“Come on, boy,” Calvin said to Six-Thirty, “let’s pick it up.” Six-Thirty moved to his place five paces in front of Calvin, then glanced back every so often as if to make sure Calvin was still there. As they turned right, they passed a newsstand. “CITY BUDGETS HIT ROCK BOTTOM,” screamed a headline, “POLICE AND FIRE SERVICES AT RISK.”
Calvin put pressure on the leash, directing Six-Thirty to turn left into an older neighborhood filled with big houses and oceanic lawns. “Someday we’ll live here,” Calvin assured him as they jogged along. “Maybe after I win the Nobel,” which Six-Thirty knew he would win because Elizabeth said he would.
As they took another turn, Calvin almost slipped on moss before regaining his stride. “Close one,” he huffed as they neared the police station. Six-Thirty looked ahead at the squad cars lined up like soldiers awaiting inspection.
But the cars hadn’t been inspected. This was because the police department had suffered yet another budget cut—their third in four years. All three cuts had fallen under the Do More with Less! initiative, the slogan dreamed up by some middle manager in the city’s PR department. What it actually meant this time was that their jobs were on the line. Salaries had already been docked. Raises were extinct. Layoffs were next.
So the officers did whatever they could to keep the layoffs at bay; they took the latest Do More with Less! initiative and stuck it where it belonged: out in the parking lot with the patrol cars. Let the black-and-whites bear the budget-cut brunt this time. No more tune-ups, oil changes, brake relining, retreads, lightbulb changes, nothing.
Six-Thirty didn’t like the police parking lot, especially the way the police backed out in such a sloppy hurry. He didn’t even like the friendly policemen who sometimes waved to them as he and Calvin jogged by, their slow trudge in sharp contrast to Calvin’s vigor. They seemed depressed in Six-Thirty’s opinion, shackled by low pay, bored by routine, unchallenged by the endless minor emergencies that never called upon the lifesaving training they’d learned at the police academy.
As he and Calvin approached, Six-Thirty sniffed the air. It was still dark. The sun would rise in about ten more—
From the darkness came a hideous popping sound. It was like a firecracker—sharp, loud, mean. Six-Thirty bucked in fright—What was that? He bolted, or tried to, but he was yanked back by the leash that connected him to Calvin. Calvin, too, reacted—Were those gunshots?—and bolted in exactly the opposite direction. POW, POW, POW! The explosions stuttered like a machine gun. In response, Calvin lifted his foot and lurched forward, yanking Six-Thirty this way, while Six-Thirty, wild-eyed, lifted his front paws and yanked back as if to say, No, this way! And the leash, taut like a tightrope, left no room for compromise. Calvin brought his foot down in a slick of motor oil, slipping forward like a clumsy ice skater, the pavement coming up fast like an old friend who couldn’t wait to say hello.
As a thin trail of red created a dark halo around Calvin’s head, Six-Thirty turned to help, but something bore down upon them— a huge ship of
a thing that moved with such force, it snapped the leash in two, flinging him off to the side.
He managed to lift his head just in time to see the wheels of a patrol car bump up over Calvin’s body.
“Jesus, what was that?” the patrolman said to his partner. They were accustomed to their cars’ constant backfires, but this was something else. They jumped out, startled to see a tall man lying on the ground, his gray eyes wide open, his head wound quickly soaking the sidewalk. He blinked twice at the policeman standing over him.
“Oh my god, did we hit him? Oh my god. Sir—can you hear me? Sir?
Jimmy, call an ambulance.”
Calvin lay there, his skull fractured, his arm snapped in two by the force of the police car. Around his wrist dangled the remnant of the leash.
“Six-Thirty?” he whispered.
“What was that? What did he say, Jimmy? Oh my god.” “Six-Thirty?” Calvin whispered again.
“No sir,” the policeman said bending down beside him. “It’s almost six but not quite. Actually, it’s about five fifty. That’s five five oh. Now we’re going to get you out of here—we’re going to get you fixed up, don’t you worry, sir, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Behind him, police poured out of the building. In the distance, an ambulance screamed its intent of getting there soon.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” one of them said as air pressed out of Calvin’s lungs. “Isn’t that the guy everyone always calls about—the guy who runs?”
From ten feet away, Six-Thirty, his shoulder wrenched from its socket, the other half of the leash dangling from his whiplashed neck, watched. He wanted more than anything to go to Calvin’s side, to dip his face close to his nostrils, to lick his wounds, to stop everything from going any further than it already had. But he knew. Even from ten feet, he knew. Calvin’s eyes drifted shut. His chest stopped moving.
He watched as they loaded Calvin in the ambulance, a sheet over his body, his right hand hanging off the side of the gurney, the snapped leash still wrapped tight around his wrist. Six-Thirty turned away, sick with sorrow. With his head down, he turned and went to give Elizabeth the bad news.