Friday, December 09, 2011


It's Fiction Friday so here's a short story. I got the idea for this one, several times over the course of a few months, after reading the Sunday paper.

A lot of my stories come with a warning, and rightfully so. This one isn't that bad but it's a bit graphic here and there. Not for everyone.

written by Alan Green

Bobo stands next to the patch of dirt, his stance wide, blue eyes gleaming, looking serious. The storm had blown dead leaves away exposing a rectangular section of bare ground about seven by three feet. Yeah, it was curious. I didn't know what to think. Of course, that shape was eerie, but who goes there, mentally I mean? Who thinks stuff like that? Then, there was the way Bobo stood. Tense, his intelligent eyes trying to communicate something important. He is so smart. Really, it shakes me up sometimes. This was one of those times, for sure. That first time.

I had gotten Bobo from the pound. I just didn't like the idea of going to a pet shop. Wanted to rescue an animal, I guess. He had been brought in a few weeks earlier by someone who was moving to Europe and couldn't keep a dog any longer, and was scheduled to be put down the next day. Nobody had taken him, I guess, because he was scruffy. Short fur of black, dull aqua, silver, and burgundy that had darker patches here and there and was naturally dirty looking. A squat animal, thickly muscled with a large head, he was pure mutt with no discernible lineage. Like the dog in that 'Road Warrior' movie. Besides being homely, he didn't make a good first impression. He just lay there, on his side, like he was asleep but with his eyes open. He didn't sell himself as a prospective pet very well, seemed resigned to his fate.

But, those eyes. He pinned me with them. Intense, knowing, and made more captivating, almost disturbing really, by their deep iceberg color. Made you feel he could read your thoughts. When he sat up the guy from the pound said, 'He likes you. He usually just lays there.'

I squatted close to the wire mesh. 'What's his name?' I said. 'Bobo,' the guy answered. 'Hi Bobo.' His ears perked. I put my hand up and he sniffed, eying me. The guy opened the door. I reached in and stroked him. He put his paw in my hand. I thought it was noteworthy he could shake hands. A silly thing, but it seemed meaningful at the time. He stared at me. I swear it was like he was waiting for me to make a decision. Almost impatient. 'Are you taking me or not,' he seemed to say. Those eyes... Almost human. I took him.

Standing next to that patch of dirt, he was waiting for a decision again. I knelt, stroked his head, and looked at the ground. The hole hadn't been dug recently but nothing had grown over, either. And that shape -- a fairly good rectangle. Those dimensions -- seven by three. Bobo sniffed the earth and mewled, worried. He put his paw on my arm, growling low.

Okay, fine. I'll probably feel like a fool, I thought, but what the hell. I got a stick and starting digging. I hadn't gotten six inches before I uncovered a dried-up hand, its skin turned to a papery leather. I jerked back as soon as I recognized what it was, stood up, caught my breath. Bobo barked and backed away stiffly, his tail straight. He shot me a hard look. 'I told you it was important.'

The police arrived within a few minutes of the 911 call. Ten minutes later, three more cars arrived. An officer ran yellow crime scene tape around the perimeter. They asked questions. Bobo sat by my side panting, content, watching. He was always paying attention. A detective, William, arrived. We talked for a while. Nice guy. You could tell he'd seen a lot. I had nothing of value to offer. He took my information even though a uniformed officer had already done that. 'We'll be in touch,' he told me.

On the way home I stopped and picked up dinner. Bobo stayed in the car. He knew he couldn't go in the grocery store. I bought a steak, a pepper, onion, portobello, fresh garlic, a nice Chianti.

I separated Bobo's serving from mine before adding spices, mixed in some plain chopped-up pasta, and set it aside to cool while I finished cooking. Bobo watched every move, licked his chops, eyes wide and full of hope. We ate watching TV, as usual, but I kept glancing over. He looked the same but didn't seem the same. He seemed smarter, like a dog on a mission.

The discovery was covered by all the local stations. William made one of those generic noncommittal statements. A few weeks later the news said the body was that of a girl that had been reported missing years ago. Analysis of DNA evidence made it clear she was the victim of a serial killer who had been convicted and was serving a life term. With this body, the new total of known victims was fourteen. The killer said there were more but wouldn't help police locate their graves. He claimed to remember where each was but wasn't inclined to be of assistance.

I was curious so I looked him up online. He killed women because his mother had liked his two younger sisters better than him. She bought them new school clothes but made him wear the same stuff every year until he looked bad and that made him feel stupid. The three of them made fun of him. He didn't have friends. Other kids taunted him at school so he quit. When he turned eighteen his mother told him that if he was going to stay he would have to move under the house because she and the girls couldn't stand the sight or smell of him. They didn't have a finished basement but the space under the house offered protection from the elements. He lived like that for years while his sisters finished high school then went off to college in new clothes and new cars. One day they came home for Christmas break and found their mother raped and stabbed on the kitchen floor. Her head was in the microwave, fully cooked.

I checked my e-mail. William had sent me a thank-you note. He said the discovery of the body helped bring closure to the family. I e-mailed back thanking him for his professionalism in a difficult job.


It's Sunday. That's the day I take Bobo out someplace special for a walk instead of the park up the street. I park in a lot overlooking the entire area -- a shallow valley with a picturesque river -- a great spot for a walk and a little adventure. A favorite spot in the summer the place is deserted this early on a cold, rainy, late-winter day. We head down the path, Bobo's tail wagging wildly. Nearer the water's edge he leaves the path and runs down to the river. I throw his ball and he dives in, swimming like a pro. I walk on expecting him to catch up. I get maybe fifty feet before I realize he hasn't rejoined me. Looking back I can just make out his shape through the brush. He is sitting on the muddy shore.

When I get closer I see he is soaking wet, his ball between his front paws, looking back and forth between me and something a few feet to his side. I call but he just sits there. He barks once, an edgy sound. I move to the edge of the path and can just make out the object next to him. A crumpled blanket in the water, right next to the bank. I make my way down and when I get close enough I realize there is something under the blanket, bobbing in the water. Holding a tree I lean out over the mud. It's a kid's blanket with yellow ducks and tiny elephants. Bobo growls cautiously. Daintily, I pull up the corner. There is a body.

This one was a young boy, seven years old, who had been reported days earlier as missing by his mother after she left him asleep in the car while she shopped at a local mall. The police said there were discrepancies in the mother's story that were cause for concern and, as she had been convicted of child abuse some years ago, was considered a suspect in the disappearance. The mother's family was split. Some thought she had something to do with the disappearance citing suspicious things the boy had said at various family gatherings, while others vociferously defended her, claiming the rest of the family was 'jealous of her good looks and would say anything to undermine her life'.

Police obtained a search warrant on the basis of a random comment the mother had made to the press. 'You get down to that river and you search,' she demanded. She had said this two days before the boy's body was discovered. William was on TV again. He announced that, as a result of the search a photograph of the boy had been found. It showed the child, his neck deeply bruised, apparently dead and was taken on the bank of a river. In fact, after cursory analysis, it was determined the photograph was made on the exact spot the body was discovered. The mother was taken into custody and charged with murder. Later, it was revealed that other items recovered connected the mother to the crime scene, including shoes caked with a certain dried mud that had been kept in a plastic bag in the back of a closet, perfectly preserving the evidence.

The coroner's report indicated the boy had been strangled, his throat crushed. However, it was clear he had survived for several minutes after the assault. In that time blood gathered in the throat and was drawn into the lungs as the boy struggled for breath. The walls of the air passageway swelled in reaction to trauma and pinched closed making breathing more difficult. None of this, the coroner pointed out during testimony, would have been possible had the boy died immediately. The prosecution pointed out that, had the mother sought medical care for the boy after the initial attack, she might have saved his life, but instead elected to take a picture of her dying son as a keepsake then leave him in the cold water to die. This, they claimed, indicated she had a callous disregard for human life which warranted the most severe punishment. The point was reiterated during the sentencing phase.

During the trial the mother sought empathy saying she had done it because she didn't want the father to get custody of the child in the divorce proceedings which were ongoing at the time. She called him a 'scoundrel' who couldn't be trusted to raise a kid correctly. She thought, given the father's drug use, criminal background, and how he regularly beat her, he would raise the boy to be a thug.

When I read this in the paper it made sense. Once, I had a Guinea pig. She had a litter and I would watch her care for the babies. Pressing my face close to the habitat, I would tap the plastic tubing and click my tongue. I guess I stressed her out because she ate one of the piglets as it tried to crawl away. It screamed the whole time she gnawed, starting with its butt and finishing with its head. I guess killing your baby is an instinctual reflex, under the right conditions. Then again, we aren't rodents.

The mother was sentenced to life in prison.


I would look at Bobo a lot while we watched TV. What he had done had helped people, that's for sure. It made me feel good to have had a part in it. I found myself wondering whether there was something else at work, though. Some force. I mean, what are the odds of us finding those bodies? One, maybe, but two? There had to be something else at work here. Fate, destiny, a cosmic consciousness, something, guiding us.

Or, maybe Bobo was a person reincarnated in the body of a dog. He could have been a master detective whose life's work was unfinished so he came back to complete his assignment. But, why as a dog? Because they have a better sense of smell?

I test him: 'Bobo. What's two plus two?' He looks at me. I over enunciate and speak slowly in case his ability to understand human speech has become dull between incarnations. He cocks his head in an effort to comprehend. 'What's the square root of nine?' He lays his head back on the floor, watches TV, his eyes following the motion. Maybe he didn't speak English. Maybe he was a Chinese detective. I could hire an interpreter. Of course, that would create its own complications.

I marvel at my stupidity and go back to watching TV. It's mindless -- perfect, all things considered.

Bobo (I shouldn't take credit) found the next body in the middle of summer in a mountainside park. We were on a trail about halfway up one of the smaller hills when he took off running. I figured he was chasing squirrel or rabbit, but when he didn't rejoin me, I went back. Calling, I heard him bark, down a slope. He was a few yards off the unpaved access road that parallels the trail in fairly thick underbrush sitting next to the driver's side of a car which had run off the road. It sounds corny, but a chill ran up my spine. Out of habit, I suppose, I approached the car carefully so as not to disturb fragile evidence. It had crashed into a tree, but not too hard. The driver was slumped over the wheel. I tapped the window but he didn't move. Looking closer I saw he had a bullet hole in his forehead. I called William (he had given me his direct number). After the usual questions Bobo and I went home.

This case was one the strangest. I couldn't believe each new revelation I read in the paper. The guy in the car, I'll call him Joe, was shot by a jealous husband, we'll call him Lou. Lou owns a business. He comes in after office hours and finds Joe and his wife (Lou's wife, not Joe's), who was the office manager, talking in a way that, to Lou, meant something was up. The wife admitted during the trial that she and Joe had a relationship, but insisted it wasn't intimate. She said she would have had a sexual thing with Joe, seeing how she and Lou had been discussing divorce for a while and she figured the marriage was over anyway, except Joe was borderline retarded and she didn't feel right about it. 'He was forty on the outside but only, like, fourteen on the inside,' she testified. So, they were just friends. Well, Lou didn't see it that way. The business had been losing money and he thought his wife and Joe were bleeding him dry in order to finance running off together, though he could never explain what that was based on, saying sheepishly in court, 'It was just a hunch.'
So, Lou gets mad and levels accusations. They argue. Both Joe and the wife tell Lou he's crazy. Lou fires Joe, then, as Joe is leaving Lou tells him to wait a minute, goes in the back for his revolver, returns and shoots Joe in the face. Lou and his wife have a screaming match for a couple hours while Joe sits in a chair dead, staring at them. Over the course of the argument, the wife becomes impressed by the fact Joe was jealous enough to shoot a man he thought she was having an affair with. To her, this was a sign the marriage might still be salvageable. Lou, for his part, was touched by how his wife was still interested in him despite the fact he had just killed a man. They realize they were still in love, make up, and decide to give the marriage another go.

They load Joe into his car and Lou drives him out to the mountainside park with his wife following in a company car. They arrange Joe in the driver's seat, point his car down the hill, and release the brake. The car crashed into the tree doing about twenty -- not fast enough, really, to cause a bullet hole to appear in Joe's forehead. As an accident it was suspicious even on casual review.

Over a beer, William told me that when he questioned Lou and his wife, routine considering they were the victim's employers, they made up some ridiculous story about how Joe was upset when he left work and said something about meeting some guy he owed money to and was frightened cause this guy was tough and was, Joe thought, probably a dangerous criminal. They continuously interrupted each other with suddenly remembered details that began 'Oh, yeah, and then he...!' and ended with the other saying, 'Yeah, that's right!' nodding their head. William shook his head and rolled his eyes. 'Fuck,' he said. 'You see a lotta crazy shit in this line of work but I could hardly believe what I was hearing.' All I could do was gaze into my glass slack-jawed and say 'no shit' every now and then.

Lou and his wife's fingerprints were all over the interior of Joe's car. Ballistics matched the bullet in Joe's head to Lou's revolver. Though Lou and his wife cleaned the office, there was a lot of blood splatter hidden behind furniture and in crevices like around window sills, even a couple flecks of Joe's skin, and a shard of his skull. Witnesses testified they saw Lou and his wife put a heavy object that looked like 'a body wrapped in carpet' into the trunk of Joe's car. The carpet itself was found in a storage room, loaded with evidence. The keys to Joe's car were found in Lou's desk. The GPS system in Lou's company car indicated a round-trip to the mountainside park where Joe's body was found. And, as if that weren't enough, there was the sobbing confession upon subsequent questioning that, according to William, went 'on and on'.

Lou got twenty-five years for manslaughter while his wife got twelve for, you know, all the stuff she did.


The dream. I've had it so many times I know when I'm in it. It's first light. The woods somewhere. Light rain, cool. I'm looking at Bobo. He's sitting next to a patch of fresh dirt. Behind him are several more. They go back into the woods as far as you can see. All about the size of a grave. Bobo turns to look at me. His eyes are more blue than normal. Almost lit up, like a neon sign. He snarls. It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen. He stands and takes a step and I realize he isn't looking at me but something behind me. His lip curls, baring large teeth, and he growls, low and serious. Behind me, very close, I hear the unmistakable sound of the hammer of a revolver being cocked and think 'I hope they take care of Bobo'. It's a ridiculous notion, I know, even while still dreaming.

My hair is wet. It's sweat but it may as well be the rain from the dream. It takes a moment to get my bearings. I pull the covers off to cool down. My tee-shirt is damp. My breathing slows, evens out. As usual, Bobo is there, looking up at me. 'Hi, boy.' I tap the bed and he jumps up, lays beside me. I wrap my right arm around him and extend my left hand into the sunlight streaming through the window onto the bed, enjoying the warmth and crispness of clean sheets. Bobo snuggles his nose under my ear. His tail taps my leg softly a while, then stops.

It's Sunday. I'm glad. Glad I don't have to go to work. Glad I have a job in this economy. Glad it's our special day. Don't know where we're going this time. Didn't plan it this week. Hope we don't find another body, but if we do I guess I'd be glad then, too. In a way.

We'll go get the paper at the corner shop. That way Bobo can get his first pee in and won't be uncomfortable while I make breakfast and read the news. Really, though, I'm not looking forward to it. I used to love reading the paper, especially on Sunday, but not so much anymore.

I pet Bobo, getting sleepy in the sun's warmth. I have to chuckle at the notion he is a person reborn in the body of a dog. The stupid things we think of... My eyes closed I say, 'Bobo. What's the square root of nine?' No response. I half whisper, 'What's two plus two?'

As I drift off Bobo's tail taps my leg three times then, after a moment, once more.

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