Tilla had left all the window to her apartment open to help dry the floors. She had been lucky. Home at the time of the tide-driven surge, only mere inches of dirty sewer and seawater had made its way over the top step into her place. She'd had time to get things up off the carpet. Pulled all the books from the bottom shelves to the top. Picked up all her shoes and Kip's bedding, piling everything on the dining room table. The carpet, which was shitty in the first place, was doomed, as was the couch and love seat. The frilly plaid skirts carrying the rank water up into the padding. She was sick of that old shit anyway.
Kip whined behind her on the stairs where she sat and smoked her last Kool. "You can sleep on my bed tonight. I'll be up a minute." There was nothing else to do until daylight.
The stench woke her. Kip would roll in dead fish any chance he got so she rarely let him run off leash, at least in the park. Kids would catch catfish or bream and leave them dead in the grass. The mutt acted like the corruption was manna from heaven and would drop his body on the oozing carcasses and roll, gumming up his white fur with fish scales and rotted flesh. Then he'd rush her and jump into her arms as if he was bestowing heaven's blessings.
Now he was jumping around on the bed, his leash in his mouth. "Relax, relax. I'm coming. Lemme pee first or we'll be fighting over the first hydrant we come to. She threw on shorts - it was already hot out - and a tank top. "What is that fucking smell?" she yelled as if she expected Kip to confess to something gross.
At the top of the stairs, she remembered the mess waiting for her down in the living room and kitchen. The filthy carpet had lifted off the floor and appeared to be floating a few inches below the last step. The cheap, vinyl kitchen tiles were all curled up on the corners, the points sticking out of the muck. She dug her rubber boots out of the closet, shook them out for scorpions and crammed her bare feet in. Kip was dancing from one foot to another by this time.
He nearly knocked her down the stairs and she gave up any hope of leashing him as he dashed out the open front door, dog-knee deep in filthy water. "Fuck me!" Tilla cried. She'd forgotten her briefcase on the floor beside the couch.
It was floating in the middle of the living room, barely breaking the water, the bloated leather shiny and dark. Her cell phone and charger were in there.Two mice rode calmly on the leather island but abandoned ship as she splashed across the room to see if she could salvage any of the contents. She could barely lift it onto the couch it was so sodden and didn't even bother opening it. She sighed and headed for the door. Kip could be on his way to the next county by now.
Her neighbors across the way had fared no better. Thier basement apartment was mostly underwater, but they had rented a U-haul the day before and moved just about everything they owned into the 24-foot box. The water in the street was to the wheel rims. Rupp and Martin were sitting on their kitchen chairs in at the back of the open box, tuning up. Rupp played the cello and Martin the viola.
"Humidity will be raising hell with your instruments, boys!" Tilla snarked. Crazy assholes played at all hours of the night with little regard for the neighbors. She didn't care if it was fuckin' Chopin or Mozart, they woke her up whenever they got a craving to saw and she suffered for it the next day. At least, now, it looked like they would be moving out and taking the noise with them.
"Rentals!" Rupp crowed. We put the real ones in dry storage at Marty's mom's place last week. Already got an insurance claim in on the poor darlings, lost in the storm they were." He rolled his eyes and bowed a few out of tune bars of the funeral march on the much-abused instrument, his gift still shining through, and Marty took up the dirge.
Tilla didn't bring up their impending move, just in case her mentioning it might encourage them to feats of heroics about saving their place. They were committed, the truck packed full. All that shit and no place to go.
"Have you seen Kip? He took off a few minutes ago."
Marty pointed down the block with his bow. "White dog on the full-tilt boogie for points east."
"Thanks". Kip was headed to higher ground, straight for dead-fish heaven in Audobon Park.
As she trudged through the water, Tilla was intrigued by the detritus that had made its way out of homes and cars in the hours since the flooding peaked. Unopened bottles of beer, a clear plastic bag with what might be a pound of weed inside, A plastic tube filled with sneakers. Trash and treasure. Discerning pickers with trash bags were already making their way down the block taking the best and leaving the rest.
She thought about the open door to her place and decided that the presence of Ruff and Martin would be enough of a deterrent to anyone bound on thievery. Besides, they'd take one look around at her place and pass. She didn't have shit worth taking anymore. She'd gotten rid of most everything in anticipation of her move uptown. Now, she'd have a truly fresh start even if meant sitting on the bare floor in the new place until she could afford some furniture. Tilla always found a way to make lemonade out of whatever shit fell from life's tree.
That awful smell was getting stronger and she recognized death as a base note. She picked up her pace and made her way through the arched gates. In the distance, she could hear Kip barking. It was his "Hosannah on the Highest! here's a roast beef sandwich with nobody looking" bark and she smiled. He wasn't one to go looking for trouble and was never aggressive with strangers. A good dog. The fountain was going, arcs of yellow-green water blowing out across the stone plaza unevenly, as if the jets were clogged with something. There was Kip running in circles around the fountain. He had something in his mouth, a rubbery-looking log or something. He stopped to shake it like an old sneaker and chunks flew off.
"Kip!" she shouted "c'mere boy. What you got? Gimme, gimme!" Her enthusiasm fired his and Kip chased his tail in circles for a minute then headed her way at a lope, dragging the item now. It was bigger than she first thought. Heavier.
The big dog rushed her, his fur greenish with the tainted water that still sprayed through the air all around them. He dropped the log across her feet, a true honorarium. The hand was missing a few fingers. They had flown off with Kip's last vigorous shake, but there was no mistaking it. It was a big powerful, male arm, hacked off below the should by something brutal, the grayish flesh marked with a series of strange tattoos, all in blue, not colors. Symbols and ciphers Tilla had never seen, dead or alive. A hairy sonovabitch too. The wristwatch was a bad Rolex knockoff stopped at 130 am. She didn't want to touch it. It was evidence, after all, but Kip made like he was going to take it back and run. Till stepped on the fleshy palm and it squished under her boot. "Christ on a crutch, Kip. Thanks a bunch."
Every day in her job at the city morgue she saw death in all its guises. This was her damned day off and she was sure she'd be seeing the rest of this guy before many more days passed and so far, it wasn't looking like natural causes. She only hoped the power was on at the city office and that she's backed up her laptop at some point before quitting time on Friday. The boss was not going to be happy about all that wet paperwork and she was looking at a lifetime of overtime. Why not, she had no life.