“WHAT?”, I said, stunned.
The little man stepped out of the shadows, his fists clenched at his sides. He was a young man, dressed in a very trendy Burberry trench coat. He’d been master of his universe less than a week ago. Now, he was hanging out in shadows, in the rain. His hair was plastered to his head. “The dog,” he repeated. “How much do you want for it?”
“She’s not for sale,” I said.
We started on our way again, but the little man ran to get in front of me. He stopped, face in my face, so I had to stop, too. “I’ll give you $5,ooo for the dog,” he said, in a tone that implied that he wasn’t going to back down from his transaction. But, there was no transaction.
Mike pushed his way between me and my unwanted customer. The natty little man wasn’t intimidated by Mike or Mike’s big gun. His hands suddenly left his sides and he tried to shove Mike backwards. “SELL ME THE DAMNED DOG,” he screamed. Then, in a quieter voice, he said, “My kids haven’t eaten today.”
We were all startled by his statement. He took the frozen moment as an opportunity to dart around Mike. He snatched at Bethel’s leash, like his kids had a God-given right to eat my dog. Bethel tried to get away from the struggle, but of course her leash stopped her. Bethel was always very sensibly concerned about being stepped on, especially when people were moving around her quickly.
I lost my patience with this man who wanted to feed my dog to his children and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I was furious that he was scaring my dog. I stopped trying to get away from him and I stepped in closer, the better to knee him in the nuts as hard as I could.
Mr. Burberry Dog Eater said, “Eep.” Then, he sank to the ground, clutching his injured parties. I jerked a can of Spam out of the pack in the carriage and dropped it on his wet head. It bounced off his head onto the sidewalk, and he fumbled for it with one hand, the other still clasped to his wounded crotch. “No charge, Fucko,” I said. And we left him there.
“We need to carriage up Bethel,” Mike said. “No more showing the pets. The guy won’t be the only one who looks at them and sees a Thanksgiving turkey.”
“Damnit, you’re right,” I said. I pulled Bethel’s soft carrier from under the pack and deposited her in it. She was happy to go. The walk had tired her out, and then she’d nearly been trod upon. Time to ride in style while we hoofed it. I slung the pack on my back and put the pet carrier in the carriage.
“I feel a little bad,” Jill said. “He was just trying to feed his kids.”
“I bet the bastard didn’t even had kids,” Moira said. Thus were all our consciences soothed, although we really had no way of knowing.
Another mile, and we were coming up on Columbia University. The campus was unnaturally quiet. I didn’t expect to see students going to classes, or out trolling for beer, but I had thought that some of the thousands of students would be in evidence. Most of the buildings weren’t even showing lights. The buildings were a sea of enormous tombs.
“School’s out, I guess.”
There weren’t as many cars parked on the street, here. Most students couldn’t afford to maintain cars in Manhattan. Hell, none of us could afford to maintain cars in Manhattan. We were grateful not to be hemmed in by cars against the deserted school. It was creepy.
Somebody was glad for cars, however. We saw a man ahead of us with a hose in his mouth, the other end of the hose poked into the gas tank of a car. He jerked, spat, yelled, “Gahhh, gas,” and directed his hose into a red fuel can at his feet.
The gas thief didn’t seem dangerous, so we continued on toward him. He nodded a greeting at us like the street was a 7/11 and we were headed inside for snacks and a Slurpee while he pumped gas. We nodded back. If he was willing to overlook our guns, we could overlook his petty theft.
He did stare at us as we walked past him. His gas can overflowed and fuel splashed his shoes. He looked down, cursed briefly, and did a little Get Gas Off Shoes dance. Then he said, “I think I know you goils, don’t I? Well, some of you goils.” He looked at Mike. “Not you, guy. No offense.”
It was my turn to stare. It was Lope, the taxi driver who’d driven Moira and me away from Washington Heights and the original giant bird.