Like a carnival barker his voice bellows out across the parking lot, “Dogs for a dollar. Dogs for a dollar. Come on folks, we have dogs for a dollar. We have big ones and small ones. We have Labs and Shepherds, Terriers and Spitz. Think we don’t have the breed, try me, I’ll surprise every time.”
Waving arms around, gesticulating towards the empty lot he occupies; his animation is infectious. Spinning a cane around, he puts on a Chaplinesque performance, sans the silence. Tottering around, he points the distal end towards my vehicle, and I slow down to gawk with increasing interest, as my car comes to a crawl.
I bring my vehicle to a halt, and step out onto the curb, my inquisitive nature getting the best of me. This exuberant salesman turns his face to me with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile of excitement as I approach him. As I draw near, I notice a large scar running down his face, from his left eye to the corner of his mouth. His charisma draws me in, and curiosity pushes me toward him.
“A dog for a dollar sounds too good to be true.”
He stops all his ballyhoo, giving a once over glance as I approach him.
“What’re you in the market for?,” he says.
“Not sure. I don’t really know. I’m just browsing I guess.”
“Well we have all kinds from Pit bulls to Pomeranians, Labradors to Shar Peis.”
“I prefer big dogs. Clean though, not droolers.”
“Perfect, you’re just in luck; we have some Newfies and Irish Wolfhounds right inside.”
He gestures his hand to the Graffiti decorated, dingy white truck. A small piece of cardboard is glued to its side advertising his business. The sign is scribbled in what appears to be the handwriting of a kindergartener. It reads “Dogs for a Dollar.” Money symbols flank those seemingly incompatible words.
The days is hot. Ninety degrees hot. A roiling, stinking, humid heat that makes your clothes cling to your body. And the doors and windows of the truck are sealed. I listen for the hum of air conditioning, but hear nothing but grit on pavement underfoot as I shift my weight with anxiousness and dread. I begin pondering and question, are there really dogs in there? I wonder how all these dogs have not suffocated by now, and then I panic thinking, maybe they have.
He steps over to the rollup door and bends down for the handle, but before he opens it, I speak up.
“How does this work, dogs for a dollar? I mean, do you sell these dogs through a larger company? Excuse the expression, but are you a puppy mill? I mean, only a dollar. That seems really cheap. Are you a non-profit? That must be it. You are a non-profit, finding dogs a home cheaply.”
He turns his face so only the scar side looks at me. His eye seems to droop a little as he glances at me. Stepping down from the bumper he does not move closer, but glares at me. Lifting his eyebrows, he scrunches his forehead, creating a wave of wrinkles on his brow deep and thick. He does not utter a word, but just continues this look.
“I mean, it just seems like a lot of dogs, and way too cheap. Especially the breeds you listed.”
“Well, if you let me show you, you will understand.”
Turning, he begins to unlock the handle of the roll-up door. A wave of fear and suspicion breaks over me, soaking my skin with nervous perspiration. My mind begins to reel and I wonder why he won’t answer my questions. As I hear the door unlock I take two steps back in anticipation of the unknown. My heart pounding, afraid of what I will find behind that door, he begins to speak with a monotone voice now, his carnival sideshow persona having vanished.
“If you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you understand why people are nervous about dogs for a dollar. Most people think I’m a lunatic, as if sitting here on the side of the road in a box truck somehow constitutes insanity. Hell, one woman ran away screaming before I ever opened the truck as if I was Hannibal Lecter, about to pull her in the van to eat her face off.”
As the door reaches its apex, the stench strikes me, a foetid vile odor. I stare into the black abyss of the truck and strain my eyes to make out the shapes hanging from the ceiling. I step forward, lost in my curiosity. Not noticing, he steps toward me.
“You see, people readily accept my profession in other parts of this country. Hell, some people have called me a savior; dogs for only a dollar. I provide a service, a true righteous service.”
I hear him, but don’t pay attention, as I stare bewildered inside the cavernous box from which a malodorous stench wafts out. Flies buzz around the air, but stay close to the open door, not wishing to venture too far from their home.
“So you see, I let people decide for themselves, whether they want a dog for a dollar, or to walk away. Its that simple. I don’t go around judging other people if their religion doesn’t suit me, nor do I care if they are Republican or Democrat. So I expect the same courtesy. All I know is I’m a business man through and through. Simple law of economics. If you can get the product cheap, and sell it cheap with some profit, then you have to sell on volume. Or…draw people in and hook them with the cheap, and then offer speciality items, costing more. Even offer them samples, let them find out for themselves if it’s what they want. No judgement here. But above all else, as an entrepreneur, I know time is money, and any time wasted not selling, is profit lost. You understand, dontcha? Or are you one of those people that turn their nose up at me, smug as they are, stuck in their own beliefs, their own preconceived notions of morality, of social acceptability?”
Still I heed him no attention. I stare into the gaping maw of that cargo compartment, squinting, straining to discern what’s inside. I still do not answer, lost in my own eagerness to discover.
“You sir, you have wasted enough of my time, which is precious to me. So you may buy a dog for a dollar, move on, or regret wasting anymore of my time.”
His voice remains monotone, almost sinister, and as the barker persona has completely disappeared, a twang of thick southern accent is exposed. Stepping behind me, his voice softens almost to a whisper, as I reach the bumper of the truck.
“Give it a try, dog for a dollar. There is enough meat on an Irish Wolfhound to feed you for months. You shouldn’t knock it ‘til you try it. Most people love the rarer breeds. Shar Peis sell really well. Some people say it has a gamey taste. But the most rare animal, I don’t usually advertise. Only my special customers, my repeat customers, only they are afforded the opportunity to purchase the sweetest meat, and that sir, is where I make my money.”
Leaning forward, my head is shaded in the darkness of that hot dank compartment. Behind all the bodies of fur, hanging in the far back is something white and seemingly smooth. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, a shape forms, one familiar, yet lost in the context of disbelief.
“You see, you have wasted enough of my time, and like I said before, you would regret it.”
With that said, I feel a dull thud on the back of my head, the cane descending upon my skull, and the world spins to black with bright flashes bursting in my vision.
Rope tightens around my hands, which are pinned behind my back, the coarse hemp strands abrading my wrists, as if made of chapped itchy wool. A stabbing pain pulsates in my skull, and I hear shuffling in the shadows, as my eyes begin to adjust to the low light.
“Wait, wait. Please. I’ll buy your dogs. I’ll buy all of them. Please. I don’t care. I’m not smug. I would eat them. Please. Let me out! Let me out! Help! Help!”
I begin to scream for help, but my voice just echoes within that tomb. I stop to catch my breath, and the whole world begins to spin from the craziness of this all, as my head throbs and pulsates in excruciating pain. A putrid stench ekes into my nostrils, and I convulse and wretch as I heave on the floor.
“Now son, don’t bother me with that. See I told you, I sell dogs for a dollar, but I make my money selling the sweetest meat. My customers demand the best, and you sir, well, you’ll do just fine. I sell dogs for a dollar, from town to town, but you, you will make someone happy for months to come, and I will make a pretty penny. Now be a good boy and don’t thrash around too much, I don’t want you to bruise the meat.”
As the door closes behind him, the little sliver of light disappears, coating the truck in darkness. The floor is moist and sticky, and as my eyes adjust to the tenebrosity, I see a large thigh hanging overhead, its toe nails painted red.