And none of this was important. The dog was important. During Algebra, while ignoring Noah, I’d decided to call Animal Control and file a complaint against Abuser Douche. I took out my cell phone. Surely someone would be sent to follow up on my complaint, and see that the dog was on the brink of death. Then they’d get her out of there.
I dialed information, asking for the number of the city’s Animal Control office and scribbled it down on my hand. The phone rang three times before a female voice answered.
“This is Animal Control Officer Diaz, can I help you?”
“Yes, I am calling to complain about a neglected dog.”
It was impossible to sit still during the rest of the day, knowing that after school I had to check on the dog to make sure she was safe. I fidgeted in my chair in every class, earning me extra homework in Spanish.
When school ended, I flew down the slick stairs and almost broke my neck. The rain had stopped, for now, but it had infiltrated the covered walkways, making my progress treacherous. I was halfway to the parking lot when my cell phone rang; it wasn’t a number I recognized, and I needed to concentrate on my footing anyway. I ignored it and jogged in the direction of the dog’s house. But lights flashed ahead as I rounded the corner. My stomach flip-flopped. It could be a good sign. Maybe they arrested the guy. Still, I slowed to a walk as I approached, my fingers trailing the crumbling wall on the opposite side of the chain-link fence. I listened to the voices and the tinny sound of the police radio in front of me. As I neared the house, I saw a cruiser with the lights on and an unmarked car.
And an ambulance. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.
When I reached the yard, the front door of the house was open. People stood next to the cars by the quiet ambulance. My eyes scanned the property, looking for the dog, but as they reached the lumber pile, my blood froze.
You couldn’t see his mouth at all, with the teeming mass of flies bubbling over it and the side of the pulpy mess that had been the man’s scalp. The ground under his caved-in head was completely black, and the stain blossomed red at the edges of his dingy wife-beater.
The dog’s owner was dead. Exactly as I had imagined it.
THE TREES, SIDEWALK, AND THE FLASHING lights spun around me as I felt it: the first unmistakable snarl in the delicate fabric of my sanity.
I laughed. I was that crazy.
Then I threw up.
Large hands grabbed my shoulders. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman in a suit and a man in a dark uniform approach, but they were out of focus. Whose hands were on me?
“Great, just great. Get her out of here, Gadsen!” the female voice said. She sounded so far away.
“Shut it, Foley. You could have set up a perimeter just as easily,” said the man’s voice from behind me. He spun me around as I wiped my mouth. He was also in a suit. “What’s your name?” he asked, with authority.
“M-Mara,” I stammered. I could barely hear myself.
“Can you bring the EMTs over here?” he shouted. “She might be in shock.”
I snapped to attention. No paramedics. No hospitals.
“I’m fine,” I said, and willed the trees to stop dancing. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself. Was this even happening? “I’ve just never seen a dead body before.” I said it before I even realized it was true. I hadn’t seen Rachel, Claire, and Jude at their funerals. There wasn’t enough of them left to see.
“Just to take a look,” the man said. “While I ask you some questions, if that’s all right.” He signaled to the EMT.
I knew it wasn’t a fight I could win. “Okay,” I said. I closed my eyes but still saw the blood. And the flies.
But where was the dog?
I opened my eyes and looked for her, but didn’t see her anywhere.
The EMT approached me and I tried to focus on not appearing insane. I breathed slowly and evenly as he flashed his penlight in both of my eyes. He looked me over, but just as he seemed to be wrapping it up, I overheard the female detective speak.
“Where the hell is Diaz?”
“She said she’ll be here soon.” The voice belonged to the man who’d been talking to me a minute ago.
“You want to go and tie up that dog better?”
“I didn’t want to touch it,” the woman said. “I could see the fleas crawling in its fur.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Miami’s finest.”
“Go to hell, Gadsen.”
“Calm down. The dog’s not going anywhere. It can barely walk, let alone run away. Not that it matters. It’s a pit bull, they’re just going to euthanize it.”
“There’s no way that dog did it. The guy tripped and cracked his skull open on the stake by the lumber pile—see? Don’t even need to wait for the techs to tell us that.”
“I didn’t say the dog did it. I just said they’re going to euthanize it anyway.”
“Least it’ll be put out of its misery.”
After everything she’d been through, the dog was going to be put to sleep. Killed.
Because of me.
I felt sick again. My hand trembled as the EMT took my pulse.
“How are you feeling now?” he asked in a quiet voice. His eyes were kind.
“Fine,” I lied. “Really. I’m all right now.” I hoped that saying it would be enough to convince him that it was actually true.
“Then we’re all done. Detective Gadsen?” The male detective and the suited woman made their way over to us, and the man, Detective Gadsen, thanked the EMT as he headed back to the ambulance. Other people milled about around it, some in uniform and some not, and a truck had pulled up, with the words MEDICAL EXAMINER stenciled on the back. A slimy fear coated my tongue.
“Mara, is it?” Detective Gadsen asked me as his partner took out her notepad. I nodded. “What’s your last name?”
“Dyer,” I answered. His partner wrote it down. The armpits of her tan suit were darkened with sweat. So were his. But for the first time in Miami, I wasn’t hot. I shivered.
“What brought you here this afternoon, Mara?” he asked.
“Um.” I swallowed. “I was the one who called in the complaint about the dog.” No point lying about that. I left my name and phone number with the Animal Control office.
His eyes didn’t waver from my face, but I noticed a change in his expression. He waited for me to continue.