked in place. Jammed, rusted, any number of ailments from ten years of disuse.
              “God dammit Karl, that’s it!”
              “I know you cut my brakes!”
              “So what if I did?”
              Frustrated, more than normal, Karl threw the gun at her. She deflected it but the metal of the barrel cracked against her forearm as she threw the block and she felt sure her arm was broken.
              The next part Buddy heard. When the shotgun clamored to the ground something jarred loose and it went off. A black hole erupted in the white linens of Greta’s bed, formerly their marital bed but that memory was gone and more silent now than the room during the awkward pause after the gun blast.
              Greta abandoned her sewing and stood. Karl spun and moved as fast as he could which was much slower than he wanted. Buddy crouched low and wagged his tail as if waiting from someone to throw a tennis ball. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going on but there was excitement in the house like their hadn’t been in years. This was better than the time a squirrel climbed down the chimney. Almost.
              Karl gripped the railing as he side stepped down the stairs. His palm collected four slivers from the unsanded wood under the peeling paint, a chore on his list of things to do for more than five years.
              Greta followed close behind, her thick frame making pounding noises as she clomped down the steps. Buddy brought up the rear. At the bottom of the steps Karl headed right and Greta headed left and Buddy couldn’t stop his momentum and went skidding forward, twisting his hip as he went and yelping in pain.
              Greta armed herself first. She exited the kitchen with an eight inch carving knife. Karl stood at the gun safe loading bullets into his revolver. He cursed himself for listening to the gun safety nut jobs who insist you never keep a loaded gun around.
              Greta screamed a shrill yelp like a wood chipper running at full bore awaiting the next branch to mulch. Karl slapped the barrel shut and whirled. Buddy poked his head in, limping on his right side.
              The shot caught Greta on her left shoulder but her forward thrust was enough that she veered only slightly off track and continued on with her knife hand slashing down and driving the carving knife into Karl’s chest.
              Buddy flinched as the gun went off again, the noise a cotton-balled rumble but the sound waves rattled his chest. The shot was a wild one caused only by Karl’s reaction to the pain in his chest but it caught Greta in the thigh and she pitched forward unable to support her weight on one varicose leg.
              As Karl fell backwards Greta tumbled on top of him. He brought the gun up and as they both impacted the floor his hand was sandwiched between them, the pressure of her gut clenching his fist around the gun and sending another shot up into Greta’s belly.
              Her gravity pushed the knife down, driving it from a painful but non-lethal chest wound to a downward thrusting sword through his heart.
              Dust from the rug kicked up into the air. Outside an ice laden branch snapped and fell against the side of the house. Buddy didn’t hear it.
              Karl was dead almost instantly. Greta took a few minutes. She wanted desperately to be taken off him for her last moments but she was unable to move. She pinned him down with their faces so close they were almost kissing. She wished for a quick death just so she wouldn’t have to smell his breath one moment longer.
              Buddy stood, pointer style, in the doorway; waiting. He’d been known to wait over and hour in stone stillness for a squirrel to move. He paused only ten minutes of placid quiet before he took a step into the room.
              Hungry from another empty dish last night he sniffed at the pool of blood that flowed from under Karl’s back but was really a mixture of both his blood and hers. He sampled it, liked it and began sopping up the sticky-warm mixture.
              Several hours later Buddy slept. He curled next to the two-body pile and dreamt of the day, soon he hoped, when Sheila would come back home.

(C) 2010 . . . Author Eric Beetner

Eric Beetner is shadow and insight and all the tonal hues the mind can whip into shape in between - to create with the clarity he brings to life, er - death. He's a smooth, slick, cold, warm crime fiction writer who ranges short stories to novels to screenplays, which means he can most likely star in his own coming attractions, do the voice'over and be the sfx foley. The beat of Beetner is a feel for characters, edges to plot and a quiet wry on the side toast of humour which makes him a taunting read and an even more intriguing sailing comrade aboard the mighty Harbinger*33, sailing authors and artists further in manifesting destinies. (Watch for a spring pub date in sky-writing PR near you!)

Before I plug Eric's novel so that he can quit plugging it and write the next one underway with J.B. Kohl (and he said only Paul Brazill read his blog, the one with the snappy title, Eric Beetner, author geeeez) . . . I have to share what I snuck in and purloined (such a darn cool word). 

What Kate purloined from above Eric's desktop, 'cause she liked it so much to put it over hers:

Raymond Chandler's agent was once asked
what kind of writing is the most profitable.
His response: "Ransom notes."

OK, now, with no shame, desiring worthy writer's and new'found friend Eric's fame, I'll plug his book to the hilt: ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD, selling @ Amazon as we speak, er ... read. It's a Beetner book packin' more than the normal rounds of punches with J.B. Kohl about two clean fighters who have to fight back. And that's all I'm telling you. If I can hawk enough books to help Eric get busfare down the street in his LA to the LeftCoast Crime Convention in March, I may get a postcard or an inscripted copy myself. A girl's gotta dream, even when she meets up with a guy who writes some scary nightmares.

THANKS ERIC for honouring us with the debut of Buddy's great wagging tale AT THE BIJOU. Wishin' much success to how you load up bookshelves, from your own great writes. 

~ Absolutely*Kate and the fine staff of renown,
knowing more NOIR*ARAMA when the beat of Beetner is
  AT THE BIJOU


10 comments:

Michael Solender said...

You are an evil, evil man. That was a hell of a ride and just desserts for those miserable wretches. I love Buddy as a vehicle - perfect. Really entertaining.

Laurita said...

I don't have any sympathy for Greta and Karl, but poor Buddy! Excellent POV, well executed.

Harry said...

Loved the dog's eye view Eric. So many good touches in this story..."cat's job" "alpo clouds"... Nice job on the "Talkie" too!

Bukowski's Basement said...

GREAT TALE, ERIC! GREAT READ AS WELL... I agree that Buddy is a great vehicle. Very well done. My hat is off...

Eric Beetner said...

Wow, you all get up early to read some noir. Thanks for the kind words. I wish my voice was a little more grizzled to suit the story but I live too clean.

Crybbe666 said...

A cracking read, Eric. Agree with the comments above and the 'talkie' version added an extra dimension to the tail...oops, tale.

Paul D. Brazill said...

God on yer Buddy! Great stuff that. Should be a series!

Jeanette Cheezum said...

First off, Eric, I want to congratulate you on your new book.
This story was fantastic. I read it in record time. Poor Buddy, it's a shame Sheila didn't come get him. What a rotten pair of humans to live with. I was afraid Buddy would get hurt. Great read.

Jake Hinkson said...

Fine job, Mr. Beetner.

Naomi Johnson said...

I love Buddy. He deserves so much better. And he knows it.

Oh go ahead . . . Share some popcorn on this one . . .