CHAPTER ONE

Nick Taylor and his black Lab, BD, had rambled neighborhood streets for the past two hours. Puzzled, Nick stopped, looked about, and rhetorically asked, “Where are we, boy?” 

 

At the next intersection, he recognized both street names engraved on metal plaques suspended from an ornamental lamppost. If they made a right turn here, there would be a convenience store several blocks down, less than a mile away. It was one of those places where, in addition to gasoline and diesel, one could purchase sandwiches, beer, tobacco products, lottery tickets, fried chicken, and potato wedges, as well as a selection of grocery store and general merchandise items. Nick was ready for a quick bite, and BD would enjoy a couple of plain hot dogs—his favorite treat. They would eat and return home or so Nick thought.

 

Nightfall was fast approaching when they arrived. The premises were brilliantly illuminated by a series of halogen lamps mounted high on 30-foot poles, presenting a stark contrast with the relative darkness of the surrounding residential neighborhood.

 

A six-bay strip center was located directly across the street, although it had remained vacant since its completion last year. The owner, a limited liability company, recently sought judicial protection under chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, although it now appeared from media reports that there would soon be either an outright dismissal of the case or a conversion to chapter 7, requiring total liquidation of assets as opposed to continuing operations under an approved plan of reorganization.

The convenience store was constructed several years ago following protracted litigation that commenced before the local Board of Zoning Appeals. Consequently, the LLC experienced few legal obstacles when it sought a variance to obtain a building permit to construct the strip mall in a neighborhood that was no longer strictly residential.

 

The project was probably doomed from the start because three major shopping outlets were located within a five-mile radius. It now appeared dark, uninviting, and out of place. Neighbors often complained that the criminal milieu utilized the property as a meeting place, playing loud music at all hours, dealing drugs, and, in general, breaching the peace and quiet of the entire community. 

 

As Nick and BD continued to square the perimeter of the store’s paved lot, past multiple rows of busy fuel-dispensing pumps, Nick’s attention was drawn to a battered old car parked at a peculiar angle on the north side of the building. He happened to notice this particular corner position would provide the driver with an unobstructed view of the main entrance doors, while the vehicle itself could not be clearly observed from inside the store.

 

It was a brown Chevrolet Cavalier from the early 1980s, covered with thick layers of primer over large portions of peeling paint and rust.  A considerable volume of thick blue smoke lazily belched from the single exhaust pipe, causing the entire area to smell of burnt oil. The words ‘PORN ST*R’ had been stenciled in and spray-painted across the top portion of the rear window, using luminescent white paint on twelve-inch letters. In fact, the second ‘word’ was not a word at all because the ‘A’ in the intended word ‘STAR’ was replaced with a five-point star––a non-alphanumeric character––probably a misguided attempt to add some degree of wit to the crude message. An expired drive-out tag was barely visible through the lower portion of the grimy glass.

 

As the engine struggled to maintain a steady idle, vulgar hip-hop blared through blown speakers. A young, dirty-looking, long-haired white male, who somehow looked right at home, nervously slouched across the driver’s seat, smoking what appeared to be a joint, and singing along with the tortured lyrics. 

 

BD released a long, deep guttural sound, expressing displeasure with the car, its occupant, or maybe both. As they were about to enter the store, a piercing alarm sounded. A skinny black male, his hair styled in a cornrow pattern, burst through the entry, a pistol in one hand and a large wad of dollar bills in the other. He was headed for the old Chevy. 

 

While Nick turned to watch, BD first stiffened, then suddenly lunged, causing his leash to whip through the air. Nick, desperate to break the chain of events, immediately gave chase. As the robber approached the awaiting getaway car, BD managed to bite his left calf, resulting in a headfirst tumble onto the unforgiving pavement. He was rendered unconscious as money scattered in all directions. The handgun bounced twice and disappeared somewhere underneath the car.  

 

The driver panicked when he saw these events unfold and abruptly slammed the slipping transmission into drive. As he violently crashed into BD’s path—directly into BD—there was a frightful cry. Nick was certain there was no way the dog could’ve survived. The maniac emerged from the vehicle, firing rounds from his Ruger 9-mm pistol into Nick’s chest. Sobbing uncontrollably over the perceived loss of his friend, Nick heard three shots before finally losing consciousness. 

 

As the homicidal driver fled the scene, the injured thief lay on the fissured pavement, blood streaming from both his left calf and the left side of his head. Nearby, the man and his dog remained motionless. In the background, police and ambulance sirens could be heard screaming in the night.