He tested me as we walked through the dark kennels me at his heel like one a the dogs we’d broke in to steal. Some of the kennels had small lights on in them and you could see the dogs bunched in together like tinned fish. Some of them were crying and some of them stared straight ahead just like painted toys. One or two would bark from time to time and he’d dip a bony finger into the breastpocket of his Stockman duster and toss a Jumbone or a Fish Skin to the side of him and the sound of barking would be replaced by the scurrying of feet and lapping of tongues. God knows who he’d payed off to get the electronic punch-code that parted the barbed gates but he’d needed only one shot. The sign on the gate said SEACOMBE but when the gate split so did the words and I pictured a hairbrush made from a shell.
I wondered where Leon and Raelle would be around that time in the night. I imagined them in the shed with the Xbox on and the sleeping bags across the settees, the lava lamp and ripped posters hanging from the woodchip. I wished I was a part of that picture. He pointed as he walked-
“What dogs are them?”
“Irish Setters what.”
“Irish Setters Mr Hibbs.”
“An’ what makes em diffrent from a Inglish setter now.”
“The redness in the coat Mr Hibbs.”
We ventured around a huge circular Koi Carp holding tank and everything smelled of guts and sex suddenly, and then it began to spit, sparse, heavy droplets of raindrops as big as your fist and one hung off my nose before I wiped it.
We stalked toward the back fence to a larger paddock with the roofing felt ripped off and silver flashing tape desperately attempting to conjoin the wall and the broken roof. It sagged and lagged with the converging rain and the flimsy wall rocked.
We stopped outside the large pen which looked to be empty through the diamond-wire grill. It were secure though Hibbs had to bring lock cutters out of his long jacket and stood there wrestling it until there was a gentle snap and the pen door swung to.
Hibbs moved toward a corner where I could see a smudged ball of white I knew it was a dog. It was on its back legs about to saltate, body arched like a halfmoon. He was whispering to it and it were purring back at him and then Hibbs quick as a flash was stood over the thing, and he called me in then.
Hibbs was crouched on top of the dog at its croupe, his knees penning the hindlegs in. I could see then that it were a Bullterrier white as a ghost with the long muscular mouths and pink albino eyes like a killers eyes. Hibbs said-
“Go in this pocket”
I reached over and dipped into the pocket and brought out a fountain pen. I held it up.
“That’s to go directly up its hoop if its jaws lock aroun me arm. Ony way to
Hibbs had the thing grabbed by the dewlaps and its nose forced skyward. It thrashed its muscular neck from side to side but Hibbs were whispering in one of those erect ears of his and it settled then and I was able to clasp the linkchain lead together just below the grizzle of bone called the occiput. My god the thing was enormous, fists of muscle jutting out of every limb. Hibbs pushed me away gently and took the lead from me and released the jaws of the dog. It were very placid and obedient from then because Hibbs has a way with dogs.
I trailed him as I had on the way in, the path become a muddy sedge, the Bullterrier on the lead navigating puddles and rimples with ease I swear the thing was so white it could only have come from the afterlife.
Partway through our egress from the pound, Hibbs stopped dead on the path. He looked sidewards the Bull at his heel and the patty-pat of rain around the rim of his hat were all I could hear. His crooked bulbous nose silhouetted like a hand puppet. He moved toward this cage that was part hidden by a dirty bathtub n crouched down.
Inside was a black Lab that had bit through the wiring and I saw it were lying in its own piss and shit, whimpering. It shivered like the way a drunkard shakes in the sun. One if its paws had gone clean through a piece of barbed wire so Hibbs lifted it up and cut the piece of wire with a butterfly knife and eased the wire through the dew claw releasing a whinny of blood. The Lab whimpered I felt a lump swell in the back of my throat.
Hibbs picked it up, hoisted it with his forearms and balanced it sidewards at his breast. The Lab didn’t fuss at all I’m guessing because life couldn’t get any worse for the poor sod.
Hibbs turned to me n I swear it’s the only time he ever looked me square in the face. I’m not sure if there were a tear in his eye but I wouldn’t bet on it.
“Let them all free” he said, and turned, walking with the Lab in his arms and the Bullterrier trailing, toward his truck.
I went back into the compound and ran unlatching all of the cage doors it was such a sight. The dogs you couldn’t see them for dust every one bolted past me and down the track past Hibbs and a huge rusted satellite dish that were encumbered with weeds and roots and then the dogs they were gone into the black beyond.
You could hear them whooping and barking over the wet hummocks as the truck growled away they were like manic jailbirds cursing through a midnight brothel.
Nick Power is a poet and short story writer. Small Town Chase, Holy Nowhere, and Caravan are published by Erbacce Press.
All work is the property of the author and is distributed with their permission.