Urban Waite is a brilliant new talent about to publish his debut novel The Terror of Living (Little, Brown, February 2011) which Stephen King has called, “A hell of a good novel, relentlessly paced and beautifully narrated. There’s just no let-up. An auspicious debut.” Keep reading for the first of two short stories that will appear on MulhollandBooks.com.
I heard about Eddie on the news. Of course they didn’t say his name or list anything more than what happened. There was a police raid on a farm outside Seattle: about ten dogs were seized and a man had been arrested. For a long time I sat there. Shocked. Bathed under the dull flicker of the television, recounting the newscaster’s words. And then, after a while, I got up and stared out the window at nothing in particular. The weatherman was talking about rain, and as I watched, the wind kicked out the branches on a nearby tree, the water coming down out of the sky, highlighted and then lost in the shadows of the tree branches and leaves.
Anyone who knew Eddie Vasquez knew what he was doing out there with the dogs wasn’t right. “A man’s got to have his delights,” Eddie said, his hands on the steering wheel. This was many years ago in a Safeway parking lot.
I had asked him straight out, “What are you doing, Eddie?” The cat-piss smell of his truck wafting up through the cab, ammonia and dog hair mixed into the fabric of the seats. I hadn’t seen him in years. I was twenty-five. Newly married with a son beginning to take his first wobbly steps.
“How long has it been Raph?” Eddie said, more exclamation than question. I was standing in the parking lot, with my elbow up on his passenger door and a bag of groceries for the baby in my other hand. “Jesus Raph! How long has it been?” he said again.
I put a hand through my hair and stepped back from the truck, “Ten years.”
“Ten years,” Eddie repeated, as if it was something giant and wonderful.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
I asked because the last time I had seen Eddie was just before we moved out of Long Beach, a month or two after my father had left and my mother decided she didn’t want to be in California anymore. We were fourteen and standing at the counter of a Walgreen’s, stuffing cheap silver Casios into our pockets. And as Eddie stuffed the silver bands down his pants, he listed them off in dollar amounts, five dollars, ten dollars, fifteen, like he was putting together an inventory.
“What does it look like,” Eddie said, turning a hand over the back seat of his truck, and motioning to about thirty pounds of beef on the floor of his cab. “I’m shopping.”
I looked at the meat and then I looked at Eddie. A wave of guilt passed over me, like it did whenever I thought of Eddie. I hadn’t even jaywalked in ten years, and here I was talking to my former partner in crime. It made me want to step back away from his truck and run all the way home. But for some reason I didn’t.
Eddie was listing off the various cuts of meat: a few chucks, a strip, some loin, and even a few miscellaneous bones.
“Are you having a barbeque?” I asked.
Eddie laughed, “No,” he said. And then after a little while, after he had stared off at the end of the parking lot, where the cement sloped down and entered the street, “Come on, I’ll show you something.”
I thought about not getting in, I thought about my baby at home. I thought about my wife. But what I did was get in the truck with Eddie. He was my brother, or as close to a brother as could be, without being related by blood. He had lived down the street from me all my life, right up until we moved to Seattle, and in the dusky nights of our childhood, we had run around on the Bermuda grass, playing soldiers with the other neighborhood kids. And no matter how uncomfortable I was with him, I knew he would never purposefully hurt me.
We turned out onto the street and took the onramp for I-5; we passed through downtown and headed south on the freeway. I was still holding a grocery bag full of diapers and baby food in my arms when I asked, “What is all the meat for?”
“Dogs,” he said, not turning from the windshield, as he hit the turn signal and merged onto the 167.
I looked at the meat in the back of the truck, measuring the dollar amount in my head, estimating numbers inside the plastic bags. I thought about the meat. I thought about what Eddie had said—dogs—and then I asked, “What are you doing, Eddie?”
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