Steve parked in the shadows up the street from Karen’s house.
He had the baggie full of dog biscuits and the leather toolcase stuffed inside his jacket.
And the gun.
Steve smirked. 8:15. Karen was running late, as usual. Her Tuesday meeting was at 8:30.
She’d started attending AA a couple of months before she’d kicked Steve out.
Then came the nagging at him to quit drinking, to stop having his ex-con friends over for poker games.
He’d grumbled, but he’d stuck around. He’d figured it was just another of her phases.
Plus, he’d once overheard her mention to a friend about the jewelry in the safe in her closet, how she should move it to a safe deposit box. Steve doubted she’d done that.
Karen emerged from the house at 8:20. As she drove away, he got out of the van. He walked to the house and pulled on a pair of rubber gloves.
He peered through the kitchen window. Dark but for the glow of the microwave’s digital clock. No sign of Karen’s Rottweiler, Gus.
He patted the pocket with the biscuits and smiled.
Steve hated Gus.
Karen had raised Gus from a pup. Said she’d got him for protection.
Some protection. Gus was afraid of squirrels, fer chrissakes. He greeted everyone, even ex-cons Steve knew from County, by jumping up on them and slobbering in glee.
What really ticked Steve off was, at least once a week Gus would crap on the floor. Then he’d walk in it, tracking pawprints all over the house.
One night Steve came home from the bar. Gus jumped up and left pawprint-shaped crap stains on Steve’s pants.
Steve grabbed a wooden spoon off the kitchen counter. He hit Gus again and again. At some point he’d dropped the spoon and used his fists.
The dog cowered, yelping in pain with every punch.
Karen screamed at Steve to stop. She grabbed his arm. Steve whirled around and hit her, too.
Karen collapsed to the floor. Gus slunk to a corner, quivering in fear.
Karen put a hand to her purpling cheek.
“Get out,” she said. “You come near me again, I’ll get a gun.”
So he’d left.
But he still wanted to see inside that safe.
And pay Gus one more visit.
Years back, serving time in County, Steve met a guy nicknamed “Mojo.” Mojo told Steve about a “magic potion” he’d put into the drugs he sold to rival gang members.
“You make it with junk from the drug store,” Mojo said. “Odorless and tasteless.
Karen had changed the locks, but Steve used the tools from the leather case to get the door open.
The only sound in the kitchen was the hum of the fridge. Steve went into the living room.
The light was on in the bathroom. The door was slightly ajar.
Gus sat in the strip of light spilling across the carpet, his head cocked to one side.
“Hey, Gus,” Steve said. “I got something for you, dummy.”
Steve pulled the baggie out of his jacket. Gus trotted over, panting happily.
Steve took a home-made biscuit out of the baggie and held it out. Gus crunched it between his teeth.
“Atta boy,” Steve said. “How’s that Mojo biscuit, eh? Want another one?”
After the third biscuit, Gus let out a whine.
“What’s the matter, dummy? Got a tummy-ache?”
Gus whined again. He slunk over to his doggie bed, turned around twice and flopped down.
“Nighty-night, dummy,” Steve said.
Steve went upstairs to Karen’s bedroom closet. He pushed aside her clothes and opened the panel in the wall.
He got the leather toolcase out of his jacket and had the safe open in three minutes.
“Wow,” he said.
He stuffed the jewelry into his pockets. Zipped up the toolcase and pocketed it. He left the safe and the wall panel open.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Steve noticed Gus had moved. He was a few feet away from the doggie bed. He wasn’t breathing.
Steve could smell dog crap and figured Gus had done it as he died.
Steve heard a car pulling into the driveway.
Headlights flashed by the front window.
Steve dashed into the bathroom. He turned out the light and shut the door as softly as he could. He pulled the gun out of his pocket.
A key rattled in the front door lock. The door opened.
“Hey, Gus-Gus,” Karen said. “Would you believe I forgot my purse?”
Light seeped beneath the bathroom door as Karen switched on a lamp.
Steve held his breath.
“Gus?” Karen said.
Steve pictured her moving across the room, kneeling by the dog, putting a hand on the black fur, feeling for a breath or a heartbeat.
He saw a shadow move in the thin strip of light under the bathroom door.
“Found you,” said Karen from the other side of the door.
There was a loud bang and a hole exploded in the door. It felt like a sledgehammer hit Steve in the chest. He fell backwards and his gun clattered to the tile floor.
The door flung open. Karen stood in the doorway, pointing a gun at Steve.
“I warned you,” Karen said.
The gun went off again. It was very loud in the bathroom. The pain was like fire in his chest.
His gaze fell to the carpet behind Karen.
There were brown footprints on the carpet.
There was a squashed pile of dog crap at the bottom of the stairs.
Steve noticed more crap on the side of his sneaker.
He’d smelled it, but he hadn’t seen it, coming downstairs in the dark. He’d walked right through it and left a trail behind him.
“Oh, God,” Steve said. His chest hurt and he was having trouble breathing.
Karen left the doorway and knelt by Gus’ body. She ran a hand along the dog’s fur. She had tears in her eyes.
“Good boy, Gus,” Karen said.
G.T. MacMillan is married and the father of three delightful children. He lives and works in Pennsylvania. Most of the time he tells the truth, but sometimes he makes stuff up just to pass the time.