Soda’s wavy, chestnut hair fell to the middle of her back. She pulled it back and tied it with a rubber band, so that it fell under the collar of her hoodie. Her mother had loved brushing and braiding Soda’s hair, even when Soda topped her mother’s five-foot-three height by two inches–before Mom got real sick; before sixteen-year-old Shelly Myers had become a street kid tagged as Soda. Sometimes, her mom would stand with her in front of her bedroom mirror and point out how they both had gray-blue eyes and the same determined, strong chin. She’d laugh and say, “Yeah, but you’re this curvy, sexy woman and I’m a stick that walks and talks.” She’d frown into the mirror. Mom would kiss her forehead and reply, “You are beautiful just the way you are.” Soda had loved those times.
But those times were miles away and months gone and mid-March in Seattle, Washington, breathed an early spring chill on the city. She flipped her hood up then zipped up the sweatshirt and stuffed her hands in the pockets. This part of Seattle–full of warehouses hulking silent in the evening and abandoned buildings with busted windows–held painful memories for her; so painful that it made her feel sick in the pit of her stomach, yet she felt unable to stay away.
Auntie El had been held by her kidnappers in a warehouse not far from where she walked. The elderly bookstore owner had befriended the street kids, Soda among them. Now she was gone, too; just like Soda’s mother. At least, Mom’s death had been beyond Soda’s control; not like Auntie El–dead because of Soda. “If only I had…” began the haunting litany. She shoved it away. Tears burned her eyes. It had been a year, yet the hurt twisted as sharp in her chest as if she’d lost Auntie El yesterday.
Ever since then these dark streets called to her. Every night she came down here, skittered from one dark spot to another, watching; circled the warehouses and listened. Some days she wondered if she was getting a bit crazy. What did she think being here could accomplish?
She edged along the deeper shadow of a crumbling, brick building; its windows blinded eyes looking out on littered streets. At the sound of male voices across the deserted street, she shrank back. Between black jeans and navy blue hoodie–pulled close around her pale face,white hands stuffed in her pockets–the shadows swallowed her form. Standing perfectly still, she strained to see what the men carried.
A few street lamps–not yet vandalized–spilled watery yellow light on the dirty sidewalk. The men sauntered into the light, the body of a large dog hanging between them as they made their way to the dumpster squatted in the mouth of the alley across from where Soda hid. They swung the body back and forth until enough momentum had built then let go. The animal sailed over the edge of the dumpster and thumped into the trash. They pulled off their gloves and stuffed them in jacket pockets.
The hum of traffic from several streets away sang a muted song, but the men’s voices–harsh and loud–rode over top of it. The short, heavy man lit a cigarette. The ember glowed as he inhaled. Grey smoke drifted up toward the circle of lamp light, but disintegrated when a slight breeze puffed off Puget Sound, smelling of dead fish. “Damn, that was some sick bitch. Shortest damn fight I’ve seen.”
The taller man accepted a cigarette from the other man and lit it. “Short for damn sure. Only thing that bitch,” he nodded toward the dumpster, “good for was a trainin’ fight. Can’t believe that other’n; not even two years old, yet. Man, I want me one of them dawgs.” He chuckled and a shiver ran up Soda’s spine.
The first man shook his head. “In your dreams.” He tossed his cigarette down, not bothering to stomp it out.
A cramp seized Soda’s calf muscle. Afraid any movement would draw their attention, she bit her lip hard to keep from shifting.
“What you think one of them dawg’s worth?” The taller man flicked his cigarette butt out in the middle of the street.
“I heard some of them cost as much as fifty big ones.”
“If I had me a dawg like that…”
The shorter man guffawed. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it. Them things are the devil’s own dogs. One of them would eat you up, bro.”
They moved away, snatches of words fading until only the hum of the traffic from nearby streets filled the air. A minute later, a truck roared in the night. Soda watched as a large pick up screeched away from the curb a half block away. She waited until she could no longer see the red of the taillights before she hustled across the empty street.
Breath sucked in deep, she exhaled then climbed the side of the dumpster. For a moment, she balanced on the inches-wide lip and stared down. Right when she had just about decided to hop off, a faint movement caught her eye.
Without hesitation, she dropped into the garbage and waded to the animal. One dark eye blinked slowly up at her. “You poor baby,” she sat on rustling papers amid half-rotted food and cradled the dog’s head on her lap. Gently, she stroked the dog’s side and face between the gaping wounds. The pink tongue slowly snaked out and licked Soda’s hand.
Even in the poor light from the street lamps, she could tell that the dog’s coat had once been a golden color. She imagined how it would have glowed in the sun. Now the spray of drying and dried blood matted it with dark splotches. One of the muscled forelegs had been gashed and the sharp point of white bone jutted out of the skin. She’d once been a beautiful #animal, the well-built body bigger than a German Shepherd’s.
Another shuddering breath pushed the dog’s ribs up and down. Soda remembered a lullabye that her mom sang to her whenever she woke up from a bad dream. As she petted the dog’s big head and stroked her side, Soda sang in a quavering, soft voice.
Before she’d finished her song, the #dog licked her hand once more, looked into Soda’s eyes and breathed her last.
Tears coasted down her cheeks as she gently laid the dog’s head on a pillow of garbage. With the sleeve of her hoodie, she scrubbed them away. She had always loved dogs. Had one before her mother died; before she’d had to leave to escape her stepfather’s drunken advances. Her jaw clenched as she struggled to her feet. Fists knotted at her sides, she vowed that even though she was only a street kid she’d do something! She didn’t know what, but she would do something to stop those assholes from slaughtering any more dogs.
Death by Dog will be Book 5 in the Special Crimes Team series. All of the books in the series can be read as stand alones without reading prior books in the series. Death by Dog is scheduled for release Winter 2015-2016.
Backlash, Book 4, Special Crimes Team: Success can be deadly…if you’re a woman! AVAILABLE on pre-order as an ebook on Amazon. Go to http://www.amazon.com/Backlash-Special-Crimes-Book-4-ebook/dp/B00W7UJAWA
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For a list of Aya’s books, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/ayawalksfar