by John Kenyon
Janice and I were just getting into bed when I remembered I still had Lenny’s body in my trunk. You’d think you wouldn’t forget something like that, but it had been a long day.
It was like one of those hourglass things where the sand falls from the top to the bottom. When Mr. Sharp put a bullet in Lenny’s head, the top was at least half full, maybe more. After that came a bunch of payment pickups, roughing up that Pakistani convenience store owner, getting groceries so Janice didn’t kick my ass and then a late dinner.
The last grains of sand were falling as I drained my third beer, hit the can and then climbed the stairs to the bedroom. I sat on the edge of the bed, about to pull my shoes off. That last grain of sand teetered on the brink, ready to slip through to the bottom as my head hit my pillow. That's when I remembered Lenny.
I laced my shoes up again and pushed myself up off the bed.
“Where you goin’?” Janice said.
“I just remembered some stuff I gotta do for Mr. Sharp,” I said. “Don’t bother waiting up.”
"Right," she said. "Mr. Sharp. Why don't you just call him Uncle Florian?"
"I don't want to get into that now. I gotta keep work and homelife separate, you know that."
She knew the drill, even though we had never talked about what exactly it is I do. I was her second husband, and was well into this before we even met. She chooses to look the other way and accepts that she doesn’t have to work.
I went out to the garage and keyed the trunk release. The lid popped up a couple inches. I’ll admit that I jumped back, thinking for a split second that Lenny was gonna come up out of there and tackle me. ’Course, if the guy could survive a slug in the brain, I guess he deserved to take a swing at me. Nothing moved, so I lifted the lid the rest of the way.
Lenny was wrapped in a canvas tarp that had been in my trunk; he looked like the big bag of softball bats I carried around when I was coaching Janice’s kid, back before he went to live with his dad. If those kids only knew what I did with those bats between practices.
I probably had enough gas to get to the station down the block, but I had coasted into the garage on fumes and didn’t want to risk getting stranded and having a cop show up to help me. Or worse, standing at a gas pump to fill up and have Mr. Sharp or one of the other guys drive by. That would lead to an inspection of my trunk and the very physical expression of the resulting disappointment.
You might think it was overkill, but Mr. Sharp was specific about some things. He’d had his attorney come into the copy shop that was our front to give what he called a “tactical seminar.” Basically, he told us what we could and couldn’t do if we ever got pinched.
This one had been Lenny’s fault, actually. He was with Phil, driving someplace to get rid of another body – we don’t make a habit of whackin’ guys, but sometimes people get out of line. Phil was speeding and he got pulled over. The cop asked if Phil knew why he had been stopped and Lenny leaned over and said, “It probably has something to do with that body in the trunk.” He was trying to be funny, figuring he’d have a good story to tell when they got back from the dump. As we learned later, he had instead given the cop probable cause, and because the cop had a hard-on for Phil – something about an old high school grudge over a girl, if I remember – that meant a search of the car, discovery of the body and 10 to 20 for Phil. Lenny somehow avoided doing time, and in hindsight, assuming you can reconsider from beyond the grave, he probably wished he’d been in prison instead of on the wrong side of Mr. Sharp’s Glock.
So, Mr. Sharp would not be happy if he found out I’d driven around all day and come home with Lenny’s body in my trunk. That left one option: I had to bury Lenny in the backyard.
It had started to rain, which I took as a good sign. Wet ground is easier to dig than rock-hard dry stuff, right? Wrong. I was in the darkest part of our yard, behind the detached garage in a little space bordered by thick bushes on two other sides. No one was likely to see me. My neighbor to the north, Bill, was a sheriff’s deputy in the next county over. He didn’t have jurisdiction over much of what we did, or even his own neighborhood, but I didn’t need him seeing me bury a body. I actually liked having him next door. Mr. Sharp never came to visit, and neither did any of the other guys. My home was my sanctuary.
Two spadefuls in, I realized the wet dirt was going to stick to the blade, essentially doubling the time it would take to dig a decent-sized hole. I rationalized that a half-decent hole was good enough, got about two feet down and threw Lenny in. The canvas came loose, leaving him sprawled there face up. I covered him with dirt, stomped it down good and then spread some leaves and wood chips over the space. The shadow of the garage keeps grass from growing back there, so I wasn't tearing up pristine lawn to bury the idiot.
It was after 3 when I got back in and later still by the time I’d showered, put on fresh boxers and a T-shirt and crawled into bed. Other than change the pitch of her snoring as she shifted to accommodate me, Janice didn’t acknowledge my return. So much the better. I felt halfway through the next day’s ration of hourglass sand, and needed to catch some sleep without answering questions.
When I came down later that morning, Janice was already gone. I had a bowl of cereal and stale coffee from the pot she’d left on the burner, and then called in. Carl told me Mr. Sharp needed a ride and that I should come in.
As I poured the rest of the foul coffee into the sink, I looked out and saw that the spot where I’d dug the night before was easy to see. I’d have to deal with that when I got back. Janice was a go-along to get-along kind of gal, but even she would wonder about a fresh hole in the lawn.
As I backed the car out, I heard a yelp and then a crunch. I got out and saw Toby, Janice’s old Labrador, wedged under my back tire. The old bag of bones must’ve been sleeping in the driveway, trying to grab some heat from the sun-baked pavement. He was deaf and half-blind, so he probably didn’t even notice that the car had started. I got in and pulled forward a couple of feet to get the wheel off of Toby's body.
I thought about loading him in the trunk, taking him someplace and then telling Janice that he must have run away, but the last thing I needed was a dead dog in the trunk when I picked up Mr. Sharp. Then I got an idea. I’d bury him with Lenny. Janice would still be sad and/or pissed, but at least it would explain the hole in the ground.
I called Carl and told him my car wouldn’t start. That would cause headaches, too, but I’d rather deal with that than the alternative. I steered a wheelbarrow out from the garage, loaded up Toby’s body and carted him around back. I dug up the hole, uncovering Lenny. I couldn’t stand to look at him in the daylight, so I quickly threw Toby in on top of him, and filled in the hole.
I hosed off the shovel, leaned it against the house to dry and went back inside to shower and change again. I called Carl back, and he told me to head to the copy shop to pick up Mr. Sharp. It was a pretty uneventful day, and knowing that my trunk was devoid of dead bodies – human, canine or otherwise – I was able to relax.
When I got home early that evening, Janice was standing at the sink, drinking a glass of lemonade and looking out the window into the backyard. Without turning, she asked, “What were you digging up last night?”
“What make you think I was digging anything up?”
“Do we have to play this game? You disappeared for two hours last night, and now there is a bare patch of dirt at the back of the yard.”
“OK, Columbo, so I was digging. But it was this morning. Last night I was just doing some stuff for Mr. Sharp, like I said.”
“What, you're suddenly a gardener?” she asked.
I told her about hitting Toby and burying his body out back.
“I knew you’d want to be a part of that, but you can’t just leave a dead dog lying around,” I said. “I figured you’d want him close, so I put him in the back yard. I thought we could go out there tonight with candles and say something about him. You know, like a service.”
I thought sure she’s slug me for killing her dog. Proving I know nothing about women, she instead grabbed me in a hug and said, “That’s sweet. You really did like him, didn’t you?”
That night, candles in hand, we stood next to the final resting place of Toby and Lenny. Janice nudged me, and I realized she wanted me to say something.
"Well, um, Toby, you were a great old dog," I said. I couldn't keep from thinking about Lenny. "And, ah, you made some dumb decisions, but I hope you're in a better place."
Janice scrunched her face in confusion and looked at me. I shrugged and raised my candle as if giving a toast. She said a few words about having had fun with Toby over the years, and then blew out her candle. I did likewise and we went inside.
The next couple of days were uneventful. Workwise, anyway. Janice and I actually got along better than we had in a while. If I’d known a dead dog could lead to some action in the sack, I would have run over him a long time ago.
I came home one evening that week to find my neighbor, Bill, sitting on a lawn chair on my deck, drinking a beer. Another bottle sat at his feet, a puddle of condensation showing he had been there a while.
“Hey, hope you don’t mind,” he said. “Thought I’d catch you.”
“No problem,” I said, taking the beer from his outstretched hand. I wiped the sweat off on my pants, twisted the cap off and took a drink. “So, what’s up?”
“I wanted to borrow your shovel,” he said, pointing to where it was still propped against the side of the house. “Sally's been wanting me to plant some hostas. She's at her mother's for a few days, so I thought I'd surprise her. I busted the handle on mine and haven't had the chance to get a new one."
“You putting them up by the house?”
“No, out in the back corner. I hate hostas, but I guess out there they'll be all right. Damn things spread so much, I’ll have hardly anything to mow back there in a couple of years.”
I took another sip of beer and then grabbed the shovel. As he reached out to take it, he gestured with his other hand to the spot in our yard where I had buried Lenny and Toby.
“Did you bury something? Looks like you’ve got a little burial mound out there or something. You finally do something with that bare patch and you make it more obvious?” he said, ribbing me about a sore subject.
He was right; there was a pronounced hump there, like a pitcher's mound. I knew the ground had been flat when I’d buried Toby. This wasn’t good.
“It’s Toby,” I said. “Hit him with the car a couple of days ago. Janice was pretty busted up about it.”
“Oh, wow. I guess I haven’t seen him around in a while. Well, did you just open a hole and throw him in? Probably bloated on you in this heat. If you want, I can help you dig him back up and put him deeper.”
“No!” All I could picture was him putting a spade into Lenny’s gut and me headed to prison. “I mean, you don’t have to do that. I’ll take care of it.”
“Well, I’d better leave your shovel then,” he said.
“OK,” I said, patting him on the back. "Thanks."
I thought I’d wait until dark, but Janice came home and immediately noticed the hump.
“What’s that,” she said when she got out of the car. “Why is the ground all raised up like that?”
I told her Toby had probably bloated and that I was going to wait until later in the evening to take care of it.
“Why would you wait until you can’t see? Just do it now. Dig him back up and see what you can do.”
“Because, I, um, I don't want you to have to see that," I said. "You need to remember Toby the way he was."
I looked up to see if she'd bought it, and was relieved to see that she had.
"I think I know how to fix this," I said. "Why don't you go inside?”
"Even better; I'm going shopping." She went and got her purse, got in her car and headed out.
I went to the garage to find what I had in mind. After a couple of minutes of digging around, I unearthed a ski pole. I pulled off the plastic tip and took it out into the yard. I held it high above my head like a sword and drove it as hard as I could down into the ground. It went in about an inch and the force of it hitting the dirt made my hands slip halfway down the shaft, scraping my palm on the handle. I pulled it out and tried again. I didn’t hit the same spot, so I ended up with another hole about an inch deep and sore hands.
Bill must have heard me, because he came around the corner of the garage and said, “Need any help?”
I figured that as long as Lenny was underground, I was safe. And, I could use the assistance. I came around the garage and explained the situation with Toby. I asked if he had any suggestions.
“Why don’t you just dig him up?” I expected it this time, and didn't protest too much when it came.
“No, I would imagine he’s pretty ripe by now. I’d rather keep him under there if I can,” I said.
Bill nodded. Then he rubbed his chin as if in thought.
“I know. Hold on a minute.” He went back to his place and into the garage. He came out a couple of minutes later with an old metal stake used to prop up overgrown tomato plants.
“Why don’t you try this? You probably only need to get one good hole in there, I mean, him,” he said. "But if you do, back up quick, 'cause that'll be one little stink volcano you've unleashed."
I took it. It was about four feet long. I looked at Bill with a raised eyebrow. He wagged his chin toward the hump. I grabbed the stake tightly, raised it, then plunged it down and pulled it back out. Nothing. I did it again, and still nothing. It slid pretty easily into the dirt, so I kept doing it. I didn’t notice it at first, but each time I thrust the skewer down, I shouted, “Ha!” like a tae kwon do master. I felt like I was hitting something, but I couldn’t be sure. I tried to step onto the dirt to get it to go down, but nothing happened.
The last time I stuck the pole in, I came out with a twenty dollar bill on the end.
“Whoa!” Bill said. “That’s never worked for me before. What do you have down there, a money well or something?”
I looked at it for a minute, then realized it must be Lenny’s. I probably stabbed through his pants pocket and speared the money. I tried to think fast.
“I, uh, buried Toby with it,” I said. “He, uh, he was supposed to get a new bowl that day… that’s where I was going, actually, when I hit him. So, I thought I’d drop the money in there as kind of a way to say I was sorry.”
Bill was looking at the bill. He pointed. “What’s that?”
It was a red stain on the underside: blood.
“Wow, I must have got him then, huh? Why don’t I just wash off your stake and get that back to you and--”
“I don’t remember Toby being that big,” he said. He pointed again, this time at the ground. “You were sticking that thing all over. You were over here when you started,” he said, pointing a few feet away from where we stood. “And you speared that money over here,” he said, pointing at our feet. “Did you chop him up before you buried him or something?”
I felt a line of sweat forming at my brow and on my upper lip. "What? Ha ha, no!" I couldn’t let this thing unravel. I pretended the cell phone in my pocket was vibrating, and pulled it out. I flipped it open. “Hello. What? OK, I’ll be right there.” I hung up and told Bill that Janice needed me to check something for her and that I had to go.
“Well, go ahead and keep the stake for now. I’m not sure I’m going to want that back.” He walked backward for a few steps, keeping his eye on me, then turned and walked slowly to his house.
I ran to the house and called Mr. Sharp. This was a desperation move, I knew, but I needed help. I might get iced myself, but he also might get me out of this and keep me out of jail.
He and Carl came out about 20 minutes later. I brought them into the kitchen to survey the situation. Mr. Sharp had questions.
“You carried Lenny around in your trunk all day?”
“You buried him in your own backyard, not in the place we had talked about?”
“You couldn’t even be bothered to dig a deep enough hole that he wouldn’t be found?
“I guess not.”
He furrowed his brow and looked down at me.
“I mean, yes. Er, no. I mean--”
He put up a hand to shush me. “Enough. You screwed up. You know that. And you have placed this problem at my feet.”
They walked out to survey the spot. Mr. Sharp walked in a slow circle around the grave, then tapped his wingtip on the raised mound of dirt at the center. He walked over to Carl and whispered something in his ear, then came up to me.
"Go get your shovel and dig all of this up. The only way to fix this is to start over."
"But my neighbor is—"
"Tommy, just do what I say."
So I went up to the house, grabbed the shovel, and came back to start digging. It took about an hour, Mr. Sharp standing next to the hole the entire time, for me to get it all dug out.
"Now, please remove the dog and Lenny and get in there to dig it out deeper."
"You want me in the hole?"
"Yes, Tommy. You need to go down farther. It's the only way."
I reluctantly jumped into the shallow hole and began digging it deeper. As shovelful after shovelful was moved from the bottom of the hole to the grass above, I began to shudder as if cold. This was beginning to look like a grave built for three, or at least two men and a dog. I began to whimper a little bit, trying to keep quiet.
At one point, Mr. Sharp told me to stop.
"I'm not going to cap my sister's kid, no matter how stupid you are, so quit blubbering," he said quietly. "Now climb out of there and put the dog and Lenny back in."
I scrambled out as quickly as possible and did as he instructed. Standing on the edge of the hole, I panicked, waiting to feel a gun barrel pressed to the back of my head.
I turned as I heard Carl return. Bill was with him.
"You wanted to see me?" he said to Mr. Sharp.
"Yes, Deputy, look at this," he said, pointing to the hole.
"Oh my God," Bill said. "Tommy, what is this?"
He knelt down and reached a hand out to Lenny when Carl came up behind, pressed a silenced pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. There was a soft "pop" and then Bill pitched forward and into the hole. Mr. Sharp nudged me and I fell down after him.
"Arrange their bodies with the dog on top," he said. I pulled Bill's body over so it was next to Lenny, then grabbed Toby and laid him over top of them.
I climbed out before Mr. Sharp got any ideas, and stood next to him. Carl, with Bill's tomato stake in his hand, jumped into the hole and jabbed it into Lenny, Bill and Toby.
"That'll keep 'em from bloating," he said, sounding like he was talking from experience. He then pulled out a knife and began hacking at Bill.
Mr. Sharp put his arm around my shoulder and steered me away from the hole.
"Stop doing dumb things, Tommy," he said.
"But what about my neighbor? The sheriff isn't just going to let one of his guys disappear."
"It will be taken care of," he said.
A week later, I was sitting on the porch with Janice. She was thumbing through the paper, reading bits and pieces to me while I drank a beer.
"Oh my God," she said. "Bill is dead!"
"What?" I said, "How did you know?"
"It says so right here," she said, pointing at the paper. "His hand washed up on the shore of Lake Bernard.'The sheriff's department would not confirm rumors that Deputy Vincent had run afoul of the Luchese crime family after a recent investigation.' Do you know any of those Luchese guys?"
"Me? No. They're the real deal, Jan. Cold-blooded."
"That's so sad. Bill was a good neighbor," she said.
I nodded in agreement.
"He would have been surprised that you finally did something back there," she said, nodding toward the patch behind the garage. "He always gave you such grief about that."
I had planted a honeysuckle on that spot. They're supposed to do well in the shade, and I knew its blood-red berries would add a nice splash of color to the yard.
"Well," I said. "Maybe Bill is somewhere where he can admire that bush."
"First the gardening, and now you're getting spiritual on me, too?" she said, punching me lightly in the arm. "The way that thing is growing, it's obvious you have a green thumb."
"Yeah," I said, draining my beer. "Something like that."
John Kenyon's stories have appeared in Pulp Modern, Beat to a Pulp, Shotgun Honey, ATwist of Noir, Thuglit and elsewhere. He is the editor of Grift Magazine (griftmagazine.com), and writes the blog Things I'd Rather Be Doing (tirbd.com). He lives in Iowa.