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Going to the Dogs
By Dan Kavanagh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Dan Kavanagh
All rights reserved.
There was a body in the video library. It was hard to miss, as these things are, and Mrs Colin spotted it the moment she pushed open the panelled light-oak door on which someone had humorously painted a large pink trompe-l'oeil keyhole. Mrs Colin recognized Ricky at once, recognized equally that he was dead, and put her hand to her throat. Beneath the white poplin blouse she had ironed that morning at 6.30, she felt the bump of her crucifix. She always wore Our Saviour inside her clothes, next to the skin, and the few people who knew wondered if it was because she was ashamed of her religion. Mrs Colin was not ashamed of her religion, but she was often more than embarrassed by some of the things she found herself looking at in the course of her daily duties at Braunscombe Hall. If you had been born in Davao thirty-five years ago and were sending money home every month, you did not question the way people chose to behave on the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire borders. But this did not mean you should allow such behaviour to be inflicted upon Our Saviour, even upon an image of Our Saviour. There were times, as Mrs Colin set the breakfast tray down in certain bedrooms, when the gold figure at her throat seemed to burn in anger, and with the pressure of her hand she would try to reassure it that such things had nothing to do with her, and that she would in due course pray for the slumbering sinners. Part of the money she sent back to Davao always went to the Church of Our Lady of Penitence, where the holy sisters regularly chivvied the Lord about the moral safety of those in service overseas.
This time, however, as Mrs Colin gazed into Ricky's cold, dead eyes, the crucifix did not burn, and after the first shock she began to look calmly round the room. The several thousand videotapes — a collection of which Vic Crowther was exuberantly proud — lay undisturbed. They were enclosed in special boxes with tooled plastic spines, and had their titles printed in gold leaf. This made them look, Vic would explain, as if they were real books. Some of the tapes were pretty rare, and some of the fruitier items in Vic's collection masqueraded under such titles as Chess for Beginners: The Middle Game, or Cooking with Spices, Part 2. But whoever it was that had killed Ricky hadn't been interested in old films, or the middle game in chess, or cooking with spices, or even in what really lay behind such innocent titles.
The curtains over the french windows were drawn back, which was not unusual in Mrs Colin's experience: nobody in this household seemed to bother much about keeping out the dark, or the light, or the draughts. But the fact that the curtains were open meant that when the man, or men, had thrown Ricky's body through the window, it, or he, had travelled further into the room than if the curtains had been there to slow his, or its, progress. This elaborate thought took some pedantic time to travel through Mrs Colin's brain, and it was swiftly followed by the awareness that standing there trying to work things out was not at all her job. She shook her head at herself, released her grasp of Our Saviour, quietly closed the door of the video library and went in search of Mr Crowther.
Belinda Blessing was also Mrs Vic Crowther, but she preferred to keep her professional name. It always seemed a bit silly when some sly gawper still at work on his first moustache turned shyly to her in the pub and asked, 'Excuse me, you are Belinda Blessing?' for her to slap his face with a 'No, I'm Mrs Crowther.' Belinda stopped on her way to the video library and checked her side view in a long mirror. She'd always known she'd look good in riding clothes, but they also did something to her bum that she wasn't entirely happy with. Jolly girlfriends used to say that you couldn't have too much money or too much bum, but she wasn't sure, and stared quizzically into the mirror, shifting from one leg to the other, studying the effect on what Vic would jokingly refer to as her other pair. Belinda smiled, as if to camera, tapped her riding crop against her thigh (naughty, naughty), and walked quickly to the library, where she found those members of the household who believed in rising by 8.30 on a Sunday morning. She cast a quick look at the body, coughed sharply and observed, 'Looks like he was thrown through the window.' Then she turned away and went off to ride. A good gallop, with some of your long black hair escaping from underneath your hat and flowing out behind so that you might be recognized from a distance, made you forget all the nasty, sick things in life, she found.
Jimmy thought this was rather hard on Belinda's part, but then no one had ever compared Belinda to a duvet, except in respect of where she frequently used to find herself; at least in the old days. Now ... well, Jimmy wondered a bit about all that, how Vic and Belinda were managing in the bedroom department after what was it, seven, eight years? Had there been a bit of extra-curricular activity? I mean, given their pasts, and given the fact that Vic's rev-counter probably didn't climb into the red zone all that often these days, what would you expect? It was a subject to which Jimmy occasionally turned his mind. He was not bright, Jimmy, and with a head that sloped away at top and bottom he didn't look bright either; but he was a tenacious thinker. For instance, he sometimes reflected on the fact that he came from a good family but seemed, as far as he could work out, not to have a bean to his name, whereas old Vic Crowther, his host, who was as common as muck (well, that was Jimmy's phrase — Vic would have preferred something like salt of the earth), had large amounts of the folding stuff which bought you a jolly good time. In short, he was stinking rich. Harry stinkers, in fact, as Jimmy would have put it. He dragged his brain back to the matter in hand, a process which made his right arm naturally extend and firmly enclose the shoulders of Angela. This was a harder business than it sounded, since Angela was crying a lot and shaking up and down. The grieving widow, thought Jimmy, and watched his arm being propelled up and down by Angela's back, as if he were operating a pump on the village green.
It was rather like that: Jimmy's arm pumping up and down, and water sluicing out of Angela's eyes. The bastards, the bastards. She'd loved Ricky. The tears were now interfering with her proper view of Ricky's body, but she didn't have to see him to feel the presence of those gentle eyes, that sweet expression, that lovely curly hair. The bloody bastards. She'd paid, and they hadn't ever mentioned Ricky, so why had they done it? The bloody bastards. What had Ricky ever done to anyone? Her sobs became fiercer, and Jimmy felt her pulling at his arm, as if she wanted to throw herself on the body. We can't have this, Jimmy thought, and held on more tightly, at the same time catching Mrs Colin's eye and making a drinking gesture with his free hand. Mrs Colin quietly disappeared.
Nikki, who was six, and who had been rather surprised when her mother had simply walked off, held her father's hand and wondered if Ricky was in Heaven. Mrs Colin had said she wasn't to go into the video library but everyone seemed a bit distracted so she had just slipped in and put her hand into her father's. What a mess the window was in, all broken like that. She wondered if this meant she wouldn't be able to come in and watch videos for a few days. She usually said she wanted to see Bambi or Supergran or The Hundred and One Dalmatians, but recently she'd found that if she climbed on a chair, some of the other films could be a lot more interesting. She didn't tell anyone about her discovery, though that Mrs Colin had caught her the other day and threatened to tell Mummy. Nikki had had to cry a lot and pretend a video had got in the wrong box by mistake. Nosey Mrs Colin. Actually, she thought she'd recognized Mummy in one of those films, but she didn't have the right colour hair, and Nikki couldn't be sure. She held her father's hand, looked at Ricky's stiffened limbs, and wondered if he was in Heaven.
Vic Crowther, a stocky man in his mid-fifties, had a ruddy complexion, chain-store clothes, and a cheerful expression which the coppers always used to take for cheeky. On this occasion he wasn't looking so cheerful. 'I'm going to have to bollock Duffy about this,' he said to Jimmy. 'Christ, try to give a mate a leg-up and look what happens.'
'Fellow who put in the alarm system. This was his big break. Never exactly been the John Paul Getty of the security business. But there it was, nice job, big country house, don't count the pennies. Told him he'd be doing tripwires at Buckingham Palace next. And what happens? He screws up. Someone throws poor old Ricky through the french windows and the bell doesn't even go off. I'm going to give that Duffy a right bollocking.'
'Maybe it's out of guarantee.' Jimmy's suggestion was made in a worried voice.
'Guarantee? Guarantees are a guardsman's tit where I come from.' Vic was sounding really angry. 'Guarantees are for stockbrokers and schoolmasters. I don't count the pennies and I don't keep files, but if someone does me a job of work, then someone does me a job of work.'
'Check,' said Jimmy.
Vic grunted. He didn't count the pennies, and he didn't keep files, and he did despise stockbrokers and schoolmasters — indeed, sometimes he'd have a chuckle about how he'd started lower than the lot of them yet ended up in the big house with a girl they'd give their right sperm-bank for. But he wasn't really thinking about this, and he wasn't even thinking about Duffy. What he mainly felt, as his daughter's hand squirmed like a mouse in his palm, was relief that no one had gone messing with the films in his video library. What if someone had come through that bloody great hole in the window and nicked his tape of Naked as Nature Intended? That was a real collector's item, that was. One of these days those old naturist movies were really going to come back into fashion.
Mrs Colin was not a drinker. She was a good Catholic who had come all the way from the Philippines to the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire borders and who regularly sent half her wages back to her mother, some of which was forwarded to the holy sisters at the Church of Our Lady of Penitence. You didn't come all this way to waste money on yourself, least of all by pouring it down your throat. Even after five years with the Crowthers, two in London before Miss Blessing retired and three in the country, she was still amazed at how much people drank in this cold, damp, grey-green land where the money was good. Perhaps they did so precisely because it was cold and damp and the leaves seemed to be falling off the trees all year round. In her country, among her people, they drank San Miguel beer, and that was enough. Here they drank everything, and more kinds of different everything than Mrs Colin had ever imagined. She stood behind the sitting-room bar — all deep-buttoned leather with brass accessories — and wondered what to get for Miss Angela. The array of bottles and tins and mixers and squirters, the prodders and crushers and pokers and pounders, plus the cheery colours of all the different drinks, made her feel like a pharmacist in a dispensary. Maybe that's why the English said things like, 'What's your medicine?' or, for a change, 'What's your poison?' Perhaps Miss Angela needed a little of each of her favourites. Mrs Colin poured an inch of crème de menthe into a large tumbler, added an inch of white wine, and topped it up with an inch of gin. She paused, thought of Miss Angela's tear-lined face, and added another inch of gin. She picked up one of Mr Crowther's novelty cocktail stirrers — a policeman's helmet at one end to hold it by, and a big pair of policeman's boots at the other with which to do the agitating — and mixed Miss Angela's medicine. Then she hurried back to the video library. Jimmy took the glass from her, raised an eyebrow at the colour, and wordlessly held it in front of the now quieter Angela, who drained half its contents without comment. It seemed to Mrs Colin that she had chosen wisely.
Almost in an undertone, but with a firmness of enunciation which made all those who heard it realize that it was an instruction, Vic Crowther said, 'I don't think we'll inform the gentlemen of the law just yet.' Then, one by one, those who had risen at Braunscombe Hall by 8.30 on a Sunday morning filed out of the video library with the cautious step of penitents leaving church. Mrs Colin closed the door and was alone with Ricky.
The fact of the matter was, Mrs Colin had always disliked him. He had frightened her. She hadn't ever told anyone, and it was probably more to do with something that happened once in a backstreet in Davao after dark than with Ricky himself; but there it was. Now, looking at him stretched out in death, she felt a little guilty about having disliked him. His eyes were empty of life, and his limbs were stiff, all four of them, and his tail would never wag again.CHAPTER 2
It was 8.45 on a Sunday morning on the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire borders when Mrs Colin from Davao slipped Ricky into a large blue plastic laundry-bag, stood for a minute or two pondering the etiquette of putting him in the freezer, decided against it, and went instead to the back cloakroom. Nobody much visited the back cloaks. The room contained a large number of Wellington boots, none of which appeared to fit members of the household, a fairly new croquet set which Belinda had ordered and quickly become bored with, a washbasin with a dripping tap, and a Victorian lavatory whose porcelain interior was decorated with a dark-blue flower pattern. A botanist, even an amateur one, would probably have been able to identify the flowers etched into the porcelain, but Mrs Colin had never tried: there were certain things, she thought, which ought to be decorated, and certain things which oughtn't to be, and lavatories fell into the second category. She had never heard of decorated lavatories in Davao. Ignoring the decadent bowl, Mrs Colin looked instead at the row of hat-pegs on the right of the cloakroom. On one of them hung a mud-splashed trench coat which some weekend guest had never bothered to claim. Occasionally, a shooting friend of Vic Crowther's would give him a brace of pheasant, and it was here — two pegs along from the discarded trench coat — that they always hung for a few days. Mrs Colin lifted the plastic laundry-bag and was about to slip its handle over the pheasant peg when she wondered if in some way this might be wrong; she hesitated, and chose the next peg along instead. Ricky's tail, or at least six inches of it, protruded from the bag. Mrs Colin tried pushing it down, but without any success.
Duffy's laundry-bag was made of bright yellow plastic, and at 8.45 on a Sunday morning he was carrying it down Goldsmith Avenue, Acton W3. A stray policeman on the lookout for murdered dogs would have found the contents of his bag innocuous. In legal terms, that is, though some of the contents were far from innocuous where the sense of smell was concerned; some of them might have constituted a minor health hazard; some of them — had the right public official been handy — might even have been taken away from Duffy and buried in a lime pit. Duffy was aware of this problem. It wasn't that he didn't change his clothes often enough; it was simply that he didn't get down to the launderette often enough. He carefully stacked his dirty clothes away in plastic bags at the bottom of his fitted cupboard; after a few weeks, when he thought the bags must be so familiar with one another that they might start breeding, he would empty their contents into his yellow laundry-bag and set off down Goldsmith Avenue.
Duffy quite liked this Sunday chore. Partly it was the release from guilt; partly it was the quiet of the streets. Saturday night had gone home. Saturday night was still snoring away in bed waiting for Sunday morning's hangover to come and wake it up. There was nobody about as Duffy turned in to the huddle of shops which contained the launderette. Light-heartedly he kicked at a few discarded styrofoam burger boxes. Some careful drunk had stacked up a pile of eight empty lager cans on the pavement outside the bookie's. Some less careful drunk had decided that the recessed entrance to the bookie's was well-suited for use as a urinal because, if it wasn't to be the bookie's it would have to be the next shop along anyway, and hadn't he lost a tenner on some three- legged nag here only last week? Duffy wrinkled his nose, aware that the reek from his laundry-bag came in a close second to the pong from the doorway, losing only by a short head.
Excerpted from Going to the Dogs by Dan Kavanagh. Copyright © 1987 Dan Kavanagh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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