Deacon Park is where they bury the bodies. For a cold-blooded killer, a huge tract of wild land in the middle of the city can be an indispensable resource.
Some of those bodies, if discovered, become resurrected as news stories. He'd heard the same reporters on T.V. recycle the same lines his entire life. Still, most of them remain buried forever, and after a while, you become acclimated to a certain lack of closure.
You live in this town long enough; eventually, you learn never to get too close.
August first arrived in the rain. Her grown-out bleached hair stuck to her face as she carried musty boxes up six flights of stairs to the apartment across the hall, a one-eyed German Shepherd panting heavily behind her. Phillip watched her through the kitchen window, through the fisheye in his door. He liked the way the world looked from his fish tank.
In many ways, the modern world seemed to be tailored to people just like Phillip. He got his groceries and take-out delivered. He met with friends in the glossy realities of video games. Even his job as an insurance broker he could do from bed, shirtless, in his underwear. He didn't hate his life. You couldn't fail if you didn't take any chances.
So when August knocked on his door one afternoon in a tight red dress, asking him to dog-sit Ed for a few days while she "ran some errands", Phillip almost had a panic attack.
"He's really sweet, I swear," she told him.
"Is he...well-trained?" Phillip was so shaken he didn't know where to begin asking questions.
"He just chills all day. Please? I'll pay you in weed when I get back." He barely had time to respond before he realized that he was already holding the leash.
After August left, he watched from his window as a black Pontiac Sunfire with tinted windows pulled up outside the building, collected her, and drove off into the smog.
The first night with Ed was an exercise in crisis management. Phillip couldn't remember the last time he'd been so anxious, tiptoeing around the domesticated wolf in his living room, spending most of his time in the bedroom scouring canine-based subreddits. But eventually, realizing that Ed really was just a stoner of a dog who was so old that he barely registered Phillip's presence, he decided to make the best of an unsalvageable situation.
Over the next two days, he and the dog spent nearly all their time together – mostly because Phillip didn't trust Ed enough to leave him alone. They went for walks to Deacon Park after Phillip got off work, they lay together on the couch while he played video games. They even ate their meals at the same time – one at the table, the other underneath.
Later, he would learn from August that Ed was a stray who'd one day sauntered in through the open door of a trap house in Koreatown – though she was also entirely convinced that he was an ex-police dog, abandoned after an injury in the line of duty. She said that she'd been around enough police dogs to know.
Phillip laughed when he first heard her extravagant backstory, but at times even he was taken aback by Ed's uncanny ability to detect things that were meant to remain undetected. Like on their second day together, when they passed by a gas station on their way home from an evening walk. Phillip felt the leash suddenly tighten, his arm jerking outward, and he watched in bewilderment as Ed began to sniff and scratch at a hubcap of a tricked-out Audi. He continued like this until the owner – an inked-up skinhead with what looked like infected nose piercings – sprang out of the 7-11 to scream at Ed so irately that he pissed himself right there on the asphalt. Phillip didn't know for sure if there had been anything stashed away inside that hubcap. But he wouldn't say the idea was particularly far-fetched.
Phillip would take Ed on many more occasions after that first time, each beginning with the exact same pattern: the knock, the red dress, the leash, the black car. Sometimes it would be a few days. Sometimes close to a week.
It was hard to say whether he was in love with August. He'd never been in love – hell, he'd never even had a girlfriend – but he knew for a fact that he'd never been happier than when he heard the ever-unexpected knock at his door. Whenever August came around, he felt like some kind of secret agent, prepared to take a job at a moment's notice. Prepared to do anything she asked.
Of course, he had no illusions about how August made her living. He watched it all from his fisheye lens across the hall – how the men came all swaggering and slicked back, how they'd leave all dazed and disheveled. The late-night calls, groups of men that would leave her apartment with bulging duffel bags. It wasn't that he cared – at least not from a moral perspective. It was only her safety that concerned him.
He just hoped to God that she knew what she was doing.
That time began the same way all the others did. He heard the telltale knock, navigated through small talk, grazed her fingers as she handed him the leash. Next time, he told himself. I'll ask her next time. He and Ed both watched as the black Sunfire pulled up to the building, her red dress smoldering as she clicked her heels along the sidewalk to the passenger side. He heard Ed whimpering softly beside him as the car disappeared into the shadows of the office towers.
Two weeks later, it was he who reported her missing.
Maybe she saw something she shouldn't have seen. Maybe there'd been a deal gone wrong. Maybe she got a little too close.
The cops had her apartment blocked-off with crime scene tape for a while. When they came by to ask him questions, he told them only about what he had seen. Then he asked if anyone was coming for Ed.
"We've had no contact with any family," the officer told him. "If you want him, the dog's yours. Doesn't look like he got much time left anyway."
None of us do, thought Phillip, stroking the back of Ed's neck.
He didn't notice when the yellow tape had come off or when the new tenants moved into August's apartment. He didn't cry at the thought of never seeing August again.
Over the years, he too had become acclimated to a certain lack of closure.
One hot summer day, he and Ed were walking the main path in Deacon Park. Ed was being especially lackadaisical, stopping to investigate nearly every passing bramble and tree. Phillip didn't mind. Neither of them had anywhere else to be.
As they wandered along the path, Phillip marvelled at how much his life had changed since that rainy day when August first moved in next door – no longer the lonely shut-in that he was back then. All around, people strolled and jogged and whipped past them on rollerblades, some rubber-necking to glare at Ed's scraggly face and his missing eye.
Then, out of nowhere, Phillip felt a force from Ed unlike any he had ever exuded, dragging him to a droopy Willow tree out of the way of the main path with such intensity that Phillip was nearly knocked to the ground. Brutishly, Ed led them to a patch of dirt, across which were strewn a melange of needles, balled-up tinfoil, empty cigarette cartons, and all shades of disposable lighters.
As soon as Ed reached his destination under the Willow tree, he began to dig. He was manic, summoning all of his available strength to uncover the loose dirt. Ed dug for a while – forming a hole that was nearly four feet deep – until he seemed to forget what he was doing and became distracted by a passing Doberman.
As they abandoned the hole under the Willow tree, a dark thought suddenly occurred to Phillip. Was it possible? Could that have been –?
But Phillip too grew distracted by the owner of the Doberman, a pretty, young woman in athletic clothes and naturally golden hair in a tight ponytail.
After all, Ed was an old dog, far along in his years. It could've been anything – or more likely nothing – buried underneath that Willow tree.
And when they walked far enough into the distance, that patch of dirt escaped Phillip's mind completely.
Cover design by Nicolas Ky
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