It was a dog made out of wood. Some kind of retriever or something. It sat by the wash-mangle and the old coke sign by the doorway of the antiques place. The wood was lacquered, but the lacquer had been allowed to dinge in the decades since.
David bent low to marvel at the craftsmanship. Every lock of fur was represented with a chisel stroke. The dog even had a knotted rope leading from its neck, carved from the same wood. The dog looked wistful in its state of repose, perhaps waiting for an unreturning master.
It was a masterpiece of kitsch.
“Hey, how much is that doggy in the window?” he called to the man at the counter, only half-joking.
The balding man, who looked less small-town hick and more art-school-dropout, barely looked up from counting bills.
“Oh that?” he adjusted his granny glasses. “That’s not for sale. It’s a whatchacallit. Fixture.”
David looked back at the dog. The more he studied it, the more details jumped out at him. The enterprising soul who had sought to fix it with such detail even included a doggy member lying casually between its hind legs. David found himself checking for fleas and laughed.
Karen was browsing the milk bottles. That had been the whole reason for their trip. Karen was collecting them. She was looking between a milky-glass specimen with a broken neck and a faceted brown jug.
“Kare, you have to come see this dog.”
Karen made a noncommittal noise, deeply absorbed in her bottles. It irritated David a little that she wouldn’t peel herself away from her hobby for even a minute when he had been coerced into giving up his morning for this trip.
“Come on. Bring the bottles.”
Karen made another noise. “In a minute…” she said absently.
David stalked back to the front of the store, skirting around milking stools and washboards. The man at the counter was now sorting the vintage button display. The dog sat where it had probably sat for years, decades David estimated. There was something melancholy about it. The dog’s expression—if animals could possess emotions—held a kind of delayed sorrow. It had been carved to wait patiently and mournfully. David thought that was terrible.
“What is this thing, seriously? Was it part of display? The work of a hobbyist?”
The man looked up from his sorting, an ‘I like Ike’ circle in his hand. “That’n? He was carved by Emmet Welch, a few towns over. He liked to carve wood. Probably every cigar-store indian in the county came from his shop.”
David chuckled to himself, squatting down to look at the dog. More kitsch. Indians and cigar stores. Endangered species in this politically-correct, vape-happy society. Serving some extinct function. Just like this dog.
“So what was it,” he continued, running a hand over the neck, “part of a display? Did it hold a sign?”
The counter man looked over, frown lines forming between his eyebrows. “No.”
David waited for more of that statement. Apparently it didn’t exist.
“So why do it? And in such detail?”
The man at the counter semi-turned, intently absorbed in his buttons. “He just wanted to carve a dog one day, that’s all.”
David felt he was being handled like a bratty child. He resented that.
“Really, I’d like to buy it. Or is it some kind of priceless artifact from an artist dead before his time?” Really, David thought antiques were a scam. But maybe if he insulted the man, he’d have to name a price he could be argued down from.
Instead the man set the buttons down with a smack. “That dog isn’t for sale, never going to be. It was evidence in a crime.”
“Oh.” Rather that quenching his interest, it only whet David’s appetite. “What kind of crime?”
“Murder.” The clerk was looking over with undisguised distaste. David felt his umbridge rise at that. He wasn’t a criminal! He was just asking questions. If antique stores weren’t cults, they were doing a piss-poor job of supporting that.
He found Karen squatting by a shelf of moonshine jugs and old irons. Antique places were always disorganized eyesores in his opinion. Would it kill them to stock it like an actual store and not someone’s attic?
“Hey Kare, you know that dog? Evidence in a murder scene. Isn’t that wild?”
Karen barely looked up from the bottle in her grasp. “Wild, hon.”
“The guy doesn’t want to sell it, but maybe we can bargain him down. I’d love to put it in the front hall, really throw guests into confusion.” David knew he was rambling, trying to yank anything other than a canned response from his wife. “Maybe together we can strongarm him into selling it. Crack his noggin a little.” He chuckled.
Karen mmphed. “In a minute, dear.”
David went back to the front of the store. The man had stepped from behind the counter and was now dusting an elk head that lay conveniently close to the dog. David wasn’t stupid. The guy suspected something was up.
The man let the sentence dangle for painful, awkward seconds. “Gary.”
“Yeah. Listen, Gare, you can tell I’ve fallen in love with that dog, right? Everything you’ve told me, it’s really piqued my interest. Maybe—”
“Look, son,” Gary interrupted. “The dog’s only out here because storage is full. And I only kept the thing because Emmet wanted me to. He put a lot of work into that dog, and I’ve got a lot of respect for the man, otherwise I would’ve burnt it. I’m not selling it, not lending it, and I sure as shit ain’t givin’ it away. So why don’t you go find your wife and quit goin’ at me?”
David felt his face heat up. It always fled to his ears and reddened them, something he was very self-conscious of.
“That’s no way to make a sale,” he said flatly.
Gary was squinting at him. Like he was a bug on a tobacco leaf. Stupid hick. Why did small town shops always act like customers were a nuisance?
David cleared his throat. “Look, I realize you’re attached to it. But if you just—”
“Son, why ain’t you hearin’ my no?” Gary said, crossing his arms. The feather duster he held in his hands made the gesture ridiculous.
David turned on his heel and went to get Karen.
She was smiling sappily at a flour tin now, not even pretending to be looking for bottles.
“He won’t give me the dog,” David snapped as he walked up.
Karen stood up, puzzled. “What dog?”
“What dog? Have you not heard a thing I’ve been saying? The wooden dog by the door!”
Karen looked at him oddly. Just great. It was probably some antique etiquette he didn’t understand.
“Come on,” he grabbed her hand and towed her to the front of the store.
Gary was still in the same place and position as he was when David walked away. He raised his eyebrows to Karen. David didn’t like the familiarity of that gesture.
“That dog,” he said, tossing his hand at it.
Karen frowned and crouched down, squinting at it. She ran a hand over the fur, tracing the paws with a fingertip. David shot Gary a smug smirk.
Karen stood up. “So it’s a dog. So what?”
David gaped at her. “Are you serious?”
“I told him it wasn’t for sale,” Gary said to her, “maybe we ain’t speaking the same language. Can you give it a try?”
Karen turned to David. “That thing doesn’t go with our decor.”
David felt like screaming. “I know—just—” he flapped an angry hand as if trying to catch the word he was looking for. “Why can’t I have it?”
Gary was looking at him. David didn’t care for that look.
“Why do you want it?” the shopkeeper said warily.
David looked between the both of them. “Have I gone crazy? Are you asking why I want to give you money?”
Karen was getting a similar look. David really didn’t care for that.
“Dave,” she said, “I really didn’t budget for this. You remember what I said on the way here? A few small things. No more, no less.”
“So? We can cut out the trip to your parent’s place.”
Now they were both looking at him like he was crazy. Good God.
Gary was teetering between a look of concern and mild horror.
“You still ain’t telling me why you want it.”
David ran hands through his hair, catching a few strands on a jagged nail and ripping them out. “Am I on trial here? Why do you want to hang onto it so damn much?”
“I told you why. You give me your reason.”
“You go to hell,” David snapped.
“Save it.” He threw a hand up between them. “We always make time for your bullshit bottles—”
“What?” Karen was looking him up and down like she hadn’t seen him before.
“Son, you don’t talk to a lady like that in my store.” Gary folded his arms, shifting into the part of the reasonable authority figure. “Should I ask you to leave?”
“No!” They both stepped back from him. “I want you both to stop fucking with me! Stop treating me like I’m some kind of mental patient for wanting the dog!”
Karen put her hand up to her mouth. Gary murmured something like, “sweet Jesus, not again.”
“Not what again ? Huh? Not what again?” David tried to control his anger, tried not to let them win, but he couldn’t. “Did someone else want to buy your precious dog? Or did they just demand basic respect as a human being?”
Gary backed away. He was shaking his head subtly. “Son, you need to go. I might have to phone the ‘thorities if you don’t.”
David’s vision went red. Karen let out a sharp gasp as he picked up a rusted chisel, putting out a hand like she could force him back with her mind. The storekeeper stumbled back, hands held out before him. As David swung, he saw the dog from the corner of his eye. The dog looked wistful in its state of repose, perhaps waiting for a master that would never come back, or something else entirely.