Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
The canary yellow Open-Toe Flats held the scent of dance-floor polish, mattress-semen and Black Opium perfume as I avoided them. I was looking for the source of the tapping I could hear somewhere up ahead. So many pairs of feet … and all of them moving. The intoxicating smell of Charlie’s Hot Dogs roasting in a portable cooker on wheels drifted to my nose from what I would estimate was two blocks over and I was reminded that I hadn’t eaten since the day before. I almost turned and followed the aroma radiating from my best friend but on this particular night my cultured palate cried for something far more elegant.
I began to drool as I followed the crowd down the scuffed green stairs and into the York Street Station and people began to give me more room. Rabies is a universal possibility that strikes fear into all people not just those who have read Cujo and I began to acquire a listing nervous jerk … I should have been on Broadway! The air in the underground transportation system smelled of butane, stale cigarettes and escaping human body odors. For a moment I lost the cane man’s scent and thought I might be in trouble. Transportation officials in New York City won’t allow animals to board subway trains unless they think your there for a good reason, usually one mandated by government disability laws.
I saw two cops wearing Timberland boots patrolling the subway platforms and thought I might have to abandon my elegant dinner plans. Luckily I spied the padded cane at 52nd Street followed by a pair of $800 Valentino sneakers playing the concrete up ahead and quickly padded alongside them as if I belonged there, stopping and moving when they did. I was going to be the disabled, but obviously rich, man’s best friend … at least until after I scored a good meal.
The two pairs of cop-boots turned quickly away when they realized who they thought I was escorting and moved toward four insanely expensive Air Jordan Playoffs and two Ankle-Wrap Espadrilles loitering belligerently against a concrete wall and turned ever so slightly in the direction of a cheap pair of women’s orthopedic shoes shuffling alone.
I walked arrogantly beside the blind man to the Service Entry gate and stepped through it when he did. The sense of power I felt as lines of people moved aside to allow us to enter the F Train ahead of them was indescribable. I lay silent, alert and obedient at the cane man’s feet between him and a middle aged woman wearing white ankle-wraps. She smelled of Patchouli and he of Old Spice. After a minute of silence, the woman reached down and gave me a hand full of Bacon Bits retrieved from her purse. “That’s a good boy!” she petted and patted my head as I wolfed them down. So far the man I was escorting had made no objection to my presence although I did detect a slight smirk on his forward staring face. Perhaps the stranger realized that for a disabled individual to make his way in the world today one had to use all the available resources available … I hoped so. His handicap was being blind … mine was being a dog.
I can’t remember when I couldn’t read. Images from the blaring TV set where I grew up always showed images along with the corresponding sounds. My first words were Tide, Alpo, Pepsi and Hanes; all I really had to do was translate the English into Canine. A digital clock hanging from the ceiling of the subway-car said 7:30 PM. I hoped the cane-man was hungry … I was. The snack the woman gave me was just enough to make my mouth water. A dog has many talents that surpass those of humans, one of those abilities is detecting emotions especially those of fear, anger or desire. I didn’t just imagine I knew what people were thinking … I actually did know. The woman was looking at the well-dressed blind man thinking how attractive he was and wondering how it would feel to mate with him, perhaps in an expensive hotel room with a vibrating bed. He wouldn’t be able to notice the wrinkles just forming under her eyes or the tiny veins that had begun to appear in her legs. “Nice dog you have!” she said as she scratched behind my ears. My tail went up like a flag and began to wave at the lady.
“I don’t own a dog.” The man replied. You could see his other senses tune into the woman next to him as he began to gather dark data that unexpectedly promised a winding path leading to a stone tower on a hill filled with lust and romance. The woman instantly turned with disgust and slid her Ankle-Wraps as far away from the good looking stranger as possible. She couldn’t imagine any disabled person so callus as not to claim a loyal and trustworthy assistance animal, even though technically belonging to Social Services, as their own. She didn’t have to show me her ASPCA card; I knew it had to be in her purse.
The blind man got off at the Broadway station an hour and forty-five minutes later. I was starving …. Thank God so was he! I followed his expensive shoes into a swanky restaurant between 7th and 8th Avenue called Appetito’s. I learned the man with a cane was named Carson Henley and that he had a reservation. I’d always just been Dog as long as I could remember, as in Get that dog out of here and where did that dog come from? A maitre d', wearing a tux and with a white linen-towel draped over his arm, turned up his nose when he saw me but led us to a small table in the back, after Mr. Henley handed him two twenties and told him that yes … he’d be dining alone.
The waiter brought several wine samples to our table and rinsed-out separate glasses with an ounce or two of the expensive wine and then poured a small amount in each glass for Henley to sample. A second waiter, smiling under a mop of red hair that made him look like Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen, brought a china plate with a four-ounce rib eye steak cut into bite-sized nibbles and swimming in broth. He set it on the floor beside the table for me to enjoy. I thought about asking him what happened to his reporting job at the Daily Planet but didn’t.
Even though I was starving, I tactfully waited until the waiter and the blind man were talking about the wine before I slurped it down. I may have grown-up in a dirty alley but I always hoped and imagined that I came from exquisitely bred and registered parents.
Henley decided on a Chateau Montrose, a steal at $180 a bottle, and ordered Cacciatore with onions and bell peppers. Another waiter brought Bruschetta and warm bread from the oven while the smiling redhead sliced a plate of Pecorino Toscano (cheese) for me. I felt like a wolf at a sheep and lamb camp.
A violinist, who was surely destined for Carnegie Hall, played a serenata by Toselli while the blind man savored his Cacciatore and I delighted in the extra-large bowl of the same they brought for me. The classis song by Elvis Presley rumbled through my head when I finally got up to leave. I wasn’t no Hound Dog … I didn’t catch the rabbit (Cacciatore) but I ate it and as I wandered toward the door a waiter opened it for me, they must have thought I had business to do outside. Just before I left I turned back. Mr. Henley raised his cane in the air and smiled in my direction. I had the feeling that he’d known I was there all the time and didn’t really mind. Loneliness is an awful thing.
It took almost two hours to get back to York Street, sitting between two nuns who thought I was sent to them from heaven, but it was worth it. Everyone has to live it up once in a while. It was just after 12 P.M. when I left the F train and I decided to pay Charlie a visit. He should have been just closing up his portable hot dog stand. The old Italian’s license was good until midnight. He always had a few leftover wieners and buns for me, no mustard it gives me gas, and even though on this night I happened to be stuffed, I still enjoyed being scratched behind the ears.
Traffic was light and I hugged the brick wall of a bakery as a black Lincoln spun in a half circle as it rounded the corner and then roared past me. The car screeched to a stop in front of Charles Visconti just as he was folding the hinged piece of plywood that covered his cooker. I didn’t have to see Charlie’s face to know he was scared. Fear is a smell that has drifted on the wind since time began. “I don’t have the full two-hundred,” Charlie stammered holding out a fistful of bills and coins as four big men poured out of the car. “I’ve got a little more than one-forty … I’ll have the rest tomorrow!”
“Charlie - Charlie …” The man in front held his hands at arm’s length as he approached the old man. “You know how Vinnie operates …. You don’t got the lousy fifty a week the next night it’s a hundred then we come back and it’s two-hundred … you ain’t got it now … you ain’t gonna have it tomorrow!”
“I’ll call some people,” Charlie told them. “I’ll get you the money I swear!”
“You can call your friends in a few minutes … I’m sure Vinnie will let you use his phone.” The big man said as he jerked Charlie toward the car. Vincent Carminati was a big time insurance broker specializing in catastrophic accidents. He extorted money from all those who did business in this part of the Big Apple. You paid up and he made sure you were covered. Like the hundred dollars per year the city charged for a Mobile Food Vendor Personal License. It was perfectly legal … as long as you kept quiet about it and the cops got their cut.
The other three men turned Charlie’s hot-dog cart on its side and began to kick it to splinters. I knew no matter how much money Charlie came up with they weren’t bringing him back. The old man was my only true human friend in the city and I wasn’t about to let him go down without a fight.
I growled and hurdled toward the car just as Charlie was pushed inside. One of the men’s boots connected with my head and I was sent sprawling. The other man drew a gun but before he could put a bullet in me the third man stopped him. “Killing a dog is like killing a cop,” he said. “People don’t like it.”
“See you later, Mutt!” The man with the gun smiled just before the door slammed. I was seeing stars and couldn’t make out the license as the car sped away, but everyone knew where Fortezza was. It was a mansion on the banks of the Hudson surrounded by twelve-foot tall chain link and razor-wire fencing. At least a dozen guards, most of them off-duty police officers, patrolled the grounds to keep unwanted guests from entering without an invitation.
There was only one other creature in the city who could help me bring Charlie back alive and he lived in the dark side of the city. Like me, he had no real name but he had amazing talents that more than made up for it. I headed for the subways once again, planning this time to ride the Metro north. It would most likely take the rest of the night to find my friend and then pay Fortezza a visit. Like most of the other black residents of Harlem, Cat survived by using his wits in the mean and ugly part of the city. I hoped for Charlie’s sake that we would not be too late.
I could hear the fight when I crossed W. 120th. Street into Marcus Garvey Park. At least a dozen spitting and hissing toms had Cat cornered in the dark end of a shelter. As I drew near I could see him standing in front of a silver-tipped Persian in heat. The feline also smelled of Oribe Gold Lust Shampoo and her silky fur glistened from the reflected light of a diamond studded collar. She had obviously snuck out of an expensive Manhattan apartment for a little défense romance and found herself suddenly in the presence of animals.
A large yellow tomcat, with goo dripping from one eye, lunged toward my friend just as I entered the shelter and I could see a whirlwind of razor-sharp claws just miss Cat’s ear as he ducked and moved to the side. He clamped his teeth down on yellow’s tail and used the momentum to vault himself into the fray. I lunged too and the felines began to scatter in all directions. Bringing a one hundred sixty pound black lab to a cat fight was like pulling a gun on someone with a knife. I was surprised when an angry Cat swiped my nose with his claw. “What did you do that for?” he demanded. Cat could speak seven languages including pigeon and canine.
“I just saved your life,” I told him. “Those alley-tigers were ready to kill you.”
Cat shook his head as he watched the Persian slink away with her nose in the air. “You ruined my life,” Cat said. “It took me a week to choreograph this fight with my friends. I was going to be the hero saving her from a gang of ruthless can-bangers.
Cat sat and glared at me as he licked my blood off from his claws. “Missy hates bone chewers,” Cat said. “Her owner pays an extra two grand a month for an apartment that forbids pets that even look like they could bark … now she probably thinks I’m a dirty dog lover!”
“Sorry,” I said. “I wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t important!”
Cat just looked at me as he licked his paw and began to wipe his face so I went on. “A bunch of Vincent Carminati’s men grabbed Charlie earlier tonight and busted up his vending-cart. They took him to Fortezza … and I’ve got a feeling it’s a one-way ride.”
“I’ve ate a few of his overcooked wieners after closing time,” Cat said. “But who hasn’t. Why should I help?”
“Because I need you,” I said. “Fortezza is Italian for fortress … and there is no way I can get inside there without your skills!”
“Why should I help you?” Cat asked. I realized then that I didn’t have the answer. Cat and I had met at an animal shelter two years earlier when we were both about to be euthanized. I was scheduled to die because I was unwanted and Cat because of illegal generic experiments that gave him an I.Q. of 196 - genius level even when compared to humans. The scientists responsible for his super brain were terrified of getting caught and were even more afraid to dispose of him themselves. There were too many ASPCA card-carrying interns working in the bio-lab although none knew the complexity or the extent of the project. The scientists wanted the dangerous experiment terminated but decided to have it done legally through a local shelter. I didn’t speak Feline then, but Cat had picked up enough Canine in the two hours he’d been locked up to convince me to chew on a bar of soap that he’d somehow stolen and play dead. When an attendant unlocked my cage and reached in to pull me out I bit his hand and then kicked his dropped keys into Cat’s cage. Cat did the rest. While the terrified attendant was on the phone trying to have someone give him a shot for rabies we escaped from the shelter along with dozens of others … and never looked back.
“You’ve saved my life a dozen times,” I told him. “I guess there’s no reason why you should!” I turned and started to leave and was surprised when I found Cat walking beside me shaking his head.
“If you don’t know the answer then I’ll tell you. It’s because we’re friends!” Cat said. “And never for as long as you live forget that! Friendship should never be brushed off or taken lightly!”
“I’m sorry, I guess I forgot.”
“Don’t let it happen again.”
It didn’t surprise me at all when Cat retrieved an i-Phone 7 from an unlocked sprinkler control box where it had been charging and then began dialing numbers after he laid the phone on a large flat rock bordering a flowerbed. The automated answering systems that humans hated allowed Cat to summon a pet limousine service to pick us up at the park and drive us to an address destination all without speaking. I watched as he punched in a credit card number along with a security code and then wondered who would get the bill.
There was a tray with several kinds of dog treats plus water in the huge backseat of the limo and I gorged myself as Cat made several more phone calls. I knew Cat had a plan but I didn’t know what to expect. The Pet limousine dropped us off a block from the gated entrance to Fortezza and we hid in some bushes until a pizza delivery van arrived.
The guards at the gate appeared skeptical until the man driving the van said the six large pizzas were for them and had already been paid for. When they asked him to exit the running vehicle he showed them a receipt with Vincent Carminati’s credit card number. Cat used the diversion to slip inside the van and jam it into gear. My feline friend slammed all of his forty pounds down on the gas pedal and the van with the open door crashed through the locked gates. At least a dozen guards surrounded the van with guns drawn as the horrified delivery driver with a pair of pudgy hands wrapped around his neck tried to explain with a wheezing cough that he must have forgotten to put on the parking brake.
I slipped past the guards and into the shadows of the compound, Cat joined me minutes later. “What do we do now?” I asked.
“We’ve got to find out where they’re holding Charlie,” Cat said.
We waited until after two police cars arrived and took away the driver and then a tow truck dragged away the van. The armed guards were all eating Pizza and watching as a crew repaired the damaged gates.
Cat said it was time to move and we kept to the shadows as we dodged security lights and hid behind a long square building. The moon slipped out from behind swirling clouds and reflected off an Olympic sized swimming pool. Something about the man floating face down in the water made me stop and hold my breath.
Suddenly we were bathed in bright light and Vincent Carminati stepped from the shadows. He was not alone; a dozen guns were pointed directly at us. I could smell greed, lust and violence smoothed-out with limoncello spirits.
“I see you came to pay your last respects …” A hideously grinning Vinnie emphasized the word last.
I looked at Cat and he just shrugged his canine shoulders as if unconcerned. “Some nights are not that great,” he sighed.
TO BE CONTINUED …