Although the larger room felt less stifling than the hallway, Seth still had to resist putting his hand to his face to deaden the scent of shit and unwashed dog. The thickness of the air in the warehouse reminded him of the temperature inversions that would trap car exhaust and the dusty stench from the nearby farms over the town. People called it fog, but it wasn’t water in the atmosphere that turned the autumn sky brown. Next to him, Avery reached up to pinch his own nose shut. Looking down at his son, he shook his head slightly. The boy blinked once to say he understood and dropped his hand back to his side.
The dogman led them into the warehouse filled with rows of chain link kennels. “How much you lookin’ to drop?” he shouted over the din of the barking. A spot of glare from the hard fluorescent lights reflecting off of his shaven head gave a momentary appearance of a halo crowning him. The tattoo of the twin numeral eights peeking up above his collar dispelled that illusion.
“I just want something suited to the task.” Seth said. “I’m unconcerned with cost.”
The dogman huffed amusement at the invitation to raise the price. “With a name like yours, I thought you might be a Jew.”
“Don’t worry; I spend freely.”
“Fuckin’ A, Daddy Warbucks. These are my prospects right here,” he said, pointing to a group of younger dogs in clean cages. “You can’t have any of them. The best dogs I can afford to let go are this way.” He led Seth and Avery over to the far wall and a row of overly-muscled pit bulls with scarred faces. “Normally, I don’t sell my champions, but since Stavros sent you…”
It hadn’t been easy to get the referral from the old Greek. Seth had had to be very convincing. He pointed toward a door through which he could hear more barking. “What have you got in there?”
The dogman waved the question away with a tattooed hand. “That’s just bait. Ain’t shit in there.”
“You breed your own?”
The dogman hissed through his teeth. “Fuck no. That’d take too long. Most dudes start with dogs you get from Internet ads. ‘Free to a good home’ and shit like that. People’ll gladly hand you their mutt and you don’t have to spend shit on an animal that your prospect is just going to tear apart. You start there with rat dogs, but you gotta move up to tougher bait. Gets ‘em ready for the show better. Real world training like fuckin’ MMA warriors do.” The dogman threw a couple of well-practiced jabs and a hook at the air in front of Seth, his HGH-enhanced muscles rippling. “People don’t just give those dogs away. You gotta get ‘em some other way.” He leaned over and put a hand on Avery’s shoulder. Seth fought the urge to break the dogman’s arm. “Some pits are game and they got it in ‘em already, but you still gotta teach ‘em early how to get over. There are dogs born tough — with selective breeding and shit — but a good dogman will make them champions. You follow me, son?”
“What? He don’t talk?”
Seth looked down at his boy and smiled. “He knows when a man speaks. He’ll say something when he has something worth saying, not just to hear himself.”
The dogman straightened up and got in Seth’s face. “You sayin’ I talk too m–” The shot echoed in the warehouse, making the animals go wild in their cages. The dogman fell limp to the concrete like someone cut his strings. No theatrics. Just straight down.
Seth put his hand on his child’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “That’s two. How did it feel this time?”
“Better. Easier,” Avery said, slipping the P99 back into his hoodie.
“That’s my boy.” Seth nodded back at the “prospect” puppies the dogman had been unwilling to sell. “You think your mom’ll like it if we bring a new one home to take over guard duties for Samson?”
Seth tousled his son’s hair. “You bet! You earned it.”