Excerpt from Death, Be Not Loud – Copyright © 2000 by Gary Tillery



On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is a hangnail and 10 is life without parole in a Turkish prison for the criminally insane, a bad wine hangover rates about a 14.

You lie there stupefied, astounded that any creature could feel like this and still manage to remain alive. You endure the passing of each individual second, forever on the brink of retching, and any movement of more than an eighth of an inch threatens to hurtle you over the edge.

Hours plod by and there's absolutely no relief. Aspirin is a joke, and you worry that anything stronger could interact with the alcohol and kill you.

But around noon, you start considering it.

No afterlife you can imagine could be any worse than what you're suffering. So you begin to entertain the thought, to imagine death coming the way it did for Socrates, creeping up slowly and peacefully from your toes. Yes, that would be fine … just as long as it came peacefully … just as long as it wouldn't jostle you more than an eighth of an inch.

It was during such a hangover that Natalie informed me that she planned to file for a divorce. "I didn't know it would be like this, Jack. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. It's just—" I can still hear her whine "—I'm stifled…"

I have no idea why I started thinking about her again. Perhaps because it was such a gloomy day. Monterey brooded under a dense layer of clouds which gradually enveloped me as I drove higher up the slope of Huckleberry Hill toward home.

The low, sullen clouds brought to mind the famous first line of "The Fall of the House of Usher," indelibly etched into my memory from one of my literature classes: "During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone—something-something—as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher."

I found it somehow satisfying that terminal hangovers, Edgar Allan Poe and Natalie all occupied the same shelf in my subconscious.

I wondered what she would think of me now, with my new life and new name, Jack Savage.

Perhaps I should explain.

No kid likes to be called Jacob, and I attracted and tolerated all sorts of nicknames while I was growing up. The one I encouraged was Jack.

"Savage" came about because I like pizza. If you, too, have an uncommon name, you know that the pickleheads who take pizza orders don't really care whether they get it right or not. After spelling Savitch for the hundredth time, I gave up and said, "Yes, that's right—Savage." That was all it took. I never had another problem.

When I decided to hang up my shingle as a detective in Monterey, I thought of Natalie trying to track me down some day to say, "Let's forgive and forget," and I had the sudden inspiration. Two quick trips to the courthouse and I was a new man with a new name—one more appropriate to my new profession. (Nattie never did like my surname anyway, and insisted on hyphenating. Zielinski-Savitch … need I say more?)

Once I had assumed a new name, I realized that I had the perfect opportunity to create an all-new me. So I stopped wearing glasses and began using contacts. I put away my racquet and started lifting weights. I traded in my green Chevy Metro on a cherry-red Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. I even rented a townhouse up on the slope of Huckleberry Hill that I was at least a year away from affording.

Now, driving through the gray mist, I turned toward it off Monte Vista onto Sierra Vista.

It had struck me immediately, as Maria and her mother walked out of my office, that the thing to do was go home and put on a suit. If you look professional, people are more naturally inclined to take you seriously and answer your questions. And, I have to be honest and admit, it gave me an opportunity to drop in on Seymour. Most days, it was late afternoon before I got home to feed him and play with him. I imagined him going crazy to see me at midday.

Seymour wandered into my life just after I moved to the peninsula. He's a border collie with a half-black, half-white face that seems perpetually cocked to one side, as though he's quizzical about everything you say and everything that goes on around him. And intelligent—. You can actually see the light in his eyes. If they could develop an IQ test for dogs, I'm sure he would rank higher than two-thirds of the members of Congress.

I never did get a license for him. They wouldn't give it to me without a whole battery of shots first, and more to come every year, and the cost of it all was going to be outrageous. And like I said, he just wandered into my life—just came up to me from the direction of town—I don't know from where. It wasn't like I went to a pet shop and picked him out. So I bought him a collar and put a tag on it that said "Seymour" and that was good enough for both of us. He became my first friend in Monterey. My boon companion. My confidant.

Not that there wasn't friction between us now and then.

I learned very early about his egocentric personality. The first three days he stayed with me, I drove him down to the park at Lover's Point in Pacific Grove so he could run along the trail beside the ocean and terrorize the seagulls and ground squirrels. But once that three-day weekend had ended, I had to get back to my daily quest to find clients.

I guess it galled Seymour to be left behind that first morning—maybe he thought I had a little poodle on the side—because the second morning, after I had wasted five minutes looking for my missing car keys so I could leave, I heard a jingle behind me.

There they were, clamped in his teeth, and he gave me a challenging stare.

I'm a little embarrassed to relate what happened over the next twenty minutes. What began as gentle coaxing gradually escalated to harsh words, then threats, then eventually a manic, helter-skelter chase over both floors and in all six rooms of the townhouse. Several times I felt sure that I had him cornered only to have him elude my thrusting hands at the last second. The final indignity was lunging toward him in a closet with no way out except between my legs, and ending up with nothing to show for my effort but a few hairs under the fingernails of one hand and half a rack of those plastic covers you get back from the dry cleaner on top of my head.

To make matters worse, when I scrambled to my feet and exploded out of the closet with dogicidal intentions, I saw that he had meanwhile deposited the keys on the dresser exactly where I should have found them in the first place.

Such was life with Seymour.

Pulling into the driveway, I noticed an envelope taped to my door. I was hoping it was another case—a real one. But it turned out to be a Teutonic "Friendly Reminder" note from Kurt. Kurt is one of those landlords with a heavy-handed touch. You know, he'd never send you a birthday card, but if he did you'd be sure to find a double-meaning in the message that was his real point.

He really didn't need to go to the trouble. I had received and read his letter and duplicate statement the week before. And besides, I knew I was behind. I just didn't have the heart to ring up my mother for another "loan." Approaching thirty, you're supposed to carry your own weight. So I slipped his latest note into a drawer and put my faith in the future.

I went out to the back yard to say hello to Seymour, surprised that he wasn't raising hell. It only took a second to find out why. His leash lay stretched out on the ground with the gnawed end pointing in the direction of town.

Now I don't handle betrayal very well. Three days! That's all the loyalty I could count on. Three days after I switched him to canned food to save money he had bolted! I could not believe he would do that to a master he really loved.

Then I realized the obvious and bitter truth. It was abundantly clear. The mutt hadn't really loved me—he had simply tolerated me because I was so glad to have a companion that I worked him up from dog chow to grilled ground round in spite of the fact that I couldn't afford it.

Hell, I was eating macaroni and cheese four nights a week to cut corners. Who did he think he was?

Going inside, I slammed the back door so hard the windows rattled. I was really worked up. Then it dawned on me that he would be back. Who else would give him the royal treatment he now expected from me? Who else would make sure his ground round was cooked just the way he liked, medium-rare, and his blanket was washed three times a week using a double dose of fabric softener?

And who else would put up with his contrary attitude? Every night for two-and-a-half weeks I had patiently tried to teach him to sit up on his hind legs and beg—handing him a treat every time he seemed to come close.

That's it—sit up and beg. All I asked was one lousy trick.

He'd allow me to move his rump and feet around into the proper position, and then, as soon as I let go of his fore-paws and moved away, he would drop down into a standard sitting position and cock that black-and-white head to one side and look mystified.

Then one day—after more than two weeks of this—I happened to look into his eyes after an attempt and noticed a peculiar glimmer. It's hard to describe. Have you ever seen someone who is laughing hysterically on the inside but doesn't want it to show?


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