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The Wooden Sea

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The Wooden Sea

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Author: Jonathan Carroll
Publisher: Tor, 2001
Series: The Crane's View Trilogy: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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From the moment a three-legged dog limps into the life of Police Chief Frannie McCabe and drops dead at his feet, McCabe finds himself in a new world of disturbing miracles. His small town of Crane's View, New York has long been a haven of harmony and comfort--but now he finds himself afflicted by the inexplicable, by omens that converge to throw his life into doubt. And what he does over the next few days may have consequences for the whole world....


Old Vertue

Never buy yellow clothes or cheap leather. That's my credo and there are more. Know what I like to see? People killing themselves. Don't misunderstand; I'm not talking about the poor fucks who jump out windows or stick their sorry heads into plastic bags forever. No "Ultimate Fighting Championship" either, which is only a bunch of rabid crewcuts biting each other. I'm talking about the guy on the street, face the color of wet lead, lighting up a Camel and coughing up his soul the moment he inhales. Good for you, Sport! Long live nicotine, stubbornness, and self-indulgence.

"Let's have another round here, Jimmy!" croons King Cholesterol down at the end of the bar. He with the rosy nose and enough high blood pressure to launch him and his whole family tree to Pluto. Gratification, mass, texture. The heart attack that'll nuke him will last a few seconds. The cold beer in thick mugs and perfume of grilling T-bone steaks are forever until he dies. It's worth the trade-off. I'm with him.

My wife Magda says getting me to understand is like throwing peas at a wall. But I understand fine; I just don't usually agree. Old Vertue is a perfect example. One day a guy walks into the station house leading a dog the likes of which you have never seen. It's a mixed breed but is mainly pit bull covered by a swirl of brown and black markings so he looks like a marble cake. But that's where his normalcy stops because this dog has only three and a half legs, is missing an eye, and breathes weird. Sort of out the side of his mouth but you can't really be sure. The way air comes out, it sounds like he's whistling "Michelle" under his breath. There are two deep raised scars across the top of his head. He's such a mess that all of us stare at him like he just arrived from hell on the Concorde.

Fucked up as he looked, the dog wore a very nice red leather collar. Hanging from it was a small flat silver heart with the name "Old Vertue" engraved on it. That was how it was spelled. That's all; no owner's name, address, or telephone number. Only Old Vertue. And he's exhausted. In the middle of everyone there, he collapsed on the floor and started snoring. The guy who brought him in said he found the dog sleeping in the Grand Union parking lot. He didn't know what the hell to do with it but was sure it was going to be run over napping there, so he brought it to us.

Everyone else thought we should take the dog to the nearest animal shelter and forget about it. But for me it was love at first sight. I made a bed for him in my office, bought dog food and a couple of orange bowls. He slept almost continuously for two days. When awake he lay in his bed and stared at me with gloomy eyes. Or rather eye. When someone in the office asked why I kept it around, I said this dog has been there and back. Since I'm chief of police, nobody protested.

Except my wife. Magda believes animals should be eaten and can barely stand the nice cat I've had for years. When she heard I was keeping a three-legged, one-eyed marble cake in my office she came by for a look. She stared at it for too long and stuck out her lower lip. A bad sign. "The more goofy they are, the more you like them, huh, Fran?"

"This dog's a veteran, honey. He's seen battle."

"There are kids starving in North Korea while you're serving this mutt food."

"Send those kids over here they can share its Alpo."

"You're the mutt, Frannie, not him."

Standing nearby, Magda's daughter, Pauline, started laughing. We looked at her with surprise because Pauline doesn't laugh at anything. Absolutely no sense of humor. When she does laugh it's usually at something weird or totally inappropriate. She's a strange girl who works hard at remaining invisible. My secret nickname for her is Fade.

"What's so funny?"

"Frannie. He always goes left when everyone else goes right. What's the matter with your dog? What's he's doing?"

I turned around just in time to see Old Vertue die.

It had managed to stand, but all three of its legs were trembling badly. Its head was down and it swung it back and forth like it was saying no.

Typically, Pauline started giggling.

Vertue stopped shaking its head and looked up at us. At me. It looked straight at me and winked. I swear to God. The old dog winked at me as if we shared a secret. Then it fell over and died. Its three legs twitched a few times then curled slowly in toward his body. There was no question where it'd gone.

None of us said a thing; just stared at the poor old guy. Finally Magda went over for a closer look. "Jeez, maybe I shouldn't have said such mean things about him."

The dead dog farted. A long oneits last breath going out the wrong door. Moving back fast, Magda glared at me.

Pauline crossed her arms. "That's so weird! It was alive two seconds ago and now it's not. I've never seen anything die."

One of the few advantages of being young. When you're seventeen, death is a star light-years away you can hardly see through a powerful telescope. Then you grow older and discover it's no distant star, but a big fucking asteroid coming straight at your head.

"Now what, Doctor Doolittle?"

"Now I guess I gotta go bury him."

"Just make sure it's not in our backyard."

"I thought under your pillow would be good."

We locked eyeballs and smiled at the same time. She kissed the air between us. "Come on, Pauline. We've got things to do."

She left, but Pauline hesitated. As she moved slowly toward the door she stared at the dog as if hypnotized. Once there she stopped and stared some more. Outside my office there was a sudden big burst of laughter. Obviously Magda telling the others the sad news.

"Go ahead with your mother, Pauline. I want to wrap him up and get him out of here."

"Where are you going to bury him?"

"Someplace down by the river. Give him a nice view."

"Is that legal to bury him there?"

"If I catch myself doing it, I'll arrest me."

That broke her trance and she left.

Even in death the old guy looked beat. Whatever kind of life he'd had, he got to the finish line on all fours (all threes) with nothing left. He used up everything he had. That was clear after one glance at him. His head was turned into his body; the thick pink scars on top were vicious-looking things. Where the hell had he gotten them?

Bending down, I gently wrapped the ends of the cheap blanket around his body and slowly rolled him into it. The body was heavy and loose. His one good front paw stuck out. Maneuvering it back inside the blanket, I stopped and shook it. "My name is Frannie. I'm your paw bearer today."

I lifted the bundle and went to the door. Without warning it swung open and Patrolman Big Bill Pegg stood there, trying hard not to smile. "You need help, Chief?"

"No, I've got him. Just open that door wider." A bunch of people stood outside and applauded as I passed.

"Very funny."

"I wouldn't start a pet shop if I was you, Fran."

"Waddya got there, pigs in a blanket?"

"Nice guest you invite him in and he drops dead."

"You guys are just jealous he didn't die in your office." I kept moving. Their laughter and jokes followed me out the door. Old Vertue was not light. Lugging him to the car wasn't the easiest thing I'd done that day. Once there, I lowered him onto the trunk lid and fished car keys out of my pocket. I slipped one into the lock and turned, but other than the click, nothing happened. The body held the lid down. Hefting him up over a shoulder, I turned the key again. The lid popped up. Before I had a chance to do anything, a loud voice a foot away from my left ear boomed "Why you putting that dog in your trunk, Frannie?"

"Because it's dead, Johnny. I'm going to go bury it."

Johnny Petangles, our town idiot, went up on his toes and leaned over my shoulder for a better look. "Can I come with you and watch?"

"No, John." I tried to push Vertue against one wall of the trunk so he wouldn't slide around when I drove, but someone was in my way. "John, move! Haven't you got anything to do?"

"No. Where are you going to bury him, Frannie? In the graveyard?"

"Only people get to go there. I haven't decided yet. Would you please move over so I can get him settled here?"

"Why do you want to get him settled if he's dead?"

I stopped moving and closed my eyes. "John, would you like a hamburger?"

"That would be very nice."

"Good." I took five dollars out of my pocket and handed it to him. "Eat a hamburger, and when you're done, go up to my house and give Magda a hand bringing in that firewood, okay?"

"Okay." Holding the money in his hand he didn't move. "I'll be very quiet if you let me come with you."

"Johnny, am I going to have to shoot you?"

"You always say that." He looked at the Arnold Schwarzenegger watch I had given him a few years before when he was going through a Terminator phase. "How long do I have before I go over to your house? I don't want to eat too fast. I get gas."

"Take your time." I patted his shoulder and moved to get in the car.

"I didn't know you had a dog for a friend, Frannie."


Copyright © 2001 by Jonathan Carroll


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