Authors: Lewis Robinson
Officer Friendly and Other Stories
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Lewis Robinson
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Water dogs : a novel / Lewis Robinson.
1. Brothers—Fiction. 2. Adult children—Fiction. 3. Missing persons—Fiction. 4. Guilt—Fiction. 5. Maine—Fiction. 6. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
ennie didn’t recognize the sound. There were squirrels who sometimes nested in the attic, and barred owls in the nearby woods, and, during the summer, cats in heat prowling the backyard, but the cries he heard were from a place closer to his bedroom. When he was perfectly still, not moving his head on the pillow, every few seconds he would hear the faint crying. He climbed out of bed and crossed the cold pine floor in his boxers. It was still dark out. Standing in the doorway, he listened. It seemed to be in the living room. He felt his way to the standing lamp in the corner and turned the switch, waited, then heard it distinctly, coming from the far wall. He walked closer to the fireplace.
The sound was loudest just to the left of the hearth. He put his ear against the plaster. A gentle bump against the lath, and scratching. He imagined a new hole in the eaves—or an old hole Littlefield hadn’t told him about—and now something trapped inside the wall, crying.
At the bottom of the basement stairs, Bennie grabbed a saber saw and a crowbar from Littlefield’s pegboard, and a pair of canvas gloves and a flashlight from the tool apron. Littlefield would have suggested poison—and he wouldn’t have allowed Bennie to use the saber saw—but Littlefield had gone out to the bar, which meant he was probably now sleeping in his Chevette. When Bennie returned to the living room, he knelt beside the baseboard, listened a final time, then cut a rough rectangle through the plaster. With the crowbar he pried back the lath. He aimed the flashlight into the hole. Eight or ten raccoon eyes looked up at him, little quivering noses pointed toward the light, black fur around the eyes, a stripe of white across the ears and snout. Tiny bandits with miniature claws. They didn’t move much but they continued to chatter and cry. He steered the light around the space within the walls and saw only the babies—nothing larger—so he put on his brother’s canvas gloves, reached through the hole, and pulled them out, one by one, putting them in the cardboard box used for kindling. They didn’t resist, though he felt the light touch of their thin claws. When he’d gotten all five out, he took the box to the porch, set it down, then walked through the breezeway to the barn, where he found the galvanized live-catch trap their sister had once used for opossum in the basement. This plan felt very efficient to him, well conceived. To catch the mother, Bennie baited the trap with an entire tin of sardines. He knew she’d be back. He looked under the eaves and found a hole beside one of the porch’s support columns. He placed the trap next to the cardboard kindling box, on the corner of the porch, beneath the hole.
After switching off all the lights, he got back under the covers. Except for the billowing wind in the spruce trees outside and, occasionally,
the steel chime of the bell buoy near Esker Point, all was quiet. Bennie’s skin was still cold from the winter night. He tried to relax. He thought about what a victory this had been—the decision to cut the hole, making it the right size, saving the baby raccoons. He’d find a better place for them. Littlefield would laugh, but he didn’t care. He’d done the right thing.
But crying in that box on the porch until morning—it was the first week of March, still bitterly cold—the raccoons would surely freeze. He shook his covers off again, stood up, and walked outside to retrieve the box. He put it on the kitchen table; the raccoons stayed quiet.
Back in bed, Bennie could hear them crying again. He got up, walked to the kitchen, and put the box in the mop closet, then returned to his room. Done.
Thirty or forty minutes later, the phone rang. Bennie marched back to the kitchen, this time aware of how tired he was, and how few hours remained before sunrise. It was his twin sister, Gwen. She lived in New York.
“Littlefield said you didn’t want me to come home. For a visit.”
“Gwen?” he asked. “Do you know what time it is?”
“For a visit. You didn’t want me around.”
“Gwen, that’s ridiculous. Come home. Of course I’d love to see you. What time is it? Are you drunk?”
“I didn’t think you’d answer the phone.”
“You shouldn’t believe Littlefield when he says something like that. He’s just messing with you.”
“I guess I just wanted to make sure. Could I visit next week sometime?”
“It’s your house, too. Of course you can visit. I’d love you to visit. I’m kind of asleep right now. Can I call you back?”
“Is Littlefield there?”
“He’s out. Down at Julian’s, I think.”
“Eddie’s, the bar. Now they call it Julian’s. Julian is Eddie’s son.”
“Right. That tall guy. I remember him. Really, really tall. Like a freak.”
“I’m asleep, Gwen. Call back tomorrow, okay?”
“Will you pick me up at the airport?”
“Next week. When I come.”
“Of course. Good night.”
“I’ll be there for our birthdays,” she said.
Growing up, they’d always celebrated together—they were born only fifteen minutes apart, on either side of midnight. “That’d be nice,” he said. “I’m going to sleep now.”
“Wow. Somebody’s grumpy. Next time, just don’t answer the phone. We’ll all be happier,” she said, and hung up.
As he tried to sleep, he thought about their old family house—its leaky pipes, chipping paint, uneven floors, drafty windows. Baby raccoons in the walls. They called it “the Manse,” which had been a family joke, because the house was not grand or impressive compared to others along the coast, but now that Bennie and Littlefield were in charge, and the porch seemed one or two strong storms away from crumbling into the ocean, and the old copper pipes were failing, rotting the ceilings and the walls, calling the place “the Manse” seemed sad. The last time Gwen had come to visit them—the previous summer—she and Bennie had been sitting on the porch, drinking beer, discussing Gwen’s latest rationale for living in New York and continuing her quest to be an actress. Gwen said that pretending to be another person was invigorating. Bennie wanted to relate this to his own experience, so after he let his sister finish, he took a big sip of beer and said that paintball was a pretty good outlet for pretending, too.
He told her that paintball taught him to be careful, and patient, and that he and Littlefield and Julian went out together, competing against a group of sea urchin divers at a year-round course called the Flying Dutchman, sometimes going for a full session without taking more
than two or three shots. Two or three gumballs, hopefully kill shots, full of bright-colored sludge. They played every Saturday.
When Bennie looked at her after describing this, he knew they were both having the same thought: there’d been a lot of promise, once. According to their mom at least. He’d done pretty well in high school. They were the grandchildren of an original member of the Stock Exchange. But while Gwen had decided at Vassar to be an actress (it took her a few years to get to New York, and she wasn’t doing much acting, but she’d landed two small roles at the Brooklyn Family Theater in Park Slope and she had a gig as a temp at an accounting firm), Bennie hadn’t finished college. He thought there might be a time when he’d start up again—when he would have good ideas about how to put a college degree to use in midcoast Maine—but for now he just wanted to keep the Manse from falling apart. Working at the vet’s office, taking care of the house—that was plenty. He and Gwen were about to turn twenty-seven.
The front door banged shut, and from his bed Bennie heard Littlefield knocking his boots against the wall, depositing, Bennie was sure, lumps of snow on the kitchen floor. Bennie heard the sink faucet turn on, and the clink of a glass. Littlefield tromped into the living room. After a brief silence, he said, “My fucking saber saw. Don’t use my saber saw.”
“I’m asleep,” said Bennie. When they’d moved back into the old house, Bennie had chosen the downstairs bedroom. Most of the time, it was convenient, but there were occasional disadvantages to sleeping near the front door.
“Whoa! Did you cut a hole in the wall?”
Bennie flipped his light on and came to the doorway. “Take off your boots when you come inside.”
Littlefield was poking the ashes in the fire, trying to find the coals. He was wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood up. “Those are my sardines in the trap out there.”
“Has it sprung yet?” asked Bennie.
“That’s no way to catch an animal. Have a heart? Please. Have some balls, Bennie. That’s a better motto when you’re catching an animal. Have. Some. Balls. Some scrotal ballast. I should design a grow-a-pair trap and force you to use it. A giant glue trap—with a guillotine.”
“Did you look closely? Maybe it’s already sprung,” Bennie said, walking to the kitchen. It felt satisfying to ignore his brother’s late-night bluster. Bennie held open the door and they walked onto the porch.