Another Fire Excerpt:
Although they were nothing he wanted, he studied the photos, seeing a middle-aged couple, in most cases with what he assumed to be their dog. It was an amiable-looking Rottweiler wearing a plaited red-leather collar with a silver nameplate. In every photo, the animal was beaming, clearly happy with its humans, and getting good care. The night was quiet, electricity was still working in the house, and he found a considerable amount of food in the freezer. He cooked items for himself and Stormy and started the crockpot again. He’d leave that simmering all night so they’d have cooked food for the following evening in case their next stopping place had no electricity. At last, fed, clean, and sleepy, he locked up the house – the back door had been open – and retired for the night with Stormy on the mat beside the spare room bed.
He spent that night at a small house off the road. It was empty of people. From the furnishings, it had belonged to a family who’d had a dog. No dog was there either, and Jason thought that one of the owners might have fallen ill and that the other had taken them to a hospital, dropping their dog off with friends, as old Mrs. Hayer had intended to do. He hoped that wherever the dog was, it had a good home still. There were photos, and he admired those he found when he entered the sitting room to see if there were books.
Twice during the night, he dimly heard a dog bark, but Stormy barely stirred, and he slept again. Having resolved to shower or bath every time there was hot water, he did so again in the morning, cooked more food and ate, placed the full, hot, towel-wrapped crockpot in the back seat, and walked out to the car which he’d backed, together with the trailer, into the spacious garage. He turned to climb in and call Stormy to join him when she let out a cross between a roar and a yell. A dozen dogs streamed around the house, heading for them and acting without hesitation.
All were large, all had the attitude of animals on the attack, and he was into the driver’s seat in a leap, yelling for Stormy, who joined him half a second later. He slammed the door, clicked the locks, and sat panting and gaping at the animals that were swirling around the car, standing up against it at intervals to snarl at the occupants. He glared, and one of them shouldered the others aside to smash into the car window. Jason shied back. If it did that again it could break in, and he was under no illusions about their motive. He started the car and let it idle.
Stormy was growling defiance. The big dog jumped at the window again, and Jason touched the pedal, moving the car forward. The dog hit the post between windows and bounced back, yelping. Jason looked at it, and something caught his attention. He looked more closely, and a pang of sorrow caught in his throat. The dog was a Rottweiler wearing a plaited red-leather collar with a silver nameplate. So – it hadn’t been left with friends.
He drove further forward for a clear view, stopped, and rummaged in the nearest cooler to produce a single steak and a dozen chops. He cracked the window, and flipped them one by one in a semi-circle and as far from the car as he could. The Rottweiler was the largest, heaviest dog and had gained ascendancy. It took the steak as of right and settled to tear that apart, gulping down mouthfuls. Jason sighted carefully, and as it swallowed the final mouthful, he shot. The big dog fell silently, and the rest were gone. He got out, picked up the warm body, and moving without wasting time, he buried it in the loose garden earth, placing a stake in the ground and hooking the collar to that.
It was the Navajo way to acknowledge gifts given. His father had told him that many times and he’d taken from the people that had lived here. He had frozen bread, butter, a crockpot with several evening meals, vegetables from their garden, and fruit from the trees, and this was something he could do for them. See to it that their beloved dog did not wander, starving and dying slowly, bereft of its loved humans, and without comfort. He got back in the car and drove onto the highway. And for the rest of the day, he drove silently, without singing and only occasionally speaking to Stormy, who also seemed subdued.