I did my best not to curse at the whole stupid little town,
and made my way back outside into the pouring rain. I knew damn well the
area didn’t get that much rain; it was bugging me that it seemed to
have waited for me to arrive. It felt like some kind of damn omen, and that
bugged me even more… that I would let myself think that way.
Maybe it was just that it had been raining in that same kind
of steady down-pour the day Duo had disappeared. I had not been a huge fan
of the rain since.
Getting the stupid electricity turned on at Duo’s place
again, was not going to be as simple as demanding it. I suppose I had grown
too used to being able to call on the Winner name when I really wanted to
have something done immediately. But out there, in the middle of nowhere,
the Winner name meant about as much as trying to claim you knew the Pillsbury
dough boy. People just stared at you and went right on telling you that
these things took time.
Thwarted on my first mission, I walked across the street to
the general store with my collar turned up and my umbrella pulled down,
scowling darkly at the puddles, since that was the only thing sharing the
trek with me.
Blankets were an easy commodity and I bought several. Thick
ones. After that the pickings grew slimmer and I had to fight that urge
to curse again. Most of the things I was interested in were only available
in electric models, though I did manage to score a small propane cook stove.
I would never manage any sort of knack cooking on Duo’s damn wood
stove. Later in the week, when the damn power company cooperated with me,
I could come back and pick up a microwave and a coffee maker.
While I was there, I picked up several sacks of things that
I knew darn well Duo had been doing without, if his budget was as tight
as it seemed to be. I’d noticed the cheap, generic shampoo in the
bathroom. I’d seen the thin, thread-bare towels. I’d felt the
newspaper grade toilet paper.
It killed me to think of him living like that. Barely hand
to mouth. Living like a damn pioneer from hundreds of years ago. He implied
it was for the sake of the animals, but I’d already figured out the
animals were just an excuse. He used them to fill the days. Used them to
fill the emptiness. He treated them better than he treated himself.
Hid among them.
God… when I thought about how he had been that morning,
it damn near killed me. He’d been so full of need, so desperate for
whatever I could give him. He’d have let me do anything, just for
my touch. Not that he’d made it easy; far from it. He’d fought
against the pull like his life had depended on it. But once I’d bridged
the gap… my God, I hadn’t thought I could satisfy him. Like
he was making up for lost time. He’d let me take him again and again,
until I was starting to fear hurting him. But he was just so full of this
overwhelming yearning, I couldn’t have refused him anything.
Anymore than I could have denied myself, after all that time.
And if there had ever been any doubt in my mind, I was sure
now… Duo had never done a damn thing with Trowa Barton. He’d
been too damn fumbling… too uncertain. I was sure that had been his
first time with anybody.
I’m not even going to try to deny how that made me feel.
After I retrieved my things from the signless bed and breakfast,
my last stop was the diner at the edge of town and I’m not ashamed
to admit that I bought more food than I knew we could eat, especially with
no way to refrigerate the leftovers, but I just didn’t care. Duo needed
something more than the damn cans of condensed soup he seemed to live off
of. And I wasn’t exactly looking forward to scorching another pot
full of the stuff myself.
I knew, by the time I headed back towards Duo’s place,
that I was the talk of the town. Let them gossip. With any luck, I’d
be taking Duo away from the damn place eventually anyway. Taking him home.
Even if the damn animals had to come too.
Pulling into the front yard, listening to the unfamiliar crunch
of gravel under the tires, I knew something wasn’t right when I saw
the front door standing wide open. The two cats were sitting in the doorway,
hunched down and watching the rain, but I didn’t immediately see that
monster dog that had greeted me the first time like an invading enemy. It
somehow made me even more nervous… the beast is very protective of
Duo and his domain, I somehow didn’t doubt that he normally met all
cars before they even came into the yard.
I shut the car off and got out, not even thinking to grab
the umbrella. I don’t really know why it never occurred to me that
Duo might be in the house… the door, I suppose. And those cats that
we’d had to shut out of the bedroom because they stuck to any heat
source like glue.
I moved around the car and looked across the yard, surprised
to find the dogs out in the rain. Lying in the mud in a damn pile, no less.
When I took a step that way, one of them stood up finally and began barking
And that was when I realized one of the dogs in that pile
was no dog at all, but Duo. I’ll be honest and admit that for a long
cold moment, I thought the damn animals had turned on him and if I’d
had my gun, I might very well have shot them all where they lay. But then
it registered that the big one, the beast that damn well out-weighed Duo,
was probably the only reason Duo hadn’t drowned in the mud.
I resisted the need to run to him, afraid of spooking the
dogs. Afraid they’d hurt him if they all rushed to their feet at once.
I approached slowly, hand out in a gesture I’d seen people use on
television, and not in any way ever thought I would use myself. The black
dog barked at me one more time and then retreated toward Duo, his sopping
tail giving a tiny, uncertain seeming wag. I suppose, when I stopped to
think about it, that my scent had to have been all over Duo. Maybe that
was enough to make me a welcome presence. The blond dog lifted its head
from where it had been resting on Duo’s legs and gave me a look that
the black markings made seem… troubled.
When I got close enough, both of the smaller dogs retreated,
standing near the fence and watching me almost curiously. Reason, the big
one, the damn scary big one, didn’t move a muscle other than to turn
his head to watch me.
‘Good boy,’ I told him, hoping to God he wasn’t
going to attack me when I tried to touch Duo. There was a half-hearted thump
of a tail that gave me some small reassurance and I moved in with one eye
on the dog.
Duo was just lying there, looking for all the world like he’d
just laid down to go to sleep. His head was pillowed against the big white
dog, one hand curled in the fur, the other somewhere under the water and
mud. He was only half dressed and was thoroughly soaked. His damn skin looked
faintly blue. Had I not been able to see the movement of the dog’s
hair around his nose and mouth… I might have panicked even more than
What the damn monster of a dog was going to do was suddenly
not nearly as important as getting Duo up out of the mud and somewhere warm.
I slipped my arms under him and was horrified at how cold
he felt. I wondered how in the hell long he’d been out there, but
then I lifted him, and as his hand slid free of the dog’s coat, it
left a bloody trail, and I wasn’t thinking warm any more, but about
Later I would feel bad for leaving the dogs there in the rain,
for leaving the house standing open. Much later.
I took him to the car and was a bit surprised that I got no
trouble from the dogs. The black one had already retreated to the barn,
and the other two just stood there watching me. I wrapped Duo in one of
the blankets I’d just bought, throwing the food into the back of the
car to make room so I could buckle him into the passenger seat. He never
stirred and I had no doubt hypothermia was very likely the least of my worries.
I cursed his lack of phone, I cursed his lack of power which
had kept me from charging my own cell. I cursed the town, the county, and
the majority of the God-forsaken state. I took a moment to curse the rain
too and then I settled into driving and telling him it was going to be all
right. Not that he seemed to hear me, but it somehow helped keep the panic
I ran the car heater long past the point that I broke out
in a sweat.
Go to Chapter thirteen:
back to chapter Eleven
Fiction : GW :