By Nick Cook


Chapter 1



I was driving along a long stretch of shitty potholed road that ran parallel to a long stretch of shitty swampland, when they stopped me.  Next to me, tucked into the passenger seat, was my dead dog, Gator. I had just picked him up at the local dog sawbones, where I’d had to have him put down. They’d sent his remains off to be cremated and I now had the one thing in my life that had ever loved me unconditionally sitting in a fucking plastic container next to me. Attached to the container was this silly ass Over the Rainbow Bridge poem bullshit that some vet’s flower child, lost generation receptionist had no doubt wracked her brain to come up with. Yeah, yeah, I get it. The poem is supposed to help you get over the loss of your pet, but I’m here to tell you: it don’t. Especially when that said pet happens to be your best and only friend. Gator would have died for me, as I would have for him. But he didn’t die for me. He died because of a shitty gene that had left him with an inoperable, incurable neurological disorder that had slowly destroyed him week by week. I’d been sitting in the four room trailer we owned, watching him die a little bit every day for almost a year. When he was unable to walk on his own, and I couldn’t conscience holding him up to shit and piss any more, I had him put to sleep. One shot to calm him down, and then the last shot to end it all. For him, at least.

It had only been a week.

So I wasn’t exactly in a good mood when Kitty McGee and his redneck cronies decided to run me off the road so they could kick my ass for me.

Kitty had a grievance. And some would say a legitimate one, at that. See, I’d been the one to have Kitty hauled to jail six months before for beating his step kid near to death. I’d witnessed it at the 7-Eleven one night while buying some beer. The skinny half-starved little boy was getting a sound trouncing from his old man, Kitty, when I pulled up. Back then Gator had been sitting next to me, alive, not in a plastic container, and he’d gone crazy seeing that little kid trying to outrun his old man’s bloody horny knuckled fists and steel toe booted kicks.

In the store, about half a dozen jugheads were watching the action, some of them looking mortified, some of them actually grinning at it, maybe remembering the good old days when their daddies had busted them up good for an audience somewhere, but not a one of them was doing anything to stop old Kitty from beating that kid.

Gator’s growls went from low and pissed off to rage-filled and full hot spraying saliva and righteous indignation. He wanted to chew Kitty’s ass off.

I remember thinking: should I let Gator out to take care of it, or should I wade in there and do him?

What decided me was the fact I know the slobby drunken motherfucker always carries a nasty six-inch long army knife inside his right boot. I wasn’t about to take any chances with Gator getting those inches of death shoved into him. Unlike a human, he wouldn’t have given shit one whether the knife would kill him or not. I knew he would go for the throat and not let up until Kitty was shaken to death like a chattering squirrel. I wasn’t going to have no one say he deserved to use a knife on my dog.

Instead, to make a long story short, I got out and kicked Kitty’s ass from one side of the sidewalk to the other, making sure to knock a couple of his remaining teeth out of his mouth in the process. The whole time, the whole five or six minutes I beat him down, the kid never moved. By the time I was done with Kitty, someone had finally called a fucking ambulance. They showed up, screaming wailing sirens and all, and had taken the kid away. I dragged Kitty to the sheriff’s station and dumped his sorry ass out on the spit-covered concrete outside the jail and hollered for the sheriff to come get him.

No one had arrested me later for assault, so I figured some witnesses must have come forward and either told what happened or lied through their teeth to say Kitty had pulled a weapon on me and got what he deserved. In any case, Kitty did a stretch in the county pen. And the kid, when I saw him last month, had a permanent limp in his left leg, courtesy of his old man.

And now Kitty was out, so it seemed, and he was looking to even the score for what I’d done to him.

Kitty and two or three others were yipping and larking it up like frat boys as they brought the clunky old bond-o red truck around in a half circle in the middle of the road to try and block me. I didn’t bother trying to outrun the assholes. Nope. I sure wasn’t in the mood for such a maneuver. Instead I brought my ’Cuda to a halt in a spray of macadam and dirt, put her in gear, and set the brakes.

Then I was out of the car before half of the nitwits in the truck could unfold themselves from each other. They had baseball bats, pig knockers, and Kitty, of course, had that nasty six-inch knife. It glistened like a saber tooth nightmare in the dying sunlight.

I glanced down the road both ways and saw not a soul.

Well, well, either Kitty was one lucky son of a bitch or I was.

The first tubby fuck came hauling ass for me, baseball bat in the air over his head, ready to come smashing down against my unprotected head. I let him swing, ducked under, and side kicked his right knee, just where the ACL holds everything together. It was a pretty hard kick. I heard the socket pop out and he went to the ground like a sack of refried shit, face all white and mouth open wide in a soundless scream. The pain would hit him in a few seconds, then he’d let loose with some noise.

But I didn’t wait to enjoy the show; I had other business.

Redneck number two had wide brown eyes, the color of the junk that collects between the bottom of your toilet and tile if you don’t keep it scrubbed clean. He hefted a sharpened punji-stick, with gray duct tape round one end for a grip. I felt the sharp end whiz by my chest and a sudden sharp sting that said he had made contact. I looked down to see he’d sliced through my t-shirt to the skin beneath, leaving an angry red gash in my flesh. Blood was already seeping from it.

On the backswing, I stepped in, arms above my head in a V to block the counter swing. I sent my head forward between that V and used my forehead to break his nose. Hot blood spurted into the twilight air.

“Goddamn it!” yelled a slightly perturbed Kitty, looking from me to his fallen cronies. “Cain’t you stupid sonsabitches do anything right? He’s just one guy.”

Asshole number three smiled and nodded as if Kitty’s words were pure gold philosophy. Just one guy. Nothing to it. He was swinging what my daddy used to refer to as a pig knocker: a sawed off two by four, with various nails hammered through it so the sharp ends stick out at one end. He was damn near creaming himself at the thought of sticking me with them nails of his. He was one eager beaver, he was.

So I waited for him to swing it, moved slightly inside, and smashed the middle of the wood with my left forearm. The lumber broke. It hurt like a son of a bitch, and I knew I’d carry a bruise there for about two weeks, but it did what it was supposed to do-- disarm him. The nail end had gone flying off into the road behind me. Now asshole three had just a broken piece of two by four as a weapon. He was gawking at it like I’d just done some strange magic. I clobbered him with a right hand haymaker, square on the chin. His head snapped back like he’d been shot; his eyes rolled to the back of his head, and he collapsed to the muddy median with a solid ‘whump’. The jagged half a board he still held in his hand rolled away.

I turned to Kitty, who was sort of shifting from foot to foot with that knife of his held before his face in a shaky grip. His eyes looked like two coffee cup saucers in his jittery pock marked face.

I dropped my hands by my side and kind of stood sidewise to him and waited for a moment or two. “It’s your move, Kitty,” I said, not feeling elated, not even particularly pissed off. The scary thing was that I felt nothing. Just tired. I just wanted to go home, put my dead dog on the shelf so I could see him and talk to him sometimes, and be done with this ridiculous engagement. I wanted a cold beer, some Lynyrd Skynyrd on the record player, and some sleep.

Kitty gulped so hard I could see his Adam’s apple bob up and down like a meal in a snake. “You ain’t nothin’ but a son of a bitch, you know that?” he managed to croak out. “And I’m gonna get you one day here real soon, you motherfucker. I’m a slice you up like a pig. You hear me? You hear!?” While he was talking billy-bad-ass, his feet were already dragging him towards his still running truck.

I stepped towards him, hands held out. “I ain’t going nowhere, you rotten little cunt. You ever get to where you want to fight a man instead of a little kid, you know where I live. I see you around there, hell, for that matter, anywhere, within a hundred feet of me, I’m gonna take that pig sticker of yours and shove it up your skinny ass.”

Meanwhile Kitty was scooting his butt into the truck seat, while trying to hold that useless knife out before him as protection against an unarmed man. I wanted to run over and beat the living snot out of him again, but figured he’d gun that truck on out of there before I could get within ten feet of him. I wasn’t aiming to get rundown today, or cause him to rundown his own fallen compadres—no matter how much they might deserve it for hanging around a genetic mishap like Kitty.

With one last frightened glance at me, Kitty hit the gas. He took off, leaving his moaning, unconscious and bleeding friends to fend for themselves.

I walked on over to the one whose nose I’d broken and gave him a soft kick to the ribs to get his attention. When he saw me standing over him, he cringed. The sun was sitting over my right shoulder, so at that moment I probably looked like some shadow ghost of vengeance come to settle the final score. He put his hands over his head. I could hear his hearty sobs muffled from under his dirty shirt sleeves. “Y’all want me to call a taxi or something?” I waited a few seconds, but no one answered. Broken Nose just kept weeping and bleeding, his head in the dirt. I saw a line of ants climbing his shoulder. “He done left y’all here. You know that, right?”

Nothing again. More sobbing. Some more ants joined the dirty shirt conga line. What they were looking to find on this piece of shit, who knew? Maybe they’d go in and have an epic battle with his head lice for control of his soiled neck nape and receding hairline.

Now I felt sorry for the beaten assholes, of course, because I knew Kitty sure as hell didn’t tell them what they were getting into before he dragged their half drunk asses out here to do me some damage. They probably had no idea what I was, what I could do, who I was, even.

I tried one more time to communicate with these fallen rednecks, but I finally gave up. After a few minutes of bleeding and sobbing I went back to my car and drove away.

“Gator,” I said to the plastic container next to me, “some people are born assholes.” I could imagine that little chuff of agreement he’d always given when he knew what I was saying was the God’s honest truth.

Damn it, I missed him.