Part One: The Intro
Part Two: The Setup
The first notion I had that something wasn't right was when a hand grenade went off in my ballsack. I sat straight up, gasping for air, trying to scream, and realized that there were two very unpleasant men in the room. One of them had just punched me in the nuts.
I curled up in a ball and cradled my wounded jewels, trying hard not to throw up. My gun was under the bed, but theirs were in their hands. Even if I hadn't been sucking wind and naked under the sheets, I couldn't have grabbed my piece before my visitors added a couple unwelcome holes to my chest cavity.
From my fetal position in the middle of the bed, I lifted my head to look at the two heavies. One was skinny and short, almost a runt. He looked especially small next to the mountain of meat standing next to him. Both wore faded suits that might have been expensive fifty years ago, but their hand cannons were plenty clean.
"Where is she?" asked the small one, which was kind of funny, because I was wondering the same thing.
I gulped in a mouthful of air and tried to respond. "She... oooooh..."
The little one nodded at the big one, who holstered his pistol in a shoulder rig and pulled on a pair of thick black gloves. The odd bulk at the knuckles told me it was probably loaded with sand. I put up one hand, feeble with pain, and tried to speak again.
"No idea," I gasped. "She... she was here when I fell asleep."
The big guy leaned over and punched me in the side. I grunted in pain, sliding halfway off the bed from the force of the blow.
The little one spoke again. "You understand, we have every reason to believe you're telling the truth. Unfortunately, we can't be certain until, well, until we're certain. It's unavoidable, really." He nodded at the big guy again, who pulled back his fist for another swing.
"Wait! Wait!" I put up one hand and tried to scoot back onto the bed, working clear of the sheets wrapped around me. "I'll tell you what I know!"
The little thug put his hand on the big guy's shoulder, which bought me a second to think.
"She told me I could stay the night," I said. "She told me she would make breakfast, and wake me up when it was ready."
"So the fuck what?" The runt waved at the big guy, who hit me across the face so hard that fireworks lit up behind my eyes. It took me a second to shake clear, and then I stammered again.
"So she probably went to the store! She should be right back!" I spit a wad of blood onto the bed, along with a tooth that was going to be very expensive to replace - assuming I had a chance to find a dentist.
"Hold on," said the little one to the big one. "That kind of makes sense. We'll wait for her here."
I had the sheets pulled out from under me now, and my bare ass hanging off the bed. The little one holstered his piece and pulled a frighteningly huge knife from behind his back.
"Let's kill this loser and see what's in the kitchen."
That was all I needed to hear. I pushed off the bed and dropped to the floor, then rolled under the bed. Both men started shouting curses, and the big guy threw himself across the bed to try to grab me. Lucky for me, the bed was pretty high off the floor, and years of living on canned rations and veggies hadn't let me bulk up around the mid-section. By the time the little one ran around the bed, I was almost out the other side, with my gun in one hand and my clothes in the other.
The big bruiser dropped down to the floor to reach for me. His eyes flew wide open when he saw the barrel pointed at his forehead, but he didn't have time to do much else. I shot him in the face, his head snapped back, and then he didn't move at all.
The little one swore again. All I could see was his feet as he retreated, firing into the bed. Bullets ripped through the mattress and into the floor beside me. I ignored them and shot him in the ankle.
Sadly, he didn't fall. I was kind of hoping he would, but I was happy to settle for his screams of pain as he leapt out of the room. He bit back his yelps of agony, and a moment later, I heard the apartment door open and then slam shut. I didn't waste any time pulling myself out from under the bed.
I suddenly realized that, dead body on the floor or not, those blows to the kidney were partnering up with several bottles of locally brewed beer to cause a pretty intense pain in the bladder. I needed to piss some blood, and I needed to do it in a hurry. Dragging my pants behind me, I hobbled into the bathroom and dropped unceremoniously onto the toilet. I groaned in pain and finished my business, then stood up and looked in the mirror. Time was working against me, but I knew it would look odd if I left the apartment naked and bleeding from the mouth.
I ran some water and rinsed my mouth (one of the many privileges of the wealthy elite - and their female escorts - was running water). As I turned off the water and spat blood into the sink, I heard scratching and muffled whining coming from the wall.
My heart froze in my chest. It was too soon – no way was I ready to face anyone else. Hell, I still wasn’t wearing any pants. I was certain the goons were coming back, or worse, security was on its way up. The gigantic thug was bleeding all over the bedroom floor, and my pistol matched the hole in his forehead.
When I heard the scratching and crying again, I realized that I was being paranoid. This noise was inside the apartment. Come to think of it, this noise was in the bathroom with me.
I pulled on my clothes while I searched the walls. It took a minute to find the false panel behind the shower, and then another couple minutes to slide it sideways and reveal the hidden room behind it. A space big enough for a person to sit down was jammed half-full of towels and a bowl of water, with just enough room left for the bundle of fur that tumbled out into my arms as soon as I set it free.
It was a dog. Specifically, it was a puppy, a girl, but she was a big puppy, and in a few months, she was going to be a very big dog. Yellow and black, with feet the size of teacups and oversized floppy ears. She squirmed in my hands until I had to hold her closer to keep her from falling, and then she licked my face.
It’s worth interrupting the story here for a quick aside about dogs in Dallas. Most places, dogs were either wild pack animals that raided caravans and ran off with babies, or they were food. But in Dallas, dogs were rare and pretty damned valuable. They made great alarm systems, and no burglar was going to break into your place if they heard a dog barking inside, at least as long as you had neighbors who didn’t have dogs. They would eat you out of house and home, though, so the only people who tended to have dogs were usually doing well enough to have running water.
Another thing about dogs in Dallas is they were hard to steal. Once a dog was old enough to know where it called home, owners would train them to rip limbs off anyone stupid enough to get close without an invitation. And if the dog itself didn’t stop you from stealing it, the owner was likely to fill you with holes if you tried. Rich people got pretty attached to their dogs, and the smartest thing you could do if you found a stray was to get it back to its owner, or get very far away.
I paused a second and thought back to the cab ride. My gorgeous fare from last night had been whispering to her purse all night – and the purse was big enough to hold this puppy. Not only that, but a whole lot of gun-toting bruisers had been willing to put a whole lot of bullets in her, and they didn’t much care if they got me in the bargain. It didn’t take a gambler to figure out where this dog came from, or why she was hidden all night.
I put that dog down in a hurry. I was already in farther than I wanted to be, and it was time to make tracks before someone came to ask about the gunshots. I ran back to the bedroom and pulled on my shoes, did a quick check for anything I might have left, and headed for the door.
And there was that dog. She was sitting in front of the door, looking up at me, as much as asking me for something to eat and a place to sleep. More than anything, I think the damned varmint just wanted me to scratch her behind the ears. I was starting to panic a little, though, because time was working against me, and besides, there was no way I wanted the hassle that came with this puppy. Hell, I lived in a concrete shack that was just big enough for a bed, a tub and my car! What was I going to do with a dog?
So I stepped around the puppy and opened the door. A quick glance both ways down the hall told me the coast was still clear, at least for a couple minutes, so I made sure my gun was hidden in a coat pocket and stepped out. I turned to shut the door, and there was that damned dog again.
I wanted to leave. I wanted to walk away and get back to my life and forget about gun monkeys and expensive hookers and stolen puppies. But for no reason I could explain, my feet wouldn’t move.
The girl was gone. If she had any sense, she wasn’t coming back any time soon. The goons who had shown up at her place might have been looking for a party, but the odds were pretty good they were here for this dog. They might come back for her in the next few hours, but they might also be a couple days – and by then, this cute little pooch was going to be eating the corpse cooling in the bedroom.
Even while I was telling myself that I had to get out, I had to run, I couldn’t afford the extra baggage, this was a horrible idea, I was bending over and picking up the furry little beast. I tucked her inside my coat, crossed my arms to keep it in place, and headed for the stairs. The puppy, now cradled in warmth and darkness, panted a couple times and fell asleep in my arms.
I somehow managed to make it down the stairs and out the door without being stopped. I waved to the doorman as I headed out, amazed that I wasn’t being searched. I guess if you were invited inside, the staff had to trust you, at least enough to let you go. I double-timed it all the way back to my garage, and when I finally got inside and locked the door, the puppy was starting to wake up.
I turned on the lights and pulled the little ball of trouble out of my coat. She squirmed until I put her down, and then she ran over to a pile of dirty clothes I had left on the floor and pissed all over them.
I slapped my forehead. Not home five minutes, and this dog was already a pain in the ass.
It would get worse before it got better.