At first, Ben mistook the puppy for a bundle of wet rags. Then he noticed the tail swish as he slid the glass door open. Half his porch had flooded in last night's rains and water was still dripping from the porch of the unit directly above his. A dark pool of water sat in the curve of the old stain on the concrete. The sleek black puppy was curled just above the waterline. Its tail moved faster until it thumped into the water.
The splash must have startled it, because both heads came up. Ben stopped. Two puppies? Some jerk must have dumped them last night at the vet office in the shopping center just next to the apartments. There was a narrow zone of hip-high weeds between them, vestiges of a property dispute that went unnoticed in this ragged neighborhood north of Houston. At least it was puppies and not a giant snake.
At that point, it stood to shake itself and Ben realized there were two heads, but only one dog. They didn't seem to notice, both sets of large chocolate puppy eyes fastened on Ben. He turned around, went down the hall to his bathroom, and grabbed one of Jester's towels. He frowned. Sorry, boy. Miss you.
The puppy was already exploring the edge of the dining room carpet when Ben returned. It let him wrap the towel around its body and didn't seem to mind him rubbing each neck. No collar on either. Both mouths tugged at the edges of the towel. Once it was dry, Ben set him down. "Heckyl, Jeckyl let me get you something to eat." The names just came out.
There wasn't any puppy food, but there were several cans of the lamb and rice mush Ben had hand-fed to Jester after the cancer revealed itself. Ben had to crush his mouth tight to open the can and scoop it into the ceramic "J" bowl on the counter. He filled the matching water bowl and set both down in the kitchen.
Heckyl and Jeckyl ate and drank, dragging the bowls out so that they could edge around them and eat and drink in tandem. Ben leaned against the counter. "Shouldn't have named y'all. It's going to keep raining, though. Not a night for collarless dogs." Because of the vet or because of tenant complaints, the apartment had a zero tolerance policy for unleashed or unidentifiable pets. They spread rumors of coyotes and let the maintenance personal carry guns on property.
Ben got another set of dog towels and the pet gate that he'd used to confine Jester to the back bedroom. He set the gate up at the entrance to the hall, piled the towels in heap by the window and clicked his fingers for the pup. He--Ben decided on a singular pronoun for a singular dog--waddled over and pulled the towels over to the gate.
It was at this point Ben understood the gate might have been a bad idea. Heckyl and Jeckyl sat like a sphinx on the towels, their eyes picking up every green phosphor highlight in the watery morning light. Shadows curled on the wall leading to the bedrooms and the one bathroom and the hallway felt darker than it should be. The back bedroom window occluded by a shadow outside and, for the first time, Ben heard a low growl roll from the dog.
When he glanced down, he saw the growl was directed at Jeckyl, who was sniffing a rawhide bone he'd found under the table. Heckyl growled again and dropped his jaw over one end of the rawhide. Jeckyl barked and grabbed the other. Flames slid down the bone like saliva. Ben was reminded of the chemical fire they'd started in the shower at Sam Houston, trying to clean the dorm room in a hurry before someone's parents visited. He stepped forward, but the two of them seemed content to gnaw the flaming bone.
For the first time, Ben felt the tilt of the land toward the creek, despite being built up for the complex decades ago. Dark grass and a wet sky seemed to run toward the water and the lean of the land pulled at Ben. Heckyl and Jeckyl stopped chewing, dropped the bone, and walked over to nuzzle at Ben. He petted both heads, rubbed ears, and kept his eye on the bedroom window.
"Open your heart like a saloon door and something looking for trouble will eventually push in." Ben shook his head. That had been advice for his sister; bad advice, from a notoriously conservative grandfather, but it looked like Ben might have let it in. He looked down at Heckyl and Jeckyl. "Jester would have been game for a change. Welcome to your new home."