FICTION: Quietude by Michael G. Casey

The young policeman stumbled out of the bedroom, reached the stairs and started to retch. The stench still bled into his nose and throat. His fellow officers should have warned him. The decomposing body that lay on the bed wasn’t human. What did it have to do with the homicide they were working on, or with the suspected suicide? He took several deep breaths and tried to summon the willpower to go back into the room.

…………………………………..

Six weeks before the rookie cop experienced his baptism of fire, a member of another Federal Agency prepared to go to his place of work. Patrick Hennessy drove along the highway in the crumpled old station wagon he’d inherited from his father. Beside him in the passenger seat, in a special safety harness, sat a handsome Collie bitch, named Cleo. She had a finely boned, gentle face and sensitive brown eyes. Her coat was cream-coloured, sleek and healthy from good food and regular grooming. Patrick would sometimes salvage stray hairs from the curry-comb and braid them into plaits, some of which adorned the dashboard of his car. They made a good team.

She was one of the best sniffer dogs at the airport and he was her proud handler. They were hardly ever apart. She slept at the foot of his bed on top of his father’s trunk which had been shipped back from Vietnam after his death in action. She had an uncanny sense of smell and could sniff out almost any chemical substance, however well hidden in a suitcase. Whenever she took a step towards the contraband and her ears went back, he would order the carousel stopped. In seven years they had hardly ever made a wrong call.

His father had told him in his letters about the dogs they had in Vietnam. They were trained to spot trip wires, booby traps, mines and underground hides in the jungle, and it was estimated that they saved the lives of about ten thousand soldiers. Patrick sometimes wondered how many lives Cleo saved by preventing kids getting hooked on heroin, crack cocaine and crystal meth.

He took one hand off the steering wheel and reached across to pat her on the head for no particular reason. She raised her head slightly to meet his touch; her healthy pink tongue moved with the rhythm of her breathing.

“Good girl,” he said as they bowled along. “We’ll go for a good run later, before the sun goes down.” Even if he forgot, she would remind him, by trotting up to confront him with the leash in her jaws.

At the airport there was an office where he went to get his instructions for the day. The office was run by an Inspector, Jack Simmons, who was very conscious of his rank. Patrick didn’t much care for him because of his indifference to Cleo. Fortunately, he didn’t have to deal with him very much since his assistant, Joanne, arranged most of the rosters. She had fair hair, not dyed, and she didn’t bother with make-up. She was what his late mother would have called approvingly, ‘a natural person’. Patrick liked Joanne a lot and for some time had been looking for an opportunity to ask her out. He knew that she’d had other boyfriends and he reckoned that she might have gone out with Jack a few times. That seemed incomprehensible to him. Anyway it was over, and Patrick had begun the long and difficult process of summoning up his courage. One of the things holding him back was that he wasn’t sure what exactly he had to offer Joanne.

But she was often in his thoughts especially when he groomed Cleo’s long dense coat with dreamy strokes in the rambling house which was too big for him and could have done with a woman’s touch.

“You’re on the Latin American flights again this morning, Patrick,” Joanne tells him, referring briefly to the clip-board on her desk. “Carousels twelve through fifteen will be operational until three pm. You could grab a late lunch then.”

“And Cleo?”

Joanne smiled. “And Cleo of course. They’ll keep her dish for her behind the counter. I swear you think more of her than of anybody in the Service.”

That was one of the things he liked about her. She seemed to know him inside out.

“Except for you,” he thought. A good woman was an understanding woman, his mother had always said. He didn’t have to say the words, just think them. Joanne probably knew already. If, as he sometimes fantasised, she came to live in his house he knew that she’d get on well with Cleo and let her continue to have the run of the place.

Cleo sidled up to Joanne and waited for the customary pat on the head. Patrick wished he had a camera. The thought of Cleo and Joanne in the same viewfinder warmed his heart. Joanne had her hair braided today, three strands, just like the ones he made with Cleo’s hair.

“You really look after that animal,” Joanne smoothed the dog’s thick and glistening coat.

He wasn’t sure about ‘animal’ but let it pass. Joanne meant well.

“What age is she now?”

“Eleven years and two months.”

“Getting on a bit.”

“Still young.”

Joanne laughed. “Fit as a fiddle anyway.”

Of course she was fit. Patrick exercised her every evening in the park. He would hit a ball with a tennis racket and Cleo would chase after it. When she retrieved the ball he would take it from her mouth and hit it as hard as he could in the other direction. They would keep up that drill for at least an hour a day. He liked to see her panting and surging with energy, the whiskered ridges above her eyes flickering in anticipation, her long ears flowing backwards as she ran, and then those wonderful twisting leaps to catch the ball in mid-air. The tennis racket was useful for warding off mongrel dogs who came too close, fancying their chances. Sometimes, on week-ends, they went to a lake where he liked to swim; she would swim with him. Sometimes he would pretend to be in difficulty and she would pull him to safety.

“Hustle. Hustle.” Jack looked pointedly at his watch and clapped his hands. “Get to your station, Patrick. The drug Lords won’t wait.” Patrick took the hint and went with Cleo to his post by the carousels.

“I swear he gets worse every day,” Jack said, switching on the CCTV screens.

“Don’t say that.” Joanne looked up briefly, shook her head, and then went back to her computer.

By noon, Patrick and Cleo had a substantial haul, twelve kilos of marijuana, six of heroin, four of crack cocaine and ten of other proscribed substances. Three arrests had been made. But to his practised eye Cleo seemed a little sluggish; her reactions

weren’t quite as sharp as usual. She stood to and pointed as before, but her trademark quiver wasn’t so much in evidence and her ears didn’t flick back as sharply.

In the afternoon her haul was well down, especially in view of the fact that they had one flight from Bogota, another from Caracas—and there were several diplomats on both flights.

Later that evening Jack who had been watching the screens on and off during the day, called Patrick into the office. There were no preliminaries.

“The dog’s not up to scratch.”

“Anyone can have an off day,” Patrick said. He knew from Joanne’s profile that she was listening even though she was concentrating on the computer screen.

“It’s more than that. She’s not getting any younger, and it’s a known fact that bitches lose it sooner. Same as humans.”

“She’s fine.” She was very fit for her age. Patrick made sure of that. At her last medical, the Vet couldn’t find any sign of arthritis or joint pain.

“Anyway I’ve made a decision. She needs to be tested. I’m sending her to the Training Section.”

“There’s no need for that.” Patrick’s pulse rate quickened.

“I’ve decided. Remember, your heart may belong to the pooch but your ass is mine. She’s going.”

“No.”

“What did you say?” Jack snapped.

Joanne intervened. “Let Cleo take a test, Patrick. She’s so fit she’ll be back in no time.” Joanne had been listening to Jack all day as he monitored the screens. It was almost as if he was waiting for an opportunity to find fault with Patrick’s dog. She had tried to talk him out of his decision but there was no reasoning with him in that mood. He would not hesitate to fire Patrick if he continued to argue with him. He had been looking for just such an opportunity for a long time. It wouldn’t be so easy for Patrick to find another job. Sometimes the line between individualism and eccentricity could appear a little blurred.

Patrick took Joanne’s advice, knowing that she would not mislead him. He kissed Cleo on the forehead before letting her go. Then he abruptly took his leave.

“What a weirdo, “Jack said, circling a finger around his temple. “Not playing with a full deck. He jest wants to chill with ‘ees beetch.”

“Cut it out, Jack. He has a wonderful bond with that animal.” It was something to be celebrated not sneered at. She had heard that Patrick’s father had been a dog-handler in Vietnam. Maybe the gift was inherited.

“I wouldn’t call it wonderful. He’s a simpleton. He shouldn’t be in the Service at all if you ask me.” Jack handed the leash to another officer who took Cleo away; she whimpered and resisted strongly, but to no avail.

“That’s out of order, Jack.” Joanne sensed that something had gone out of Patrick’s life after his mother died. Maybe he hadn’t grieved properly. She wanted to help him but it wasn’t her place. He never spoke about his feelings. Of course, he was over-dependent on the dog–everyone knew it–but that didn’t make him a simpleton. People like Jack always assumed that introversion meant some kind of deficiency whereas in most cases it probably meant the opposite. Besides, Patrick wasn’t doing any harm to anyone.

“He makes those moon eyes at you.” Jack laughed cynically.

“You’re imagining things.” Joanne wasn’t sure, but she couldn’t rule it out. Maybe Patrick did have feelings for her.

“The moon eyes of a moron…I reckon he’s sticking it into that bitch. I’d steer clear of him if I were you.”

Joanne looked at him with loathing, wondering how she had ever gone out with such a heartless man. It had been a bad mistake. Office relationships were too complicated anyway, and there were invariably bad consequences. She would have to protect Patrick from the venom, if she could.

The retraining took two weeks and during that time Patrick was lost without his dog. He had to take leave of course; there was no point in teaming up with another animal for such a short period. So he rattled around in the large empty house on his own, living out of tins. Watching TV without Cleo’s head on his shoulder was a waste of time. On one occasion he dozed off on the sofa and woke with palpitations, thinking that Cleo was dead.

Half way through the second week he went to the Training Park although it was against policy for handlers to visit their dogs during training sessions. He was caught within feet of her kennel and ushered out politely by the Senior Training Officer, but at least he’d had a glimpse of her, and, he was sure, she had seen him, or at least caught his scent. This kept him going for the rest of the second week though the days were long, and the nights fraught with unsettling dreams.

He was waiting in the station wagon an hour before her release. They had a great nuzzling reunion during which she nearly knocked him over several times as she jumped up and caught him with her large front paws. He had to admit that she was rejuvenated, frisky as the pup he remembered. He talked incessantly during the drive home, and whenever he patted her on the head she licked his hand with her great rasping tongue. When they got home he gave her a bath and a thorough grooming until her coat glistened and seemed as fine as Joanne’s hair. He had bought two steaks to celebrate and started to grill them, leaving hers rare the way she liked it.

They were back in harness on the Monday. Cleo had a new lease on life. She launched herself at the carousels with gusto, almost pulling the suspect bags clean off the belts. Her batting average was better than ever. Even Jack who was monitoring her on the screens in the office had to admit, however grudgingly, that she was on top of her game.

The next couple of days were even better. Her tail was up almost all of the time; her ears were cocked and the electric quiver was more in evidence than ever. By the end of the week Patrick could hardly hold her on the leash. Not only did she pull bags off the carousels but she sometimes chewed through the fabric. On one occasion Patrick tried to calm her down. “Easy Cleo, easy girl.” But she seemed to have a will of her own. After ripping a leather hold-all, he applied the choke chain as gently as he could and an amazing thing happened. She snapped at him. He knelt down and held her face in both his hands, noticing the flecks at the back of her eyes.

“What’s wrong, Cleo? Easy, girl, easy now…”

A short while later in the office Jack said that he’d been monitoring the dog’s performance and was far from satisfied.

“She’s too aggressive.” He paused. “Well, it sometimes happens that way.”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Patrick was genuinely puzzled and not a little alarmed. Cleo was jerking at the leash and he detected some flecks of foam at the corners of her mouth.

Jack looked towards Joanne who had tears in her eyes. “You don’t know. Do you really not know? Keeerist, naïve or what?”

“Stop it!” Joanne held her forehead in both of her hands. “For God’s sake.”

“What makes a good sniffer dog?” Jack inquired.

“A good sense of smell,” Patrick replied.

“Correct. Full marks. But what makes them pick out drugs rather than apples or cookies or soda pop?”

“Stop it!” Joanne said.

Jack ignored her. “Training. Special training. And then when they get on in years, they sometimes need very special retraining. Let me explain how that went down with your animal. The mutt was given injections of heroin every day for the last two weeks. She’s an addict…full of the joys of spring for the first few days…but now in withdrawal.” He shrugged. “It happens.”

Patrick turned again to Joanne to see if this could conceivably be true. She couldn’t bear the uncomprehending expression in his eyes, and looked away.

“Don’t you get it?” Jack went on. “When the animals are hooked they sniff out the shit for themselves. They want a fix. It’s supposed to make them better at their job. Give them a new lease on life. Sometimes the symptoms are severe and the animals savage the bags. This one was overdosed, she’s no good now. She ‘aint yo beetch no mo.”

Patrick sat down weakly, cradling Cleo’s face in his lap. He could see that she was very sick. Apart from the drool there was a yellow hue in the whites of her eyes and small broken veins. She snapped at him a couple of times and then whimpered. He couldn’t believe they’d turned her into a junkie after all her years of good work for the Service. His breathing became laboured and he felt dizzy.

“These animals are our servants, you dickhead,” Jack said. “It’s not the other way around. Do you know what the military did to the thousands of dogs brought back from Vietnam? They put them down, every last one. Most of them were shell-shocked and gun-shy. What good is a fucked-up dog?”

All that night Cleo cried in pain and her tail lashed the sofa. Patrick patted and groomed her until his hands were sore, but it was no good. He couldn’t calm her or take away the pain. She was dying. And if she somehow managed to survive the night it was likely that Jack would have her put down.

At about five in the morning he filled a syringe with heroin and, after much hesitation, injected it into the fleshy part of her hind leg. Almost immediately the hit took and she became soporific; her breathing was easier and the painful tension and anxiety seeped out of her body. He caressed her head all the time; her eyes stayed on his face until the last moment when the lids flickered, then closed for good. There was a sharp spasm and then stillness.

He carried her into the bedroom and placed her on the mattress. He lay beside her, losing track of time until the alarm clock went off as if it were a normal morning. Maybe he would go to work. But first he went to his father’s trunk at the end of the

bed and forced it open. After a diligent search in the dark cavity of the trunk he found his father’s service revolver and, beside it, a box of ammunition. He carefully selected two rounds and pushed them slowly into the chamber.

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Michael G. Casey

15/02/08           Photograph by Matt Kavanagh Staff : Michael Casey

Michael G. Casey has published four books, including, Come Home, Robbie, and The Visit. His poems and short stories have won several awards. Six of his plays have been performed on stage by the Umbrella Theatre Company. He holds a PhD from Cambridge, UK
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