I cleared my throat. “I just wanted to stop by after school and see if Animal Control had picked her up.”
At that, he nodded. “Did you see anyone else when you were here this morning?”
I shook my head.
“Where do you go to school?” he asked.
The female detective wrote that down too. I hated when she did that.
He asked me a few more questions, but I couldn’t keep my eyes from searching for the dog. The body must have been moved while I was being examined, because it was now gone. A metallic door slammed shut, and I jumped. I hadn’t noticed that Detective Gadsen had stopped speaking. He was waiting for me to say something.
“Sorry,” I said, as a few fat raindrops pelted the metal and tin scraps like bullets. It was going to pour again, and soon. “I didn’t hear you.”
Detective Gadsen studied my face. “I said my partner will walk you back to campus.” The female detective looked like she wanted to go inside the house.
“I’m really fine.” I smiled, demonstrating just how fine I was. “It’s not far at all. But thank you anyway,” I said.
“I’d be much more comfortable if—”
“She said she’s fine, Vince. Come and take a look at this, will you?”
Detective Gadsen eyed me carefully. “Thanks for calling it in.”
I shrugged. “I had to do something.”
“Of course. If you remember anything else,” the detective said handing me his business card, “call me anytime.”
“I will. Thank you.” I walked away, but when I turned the corner, I leaned against the cool stucco wall and listened.
One pair of footsteps crunched on gravel, soon accompanied by a second. The detectives talked to each other, and a third voice joined them, one I didn’t remember hearing. Someone must have been in the house before I got there.
“Best guess, he died about seven hours ago.”
“So around nine a.m., then?”
Nine. Just a few minutes after I’d left him. I couldn’t swallow, my throat was so dry.
“That’s my guesstimate. The heat and the rain don’t help. You know how it is.”
“I know how it is.”
I heard something then about temp and lividity and tripping and trajectories over the loud rush of blood pounding in my ears. When the footsteps and voices faded away, I chanced a peek around the wall.
They were gone. Inside the house, possibly? And from this angle, I could see the dog. She was tied loosely to a tire at the far end of the yard, her fur blending in with the dirt. The rain now fell steadily, but she didn’t even flinch.
I ran to her without thinking. My cotton T-shirt was quickly soaked through. I dodged garbage and car parts, stepping as gingerly as I could, grateful for the rain that masked the sound of my steps. But if anyone in the house was paying attention, I’d probably be heard. And I’d definitely be seen. When I reached the dog, the sky opened vengefully as I knelt and untied her lead from the tire. I tugged on it lightly. “Come,” I whispered by her ear.
The dog didn’t move. Maybe she couldn’t. Her neck was raw and seeping where they cut away the heavy collar and I didn’t want to pull on it. But then the voices grew louder as they approached us. We had no time.
I snaked one arm under the dog’s ribs and lifted her into a standing position. She was weak, but stayed up. I whispered to her again and pushed gently on her rump to urge her forward. She took a step, but went no farther. My cells buzzed with panic.
So I lifted her into my arms. She wasn’t as heavy as she should have been, but she was still heavy. I lurched forward, taking huge strides until we were out of the yard. Sweat and rain slicked my hair to my forehead and my neck. I was panting by the time we rounded the block. My knees shook as I set her down.
I wasn’t sure I could carry her all the way back to Daniel’s car. And what would I do then? I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but now the enormity of the situation I’d stepped in hit me. The dog needed a vet. I had no money. My parents weren’t animal people. I’d stolen something from a crime scene.
A crime scene. An image of the bright watermelon insides of the man’s skull spilling over into the dirt appeared again in my mind. He was definitely dead. Only hours after I wished it. Exactly the way I wished it.
A coincidence. Had to be.
Had to be.
The dog whined, snapping me back to reality. I reached down to pet her and took a tentative step forward, careful not to let the leash rub against her neck. It looked so painful.
I urged her forward and reached into my pocket for my cell phone. I had one new voice message. From my mother, at her new office. I couldn’t call her back yet; I needed to get the dog to an animal hospital. I’d call 411 to find a vet close by. Then I’d figure out how to break the news to my parents that—surprise!—we have a dog. They had to take pity on their screwed-up daughter and her pathetic companion. I was not above milking my tragedy for a higher purpose.
The rain stopped again as suddenly as it had started, leaving only a fine mist in its wake. And as we turned the corner before the parking lot, I noticed the particular lope of a particular boy as he headed in my direction. He raked those fingers through his rain-drenched hair and fiddled with something in his shirt pocket. I tried to duck behind the nearest parked car to avoid him, but the dog barked at that exact second. Busted.
“Mara,” he said as he approached us. He inclined his head and the shadow of a smile made his eyes crinkle at the corners.
“Noah,” I replied, in the flattest voice I could muster. I kept walking.
“You going to introduce me to your friend?” His clear gaze settled on the dog. His jaw tightened as he took in the details—her knobby spine, her patchy fur, her scars—and for a second he looked coldly, quietly furious. But then it was replaced by a careful blankness.
I tried to appear casual, like I always went on my afternoon constitutional in the rain, accompanied by an emaciated animal. “I’m otherwise occupied, Noah.” Nothing to see here.
“Where are you going?”
There was an edge to his voice that I didn’t like. “My God, you’re like the plague.”
“A masterfully crafted, powerfully understated, and epic parable of timeless moral resonance? Why, thank you. That’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me,” he said.
“The disease, Noah. Not the book.”
“I’m ignoring that qualification.”