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19/01/2015

Dog

Elspeth Latimer

My name’s Jock and I’m 63, from Edinburgh. This is Dog. She’s a stray I found outside my tenement. I gave her a bed last night. Don’t ask about my work.

Extract from chapter one

After breakfast I fashioned a leash from a length of hairy twine. When we got to the park, Dog tugged hard, her body twisting like she’d caught a madness off the grass. We should have stuck to walking round the block, less chance of Dog strangling herself. Soon as I undid the knot, she scurried to the nearest tree, squatted for a pee, then roamed further, sniffing, leaving messages. I stubbed out my fag and whistled, hoping Dog hadn’t forgotten her new pal.

‘Good lass,’ I called, seeing a black shape race towards me. She circled a few times, then leaned against my leg, heart hurtling.

Sausages weren’t proper food for a dog so we went to the shops. No dogs allowed. I tied her to a bollard. Once we were home I showed her both tins and she opted for the posh stuff. Dog chased her bowl till it was licked clean, then I gave her a treat from the butcher’s, a meaty bone. I’d seen plenty over the years but none as big.

‘Reckon it’s dinosaur?’

Her tail thwacked the lino while her teeth gnawed and crunched. After she was done, Dog explored the flat some more, poking in cupboards. She found a dusty set of golf clubs, which Da used to take to Bruntsfield Links before his emphysema got bad. I pulled out a mashie niblick and practised my swing.

‘D’you enjoy a wee game?’

She grinned, mouth open like a hinge.

 

Me and Dog made the most of our long weekend but on Tuesday it was time to meet my boss. We fortified ourselves with black pudding and set off, brass knuckles tucked in a pocket. Chilly for June, my bald patch was glad of the tweed cap.

At Tollcross we joined the queue by the bus stop. Dog watched the traffic, not minding the wait. She looked smart in the red collar, bought yesterday, along with a leash and a rubber ball. I was hoping Stevie’d have a job for me this week. My wallet was parched.

When the 16A came, Dog hopped aboard. I dug out my pass and a pound coin but the driver said pets were free. We sat near the front, Dog on my knee. Her breath smelled beefy. She peered out the window, ears swivelling, fit to come unscrewed.

The bus took a half hour to reach Fairview. The doors wheezed open and we got off at the Plaza, a fancy name for a load of zigzag paving, bins, benches, and bushes in concrete pots. Folks were aiming for the shopping centre, leaning into a wind that wasn’t there.

I spotted Stevie Shites next to a huddle of trees. His dark hair was slicked back and he had on a tan Harrington.

‘Best behaviour,’ I muttered to Dog as we headed his way.

Stevie was eyes down, rubbing his mobile with two thumbs. He glanced up. ‘Fuck’s sake, it’s the Invisible Man.’

I was bored of this joke but did my usual smile. Dog whined and slunk behind my legs.

‘Got a scabby dog now? Fucking magic. Where’d you get that idea, you crafty old git?’

Dog was company, nothing crafty, but I didn’t tell Stevie. He preferred talking to listening. We crossed Gleeks Road then cut along by the canal. The water was like oxtail soup but smelled of plumbing.

‘So, Jock, still keeping out of trouble?’

‘Aye, Mr Steve.’

‘I’ve got a job for you, a big one.’ He laughed. ‘Fucking enormous.’

Stevie ran through the details, his Adam’s apple jiggling the tag on his zipper. ‘Do it Friday.’

‘Sorry, Mr Steve, but I’ll be at the Western.’

‘Shite’s sake, you and your fucking gall bladder.’

 

Next morning me and Dog woke early and were in Fairview by eight o’clock. Damp but no rain, thankfully. I found the street and we waited under a tree, Dog’s nose hoovering roots. I kept an eye on the block of flats opposite. Its walls were coated in lumpy-porridge cement.

At five past nine a man squeezed out the double doors. Big Kenny was fatter than the photo on Stevie’s mobile. His first stop was Munchies near the Plaza, for a bag of bridies, followed by betting in Win-Rite. He was never off his phone, even when eating. Dinner was kebab and chips at noon. Me and Dog shared a sandwich in a doorway.

From one fifteen onwards Big Kenny was at The White Feather, a bunker of a pub with orange glass beneath the eaves, like they’d a bonfire inside. I watched the entrance from behind the hedge of a boarded-up church. Dog had a snooze. Every twenty minutes Kenny came out for a smoke, never on his own, envelopes slipped between pockets. Business of a sort, not all of it friendly. I saw him spit on somebody. Chin smeared in gob.

After that, Big Kenny ate a stack of macaroni pies, then he hung about a different bookie’s and had a fish supper, before another visit to The White Feather. When it shut he stumbled north, taking a lit path across a stretch of empty ground, with a few lank trees and nettles. Ideal. Far off to the left was a ridge of houses. On our right was the railway. This route brought him out near his door.

Me and Dog went home, slept, had breakfast at seven, and got the bus back to Fairview. By the afternoon there was no doubting that Big Kenny was a man of habits. Same places, same leery faces.

 

The hospital wouldn’t welcome a dog so on Friday I left her behind with food and water. Machines took fuzzy pictures of my guts. A nurse wanted to know what I ate, then a doctor asked if I’d suffered any bad attacks. Hours of prying.

Soon as I stepped off the street I could hear Dog’s howls in the stairwell. Poor creature must have thought I’d abandoned her. When I opened the door she leapt at me, licking my hands, cheeks, neck. It took biscuits and a lot of patting to calm her.

Dog was owed some fun. We went to the Links next morning with Da’s clubs. I swung the mashie and her ball flew for miles. She sped off, legs a blur, and scampered back, teeth champing the rubber. We played for ages.

The two of us had a nap, before cooking a big tea. Kidneys in onion gravy. I changed into my dark trousers, then reached a fresh packamack off the shelf and gave it a shake. Dog trotted into the bedroom, both ears perked.

‘Sorry, pal, you’ve got to stay here.’

I was halfway down the stair when Dog started yowling. She’d not forgotten yesterday and being left on her own. The noise was enough to crack walls. I glanced at the door of the fussy pair who’d moved in last month. They’d soon be on the phone to the Polis. I couldn’t risk it.

An hour later I was peering through the hedge at The White Feather. Dog sat by my feet, nose quivering, tail tucked round her bum. The pub was busy, folks coming and going. After ten minutes I saw Big Kenny. He wasn’t alone. Him and his pals smoked their fags and went in again. Shame I’d not got this over and done midweek when it was quieter, but Stevie Shites said Saturday.

My knees felt stiff. Big Kenny would be on the booze till closing time, so we sneaked off for chips. No hunger, I only wanted the warmth. Dog ate a battered sausage. Her leash was trailing in the dirt, and I looped the extra round my wrist.

At twenty to eleven we returned to our hiding place. I rocked on my heels. Dog licked and nibbled her white paws. The pub finally emptied, Big Kenny among the last. A bunch did some drunken yelling then went their separate ways.

Me and Dog crept from behind the hedge and followed Big Kenny, not too close. Judging by his legs, he’d been on the whisky. He started on his usual path across the wasteland, nobody about, just a few yellow windows in the distance. The railway wouldn’t be a problem, trains didn’t stop here at night.

It was dark but every thirty yards there was a lamp-post. Big Kenny stopped by one and rummaged in his jacket, bald head bright as a Belisha beacon. While he stood puffing a fag, I led Dog to some bushes. She crouched and laid a turd.

Big Kenny coughed, spat, then chucked his ciggie.

I pulled Dog from her doings and we joined him by the lamp-post.

‘Whazzzit called?’ he asked.

‘Dog.’

That raised a laugh from Kenny, till he choked.

I waved a fag. ‘Got a light?’

He fumbled in his pocket. ‘Heeryoogo.’

As he coaxed a flame with his thumb, me and Dog backed off, into the gloom. She gave a wee bark, mistaking this for a game. Big Kenny stumbled after us, jabbing his lighter in my face. Three more steps then I slid my knife out, ducked his arm, and sliced his thigh. Up by the groin.

‘Ooooh,’ belched Kenny, hopping away. ‘Ooooh, ooooh, ooooh.’

Too much blubber. All I could see was a pink welt, flashing through the slit in his trousers. I’d missed the artery. His arms flailed. I darted low, thrust my blade. Cut a bleeder this time, gushing wet. With a yelp, Dog bolted. Her leash yanked me round. The knife soared from my hand. Fuck.

The bastard grabbed me, hissing. Dog snarled, barked, and ran between us. I wrestled Kenny. Dog shot through the gap again. Kenny teetered, clutched my arm. The sleeve ripped.

Down went Big Kenny. He smacked the tarmac, flesh shuddering. No more movement, not even a moan. The leash was wrapped round his ankles. Trussed like a turkey. He lay on his side, blood creeping across the path.

‘Dog, you’re a marvel.’ I lifted Kenny’s feet and unravelled the leash. ‘Job done,’ I said, my mouth in a Christmas grin.

I looked at Dog. She was trembling from nose to tail.

‘You poor thing.’ I knelt to stroke her but she slid through my fingers.

Dog sniffed Kenny, and yowled at the red puddle by his leg. She gave it a lick. Must have tasted electric. Her body shot into the air.

Next moment, Kenny twitched and rolled over. A jet sprayed from his thigh, catching Dog, spattering my packamack. I braced, fists ready, and heard a rasping sigh. Big Kenny’s last.

Dog stared at me. Eyes black, whiskers dripping blood.

‘Here,’ I said, reaching a hand. ‘It’s only old Jock.’

She cowered and backed away.

‘Home, I’ll take you home. Just need my blade.’ I trod on her leash, to pin her while I scoured the tarmac.

What was that? Dog’s head veered left, ears pricked.

Echoes in the dark. ‘Bam . . . ya bampot.’

Christ. I grabbed Dog’s leash. Her body was stiff, pointing up the slope. Those clumps on the ridge weren’t bushes, they were folks. ‘Ya bampot.’ Coming our way.

Couldn’t leave without my knife, my lucky blade. I raked the weeds. Crisp packet, can of Tennent’s. Dog whimpered.

Then I saw them, two lads and a lass.

Three could be a problem. Where the fuck was my knife?

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