A Backward GlanceChapter 7
"Wouldn't it a' been easier to put the tent up before it got dark?"
Frank let the canvas drop out of his hands, and straightened up. "Well, probably." He sounded a little put out. "But we didn't do it then." More than a little. "So we get to do it now. Get off your butt, and help me."
OK. I didn't have any idea what I oughta do, but I got up and started in trying to figure it out anyway. I couldn't do any worse than Frank was doing.
He'd built the fire way up, the flames were high and we were sweating, so he could see to unpack the car and find the lanterns.
It was really dark outside the lighted circle around the fire. There was no moonlight at all now; too many clouds, I guess. Even after he found the lanterns, the darkness was thick and heavy.
We struggled with the tent till the fire burned down. Once I thought maybe we had it, but then it collapsed. Frank got kinda pissed off a coupla times, and once he said, "What the hell are you doing? Pay attention and don't get it twisted up!"
"It'd be easier if I knew how to put a tent up. Or if I could see what I was doing."
"Well, do you want to sleep in a tent tonight, or are you just going to complain all night?"
"And I'm thinking it might be easier if ]you knew how to put a tent up." I don't know if he could see how I was looking at him or not, but he didn't say too much to me about paying attention after that.
"The hell with it," he said finally. "I give up."
We kicked the tent up into a pile and threw some more wood on the fire. I looked toward the stand of trees to the east…….
"I'm going to organize what we have, and straighten up a little, and you get the sleeping bags and lay them out. We can get along without a tent."
"Come on, Wendell, help me out here."
"Is that something we should worry about?" And I pointed. Actually, I was already worried. I think I wanted Frank to worry with me.
He turned around and looked where I was pointing. Reflecting the firelight, in the trees, were about twelve or fifteen pairs of eyes…….bobbing up and down, blinking, disappearing and reappearing. While he looked, we heard a coupla little yips and a long whine.
We backed up nice and easy and got in the car, me in the back seat, Frank in the front.
It took about twenty minutes before the first coyotes ventured out from the trees. The rest followed pretty quickly. The big basket with the lid that Frank had the food in got torn apart right away, and then there was snapping and snarling over the stuff inside.
It was interesting to watch. "They look like skinny dogs," I said.
"I had a dog once. About the same color as a coyote, but bigger and heavier."
We watched the coyotes devour everything, even the wrappers.
"Look at that," Frank said. "You'd think they'd be too smart to eat paper."
"You ever have a dog, Wendell?"
"Dogs are great for kids. I had a dog named King when I was just a little kid. Had him a long time. He was pretty old when he died. What kind of dog did you have?"
I shrugged. "Just a dog. Brown and white."
He nodded. "You have him a long time?"
"I don't know." It wasn't any of his business. I oughtta be glad if he sent me back just to get away from his stupid questions all the time.
But it wasn't a big deal. Was it? Rags was just a stupid mutt. And it was all over and done with. Not important anymore. Only reason not to answer his question was if the answer mattered.
"I had to leave it behind one time……..Probably got run over. It wasn't very smart."
He didn't say anything then for a long time. Maybe he was sorry he asked.
It musta mattered more to me than I thought it should, 'cause that was a bald-face lie. I knew just exactly what happened to Rags.……………………
We watched the coyotes for a while. The fire burned down, but the lanterns were still going. I was thinking again about going to sleep when a coupla the animals went beyond snarling into a full-out fight.
No way to know what the fight was about; the food was all gone, so it wasn't that. I remember thinking there must be a female in heat, although it was dark enough I couldn't tell the males from the females, so I didn't have a good reason to think that. Just my guess. It coulda been something as simple as, they just didn't like each other.
It was as ferocious as any dogfight I'd ever seen. And man, could they move. So quick, it was hard to follow what was going on.
At one point they rolled against one of the lanterns and knocked it over. It lay in the dirt, still burning, until in the scuffle, it got rolled against the heap of canvas. It didn't take more than a coupla minutes before smoke began to rise, and in a couple more, there were flames.
The pack moved back from the blaze. The lantern eventually exploded, and I ducked, even though we were inside the car with the windows rolled up. When I looked up, the last of them were running back in the trees. I heard some howls, and then they were gone. The tent was a bonfire.
"Well," Frank said. He paused. "I suppose we should go out and clean that up."
"I think I'm staying in here."
He looked back at me. "Too bad we don't have any more marshmallows. That's a hell of a good fire."
I had to laugh. He laughed, too. Another one of those weird moments. Maybe not as weird as the last time.
"Can I ask you a question?" I said.
"Have you ever been camping before?"
He didn't answer right away. "Well….," he said. He sighed. "No."
And for some reason, we both laughed some more. It seemed pretty funny at the time.…………………….
After me and Officer Beckmann drove away from Rags that time, it took me two weeks before I got back on the street. I ran around the restaurant district, but I didn't see Rags anywhere. I saw Artie, though, the guy who used to pal around with Broome. Broome was the only guy who could stand Artie; Artie used to whine all the time about how much his stomach hurt him, and he always smelled terrible. We used to call him something else besides Artie.
I yelled at him, maybe he'd know where the dumb dog was. I thought for a minute he was gonna run away from me.
"Hey, Artie, you seen the mutt?"
He hung his head, looked down at the ground. "Nope," he said. "I ain't seen nothin'." He wouldn't look at me.
"You're the worst liar in the world."
He looked up. "Shit, White, there wasn't nothing I could do. You know?"
"So? You gonna tell me or am I gonna have to shake it outta ya?"
"Your mutt was living behind old Weinstein's shop."
Weinstein was a butcher. There were always a couple of dogs back in the alley, trying to get the scraps and the guts and stuff outta the garbage. He was always going after 'em, red in the face, yelling in his German accent. He wore a cleaver hanging from his belt all the time, clacking against what he had in his pockets, keys or money or something else, as he walked. Never smiled, even at the customers. He cut the meat, his wife took the money.
Artie looked everywhere but at me. "The dogs knocked one of the barrels over. Weinstein came out. The other dogs ran away."
"Weinstein caught Rags."
"Caught him? Nah, Rags is fast. Weinstein couldn'ta caught him."
He shook his head. "Rags didn't run away. He wagged his tail and sat down." He gulped and looked guilty. "Honest to God, White, I didn't know what he was gonna do…..I didn't know he was gonna kill him."
I dragged the details outta Artie on the way to Weinstein's butcher shop. He was right to be scared to tell me. I wanted to hit somebody, I wanted to smash something. I wanted my hands on the old bastard's throat. It's one thing to just kill something. It's another thing to do what he did.
And I guess if we hadn't had to walk sixteen blocks to get to his shop, his windows woulda paid the price. But by the time we got there, I'd thought a' something else. Something that'd hurt Weinstein more than a broken window or a black eye.
I found what was left of Rags. I didn't dig through the offal because I was grief-stricken; I had a use for him.
I had to bully Artie into helping me that night, and he ran off before we were done, but it was all ready by the time Weinstein showed up in the morning to unlock the doors.
I had to smile at his expression when he opened the front door. Yeah, I was there, waiting for him, sitting against the back door that opened into the alley, that me and Artie bustedopen.
I heard him swear in German and cover his nose and mouth with his handkerchief. "Mein Gott," he said.
Me and Artie had pried up a manhole cover and pulled up five buckets of sewage without getting caught. I wanted more, I wanted his whole place swimming in it, but we were lucky we got that much without being seen. Now the carcasses in his cooler wore it, and we'd had a little left over to pour over his knives. And on top of the butcher block were the decomposing pieces of Rags' body.
The place smelled real good.
He didn't ask me what I was doing there. We looked at each other for a minute. His hand went to the cleaver hanging at his side, and I held up the one I had in my hand. His face turned red.
"You…..you hoodlum! I haf you arrested!"
"You could. But when I got out, I'd have to pay you back for that, too."
"So," he said. "Vat for, you do this?"
I gestured toward Rags. "That was my dog."
"Dot mutt? You did all," he motioned with his arms at the mess instead of saying it, "for dot mutt?" He sat down heavily. "You ruin me. For dot mutt."
"Don't kill nobody's dog again."
When I thought of it, when I came up with the idea, I thought, this'll show him, this'll get him. I'll pay him back for Rags, he'll be sorry. I was furious, I was excited, my blood was pumping, it seemed like such a good idea.
I'm not saying I shouldn'ta done it. I woulda done it again. You can't let people do things to you and get away with it.
But when I left, he was still sitting in the chair, an old man with his head in his hands. It didn't make me feel better like I figured it would. I almost wished he'd a' come after me with his cleaver, I woulda given him a fight. That woulda made me feel a little better.
Shoulda been a victory, and it wasn't. Didn't change anything. Weinstein had to pay for what he did, but Rags was still dead. I was still mad……but a little sick, too, now.
It always works that way. You always think it's gonna make you feel better, and it never does. But what else can a man do?