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Long about a year ago, I shot Maysie's dog one day when I went up on her front porch and it humped my leg. I'd already told her if the damn thing did that again I'd put a bullet between its weepy little eyes and so, when it started in before I'd even got to knock, I fetched the pistol out from under the seat of my truck, went back up the stairs, and fired point blank. Maysie's brother, Raymond, came busting out the front door then, took a look around, and asked me was I the one who'd shot the dog. Not too bright, Raymond isn't, because, except for the gun and the dog, still twitching but well on its way to dead, I was the only thing on the entire falling-down porch. Since their daddy died, ain't neither one of 'em lifted a finger to work on the house. "Sure am," I said.

"Well," Raymond said, "I never much cared for the animal myself, but Maysie was attached. I expect you ain't heard the last of this."

"Maybe not," I said, "but just in case Maysie takes a mind to go out and get her another one, you can tell her that I'll shoot that one, too, if she doesn't show it how to behave right." Raymond just raised his eyebrows up into his hairline and went back into the house. But I noticed he closed both the screen door and the inside door, and I heard him click the bolt shut before I walked on back down to my truck.

The next day, I was working at my Uncle Jake's shop, winching the engine up outta some rusted-out ole pickup, when this fancy-looking man come in and asked me was I the one had a reputation for shooting people's dogs on their front porch without so much as a "Don't mind if I do." I gave him a look and didn't say nothing.

"I'll take that as a 'yes,'" he said. "Reason I ask is I'm wondering how much it would cost me to get you come out and put down my sad ole pig."

Now I'm not saying that this town's so small anymore that you know every single body on sight, but the rich folks who live in the new developments out on the west edge don't come around here much. And don't nobody come to Jake's shop wearing a tie, not in recent memory, and anyone that does is probly a bill collector or some kind of police. Anyway, that's how I figured it, and I wasn't trying to be friendly before I knew what he wanted.

"I don't shoot pigs," I said. "Besides, I didn't do Maysie's dog for fun nor money. I did it because Maysie's dog was having an unnatural relationship with my shin bone."

"But speaking hypothetically," the man went on, "if I could come up with a figure you found attractive, would you shoot my pig?"

"Why don't you shoot it yourself," I asked. "Or slit its throat?"

The man got a tight look on his face like he was trying hard to swallow down a dry biscuit. "Pearl's been our pet for years," he said finally. "I couldn't bear it."

"You got a pig for a pet?" I said. That wasn't the strangest thing I ever heard, but it was damn close. The man just nodded and looked sad.

"Well," I said. "Well." I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to know, so I went to finish cranking up the motor, still dangling the way it was up in the air like a side of beef on a meat hook. Ain't hardly anything sadder-looking than a vehicle when you got the hood off and the engine mounts, and you've pulled out the motor and everything so there's nothing left but the empty carcass and a hole up front to where you can look straight down and see dirt.

The man started twisting the toe of his shoe around and around in a little hill of sawdust that was left over from the last time we tried to get the oil stains up off the garage floor. "So will you do it?" he asked after a while.

"She sick?" I said, wiping my hands on my coveralls.

"I think she's got cancer," the man said.

A pig with cancer. Now that's an unusual fact. "Whyn't you take her to the vet and have him do away with her?" I said.

"She's too big to fit in the car and, besides, they want a hundred and eighty-two dollars to put a pig down."

I took a glance at his shiny tie and his sport coat that had some kind of design sewed in above the pocket looked like a coat of arms. "Seem like you might could afford that," I snorted.

"I'll pay you seventy-five," he said, "plus gas out to my place and back."

I didn't like to show it, but I had started in to be pretty curious to see this pet pig with cancer that was too big to fit inside the car, never mind what kind of a house the man that owned it might live in. And seventy-five dollars was about twice as much as I made in a whole day at the shop. "All right," I said.

"You have to come over during the day while the kids are at school," the man said. "I don't want them to be there when you do it."

"How's tomorrow lunchtime?" I asked. Next day was a Wednesday and I figured that ought to of been all right.

The man took a skinny spiral book outta his coat pocket and turned the pages. "Make it Friday?" he asked. "We need some time to say good-bye."

"Friday, then."

He scribbled on the back of a small white card and held it out to me. "My home address and phone number," he said, "in case you have to reschedule or anything." I flipped the card over, leaving a black thumbprint right where he'd wrote his address. Hailey Monroe, it said in fancy script on the printed side, Counselor at Law. Well, that figured.

"Laird Sutton," I said, and stuck out my hand. I hoped he got grease on him.

When Friday morning rolled around, I woke up early to clean my gun. I went into the chest at the foot of my bed, where I keep the guns, and the cleaning oil, and a real World War II Jap bayonet that my Uncle Jake gave me, and pulled out a new box of shells so as to have plenty of extra rounds to carry along. If the pig was as big as the man said, one shot might not be enough. At about a quarter to noon I hollered to the guys in the back that I was taking lunch away from the shop, and I drove out to the address on the card.

"Mr. Monroe," I said when he came to the door.

"Oh, you're right on time," he said. We stood there for a while, him not asking me in, and me trying to look pleasant but not like my spirits was too high, on account of I knew the man thought of this as a solemn occasion.

"Pearl's out back," he said finally, smiling at me kind of nervous and showing a lot of big, square teeth like two rows of hominy. He stepped back from the door and held his arm out, the way the junior crossing guards do when they direct traffic down at the public school, and I took that to mean I was supposed to go ahead on in the house. He walked about eight steps and just stood there, so I came up behind him and waited for him to show me the pig. I figured this was more emotional for him than it was for me.

"Nice place you've got," I said, but really it wasn't as fancy as I thought a lawyer's place would be. They had a lot of space though, or anyway just the living room by itself seemed half as big as the whole trailer where I lived with Alice, or did until she left out of here for a place in the city. That was a while ago now, some time even before I met Maysie.

He had one of those TV sets with a screen the size of a front window and a lounge chair across from that with the plastic wrap still on the footrest. There was a fireplace, of course, and pictures all stood up across the mantle like soldiers. I didn't want to pry by actually walking over to stare at them, but I could see well enough from where I was that there was the same woman in a lot of the pictures, sort of pale and neat-looking, like a librarian or maybe a dental hygienist. I guessed that was the wife because she and him appeared to be in most of the pictures together. Them and a couple of regular old kids, the kind you see anywhere, a boy and a girl, I guess, but really I just made that up on account of it wasn't that easy to tell. Coulda been two girls or a couple of long-haired boys, the way rich folks leave their children because don't lice ever break out in their schools.

"Nice family," I said. "What're your kids' names?"

"Uh ... Jaren and Chris," he said. "They're twins." Which that didn't help me any figuring out who was what, so I just gave up.

"Well, come on outside," the man said, and we walked through the rest of the living room and down a little hall to some glass doors off the kitchen. He slid the doors open and made that "after you" signal with his arm again, so I went out first. He had a cement slab out there, just off the house, about eight by ten with one of those barbecue grills on it that don't take charcoal, and the rest of the yard was grass. Nice regular grass, too; not a yellow patch or a dandelion in sight. He'd fenced off the yard pretty solid with about three rows of bricks for a foundation and then wood planks looked like redwood set into that so the whole thing was about almost ten feet tall. Good and private.

Only thing was, I didn't see no pig.

"Mr. Monroe," I started to say, "where is it you keep...," when out from the side yard came this big, ugly woman the size of a linebacker. She just ambled on out in no particular hurry, all the time fixing me in the eye with a look that was damn unfriendly. She had a man with her wasn't no prettier nor no smaller, and behind the two of them, looking a little grim about the face, came Maysie.

"Hi, Maysie," I said.

"Don't you 'Hi, Maysie' me," she said, "not after you just walked up on my porch and killed my dog."

Now, I was still trying to get the lay of the land and see what this was all going to come to. I had about figured out there wasn't no pig, of course, but I was getting my first good look at that woman Maysie had with her, and frankly, she was more worrisome to me than the fella. She had on a man's shirt with the sleeves torn off up high on the shoulders, and from the ragged edge of the seam all the way down to her wrists wadn't hardly a space didn't have some kind of tattoo on it. In another situation, I might have wanted to look more closely at her designs or ask who worked on her, but I was surely not going to try any of that now. Anyway, she must of outsized me by a good eighty pounds and more'n a few inches. She had biceps on her, too, the woman did. On her bottom half she was wearing some tight, raggedy old pair of greasy blue jeans with her ass hanging off the back like an air conditioner, and black stompin' boots on her feet must have been as big as mine. I ain't never been in the service, but I thought if I did go, she'da probly been who I got for a drill sergeant.

I was still feeling a little bit of indignant because I didn't like being tricked that way, and I was gonna say to Maysie that I'd done told her what I'd do if she didn't fix that dog, and that I was within my rights to keep my word after she'd had fair warning, but right at that time, I didn't exactly see the advantage to bringing all that up. So I just said, "I guess Raymond told you, then."

Maysie made a noise that sounded like "Schaaw!" and stood there with her hands on her hips and her breasts all kinda mashed down inside her overalls. I always thought Maysie woulda done better for herself if she didn't dress like a man half the time.

"This is Earl," Maysie said finally, pointing to the man standing next to her that looked like Paul Bunyan. "And this here's Skee. And you already know Hailey." I just stared around at everybody -- didn't seem quite the right time to be shaking folks' hands. Besides, I was busy having a revelation. I knew Maysie had taken up after me with some fella named Skee who I'd never laid eyes on, but now it turned out Skee wadn't no kind of fella.

"Did you bring your gun," Hailey said.

"Yeah," I said, though the way he asked didn't make me feel none too good to be telling them about it.

"Then give it here," he said.

"I won't, either," I said.

Maysie threw me a look of pure disgust and said, "Skee," and Skee reached around into her back pocket and drew out a switchblade. She flipped it open and started for me.

"Now just hold on here a minute," I said, backing up until I was pressed against the glass doors to the kitchen. "If ya'll got some kind of sick John Bobbitt shit in mind, you just remember that this is all over a damn dog. And you don't want to be putting a dog's life over a human's. Anyway, Maysie, you always got some old mangy, broke-down, worthless animal or other around your place, usually more than one, so I don't know why you've taken on so about this one. But it don't matter. If you want another dog, I'll get you one. And I'll even buy you the feed for the next six months," I added, on account of Maysie didn't give me the impression she was finding my offer all that sweet. In fact, she was shaking her head at me like I was pitiful. But the good thing was, Skee wasn't coming any closer.

"First off," she said, "he wadn't technically my dog, he was Skee's. Well, Skee give 'em to me, but he was hers first. Skee's been staying over to my place quite a little bit during the last few months, which you'd know if you ever bothered to come around 'cept when you want something."

Now, I knew what she was talking about, even if maybe everybody else didn't. Maysie and I used to go out together for about a minute, but we broke up on accounta she said she got fed up with me showing up past dark, after I'd already been out drinking, and wanting to crawl right into bed with her. Far as I could tell, it didn't matter much to Maysie how or when I crawled into bed with her, she just didn't like it. So I didn't figure what difference it made if she got her a movie and a Dr. Pepper beforehand or if she didn't. My way, the whole thing was over quicker anyhow. But Maysie wouldn't hear nothin' but that we had to break up, and so that's what we did. Things didn't change much between us after that, to tell the truth. I'd still stop over when I was out of beer money or dope, but to be fair, you'd have to say that I also did sometimes ride her up into the next town when she wanted to go to the CostCo and buy a bunch of stuff, 'cuz I had a pickup and could hold more than a sack of groceries like that piss-ant GM she decided to start tooling around in like she was a damn movie star.

"Second," Maysie was saying, "you want to watch whose animals you're insulting, because I am the only reason you're here instead of saying howdy to Skee and Earl when they showed up at your door all unexpected with a baseball bat. When Skee found out what you done, I had the devil's own time convincing her to do this my way. So you'd better thank me for making things a whole lot easier on your sorry ass than you even deserve."

"Uh, thanks, Maysie," I said. "But what're you gonna...."

"And then you can apologize to Skee for shooting her and my dog in the first place," Maysie interrupted, "'cuz you still got that to account for."

"I know it," I said, "and Skee, truly I am sorry for what I did. I surely didn't ever want to bring a third person into this."

Skee glared at me and spat, hard and loud. The place where the gob landed left a wet crater in the dust the size of a half-dollar. But she put the switchblade back in her pocket.

"Well, that'll do for now," Maysie said. "All right, let's get this done. Laird, give Hailey your gun. And don't make me ask again."

Whatever they had in mind, I didn't much like my chances of gettin' out of it. I thought about running, but I knew I'd never make it over the wall in the yard before they caught me. And wadn't any way to get back out through the house without going through the sliding-glass doors Hailey had locked behind him. I hardly had a minute to think about all that, though, before Hailey come up beside me and held out his hand. I put my gun into it.

"Now," he said, "you take this." He hitched up his pants leg to where he had an ankle holster and he pulled out this little ole Nancy Reagan-sized pistol with mother-of-pearl grips.

"Meet Pearl," he said. "Now you take it."

I took it, but then I just stood there, holding onto the gun by the barrel and goggling down at it in my hand like he'da just passed me a cold, wet chicken neck. When I raised my head again, Maysie, Skee, Earl, and Hailey were staring straight at me, the four of them looking about as warm and helpful as those faces on Mount Rushmore.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" I asked.

Well, that was the first time Skee stopped frowning and started in to look almost a little bit cheerful. "Shoot yourself in the foot," she said.

I paused a minute to let that sink in, then I said, "I don't think so." I tried to hand the gun back to Hailey, but he wouldn't take it.

"Laird, don't be a stone fool," Maysie sighed. "This is fair and you know it. Besides, if you won't, I can't be responsible for keeping Skee and Earl from coming for you. And you know that's gonna be worse. You wanna be foot shot or beat to hell with a bat? You know I ain't trying to shit you, neither. Skee never liked you from the get-go and she's mad enough now to put a hurt on you you'll not soon forget. Do you believe me?"

"Maysie, I surely do believe you," I said, "but this is some crazy shit. You can't just tell a man to shoot himself in the foot and expect him to go ahead and do it."

Maysie ignored that. "Here's how it's gonna go," she said. "After you shoot yourself, I'ma drive you to the emergency room in your truck 'cuz you sure ain't gonna feel much like doin' it yourself. That way, you'll be able to go along home when you want after they look at you. You might as well give me your car keys now, too. Meanwhile, Skee'll come behind in her truck and pick me up. Now you tell 'em whatever you want at the ER, but I advise you to say you shot yourself by accident. You'll sound like a damn fool, but you'll get over it. If you ever try to say anything different, I'm gonna tell 'em you stalked me here to Hailey's house and picked a fight when I wouldn't leave with you. You pulled your gun and Hailey wound up having to shoot you in the foot with his own gun to keep you from hurtin' anybody. It's gonna be four people's word against yours -- and one of 'em a lawyer. Don't forget, neither, that you're the guy just blew a pet dog's brains out when it was tied up on the porch, which ain't exactly the actions of a sane and healthy man.

"Holy Mary in a Cadillac, Maysie Diane," I said, "who'd ever a thought you had such a devious mind."

"Well," she said, "one of these days I aim to get the hell out of this town and become a writer, and it's good to have an active imagination."

"Maysie," I said, "you keep on doing shit like this, ain't gonna be a man in this town'll go with you."

When I said that, I saw Skee start to come forward again, but Maysie put her hand out and giggled. "Oh, Laird," she said, "you 'bout as bright as an old penny in a mud puddle. Now get on with it. Skee and I both got jobs we got to get back to some time this afternoon."

"Right or left," I asked.

"Both!" Skee snarled, opening up her big ole mouth and making a nasty, snaggly smirk. I swear to God, seemed like that woman had more tattoos than she had teeth.

"Left," Maysie said, smiling a little herself. "You ain't gonna like it when you have to clutch, but at least you'll be able to step on the gas without breaking down and crying like a girl."

I bent down and put the muzzle of the pistol against the top surface of my left work boot. I had the barrel angled over toward the edge, thinking I might get away with just blowing the tip off one toe, but Hailey brought his face down right next to mine and said, "Tsk, tsk, tsk." Then he covered my gun hand with his and slid the barrel back up toward my ankle until the muzzle was nestled right in there where the bottom of the laces starts. "Better," he said.

Now, I ain't one to say I never did a crazy thing on a dare, but in all my time one thing I never once had the urge to do was to jump off one of those cherry-picker-type things like they have at the county fair with a rope tied to my leg. Still, if ever I did get drunk enough to want to do such a foolish thing, I guess the moment right before I pulled the trigger must have been just like how it is when you step off the edge. You know it's probly not going to kill you, but you ain't too sure how much it's going to hurt before you're through. All I knew was, Skee wasn't never gonna know me to scream in pain, I didn't care how bad it got.

So I fired, and I screamed, and the last thing I heard before I passed out was Skee making a sound like a dull saw blade going through wet wood. I guessed that musta been what she called laughing.

I woke up later at the hospital, with my foot propped up in some kind of a clamp, and a hole in the middle of it like Jesus H. Christ and a little bit of daylight coming through on the other side if I held my head just so to look. They give me something for the pain, but my foot was still throbbing, and each toe felt like it had its own little separate heart inside, and all five of them pounding as if I'd run all the way to the hospital from Hailey Monroe's house. Not that I'd of been able to do such a thing in my condition.

Some doctor came by in one of those baggy suits look like wrinkly green pajamas and said, "Lucky for you it was just a .25 caliber. Your basic Saturday Night Special. Could have been a lot worse. We'll have you out of here in a bit. You had a tetanus shot lately, by the way?"

Well, so that's how it happened. I wasn't sure how I was gonna get home that day on account of I was feeling pretty woozy by the time they wheeled me into the lobby, but damn if Raymond wasn't there waiting for me with the keys to my truck. I was suspicious at first, him being Maysie's brother and all, but he took me home and got me into bed, and that night he slept on the couch, saying he felt responsible and did I mind if he stuck around to make sure I didn't want for anything.

Turns out he was a lot of fun to talk to and not nearly so slow as I took him for at the start, and he started sleeping over even after I was well on account of he said things got awful noisy at his place whenever Skee stayed the night. The way he rolled his eyes when he said "noisy," I knew just what he meant.

Since then, me and Raymond have gotten to be real good friends, and a couple of months ago we just went ahead and moved him in here to my trailer. Skee had quit her place and was living up with Maysie anyway, and I had plenty of room for the two of us. Ever once in a blue moon we go out drinking with Skee and Maysie, but not all that often 'cuz Skee still makes me some nervous. Still, when I decided to get rid of all my guns, Skee bought 'em for a fair price and didn't hand me no attitude about it either. She and Maysie got themselves a new dog not long after that afternoon at Hailey's -- some evil-looking mutt with Rottweiler and German Shepherd mixed in it, I think -- and that's the main thing keeps me from going over to their house. I'm happy to wait in the truck while Raymond goes inside, but I won't walk up on the porch. Skee went and called that new dog Butcher, and I can't help but think she named it with me in mind.


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