A Short Story by Charles Alverson

The day that Bob Rambeau shot Dog was the worst day of Henry Thurman's life. There'd been several rabies scares that hot summer, and a child had actually been bitten, so people had rabies on their mind. So when big, dumb Dog came wandering down the street looking as hot as the rest of us, nobody got very excited when Bob shot him and claimed that he saw Dog foaming at the mouth and thought he might have rabies. He'd scared a woman, Bob said, but the woman never came forward. Later, when slightly drunk Bob told a girlfriend that he'd just felt like shooting something that day, but she didn't tell anyone. She left town soon after.

It was surprising that not even Henry complained, but just gathered Dog up, a big armload of blood and fur, carried him on down to the old Henderson mill on the river and dug a deep grave. He scratched the name 'Dog' on a big old slate from the mill and stuck it in the earth over the grave. But he never said much about it. If you asked Henry, he'd tell you that he missed Dog a lot, but he never brought up the subject. And he didn't get another dog either.

About the only person, besides Henry, who took Dog's untimely death seriously was Chief Parker. He hadn't wanted Bob as a policeman, anyway, but when your father and uncle are the two richest and most politically powerful men in town-as Bob's were-you usually got what you wanted. He liked the uniform and the big .38 on his hip. Bob's hell-raising as a boy had been a bit more active than some others' his age, but not much of it got on his record, so the Chief couldn't object along those lines. The chief couldn't quite fire Bob for shooting Dog, but the next day he called Bob into his office and just let him stand in front of his office for a long time. It might have been ten minutes, and Bob was getting pretty nervous. Finally, the Chief looked up at Bob and said: 'You made a bad mistake. Now get out.'

Bob got out. He was pretty sore about that, but he realized that even his father and Uncle Robert-his two biggest fans; hell, his only fans-couldn't make much of that. Chief Parker was too good a Chief to throw out over something like that. But that was all that happened to Bob. In fact, for couple of days he was sort of a hero. The weekly shopper ran his picture over the headline:

Local Policeman Shoots Suspected Rabies Dog

But, within a week or so, everybody had forgotten about it. Except Henry. Every once in a while he would go out to Dog's grave and leave a little bunch of grapes on it. Dog was a grape-eating fool. He could catch them in the air as fast and as hard as you could throw them. Just swallow them up. If baseballs were grapes, he'd have made one great third baseman. Even the Petersen twins didn't dare take those grapes. They just stayed there until they withered away, and then Henry would replace them.

Given the situation, some people were surprised when Henry and Bob became friends. It was a couple of years after Bob shot Dog, and he'd more or less forgotten about it. Not really, but it wasn't something that haunted him. Nothing haunted Bob but the girls he couldn't lay. Now, that really bothered him. Anyway, they were both at Doc's pool hall--one of the few places to hang out in this dead town-and Bob wanted a game. Nobody worth noticing was around, so Henry said: 'I'll play you.' Bob was going to turn him down, but he really wanted a game. And what Bob wanted, he wanted bad. Now.

So, they started playing, and damn me if Henry and Bob weren't a perfect match. They had a ding-dong best-of-five series that Bob only won 3-2, and winning that first time made him even more inclined to like Henry. After that, they played regular. Sometimes Bob would win and sometimes Henry. There wasn't that much between them. And, say, at doubles there wasn't anybody in the five towns area who could get close to them.

Bob even took to taking Henry home for dinner maybe once a week. Henry wasn't married, but last June Bob married Shirleen Hudson in the biggest wedding this town had seen in years and years. Shirleen had been a cheerleader at the high school, prom queen and about the brightest spark in town. I believe she was a second cousin of Chief Parker's, but he didn't go to the wedding. The Rambeau brothers took that considerably amiss, but the Chief didn't seem to mind.

Since she married Bob, Shirleen had quieted down considerable, and she seemed a bit accident prone. You didn't see her often, but when you did, she'd have a black eye or some new bruises. Shirleen wasn't married a month before she broke her arm. Falling off the porch, she said. Henry was about the only local man Bob would let anywhere near her.

On the weekends, Bob liked to go shooting that .38 of his at the old quarry, way out off Gilbert Road. Said he had to keep his eye in just in case there was a bank robbery or something. Henry didn't shoot or even like guns, but he let Bob talk him into going along some Saturdays, just to keep him company. Bob would blaze away at tin cans and bottles, and Henry would sit, leaning against a tree, and read. Somehow it made Bob feel more comfortable just to know that Henry was there. He tried to get Henry to take a turn with the .38, but Henry wouldn't do it. That's how accidents happen, he'd say.

One Saturday afternoon, after Bob had burnt up his supply of ammunition, they were walking back to Bob's car past one of the pools that had formed during the heavy rains of the week before. The pool was in a deep, steep-sided gravel pit, and they walked pretty close. Somehow-nobody could figure exactly how it happened-Bob, who was walking next to the pool, missed his footing and slid right down into water that must have been ten, twelve feet deep and freezing cold. About the only other thing that Bob and Henry had in common, besides pool, was that neither could swim.

Of course, Bob set up a hollering for Henry to get him out of there. But every time Henry got close to the edge, a rain of pebbles and small stones cascaded almost vertically down on Bob's head, so he shouted for him to stay away from the edge and quick get some help.

'I'm going, Bob,' Henry said. 'But first, I'd like to ask you one thing.'

'What the hell is that?' shouted Bob, beginning to get really cold and worried. 'Hurry up!'

'Do you remember Dog?' Henry asked.

If Bob had an answer, Henry didn't hear it because he'd set off to get help. Unfortunately, Henry didn't drive, so he had to run all the way to Gilbert Road, easily a mile or so, and wave somebody down. Finally someone stopped, and they drove like hell back to that gravel pit. But by then there was no sign of Bob. It took the fire department a couple of hours to find him. The awful thing is was that there was a long coil of rope in the trunk of Bob's car, but they found the keys at the bottom of the pool next to his body.

Nearly the whole town turned out for Bob's funeral. Like his wedding, it was one of the biggest the town had seen. Henry was there; so was Chief Parker. Shirleen was looking pretty good for a girl who had been married and widowed all before she was eighteen. Bob's father and uncle tried their damnedest to find someone to blame, but the coroner found it was an accident, pure and simple.

After the funeral, Henry went to Harrigan's grocery shop, and then walked on down to Henderson's mill. He laid the small bunch of grapes on Dog's grave as usual and was just turning away when Henry saw Chief Parker heading that way with a paper bag in his hand. The Chief knelt down and added another bunch of grapes to the grave and then got up, dusting his knees.

'Old Dog was a good one,' he told Henry. 'It's right to remember him.'

People were a bit surprised when, after six months or so, Henry started seeing Shirleen, just to go to the pictures or something. But some of us, we think it's only natural, them having so much in common. And Shirleen is recovering from her bereavement right well. She almost looks like she did last spring. And she bought a mongrel puppy from the Dog Pound. I think somebody said she calls it Dog.

2000 Charles Alverson

Author: Charles Alverson chas@eunet.yu Agent: Lora Fountain