Serpents in the Cold
"Wonderland Dog Track, Revere"
Thomas O'Connor and Douglas Graham Purdy
He watched the two men appear on the horizon, two black figures against the snow-packed field and the sky above, colored like wet stone, its clouds breaking and rolling in slow liquid movements. One was tall and lean, bowed slightly, the other a little shorter, compact, and moving with a stiff determination even as he seemed to be limping. A tingling sense of déjà vu came over him, some future memory that seeped in from the spaces between dream and premonition, and he lowered his head wearily and sighed. It was time.
One of the dogs nuzzled against his leg. She sat beside him, and he dropped to one knee and pulled her to his chest. He felt her shivering, the sharpness of her ribs beneath her thinning coat. Her one good eye glistened wetly from the frigid air.
“Maxine, my old lady, I know it’s too damn cold. Go join the others and get those muscles worked up before the big storm.” He stroked her head and then said, “Go on now.”
The old greyhound gave him a worried look, as if she knew that the two figures approaching were carrying some bad news, but she obeyed his command and ambled off as well as her arthritic legs would allow, joining the other two dogs, Norman and Sierra, who moved through the snow quicker than she could, their heads bobbing as they rushed each other in play.
He stood and wiped the snow sticking to his knee. The two men were getting closer. It seemed they knew he wouldn’t make a run for it.
Norman and Sierra noticed the men approaching, and they hustled back and paced around him, craning their necks up as they circled, occasionally barking while their panting spurts of breath steamed the cold air. He wondered if they could feel what he was feeling: the fear and yet acceptance that everything would soon be at an end. The sound of the world felt contained, as if nature were holding its breath. He reached out to Sierra, and she nudged his hand before mewling a sad strange song. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” he soothed.
With their hands stuffed inside their coat pockets, the two men were close enough now so that he could see their faces. They didn’t look like killers, nor did they look like police. The taller one seemed somewhat familiar, unshaven and gaunt and looking as if he’d been through the wash one too many times. It seemed as if he were barely on his feet and might fall any minute. The shorter guy was clean-shaven; his square face shone, reddened by the wind. As they came closer, he could see the shorter man’s eyes, bright and blue in bloodshot whites.
The shorter guy said, “Bobby Renza.”
“I don’t go by that name anymore.” His voice cracked as he spoke, as if something were catching painfully in his throat. The dogs moved toward the strangers. Steam fell from their open mouths, tongues hanging as they panted, brown mottled with pink.
He shrugged, scratched at his beard, cigarette smoldering between nicotine-stained fingers. “We need to talk,” the shorter man said.
“What about? I don’t know nothing and I got nothing to say.”
“Maybe. It’s about Sheila Anderson.”
“Are you here to kill me?”
The shorter one paused at that.
“We just want to talk.”
Renza knelt by Norman, rubbed his hackles, as Sierra came and licked at his other hand. He looked at the two men, who eyed him flatly, the stone-faced blue-eyed one and the thin, sick one giving off such a buzz he could feel it. So many things he could do right now and perhaps make a getaway, but he felt so damn tired. He nodded toward a little wooden shack attached to a narrow extension where they kept the kennels. The shack’s stovepipe chimney funneled a gray smoke into the even grayer sky.
“All right then,” he said.