Night Dogs

( 3 )

Overview

Former police officer Kent Anderson, author of the memorable Vietnam War novel Sympathy for the Devil, returns with a powerful new novel about a Vietnam-vet cop who still carries the war inside himself. Searing and brutally honest, Night Dogs plunges us into the free-fire zones of our cities, where the legendary thin blue line is breaking down.

The North Precinct of Portland, Oregon, is home to two kinds of cops: sergeants and lieutenants who've screwed up somewhere else, and ...

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Overview

Former police officer Kent Anderson, author of the memorable Vietnam War novel Sympathy for the Devil, returns with a powerful new novel about a Vietnam-vet cop who still carries the war inside himself. Searing and brutally honest, Night Dogs plunges us into the free-fire zones of our cities, where the legendary thin blue line is breaking down.

The North Precinct of Portland, Oregon, is home to two kinds of cops: sergeants and lieutenants who've screwed up somewhere else, and patrolmen who thrive on the action on the Avenue. Officer Hanson is the second kind, a veteran who has traded his Bronze Star for a badge. War is what Hanson knows, and in this battle for Portland's meanest streets, he's fighting not so much for the law as for his own code of justice.

Hanson is a man who seems to fear nothing--except his own memories.  And it is his past that could destroy him now:  An enemy in the department is determined to bring him down by digging into his war record and resurrecting the darkest agonies of that nightmare time.  And Hanson himself risks everything--his career, his equilibrium, even his life--when the only other survivor of his Special Forces unit comes back into his life. Doc Dawson is a drug dealer and a killer...but he's the one man Hanson can trust.

Night Dogs is an extraordinary work from a powerful and authentic voice in American fiction. Recoiling from the violence that Hanson deals with every day, the violence that is in Hanson, readers will also understand the compassion that drives him.  A novel remarkable for its razor-sharp characterizations and dialogue, its freshness of observation, Night Dogs--and Hanson--will remain etched in the memory for a long time to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Kent Anderson's Night Dogs:

"The best cop novel I have ever read. There's never been anything like it."
--James Crumley

"Fiercely authentic and deeply disturbing...Extraordinary."
--Los Angeles Times

"Anderson makes his mark in Wambaugh country with his eloquent, literary voice and an anguished, haunting sensibility. Many novels have been written about the lives of cops and soldiers, but few have probed the American propensity for violence as well as this one."
--Publishers Weekly

"Night Dogs reads like Long Range Reconnaissance. If you come back alive, you'll be different. That's mastery."
--Carsten Stroud

"Night Dogs is not just a fine book, it is an important book."
--James Crumley

"Be warned--start Night Dogs before dinner, forget dinner, next comes glaring morning sunlight and muscle cramps. This is very good writing!"
--Janwillem Van de Wetering

"Kent Anderson knows that wisdom is mourning."
--A. A. Attanasio

"Every so often, you come across a crime novel that flat-out blows you away and restores your faith in the entire genre. Night Dogs... is one of those books. I think it's the best novel I've read, period, in the last couple of years."
--George P. Pelecanos

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It's been a decade between novels for the talented Anderson, but he displays the same power, grace and maturity in fictionalizing his experiences as a Portland, Ore., policeman that he did in dealing with his stint in Vietnam in Sympathy for the Devil 1987. His hero, Hanson, returning from the earlier novel, is now a cynical, reclusive yet dedicated officer who hides his sensitivity to the tragedies taking place around him behind a glib demeanor. His seemingly casual approach to the job inspires a vindictive, by-the-book narcotics officer, Fox, to go digging into Hanson's war background, only to discover some confidential FBI files pertaining to Hanson's time with the Special Forces in Vietnam. This conflict forms a bridge between Anderson's two novels, allowing the author to compare the violence of the Vietnam War to that of the inner city. Subplots include the death of Hanson's partner at the hands of a vicious petty criminal, a romantic misadventure with a woman policeman and a destructive, kinky affair with a woman who has a fetish for violence. Recurring throughout are pregnantly symbolic images of the night dogs, rejected animals that roam the ghettos in packs and are stalked and killed during an annual police hunt. Anderson makes his mark in Wambaugh country with his eloquent, literary voice and an anguished, haunting sensibility. Many novels have been written about the lives of cops and soldiers, but few have probed the American propensity for violence as well as this one. In a foreword, James Crumley rightfully heralds this as "not just a fine book," but an "important" book.
Library Journal
It is 1975, and Vietnam veteran Hanson, the hero of Anderson's first novel, Sympathy for the Devil 1987, is a street cop in Portland, Oregon. Through a series of increasingly disorienting episodes, he dispenses rough justice and doubtful order in the toughest and most degraded parts of the city. The stresses in post-Vietnam American society and Hanson's difficulty in resolving his experiences in combat lead him through some disturbing rites, as for instance the annual North Precinct feral dog hunt, in which officers compete to run over strays with their patrol cars. Drugs, guns, sex, and all the usual attractions of youth call to Hanson; eventually, the death of a close friend and mentor impels him to make his peace with life. Anderson's vision is undeniably powerful, but the relentless violence and dark atmosphere will put off the squeamish. Recommended for large public libraries. First published in 1996 in a limited edition by Dennis McMillan Publications, this novel is being given a full national distribution by Bantam.
-- Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Library, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
New York Times Book Review
A street cop in Portland, Ore., works himself into a hellish state of mind as he pounds his wretched beat in 1975, reliving his own nightmares as a Green Beret in Vietnam.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553578775
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 522
  • Sales rank: 495,868
  • Product dimensions: 4.16 (w) x 6.89 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Kent Anderson is a former police officer, a former Special Forces sergeant in Vietnam, and the author of Sympathy for the Devil. He lives in Idaho.
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Read an Excerpt

Foreword

It's the mid-Seventies, and America's trying to ignore its ignominious second-place finish in the Southeast Asian War Games, a loss we suffered because we lacked a clear purpose, an iron will, and the necessary courage of the Vietnamese. The American Dream has taken a severe beating, and everything seems to have gone to hell. The rich are getting richer and more self-righteous, the poor more desperately poor, and nobody seems to remember the losses or the lessons of the Vietnam War. Caught between the hopeful hangover of the sixties and the looming eighties' decade of unrestrained greed, the various governments are as confused and indecisive as they were during the war, plus they have cut services to the bloody bone, and the streets are filled with the hopeless and the hopelessly insane.

The American center did not hold. Domestic relations have become disaster areas, neighborhoods free-fire zones, and the cities are fistfighting themselves to the death. Even our pets turn on us as domestic dogs revert to a more elemental stance, gathering in protective/aggressive feral packs, and sometimes must be destroyed, since the street cops can't shoot their owners.

Or so it seems, particularly to a young Vietnam vet police officer named Hanson. The only people who have even the vaguest notion of what's actually happening are the men and women in the trenches, the street cops.

As he works the mean streets of North Precinct, Hanson sees himself as the last line of defense, the thin blue line that prevents the criminal and the crazy from destroying the middle-class neighborhoods. Hanson also seems to be one of the few who actually care about the street people, as much caretaker as cop as he dispenses justice rather than law among his charges. On these streets, Hanson is the philosopher-king, mucking out the bloody stables with his bare hands.

Complicating Hanson's chores are the battles within himself. He hates liberals with an intelligent passion, partly because they don't understand the dynamic of the street and partly because he sees his own liberal heart as both foolish and weak. Like many men who ask too much of themselves, Hanson would love the relief of a connection with another human being. But he has enough trouble just talking to himself. So he relies on conversations with his cop partner, the occasional visitation from an old Vietnam War buddy who has moved from pain pills for his war wounds to dealing cocaine, and his irregular love-life, which revolves eccentrically around a woman who seems more depraved than the drug-addled streetwalkers on his beat. Mostly Hanson talks to his dog, Truman, a small wizened mutt he saved from a death at the pound after the demise of his ancient owner, against the advice of his cop cohorts.

It's a lonely life when the job is the only life, and when the job is bloody, confused, and dangerous, so is the life. But somehow Hanson survives. The street scenes are at the heart of this novel--moments of courage and compassion, snapshots of anger and understanding, scenes that flash on the brain like unexpected bolts of lightning. Through it all Hanson maintains his pride and sense of duty, but most of all he never condescends to the people on his beat. Throughout the novel, no matter what the anger, the violence, or the epithets, Hanson treats his charges with respect and dignity. They know it and return the favor. This is the way life is for a good street cop. And the way it should be. Hanson is the sort of police officer desperately needed on the street.

There has never been a police novel like this. The writing is as strong as the material: the minor characters are as brilliantly drawn as the best graffiti, the dialogue as solid as a brick through a plate glass window, and the prose as sharply precise as a linoleum knife across the throat.

Night Dogs is not just a fine book, it is an important book. It reminds us of important things, of a time too many people prefer to forget, the loss of faith and purpose after the war; and it reminds us that those people who live on the rough edges of society are people much like us, people with hopes and dreams, with disappointments and endurance; and they deserve the same respect we usually reserve for ourselves. Read this novel, enjoy, think, and rest easy in your domestic peace.

James Crumley
Missoula, October 1996

Prologue

Every June 15th out at North Precinct, "A" relief and graveyard shift started killing dogs. The police brass and local politicians only smiled if they were asked about it, shook their heads, and said it was just another one of those old myths about the precinct.

The cops at North Precinct called them "Night Dogs," feral dogs, wild and half-wild, who roamed the districts after dark. Their ancestors had been pets, beaten and abandoned by their owners to breed and give birth on the streets. Some paused only long enough to eat the afterbirth before leaving the newborns to die. But there were others who suckled and watched over their mewling litters. Gaunt and yellow-eyed, their gums bleeding from malnutrition, they carried them, one by one, to some new safe place every few nights, out of instinct. Or out of love. You might call it love, but none of the cops at North ever used that word.

Survivors were lean and quick, pit bull and Doberman in their blood, averaging fifty or sixty pounds. Anything smaller eventually starved to death if it wasn't first run down and killed by larger dogs, cornered by children with rocks and bats, or caught in the street by flaring headlights after the bars closed. A quick death the only good luck those dogs would ever know before they were plowed into reeking landfills or dumped in the "Dead Animal Bin" behind the Humane Society gas chamber.

Night Dogs carried a scent of fear and rot in their fur, and the cops at North Precinct claimed they could smell them in the dark--stalking the chain-link fences of restaurant parking lots on graveyard shift, prowling supermarket Dumpsters or crouched, ears back, in the shadows of McDonald's dark arches. When the winter rains came and food got scarce, they ate their own shit and each other.

They waited for night in fire-gutted, boarded-up cellars of abandoned homes the neighborhood had used as garbage dumps, then set on fire and watched burn as they sat on their porches with quarts of Colt .45 and King Cobra Tallboys, waiting for the fire trucks.

Most of the cops would have let the dogs live their wretched lives, but too many were crazy, vicious from inbreeding, putrid food, brain damage. Some thought just the stress of everyday survival made them that way. Everybody had a theory, but in the end it didn't matter.

When Radio sent a patrol car on a dog bite, to "check for an ambulance," they usually found some kid too young to have been afraid. Blacks, whites, illegals up from Mexico, always lying absolutely still, trying to distance themselves from the pain that hurt them worse if they cried. Their eyes gave away nothing, pupils huge and distant in their bloody faces as if they had just seen a miracle.

Sometimes the dogs attacked grown men, even cops, as if they wanted to die, growing bolder and more dangerous in the summer, when people stayed out after dark, and rabies began to spread. It came with warm weather, carried by the night wind and nocturnal animals gone mad--prehistoric possums with pig eyes and needle teeth, squealing in the alleys. Rats out on the sidewalks at noon, sluggish and dazed. Raccoons hissing in the nettles and high grass along polluted golf course creeks. Feral cats, bats falling from the sky, dreamy-eyed skunks staggering out of the West Hills, choking on their own tongues, their hearts shuddering with the virus they carried, an evil older than cities or civilization--messengers perhaps, sent by some brooding, wounded promise we betrayed and left for dead back when the world was still only darkness and frozen seas.

Late one night at the police club, some of the cops from North were talking about it. They'd been drinking for quite a while when a cop named Hanson said you couldn't really blame the dogs.

Well hell, who do you blame then?

Someone back in the corner slammed his beer down.

Fuck blame. Just kill 'em.

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First Chapter

It had been raining all week, spring drizzle, almost a mist, and neither of the two cops who got out of the patrol car bothered to wear a raincoat. The dispatcher had sent them to "check on the welfare" of an old man who lived alone, to see if he was dead. One of the neighbors had called. She hadn't seen him in a week and she was worried. She was afraid to answer her door, she said, what with all this crime.

Just above his gold police badge, Hanson wore a yellow "happy face" pin that he'd noticed in the bottom of his locker before roll call that afternoon. He'd picked it up back in December, off the body of a kid who'd OD'd in a gas station bathroom, sitting on the toilet. The needle was still in his arm, half-full of the China White heroin that was pouring in from Southeast Asia, through Vancouver, B.C., and down the freeway.

As the two cops walked around to the back of the old man's house, Hanson kept an eye on the windows and checked the safety snap on his holster, out of habit, as he did dozens of times during the shift.

The ragged hedge of rose bushes bordering the back yard had been battered by a freak thunderstorm the night before, and the yard was covered with rose petals, pink-veined and translucent as eyelids on the wet grass. The whole yard smelled of roses.

Dana, the big cop, knocked on the door with his flashlight and shouted, "Police." Hanson picked up a rose petal, smelled it, then put it on his tongue. "Police," Dana shouted.

The windows were locked and warped and painted shut, but they managed to break one free and force it open an inch or two.

"I guess he isn't just away on a trip," Hanson said when the smell drifted out.

When Dana kicked the back door, the knob fell off and the little window shattered, sucking a greasy curtain out through the splinters. He kicked again and the door shuddered. A shard of glass dropped onto the concrete stoop.

"Maybe you're too old for this," Hanson said.

Dana smiled at him, a little out of breath, took half a step back and drove the heel of his boot into the door. The frame splintered and the door swung open in a spray of dust and paint chips.

A burner on the electric stove in the kitchen glowed sullenly, its heat touching Hanson's cheek through the hot sweet air. Dirty dishes were piled by the sink where gray dishwater rippled with mosquito larva.

"Police," Hanson called, "police officers," breathing shallow as they walked into the living room.

Thousands of green flies covered the windows like beaded curtains, shimmering in the gray light as they beat against the glass.

The old man was in the living room, lying on his back. His chest and belly had ballooned, arching his back in a wrestler's bridge, as if he was still struggling to raise up off the floor. His eyes and beard and shaggy hair sparkled silver-white, boiling with maggots, and broken capillaries shadowed his face like brutal makeup. He was wearing a set of one-piece long underwear that buttoned up the front, and he was so swollen that all the buttons had torn out, ripping open from neck to crotch.

The old man's chest and belly were waxy, translucent, mottled with terrible blue bruises where the blood had pooled after he died. One foot had turned black as iron. The two cops stood over him, breathing through their mouths. The furnace hummed beneath the floor, pumping out heat. Flies droned and battered the windows. Something brushed Hanson's leg, and he spun around, reaching for his pistol.

It was a small dog, his muzzle gray with age, the fur worn off the backs of his legs. He looked up at them without fear, with the dignity that old dogs have. Both blind eyes were milky white.

"Look here," Dana said. "It's just the po-lice." He knelt down and slowly moved his hand to stroke the dog's head. "Been hot in here, hasn't it?" He went into the kitchen and brought back a bowl of water that the dog lapped up slowly, not stopping until it was all gone.

They turned off the furnace, then beat the flies away from the front windows and opened them. Hanson saw the envelope taped to the wall above the telephone. Where the address should be were the words, "When I die please see that my daughter, Sarah Thorgaard, gets this envelope. Her phone number is listed below. Thank you." It was signed, "Cyrus Thorgaard." Beneath his signature he'd written in ink, "I'd appreciate it if you'd look after my dog Truman."

Hanson called the number and a man answered. "Hello," Hanson said, "this is Officer Hanson from the police bureau. Could I speak to Sarah Thorgaard, please?"

"That's my wife's maiden name. She's not here."

Out on the sidewalk, a man wearing a black vinyl jacket and plaid bell-bottom pants stood looking at the house.

"What's the problem?"

"I'm afraid her father is dead. At his house on Albina Street?"

The man on the sidewalk started to walk away, then stopped and looked at the house again. The phone droned in Hanson's ear.

"Looks like a natural death. There's an envelope here addressed to your wife. We could bring it by your house if you'd like, Mr...?"

"Jensen. I'll come and get it."

"He's been dead for quite a while, sir. Maybe..."

"I'd rather not have a police car in my driveway. I can be there in ten minutes."

"That'll be fine," Hanson said, watching the man out front walk away down the block. He hung up the phone and went into the bedroom. The covers on the bed had been thrown back, and he wondered if the old man had gotten up just so he wouldn't die in bed. Books filled the wall-to-wall glass-fronted bookcases, and magazines were stacked on the floor beneath them -- Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic, something called Science and Design, published in England, many of them dating back to the thirties. Hanson picked one up and thumbed through it. The old man had bracketed paragraphs and underlined sentences in pencil. Down the margin of one page he'd written, "This kind of easy ambiguous conclusion is the heart of the problem. They're afraid to make the difficult decisions."

Some of the books went back to the 1800s. Hanson picked up one with the word "STEAM" embossed in gold letters across the leather cover. A golden planet Earth spun beneath the word STEAM, powered through its orbits by two huge elbow pipes, one sticking out of the Pacific Ocean, the other rising from North Africa, both of them pumping golden clouds of steam. The book was filled with flow charts and numerical tables, exploded diagrams of valves and heat-return systems, fine engravings of steam boilers. It was as if the book contained all the rules for a predictable steam-driven universe, a world of order and dependability.

Photographs covered one wall, old photographs where the hands and faces of people passing in the background were streaked and blurred by their movement. The old man, alive, looked out at Hanson from them, his age changing from twenty to fifty, a mustache there, a beard in one, looking out from the beams and pipes of a power plant, standing by a Ford coupe on a dirt road, holding a stringer of trout, looking out from each one as if he had something to tell him, something that Hanson had been trying to figure out for a long time. A double-barrelled Winchester shotgun with exposed hammers stood propped in the corner next to the bed. Hanson picked it up, brought it to his shoulder, then lowered it and thumbed it open. Brass-cased buckshot rounds shone in the steel receiver.

Hanson looked out through the bedroom door at the old man. He thought of the thunderstorm the night before, and imagined lightning, like flash powder for old photos, blazing through the house, lighting the room for an instant, freezing it in time. The old man, the dog, and the green-and-gold curtains of flies swarming the windows.

Dana's voice came up through the floor, calling him down to the basement.

"He made this," Dana said, spinning the chrome-silver wheel of a lathe. "Hand-ground those carbon steel blades. Look," he said, slapping the cast-iron base, "the bearings, the bed, everything. The best craftsmen make their own tools.

"That's a forge over there," he said, pointing. "He could melt steel in that. In his basement. And come on over here," he said. "Look at this work bench..."

"Hello?" It was the Medical Examiner at the top of the stairs, his face flushed, wearing a wrinkled gray suit. He looked like a salesman down on his luck. "It's a ripe one all right."

The sun had come out and the grass was steaming. Dana helped the ME unload the gurney from his station wagon, and Hanson pulled out the body bag, the acrid smell of rubberized plastic, like the dead air leaking from a tire, stunning him with memories for a moment.

They tucked the body bag under and around the old man, like a rubber sleeping bag, and zipped it closed. Hanson slipped his hands beneath the bloated shoulders and the ME took the feet.

"Real easy now," the ME said, "easy..."

It sounded almost like someone sitting up suddenly in the bath- tub. The weight shifted, pulling the body bag out of their arms and onto the gurney where it shuddered and lurched from side to side.

The ME said, "Damn."

"Damn," he said again. "What a week. Monday I had to police up a skydiver whose chute didn't open. That's a stupid so-called 'sport,' if you ask me. And the next day there was the son of a bitch -- pardon my French -- out in the county, who shot himself in the kitchen and left the stove on. The body popped, exploded, before I got there. One hundred and nineteen degrees in that trailer house. That's official. I hung a thermometer. I mean, is that some cheap, thoughtless behavior, or what? People just don't think. If you want to kill yourself, fine. That's your business. But show a little courtesy to others. The world goes on, you know."

A supervisor had to cover any situation involving a death, even if it was a natural, and Sgt. Bendix was out in front of the house, standing by his patrol car, nodding and listening to the man in khaki trousers and blue dress shirt who had driven up in a grey Mercedes. The ME drove off in his county station wagon as Dana and Hanson walked over to them. Hanson's wool uniform was still damp, heavy and hot in the sun. It would be another month, he thought, before the department switched over to short-sleeve shirts. Bendix watched them come, tapping his own chest as he looked straight at Hanson. "The happy face," Dana said.

Hanson glanced down at the yellow face that smiled from his shirt. "Mister Happy Face says, 'If you like everybody, everybody will like you.'" He took it off and dropped it in his breast pocket.

They nodded to Mr. Jensen as Bendix introduced him.

"He was a smart man," Jensen said. "An engineer. I guess you could call him an inventor. Not that he ever made much money.

"This used to be a nice neighborhood," he said, looking at Hanson. "My wife grew up here."

Hanson nodded.

"We had the money to move him out of this neighborhood and put him in a home. I mean a nice place. Where he could be with people his own age. He wouldn't even talk about it," Jensen said, looking at the house where a seedy robin in the front yard cocked his head and studied a patch of dead grass.

"In denial," Sergeant Bendix said.

The robin pecked the grass.

"A refusal to come to terms with his own mortality," Sergeant Bendix said. "Quite common at his age."

The bird flew off when Aaron Allen's blood-red Cadillac pulled out of an alley down the block, stolen radio speakers duct-taped inside all four doors booming through the neighborhood. It sat there shuddering, the tinted windows rolled up, then crossed the street and disappeared into the mouth of the opposite alley.

"He said he'd shoot anyone who tried to move him," Jensen said.

"What about the dog?" Dana said.

"What?" Jensen said.

"An old dog, about this big."

"That dog's still alive?"

"Correct. Sir."

"Well, what about it?"

"Sergeant," he said, turning to Bendix, "can your people take care of that for me?" He looked at his watch. "I have a funeral to work out. And I'm going to have to think of something to do with that house and all the shit in it..."

"We'll take care of it, Mr. Jensen," Sgt. Bendix said.

"Can we do that?" he said, turning to Dana and Hanson.

"Sure," Dana said.

"I'll get the envelope," Hanson said.

The envelope was taped to the wall just below a large framed document that declared Cyrus Thorgaard to be a member of "The International Brotherhood of Machinists." It was printed in color with gilt edges. The fine engraving in each corner showed men at work -- turning a silver cylinder of steel on a lathe, measuring tolerances with calipers, others standing at a forge, yellow and gold clouds of heat and smoke rolling over them. The center of the document was dominated by a huge black and silver steam engine tended by powerfully built men wearing engineer's caps.

"Do me a favor and get the rest of that asshole's information? I'm afraid I'll say something that'll get me some time off."

"You're gettin' awful sensitive in your old age," Hanson said, peeling the envelope off the wall.

"You know what's gonna happen to that?" Dana said, looking at the document. "You know what he's gonna do with that, and the tools, and the books? All of it? If the neighborhood assholes don't set the place on fire first. After ripping off anything they can trade for dope."

He looked out the door at Jensen and Bendix. "He's gonna shit- can it. He won't even take the trouble to give it away. He'll just pay somebody to haul it to the dump."

The dog stood staring up at the cops, listening.

"You come on with us," Dana said, kneeling down to stroke the dog's head. "It'll be okay."

After Jensen and Sergeant Bendix left, Dana took a hammer and a handful of nails from the basement and went around back to nail the door shut and board up the window.

Hanson walked through the house turning off lights and closing the windows. He pretended not to hear the dog following behind him, trying to keep up. He took another look around the bedroom, kneeling at the bookcases to read the titles on the lower shelves, touching the spines. He looked one more time at the photos, half hoping for some revelation, but the sun had moved, throwing them into shadow, and it would only get darker. It was too late now to do anything but finish closing the house up.

After several false starts, the dog hopped stiffly onto the bed, found his place at the foot and curled up.

"I guess you think it's all gonna be okay again tomorrow morning," Hanson said to the dog. "One more night and when you wake up Mr. Thorgaard will be asleep there just like always." If the dog heard him, he didn't open his eyes.

"You're on your own now," Hanson said, then looked away, as if he'd heard something in the other room.

"It's a hard world out there," he said slowly, as if he was just now remembering the words, "for dogs, too."

Tendrils from the overgrown shrubbery covered the front window, snaking through the wooden frame into the room, jamming the window open, and Hanson had to pull the brittle vines free with his fingertips. His eyes went wide for a moment when he gashed his knuckle on the weather stripping, but that was his only reaction and he continued to clean the dead shrubbery free. He worked his hand farther into the frame and pulled out a nest of leaves, rotten sash cord, and cotton mattress stuffing. The three desiccated baby mice looked like they were wearing Halloween masks. Insects had eaten through their eyes into the tiny skulls, and the empty sockets were huge, inscrutable mummy eyes.

Hanson tossed the nest out the window, and through a gap in the shrubbery saw the man again. He had a nappy, half-assed afro. The bell-bottoms covered his shoes, cuffs ragged from scraping the sidewalk, and the vinyl jacket was buttoned up to his neck, the cuffs snapped. To hide needle marks, Hanson thought.

The man looked up the street and took a half-smoked cigarette from behind his ear. "Just looking," Hanson said, trying again to close the window.

"Always looking," he said over his shoulder to the dog. "For something easy they can walk off with. Or a purse to snatch, or some old man they know they can knock down for his social security check. Whatever. The old guy eats dog food and day-old bread for the rest of the month."

The dog listened now, his cloudy blind eyes serene in the face of Hanson's anger.

"Unless he breaks his hip falling on the sidewalk and dies of pneumonia. Dumped in some fuckin' charity ward. All alone. Lying there till his lungs fill up and he drowns," he said, pulling on the window, then slamming it with the heel of his hand. The man on the sidewalk flipped the cigarette onto the yard and turned to walk away.

"Fuckin' lookers," Hanson grunted, "waiting for it to get dark. Walking around or sitting in their junk cars. Waiting..." he said, straining to close the window.

"God damn," he said, spinning and stalking across the room to the doorway where he looked back at the dog.

"I'll be right back."

"Hey," Hanson called. "You!" pushing through the screen door. "C'mere."

"You looking for somebody, my man?" Hanson said, walking up on him. "You lost?"

"I ain't doing nothing."

He had a poorly repaired harelip that gave him a slight lisp.

"New in town?"

"I'm..."

"Maybe I can help you find an address."

"I'm takin' a walk."

"I know what you're doing. What's your name?"

"My name?"

"Yeah. What do your buddies call you?"

"Curtis, man. They call me Curtis. But you're not..."

"Curtis what?"

His throat worked like he was going to throw up, choking up his own name, "Barr."

"Let's see some ID."

"ID?"

Dana's hammering, at the back of the house, echoed through the neighborhood. Hanson stepped in closer until their chests were almost touching, smelling marijuana smoke, old sweat, and a sour stink like rancid meat, an odor that rides the air in prison. "You want to show me some ID," Hanson said, his eyes on him now, "or you want go to jail?"

"Jail?"

Hanson glared at his head as if he was trying to set the lopsided afro on fire with his eyes. The hammering stopped.

"Why you always gotta fuck with somebody," he said, pulling up one leg of his bell-bottoms. "I mean...shit." He unzipped his boot, pulled down his sock, and took out a wallet.

"Photo ID," Hanson said.

He peeled off a sweaty driver's license.

"This is expired," Hanson said, holding it with the tips of two fingers. "What's your current address?"

"Same as it says there."

"Lemme see that," Hanson said.

"See what?" Curtis said, closing the wallet. "I done showed you..."

"The property receipt," Hanson said, indicating the yellow piece of paper just peeking out of the wallet. "Let's see it."

"Oh, man..."

"Let's see it."

The city jail had issued him the receipt the night before. He'd been released that morning.

"This says your name is Quentin Barr. Which is it, then? Curtis or Quentin?"

"Curtis is, you know, my nickname."

"What were you arrested for, Quen-ton?"

"It wasn't, they said. You know. Burglary, but I didn't..."

"Where's your hat?" Hanson said, studying the receipt. "It says here you had a 'brown suede cap.' "

"I don't know, officer. They lost it."

"You should file a complaint," Hanson said, handing the yellow receipt back to him. "Don't walk on this block any more."

"Say what?"

"Look at me," Hanson said softly.

The hammering started again, louder, the echo ringing off houses across the street. Quentin looked at Hanson's ear, over his shoulder, down at his chest.

"I said, look at me."

Finally, he did, with the eyes of a whipped, limping animal that will bite if you show any weakness.

"Not this block," Hanson said. "If there's a burglary, or attempted fucking burglary, anything, on this block I'm gonna look for you. Quentin."

Quentin opened his mouth, his throat working silently.

"That jacket must be awful hot," Hanson said. "Seems like you'd want to roll up the sleeves."

Quentin tried to smile, his upper lip twitching.

"Good-bye," Hanson said. "Have a nice day. Sir."

* * * * * * *

The old dog seemed unconcerned when they put him in the patrol car, as if he had been expecting them all those days and nights alone in the house with the body.

The dog sat up in the back seat of the car, behind the cage, as they drove through the ghetto, past the porno movies and burned-out storefronts, the wings passed out in doorways, junkies wandering, dreamlike, in the sun.

Hanson took the happy face out of his pocket and smiled down at it. "Mister Happy Face says, 'If you keep smiling everything will turn out fine.' "

He pinned it back on his shirt.

"Jesus," he said, gesturing out the window where black and red graffiti spooled along the broken sidewalks and the windows of abandoned stores, "It's all going to shit. Like, faster than before."

"Since that China White started coming down the freeway," Dana said.

"Sometimes I wonder what's gonna happen. You know? What's gonna happen next?"

"Just gonna get worse," Dana said, eyes on the street.

"Yeah," Hanson said, as they passed a bag lady screaming at the sky, "I know. But then what happens?"

"Then it's the end of the world. The cockroaches take over."

Excerpted from NIGHT DOGS by Kent Anderson. Copyright © 1996 by Kent Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Dell Publishing, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2003

    Toil & Grit!

    This book reflects the reality of street work as a police officer. Crazy, violent, repulsive behavior of both the good & bad characters leads the reader to believe in the author's actual experience as a cop on duty. Authentic dialogue, situations & settings are first rate!!! A must read for anybody fascinated with crime & degenerate behavior.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2000

    THE BEST POLICE BOOK EVER WRITTEN!!!!

    This book is FANTASTIC! Kent Anderson's writing makes you feel as if you are there. It's a hard book to put down!!! Wonderful book, I would recommend it to anyone! A+!!

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    Posted June 6, 2012

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