My Writing Portfolio

You are reading reading through my collection of short stories and poetry. No portions of this content may be used or published elsewhere, in print or digitally, without without my express permission.

© I. A. Phillips

Your Job or Your Morals

My heart quickened. My body froze. The stone-faced police officer was carrying a large animal carrier covered with his jacket. The unshaven officer trailed closely behind, emanating danger from his preemptive walking stance. From when they entered the store to when I lost sight of them in the cages I was too scared to move. I had just gotten used to dealing with customers, but these cops would be a nightmare to ring up. 

Lost in my plans of how to quickly ring them up, I heard a door slam from the back of the shelter. Scrambling to catch my thoughts, I became afraid of my boss, Mr. Hendrick, seeing me be unprofessional at the register. Suddenly I heard his explosive voice echo off the dog cages and cat boxes, too distorted to be understood. Associating his anger with my unprofessionalism, I rushed around the corner to the back to explain myself. As I turned the corner, I realized that the officers were nowhere in sight. Slowing as I approached the door, realization quickly dawned. Brutally reinforced by what my boss, now clearly, boomed. 

“You dare enter my shop with that diseased carcass! Chuck that thing in the trash where it belongs!” A few moments later, my boss spoke again.

“Well I had nothing to do with it, so get out!” One of the officers attempted to speak before getting cut off.

“Then come back with a warrant and an army, I’d sooner die than let you ransack my business!” Immediately afterwards, a loud slam ended the conversation.

Initially relieved that I wasn’t the one in trouble, I got nervous again when I realized Mr. Hendrick would scream me deaf for allowing customers into the back. Suddenly the employee door opened with the unshaven cop exiting. He looked surprised to see me. Quickly regaining his composure, he closed the door. I caught a glimpse of the stone-faced cop putting a large motionless mass into the carrier before the door shut. Now, even more unsure what to do, I continued to stand there shocked expression and all. As the unshaved cop approached me, his demeanor changed from intimidating to friendly, “How long have you worked here?” 

“Nearly two weeks.”

He looked a little relieved at that. “Why did you decide to work here?”

Relaxing a bit I responded, “I’ve always liked animals and on my way to class one day, I saw a help wanted poster. It just seemed right.”
“Do you know why me and my partner came here today? No? Well, have you met Mr. Gold? Old, round glasses, uses a cane?”

“I know him. He was my first customer. Ordered a big mastiff,” the officer’s eyes widened in surprise, “said he wanted a guard dog that would make any thief wet themselves.”

He quickly turned back towards the door, slamming his fist into it, his eyes still the same. “Jones! Get that thing out here right now!” Just as quickly, he turned back to me. “Now this is very important, would you be able to recognize the dog if you saw it again?” 

“Ya, he was very territorial here in the shelter. My boss taught me how to separate him from the rest, so no animals would get hurt. He didn’t even last an hour in a cage with the other mastiffs. One thing that was physically different about him was his missing ear, but if he didn’t have it, we could still tell him apart from his off-color front paw.”

The unshaven cop looked at me, then the shop windows before meeting me again. “Now I’m going to need you to look at something, something not easy to look at. Would you be able to lock the shop until we’re done?”

“I can’t do that. My boss says that I’m not allowed to close the shop. But, I’m the only employee, and customers don’t start coming until after lunch.” The stone-faced cop came through the back door interrupting our conversation. He looked at the unshaven before speaking. 

“We should have gotten a bigger carrier. It’s hard to put back in.”

“Well that’s the only one anyone had, so it had so make do. Anyway, this clerk might be able to help us. Take the thing out on the counter so they can examine it.” The stone-faced man grumbled as he dragged himself over to the counter. “This time, you’re putting it back in.”

The unshaven officer and I followed quickly behind. When we got back to my counter, I crossed around the register so I could get a better look. The unshaven officer looked at me. “Now, it’s okay to have trouble looking at it, but I need you to pull through.” He nodded at his partner who removed the jacket from the front. 

The first thing that hit me was the stench. It was so potent that I reflexively jerked away. The smell was like a mix of fertilizer and dried blood left too long out in the sun. When I looked back at the table, I saw its face first, if you could still call it that. The face was abhorrent. Even though there were serious scratches and a bite wound on it, you couldn’t look away from what someone did to it. Every feature of the dog was virtually cut off. This dog had no ears, no eyes, no nose, and no teeth; it was just a mound of flesh that could loosely be called the husk of a mastiff. While the rest of the dog appeared to have been spared the knife, it was not spared the tooth and claw. The back of the neck was torn and bloodied while the front legs had scratches and bites littering the skin. Thankfully the back portions of the dog seemed mostly unscathed.

“Dog fighting is ugly business, isn’t it?” The stone-faced man pointed at the back of the neck. “This is what did the dog in. From the looks of the scratches and bites, he was pitted against two smaller dogs. He probably did well to begin with. After the owner mutilated the face to try and make the dog harder to trace.” 

The unshaven man touched the dog’s back. “We found him in a trash bag in an apartment complex’s dumpster. He’s the seventh one we’ve found so far.” He leaned over and covered the head with the jacket. “We suspect that Mr. Gold is a dog fighter. We also suspect that this mastiff was bought from this store. Can you identify it as the one you sold to Mr. Gold?”

I looked back at the jacket-covered head. He had no ears now, so that was no good to check. His paws, however, were all relatively untouched by the carnage. I looked over at his left paw. It was light gold, unlike the other dark brown paws, just like the mastiff I sold. 

“I told my mom about his discolored paws. She’s a biologist specializing in genes. I told her how it reminded me of my childhood cat. She also had a discolored paw. My mom was surprised that I found a dog with a discolored paw. She said it was super rare. I thought it was so cool that my first sale was of a unique dog. Now I regret it.”

The unshaven officer put his hand on my shoulder. “So it is him?” I nodded. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. This shouldn’t have been done to any dog least of all one I sold. “Jones, let’s put him back in.”

The stone-faced man moved the jacket aside. “Well, at least the carrier cuts off its stench.” As the officers were loading the body back into the carrier, the unshaven one asked one last question. “Now, I know that you’ve already done a lot, but we need a little more help. If you are willing to testify to a judge that you did sell this dog to Mr. Gold, we would have enough probable cause to get a warrant and examine the sales list.” He handed me a card with the police station’s number and address on it. “Please call if you decide to help.”

An hour later, my boss finally came out of the employee area. He had seemingly calmed down from the surprise police visit. He spoke in his gritty, loud voice, “Dev, if you see any more cops come into the store, I need you to tell them to leave immediately. They came in here accusing me of knowingly selling “fight dogs” to Mr. Gold, and I don’t want to hear any more of their accusations.”

“Didn’t I sell him that violent dog?”

“No, no, no, they accused me of selling him dog fighting dogs, you know? Like gladiator dogs. I have only sold him guard dogs, and that is what I will keep selling him, and you will too. He’s our best customer, you know. He likes us so much that he even keeps us afloat during slow seasons.”

I spoke without thinking, “How many animals has he bought?” Mr. Hendrick leaned against the counter, “Oh, maybe thirteen, fourteen?”

“Why does he need so many?”

“He’s always told me that he wants to have enough guard dogs to ‘release the hounds’ on intruders.”

“Are you sure that is what he needs them for?” Mr. Hendrick froze and looked at me. “Mr. Gold has been my best friend for a while. I won’t be hearing any more accusations coming from you, okay?” He scratched his chin with his hand, then looked back at me again. “You’ve only met Mr. Gold that one time, right? Well, he’s actually a really rich man. Has this huge mansion on the other side of town. He came over to my shop a while ago, hearing that I sold quality animals. He ended up being so impressed that he kept coming back. We talked a lot after a while. Turns out, he really doesn’t need the dogs, but just buys them to have something to do and some goal to achieve. You’ll see that he is a nice guy next time he comes around. Maybe you and him will also become friends. Mr. Hendrick got up off of the counter then started to walk to the back. “No, more accusations and no more cops you got it? If you can’t follow those two things, I’ll get someone that can.”

The rest of the day felt longer than any other. I kept playing with the card that the police officer gave me. I didn’t know whether to help the police and lose my job or keep my job and maybe buddy up with Mr. Gold; college isn’t cheap after all. I ended up playing with the card for the rest of the shift. By the time I got back to my dorm, I still wasn’t sure what to do. My roommate wasn’t in when I came back around five, probably still out with their friends. I jumped onto our couch and decided to watch some T.V. to distract me.

Poetically or ironically, the screen turned onto the last seconds of a dog food commercial. The last frames of the advertisement were of a mastiff standing on a hillside running to the viewer before cutting to him eating the food. Seeing the commercial reminded me of the face I tried so hard to ignore during work. Now, it was the only thing I could see. I turned off the TV, got off the couch, and grabbed my phone.

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