John Carol got up weekdays at 4:30 am to open the Brooklyn scrap yard for business. The morning traffic was light, and Carol Scrap Yard usually opened the gates fifteen minutes before the trucks started rolling in.
He had three essential jobs to do before the start of business; calibrate the scales, get the dogs their morning milk-bone, and count the money. The first and latter were routine chores that brought no satisfaction but greeting his K-9 friends was a special moment he looked forward to.
John bought the scrap yard seven years earlier from his former boss. He worked there for twenty years before the purchase. His wife Rose fought him on taking a second mortgage, but John couldn’t imagine what else he would do if he didn’t work the scrap yard. He promised Rose he would do whatever it took to pay off the loan and keep the business going. He kept his vow by working twelve hours a day, six days a week.
The Carols never had children and stop trying after John purchased the business. The doctors hadn’t determined why they couldn’t conceive. John told Rose that he was done stressing about it, and he needed to concentrate on the business now. “If it was meant to be, it would have happened,” he told her.
Rose told John when he first became attached to the stray dogs that she was allergic to all types of fur, so bringing his friends home was forbidden. To enforce her disdain for the mongrels, she demanded that John strip his clothes at the back door and put them in the washer.
Rose scolded him to get rid of the dogs numerous times, but John refused. He told her he needed them for security, but that was the lie he told her. They were his friends, the best friends he ever had.
Duke, the Alpha of the Pack, was the largest of the dogs. John believed he had Irish Wolfhound in his blood. Duke had his ear chewed off when he was just a pup. All six of the mongrels had some type of deformity. The worst of which was Sasha, who lost her front leg. John didn’t know how the accident happened, but to watch Sasha with the others, it was amazing how she adapted to her disability. Rocky the pit bull mix was once used for fighting and lost his eye. Benny, the beagle mix, was the noisiest of the group. He lost his tail to his previous owner, who punished him because he wouldn’t stop barking. Candy was a Shepard mix that was severely burned in a house fire. She’s missing the fur from the left side of her face to the left hind leg. Finally, there’s Tank; he looked like he could be a mix between a Bulldog and a boxer, the muscular body of a bulldog, and the face of a boxer. He’s missing the toes off his right rear paw, which made him hobble. Tank looked like the last dog anyone would want to tangle with, but he’s a sweetheart and John’s favorite.
The half a dozen disabled misfits were his best friends, and when John wasn’t working, he played with them. They stayed outside most of the time and wandered the neighborhood when John was too busy to give them attention. The neighborhood is where every one of them came from; it’s where they learned how to survive.
John started sharing his lunch, but that soon turned into buying dog food. Then the Milk-bones and the jerky sticks. At night, the pack stayed in the mobile trailer that was his office by day.
It was Saturday in mid-July when Duke went missing. Five dogs returned to the yard just before closing, but Duke was not among them. They encircled John and barked.
John knew they wanted him to follow them. “Wait, guys, I have to close up.”
When he was done putting the lock on the gate. He shouted. “Okay, take me to Duke; where is he?”
The dogs had to wait for John a few times as he gasped for breath. They stopped just before the Expressway service road. Rocky and Benny ran back to John while Tank and Sasha stayed at the intersection, licking, and nudging at Duke’s motionless body.
John ran as fast as he could to where Tank and Sasha comforted their friend. He knelt and realized quickly Duke’s injury did not come from a reckless vehicle. It came from… A gunshot. The bullet went through his right front shoulder. John knew he had to stop the bleeding. He looked around. The sun was going down, and the only people on the street were half a block away outside a storefront club with men that were no longer teenagers and women that were. Duke was breathing heavy and looked at John. “It’s okay buddy, I need to stop the bleeding before I get you to a hospital.”
John took off his T-shirt and tore it into cloth strips that he could use as a bandage and tourniquet. He knew he couldn’t carry ninety-five-pound Duke back to his truck after he finished tying knot. John thought about who he could call. All his business neighbors would have closed shop by now. He looked at the people half a block away, and then to Sasha. “You think they’ll help us, girl?”
“Okay, Tank, you Rocky and Bennie stay with Duke while us three go see if they can help.” Tank looked at John with a tilted head as if to say; They can’t protect you. John Laughed. “You boys look like we’re ready for a fight, and Bennie, well, he’s just loud. The girls will appeal to their sensitive side.”
John rubbed Duke’s head and stood. “Come on, Sasha, Candy, let’s be nice as fast as we can.
John started to jog. He was fifty-three and somewhat over-weight, which was why he felt the strain on his lungs. As he got closer, he got their attention. The girls giggled, but the guys quickly stood to intercept them. The one in front with the colorful jogging suit chuckled and looked at John’s bare chest. “Where’re you and your animals going, Tarzan?” His cronies standing on each side of him laughed.
John knew the encounter was not good. But he needed to try. “My dog needs help. I was hoping we could get a ride to my car on 3rd avenue. He needs a hospital.”
He frowned. “That was your dog, old man? You need to keep your beast on a leash. He tried to attack me… He deserved what he got.”
Sasha and Candy growled. They didn’t like him any more than John did, but he couldn’t get into an altercation now.
“Duke would never hurt anyone unless threatened sir, I’m sure it was a misunderstanding. If you can’t help, please excuse us.” John turned and told Sasha and Candy to follow. “Come on, girls will figure something out.”
John heard him yell. “Keep your misfit mongrels away from me, old man, or I’ll do the neighborhood a favor and pop them all.” He heard his sinister laugh fade away before returning to Duke.
“What are we going to do, guys.”
They didn’t have the answer and whined while pacing around their injured friend. John scoured the surroundings looking for anything that could help. He saw a bedsheet hanging on a backyard line. “That will have to do.”
John was back with the linen in less than a minute. He laid it on the ground and gently rolled Duke to the center, then took all four corners and tied them together. He knew it was still going to be a challenging trek, but what was the alternative. Kneeling next to Duke, he put the opening created by the tied corners over his head and tried to stand. He was like wearing a heavy backpack, but it was doable, or at least he thought it was for the first block or two. He dropped to his knees gently as he could, but the impact vibrated through his body. Duke also hit the ground harder than John wanted. He quickly apologized. “Don’t worry, it may be a rough ride, but I’ll get you to the hospital.” He dropped the loop around his neck again and stood.
John’s pace quickly became a slow walk. He wasn’t going to make it to the truck without another break. To John’s pleasant surprise, he saw a bench. He turned so he could gently lay Duke on it without falling to his knees again. “How’re you doing, Duke? One more breather, and we’ll be at the truck and then the hospital.” After taking some deep breaths, John put his head through the sheet and stood, but this time it felt lighter. Adrenaline, he thought, better take advantage while I can.
When he arrived at the truck, he put the liftgate down and gently lowered Duke on top. He was breathing harder, and the bedsheet was shrouded in blood. John pushed Duke to the center of the truck bed. The others leaped aboard and looked at John. “Does anyone want to ride upfront with me? No, I guess I understand.” John secured the tailgate, ran to the driver’s seat, and unclipped the phone from his belt. After dialing 911, the voice on the phone said. “What is your emergency.”
John tried to compose himself. He didn’t want to sound like a crazy person. “My dog was shot. He needs immediate medical attention. Can you tell me where the nearest animal hospital is?”
“I’m sorry, all our units are on other calls, give me your name and location, and I’ll send the first available unit. Can you be reached at this number?”
The response irritated John. “I didn’t ask for a unit. I need to know where the nearest animal hospital is.”
“I don’t have that information. This line is for emergencies only. Call your local police; they can help.”
John yelled. “This is an emergency, you idiot.” He threw the phone to the passenger seat and started the truck. Then turned to open the rear window. Tank put his large head through the opening and licked John’s face. “Yeah, I know Tank. Duke is in bad shape. Unfortunately, the police don’t care if he lives or dies. I’ll drive and hope we are heading in the right direction. There must be someone out there that can help.” Tank’s bark startled John, but then he saw the reason for his excitement. A woman walking her dog. “Tank, you tell the others to stay in the truck and not to scare her. She may be able to help us.”
Tank pulled back and sat between the pack and the woman as the truck slowed to a stop. The bunch of them barked and jumped, but Tank was able to keep them corralled while John spoke with the woman.
The middle-aged woman was startled by the pack’s barking and swooped up her dog. Then she quickened her pace to distance herself from the truck.
John leaned over to the passenger window and shouted. “I’m sorry, we don’t mean to frighten you. I only need directions if you can help me, please.”
She slowed down to turn and see who was speaking. When she saw blood on John’s face, hair in disarray, and bare chest, she turned again to escape the encounter.
John stopped the truck and got out. “Stay,” he yelled to the pack, then keeping his distance, he pleaded with the lady. “Please don’t be afraid I won’t hurt you. My dog has been shot and needs medical attention. I need directions to an animal hospital.”
She put the dog down, reached in her pocket, and took out pepper spray, and pointed it at John. “Stay where you are.” She looked at the truck. “Your dogs look okay to me.”
“You can’t see him; he’s lying down and losing a lot of blood. Please, all I need is directions, and we’ll be on our way.”
She tugged the leash and walked toward the truck keeping the spray pointed at John. The pack stopped barking and watched her as she approached. John reassured her. “They won’t bother you.” Staying as far back as she could, she leaned over to see into the truck bed. She lowered the spray when she saw Duke. “The only animal hospital opened at this time on a Saturday night is a half-hour away by Atlantic avenue. I hate to say it, mister, but he doesn’t look good.”
John nodded. “Where on Atlantic avenue, I have to try.”
She looked at the pack, whose barks turned to cries, then her dog chimed in with the others. “I live a block from here, and I’m a nurse. Maybe I can help. Follow me.”
“It would be faster if I could give you a ride.”
“Sorry, mister, I not getting in your truck. I’ll walk as fast as I can.”
John let her go ahead before he followed. Tank stuck his head through the window and let out a low bark. “I know buddy, I like her too. Let’s hope she can help.”
John stopped in front of the house and waited for her to return. Moments later the porch light went on, and she covered a love seat with a bunch of towels and cloths. Then she ran to the rear of the vehicle where John was standing. “Let’s get him on the porch.”
John and the woman grabbed the corners of the sheet to lift Duke and carry him. After putting him down, she put her ear to his chest. “His breathing is shallow.” Then she examined the wound. “The bullet went through. That’s good.”
The pack ran up and down the steps whimpering until the lady asked if they could wait in the truck. John called to Tank. “Listen, Tank, the lady needs to help Duke without distraction, let’s get everyone back in the truck, and you keep them there.”
She took a moment to witness the relationship the dogs had with their owner. “Do you always talk to them like they’re people?”
John was surprised at the question. “Sure, don’t all dog owners?”
She poured something onto Duke’s wound. “Yes, I guess to a point, but not many have the faith you obviously do and expect them to comply and obey on command.”
John realized the extraordinary relationship he had with his friends, and he knew why. “I don’t expect them to comply and obey to anything I say, I ask them as a loyal friend, and they respond as loyal friends. It’s about respect.”
The lady turned away from her work, and for the first time since they met, she smiled. “That’s a great perspective. I’d like to hear more sometime.”
“I’m John Carol.”
She kept working and said, “I’m Cassey, Cassey Moore. Nice to meet you.”
John liked her. He estimated her to be between forty-five and fifty. “So, Cassey, do you think Duke will make it?”
She pushed her lips together and sighed. “Hard to say. Duke lost a lot of blood. He’s breathing better, which is a good sign. I think it’s up to him now.”
John was happy to hear her prognosis. “Duke grew up in the streets of Brooklyn. He’s a fighter, and if there is a chance to survive, that’s all he needs.”
She stood and smiled. “I’ve done all I can do, stay with him. I’ll get a bottle of water, he needs to drink as much as we can get into him.”
John watched her walk into the house. Her figure was shapely and lean, with a graceful persona to go along with her kind and beautiful smile. What are you thinking, John? You’re married, and she must be attached to someone.
She returned with a squeeze bottle and knelt next to John, gently petting Duke. “Hold his head up, and I’ll slowly let him drink. Talk to him John, he needs to work with us.”
“Duke, listen to me? You need to drink. Take your time but try, buddy, okay.”
He opened his eyes and moaned as John lifted his head. He took the water slowly at first and then faster. It was as if the water was rejuvenating him.
“I think he’s going to be okay, John.”
“Thanks to you, Cassey, I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”
Before Cassy responded, John’s phone rang. He rested Duke’s head and pulled the cell from his pocket. “Hi Rose, I would have called, but there was an emergency. One of my dogs was shot… I wasn’t going to let him die, Rose. I can’t stop at the store. I’ll be home when Duke is well. You’re going to have to go to the store yourself.”
John put the phone away and turned to Cassey. “Sorry, that was my wife. She doesn’t understand my relationship with the pack.”
“That’s sad, John; you have an extraordinary rapport with them, anyone can see that. Does she hate all K-9’s?”
“I don’t know. We never really talked about animals or pets until I wanted to take them home. That’s when I found out she has allergies.”
Cassey raised the water bottle again. “Let’s give him one last drink. You know John, you can’t move him tonight. He’s going to have to stay here.”
John looked back at the truck. The pack was resting quietly. “I’m not sure his buddies are going to leave him.”
“They can stay on the porch tonight also, but you have to stay with them. My yard is not fenced in, and I don’t want them frightening the passersby, even if they are harmless.”
John took a long pause before responding. “Cassy, Duke, and the Pack, including me, are in debt to you, and I’d like to take you to dinner as a friend. I know… I’m married, and I don’t know your status, but I want to spend more than a brief time with the person that gave her trust and hope to a stranger. You’re like an Angel. Yes…That’s exactly what you are, an Angel. I would love to spend time with you over fine food and good conversation.”
Cassey was blushing. John immediately felt like he was overbearing, and he should have never said anything. But her response made John’s stomach jump. “How about a picnic with me, Teddy, you, and the pack.”
John’s big grin was followed by his acceptance of such an excellent idea. “Of course, that’s a fantastic idea. Is Teddy your husband?”
Cassey laughed. “Teddy’s my dog… I’m sorry, with everything going on you haven’t met. He’s in the house, we’ll make our introductions tomorrow. I’m going in. I have some things to do before retiring for the evening… Wait, Duke is going to be in pain when he wakes. I have a mild pain killer we can give him so he can rest comfortably. I’ll be right back.”
John knelt next to Duke. He thought about Cassey’s response. Okay, Teddy is your dog, but is there a husband? Why didn’t she elaborate? As these thoughts and others floated through John’s head, it became apparent that Cassey was gone longer than it would take to get a pain killer. Maybe she’s tending to her husband?
Cassey returned with as many blankets as she could carry. John jumped to hold the door and help. “Wow, I didn’t expect to sleep in comfort.”
Cassey chuckled. “I don’t know if a blanket on the porch floor will be comfortable, but it’s better than sleeping on the wood. Why don’t you invite Duke’s friends up? I’m sure he’d love to see them.”
John whistled, and the pack leaped from the truck and ran up the stairs. Each taking their turn to see Duke and sniff his body. Afterward, they ran around John as if to say; Thank God he’s going to be okay.
Cassy turned to open the door. “You and the pack are amazing and meant to be together. Goodnight, John.”
Sunday morning, John woke with the cold nose of Tank nudging his arm. A whimper was coming from the bench where Duke laid. He jumped to his feet and examined Duke. “Okay, buddy, I know it hurts. Hopefully, Cassey will be up soon and can give you another pain killer.” John sat on the edge of the bench, trying to comfort Duke while the rest of the pack sat quietly beside them.
It was less than thirty minutes before Cassey came out with a steaming cup in hand. “Would you like coffee, John?”
John reached for the cup. “I’d love some… listen, Duke is in pain, would you have another pill for him.”
She checked Duke’s bandage. “I’ll get the pain killer and my medical kit so we can change the dressing.”
John spent most Sunday on Cassey’s porch. He called Rose once to tell her he was spending the day with Duke to watch over him. When he put his cell away, he shook his head and said, “She never even asked how he is.”
Cassey introduced her three-year-old Terrier mix. Teddy took well to the pack, and they accepted him into their circle without incident. John learned that Cassey’s husband died 2 years earlier and had a daughter away at college. They spent the day tending to Duke and the Pack. Cassey made lunch that they ate on the porch. It was one of the most pleasant days John had spent with anyone in years.
John said, “I hope you’re not considering this our picnic date because I want to see you again.”
Cassey pointed to the sign in front of the house that John hadn’t noticed. It said, ‘Sold.’ “It will have to be within the next three weeks. I’m moving to Florida.”
John felt his heart sink into his chest. “Oh…why are you moving?”
“The old neighborhood isn’t the same. My home was broken into last year. It was either put gates on all my windows and doors or move. Besides, the older I get, the more I realize I don’t like North-East winters.”
John tried to find reasons she should stay. “What about your job? You know it’s not so easy to find a job now, and what about your daughter?”
Cassey petted the dogs surrounding them. “My late husband’s life insurance policy left me enough, so I don’t have to worry about money, and one of the reasons I decided on North Palm Beach is because my daughter Wendy is at the University of Florida.”
John nodded. “Maybe I could come and visit someday?”
“I’d like that, John…I’d like that a lot. You could bring the pack also.”
John smiled and said, “How could I not? They love you.” He took out his phone to see the time. “It’s going on five o’clock. I should get Duke back to his bed at my yard.”
For the next two weeks, John and Cassey spent a lot of time together. Duke was mending nicely and walking with a hobble. Cassey said it was too soon to tell if it would be permanent. Cassey and Teddy would bring lunch to John and the pack at the scrap yard, and John would go to her home after work and bring dinner. He even helped her pack. There were moments when the chemistry between them almost flourished into something they both knew couldn’t happen.
It was the Friday before Cassey was scheduled to leave on Sunday. John was heading to the bank for the cash he needed the following week. Sometimes he paid out five thousand in cash a day for the scrap metal he took in. The bank closed at 6 pm on Friday, so John locked up early and returned to put the money in the safe. Tonight, the pack was out and about before he left to get the cash. When John arrived at the bank, the drive-thru wasn’t working. He had to go inside to conduct his business. The institution was busy, and the line he waited in was long.
It was mid-August now, and the sun was starting to set earlier. When he arrived back at the yard, the sky was a beautiful red and orange from the western sun setting. John was anxious to see Cassey. They only had two days left. He didn’t lock the gate behind him, thinking the pack will be showing up soon. He rushed to the safe and opened it, but before he closed it, there was a voice. “Give me the money.”
John turned to see two men with bandana masks and guns pointed at him. The only thing he could think to say was, “What money?”
The thug pushed him aside and took the cash from the safe. “This money, wise guy.”
John said, “Take it and leave.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the pack at the bottom of the steps. They seem to be assessing what was going on. John didn’t think they would attack as long as the men left peacefully. Unfortunately for them, John was hit in the head with the butt of a gun and fell to the floor unconscious.
John woke moments later to the sound of a gunshot and the robbers’ screams for help. There was blood all over the floor. The pack was all over them.
John screamed, “Tank no!” but it was too late. The blood gush from the man’s throat where Tank clamped his teeth down. The other man wasn’t moving either.
John pushed the dogs off the men and yelled. “Stop…Stop, Tank, keep them away.”
He felt their bloody necks. One had a faint pulse, and the other was dead. “Oh my God…what did you do?”
John stood over the bodies for a long moment, trying to decide what he should do. He wanted to call Cassey but decided to call the cops first. He turned to Tank. “You guys need to get out of here. Do you remember how to get to Cassey and Teddy’s house? You can’t come back here tonight. Do you understand, Tank?”
The police and ambulances showed up ten minutes after the call. By the time they arrived, both men were dead. They took John’s statement. “So, these dogs that attacked are yours, Mr. Carol?”
John shook his head. “Kind of, I feed them and let them sleep here, but they are just neighborhood stray dogs.”
A lump came to John’s throat when the officer said. “Well, will find them. They’ll have to be destroyed.”
John was angry in his response. “Those men came in here to rob me and then hit me in the head. It wasn’t the dogs fault.”
The cold reply upset John. “Just the same, they will have to be destroyed.”
John’s phone rang as they were putting the bodies in the ambulance. It was Cassey. He let it go to voice mail because he didn’t want the police to hear their conversation. John, where are you? The pack is at my house, and there is blood all over them. Is everything alright… please call me.
When the police left, John ran to his truck and went to Cassey’s. She was on the porch with the pack and jumped up when she saw him. “What’s going on John, something is wrong, isn’t it?”
John explained what had happened and broke down when he said, “They want the pack destroyed. It wasn’t their fault Cassey, they were protecting me. I can’t let them be destroyed. I won’t.”
For the first time, they embraced. “Don’t worry, John, we won’t let that happen.”
Cassey opened a bottle of wine and said, “I’ll take them with me to Florida. They can stay in the back of the moving van for the trip. I have plenty of property that they can roam on. It won’t be the streets of Brooklyn, but they’ll be free, and you can come and visit whenever you want.”
John grabbed Cassey’s hand. “I love you, Cassey, I’ve known it for weeks now, and I think you feel something for me. Am I wrong?”
She smiled and shook her head. “You’re not wrong, John, but you’re married.”
John was quick in his response. “Rose and I haven’t loved each other for years. I’ll get a divorce, and I’ll give her the house. I’ll sell the business and give her enough money to survive for six months until she gets a real job. I want to be with you and the pack Cassey, and I’m willing to give up everything to make that happen. Please say yes.”
“John, John, John, what are you doing. I don’t know. I need time to think.”
John took a sip from his glass and squeezed her hand tighter. “I Love you, Cassey and nothing is going to change that. I want you to say yes, but I’ll accept whatever you want.”
Cassey smiled and went into the house without saying a word. When she returned, she handed John an envelope with “yes” written on it and a house key inside.
John hugged her, and for the first time, they kissed. “You made me incredibly happy, Cassey. I promise the pack and I will spend the rest of our lives making you happy. Isn’t that right, guys?”
The pack was running around feeling John’s happiness, all except Sasha, she sat and watched.
John looked at her. “What’s the matter, girl? You don’t look happy.”
Cassey knelt beside her to see if she could tell what was wrong, and it didn’t take long. “She’s pregnant John, she needs her rest.”
John fell on his knees next to them and said, “Congratulations are for all of us. A few hours ago, I thought my life was over; now I can’t wait for my new life to get started.”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
The dogs in this story are based on a true characters from a scrap yard in Brooklyn and the bond, loyalty and respect between them and their best friend.
It took a while for Bob to know where he wanted to go with his writing. He’s always loved thrillers, but didn’t understand why they never include an inspirational message that can uplift the reader after the suspense is over. Bob endeavors to achieve that in his writing and hopes his novels stand out because of it. Bob also writes inspirational short Stories and Poems. You can find out more about Bob’s books and other work at his website - Bob Laurie Author.