Read an excerpt of “The Midnight Dog of the Repo Man”, a short story prequel to W. Bruce Cameron’s upcoming novel The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man!
“WHAT KIND OF DOG doesn’t want to go for a walk?” I demand of my basset-houndish canine, who has responded with a sigh of disgust to my invitation for a stroll around the block. Jake’s stocky legs, which are barely long enough to keep his stomach from dragging when he’s upright, don’t even twitch as I slap my thighs and give a low whistle. You go, his mournful, deep brown eyes seem to be saying. I’ll sleep.
“Dogs love walks. It’s what they live for,” I insist.
Jake’s expression indicates he thinks those other mutts are idiots. When I kneel down to look at him more closely, stroking his huge, velvet ears, he presses his eyes closed and tries to get his brown, white, and black body to blend in with the beige carpet.
“Haven’t you read the dog manual?”
You can’t see me; my eyes are closed.
He’s a new dog and we’re still getting used to each other. Well, not “new” in the sense that he recently slid down the birth canal; he made that trip maybe eight years ago. But new to me, as is the experience of owning my own pet. The last time I lived with a dog it was a family Labrador named Spooky who was so determined to catch squirrels he would plunge through screen doors and leap out of car windows. I was six years old and it was my job to clean up after Spooky in the backyard, which was how I knew he was supplementing his dog food diet with unauthorized enhancements such as my sister’s doll clothes. Jake, however, believes squirrels should be allowed to scamper unmolested and can barely be bothered to stick his head in his bowl more than once or twice a day, so completely different from the food-frenzied Lab of my childhood that I’m still having trouble getting used to it.
“I know it’s late, buddy. But that’s what you signed up for when you came to live with a bouncer in a bar—I usually don’t even get home before midnight.”
I am not a midnight dog.
“Come on, Jake. Want a treat?”
Jake has integrity and cannot be bribed into any conduct he holds in contempt.
“I had three guns stuck in my face, the day I adopted you,” I remind Jake in a blatant attempt to guilt him into coming with me. He groans aloud: Not this again. “It’s true,” I insist. “Maybe not the same calendar day, but the same twenty-four-hour period. You owe me.” Jake decides I’m never going to shut up and lurches to his feet with a put-upon expression, grumpily following me outside into the darkness. Bugs are singing and a light breeze tickles the leaves in the trees overhead, though the splendors of such a perfect summer night are lost on my dog, who feels the whole forced-march ordeal should be kept as short as possible. It’s August and Jake has been my companion since early June—I’m no longer worried that his ex-owner is going to come try to steal him back.
When I tell people the story of how my dog came to live with me, I always start with the two guns that were pointed in my direction at just past ten in the evening, the day before I met Jake. It’s a tenuous connection, to be sure, but to me it all links together logically—I’m certain I would never have adopted Jake if it hadn’t been for the men with the shotguns.
There’s not really not much for me to do as the bouncer in the Black Bear Bar in Kalkaska, Michigan—picture a small town, a failing saloon, and me in the corner (a big, grumpy guy nursing beers and grudges in equal measure) and you pretty much have the scene. I was sitting by myself at a table, watching my sister, Becky, watch the only two patrons in the place—a couple of pretty ladies named Stasia Gaffney and Cora Sins. Becky is the person who involuntarily contributed the doll wardrobe to Spooky’s diet, back when we were kids—a bit of information I have never shared with her, preferring to hold it back so I can spring it on her at an opportune moment, like maybe when I’m losing an argument.
Becky is master of the forlorn look—for as long as I can remember, she’s been a little sad, her mouth pulled small and her brown eyes shadowed. The random lottery in the womb won me my dad’s DNA, so I grew past six feet in high school, two hundred pounds of muscle that could hit the line hard and fast, a football tucked under my right arm. Since then I’ve let the biceps go a little soft and packed on another twenty pounds or so, but I still can intimidate drunks when I need to. Becky is as petite as my mother and was shy and unpopular growing up, everyone always asking her if she really was Ruddy McCann’s sister because she seemed “so different.” She owns the Black Bear, and I could read her calculations as she regarded Stasia’s and Cora’s painfully slow consumption of pinot grigio. Another night when the income fell short of the outgo, moneywise. Becky’s forlorn look was not without cause.
I figured that by the end of the week I could kick in a few extra bucks to help her enterprise. I’m not just a bar bouncer; I have a far more glitzy occupation during the day—I’m the local repo man.
Stasia lifted her glass and took a tiny sip—she was drinking so slowly she was losing more wine to evaporation than consumption. Becky and I exchanged glances, a why-did-they-order-it-if-they’re-not-going-to-drink-it expression on our faces.
And that’s when two guys burst in the front door, crashing into each other like hockey players after a puck.
They were dressed in normal June-in-Michigan outfits: jeans, sweatshirts, dirty running shoes. Well, the ski masks pulled down over their faces were a little unusual. Plus they were carrying shotguns, which they pointed at the bar, clearly expecting someone to be standing there—Becky had moved to stand by the phone in the corner.
“This is a robbery!” one of them yelled. “Nobody move!”
“Freeze!” the other one shouted. He aimed his shotgun at Stasia, who obeyed and froze, her wineglass halfway to her lips. Her pale skin went, well, paler. Cora stared, her blue eyes frightened and wide, looking afraid to even blink.
There was a long, tense moment. “Hey,” I finally objected sternly. I didn’t like the men threatening our customers.
They both swung their weapons in my direction. “Better,” I grunted.
Because they were looking at me they could see, looming in the corner, the reason why Becky’s place was called the Black Bear: a thoroughly taxidermied bear stood upright behind me, his claws raised and lips drawn back in a snarl. “Yahh!” the taller of the two men shouted, jumping back in surprise.
“Jesus!” the shorter one exclaimed disgustedly. “I told you there was a bear. You almost gave me a heart attack.”
I looked over my shoulder at the beast. “That’s Bob,” I introduced mildly. “He’s a bear, or used to be, anyway.”
“Well, it doesn’t exactly make for a friendly atmosphere,” the taller one complained.
“Right. You’re pointing guns, but we’re the unfriendly ones.”
He stiffened, going back to being a tough-guy robber. “Just do as we say and nobody gets hurt,” he scowled. His lips looked oddly wet and thick in his mask—pretty repulsive, if you want to know the truth.
“Empty the cash register,” the shorter guy commanded. I cocked my head—the voice sounded familiar, somehow.
Becky gave me a wild look and I shook my head at her. “Don’t worry, Becky; everything is going to be fine,” I reassured her. I could feel my temperature rising—I did not want my sister to be afraid, not of these two clowns. I stood up.
“Hey!” the taller guy protested, tensing. “I said not to move!”
“Yeah, but he said to empty the cash register,” I pointed out, nodding at the shorter robber.
“I did say that,” short guy admitted.
We regarded each other. I had a couple inches and a lot of pounds on the taller guy, and even with guns they were both squinting nervously at me through the holes in their wool caps, looking more than a little intimidated. I liked that about them.
“Becky, how much are our lucky killers going to make off with as a result of this crime spree?” I asked casually.
She swallowed. “Maybe ninety-five dollars. Plus some change,” she told me.
“So you masterminds are willing to risk going to prison for murder to collect less than fifty bucks apiece,” I observed. “Pretty smart.”
“Murder? We said no one was going to get hurt,” the shorter guy objected in a wounded tone.
“Unless you don’t do exactly as we say,” the taller guy insisted stubbornly.
“You don’t have more money in the safe or something?” shorter guy asked hopefully.
I smacked my forehead. “The safe! Becky,” I said to her, “we forgot about all the gold bullion in the safe!”
“Ruddy,” she replied worriedly. My campaign to keep her calm was not as effective as I would have liked. I wondered if it would help things if I punched a couple of ski masks in their disgustingly pink mouths. That would make me feel better, I knew.
“Could I put my wineglass down?” Stasia inquired tremulously from her table.
Both ruthless criminals turned in her direction and she visibly paled some more, turning nearly transparent.
“Yeah, whatever,” taller guy agreed.
“Can I drink from mine?” Cora asked.
“Fine. We didn’t mean you couldn’t, like, move a little. You can still breathe,” tall guy said.
Cora and Stasia gulped their glasses dry.
“You ladies like another round?” I suggested hopefully.
“God yes, please,” Cora blurted.
“It’s our first robbery,” Stasia explained apologetically. “We’re a little stressed.”
I raised my eyebrows at the men in the stocking caps. “Okay by you guys?”
“Sure. Just keep pouring drinks during a stickup. Maybe play the jukebox and serve birthday cake,” tall guy jeered.
I walked over to the bar.
“Hey! What the hell are you doing?” short guy demanded.
“He said I could serve drinks. You fellows care for a beer?” I reached out and snagged the bottle of pinot grigio.
They stared at me, their eyes dark and wet in their masks. The short one licked his lips, his tongue making a brief appearance. It was ten times as revolting as the lips alone. “What you got on tap?” he asked finally.
Copyright © 2014 Cameron Productions, Inc.