You don’t have time to read another free novel at the moment, I know. So here’s a little escape from reality that’s just the right length (about 1,000 words)—a random excerpt from my forthcoming novel “Senseless,” a neo-noir, absurdist romp through the Oregon Cascades with Census worker Nick Prince. If you’d like a more in-depth look, feel free to visit the Senseless blog.
Dogs begin barking inside the house as soon as I ring the bell. I’m ready to leave my card and a brochure, and make my escape, when a woman calls from an open window. “Who is it?”
“U.S. Census Bureau,” I reply, cursing my luck.
A moment later the woman speaks again through the barely open door. “I have to be careful my puppies don’t get out. What is it?”
I show her my ID and introduce myself. “And this is Angie Carson, my supervisor,” I add with a nod to Angie, who’s wearing her most patronizing smile.
“Well, come on in then,” she says, opening the door a little wider. “Mind the dogs.”
I thank her and step quickly into the opening. I freeze in my tracks. It’s one of those split-level houses, where the front door opens onto a landing, with one stair going up to the living room, the other down to the bedrooms. The woman’s “puppies” are on the stairs in front of me, barking furiously. One is a terrier of some kind. The other is a pit bull.
“Oh, don’t mind her,” the woman says of the pit bull as she slips past the dogs and reaches the top of the stairs. “She’s fine.”
“Uh, she may be fine,” I say, “but I’m not sure I am.” Pit bulls are the only thing about this job that I’m more afraid of than Angie.
“No, no,” the woman says, “really. Don’t worry.” She calls to the dog. “Pepper. Come.” The dog ignores her, never once breaking eye contact with me.
“Just go on,” Angie says from behind me, impatient. “She says the dog won’t bite.”
I don’t budge. The woman is calling, “Treats, Pepper! Come!” and again tells me that it’s fine to proceed. Angie can wait no longer. She pushes past me and heads up the stairs, right past Pepper. The dog gives her a brief glance then continues to stare me down.
Seeing Angie’s success, I reconsider my reluctance. Maybe I am being overly cautious. Angie says so in less flattering terms. “C’mon. Don’t wimp out on me, Big Guy.”
My masculinity now questioned, I start up the stairs. In an instant Pepper is airborne. I dodge to the right, barely saving my face. But my left bicep is now lodged in Pepper’s jaws as I fall back into the storm door, which is not fully latched. As Pepper and I sail onto the porch I let out a scream so blood curdling that it scares me even more. My worst nightmare has become reality.
Pepper loses her grip as we thud onto the concrete. I’m already back on my feet by the time she hits the iron railing with a yelp. I’ve still got my computer bag slung across my chest. Somewhere within it is a can of pepper spray—appropriately named, I note, in spite of my panic. I’m groping for it as I flee across the yard.
I reach Angie’s car, but the door is locked. There’s no time to go around it, so I clamber over the hood and into the street. Pepper is barking furiously. At first she tries to leap over the hood after me, then decides to go around. This gains me an extra second on her and I’m finally able to pull out the spray. Just as Pepper opens up for another mouthful of me, I let ’er rip.
Pepper squeals like a stuck hog as I catch my heel on the opposite curb. I sail backwards across the sidewalk onto the lawn. Pepper lies in the gutter, shrieking and pawing furiously at her face. She’s still too close for comfort, so I waste no time in crab-walking backwards up the lawn away from her.
I hear her owner, shrieking in tones similar to the dog’s. “Pepper! Oh, Pepper! Come! Come, Baby!” The next thing I hear is the guttural rumble of what can only be the ’67 Impala that passed us earlier. A split second later it blows around the bend at a healthy clip. It does not prove so healthy for Pepper who, temporarily blinded, is making her way back across the street toward the sound of her owner’s voice. With a wail of finality she sails about thirty feet farther down the block.
The dog is beyond saving, but someone has rushed to help me. The last thing I remember before I pass out is staring up into Mrs. X’s worried eyes.
# # #
I’m lucky. If I’d been “Peppered” on my own time, I’d be paying out of pocket for these just-shoot-me-now rabies vaccinations. But since it was an on-the-job injury, Workers’ Comp has it covered. I even get some time off now. Not official paid leave, mind you, since I have no benefits, but a week to recuperate.
What I do get, however, is the chance to file a “CA-7 Claim for Compensation,” which must be accompanied by a “CA-7a Time Analysis Form,” so some bureaucrat who gets paid twice what I do can decide if I should get paid for hours I might have worked, had I trusted my instincts and sprayed Pepper on sight. Then, the Census Bureau will fill out their portion of said forms, and send them on to the Office of What-the-Fuck, or whatever it’s called, where my claim will languish under scrutiny until such time as I either die from my wounds or move to a Third World country to afford the medical treatment that Workers’ Comp has denied me. At least I have Angie as a witness to the attack, so some dickwad can’t claim that the wounds were self-inflicted for the purpose of taking a paid vacation.
Of course, the dog-bite is not the only thing that Angie witnessed yesterday. She’s still wanting to know why she found me lying unconscious in the arms of a tearful woman who had me in a lip-lock. She didn’t buy my explanation that it was just a Good Samaritan trying to perform CPR. “Don’t ask me,” I told her. “I was unconscious.”
In any case, I’m now free to focus on a more pressing matter: the boy and the Jeep. I use the word “focus” loosely; focus is a relative concept in my oxycodone-induced Nirvana. My grasp of the world at the moment has been reduced to two states. If I’m feeling no pain, I probably shouldn’t be riding the Ducati. On the other hand, if I’m wincing and cussing, then I’m good to go.