Bernard MacLaverty: Walking the Dog

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Bernard MacLaverty: Walking the Dog (1994)

As he left the house he heard the music for the start of the Nine O'Clock news. At the top of the cul-de-sac was a paved path which sloped steeply and could be dangerous in icy weather like this. The snow had melted a little during the day but frozen over again at night. It had done this for several days now - snowing a bit, melting a bit, freezing a bit. The walked-over ice crackled as he put his weight on it and he knew he wouldn't go far. He was exercising the dog - not himself. The animal's breath was visible on the cold air as it panted up the short slope onto the main road, straining against the leash. The dog stopped and lifted his leg against the cement post. "Here boy, come on."

He let him off the leash and wrapped the leather round his hand. The dog galloped away then stopped and turned, not used with the icy surface. He came back wagging his tail, his big paws slithering. "Daft bugger."

It was a country road lined by hedges and ditches. Beyond the housing estate were green fields as far as Lisburn. The city had grown out to here within the last couple of years. As yet there was no footpath. Which meant he had to be extra careful in keeping the dog under control. Car headlights bobbed over the hill and approached. "C'mere!"

He patted his thigh and the dog stood close. Face the oncoming traffic. As the car passed, the undipped headlights turned the dog's eyes swim- ming-pool green. Dark filled in again between the hedges. The noise of the car took a long time to disappear completely The dog was now snuffling and sniffing at everything in the undergrowth - being the hunter. The man's eyes were dazzled as another car came over the hill. "C'mere you." The dog came to him and he rumpled and patted the loose folds of skin around its neck. He stepped into the ditch and held the dog close by its collar. This time the car indicated and slowed and stopped just in front of him. The passenger door opened and a man got out and swung the back door wide so that nobody could pass on the inside. One end of a red scarf hung down the guy's chest, the other had been flicked up around his mouth and nose. "Get in," the guy said. "What?"

"Get in the fuckin car." He was beckoning with one hand and the other was pointing. Not pointing but aiming a gun at him. Was this a joke? Maybe a starting pistol. "Move or I'll blow your fuckin head off." The dog saw the open door and leapt up into the seat of the car. A voice shouted from inside, "Get that hound outa here."

"Come on. Get in," said the guy with the gun. "Nice and slow or I'll blow your fuckin head off." Car headlights were coming from the opposite direction. The driver shouted to hurry up. The guy with the gun grabbed him by the back of the neck and pushed - pushed his head down and shoved him into the car. And he was in the back seat beside his dog with the gunman crowding in beside him. "Get your head down." He felt a hand at the back of his neck forcing his head down to his knees. The headlights of the approaching car lit the interior for a moment - enough to see that the upholstery in front of him was blue - then everything went dark as the car passed. He could hear his dog panting. He felt a distinct metal hardness - a point - cold in the nape hair of his neck. "If you so much as move a muscle I'll kill you. I will," said the gunman. His voice sounded as if it was shaking with nerves. "Right-oh driver." "What about the dog?" said the driver.

"What about it? It'd run home. Start yapping, maybe. People'd start looking." "Aye, mebby"
"On you go."
"There's something not right about it. Bringing a dog."
"On you fuckin go."
The car took off, changed gear and cruised - there seemed to be no hurry about it. "We're from the IRA," said the gunman. "Who are you?"
There was a silence. He was incapable of answering.
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