Old Enemies

The noises came just as he had loaded the second bag of dog food into the boot of his black Audi. Many would not have given the sound a second thought, but it made Zeb Hiller’s skin crawl.

The tap-tap, pause, tap was a staccato that resonated with a profession, no, a life he had left behind a long time ago, and here it was again. The noise spoke of premeditation, planning, and a part of the economy that never appeared in the books. It spoke of a war that raged below the surface of everyday life where death was quick and casual as if those nominated for retirement were mere numbers, subtracted by other numbers.

In the spirit of his mantra “do not get involved,” he climbed into his car and set his destination for home, but he had only driven five meters when he spotted the recipient of what he knew were three lead memoirs. 

The first thing that caught his attention was the Audi station wagon, it was black, and the same year and model as his – probably a coincidence. It was backed into the parking bay and blocked from his initial line of sight by a broad concrete column. It had no front license plate, with two holes in the windscreen and another through the passenger side with a tell-tale spray of red on the driver’s window. The incumbent figure had his head on the steering wheel and it was obvious that he would not be leaving this parking lot by his own devices. Not today, and not ever. 

Remembering there were no cameras in the parking garage, Hiller climbed out for a closer look. The figure was of average build wearing a gray pullover. The story his wounds told was that one of the bullets came through the windscreen and got him in the throat. It was not fatal and he tried to stem the blood with his right hand hence the wet red stain on it. It was the third that came from the passenger’s side that canceled him completely and painted the driver’s window crimson. 

“Professional, but sloppy,” thought Jack as he scanned the parking lot for human life.


When he pulled into the driveway of his rented plot 30 minutes later, he was still puzzling over the killing. It was a small town and he had lived there for almost a decade, so if the victim had lived locally or even visited regularly, he would have remembered him (old habits die hard). Aside from his new makeover, the dead man looked nondescript – but then again it was the average-looking ones like himself that had a lot more going on than met the eye. “Like me,” he thought. Come to think of it, Mister Nondescript was wearing a gray pullover like himself today – and they shared the same taste in cars. Hiller chuckled aloud at his thoughts – he was not a superstitious person, but that was a hell of a coincidence. 

“Where is that clumsy mut?” he wondered of his adolescent St Bernard, who was normally slobbering at the gate every time he got back, and then chased him as he drove to the house. He inherited the dog from the landlord who was now in a retirement home. He had never gotten the dog’s name but that didn’t matter because the dog was never far, and always made its presence felt. 

The animal constantly misjudged its own size and had a tail that banged against things knocking them over,  and leaving a trail of destruction wherever it went. Hiller spent most of his time cleaning and fixing in its wake – and out of despair, one day tried to give it away. At the handover, the dog realized what was happening, and for the first time, stood completely still, its tail even stopped wagging and it was as motionless as a statue, just standing there, its leash in his new owner’s hand – staring at Hiller.

Two days later when Hiller pulled up to the house, the “mut” was there, relaxed, front paws dangling off the porch and its tail thumping gently on the wooden floor. At this point, Hiller decided that nature had spoken. “Be this calm more often and you can stay,” he muttered but it wasn’t even a week later when the dog broke through the wooden palisades in the back garden and returned with the neighbor’s scarecrow. At this point, Hiller had accepted the dog as a punishment for all his sins – and went about fixing it as it broke with an air of reverence.

Hiller’s skin had barely recovered from the sound of the silenced shots, and it started to crawl again. He was in sight of the house now and while everything seemed normal – he still felt edgy. He had not carried a gun in ten years, so he reached for his newly acquired wood ax while steering the station wagon into the blind spot of the house. 

There was no sign of forced entry but that meant nothing; his doormat was slightly skewed, and his dog was missing, not to mention the death of the strange man in town.  Who knew what was inside the house? 

He doubled back towards his shed and pried open a trapdoor in the floor that had been closed for almost a decade. He lifted out a duffel bag and selected a 12 gauge Winchester shotgun from an arsenal of death-dealing equipment, loaded it to capacity with birdshot, and stuffed a handful of cartridges into each pocket.

In a stealthy mode that he thought he had grown out of, he waited for dusk while watching the house. When darkness was complete he crept closer, pausing and listening as he went, circling it first and then entering through the back door – which he always left unlocked. Once inside he closed it, making a small noise. He cursed silently but the sound was already heard and greeted by a low growl. He resisted the urge to call out and instead tossed a cartridge down the hall. This was answered by another growl, and then there was nothing. 

Hiller opened the back door and slammed it shut again – this time with the intention of making as much noise as possible, then did a fireman’s roll into the kitchen and waited. Nothing happened. 

After fifteen minutes he decided that it was merely him and the owner of the growl in the house. To be on the safe side he did a quick but thorough search of the rooms and found St Bernard lying in the lounge. He sensed there was a lot wrong with the giant canine without having to turn on the light and when he did, he opted for the dim reading lamp next to his favorite recliner. It revealed that the dog was breathing but unconscious in a pool of blood. Upon closer scrutiny, he realized that it had been shot.

It hit him all at once as he sat there cradling his rifle while hunching over the wounded animal. The cause of the nondescript individual’s death was mistaken identity. The killer had come looking for him but shot the other man in a gray pullover and black Audi. The shooter, who not to mention had messed up royally, then came back to the house, likely searching for something. Judging by the bloody scrap of black material lying by the dog’s mouth, the killer encountered the wrong side of St Bernard, and wherever he was, he was in a similar shape. 

“This,” said Hiller aloud “is the old life beckoning.”

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