Calvin's Head

Calvin's Head

by David Swatling


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Life in Amsterdam isn't all windmills and tulips when you're homeless. Jason Dekker lives in a jeep with his dog, Calvin, on the outskirts of the city. A thesis on Van Gogh brought him to the Netherlands, and the love of Dutch artist Willy Hart convinced him to stay. But Willy is gone and Dekker is on the brink of a total meltdown. On a summer morning in the park, Calvin sniffs out the victim of a grisly murder. Dekker sees the opportunity for a risky strategy that might solve their problems. Unfortunately, it puts them directly in the sights of the calculating stone-cold killer, Gadget. Their paths are destined to collide, but nothing goes according to plan when they end up together in an attic sex-dungeon. Identities shift and events careen out of control, much to the bewilderment of one ever-watchful canine. Oscar Wilde wrote that each man kills the thing he loves. He didn't mean it literally. Or did he?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626391932
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Publication date: 09/15/2014
Pages: 242
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)

Read an Excerpt

Calvin's Head

By David Swatling

Bold Strokes Books, Inc

Copyright © 2014 David Swatling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62639-193-2



calvin sniffing/furball hissing bravado warning
disappearing into bushes/stupid cat
calvin smart smarter smartest
mistercalvin calvinator calvin&hobbes
- Yo, Calvin. Wait up.

calvin stopping/turning sitting waiting watching
dekker coming walking bad/graindrink smelling bittersad
calvin waiting tongue sweating
waiting dekker&willygone
- Don't get so far ahead. Walk with me.

calvin&dekker&&willygone walking together
calvin sniffing smelling danger/stopping looking
badman coming holding something/something smelling bad&bad
stopping waiting holding something/something smelling bad&bad
calvin growling holding ground
dekker calling stumbling falling talking
- Shit.


The sudden impact as my butt hits the ground drives my teeth together, biting my lower lip, and my mouth fills with the coppery taste of blood. Fucking perfect! Drunk on my ass. Literally. I consider laughing but a belch intercedes. The bitter aftertaste of beer and tequila mixes with blood and makes me gag. I barely avoid the big barf-a-rama and spit a disgusting blob of tobacco-drenched mucus into the grass. I wipe my mouth with the grimy sleeve of my jacket and irritate my already swelling lip.

Happy fucking birthday to me! You're a case and a half, Dekker.

Which is probably how much beer I've consumed this night. Calvin stares at me with his head slightly cocked.

See what happens when you spend too many hours at the bar, me curled up in a dusty corner getting ashes flicked on my head? Or tail stepped on by your drunken friends?

- First of all, I don't have any friends.

I don't have to be drunk to talk to my dog, nor does being drunk hinder our communication. Calvin understands me in this condition, even if he makes no bones about expressing his disapproval with a soft steadfast growl.

- Guys I drink with are no more friends of mine than dogs you piss with are your friends.

Cal enjoys a good pissing contest, but his air of aloofness toward other canines doesn't make for many dog buddies. As for me, I had my star chart done by an astrologer who noted the absence of planets in my House of Friendship. She said that was not as bad as it sounded since my conjunct House blah blah blah combined with my natal cusp blah blah blah.

A bartender buddy who was into that shit put it more succinctly.

It means you're fucked, Tony quipped.

Fuck you, too, Tony, I said at the time. He was dead on, though. Dead now, too, Tony. Like Willy.

Don't go there, Dekker. Not tonight. Definitely not tonight of all nights.

- Second of all, where the hell are we supposed to hang out, huh? Or maybe you'd like it better if after your dinner I locked you up in Jax all night by your lonesome?

At the mention of the beat-up black Suzuki jeep we now call home, Calvin's ears lift the way people raise an eyebrow. He knows exactly what I'm talking about and reconsiders his position.

Maybe time for an attitude check.

- And last but by no means least, it's your fucking fault I tripped over my own fucking feet in the first place. What the hell were you growling at anyway?

Calvin trots to my side and licks my face, eyes bright with apology. He sits, whimpers softly, offers me a paw, turns his head into the darkness behind us. The uninitiated might mistake the minimalist growl that emanates from his throat for a purr of pleasure. I know better. I look back toward where he gazes but see nothing out of the ordinary. Probably just a cat on the prowl or maybe a duck he spooked at the edge of the water.

Cal paws the ground and continues his restrained grumbling, body poised in the direction of a barely discernible figure far off down one of the winding paths. I may not always understand why Calvin takes an instant dislike to certain people but I trust his instincts. Dogs know stuff we can't even begin to imagine. Once he started barking at a couple of middle-aged tourists who seemed perfectly normal. But a little voice in the back of my brain warned otherwise.

You never know. Maybe they're some psycho-killer duo on vacation in Amsterdam 'cause the good old folks from Quantico were gettin' a little too close for comfort. Or they could be aliens who've taken human form to facilitate abductions. So unless you wanna be the subject of their next anal probe, listen to Calvinator and make no eye contact whatsoever.

Vondelpark is a magnet for weirdoes. And here I sit on the wet grass in the dead of night having a heart-to-heart with a golden retriever like he's my goddamn shrink. The ludicrousness of this hits me like a ton of bricks crashing down on Road Runner's head and I start to giggle. Thirty-three years old, unemployed, homeless, drunk, and talking to a dog! Something inside does a little ballistic sidestep, which also strikes me as funny, and I reel over onto my back in a fit of hysterical laughter. Tears are rolling down my face as I try to stop but before I realize what's happening, I'm crying. Great heaving sobs of guilt, shame and, worst of all, self-pity. What an asshole I've become.

Excuse me, Doctor, but I seem to have turned into a giant asshole.

Bend over, Mr. Dekker, we're ready for your anal probe.

This is totally ridiculous but to my astonishment I'm laughing again. It's not at all funny and I can't help myself. Clutching my gut, I realize this must be what they call sidesplitting laughter because I feel like I'm breaking in two, which is not an amusing thought. It hurts it hurts it hurts and I'm sobbing again and the pain is unbearable.

I'm in mourning for my life, said one of the three sisters, and I'm laughing again at such sentimental bullshit and crying because I can't stop laughing and laughing because I can't stop crying and crying and laughing at the same time.

Laughing wild amidst severest woe, said the woman buried up to her neck in sand, and I've lost it now, am totally out of control, and I wish it would all stop, everything stop stop stop, just stop.

I lie in the grass physically exhausted, emotionally drained, staring up at the starry starry night. I search for the great hunter Orion, traversing the sky as he has for countless millennia, his dogstar Sirius trailing at his feet. I won't find him on this shortest night of the year. The daylight skies are his summer hunting grounds. But he's always there in my mind, one leg marked by Riga, seventh-brightest star in the sky, nine hundred light-years away; his opposite shoulder is Betelgeuse, a reddish supergiant large enough to swallow the earth's orbit around the sun. I've forgotten the names of the three stars that make up his belt. It doesn't matter.

What always intrigued me most was the Great Nebula of Orion. What appears as the middle star of his sword is actually an immense mass of swirling gas and dust, a thousand light-years from Earth. A nursery for stars in their infancy, its heat creates a cloud that glows steely cobalt blue in the center and soft ruddy magenta on the periphery. In several million years, young stars will materialize in the sky and Orion's sword will blaze with a new brilliance. Even as a child I knew I'd never live to see those stars.

I can't bring myself to look at Calvin but I feel his luminous presence beside me. If I died right here, right now, he would keep watch over me, through the night and forever, my faithful dogstar.


Rosa Fairy, Tapis Volante, Finnstar, Snowballet, Hockey.

Just inside the rose garden where the first hexagonal beds of low bushes were hidden by tall hedges, Gadget paused to take several deep breaths and slow his heartbeat. Adrenaline pumped through his body as if he had taken a mega-hit of speed. This was not good, not good at all. That fucking dog! Of all nights to nearly tango with some snarling albino werewolf. If its drunken bum of an owner hadn't taken a tumble and distracted the stupid beast there could've been big trouble. He hated dogs, had even killed one once. The scrappy barky rat-coated rag of a thing had nipped at his heels one night not far from this very spot. He'd kicked its head so hard it flew through the night air like a spastic bat, disappearing into the shrubs. The memory of its owner calling Alfie! Alfie! over and over in increasing panic brought a smile to his face, relaxed him. Time to move on.

Paprika, Schneewitchen, Amsterdam, Corona, Marchenland, Lily Marlene.

Gadget stopped briefly to pay homage to his favorite, though in the darkness the tall blood-red blossoms appeared black. No big deal. He knew the rose garden by heart. Like a horticultural litany, he'd memorized the names of each variety from the small printed signs, catalogued their unique traits, methodical as any four-eyed botanist. Even in dead of winter he saw each of them in full bloom as he walked the brick pathways that separated the plots. He preferred this side of the garden with its hot profusion of reds, oranges, and pinks to the cooler whites and pale yellows that dominated the beds across the center lawn of lush green grass. On warm summer afternoons it was a popular spot for sunbathers and picnickers, young and old, locals and tourists. By night it attracted an altogether different crowd, not only in summer but all year round, and Gadget saw tonight was no exception.

Friesa, Pernille Poulseu, Orangeade, Anneke Doorenbos, Diabiotin.

Most of the roses had girly names but under cover of darkness it was the boys who came out to play here. Gadget had cruised the garden path for years. His technique of choice was to amble casually, avoid eye contact, pretend disinterest. This almost always kick-started the hunter instinct in someone seeking easy prey, someone who followed first with his eyes, then his head, then his body, without realizing that he was in fact the hunted, ensnared by a more clever fox.

A fox dressed as a chicken. Gadget snickered to himself. He wasn't so young anymore but in the moonlit park he could still pass for underage bait to those eager enough to believe in miracles. He was a catch, oh yes, make no mistake. Gadget was a lean mean machine, tall and dark, a drop-dead dazzler with chiseled features and a rough edge that spelled Danger, an irresistible combination to the lost boys who had become creatures of the night.

Else Poulseu, Alloria, ToJo, Blessings.

And whoa! Blessings, indeed. Parked on a bench, leather-clad legs spread wide and inviting, an older guy diddled himself with unrestrained abandon. His white T-shirt virtually glowed in the dark like a beacon, thick mustache to compensate for receding hairline, blissfully unaware he was being watched. This annoyed Gadget although he couldn't pinpoint why. The trick wasn't really his type, and he wasn't here for sex tonight anyway. He had pressing business contained in the black garbage bag gripped tightly in his right hand. Very pressing, he reminded himself, as his left hand absently wandered to his crotch like a baby's thumb was drawn to its mouth.



Out of the question.

Just a quickie?

Absolutely not.

But what if—

Get a move on, punk, before you fuck up big-time.


Next time, Gadget! Next time.

Gadget shrugged and moved on.

Fragrant Delight, Tornado, Orange Wave, Olala, Fervid.

The names of the roses at the end of the garden beckoned him like the Siren songs of sexual promise that lured Odysseus and his horny crew. The bag or the bench? No contest. The bag could wait. The bench would not. Fuck his inner voice. He glanced around to see if anyone else was within cruising range. No other action in the immediate area. Anyone hidden from sight in the small grove of trees next to the garden would be otherwise engaged.

Gadget wanted to hurry but caution checked his inclination to rush, stupidly call attention to himself. He sauntered across the bike path and headed for the grassy strip known as the gay beach that bordered a shallow pond. By day, underwater spouts shot plumes of white spray into the air like multiple orgasms. They were quiescent now as he approached the water. Submerged wooden slats edged the pond. He took a few steps to where the dewy grass merged with shrubs and trees. Giving the knot a quick jerk to make sure it would hold, he set the bag carefully into the water, its weighty load pulling it down, while a pocket of air kept it barely afloat. He wedged the top of the bag between two siding slats and made sure it was secure with a firm tug. It didn't budge. The black bag would remain hidden in the black water until he returned.

In the meantime, a bit of fun was just what the doctor ordered. His body had built up a lot of tension in the last forty-eight hours and required release. There might even be a bit of cash to be made. Mr. Mustachio looked like tourist trade. Led by his hardening cock, Gadget headed back to the rose garden, his mind on one thing and one thing only, his near close encounter with a big white dog forgotten.



sun warming calvins nose/awareness waking eyes opening
damp cramp stuffy/sweet&stinky jax/calvin stretching long&hard
searching bluebear soft&worn/scenting willygone/missing more&more
missing bluebears longlost friends/missing gator hippo tigger hotdogman
humpbuddy all&more
sunshine shouting/dekker snoring sleeping moaning
sunshine barking/wakeup dekker
calvin licking furry faces/bluebear&dekker/tasting salty grainwater skin
wakeup dekker/sunshine shouting roaring barking/more&more&&evermore


- Calvin.

His bark is so close to my head I can smell his mildly unpleasant dog breath. He apologizes by shoving his cold wet nose into my ear and licking the side of my face with his usual morning enthusiasm.

- Get off, you.

My head hurts, my body aches, I feel like I've been run over by a tractor. Great little birthday present I've given myself. A massive hangover. I can tell the sun is shining without rubbing the condensation from the jeep window. I don't want to be caught sleeping here by some local early riser who has a job to get to. Calvin's patience will be wearing thin anyway. He never barks me awake unless seriously in need of taking a leak.

I grab the steering wheel and pull myself upright in the driver's seat. Calvin jumps eagerly into the passenger side, wagging his bushy tail in my face. I pop open the door and the two of us tumble out in a tangle of legs and limbs. His leash, which hangs around my neck, catches the door handle and nearly chokes me.

- Jesus, Cal, you trying to kill me?

He shrugs, shakes himself off in overly dramatic fashion and trots to the edge of the parking space, lifts his leg and pisses like a racehorse, glancing back at me over his shoulder.

You see? I really did have to go.

I reach down to pick up my jacket, which has fallen out of the jeep with us. Underneath it the rubber hose lies on the pavement, curled like a venomous snake. I don't remember pulling it from under the seat last night. Truth be told, I remember fuck all from last night. I wasn't stupid drunk enough to attempt siphoning gas in the middle of the night, was I? Another possibility occurs to me, but that's too unsettling to think about.

Don't go there, Dekker.

I push the thought out of my head as I shove the hose back in its place and slam the door, hoping to lock my ever-lurking demons away for at least another day.

Despite the sun shining in a cloudless blue sky the morning air is brisk, so I slip into my jacket. It's a lightweight but bulky ski coat, wind resistant and surprisingly warm, black with a bright neon green pattern that looks like Jackson Pollock vomited on it. When Willy bought it at a flea market for next to nothing, I told him he'd never wear such a hideous monstrosity.

You're right. It's a perfect color match for you.

I knew better than to argue with his synaesthetic view of the world. But it turned out to be perfect to throw on for Calvin's early-morning walks, whatever the season, whatever the weather, and I could no more part with it now than anything I own. Not that I own that much.

It's still a free-parking zone at this end of the park, so Jax can stay put. I'll move him later because I don't want to attract undue attention. Jax being the only home Cal and I have, I can't risk the scruffy jeep might be mistaken as abandoned and towed off to God knows where. I'm probably just being paranoid. Homelessness will do that to you.

Calvin is waiting by the park entrance. He knows better than to go farther without me. Willy and I trained him well but it was easy. Even other dog owners comment on Calvin's extraordinary intelligence. He's not like other dogs. You don't often hear people handing out such compliments to dogs that aren't their own. But nobody needs to tell me.

- Okay.

That's all Calvin needs to hear as I walk toward him. He immediately shoots off down the path, sticking close to the green borders, sniffing for urinary messages left by canine comrades since his last ramble. This will occupy him more or less completely for most of the morning. In case his attention flags, I have a mud-stained tennis ball in one jacket pocket and a few dog treats in the other. For now, he's in a scent world all his own. I'm nearly invisible, subordinate to his unwavering mission.


Excerpted from Calvin's Head by David Swatling. Copyright © 2014 David Swatling. Excerpted by permission of Bold Strokes Books, 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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