Rooterís low steady growl finally brought his master out of a deep sleep. He never barked. He had been taught the silent practice; silent and deadly was Rooterís method of dealing with intruders. He had been taught also, to be insistent when he thought his masterís life might be in danger. Tonight, he was certain.
"What is it, boy?" Deacon came out of his fog. He trusted his dogís instinct completely. He slowly slid out of his bed onto the floor and crawled to his dresserÖtop drawer under the socks. He pulled his deadly Rugar 357 Automatic out of its resting place, fully loaded. He quietly clicked his tongue and the dog padded silently to the back of the house. Rooter knew what to do. Deacon, almost as silently as his companion, moved quickly towards the back porch and the dark entryway. He cringed at what he saw next.
A flashlight was shining on the deadbolt lock and a hand was working a locksmithís tool. The intruder was skilled. His hands were quick and the deadbolt freed. The door opened with a slight squeak, another quiet click from Deaconís tongue and Rooter went into action. Not one sound came from the dog as he took the dark figure to the floor. Deacon switched the overhead light on and pointed his gun at the manís head. "Donít even try," he said in an almost whisper. "Not if you value your private collection," he nodded toward the intruderís crotch. The man understood and made no move.
"Deacon?" The dark man asked incredulously. "Deacon Sender?"
Jason Johnstone had worked for Deacon on many cases. He was the watcher. Jason would follow misguided cheating husbands, or wives, to their rendezvous with awaiting lovers. He would take pictures of the events and give them subsequently to Deacon. Deacon, in turn, would be the bearer of bad news to the broken hearted and jilted mates. Now, Jason lay on Deaconís kitchen with Rooters mouth connected immovably on his ankle. Why?
"Jason, what the hell do you think youíre doing?"
"Whatís it look like? Iím trying to rob your fucking house." He said it seriously without a smile. "I didnít know you lived here. Can you get that damn mutt off me?"
Deacon clicked his tongue twice. Rooter looked at him with disappointment like he wanted to chew the bastard intruderís leg off, and his master had just ruined the time of his life. "I donít believe you." Deacon pulled the gun away from Johnstoneís head, but did not stop pointing it at his old friend. "Since when have you started working on the other side of our business?"
"Since Iíve been fucking broke," snapped Jason. "If you havenít noticed, thereís a recession going on out there." Deacon still didnít trust him. Jason had been one of his most trustworthy workers. "Look," Jason pleaded, "I honestly didnít know it was your place Deacon. Hell, I would never steal from you." Deacon lowered his pistol. "Iím sorry, Deacon." Jason was near tears.
"I should call the cops." Deacon had no patience with crooks even if they were old friends. Why hadnít Jason come to him for help? He still had friends in the business and Jason was good. He voiced his thoughts. "Why didnít you come to me? My name is in the phonebook. I would have tried to get you a job somewhere."
"You donít understand," Jason began, "Iím a loser. Iíve hooked up with a monkey and canít get away from him. Iíve been shooting for a couple of years. Iím the very thing you hate, the very thing you want to smash into a concrete wall. I remember how you were with drug addicts. You wanted to rub their faces off in hot pavement. You have no stomach for them."
Jason had been right about him. He had never had patience with druggies; that is, until he learned about Melissaís addiction. His daughter had overdosed on benzodiazepines mixed with several beers and a few cocktails. Her death had destroyed him, his marriage, and his will to give a shit. Rooter was his only link to sanity. Rescuing the rust colored Doberman from a kill-shelter had saved two lives. "Youíre talking history, Jason." His attempt at atoning for his arrogance started awkwardly. "I meanÖwell, things have changed; I have changed."
"Sweet Melissa?" Jason said the name reverently. He had learned of Melissaís death through another coworker for Sender Investigation Services. The girl had one too many Xanax. Jason understood. Xanax was one of his favorite downers. "I heard about it from Mari Letterborne. I am sorry, Deacon."
"Thanks," said Deacon, still wary of his old friend. "Times have changed for all of us." He noticed Jason was carrying a weapon. He pointed to the dark handle protruding from Jasonís dark jeans. "What have we here? Do you always carry a gun when you rob someone?"
"Yes." Jason looked nervous. "Are you going to call the cops?"
"Why shouldnít I?" Deacon was about to raise his gun when the windows around him began to shatterÖbullets. He instinctively fell to the floor. The shooters were peppering the walls behind him. Jason rolled away from him and was grabbing for his gun. Was he going to shoot Deacon? Deacon made a quick decision, pointed his gun, and fired. He heard a familiar thud of metal smashing flesh. Jasonís face went blank. He showed no expression in death. Deacon had no time to think about his old friendís corpse. He pointed his gun to the ceiling and shot the light out allowing himself the cover of darkness.
Rooter wasted no time circling the new intruders. They were dressed just like the first intruder. He could smell fear on them. Rooter savagely struck one of them. He ripped at the strangerís face before the man could lift his weapon. The man yelled for help, but was given none. The other intruder ran to a nearby van. His master ran to his side carrying a gun. It was too late. Rooter had opened a deep artery on the manís neck. The intruder was choking on his own blood.
Deacon pointed his gun at the escaping van, but took no shot. There was a young couple walking hand in hand across the street. He didnít want to take a chance. He watched Rooterís victim take his last bubbling breath. He knew the dead man, knew him well. He looked at his cheap Nite-Glo watch. It was two in the morning.
A gray morning shroud was beginning to cover the streets by the time the police had finished their work. Paramedics carried Frankie Lindís nearly headless corpse last. They zipped him up like they were zipping their raincoats. The sound made an eerie yet comforting sound. Deacon couldnít explain it. He couldnít explain Frankie Lindís involvement in this strange murder movie. Why would his ex-wifeís uncle be spraying his home with high caliber bullets? He had to find the third party in this little love fest. He looked at Rooter and whispered. "Your Uncle Frankie was a bad boy." He watched the ambulance pull away and another thought struck him. He looked at his dog again. "Why did you attack your Uncle Frankie?" Rooter had always liked Frankie, always wagging his tail and trying to sit on the big manís lap, but Frankie was so big he lacked a lap. It was more like a pregnant womanís lap, nonexistent.
Officer Higgins and Wright asked him a hundred questions and released him with the clichť donít leave town. They had watched too many Law and Order reruns.
It was mid morning when Deacon closed his shower curtain around him. A hot shower and a cold beer were in order. Rooter jumped into the shower stall with him. The dog must have felt as dirty as he did. Killing was not their favorite thing to do. Killing was the last thing either of them wanted to do; it was the last resort. Deacon heard the phone ring and the annoying tone of the answering machine. He couldnít hear the message, but knew it was a manís voice.
He wrapped up in his navy blue robe and grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator, gave part of it to Rooter, and sat down next to the phone. The voice was familiar, the message dangerous. "Deacon, your mortician is waiting. Tomorrow youíll be paying him a visit, your dog with you." He played it again, and again. Each time he felt certain he knew the voice, a voice from the past. The phone rang again. Deacon picked up, "Hello."
"Deacon? I just heard the news." It was his ex-wife, Kimberly. "Iím sorry."
"Why?" He wasnít sure why she was apologizing for her dirt bag Uncle. "You didnít do anything."
"I know but I feel somehow responsible. He was my uncle even if I never had much to do with him." She sounded sincere and sober. After Melissaís death, Kim began to drink heavily. She lost herself in the bottom of a bottle. Deacon wasnít sure she would ever come back. Her second marriage to Tim Costello had turned her life around. The booze left her system and the anger slowly seeped out of her emotional veins.
"Itís okay," Deacon reassured her," Jason Johnstone was in on it too." An eerie silence came through the telephone line. Had Kim an interest in Jason? "Kim?"
"Iím here. You threw a wild punch at me. I didnít know about Jason." She suddenly seemed nervous, extra nervous. "Listen, I just wanted to say that you know you can call me any time you need to talk." The phone went silent. Deacon hung on to the receiver trying to understand the real reason for the phone call. Kim and he had maintained occasional contact, but were by no means, friends. The phone rang again. This time there was no one on the end of the line. He heard a hang up click. Was it Kim calling back? Was it the third party of last nightís little soiree?
Deacon fixed himself a ham sandwich for dinner. Rooter was treated to some dried kibbles drenched with leftover beef gravy Deacon had fixed the night before. The night before, it was a night he wasnít soon to forget. He killed an old friend, who for some reason wanted Deacon dead. He thumbed through the newspaper and saw an eerie announcement, Local Woman Throws Hat into Congressional Race. There for the world to see was a picture of Mari Letterborne, his ex-secretary. Mari was a pretty lady, slightly plump with a shock of red hair. Does this tie into last night? The thought lingered.
Deacon carried his lanky six-foot frame out to the garage. It would be a couple of hours before darkness set in and he had to cover his broken windows with something. He knew he had some plastic somewhere in his cluttered one-car shed. He hadnít parked his truck in the building for years, no room. He had always admitted that he was no handyman. His clumsiness was one of those things that drove Kim crazy. Every necessary repair had to be hired out. It was something he could hang his hat on. Lacking life skills was not something he held up as badge of honor. It was something that irritated his ex-wife, her family, and especially Uncle Frank.
After tacking up some plastic over his windows, Deacon retired to his computer. He immediately searched for Mari Letterborneís file in his old records. He had hired a young college girl to do some data entry for him when the business went for broke. He now had every case, every employee, and every pockmark ever to come across his desk at Sender Investigation. He pulled up Mariís old application, nothing unusual except he noted that she had once worked for Dunnís Industries. The CEO of Dunnís was a fellow named Lee Berry. He was now Mayor Lee Berry. "So Mari is sleeping with the Mayor?" He asked Rooter, who was gnawing on a leather bone and paying absolutely no attention to his master. The dog had become used to the manís occasional ranting. He thought humans to be a curious breed.
"Thatís it," Deacon expounded, "Lee Berry has to be connected somehow to Uncle Frankie and Jason. But, how?" He found Lee Berry in a few Internet searches and began the slow process of sifting through each article. He had exhausted much of the evening looking at lists of Berryís campaign contributors; the list was long. One picture popped out of the screen at him, Joel Fry. Kimberlyís husband was pictured standing behind Berry at a political rally. "Rooter, I think Iíve foundÖ" Before Deacon could finish the sentence, the phone rang.
"Hello," Deacon answered cautiously. Was it his stalker? The sun had dropped into darkness leaving only slight silhouettes of pink on neighboring houses. Such a perfect time for a death threat, Deacon suddenly felt a chill crawl down his spine.
"Deacon?" It sounded like Higgins, one of his favorite cops-and-robbers blue suits.
"Higgins here." Deacon wanted to say no shit, but thought better of it. He needed the cops on his side, especially after his dog killed Uncle Frankie and he personally put a bullet hole in his old friend. "I have looked into the description of the van you gave us. There are only two thousand such vans in our locality. That means by the year 2014 we should be able to narrow it down." He laughed at his own attempt at sarcasm. "Is there anything else, anything at all that you saw that might be considered remarkable about the vehicle?"
He thought for a moment. It was a dark color, navy? The license, had they been out of state? Alabama, Arkansas? "Iím not sure Officer Higgins." Out of nowhere he snapped, "Alaska."
"It had Alaskan license plates on it." He said with surety that he didnít feel.
"Are you certain?"
"Pretty damn certain."
"Thatís a long way from Indianapolis." Again, a statement of the obvious that tempted Deacon to say no shit. Of course, he didnít. He was amazed at his self-control.
Deacon had just placed the receiver back in its resting place when the phone rang again. This time the caller was not friendly. "Iím in the alley, Deacon." The manís voice was a little more tenuous than it was when he first called.
"I take it you know where I live." Deacon couldnít help the sarcasm. What did the bastard expect, a welcome mat at the back door? "I do hope you realize that your neck will be ripped apart like your fallen comrade, Uncle Frankie." The phone went dead. Deacon tried to dial the cops, but his little friend had cut the line immediately. Rooter went into attack mode as Deacon fumbled for his cell phone. A strange thing happened before he could get the cell phone to work. Rooter came back into the room and set on the floor beside Deacon. What was this?
His thought lasted for less than a second. The front door came crashing in and before he could drop to the floor, two guns were pointing in his direction. Thoughts raced through his mind. Rooter did not pursue these people because he considered them friends. Who? The question was answered quickly when Kimís voice came out of one of the black ski masks, "Donít even think about moving, lover boy." What theÖ? The only thought in his mind was to give a command to Rooter without suspicion, but his companion would die, too risky.
Instead, Deacon did what he did best in stressful situation; he used sarcasm. "My, my, if it isnít Joel and Kim Fry of the now famous French Fries." He smiled nervously, "Youíre a long way from Alaska."
Joel ripped his mask off and laughed cynically, "You gave the cops a good tip. That plate was from Uncle Frankieís collection. He loved old license plates. Good job Deacon. You have proven once again youíre a loser." Deacon wanted to rip the little fuckerís lungs out, but the heavy artillery they were toting kept him frozen in place.
"Those are some mighty big guns youíre carrying boys and girls." He said with a mixture of venom and fear. "What brings you back to my little house of bullet holes?"
It was Kimís turn to be nasty, "Deacon, you really donít know do you?"
"Iím missing something I guess."
"Yes, I guess you are." She walked over to the computer and began smashing the monitor into pieces. She cocked her AK-47 and shredded the tower. She turned and pointed the dangerous weapon at Deacon. "Where are your backup files?" Deacon smiled to himself. He finally felt like he was given a free lottery ticket, a winning ticket at that.
"Safety deposit box." He lied.
"Bullshit!" Her weasel-looking husband screamed. "Youíre full of shit!"
"Indeed I am but I donít see what that has to do with my backup files." The weasel pointed his canon at Deacon and was about to blow the man and his dog out of the house.
Kim put her hand on his gun and whispered in his ear. On command, the weasel pulled out some rope and walked towards Deacon. He was within inches when Rooter clamped down on his hand. Joel began screaming. "Son-of-a-bitch!" Rooter didnít let go. The weasel was trapped. Kim ran over to him and tried to talk Rooter out of the hold.
"Good boy," she said softly, "what have you there?" Rooter didnít buy it. He didnít let go. She lifted her weapon to use it on Rooter. Without thinking, Deacon shot her. There was no hesitation. She might have once been the love of his life, but instinct overcame sentimentality. Deacon then wasted no time in putting the weasel down to the floor. He cuffed him with a plastic tie cuff. He always carried them in his back pocket and he always carried his Rugar 357 Automatic. Kim rolled on the floor in agony. At the moment he was too wired to care. He picked up the phone and called the police. Two black-and-whites showed up and one ambulance. Deacon wrapped a clean towel around Kimís arm and applied pressure to the wound. She looked at him, her eyes wide with fear. Deacon whispered to her, "Youíre going to be fine." He looked at the floor and softly said, "Iím sorry. Iím sorry for so many things."
Kim went to Methodist Hospital and Joel went to jail without the privilege of passing go.
Deacon sat on the floor petting Rooter. He had a beer in his other hand. The day had been nightmarish and all he wanted to do was unwind and go to bed. Instead, his thoughts became trapped into a zone of rumination. His brained traced its way back to his childhood and his fatherís death. His father had been an accountant, a damn crooked one too, his mother had always boasted. His father, though, was an accountant with pancreatic cancer. Merle Senderís death brought Martin Morrison into his life. Meeting Deaconís mother at a nightclub, Martin had swept her off her feet and had spent most of their marriage knocking her off her feet. Martin Morrison was an abusive bastard and Deaconís motherís eventual death was a godsend for her, but a crashing blow to Deacon. Though she was a difficult woman at times, she had loved Deacon and he reciprocated.
He started working when he was fourteen, sweeping floors at a small grocery store on the north side of Indianapolis. School for him had been boring and uneventful. He wiled away what free time he did have smoking marijuana with his buddies and drinking cheap wine. His early adulthood was spent in Vietnam killing people he didnít know. Some things donít change. He ended his short career in the Army in the early seventies and decided to take advantage of his military benefits. He graduated from Indiana University in seventy-five with a degree in criminal justice. His life changed completely soon after graduation.
He had met Kim Bailey at a blues bar called The Yellow Tattoo, which sat just off the downtown circle. She was elegant, sophisticated, and articulate. All of which were things that made a young college graduateís heart hiccup with desire. When she walked up to his table and asked him to dance, he had been proverbially swept off his feet. When she invited him into her apartment, he had been literally swept off his feet. Their young romance, if it could be called such, lasted close to a year before they announced their engagement. Their announcement did not sit well with the Bailey dynasty. The famous Arlen Bailey of the Bailey, Pey, and Tribbett Law Firm was none too happy about the future hook-up of his lovely daughter to a nobody.
So much so was Arlen Baileyís disdain for the young Deacon, he boycotted the wedding party with the petty excuse that he had an important case to attend to. The marriage was off to a rocky start.
Kim and he were thrilled when they learned they were going to be parents. Melissa had brought joy into their lives and Deacon was sure life couldnít get any better. Sweet Melissa was indeed the sweetest thing that had ever happened to him. She filled a gaping wound in Deaconís soul, but as she grew the wound slowly opened and when she overdosed, the wound gaped once again. He and Kim had grown apart after their daughterís death, realizing that they really had nothing in common anymore. Rooter licked the tears from Deaconís eyes. He finished his beer and headed for bed, maybe tomorrow the sun would once again shine.