It was an impossible choice. Kill or be killed. The sweat on the man’s brow. The gun quivering in one hand. So I did it. With a lunge and direct aim at his throat. He went down. Now I am here. Waiting for my day to die.
I was hoping I was up for the task. I’ve had a lot of training. How to fight. Judging the danger of situations. But I’d never been in a real world situation before. One that wasn’t a simulation or test. My greatest fear was that I’d tuck tail and run. Would I manage to protect my partner? Fulfill my destiny?
That day had been so bright, who knew things could turn so dark, so quickly? A morning walk along the beach, the sun warming every hair on my body, as perfect a day as any in Surfside Beach. Texas can get dang hot, especially for a guy like myself. Of German descent, I prefer cooler weather, but my partner loves the heat. Heather is fair and slight of build. The Nordic type. No matter how close I curl up against her, she gets cold during the night. We haven’t been together that long, but she moved me right in.
“Karl, you’ve got to stay on the couch.”
It didn’t take me long to slide into her bed. Heather is like that. An easy touch. I was very attached to her. We had our rituals already, like our daily walk.
I loved the feel of the sand in my toes, the water splashing around ankles. Heather was relaxing, skipping along beside me. A cry of delight when we saw some dolphins.
Then I saw we weren’t alone on the dark sand beach. The man didn’t appear to be a threat from a distance, the haze of the steam coming from the oil refineries giving him a fuzzy silhouette.
“Heather. I can’t live without you!”
He shambled towards us, the dark shadows under his eyes, the thin white line of gritted teeth visible as he got closer.
“Dave, I have a restraining order against you. Stay back!”
The panic in her voice put me on high alert. My muscle tensed and I kept a close eye on this guy. At least I’d answered one question. I didn’t feel like running…. yet. I was committed to protecting Heather.
Dave stopped and raised both hands when he was 20 feet from us. His arms looked spider-like on his tall frame. A rank smell of sweat and dirty clothes tickled my nostrils.
“Karl, let me deal with this,” Heather put a soothing hand on me.
I relaxed a little, relieved. What was the correct protocol with a desperate ex-boyfriend? I wanted to charge into the water towards the carefree dolphins, escape this tense situation.
“Heather can we just talk? I was crazy before. I’m much better now. It won’t happen again. I love you so much, you are the most beautiful sweet woman. I want to deserve you,” Dave took a few more hesitant steps towards us, his runners getting soaked by the surf.
“How can I trust you?” Heather asked.
There was a higher pitch to her words, making me wince.
“One more chance. I swear you won’t regret it,” Dave let a winning smile crack his face, his voice deeper, more reassuring.
My whole body trembled, I hoped she wasn’t going to trust him. I could still smell that rank desperation. That lopsided grin wasn’t fooling me.
“Let me think about it. I’ll call you later, okay?”
I recognized the tone. It was the one when Heather used when talking about having ice cream at midnight. She knew it wasn’t a great idea, but we’d do it anyway. I growled at her. What was she thinking?
“Okay beautiful, I’ll look forward to your call,” Dave paused to pick up a shell from the beach.
Heather and I walked back towards the car park, the town of Galveston shimmering in the distance. We normally went further down the coast, but I could tell she wanted to get off the beach. Dancing a little, I grabbed at her hand, relief making me giddy.
“Heather! Can I at least have a hug? I really need one,” Dave’s shoes slapping towards us on the wet sand.
Then he was on us, grabbing Heather in a bear hug. I jumped sideways into deeper water and cowered. My stomach wet with cold from fear and sea water.
I watched, frozen in indecision, but she seemed to be okay. Heather gave a little shriek and then returned the hug, her elegant fingernails patting the sweat-dampened back of Dave’s shirt.
“You’ve got your hug. Now let me go. I said I would call you later. I promise I will call you later.”
“Just let me touch you a little longer. I’ve missed you so much,” he tightened his grip, knuckles turning white.
Heather looked for me over his shoulder, her pupils wide and black. Her smell changed. Less like flowers and honey. More like rancid chicken noodle soup.
For a moment the weight of the water had me confined, I was being held by salt and insecurity. Then muscle memory and training took over, I launched out of the ocean and bolted to Heather’s side.
I growled and gave Dave a warning nudge. He immediately let Heather go and took a step back, “Hey big guy, I don’t mean any harm. Just a friendly hug.”
Still grumbling, I looked up at Heather. What did she want?
“Okay, you got your hug. Go now. Before I call the cops. Before I let Karl here teach you a lesson.”
The smile fell off of Dave’s face. Clouds passed over the sun, and now the day didn’t feel bright at all. The pollution bellowing out of the refinery, the dolphins gone, eau de fear overpowering the slightly fishy smell of the sea.
“Did you really think it would be that easy Heather? I’d just go away because you said so? I’m not some dog that does what you command. You’re the bitch, not me,” he pulled a gun out of the back of his pants.
I didn’t wait for a command. I jumped. Right at Dave’s throat. Training trumps fear. Breeding trumps fear. A German Shepard was born to protect.
Now I am going to die for protecting Heather. Turns out the gun wasn’t loaded. As I sit here at this kill shelter, my owner is in her own cage. We are both guilty of murder.
I listened to Heather pleading with the cops. Her lawyer. Many tears. So much salt.
Buying a specially trained protection dog; then siccing them on an adversary makes you guilty of using a dog as a dangerous weapon. Heather is charged with negligent homicide. Texas Law. Even though I was protecting my owner, in this state the penalty for killing a man is death.
It’s frightening in this cold cage, all visitors at this shelter condemned to a needle. The smell is not like salt or honey. It’s excrement, unbathed canine, rancid dog food, and urine. When I close my eyes, I see Surfside Beach. In my dreams, I take down Dave again and again. My teeth glinting as my body, heavy with sea water, lunges between him and Heather. I was up for the task. I had a lot of training. German Shepards are born to protect their owners. Now I will die for it.