The last thing Jackie thought before getting plugged was: A junkyard’s a hell of a place to go.
Then the bullets hit. One, shoulder. Two, stomach. Jackie immediately let himself go limp and topple over. The pain was extraordinary, but he didn’t cry out. He knew that if he did, number three would go straight to the head.
“Yeah, looks like it. Didn’t even make a sound. Let’s go.”
Jackie passed out.
His first thought on waking up was: What did I ever do to get into heaven?
Because Laney was there, waiting for him. Wagging her tail.
Then his nose started working again. No, he was still in the junkyard.
He squinted at the dog in front of him. Not quite Laney. Looked a lot like her, though. Lab mix, short black hair. But this dog was maybe a bit taller, and definitely skinnier. (Though wouldn’t you be too, if you’d been living in a junkyard, Jackie thought.) And there wasn’t a pure white mark on her chest, just a dirty gray stripe that ran from her throat down under her belly. But mostly, the dog just looked like Laney. If he didn’t squint, she was the spitting image.
Cold. He was so cold. Must have lost a ton of blood. He gingerly reached down and felt the pavement. Yup, it was there. Drying, but still sticky.
The dog moved forward.
It was only then that Jackie really began to be afraid. This must be one of the dogs that Tabot hired to guard the yard. If she thought he was an intruder…
But instead, the dog edged up to him, and nuzzled his cheek.
Jackie cried. Partly in relief, partly in pain. The dog licked his face, whimpered, licked again. He reached out an increasingly unsteady hand, and stroked Laney’s fur.
No, the dog’s. The dog’s fur. The fur of the junkyard dog.
He lay there, caressing the dog as she stood over him, feeling the life continue to slowly ebb from his torso. Thank you, girl, Jackie thought. You knew I was gonna go tonight. Thank you for coming back to see me through it.
Laney lay down next to him, and snuggled her body next to his. Snuggled in tightly.
At first, Jackie didn’t understand. Then it hit him. She knows. She knows that something’s wrong. She doesn’t know what, but she knows I’m cold. She’s trying to keep me warm. Keep me alive.
With a sob, Jackie was a little kid again. He wrapped his hands around Laney, buried his face in her dirty fur, and let his tears flow. Laney arched slightly, turned her head, and licked him tenderly.
Jackie fell asleep.
No thoughts. Only dreams.
Jackie didn’t dream of a drug deal gone wrong. He didn’t dream of coming to rescue a hostage that wasn’t here. He didn’t dream of being shot.
Instead, he dreamed he was a boy again, and Laney was young and strong and healthy. They raced through an endless meadow he’d never seen but knew by heart, one where the daffodils and daisies dot the grass, where a thousand streams run free and clear and pure, where the sky remains at endless dusk, and where a boy and his dog can chase eternity, and run it to ground.
God, don’t let me leave here, Jackie said. God, please God, oh please—
“—God, please, Jackie, come on, wake up!”
Tyrese? Was that Tyrese?
The boys crowded around him, lifted him up. They carried him to a waiting car.
“Laney,” he murmured.
“What was that?”
“Forget it, man,” Jackie heard Tyrese say. “Dude’s out of it. He don’t know what he’s saying.”
As they slid him into the backseat and closed the door, Jackie thought he saw a glimpse of a black dog standing by the nearest junked car pile, staring at him mournfully.
In the days that followed, his thoughts were all of Laney. Once he left the hospital, his first stop was the junkyard, during business hours this time. He wandered around, with the owner’s permission. He saw six dogs. Not a one of them was black.
“Oh, that’s Alice,” said the owner when he asked. “She’s around here somewhere. Don’t take much to strangers, though. I hardly see her myself some days.”
Jackie thanked the man, and walked away.
He thought of that night frequently, then less frequently. Then only on occasion. On certain nights, when he couldn’t help but stare up at the moon and wonder.
It couldn’t be that his faithful dog had come back from the grave, for one last visit, for one last act of faithfulness. It must have just been Alice, who overcame her fear when she saw someone in pain, and spent a night saving the life of a man she didn’t know. She looked like Laney. She acted like Laney. But she was Alice, of course. Just Alice.
That was probably it.
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