What’s not to like about a dog-lover?
Sadie shivered in the falling snow, hands dug deep in the pockets of her mangy leopard print coat, hungrily eyeing the cars curb-crawling the Strip. Music boomed inside the titty bar behind her, the black tinted window quaking to the bass. She’d danced there herself when she first hit the Strip, before she was busted turning tricks between lap dances to feed her habit. Now she was lucky if they let her inside to slam back a shot to wash away the taste of her last john.
An ancient green station wagon tootled up to the curb, the exhaust farting fumes. It had wood-paneled sides and an I LOVE MY POODLE sticker in the rear window. A fluffy white cloud on legs scuttled back and forth, barking, inside the cage compartment at the back of the car. Who goes out whoring with their dog in the car? Sadie thought. And a poodle, no less. He was a mousy little guy with a mustache and a black frizz of hair swaddling the sides of his shiny bald skull. He wore a maroon parka over a knit Christmas sweater with a smiling snowman on the front. Sadie frowned. The guy’s goofy sweater was reason alone to roll him.
He popped the central lock, pushed open the passenger door. “Come in out of the cold.” His voice was shrill and whiny. She climbed inside quickly before he changed his mind. He rolled the window back up, made a shivery noise: Brrr! “Too darn cold to be standing around outside.” Like she had any fucking choice. He pulled away like he was driving home from church. “Mind putting your seatbelt on?” he said. “We don’t want to get pulled over, now do we?” The guy gave a little chortle that reminded her of Ned Flanders. I’m about to fuck a Simpsons character, Sadie thought. Wouldn’t be the first time. Usually it was Barney the drunk, or Cletus the redneck. Hell, by now she’d screwed half of Springfield.
But the guy was right; the last thing she needed was another bust. And she had plans for this dope. After she rolled him, she’d knock off early; pay Sport what she owed, hit him up for more rock; head home to her flophouse and her pipe.
She buckled up and then thawed out her hands over the tepid air sputtering from the AC. She fished in her coat for her smokes, reassuring herself that her .38 Special was in there too. It still amazed her she’d never pawned the gun to feed her habit. “Mind if I smoke?” The guy sucked his teeth disapprovingly. “No offence,” she said, “but it smells kind of doggy in here.”
She looked in the rearview at the dog in its cage. Ugly fucking thing wouldn’t stop yipping at her. Maybe it suspected what she had in mind for its owner? Its coat was an unruly white hedge; its muzzle streaked with nasty brown stains like the dog spent a lot of time tossing its own salad. Its lips were snaggled back in a yellow snarl. Beady eyes glared back at Sadie. The poodle yip-yip-yipped.
The man glanced at the dog in the rearview. “Oh now, Queenie, that’s quite enough of that.” Smiling sheepishly, he leaned towards Sadie, giving her a whiff of his Old Spice. “She gets jealous. Fetch one of her toys off the back seat there. She won’t shut up otherwise and I find it difficult to, uh…perform.” He grimaced apologetically, wetting his mustache with a nervous flick of his tongue.
With a sigh, Sadie leaned over the backseat, fingering through the chewed-up dog toys strewn across it. She picked up a slobbery rubber duck, holding it out towards the cage, giving it a few halfhearted squeaks. Queenie was barking furiously now, outraged that this stranger was taunting her with her own toys.
“Keep at it,” the guy said, “she’ll come around.”
“The name’s Bob, by the way.” And so it was; the name printed proudly (BOB!) on the key-fob dangling from the ignition. “Queenie, you’ve already met.”
“Sadie,” she said.
“Sexy Sadie,” Bob chuckled, and hummed a few bars of the Beatles song.
“So listen, Bob, where’d you wanna do this?”
“Oh, I know a little out of the way place,” he assured her. “Discretion’s very important to me.”
Fine by Sadie, thinking of the gun in her pocket.
The lights of the Strip blinked out in the rearview. Bob checked his mirrors and indicated — a real stickler for road safety — before making the turn off the highway. The station wagon puttered across a bridge above a white ribbon of frozen river, jouncing uphill along a rutted dirt track through woods. Queenie scuttled about her cage, trying to find her footing as the car rocked about, voicing her discomfort with yips and mewls. “It’s all right, Queenie,” Bob reassured her.
Driving through the woods, the guy hadn’t stopped yapping like his yipping fucking dog. Telling Sadie how he was married. Very happily married, thank you. (Sadie had noticed the pale band of skin on his finger where his wedding ring usually was; that was good, a married man was unlikely to report a robbery.) And that he loved his wife, but since she got sick (“The Big C”) Mrs. Bob was unable to fulfill certain wifely duties. And darn it, a man has needs—
“This is far enough, don’tcha think, Bob?” Sadie said, interrupting his nervous chatter.
He looked around the woods in surprise. “Oh! Listen to me, prattling away…” With another chortle, he eased his foot off the gas, pulling to the side of the road. The car crunched to a stop in the snow. “How are you and Queenie getting along?”
“Swell, Bob. We’re getting along just swell.” Sadie turned back to look at Queenie in her cage. She gave the squeaky toy one last honk, reaching with her other hand for the .38 inside her coat, and while her head was turned Bob struck her a bludgeoning blow to the base of the skull, and the world went black—
She was blind, her eyes gummed shut with blood and tears. An icy wind whipped inside the car through the open driver’s-side door. Snow spattered the windshield. Sadie could hear the poodle skittering about its cage in the back of the car; and outside, the sound of a shovel biting into frozen earth.
She forced her eyes open, crust flaking from her lashes. She was slumped forward in the passenger seat, her blood-matted hair glued to the dash. The back of her head throbbed sickly where Bob had brained her. What the hell had he hit her with? Sagging back in the seat, her hair tore from the dash with a sound like Velcro. She cried out in pain as the lump on the back of her head prodded the headrest and seemed to catch fire. She thought she was seeing stars until she realized they were snowflakes, devilling inside through the open driver’s door. A few swirling flakes landed on her shoulder. Melted. Skated down her bare torso. She wasn’t wearing her leopard print coat anymore. Her shirt was ripped open — buttons scattered in the footwell — revealing her bra. When she tried to hug her shirt around her, cover herself, she found that she couldn’t; something clanked on her wrist, jewelry she’d never seen before. Her left wrist was handcuffed to the steering wheel. Instinctively, she jerked her arm back, but the cuffs were locked tight, the bracelet scraping painfully against her wrist bone.
She looked outside the station wagon, where the sound of digging was coming from. The world seesawed as her vision blurred in and out of focus. The car was parked in a thicket of woods, propped on a grade, the hood angled up. Pine trees speared the night sky, trying to puncture the moon. Bob must have driven off-road while she was unconscious. I know a little out of the way place… She could see him through the windshield using a shovel to dig a hole beneath the outstretched branch of a pine tree. Bob’s parka and her leopard print coat were hanging from the branch like decorations on a Christmas tree.
Despite Bob’s mousy frame, he was wiry strong. His Christmas sweater was rolled up to the elbows. He stabbed the shovel into the frozen ground, grunting with effort as he flung snow and dirt back over his shoulder. Happy as a Disney dwarf, whistling while he worked. Completely at ease. He’d done this before.
Sadie turned in her seat, looking behind the car. The handcuffs jangled against the steering wheel, the bracelet gripping tighter to her wrist. Her panicked eyes darted about the lonely woods. Somewhere behind her, she heard the crackling flow of the iced-over river; and further downhill, the distant echo of traffic on the highway. If she honked the horn, screamed for help, would anyone hear her? Apart from Bob, that is. The last thing she wanted was to attract Bob’s attention.
The car keys were gone from the ignition; she couldn’t just drive out of here. She looked at her coat, hanging from the tree. Her cellphone was in the pocket. The same pocket where she’d kept her gun…the gun she saw was now stuffed in the front of Bob’s chinos. Then he knew she’d meant to rob him. Not that she thought it made much difference to what he had in mind for her.
She opened the glove compartment, wincing as the hinged door squealed. A flashlight and a spray can of antifreeze rolled out and thudded into the footwell. She rooted inside the glove compartment. Maybe Bob kept a second set of car keys in here, or keys to the cuffs, or even something she could use as a weapon?
Maps, CDs, bungee cord, Kleenex—
Fighting panic, she forced herself to breathe…
Had anyone seen her leave the Strip with Bob? Another one of the working girls? They always said they had each other’s back…but that was only to see where best to stick the knife; it was every bitch for herself out there.
How could I be so fucking stupid? She wasn’t the same naïve runaway she’d been when she first started hooking. She’d learned the hard way there were guys out there who couldn’t get hard without hurting, who’d rather fuck you up with their fists than with their dicks. And then there were the real Bad Johns. Sick tricks like Bob. She’d always thought she could spot them. But Bad Johns aren’t always easy to spot. They don’t wear hockey masks or razor-fingered gloves. They smile and wear Christmas sweaters and drive station wagons with poodles in the back.
It was that fucking poodle, Sadie thought. That’s made what her lower her guard. She glared in the rearview at Bob’s accomplice. Queenie was curled inside her cage, muzzle propped on her paws, watching Sadie with a snippy expression. “You fucking bitch,” Sadie hissed at the dog. Queenie raised her head, snarling. Then she started to bark. Not the little yips she was making before. The kind of noise that belonged to a dog three times her size.
Bob heard the commotion and turned his head. “Hey there, Sleeping Beauty!” He planted the shovel in the ground and then hopped up out of the hole, wiping his hands on his chinos. “You about ready to have some fun? Sorry to keep you waiting, but there’s nothing I hate more than digging the hole afterwards.”
He started ambling towards the open driver’s door.
Sadie pulled hard against the handcuffs, the steel bracelet cutting into her wrist, tearing the skin. “Stay the fuck away from me!”
Bob watched her struggle in quiet amusement. “How’s that working out for you?”
Sadie sagged back against the passenger door, panting for breath, her hand still cuffed to the wheel, her arm outstretched like she was beckoning Bob in.
Queenie continued to bark inside her cage.
Bob raised a finger. “That’s enough now, Queenie,” he said, “Daddy’s got the filthy slut.”
The dog quieted.
Sadie glared at the poodle in the rearview. She’d never seen an animal look so fucking smug.
Bob continued towards the car.
Sadie hammered the horn. “Help! Someone help me! Please!”
Bob indulged her. He tilted his head back, cupping a hand to his mouth and hollering over the forest. “Help me! Please! Heeeeelp!” His mocking voice hung in the air, the echo fading into the distance.
Then he frowned theatrically, moving his hand, still cupped, to his ear.
“Would you hush up?” he said. “I think I hear something…”
Sadie listened intently.
“My mistake.” Bob gave his goofy laugh. “Nope, we’re way the heck out in the willywags. No knights in shining armor out here.”
She thrashed her legs, kicking and screaming and yanking on the cuffs like a trap-snared critter. Exhausted, she huddled on the passenger seat, sobbing over the footwell, breathing in ragged whoops, and through her tears she saw the can of antifreeze that had fallen from the glove compartment. Glancing at Bob from the corner of her eye, she dangled her free arm into the footwell, closing her fingers around the spray can.
Bob didn’t seem to notice; he was shaking his head like an exasperated parent.
“I swear, the way you girls carry on, you’d think it was the end of the world. Now let’s not make this any harder than it has to be. I need this, okay? And honestly — what’s waiting for you back there on the Strip? An overdose? AIDS? I’m saving you from that life, honey. I’m doing you a favor here. Best of all you’ll have plenty of company. There’s little Patti and Kristen and Faye—”
He was pointing around at various trees; Sadie gave a low moan as she realized the tree where Bob had been digging was her tree.
“And…and I forget her name. Tall. Blonde. Butterfly tattoo on her butt.” Bob frowned, looking at Sadie as if she might know. “Nope, it’s gone. It’ll come back to me.” He swept an arm about the woods, like a game show host showing off tonight’s prizes. “Hell, it’s a regular sewing circle out here! Now let’s get this road on the show, and then you gals can bitch about ole Bob when I’m gone.”
He took a step towards her. Stopped suddenly. Following her gaze, he glanced down at the handle of the .38 stuffed in the front of his chinos, grunting in surprise. “I’d forgotten all about that.” He pulled the gun from his waistband. “I bet you’d like this around about now?” He chuckled. “And no prizes for guessing what you planned to do with it, either. Tell me, Sexy Sadie, just how many fellers have you rolled with this cap-gun of yours?”
When she didn’t answer, he said: “What I figured. You whores, you’re all the same…” He raised the gun suddenly, thumbing back the hammer.
Sadie shrank back in the passenger seat. “Please, no, don’t—”
Bob held the gun on her awhile, relishing her reaction. Then he lowered it. Gave a little snort of amusement. “Oh now, don’t you worry none,” he said, “I’m not gonna shoot you. Where’s the fun in that?” He stuffed the gun back in his waistband. Then he reached behind him, unsheathing a hunting knife hidden beneath his sweater. The saw-backed blade was at least a foot long. He turned the knife slowly in his hand, admiring the steel, a falling snowflake shearing in two upon the guillotine blade.
“Me and Mr. Buck Skinner here—” Bob said, “Mr. Doe Skinner, I should say. We’re gonna show you the time of your life. You ever been fucked by a Buck?”
He bent towards the open driver’s door, reaching towards her—
She whipped up the can of antifreeze, sprayed him a burst in the face.
Bob screeched like a scalded cat. The knife jerked from his hand and landed with a thud in the driver’s side footwell. He lurched back from the car, yanking up the front of his Christmas sweater and scouring his eyes. Queenie started barking frantically. Bob staggered blindly through the snow. Sadie prayed he’d fall into that hole he’d been digging and break his fucking neck. But no such luck. He let the sweater fall from his face, his eyes slitted in pain and fury, his mouth a bestial snarl, his hair spiking from the sides of his head. He charged at the car.
Sadie scrambled into the driver’s seat, reaching outside the car through the open door, her arm at full-stretch, hand clawing for the handle…
…grabbing hold of the grip and dragging the door shut—
Bob bounced off the door with a surprised grunt.
His hand found the handle. Started to pull.
Sadie slammed down the central lock.
Bob clawed at the locked door. “Open the door.”
She reached in the footwell and snatched the big hunting knife off the floor.
“Put…put that down!” Bob sputtered, a bratty kid who didn’t like sharing his toys. He wrenched at the door, the car pitching and rocking. Then he prowled around it, testing the other doors, cursing and muttering to himself under his breath: “See, this is what happens when you get complacent, Robert. Was a hand-job really that important, you couldn’t cuff both her hands?” As he tested the trunk — locked — Queenie whined and scratched her paws on the window. “Daddy’s okay, baby. Everything’s gonna be fine.” He trudged back to the driver’s-side door, wrestling the gun from his waistband and raising it to the window. “Open this goddamn door!” Then a smile lit his face. He tapped the barrel of the gun against the glass. “Don’t you go anywhere now,” he grinned.
He stuffed the gun back in his chinos, and went to the tree where he’d been digging. His parka was still hanging from the tree branch. He fished in the pockets, turning back towards Sadie like a triumphant magician, the keys with their personalized fob (BOB!) jangling in his hand. “Now we’re gonna do this the hard way,” he said, stomping back towards her. “It’s gonna be worse for you than it was for Sherry. And she was squealing so hard she—” He stopped in his tracks. “Sherry! That was her name. Long-legged Sherry with the butterfly on her butt.” He continued towards the car. “Well, she wasn’t so high an’ mighty after a little ménage a trois with ole Bob and Mr. Buck Skinner. No, sir! And that’s nothing compared to what’s coming to you, Sexy Sadie. I’m gonna peel you like a fucking orange, girl.”
With a cry, Sadie hacked with the knife at the handcuff chain; tried to jimmy the lock on the bracelet with the tip of the blade, hardly able to see what she was doing through her tears. Bob appeared suddenly in the driver’s-side window, jangling his car keys. The smiling snowman on his sweater seemed to be leering at her, as Bob stabbed the car key into the door slot. The central lock popped as he cranked the key.
Sadie lurched back from the door, barking her elbow on the upraised handbrake, hissing with pain as her funny-bone flared. The knife fell from her hand into the footwell. Before she could fetch it, the door swooped open with a rush of cold air. Sadie slammed down the handbrake.
The car shuddered violently, swooping down the grade like a boat being launched. The driver’s-side tire crunched back over Bob’s foot. He howled in pain and the car kept rolling, ripping the keys from his hands, the keys hanging from the door, the door slamming shut. Bob dropped on his ass in the snow. Clutching his foot, he watched helplessly as the car rolled away from him. He snatched the gun from his waistband, firing wildly, bullets whizzing past the moving car, grazing the hood with a flash of sparks. Sadie ducked as two shots punched holes through the windshield, splintering the Plexiglas, and embedded in the headrest behind her. Snow swirled inside through the bullet holes. The gun clicked empty and Bob tossed it away, teetering to his feet.
The car gathered speed. Sadie clung to the wheel, peering over the dash, eyes darting between Bob in the windshield, lurching after the car, and the looming pine trees in the rearview. She wrenched the wheel, left and right, the station wagon slaloming through the pine maze. A wing mirror exploded as the car clipped a tree. The rear tires hit a pothole that shook the car like airplane turbulence, tossing Queenie about her cage. Sadie’s face slammed into the steering wheel, the horn giving a startled toot. Dazed, she snuffled blood and shook her head to clear her vision—
And saw Bob hurling himself at the car. He landed with a thud, clinging to the car like a nightmare hood ornament. “Let my Queenie go, you bitch!” Hearing her name, Queenie gave a frantic yowl. “Daddy’s coming, baby!”
Sadie jiggled the wheel, trying to dislodge him from the hood. Bob ducked as an overhanging tree branch whipped above his head, showering him in snow and pine needles. Glaring at Sadie through the punctured windshield, he removed a hand from the hood, snaking it through one of the bullet holes, Plexiglas crumbling around his thrusting arm as he snatched at her throat. She clawed his hand, raking it with her nails. Hissing in pain, he grabbed the wheel, trying to steer the car into a sliding stop. She hammered her fist on his fingers, but the hand didn’t budge — not until she bit his thumb, blood flooding her mouth, her teeth chipping on bone. Bob let out a screech and let go of the wheel, snatching his arm back through the windshield. Sadie spat out a mouthful of gristle that spattered the windshield. She stole a glance in the rearview—
And saw the frozen river behind them.
Bob saw it, too. His eyes widened in horror.
Sadie wrenched the wheel. The station wagon swerved sharply. The front end fishtailed. The car went into a wild spin, slamming sidelong into the stump of a fallen pine tree, jolting to a stop that catapulted Bob off the hood. Sadie’s neck whipcracked, her teeth snapping shut on her tongue. Bob soared through the night, screaming and flailing, before he hit the ice with a meaty thud and then skated like a hockey puck to the middle of the river, skidding to a stop.
Again, she was blind. Sadie groped her way back into the cold world. The freezing wind whistled through the holes in the windshield, dusting her with snowflakes that settled in her hair and eyelashes. Twisted metal creaked and groaned. Queenie whined somewhere in the back of the car. Sadie mopped blood from her eyes, one-handed, her other hand still cuffed to the steering wheel. She pulled weakly at the cuffs, but they held tight. She reached to adjust the rearview. Ignoring her blood-streaked reflection, she peered past Queenie’s crumpled cage — the dog’s eyes glinting in the gloom — looking through the splintered rear window. She needed to see him; to know he was dead.
Bob was splayed on the ice like a bloody snow angel. Arms outstretched. Hands twitching like dying spiders. One leg twisted horribly beneath him. He was moaning feebly. Haloes of breath frosted above his tortured face. His eyes rolled in his skull, peering up at the wrecked station wagon upon the riverbank.
Sadie tried futilely to free her hand from the cuffs, her fingers numb, blood drizzling from her wrist. Her eyes found Bob’s knife lying in the footwell. A mad thought flashed through her mind: to just cut off her hand at the wrist. She had to do something. If she stayed in the car she would surely freeze to death.
Then she thought of something else.
She unrolled the driver’s-side window, reaching outside the car to remove Bob’s keys from where they were still hanging in the door. Attached to the fob was a small key. Much smaller than any other key on the fob. It turned in the cuffs with a tiny click. The bracelet snapped off her wrist and she sobbed in relief, hugging her bruised hand to her chest like an injured bird, massaging life back into the numb fingers. With both hands free, she fumbled open the driver’s-side door, staggering from the car, her feet crunching in the snow. She braced herself against the door until the world stopped spinning. An icy wind whipped the tails of her shirt, the sudden cold making her gasp. The right side of the station wagon was horseshoed around the tree stump. Shards of broken glass scattered the snow. Queenie peered fearfully from her crumpled cage. Seeing Sadie outside, she gave a hopeful wag of her tail.
Sadie blinked heavily.
For a moment, she thought it was the dog talking to her.
Hearing her master’s voice, Queenie whined and propped her paws against the splintered rear window, cycling her legs, claws scratching the glass.
Sadie turned her head slowly towards the voice, saw Bob sprawled in the middle of the frozen river.
“…please help me…”
His face contorted in pain.
Sadie just stared at him, standing next to the station wagon with the I LOVE MY POODLE sticker in the window. A strange calm descended over her. A serenity she’d never known. A calm that not even the rock had granted her. She liked seeing Bob out there. Helpless on the ice.
She smiled at him, cupping a hand to her mouth. “Heeeeelp!”
A look of dread filled Bob’s face.
“I think I hear something…” She cupped a hand to her ear.
“My bad,” she said. “I don’t think anyone’s coming.”
Bob started sobbing.
Queenie howled in sympathy.
Sadie rolled her eyes at Bob’s theatrics.
“Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be,” she said, limping to the back of the station wagon. “I mean, it’s not like you won’t have any company out there…”
And then she opened the trunk, splintered glass raining down as she levered up the door.
“Go to daddy, bitch.”
Queenie sprang from the car, down the bank and onto the river, claws clicking on the ice as she scuttled to her master, a jagged line of cracks splintering the ice in her wake. Bob’s eyes widened in horror. “No! Queenie! Stay!”
Sadie turned her back, started limping towards the distant sound of traffic on the highway, smiling at the sharp crack of ice behind her, and then the heavy splash of water, and it was hard to separate Bob and Queenie’s screams before the river swallowed them.
Adam Howe is a British writer. Writing as Garrett Addams, his short story “Jumper” was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the On Writing contest. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Nightmare Magazine, Horror Library 5, FEARnet, Of Devils & Deviants, One Buck Horror, Beware the Dark, and Bete Noire. He has recently completed a trio of bizarro noir novellas, “Of Badgers & Porn Dwarfs,” “Frank, The Snake, & The Snake,” and “Jesus In A Dog’s Ass.” Tweet him @Adam_G_Howe.