The Big Empty by Mark Slade

The Big Empty

by Mark Slade

In a seedy strip club on the outskirts of a quiet Virginia town, Dog, a hardened security worker, is pulled into a deadly confrontation when a mysterious man with a rose tattoo on his face turns a night of debauchery into a nightmare.

The L.T.D. blazed through the darkness and the sparks from the flames of hell set the world on fire. Travis. “Dog” Doggerel never flinched, not even one muscle.

“You’re lying,” Dog told Kel.

She turned to him, wiped forced tears from her cheeks. “No, Dog, I’m not. I swear to you,” She faked some sobs. “You have to believe me.”

“I don’t have to do shit,” he said, kept his eyes on the white lines dividing the black road that lead into darkness.

Dog was driving Kel to the wastelands. They left behind a bloodied corpse of a man wearing spurs on his boots and a rose tattoo on the left side of his face.

He was not a big man, only five seven, but the haunted look in Dog’s dark eyes and studs in his forehead, chipped black teeth, close cropped hair dyed light blue/orange styled like a rooster’s comb, was enough to cause even the toughest customers to stutter before acting on ill intentions.

Dog was coming down off of a high and he was not in the mood to hear Kel cry. It was Dog’s job to protect the dancers at the Lizard lounge, a seedy strip club on Route 17, located on Crackhead corner of Yancy-Hull in a mostly sleepy town of Grundy of southwest Virginia. He wasn’t a bouncer but security overall and normally was off doing other jobs for Kirschner. That night he was filling in for Joe, who had called out, saying he had a family matter to attend to. That was unusual. Joe was normally dependable, was never even late during shift changes and one of the best bouncers Dog had ever known. Not only that no one knew Joe had any family, at least he never spoke of any.

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It had been a quiet night save for the normal one or two drunks he tossed out for touching the dancers. Near closing time, a tall man with dark, slicked back hair, a rose tattoo on his face and spurs on his boots, pushed past Ida the bartender. What the hell? Dog thought. Who gets a rose tattoo on their face? Wouldn’t you want Tiger claws or Bengal stripes like Mike Tyson if you wanted everyone to know you were a badass?

 Dog wanted to close up a half hour early and felt it was a slight to the customer, so he gave the okay to let the man inside. The man then sweet talked Kel into a lap dance, even though the club closed the rooms an hour before closing. Again, Dog gave the okay, thinking of going to his office smoking a bowl to take the edge off. The man went to the back room with a hesitant Kel.

For about ten minutes it was quiet. Like the calm before a big storm. Yeah. A shit storm, Dog later thought. He heard Kel scream.

The man tried to slice her up with a straight razor. Dog heard Kel scream just as Dog began to blaze. He dropped his pipe and ran to room #2. The man had sliced Kel on the hand. The fucker would have cut Kel’s face if Dog hadn’t kicked him between the shoulders. The man dropped the floor, but managed to hold on to the switch blade. What the man didn’t expect was Dog reach into his back pocket and retrieve a Bagh Nkh. The weapon is easily small enough to be concealed in the palm of one’s hand—a set of razors in the fist that slice through flesh and muscle with scalpel-grade precision, putting close combatants down with heavy petting.

It was a weapon Dog stole from his Sensei when he studied Lathi Khela, a sort of stick fighting originated in Bangladesh. That was when he was seventeen, had a blonde crew cut and excelled in school.

The man laughed when he saw the weapon. He showed his flair for switchblade acrobats, whipping the air around him. Dog wasn’t impressed.

Kel wouldn’t stop screaming.

The man came at Dog, sliced air and Dog sideswiped the man with a kick the shins. The man stumbled, caught himself. He laughed again, explained to Dog that “Sissy martial arts fag stuff don’t work in the real world.”

The man charged once more, and Dog let him pass by. The man did turn around shifted the switchblade to right, barely missing Dog. Dog landed a blow to the man’s chest. He was jarred. Felt like a sledgehammer had slammed into him. He heard a rib, maybe two ribs crack. All breath exited the man audibly.

 Dog dropped a right cross, the blades opened the man’s chest up and blood spurted everywhere. Then Dog came back the opposite way, slicing the man’s jugular. The man fell flat on his face without uttering his last dying words, just letting a quiet swan song pass his lips.

Yeah. There was so much blood.

And Kel wouldn’t stop screaming.

The man fell to the floor, recovered the switchblade and came after Dog who in turn bent the man’s arm back and the man dropped the switchblade. Dog turned him around and proceeded to use the Bagh Nkh to make him a human accordion.

He called his adopted cousin Walter to help clean up blood, wrap the man in the multi-colored rug from the foyer that was in the lounge. Tina, a tall, almost manly red haired dancer, bandaged Kel’s hand. Kel took, what seemed like, hours to change into a flowery tank top and cut-off jean shorts.

Now Dog was driving Kel to Rosie’s ranch with a dead man in the trunk of his ‘77 L.T.D.

story break

They let themselves into Joe’s apartment on 7th street. The building was a two story duplex that was in need of some serious love and care. The shingles were nearly stood up every time a strong wind blew and the yellow paint had morphed into a dingy tartar stain. The lock on the door was just about shredded so Walter didn’t have to pick the lock, exactly; he sort of gently popped the lock with a long skinny screwdriver. Besides working on cars, that was really Walter’s special talent.

Walter stepped aside and let Dog go in first just in case danger had been lurking around the corner. Dog saw right off the bat the place was a mess, and a foul pungent smell overcame his senses. That smell was very obviously death.

story break

 “Stop that,” Dog told her.

Kel leaned in the passenger door and buried her face in the window. Her sobs were persistent. She worked hard at keeping them barely audible.

“You knew that guy,” Dog said. Kel didn’t answer. So he raised his voice, punctuated with authority. “You knew him, didn’t you?!”

She shook her head.

“You’re lying,” Dog said.

“I don’t know him,” Kel said. “I swear to you, Dog.”

The look in her eyes when she saw the man said different. Like she was afraid of him.

Dog was never sure about Kel. He wasn’t at the club when she was hired. He was doing another court ordered stint in rehab. So Murray did the hiring on his own and that was always a mistake. Murray was the manager of the club and almost always engaged in a sexual relationship with the dancers. After seven of the dancers ended up with transgressions that brought the unwanted attention from the media and police, Dog or Julie, the assistant manager, sat in on the interviews. This proved to be a winning strategy, at least in Kirchner’s eyes. The week Kel was hired, Julie was in Jamaica with her girlfriend.

“You do believe me, don’t you?” She tried to be seductive but came out as cold as frozen fish. She placed a hand on Dog’s knee. He jerked away quickly.

Dog didn’t like being touched. By anyone. Yeah, God’s little joke. The man worked in a strip club filled with women who more than willing to have sex with anyone for any reason if it benefited them. Since Dog smoked tar and had connections to drugs and money, the girls always threw themselves at him. Yet, he hated to be touched.

“No,” he said. “I don’t fuckin’ believe you. Just like I didn’t believe you when you said you didn’t steal Karrie’s tip money.”

“So what,” Kel said coldly. “Murray believed me. That’s all that matters.”

“Murray believed you. That’s why we’re in the trouble we’re in.”

Yeah. Murray is a fucking clown, Dog thought.

“We’re not talking about Murray,” Dog said.

“And we’re not talking about Karrie’s tip money either!” Kel shouted.

Dog brought his hand up and swung it swiftly. The open palm struck Kel across her bottom lip. The ring on Dog’s index finger cut her lip and blood trickled down her chin.

Dog was immediately sorry. He slapped the steering wheel with a hand. He glared at Kel. Eyes pleading for forgiveness.

“I’m sorry,” Dog said.

Kel laughed. It was a harsh laugh.

“That ain’t shit,” she said. “I’ve had worse.”

He nodded.

“I’m not supposed to do that,” Dog sighed. “My job is to protect—” he stopped there. Best not to let it linger or the anger would come back. “I’m sorry.”

story break

Walter vomited on the spot just like he did when he saw the man Dog killed at the Lizard Lounge. Luckily he made it to the toilet. After several minutes of retching, Walter dumped a bottle of bleach in and around the commode.

“Is that Joe?” Walter asked, returning to the bedroom.

A bald man in his fifties laid face down, the back of his head blown off. Blood and brain matter stained the back of his blue polo shirt. Not to mention the hardwood floor underneath him.

“Yeah,” Dog said. He was standing over a desk reading some typed papers that had been scattered about. “Looks like Joe wasn’t really a bouncer.”

“Oh yeah? Hey! He wasn’t a spy was he?”

Dog glanced at Walter. “Well, yeah, Walter. He was.”

“No shit! CIA?”

“Nope,” Dog took an ink pen from the desk and fed it through a nylon string connected to a laminated picture I.D. of Joe stating he was Franklin Sojourn, journalist for the Richmond Times.

“Oh,” Walter said, disappointed. “He was just a damn reporter.”

Dog sniffed the air. “You smell that?”

Walter wound his face up like he’d been eating a grapefruit. “Don’t do that,” he cupped his nose and mouth in a hand. “I might barf again. All I smell is dead body B.O.”

“Not that, dick head,” Dog fired back. “There’s a faint smell of… Honeysuckle?”

story break

They rode in silence. Silence was good. He could collect his thoughts better that way. Calm down, and not let his emotions get the best of him.

“Back at the Lizard Lounge,” Dog said. “That fucker was going to slice you into tiny pieces if I hadn’t stepped in and saved your ass.”

Kel didn’t say anything. She just kept wiping the blood from her lower lip. Dog reached across her bare legs and popped the glove compartment. He took out some paper napkins that came with his Big Meal from Lundy’s fast food joint, and handed them to Kel.

“Put that on your lip,” he told her.

“Thanks,” she said dryly.

Those napkins probably would have tasted better than the cheeseburgers Dog had. At least the Vanilla milkshake was good. He realized a long time ago as a teenager that denying yourself certain vices could lead to mental disabilities, and Dog had plenty of them.

He took a cigarette from the pack on the console, placed it in his mouth and lighted it as he said, “Tell me how you know the man with the rose tattoo on his face.”

“I told you before, I don’t know him, I have never seen him before.”

Dog blew smoke toward her.

“You want to know how I know you’re lying.”

“How do you know I’m lying?” Kel said sarcastically.

“When he came in the Lizard Lounge. You two exchanged glances. His was a satisfied glance. Yours was uncomfortable. Scared.”

“I’m not afraid of any man,” she said.

“You were afraid of him.”

“None of what you said proves I’m lying.”

“Kel,” Dog chuckled, smoked his cigarette down to the filter and tossed it out the window. “Your ego is going to get the best of you, honey. You’re not so fuckin’ tough that a razor blade couldn’t open you up.”

Dog touched her bandaged hand. She jerked away. Top lip twisted, eyes screwed down, nostril flared. Kel began to stew, but kept a tight lip about the man with the rose tattoo.

Suddenly, Dog’s cell phone vibrated. Kirchner had called. Several times. Julie called. Murray texted. Somewhere along this long stretch of highway, Dog had come across a cell phone tower. He didn’t have any connection to the towers. He thought it was odd no one called him back about the incident. He’d been to the wasteland several times the past month and never had that sort of trouble.

He decided not to text Murray, but he did call Julie and Kirchner. Julie was first.

“Dog, what happened?” Julie said, answering on the first ring.

Dog sighed deeply and made a strange gurgling sound in his throat.

“Some guy tried to cut Kel. So I cut him.”

Dog told Julie what the guy looked like, about the rose tattoo on his face.

“That’s weird,” she said. “Why not get a tiger claw or something like that?”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Dog said.

“How’s Kel?” There was a lot of concern in Julie’s voice.

She and Kel had a thing briefly. Very briefly. As it seems Kel went through most of the dancers, either as one night stands, or as one week romances. Her and Julie’s lasted a month. Then Kel moved on to Murray. As far as Dog knew, and he didn’t normally engage in bar gossip, Kel and Murray were on and off, depending on Murray’s wife. She never made it to the top, which was Kirchner, because he didn’t say shit to anyone in the club but Murray, Julie, and Dog.

Julie had this thing about her. Very outgoing. What they call a people person. Something Dog is not and never wanted to be. She was the only person besides Rosie that he didn’t mind touching him. She felt like a big sister. Julie also had the nicest smell. Some of the girls had awful smells. Mostly the Crack or Spice they smoked before coming to work. Maybe the Skunk Weed they inhaled on a regular basis. Some of them were just stinky skanks who thought musk (if that’s what you call it) was a wonderful additive to a not so wonderful personality and so-so looks. Julie, she was nice, an ordinary, pretty woman with sandy blonde hair and large rimmed glasses. She always wore slacks and a button up shirt—with the first three buttons unbuttoned. She drove a powder blue Volvo and wore a fragrance that was a mixture of honey-suckle and Jasmine.

“She’s okay,” Dog said, glancing at Kel. She had decided to curl up against the window and doze. “A little shaken, but okay. I’m taking her to Rosie to hide out.”

“Mhm. Good idea. Take her to a whore house where the same people he worked for might be looking for her.”

“You know Rosie doesn’t let just anybody on the ranch.”

Julie said nothing. He kept the phone to his ear. The L.T.D. kept a steady pace, rolling down 17 at sixty five miles an hour. No traffic in his way. A few deer stood on the side of the blacktop, their eyes glowing red.

“Tell Kel I said hi,” Julie said.

“I will.”

“I….” she hesitated. “Tell her I love her.” She blurted out and hung up.

Murray text again. Dog deleted the text without reading it.

He dialed Kirchner’s number. It rang a few times and Kitchener’s heavy voice answered.

“What the hell happened at my club?”

Dog went through the whole story. Minus that the guy had a rose tattoo on his face because Dog was tired of repeating that part of the story. There was a long pause from Kirchner.

“You clean it up?” Kirchner asked.

“Yes,” Dog said.

“What’d you do the body?”

“In the trunk of the L.T.D.”

“You’re driving around with it in your trunk? Kid, stop somewhere and dump it. If he’s underworld, they’ll figure he’s mixed up in something illegal and run his I.D. The cops won’t try as hard to find out what happened. You clean up my club by yourself?”

“I called Walter and he helped.”

“Walter? Walter?” He kept repeating. “Kid, when are you going to understand?” Kirchner’s Chicago dialect was showing. Usually he tried to hide it as he lived below the Mason Dixon line, especially when discussing business. “Walter is a fucking retard. You shoulda called Dobson.”

“I don’t know Dobson,” Dog said.

“Sure you do,” Kirchner crooned. “Might not recognize him now. He got that stupid Rose tattoo on his face.”

Dog said nothing.

Now he remembered Dobson. He didn’t like Dobson. Dobson used to do odd jobs for Kirchner too. Dobson had went in the can for two years for robbing a warehouse out on the pier. That warehouse housed a lot of dope. Rumor around town was that warehouse was where evidence from the county police stored. Evidence that would mysteriously appear and disappear from their evidence room. Dobson smelled like Rat, and that Rat burned both ends. Meaning he’d steal, cheat, kill, for people like Kirchner, and turn evidence for the cops. Dog tried to tell Kirchner, but he wouldn’t listen. Said Dobson was good people, only because Dobson’s family had been connected with the Genoa family in Jersey back in the ‘80s and the Dobson’s suffered at the hands of the authorities for no good reason. As far back as the ‘30s Dobson’s family ran moonshine, did a little dealing in the ‘70s and got connected in the ‘80s, just good people trying to make it in life and the pigs harassing and destroying the family.

Dog chuckled at that statement.

Funny how most people would do ten years for a rap like that, Dog thought. Dobson only did two.

“That’s a damn shame you had to do what you did, my boy,” Kirchner said. “You know where to take him.”

“Yep,” Dog said.

Take him to swamp. That’s where a lot of bodies and nightmares are buried. In the swamp in Southwest Virginia.

Dog looked in his rearview mirror and saw a grey Ford Fusion Hybrid following him. Only one type of person would be out in the wasteland at two in the morning. A cop.

“Hey,” Dog said in the phone. “Gotta go. I picked up a shadow.”

Kirchner didn’t waste any time with “keep me informed” or “be careful.” He clicked off in a hurry. Shadow was code for cop. He didn’t want any part of the law hearing his voice. That kind of carefulness is the reason for Kirchner’s longevity in that line of business.

Dog mashed the gas pedal and the L.T.D immediately sped up to 75 miles per hour. The Fusion did the same and rolled up to the car’s bumper. No blue lights? That was odd. The Fusion tapped the L.T.D. and it rocked forward.

“What’s going on?” Kel jerked awake.

“We have company,” Dog said.

Kel turned and looked out the back window. She gasped, glanced wild eyed at Dog. “A cop?!”

“Yeah,” he said. “A fucking cop. But he ain’t pulling me over,” Dog laughed. “Not with a mother fuckin’ body in the trunk of my car!”

Dog noticed there was no tags on the Fusion. And the officer hadn’t tried to pull Dog over nor called for backup. Dog realized this sticky situation had just become even stickier. Kel was grasping the dashboard, her fingers digging into the hard plastic. She was having a panic attack. Glaring at Dog mouth gaping, she began to hyperventilate.

The Fusion tapped the L.T.D.’s bumper again. The car rocked. Dog boot pressed eased the gas pedal more and the speedometer jumped to 85.

“Oh my God. Oh my God,” Kel repeated. “We’re going to die. We’re going to die.”

“Shut up,” Dog said in a monotone voice.

“We’re going to die,” Kel said.

“Shut up,” Dog said.

The Fusion decided to swivel over in the next lane. Both vehicles were speeding at 95 miles per hour, and the Fusion had drifted just a hair behind the L.T.D. It wasn’t a miracle when the car jumped ahead of Dog and eased off the gas so it could be side by side, in the wrong lane, mind you. Obviously the driver of the Fusion knew or was not afraid of oncoming traffic at two in the morning.

That’s when Dog saw the man, a police officer, with matted, shiny black hair and a greasy handlebar mustache, holding a .357, aimed at his head. The driver, the officer, was alone, and he steadied that weapon for a good ten seconds too long trying to keep the steering wheel in place, and that nasty sneer visible. Dog hit the brakes just as the .357 fired. He heard the blast, saw the fireball a second later. The bullet struck the side mirror, chipping the top off.

Kel screamed, “What the fuck?!”

Dog said nothing. He was busy trying not to catch a bullet with head.

“What’s going on?” Kel looked him wild-eyed.

Dog swirled the L.T.D. around, stomped on the gas pedal. The car’s tires squealed and smoke floated from under the carriage. The needle on the speedometer jumped to fifty immediately. As the car darted into the next lane, heading back towards town. The Fusion did the same, chasing Dog and that ‘77 L.T.D. it didn’t take long to catch up, practically bumper to bumper.

The policeman leaned out of his window, S&W .357 in hand, he got off another shot. His hand jerked up and the bullet struck the back windshield, passed through and exited the front windshield, right where Kel sat.

Kel screamed. Blood trickled down the left side of chin and down that long pale neck. Dog turned, saw part of her earlobe had been singed off. Kel saw the blood and shrieked for several minutes.

Dog tuned her out. He had to if he was going to reach the turnoff for safety. He concentrated on the long yellow beam of moonlight showing the way. The Fusion was bearing down on him and swerved into the next lane, crossing a double line. The Policeman grit his teeth in an evil sneer as leveled the .357 at Dog’s head. From the opposite side of the car, a shot made like that wasn’t difficult, but while driving and aiming to kill? You’d have to a damn near expert. But the way he handled a car made Dog suspicious if the man was really a cop.

So Dog swerved and the left side of the L.T.D. slammed into the Fusion. The gun fired just as the car jerked. The bullet tore into the dashboard. He maneuvered the L.T.D. to slam into the Fusion again. This time the Policeman dropped the .357. The Fusion skidded to the far side of the blacktop, onto the grass and stopped just short of rolling into a ditch.

Dog didn’t stop. He kept the speed at seventy-five until he saw the turn off to a dirt road. The road used to be a fire lane and it used to be a place where he and Walter would get high. Many times Dog had used this as an escape or allude the law. He also knew it lead to another lane that could take him to the dump. The Policeman wouldn’t find him.

Dog parked near a mountain of mattresses stood. The smell never bothered him and if it bothered Kel, she didn’t show it.

She burst into tears and gave a full confession.

“I knew him,” she said. “We were in on a blackmail with Joe.”

“We? You and Dobson?”

“Yeah,” she gave Dog a quizzical look. “You know him too?”

“Took me awhile to realize it. Yeah I know him. Small time stick up man. Usually robs convenience stores and vending machines. Got in good with Kirchner with a fake speed enhancing scam, injecting Horses with sugar water. He forgot to clean the needle and three horses got a leg infected. He had to leave town. When he came back a year or two, he had that stupid rose on his face.”

Kel shrugged. “Me, him, and Joe got this,” She reached into the right side of her ample sized tit of her halter top and produced a memory stick the size of her pinky.

“Clever hiding spot.” He snatched it from her fingers.


“What’s on it?”

“Give it back!”

Kel bawled up her fists and started beating on Dog by the neck and back as he ducked down. He laughed, let her beat on him some more before pushing her off. She didn’t hit hard and was out of breath even after the second or third blow.

“Tell me what’s all this about and I’ll give it back.”

She hesitated, started to tear up. The weeping was cut short when she realized that wasn’t working on Dog, and replaced with snarling anger.

“Fucker,” she said. “Okay, okay. We’re blackmailing the Mayor.”

“The Mayor? You mean… the Mayor of this town?”


Dog laughed, shook his head.

“What’s so funny?!”

“Everybody knows Tommy Sheehan is crooked. Hell, The TV people know all the dirty dealings.”

“They know about his sister stealing from the school system?”


Kel nodded her head proficiently.

“As in… embezzlement?”

Fucking with Lottie was a bad idea. The Mayor completely was  devoted to his baby sister. Hell, everybody knew that.

Again, Kel nodded, blond tassels of hair swatted her cheeks.

Dog handed it back to her.

“Proof is on this …”

“Memory stick,” Kel said. “Don’t you have a computer?”

“No,” Dog said. “I have a TV, a TV antenna, a VCR, and a stereo that plays albums.”

Kel made a sour face. “You gotta get with the times, lovey-boy.”

Dog cleared his voice. “I’m sorry for hitting you.”

Kel gave a faint chuckle, sighed. She hadn’t forgave him but if she gave the appearance she had, she might be able to use him at some point. So she shrugged and cooed in her best good girl southern voice. “It’s okay. We were both mad. I’m sorry I hit you.”

“You don’t hit hard,” he smiled, the first and last time Kel had seen the man stretch his face in a positive. It faded quickly, though, and Dog told Kel about his childhood. “My Dad used to keep me locked up in a dog cage. As a matter of fact…” He paused. “My nickname came from him. I don’t ever remember him calling me by my real name. It was always ‘Dog, shut the fuck up,’ or ‘Dog come get your dinner,’ which was always in a doggy bowl, same as water was given to me, if he remembered to give me food and water. When I got a little older he had to chain me in the cage.”

“Why?” Kel asked. By this time her hand had drifted to Dog’s. Their fingers interlocked, neither knew this human touch had happened.

“He’d beat my mom, and I got to where I could get out of the cage and hit him with whatever I could find. Frying pan, broom. Once I stabbed him in the shoulder,” Dog laughed. “Man, the beating he gave me for that, took me a month to heal.”

“Well… I meant, why did he keep you in a cage?”

“He was a piece of shit,” Dog noticed they were holding hands. He withdrew quickly. “So am I.” He added.

Silence fell on them again, and remained for quite some time. Both lost in their own thoughts. Kel felt it was her turn to break the silence, only Dog interrupted.

“Here,” Dog handed the memory stick back to her. “I assume that’s what they are after you for.”


“That was why that Cop was shooting at you.”

“Wait a minute, Dog. Me? I mean he was shooting at us because you eluded him—”

“Nope. Well, he only shot at me because I was in the way of him shooting you.”

Kel gasped, dropped the memory stick on her crotch. She was terrified. Dog picked it up and placed it in her hand. The tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Yeah,” he told her. “The game is real.”

He started the L.T.D. and the car sped out of the dump.

story break

When the L.T.D. drove up to the Ranch Red, Walter, and Rosie were sitting on the porch. The sun showed its rosy red ass by now, through an already overcast sky. Red was not pleased to see Dog. He barely spoke to him, his eyes hardly focused on him. Red jumped up from the porch swing and darted down the steps past Dog in the yard. Kel was still in the car, worried about what came next.

“Red,” Dog said.

“Hmmp!” Red grunted and made a beeline for the stables where he still had two horses.

Red never cared for Dog. He definitely didn’t want Rosie to bring the troubled child into their home. Rosie was the one who found Dog after his mother shot and killed his father, then herself. Red always thought Dog was bad luck. And as the years grew on both of them, he became more and more of a disappointment to Red.

A bespectacled, overgrown child-like Walter shuffled his goofy large feet toward Dog, Rosie trailing behind.

“What up, Dog!” Walter had turned his White sox cap around to look more gangster and always greeted Dog the same way, thinking he was cool like that.

Rosie smiled at Dog, kissed on the cheek. “How are you, Travis?” She brought him into her warm large body, cupped him in her soft satin nightgown and squeezed the life out of him with juicy flabby arms. Dog always felt safe in Rosie’s arms.

“I don’t go by that name, Rosie,” he gently pulled away.

“You’re my son,” Rosie wagged a finger in his face. “I’ll call you whatever I want.”

Rosie did eventually adopt Dog. He loved his birth mother, and he hated her for enduring the shit she did with his father. The way she took the out was awful, basically abandoning Dog. At least that’s way he felt. At seventeen, Dog decided in his mother’s memory, he would protect any female, no matter what.

“Travis, honey, you need to move back home.”

“I’m fine where I am, Rosie.”

She was horrified at his answer. “Living in a trailer parked in a cemetery?”

“At least it’s quiet out there,” Dog said.

“I don’t know how you can be out there all alone,” Walter shivered, and pursed his lips. “All those Spooks playin’ hide ‘n’ seek with each other.”

“I only see ghosts from my past, Walter,” Dog said.

Rosie said, “You move back home, Travis, and your family can help get rid of those ghosts.”

“I don’t think Red would like me being here,” Dog said.

“Oh,” Rosie smacked Dog on the arm playfully and chuckled. “He ain’t nobody to worry about!”

Red ignored Rosie when she called to him to come talk to Dog. He wandered the property removing tree limbs scattered about from the storm the night before, tossing them out in the wooded area by the makeshift bungalows Rosie’s girls entertained men who paid for that entertainment. At that time of the morning, only three cars had been parked at the bungalows.

Rosie sighed.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what Red thinks or says when it comes to my children. Even if he says he don’t like you or Walter, the both of you are welcome to stay at my house!”

Walter looked dismayed. “Wait,” his face showed his fried brain worked overtime. “Red don’t like me?”

Rosie patted Walter on the shoulder as if to say don’t worry yourself. She went to the L.T.D. and opened the passenger door. She urged Kel to get out. They walked back to Dog and Walter. Dog lit a cigarette uninterested in Kel’s walk. Walter liked what he saw. He smiled sheepishly at Kel.

“Can she stay here?” Dog pointed to Kel, who was now huddled close to him shyly smiling every now and again.

“Of course,” Rosie said. “Honey, have you got any electronics on you?”

“My phone,” Kel removed the Iphone from the back pocket of her cutoff jeans, showed it to Rosie.

“Red don’t allow no electronics in the house,” Rosie took the phone from Kel. “He says the damn things are the cause of cancer. I can understand his way of thinking. His first wife dying of that.”

“Where’s the other thing?” Dog said to Kel.

“What thing?” She acted like she didn’t know what he was talking about.

“The thing in your tit,” Dog motioned for her to hand it to him. “Give it up.”

Walter stopped picking his nose and became acutely aware of the scene unfolding, hoped he would sneak a peek at Kel’s breast as she fished out the memory stick from her halter top.

She handed it to Dog with attitude in spades. “Tell your retarded cousin to stop gawkin’ at me!” She stomped off behind Rosie and they went inside the house.

“I ain’t gwkin’,” Walter called out to her. “And I ain’t no retard!”

Dog laughed. “Here’s your chance to disprove that theory. Got a computer?”

“Of course,” Walter laughed. He retrieved a galaxy phone from the front pocket of his checkered shirt. Dog handed him the memory stick. Walter placed the tip inside the port.

“What’s on that contraption?” Dog asked.

“Nothing,” Walter said.

“What?” Dog was exasperated. He turned Walter and the phone toward him. The screen was blank. “Nothing on it.”

“I told you so,” Walter pulled his wrist and phone away. “If there’s no files on this, then why try to kill you and Kel?”

“Because there’s more than one Memory stick,” Dog said. “Come on.”

Walter followed Dog to the L.T.D. “Where are we goin’?”

“Going to see Joe.” Dog opened the car door. “But first I need you to help me get rid of this car.”

“Do what?” Walter’s mouth dropped open and his eyes bulged. The shock was too much for him. “You gone crazy? You love the L,T,D,!”

“Walter,” Dog drawled. “The damn car has a dead body in the trunk and my back windshield glass is blown out! Now, I need you to follow me in your car.”

“Okay. I’ll fire up the Tank.”

“No, I don’t want to drive that piece of shit O.J. SIMPSON mobile. Get the Bobcat.”

“Gawd no! Shit, you smoked some bad joo-joo, Dog. That’s my pride and glory. I only been fixin’ her up for three years!”

“And you ain’t fuckin’ drove the bitch further than a mile in three years! I wanna be ready for that Cop. Him and that Fusion.”

Walter made a face. “Cops round here don’t drive no damn Fusion, Dog. You should know that. At least they don’t drive ‘em anymore. They drive Dodge Chargers and the Ford Interceptors.”

“He was dressed like a cop. Who do you know owns an old Police cruiser?”

“I don’t know his name. He works at a garage on Jefferson.”

“Talking about Bumper’s garage?”

“Yep,” Walter nodded. “Tall feller, bushy mustache.”

“That’s the fucker. Get the Bobcat.”

story break

Walter found the other Memory stick taped underneath the desk. He danced a jig and whooped until Dog threw an empty beer can that beamed off Walter’s head, knocking his cap off.

“Oww! That hurt!”

“Shut the fuck up, you dummy. If you remember Joe is lying dead over there and we committed a B&E.”

“Okay, Okay.”

“I ain’t gettin nabbed for either crime, asshole!”

“Okay, Dog!” Walter whined.

Walter was hyped and after smoking Tar and swallowing Yellow Jackets, thin short yellow pills full of speed. They smoked and drank some Jack while they watched the L.T.D. sink into the swamp not ten miles away from Rosie’s ranch. As it sank, Dog wondered if any of Dobson’s family would miss him.

He also had an inkling of who killed Joe and when he entered the apartment the smell of Honeysuckle and Jasmine that languished along with the  putrid smell of death confirmed his suspicions.

Walter jabbed the memory stick into the port of his phone. Stared at the screen. Helooked disappointed. He was hoping it was picture evidence or video of murders or some hot blonde doing somebody high up. A congressman or a Judge.

“What the hay… crap.”

“What is it?” Dog forced Walter to show him the screen on his phone.

“Looks like a damn article,” Walter said.

“Well, hell Walter, Joe was a journalist.”

“A bouncer who writes articles is just another egghead in my opinion. Oh, here’s some pics of documents showing figures from various companies being moved around.”

Dog studied the screen. “Money laundering. I recognize it from jobs I’ve done for Kirchner.”

Walter belted out an uproarious laugh. “Someone is laundering money through the school system! Brass balls. They got brass balls.”

 Two loud buzzes alerted Dog his phone was ringing. It was Rosie.

“Travis, honey, that girl is gone,” Rosie’s muffled voice could be heard. Red’s too. He said that boy is always fuckin’ things up. Rosie told him to hush, “Travis can hear you.”

“What do you mean gone?” Dog asked.

“Apparently a car drove up and she jumped in and the car sped off.”

“A powder blue Volvo?”

“You know I don’t know what cars look like, Travis,” Rosie said,  clucking her tongue. “It was a blue car, though.”

“Thank you Rosie.”

“Of course,” She said.

Dog hung up. He said to Walter, “Let’s go numb nuts.”

story break

They didn’t get far, just off Merciless and Soul Ave. when they saw the powder blue Volvo parked on the sidewalk in front of Dunkin Donuts. The car was parked sideways and tire marks on the  bumpy pockmarked pavement showed  two sets of skids, both dark in color, one deeper than the other. The Bobcat rolled up next to the curb. Dog saw three gunshots had been fired into the car. The window on the driver’s side had been down, not the passenger’s window, though. Glass had been shattered. Blood splattered the seats, front and back, the dashboard.

Julie and Kel both laid dead, slumped in the seats, their faces blown off.

Walter whistled. “Holy fuck,” he drawed. “Some bad joo-joo goin’ on here, Dog.”

Dog said nothing. He was furious.

He stomped on the gas pedal and the Bobcat’s front end jumped, tires squealed. He raced down Merciless and Soul in the direction of the other car’s tire tracks. At five thirty in the morning, there was no traffic, But Dog wondered if the gun shots alerted the cops. Wasn’t long before I heard sirens in the distance. Even less time when he spotted the Fusion.

“The fucker is mine,” Dog said.

“Whoa!” Walter screeched, gripped the dashboard, nails dug into the hard plastic. “This car ain’t your car, Hoss!”

Dog ignored him. Focused on the task at hand. Catch the mother fucker and kill him. The Bobcat gained on the Fusion, running up on the car’s backend. The Bobcat jabbed the bumper of the Fusion, jarring it. The driver swerved slightly. Walter wouldn’t stop screaming. The Bobcat bumped the Fusion again. Harder this time. The car went into a tailspin, glided into a ditch.

The right front end dipped into the trench, back end raised up slightly, wheels spun dirt. Dog hit the brakes, threw the gears into reverse and sped backwards to look at the Fusion.

Eventually the driver killed the engine. The door to the Fusion opened. The man dressed as a police officer got out of the car slowly, stumbled, then steadied himself on the door. There was a giant bullet hole in his midsection and he was bleeding profusely. Evidently, either as the car went into the ditch or as the bobcat smashed into the Fusion first or second time, it wasn’t known, the mother fucker had shot himself with that S&W .357.

The fight wasn’t over, though. Can you believe it? The man dressed as a police officer staggers toward the Bobcat and unsheathed the longest, slimmest blade from the back of his belt, and his fucking guts was spilling all over blacktop.

Dog laughed. A giddy, unmerciful, devilish laugh.

He looked at a terrified Walter, tapped him on the arm and said: “Wait here. This is gonna be fun.”

Walter gasped.

story break

The front door of Dog’s oval shaped silver motorhome flew open. Red stepped inside, wearing his Yankees ball cap and fleece checkered coat. He saw Dog sitting at a table smoking a bowl. Smell of black tar filled the air and the sound of Stone Temple Pilots song “The Big Empty” was on the Record player.

Red was disappointed he didn’t find Dog dead from an overdose.

“Red,” was all Dog could manage to say, choking on the smoke from his makeshift pipe.

Red inhaled and exhaled sharply. “I wanted to find you dead.”

“Yeah,” Dog nodded. “For a second, seeing you at my door, I thought you were my dad. If I could reach my 4/10, I woulda blown your head off.”

Take more than a 4/10 to kill me, boy.”

“I ain’t your boy.”

“Goddamn right, you ain’t.”

“Whadda you want, old man?”

“Peace of mind, you piece of shit.”

Red had a Walmart bag in his hands. He tossed it on the table. It landed with a hard thump.

“I want you to leave town,” Red said. “Never fucking come back.”

story break

Just as Dog was ready to open the car door, a yellow VW Bug roared down the road and struck the man dressed as a police officer. His body was caught under the front end and dragged for twenty five yards.

The VW Bug never stopped.

Dog shut the door quickly, started up the Bobcat and sped off.

story break

In the Wal-mart bag was 30,000 dollars.

Dog laughed, took another hit of black tar.

“You leave now. Never come back to the ranch. Never talk to Rosie.”

“I ain’t going nowhere, old man.” Dog said.

Red pushed his coat flap aside. He had his hand on the handle of the pearl white snub nose .38.

“Leave now,” Red said. “Or I kill you right now.”

Dog said nothing.

He wasn’t scared of Red. His eyes were glued to the small tattoo of a white rose on his wrist.

The door to the motorhome opened and Walter appeared. Red quickly moved his hand from the gun, let the coat flap cover it up.

Walter cackled. “Red! What the hell you doing here?”

Red didn’t answer. Instead he grabbed the Walmart bag and pushed past Walter. We heard his truck start up and roar out of the cemetery.

Walter came inside and sat a six pack of Old Milwaukee on the table.

“What did he want?” Walter asked.

Dog shrugged. He was still thinking about the white rose tattoo on Red’s wrist.

“He wanted to know where you were,” Dog said. “He has chores for you.”

“Man,” Walter drawed. “He’s a damn slave driver!”

Dog laughed. “Sit down. Have a drink and enjoy the music.”

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The Big Empty by Mark Slade