Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

What Happened to All the Dogs?

Typical of an August morning in southwest Louisiana, the air was warm, thick and wet even at 7 a.m., but still bearable, the way it wouldn’t be as the day progressed.  Lester LaPierre rode up and down Eleazar Street in his golf cart the way he did every morning at this time, smoking a cigar.  It was a twice-daily routine.  He’d do the same thing later that evening.  When Lester saw Ruth Broussard waving him down, he pulled the golf cart over and rolled to a stop. 

Ruth Broussard had come to the end of her driveway in a robe and house slippers to pick up the paper.  She had rollers in her hair.  Lester’s yellow lab, Jolie, ran ahead of the golf cart, eager to reach the end of the street.  The dog stopped, looked back, and barked at Lester to come on.

“Wait a minute, Jolie,” Lester said to the dog.  “Can’t you see I’m talking to Miss Ruth?”

“I heard Toby didn’t come home yesterday,” Miss Ruth said, referring to Lester’s hunting dog.  A big black Lab that he let out of the kennel to do its business those two times of the day Lester rode up and down the street in the golf cart.  Miss Ruth sounded concerned.  But then, she concerned herself about a lot of things.  “Has he come back home yet?” she said.

“No, he’s still out somewhere,” Lester said.  The evening before, Lester had asked Miss Ruth’s husband, Albert, if he’d seen any sign of Toby.  “I’m not too worried about it, though, Miss Ruth,” Lester added.  “Toby does it from time to time—puts his nose in the air and then he’s off following a scent.  There’s probably a dog in-heat somewhere.”

“You oughta get that dog fixed, Lester.  You’re gonna find him dead on the side of the highway one day.  Watch.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary, Miss Ruth,” Lester said, smoke pouring from his mouth.  “Like I said, I’m not too worried about it.  He’ll show up like he always does once his mind is off sex and back on food.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about that,” Miss Ruth said.  “But I still think you should get ‘im fixed.”

“Okay, Miss Ruth,” Lester said, moving his foot off the brake pedal.  “Let me know if you see him, okay?”

“Will do,” Miss Ruth said as she turned in the gravel driveway and began walking toward her house with the rolled up newspaper.

In truth, Lester was a little worried.  Any time the dog went missing, Lester avoided the highway.  He couldn’t stand the idea of seeing the black lifeless form of a Labrador Retriever heaped on the shoulder of the road.

*   *   *

Two days later Toby still hadn’t come home and now Lester was worried sick.  Word traveled up and down Eleazar Street and the neighbors began voicing their concern whenever Lester drove by in the golf cart.

“Any sign of Toby?” Jack Piazza said as Lester and Jolie came down the street one evening.  Jack was cutting the grass and he turned off the riding mower so Lester could hear him.

“Still no sign of him, Jack,” Lester said, stopping the golf cart.  Jack climbed off the little tractor and moved toward Lester.  He pulled off the kind of leather work gloves normally worn to dig a ditch, not to mow a lawn.  Jolie barked for Lester to come on.

Jack held his gloves in one hand and slapped them once against the palm of his other hand, igniting a small cloud of dust.  “Well,” he said, “the good news is I didn’t see him anywhere on the side of the road when I went into town this morning.  I hated to look, you know.  But I was glad I didn’t see anything.”

“That’s good to hear,” Lester said.  “I’m really worried about him, Jack.  He’s never been away this long and I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m sorry, Lester.  I’m sure he’ll turn up sooner or later.”

*   *   *

Two more weeks passed and Lester had to accept that Toby wouldn’t be coming back home.  Lester was all torn up inside about it.  e He

Not wanting to talk about it anymore, he’d held off riding up and down the street in the golf cart, even though Jolie had urged him to go those two times a day.  The routine had become as much hers as Lester’s.

Then, thinking enough time had gone by, Lester set out toward Eleazar Street in the golf cart.  Jolie couldn’t have been more delighted.  The dog barked and jumped around, letting Lester know it.  At the end of the driveway Lester looked down the street to see if Miss Ruth was in her front yard; out working in the flowerbeds or talking to the birds or just roaming around in her robe the way she sometimes did.  Lester didn’t want to run into her.  He’d managed to avoid her the past two weeks and still wanted a little more time to pass before facing her.  She didn’t let go of things so easily.

Lester made it to the end of the dead end street before turning the cart around and heading back to the house, careful not to roll over Jolie who liked to run dangerously close to the front tires.  That’s when Lester saw Johnny Dubois standing at the end of his driveway, still wearing his dress shirt and tie from the Pharmacy.  Lester drove the golf cart over to Johnny and stopped next to him, holding the cigar in his teeth as he used both hands on the wheel.

“What you know, Johnny?” Lester said.

“Not a lot, Lester, not a lot.  You?”

“Oh, the same.”

Lester took a long pull off his cigar while he waited for Johnny to say what he’d come all the way out to the street to say.

“You ever find Toby?” Johnny said.

“’Fraid not,” Lester said.  “I can’t imagine where that knucklehead went and ran off—” Lester almost choked up and he had to stop talking.

“I’m sorry about that, Lester.  I really mean that.”  Johnny paused.  Then he said, “Hey, I don’t know if you heard or not, but now Andouille is missing.”

Andouille was the Dubois’s pet Dachshund.

“For how long?” Lester said, able to talk again.  He tried to remember the last time he’d seen the little dog.  Every now and again it would venture all the way to Lester’s end of the street.

“Just today,” Johnny said.  “We let him out this morning to do his business and he never came back.”

“Hm,” Lester said, smoke issuing from his nose in a short puff as he said it.  “I wouldn’t get too worried about it just yet, Johnny.  It takes a dog Andouille’s size a long time to roam the neighborhood, and then just as long to get back to where he started.”  Lester smiled the way he always did when he saw the funny looking dog.  He pictured the long, little Wiener dog now, its short stumpy legs, taking an hour to mark the area that only took Toby a few minutes, back when he was still around.

“I just wondered,” Johnny said.  “You know, with Toby disappearing and all.”

“I’ll keep an eye open for him,” Lester said, releasing the brake pedal and allowing the golf cart to roll away from Johnny Dubois, but not so quickly that it might offend him.  “Try not to worry, Johnny.  I’m sure Andouille will turn up before dark.”

But Andouille didn’t turn up.  Then another week went by and everyone figured they’d never see the little dog roaming the street again.  No one said anything about it anymore until Kenny Meaux’s poodle-mix disappeared. 

Lester was driving down the street with Jolie one evening when he saw Johnny Dubois, Jack and Sarah Piazza, and Albert Broussard all crowded together up ahead on the street.  Lester wondered what was going on.  He thought about turning around and going back home.  But Jolie had already run ahead and was now licking Johnny’s hand.  When Johnny looked up, he noticed the golf cart and waved Lester over.  Lester had no choice and kept moving down the street.  As he neared the group, Lester could tell something was wrong.

“What’s going on?” Lester said.  They made room for the golf cart to fit into the circle, so Lester chose to remain seated behind the wheel.  He decided he’d leave as soon as he saw his chance.  It’d be dark soon and then the mosquitoes would be out in force.

“Did you hear?” Johnny said.  He wiped the hand Jolie had just licked on the front of his khaki pants, leaving a wet smear.

“Hear what?” Lester said.

“Now King Louis III is gone.”

“What do you mean King Louis is gone?” Lester said, refusing to call the dog by its full name, using the ordinal suffix the way everyone else did.  So what if it was Kenny Meaux’s third poodle?  So what if he named it the same name as the two before it?

As if sensing they weren’t going anywhere for a while, Jolie jumped onto the seat next to Lester, still panting hard from her sprint to the end of the street.

“He’s gone,” Johnny said, “that’s what I mean.”

“Did y’all hear about King Louis III?”  A woman’s voice came from behind Lester.  It was Miss Ruth making her way to the circle, wearing her robe, house slippers and walking as quickly as her old legs allowed.  She had the rollers in her hair.

“That’s what we were just telling Lester,” Johnny said.

“What’s happening to all the dogs?” Miss Ruth said, much more dramatically than necessary, as far as Lester was concerned.

No one said anything.  No one had an answer.

“When did Kenny say his dog disappeared?” Lester said.

“Just this morning,” Jack said.  “He came by on his way to work and asked if I’d seen King Louis III, and I told him no.”

“He came by all our houses,” Sarah Piazza put in.

Lester didn’t say what he was thinking:  that the little poodle was old, blind and sick, and had probably gone off to die somewhere.  Probably under one of the neighborhood houses.  Instead, he said, “I’m sure he’s around.  He hasn’t been missing that long.”

“Has anyone else noticed there’s a pattern going on here?” Miss Ruth said.

“How do you mean, Miss Ruth?” Sarah Piazza said.

“Isn’t it obvious, all these dogs gone missing?  First it was Toby, then Andouille and now King Louis III.  And before all of them, it was Rascal,” she said, referring to her pet Miniature Collie.

“But Miss Ruth, Rascal didn’t exactly disappear like the others,” Lester said, choosing his words carefully.  He didn’t want to go into the details of what had actually happened to the little Collie.  He didn’t want to bring up how it had been run over by a city truck because the dog liked to chase cars.  It’d been a horrible scene, Miss Ruth in her robe on her knees in the middle of Eleazar Street cradling Rascal’s limp, broken body in her arms.  Wailing so loudly that every house on the street emptied.  For a long time you couldn’t mention the incident without Miss Ruth losing it all over again.  No one ever talked about Rascal anymore.

“Rascal did disappear,” Miss Ruth insisted.  “He’s missing, same as the rest.  But the food I leave him on the back steps is always gone in the morning, so I know he’s still around somewhere.”

Lester thought it better not to say anything more.  He looked at the others and they looked back at him with tight lips.  They all knew it could be almost anything eating the food she left, coming up from the bayou in the night.  Stray dogs or cats, raccoons, opossums, nutria, even the ducks and geese.  Anything but Rascal.  They all looked at Albert Broussard who was looking at his wife.

“Dammit, Miss Ruth,” Albert shouted, as if talking to someone hard of hearing.  “How many times I gotta tell you?  Rascal’s dead and he’s not coming back.”

Miss Ruth looked at her husband with a blank face.  Everyone stiffened.

“Anyway,” Sarah said, scratching her neck where a mosquito had left a small pink welt.  “I think Miss Ruth is right.  There does seem to be a pattern to all this.  It doesn’t seem normal for dogs to just go disappearing.  I mean it’s the oddest thing, don’t y’all think?”

Lester thought it was a ridiculous thing to say.  He almost said so, but held his tongue.  Instead he drew hard on the cigar and let the smoke out slowly so that it clouded around his face, repelling the mosquitos that had begun to show up.

“Maybe someone’s stealing ‘em?” Albert said, as eager as Sarah to keep the conversation moving away from the day Rascal was hit by the city truck at about the very spot where they all now stood.

“Where is Kenny, anyway?” Lester said.

“He’s out driving around looking for King Louis III,” Miss Ruth said.  She shook her head.  She looked like she might start crying, only now not because of Rascal.  “You should see Kenny, the poor thing.  He’s a wreck.  That dog is all he has.  And living in that big house all by himself like that.”  Miss Ruth looked down the street and at the big peach colored house that was Kenny Meaux’s.

“First someone was taking all the ducks from the bayou and now this,” Jack said.

“I really can’t see how this is the same thing as that, Jack,” Lester said.  “I mean I don’t think a few dogs gone missing has anything to do with the ducks disappearing.” 

Like Jack, and some others on Eleazar Street, Lester lost several ducks during the time a few years earlier when many of the ducks and geese had vanished from the backyards of the houses along the bayou.  It was the queerest thing.  It went on for weeks and then stopped as mysteriously as it’d started.

“You don’t know that!”  Johnny exploded, pissed off that Lester would dismiss Jack’s explanation.

“What the hell, Johnny?” Lester said.  “I’m not claiming to know anything.  So calm down, why don’t you?”

“Exactly,” Johnny said.  “You don’t know if someone stole Andouille or not.  Someone could’ve.”

“Hey, I’m just as in the dark about all this as y’all are,” Lester said.  “I’m sorry about Andouille, Johnny, I really am.  But I just don’t think someone would steal a Wiener dog.  I mean why would they?”

Johnny’s face turned red.  “But someone would steal a Lab, huh?” he said, hardly able to speak he was so angry.  “Is that what you’re saying?  What the hell good’s a Lab anyway, huh, Lester?  Tell me that.”

“It’s not what I’m saying at all,” Lester said, feeling his own face beginning to grow hot.  “But now that you bring it up, yeah, I do think someone would steal a Lab before they stole a little Wiener dog.  I think we can all agree on that.”  Lester looked to the others for support, but no one looked back at him.  Albert Broussard slapped at a mosquito on his arm.  Everyone else stood there, heads down, like they were studying their shoes.

Johnny Dubois was about the same age as Lester, in his early seventies.  But unlike Lester, he was overweight, had diabetes, a bad heart, and looked ready for a fight.

Sarah Piazza intervened.  “Okay, that’s enough, you two.”

“Johnny, I’m sorry about Andouille,” Lester said, his hands beginning to tremble.  He let his cigar drop to the floorboard before gripping the steering wheel so no one would notice.  “And I’m sorry you took what I said the wrong way.  But I just don’t think someone stole any of the dogs.  My Toby included.  That’s just my opinion.”

Johnny, wanting to say something, but, clearly unable to speak, shook his head to let Lester know how mad he was.  Tiny cottonballs had collected at the corners of his mouth.

Sarah watched Johnny with a worried face.  “I for one think someone could’ve stole Andouille, Mr. Dubois,” she said.  “Heck, I’d steal him.  I think he’s adorable.”

“There’s a definite pattern going on here,” Miss Ruth put in from the other side of the golf cart. 

Lester had forgotten she was there and he made a note of it.  He didn’t want to run her over with the golf cart when he put it in reverse.  Lester took a deep breath and said, “Look, all I’m saying is if it were just a Lab that was missing, maybe I could accept it.  It crossed my mind when Toby still hadn’t come home after a few days.  I mean people steal hunting dogs all the time, it’s a fact.  But it became less of a possibility in my mind when Andouille disappeared.  And now I think it’s even less likely now that King Louis is gone.  I mean think about it.  Who would steal a Lab, a Wiener dog and a sick little poodle?  It just doesn’t make sense.”

“King Louis III means the world to Kenny,” Miss Ruth said.  “That poor man doesn’t have anyone else.  And living in that big house all alone.  I would think King Louis III is every bit as precious as Toby.  Even if he is old and sick.”

Jack and Sarah Piazza nodded and Lester realized he wasn’t getting anywhere.  Still, he’d try one more time.  “I don’t doubt that King Louis is precious to Kenny, Miss Ruth.  I just don’t think he’d be as precious to anybody else.”

“See, you just don’t know that!” Johnny said, still riled and red-faced, but able to speak again.

Lester hadn’t noticed, he’d not felt anything, but mosquitos had managed to get under his collar, and now he had several mosquito bites on his neck and shoulders, all swelling to the size of dimes, all itching at once.

The golf cart let out a sharp whistle, suddenly jolting backward as Lester reached below the seat and flipped the gear knob to reverse.  Jolie, who’d put her head down to rest, had to bare her claws on the vinyl seat to keep from being thrown forward to the floorboard.

“It’s getting late and I’m getting eaten by mosquitoes,” Lester said.  “I’m going home.”

The golf cart continued to whistle as Lester backed up, watching the crowd watching him getting smaller.  He didn’t bother stopping to turn the cart around.  He just kept going in reverse all the way down the street until he reached his yard, guiding the cart down the long driveway toward the house, still going in reverse.

*  *  *

Tension had built up and down Eleazar Street.  Despite his long search, Kenny Meaux never did find King Louis III.  Now everyone had taken sides in something where there weren’t any sides to take.

Lester hadn’t seen Miss Ruth for a while.  When he asked Albert Broussard about her he told Lester that his wife had fallen back into the deep depression she’d suffered the months following the tragic death of her Miniature Collie.

Lester had stopped going on his daily rides up and down the street altogether.  He didn’t want to run into Johnny Dubois.  Lester had devised a new route and now rode around the perimeter of his one acre lot.  There’d not been any rain for a while and the lawn gave the golf cart solid traction as Lester drove it next to the hurricane fence that paralleled Eleazar Street out front, and then along the side yard—passing Toby’s empty kennel—that sloped down the hill in back toward the bayou.  Before the mess with Johnny Dubois, there had normally been ducks along the bank of the bayou, basking and preening in the sun while waiting for the cracked corn that Lester threw out at dawn and then again at dusk.  But after he had scattered the ducks with the golf cart the first few times he lapped the yard, the birds chose not to return.  Ducks care little for excitement and had moved to another house somewhere downriver where it was quiet, more their speed.  And while Lester had bought into the new route—he could smoke a cigar in twelve laps—Jolie wouldn’t have anything to do with it.  She instead opted to watch from the patio as Lester made the occasional pass, watching as if she could see the strangeness in it that Lester couldn’t.

*  *  *

Lester was riding in the golf cart when it happened.  As he smoked a cigar, he followed the path that had worn into the lawn after three weeks.  He heard the frantic cries for help coming from the Bergeron’s yard across the street.  Glancing in that direction, he could see Lauren Bergeron holding something limp in her arms.  Lester drove across the street as quickly as the golf cart would go on a quarter battery of juice.  Entering the yard he saw Lauren Bergeron holding Phoebe, her pet Australian Shepherd.

“Oh my God,” she screamed hysterically.

“Calm down, Lauren,” Lester said.  He stopped the golf cart and got out with his cane to help her.  The dog looked heavy in her arms.

“Oh my God,” she screamed again. 

Lester let his cane fall to the ground.  He took the dog into his arms, only then seeing the blood on what was left of its chest.

“What the hell happened?” Lester said.  The dog jerked in his arms and he realized it was still alive.  He didn’t know how to hold a dog with half its chest missing and he tried not to touch the gaping wound as he carried the dog to the golf cart, laying it gently onto the passenger seat.

Lauren was crying now, staring down at the spectacle of her dog, the rapid rise and fall of its stomach indicating the fleeting life still within it.

“Lauren,” Lester shouted, trying to snap her out of her shock.

She looked at Lester as if just noticing him there.  “It was Lurleen that did it,” she said, referring to the alligator that lived in the pond off to the side of the house.

“What do you mean?” Lester said, trying to make sense of everything.

“I was in the flowerbed and I heard Phoebe let out a cry, so I ran to the pond and there she was coming away from the water bleeding.  Lurleen did it.  She was right there.  I saw her.”

Then it did make sense and Lester thought of Toby, his big black Lab.  It saddened him to think the dog had met a similar fate.  Only Toby hadn’t been lucky enough to pull away from the alligator.  Like Phoebe, Toby frequently went to the pond to drink, all the dogs in the neighborhood did.  And the Bergeron’s pet alligator, who had never before seen the dogs as prey, now did see them as prey, and it had ambushed the dogs as they drank.  The only thing that saved Phoebe was her thick, beefy chest, a characteristic of Australian Shepherds and not Labrador Retrievers, Weiner dogs or little poodle-mixes.

*  *  *

Phoebe lived.  The vet stitched her up and, after a while, she was good as new, minus the hulking chest of an Australian Shepherd.

And even though Phoebe had almost lost her life, and in the horrific manner of an alligator attack, the Bergerons chose not to have Lurleen shot.  After much consideration they concluded that the alligator really wasn’t to blame; that her only fault was that she’d grown up and was now doing what grown up alligators do every day.  Everyone on Eleazar Street agreed, including Lester, Johnny Dubois, and even Kenny Meaux.  After all, the Bergerons had almost lost Phoebe.  They, too, had suffered and were going through a tough time.  You had to be sensitive in these situations.  The Bergerons chose instead to erect a sturdy goat wire fence around the perimeter of the pond.  The gate had a heavy padlock put on it.  The kids in the neighborhood were no longer allowed to feed Lurleen the fish they caught in the bayou the way they always had before.

Lester and Johnny Dubois and everyone else said they didn’t mean anything by the way they’d acted.  They blamed it on the stress and the pain of losing their dogs and of not knowing the cause of it all.  

But in truth, Lester didn’t see it that way.  He suspected the others didn’t either.  The whole thing had left him feeling raw and displaced.  

Once again, Lester avoided Eleazar Street, falling back into the twice-daily routine of circling his yard, the path surrounding the property becoming more pronounced with each passing day.  Some time would have to go by, maybe a lot of time, he didn’t know. 

He figured he’d return to driving up and down the street once the feeling went away. 

He wondered if it ever would.

 

David P. Langlinais’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in South Dakota Review, Los Angeles Review, Saint Ann’s Review, Dos Passos Review, Raleigh Review, Big Muddy, The MacGuffin and others. His short story collection, “Duck Thief and Other Stories” (UL-Lafayette Press) was 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award’s honorable mention. He lives in Dallas with his wife and daughter where he works as a freelance copywriter.