Thomas J. Robidoux
A chill wind raced along the riverbank on this bleak November evening. The old man turned his face away from the biting wind. He was a sedentary man who enjoyed the quiet pleasures of books and contemplation. The only thing that could separate him from the warm comfort of his home was the unbridled joy that his little dog displayed on his “river walk.”
The little dog’s nose rustled piles of autumn leaves as he excitedly pursued a myriad of scents. He stopped and stood with his slightly uplifted head turned to the wind. Silhouetted against the setting sun he looked like a miniature Irish setter with a flowing coat of rich rusty hair. The hair on his raised tail cascaded to the ground. He caught a scent or heard a noise that prompted him to race off toward a copse of oak trees. The old man quickened his pace and followed on the end of the long retractable leash.
The dog was racing toward the vague shadow of a man in a dark overcoat that reached his ankles. As they approached the almost invisible figure he held the dog back and announced, “He’s very friendly; he just wants to say hello.”
“That’s okay. I like dogs,” came the quiet reply from the stranger. He bent down to pet the excited dog whose tail was wagging as he closed his eyes in the pleasure of the stranger’s caresses.
“He will stay there all day if you keep petting him,” the old man said. It never occurred to him that this twenty-something man, standing in the twilight at the city’s river front park, might pose a threat. The stranger was affectionately petting his little dog and no further assurances were needed.
As the stranger smiled and stood up his hand slid inside the greatcoat toward the razor sharp knife sheathed in the small of his back. The commotion of three teenaged boys running by on the sidewalk twenty feet away stopped the hand’s progression.
“Well, I’d better get him moving again and see if I can get him to do his ‘business,’ if you know what I mean,” the old man chuckled as he walked away.
The stranger walked toward the parking lot that still held a smattering of cars and two pickup trucks hooked to the empty boat trailers of anglers that were still hoping to catch something in the gathering darkness. The sodium streetlights turned on and the stranger knew that once they warmed up it would be as bright as mid-day in the park. He needed money but would look for another, safer, opportunity. He was tired as he sat down at an empty picnic table to try and figure out what to do next. He was startled awake by the excited yips of the little dog.
“I guess he’s decided you’re his friend,” laughed the old man. “I’m sorry he keeps bothering you.”
“No problem. Like I said, I like dogs and he’s real cute,” he said in his friendliest tone. He could be exceptionally charming at times and although he didn’t really like the dog or the old man they weren’t arrogant or rude. They didn’t enrage him. He could imagine the look of disbelieving confusion on the old man’s face as the knife walked up his rotund torso. He would wonder why anyone would want to hurt him. It was far more satisfying to do the arrogant ones who snarl ‘why don’tcha get a job a**hole,’ when you hit on them for a couple of bucks. When you plunge the knife into them they think they know why you hurt them. They try to apologize for their rudeness as if you could stuff their entrails back inside. They beg and try to negotiate for lives that ended the moment the knife went in; although it might be hours before death gave them relief.
The stranger remembered an earlier time when his victim was a dog walker. He encountered a man walking his dog on a lonely road when he was working as an apple picker in the Midwest. This dog walker did enrage him. He let his big dog growl and snap at him at the end of the leash, taking pleasure in the stranger’s terror. As the stranger backed away from the snarling dog he fell on his back. The man let the dog stand over his prone figure with his teeth only inches from his face. The stranger plunged the knife into the dog’s heart. Then he disemboweled the dog. The dog walker was frozen in shocked fear and the stranger took his time enjoying the man’s whimpering panic. It cost him nearly a week’s pay; but moving on before the bodies were found was the safest way.
In this case he would have to do things differently. This little dog wasn’t dangerous but the fat old man looked like he once worked for a living and might still be strong, not that he would have that much trouble, he kept himself fit, but struggles could attract unwanted attention. He would do the old man first and probably the little dog wouldn’t do anything but whimper and cry. He snapped out of his reverie when the old man began saying good night.
“It’s getting late and we have to get along. You have a nice night,” the old man said.
“Can you give me a ride down to Main Street?” the stranger asked.
“Sure, I’m going that way,” answered the old man.
“Could you drop me at the adult video store? I gotta get me some money.”
“Oh, do you work there?”
“No, but it’s a good place to hustle a few bucks.”
“Really?” said the old man with a confused look on his face.
“Yeah, I need to get enough money to take a bus to Windsor to see my son and get something to eat. I haven’t eaten today.” It was a story that he used often.
The moribund Main Street was nearly deserted as the old man drove past the video store ignoring the stranger’s protests. He continued two blocks and pulled into a Wendy’s parking lot.
“Here, take this,” the old man said, thrusting a twenty dollar bill at him. “Get yourself something to eat and there should be enough for bus fare. It’s all the money I’ve got but you need it more than I do.”
As the stranger stared at the bill he noticed a police cruiser on the corner. He would pass on this one; besides this guy didn’t piss him off enough to make it fun and now the old man had no money. He shook the old man’s proffered hand and closed the car door.
The old man drove away feeling oddly satisfied. He turned to his dog and said, “Somehow it felt like the right thing to do. Don’tcha think?” He often talked to his dog as if he were his confidant. The little dog looked at him with luminous eyes. “I don’t think we’ll tell your mom about this one, little buddy. She gets too nervous. She doesn’t think we can take care of ourselves.”