Tico's Story

     He woke up in the back seat as usual; too hot to sleep any longer. He let Tico out of
the car and checked to see if anybody was around, then pissed on the gravel next to the
car while he gauged today’s hang over. He wondered what it would be like to wake up
without one. The September sunshine was already hot and it made him more aware of the
fact that he could use a shower. He zipped up and fished out a smoke while he scanned
the park for Tico, who was watering a tree on the horizon. He folded his quilt and threw
it, along with the ratty old pillow, into the trunk of the Pontiac.

     Tico was a good dog. The Man had lost him once; he kicked him out in the snow for
crapping on the floor of the dirty trailer where they were crashing. The Humane Society
got him, fixed him, and made the Man pay $35 to get him back. None of which seemed
very “humane”. The Man had been glad to get him back. He felt bad about it, when he
allowed himself to think about it. It was good to have one friend who was your friend no
matter what stupid or senseless things you did. Even better that it was a dog. People
couldn’t be trusted.

     He flicked the cigarette butt into the gravel on the other side of the road. Tico was
sniffing around, he must have caught the scent of a mouse. The little dog was nuts about
mice. When he could get a hold of one he’d shake the hell out of it, drop it, and then act
like it wasn’t there. As if he were thinking, ‘Mouse dead, mission accomplished. Next?’
The Man was proud of him for that. Not for killing mice but for his ability to sniff them
out and catch them. The mouse must have escaped because now the mutt had given up
the hunt and was tearing back across the rest stop lawn to demand affection. After the
Man obliged Tico was off again in search of new smells.

     The Man was faced with the daily proposition of finding whiskey, smokes, and gas for
the Pontiac. He checked his pocket, only 37 cents. He only had enough weed to get him
stoned twice. He lit another smoke, 3 left now.

     He called Tico and the dog came crashing out from some bushes, as fast as his short
legs would take him and bounded into the front seat. The Man slid in as Tico jumped and
spun, nudging his head under the Man’s hand. The Man scratched Tico’s ears, chest and
belly, calling him a big dummy the whole time. He pulled a brush out of the pocket of the
tattered bench seat cover and then ran it through his long dark hair then checked it in the
mirror. Satisfied, he started up the Pontiac and he and Tico were off up the hill toward the

     The Man tried to shake off the hangover, or settle into it. It would be with him until
mid-afternoon no matter what but a few tokes from the one hitter would knock the sour
middle out of it. First he needed a shower. He took a right at the underpass and headed
towards that old bastard Delaney’s house.

     Delaney was reputed to be a fag and a child molester. One night last month Delaney
had had just enough whiskey and weed to get grabby. The Man put him on the floor with
a 6 inch blade to his throat and let him know that the next time Delaney tried some shit
like that would be the last time. Delaney and the Man hadn’t spoken of it since and the
Man would prefer not to be around the old freak but he needed a place to rinse the grime
off every few days. He pulled the rusted old Pontiac into the wide dirt lot behind
Delaney’s house.

     Tico jumped the seat and was gone into Delaney’s yard as soon as the door opened. He
was not two years old yet, and when he was outside it seemed he never stopped moving.
He knew ‘sit’ and ‘down’, and he would stay on command for a few seconds when the
Man threw a stick before tearing off after it. There was one trick that endeared Tico to the
Man; he really hadn’t taught him to do it, it just happened one day and they both went
with it. The Man would put the first two fingers of his right hand sideways in the dogs’
mouth, sort of hook them behind Tico’s canines and then lift him off the ground. The
Man could swing Tico around in a circle for a minute or more before the dog’s grip
slipped and the Man set him down.

     The Man walked under the big old weeping willow tree to the back door. He rapped
twice then pushed the door open, calling out “Hello?”, as he walked through the entryway
into the kitchen.

     A gravely voice answered, “Yes, up here.”

     Delaney came down the shallow steps from the attic which he rented out to single men.
He stood in the kitchen waiting for the feeble old man to make his way down. Following
Delaney was the attics current occupant, Tom, who’d recently been released from the
state pen again. Tom was about 40, and amazingly well preserved considering that he was
drunk all the time. Tom always acted the part of the bad ass even if he was stone cold
sober but after he’d had a few he liked to push people around and brag about how tough
he was. Just the sight of Tom’s weathered pretty boy face made the Man wish he’d gone
somewhere else today.

     Delaney shot the Man a shit eating grin, took hold of him by the shoulders and gave
him a few shakes.

     “What do ya know?” Delaney asked.

     The Man replied, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”

     “Then you marry one!” Delaney answered.

     “Sure was true for your wife,” said the Man. “How ‘bout a shower?”

     “Yeah, God knows you could use one. Tom and me was just gonna smoke one.” Tom
gave the Man a glowering look and a nod, as he walked around the corner into the front
room, “You in?” Delaney asked.


     “You roll then, I gotta call the exterminator.”

     The Man had a knack for rolling nice, tight, joints and so he was usually the one doing
the rolling and the bud palming. He never smoked his own dope with other people but he
was happy to smoke theirs. He would just as soon smoke alone out of his one hitter.
Tom sat with his best bad ass look on his face and a Bud Light in his right hand, slowly
rocking in Delaney’s old recliner. The bastard always had a beer in his hand. The
Man settled on the couch and fished under it for the old Camel cigarette tin containing
Delaney’s stash. Furious scratching and whimpering sounds came from the back door and
the Man hollered for Delaney to let Tico in.

     The Man fished the baggy out of the tin and removed a long bud from it, breaking it in
half. He crumbled the half he hadn’t palmed onto the lid of the tin box. The stem of
the bud he removed and set aside, along with a few seeds. He did this slowly because he
would need a chance to stick the palmed bud into the coin pocket of his Levis. That
asshole Tom was watching everything.

     Delaney walked in, chuckled his sick old chuckle and ruffed up Tom’s hair from behind
the chair.

     “You’re about to get beat down,” Tom growled, twisting in the chair.

     “Anytime you think you’re man enough,” laughed Delaney.

     This was the Man’s chance; he leaned back on the couch and stuck the bud into his
pocket, careful not to break or crumble it. He did this in one smooth motion, which he
played out into a fake stretch. The joint was twisted up and burning a minute later.

     Tom belched and announced that he was going for another beer. Delaney spoke up and
said, “Well sure, I’ll have one Tom.” The Man was still feeling the after effects of last
nights fifth and the thought of beer made him queasy, so he declined the beer. Delaney’s
dope was a better than the shit he had in his pocket this morning and he was feeling like
today’s hangover might not be so tough after all.

     Tom kicked him back to reality. “Whadda ya mean you don’t want a
beer, huh?” he asked.

     The Man picked up on the tone in Tom’s voice instantly and was now on the edge of
the couch, “What the fuck do you think I mean?” the Man said.

     “You too good to drink my beer?” Tom slammed his empty on the table and stepped closer.

     “That’s right,” the Man said, standing up and stepping towards Tom, “not everybody’s
a drunk old fuck like you, in jail for beating on women! Go drink your beer and step off

     Tom took a breath and stiffened. He spoke in a quiet tone laced with venom. “So you
wanna play? If you think you’re ready let’s dance motherfucker.”

     Delaney interjected, “You two little boys take it out back! I mean it dammit! I don’t
want any of my stuff busted up!”

     “C’mon then little man, I’ll show you how we play.” Tom sneered.

     The Man was boiling mad, he looked Tom up and down wanting to beat on him until
he was an unrecognizable lump on Delaney’s floor. He looked up into Tom’s eyes and
saw no fear there, only a sardonic twinkle to match the tight smile on his face and in that
moment the Man was scared.

     “Puss,” Tom said, put both hands on the Mans chest and shoved.

     Tico had been on the floor watching the Man’s face. When Tom pushed the Man Tico
was on him in an instant, an eight pound mass of snarling fury directed at Toms left leg
just above the boot. The little dog jerked and tore and growled at that leg as Tom swore
and said, “Get the fuck off me you little bastard!” Tom’s kick sent Tico hard into the
corner of the coffee table. He got up and ran for the back door yelping.

     Now the Man’s fear was eclipsed by rage. “Son of a bitch!” he screamed as his right
fist connected with Tom’s jaw.

     Delaney was screaming “Outside! Outside!”

     The punch, though solid, had only pissed Tom off. “Let’s dance.” he growled and
grabbed the Man around the neck, put him in a headlock and delivered a blow to the
Man’s face while he drug him towards the back. Tico sat at the door and when the two of
them rounded the corner, the Man struggling and swearing in Tom’s grip, he attacked

     The Man renewed his efforts to break free of Tom’s grip and save his friend from
another vicious kick. He pulled free and it felt as if he’d left his ear behind but he called
Tico off then shoved Tom in the small of the back sending him flying out the doorway.
The Man ran at Tom, low and hard but Tom caught him and flipped him. He went
flailing through the air and his lungs emptied as he landed on his back. Tom kicked the
Man in the head just above his right ear. White light burst into the Mans vision and pain
ricocheted through his skull while he fought to get air into his lungs.

     He began to panic. He could hear Tico on the attack, if he didn’t call him Tom would
kill him. Anger surged through the Man at the image of Tico’s broken body in the grass
and he surged up off the ground. His vision cleared to a blur and his head felt as if it
would explode but a second later air finally came blasting into his lungs and he doubled
over, gasping. Tico darted in and out, dodging Tom’s boot, nipping at his shins and

     Delaney stepped in shouting, “Enough! You two knock it off!”

     The Man called Tico to him and the dog scooted over, keeping one eye on Tom. The
Man knelt down and Tico jumped on to his thigh and licked the Man’s face. At that
moment he loved that dog if he’d ever loved anything. He cursed himself for being too
much of a puss to kick Tom’s ass. For what he’d done to Tico, for how he had exposed
the Man’s weakness, for being all the things the Man tried to be and couldn’t; he swore
he’d kill Tom. The Man looked Tom in the eye as he walked past him, “You touch my
dog again you die.”

     Tom laughed but Delaney piped up, “That’s enough now! C’mon in and have your

     “Fuck you assholes and your shower.” the Man replied.

     He opened the Pontiac’s door and set Tico on the front seat. Tico watched the Man's
face as he got in and shut the door.

     Delaney shouted out, “You’ll be back sooner or later.”

     Then quieter to Tom,”You gotta stop that shit around here, I mean it Tom, God

     Tico pushed his way onto the Man's lap and settled his head on the Man’s chest. The
Man felt the little dog for injuries and tried to light a smoke with shaking hands. He
checked the mirror and side streets for cops as he drove. He slid two fingers behind his
ear to the throbbing goose egg wincing as pain shot up the side of his skull.

     He settled in to think. Tico jumped into the back seat. A fantasy came to life in his
mind ... He’d make Tom beg; make him say he was sorry for being a drunk old prick,
make him say he wasn’t so tough, make him say he was scared and didn’t want to die. It
was too hot to sit in the car in the sun anymore. The Man’s head hurt so bad he felt like
he could cry and the heat made him nauseous. He knew that the fantasy of killing Tom
was just that, fantasy. He knew he knew he would never get Tom no matter how much he
wanted to; he was too much of a pussy.

     He had a cheap cassette player in the front seat that took 8 D cells so the Man didn’t
listen to it much unless he sold a little more dope than usual or got sick enough of the
silence to risk stealing new batteries. There was a little juice left in them now, not enough
to play the Aerosmith tape, but enough to listen to the radio. Led Zeppelin played
Stairway to Heaven and Robert Plant sang, “…a new day will dawn for those who stand

     The Man settled into melancholy and sorrow, which always made him feel better,
like all his troubles were someone else’s fault. A new fucking day will never dawn for
me, he thought, no matter how long I stand. Shows what you know Mr. Plant.

     He took a left into Perry’s Grove where all the stoners hung out. Tico was going ape
shit, jumping from front seat to back and whining. The Man found a good spot in the
shade and parked. He walked over and took a long drink from the fountain. He walked
back and sat at the base of an old willow and closed his eyes. He felt better in the shade
with the gentle breeze blowing across his face and arms.

     He opened one eye to spot Tico and was just drifting off when he heard a car coming
around the bend into the park. He called Tico and turned his head to see who was
coming, hopefully someone looking for a little weed. It was that little peckerhead Ralph.
The Man was in no mood to listen to Ralphie’s shit today. He groaned as Ralph
shut off the engine.

     “Yo dude, how’s it hangin’?” Ralph said.

     “All right man, you?” the Man said.

     “Eh, you know,” said Ralph. “The old man’s on my ass about a job as usual, comes
home at lunch to bitch cause I’m still in bed. I tol’ im look, I’m getting -- holy shit, what
happened to you?” Ralph stared at the Man’s head.

     “You know, your mom got a little rough last night,” the Man replied.

     “Hey screw you!” said Ralph.

     “Maybe it was your sister, one fat bitch looks the same as another.” said the Man.

     “C’mon man, your head’s split open you asshole.

     The Man flinched and swore as Ralphie touched his head. “Do not touch me again
douche bag,” said the Man and rolled to his feet.

     “Look dude, maybe you oughta go have that looked at …” said Ralph.

     “Yeah, maybe I will alright” the Man said, cutting Ralph off, “bum me a smoke.”

     “Sure.” said Ralph. He tossed a crumpled pack of generics to the man.

     “Light 100’s, when you gonna start smoking real cigarettes?” asked the Man.

     “Hey at least they’re not menthols ya dick.”

     “Who the hell smokes that shit, fags and women, right?”

     “That’s right. Hey! My old man smokes menthols!” said Ralph. He thought about it
then laughed. “Yea, my old man smokes menthols.”

     Ralph needed some weed for a friend of his so the Man headed to Peggy’s for a bag.
He would net ten bucks from the deal plus he’d pinch a nice bud for himself. On the way
back to drop the bag off to Ralph he looked at the gas gauge then at the Texaco station
ahead. Some rich asshole’s truck and cargo trailer were parked along the first row of
pumps. He made up his mind and pulled in to the last row of pumps and scanned the
layout. The truck and trailer blocked the attendant’s view. The Man put the Pontiac in
park but left the engine running.

     There was nobody in sight now except for an old toothless guy who looked like he had
just crawled out of a dumpster. The Man told Tico to stay and hopped out, grabbed the
unleaded pump from it’s cradle, and lifted the lever while he flipped the hatch to the gas
tank and unscrewed the cap.

     He tried to keep it cool and move slow but inside his head a voice screamed ‘Come on,
hurry up! Let’s get this done and get gone!’ He waited now for the few seconds, eternity,
it took the cashier to reset the meter, ‘Lets go! Lets go!’, and the gas started to flow. He
watched the numbers roll by, 1 gallon. This was taking forever. ‘The dude with the truck
is going to come out, move that trailer, and you will be fucked!’ Two gallons, three. Four
gallons, five. If that dude with the pickup came out the Man had to split quick, but at least
he had enough gas now for a day, 7 gallons. The man’s eyes darted from the truck to the
store to the passing traffic. 9 gallons, ‘That’s enough! Get the fuck out now!’ 10 gallons.
’Oh for Christ’s sake would you just go! You’re clear now; no way you’ll get
busted but if you stay …’ ‘... Just a little more.’

     The Man’s gaze darted here and there, his adrenaline raced and his heart was
thrumming so hard he’d have sworn it moved his shirt. A little more, a little more. ‘You
are a dumb ass! Get the fuck out of here!’ 14 gallons! Holy fuck. He slammed the lever
down to the off position and dropped the pump into its cradle while he spun the cap on.
He slid into the car, Tico in his lap and he was rolling down the highway. He eased up
to the speed limit, adrenaline rushing so fast it made him feel high. He checked the
rearview mirror for pursuit. Holy shit! He was high. Gas for a week, weed in his pocket,
plus a fifth of whiskey in a new paper bag would soon replace the empty under the seat!

     On the way to the liquor store he stopped and bought 2 packs of smokes, three hot dogs
with all the extras and filled his mug with Coke. He grabbed 5 pieces of jerky and stuck
them into his pocket. He gave Tico a piece of the stolen jerky. The Man wolfed down two
hotdogs on the way to the liquor store and finished the third in the parking lot.

     He walked to the cheap whiskey and grabbed a fifth. The Man always felt a sense of
foreboding when he was in the liquor store, like something bad was gonna happen. He
just couldn’t tell what, or from where, or by who. Funny, that feeling, because he always
felt just fine when he got outside and put that bottle in its place under the seat.

     People were all assholes. Why does a guy have to freak out if you don’t want a damn
beer at 11 am? Why was he living in his car? People are all assholes, that's why. He pulled
the dog close to his body and said, “Fuck ‘em all Tico, we got each other, right? So fuck
’em. Like the golden rule says, ‘Fuck unto them before they fuck unto you. Amen.’ ” He
felt the adrenaline and the hate flow, basked in it while he scratched Tico’s head.
Visions of pay back for all the people who had ever hurt him flowed through his mind.

     He drove for a while, surprised when he realized he had driven to the foothills above
town. He let Tico out to run through the dead weeds and pulled the fifth of whiskey out
from under the seat. He could smell its sour, cheap odor before he‘d broken the seal.
Soon he tasted it for real and felt its warm fingers creep up his stomach. He chased it with
a gulp of the soda from his mug, and looked down on the city full of assholes. He felt
good and after a couple more shots of whiskey he felt abso-fucking-lutely invincible.

     He was on top of the world and deep down he felt—knew that he was better than those
assholes, all those assholes down there that kicked his dog and kicked him and kept them
down. He’d get his shit together; they would not be able to keep him down forever, oh
no! They wouldn’t always have to live like this, ‘cause he would get his shit together and
get a place. A place with a yard where Tico could run and the Man wouldn’t have to
worry about him. A yard with a fence where they were safe and could sit out on a night
like tonight and the Man wouldn’t get shit faced. He’d just have a couple of drinks to get
mellow and he and Tico could play fetch and then watch the sun set.

     The Man sat there for a while, alternately dreaming this dream that never came true and
thinking of all the assholes like Tom. Tico had jumped back in the car and slept next to
the Man as he absent-mindedly stroked the dog’s head. His bottle was half gone and his
Coke was mostly melted ice by now. He got out to take a piss and lit a cigarette off the
butt of the one he’d just smoked while Tico watched from the seat.

     Then he got the old Pontiac headed back down into town. It was dusk and he
needed to get to wherever they were going to sleep. It wasn’t good to be driving around
town drunk with no license and no insurance. Of course he’d driven around town drunk a
hundred times before but still, it wasn’t too smart.

     He refilled his mug at a convenience store and was thinking of going back to the rest
stop for the night when he remembered his cousin Jim. Jim had scammed the Salvation
Army with a sob story of poverty and an injured back and they had put up the money for
one month’s rent in a shit-hole apartment. He had told the Man to come and hang out for
a while and since Jim knew that the Man was living where ever, he could even have the
couch. The whiskey was really going down easy now and he thought that maybe he could
put up with Jim’s shit for one night.

     It was dark and all the spots in front of Jim’s apartment were taken so the Man
parked across the street. As he was rolling up the windows he heard loud voices and
laughter from up the street. ‘Assholes’ he thought. Tico was whining to get out and the
Man said, “All right, all right. Hold your horses.”

     He opened the door and Tico leapt over his lap and tore across the street to sniff at the
evergreen bushes. The Man took another hit from the bottle followed by a slug of soda
and lit a smoke as he stepped out of the car. Down the street someone had started up one
of those big Japanese crotch rockets and revved up the motor. The sound of their laughter
and the sound of the motor cycle pissed him off, probably because these were just some
more of the same old assholes that he had been hating and drinking at all night, and this
asshole had the cash to by one of those expensive bikes while the man lived in a shitty
old Pontiac.

     He stood there staring down the street, listening to the bike’s motor roar. He started
across the street as the rider of the bike jammed it into gear and pealed out down the
street toward him. He looked and thought, ‘Fuck you, little rich mammas boy asshole.’
Then he stopped dead in the middle of the road and waited for the bike in defiance.
The Man caught the flash of motion that was Tico out of the corner of his eye as he
stood there in the street. Everything entered slow motion mode, like some nightmare
filled with monsters only, hard as you try, your arms will not move to hit the beasts as
they overtake you and … Tico ran across the lawn toward the Man in the middle
of the street and the bike raced toward him. It came on so fast, too fast.

     “Tico no! No, stay there!” He motioned with his hands and yelled for the dog to stay
there, but with all the cool little tricks the dog knew the Man never did teach him to
stay in a situation like that.

     Tico ran all out now, like he thought the Man was calling him over. The Man took two
steps back and even though he saw with perfect clarity how it was all going to time out,
he still couldn’t believe that it was really real.

     The roaring motorcycle’s front tire ran over the middle of his little dog’s body with a
sickening thump. Brakes squealed as the rider laid the bike on its side and a shower of
sparks fanned into the dark night air as metal scraped pavement.

     Then, as if he was going to be all right, Tico jumped up and ran full speed between
two apartment buildings and into the alley beyond. The Man had a moment where he
allowed himself to think that maybe Tico would be OK, even while a different voice
screamed at him that Tico’s small body couldn’t be OK after that. The terrible yowling,
crying sound Tico made as he streaked off into the dark testified to the truth of that
screaming voice’s words. Tico was most definitely not OK.

     The Man stared after him, frozen to the spot. He couldn’t believe that the dog had run
off after that but he’d seen it with his own eyes hadn’t he? Finally, he made his body
move to run after the dog; a hundred thoughts raced with him. Maybe he could take
him to a vet and they could help him even though the Man had no money. Maybe he
wouldn’t find Tico’s lifeless body in the gravel as soon as he turned the corner into the
alley. He searched the alley and called for Tico.

     The woman on the bike had given him a flashlight and apologized over and over
but the Man hardly heard her. He searched for hours, hoping, trying to ignore the
whispering voice that jabbered in his head. Visions of his friend suffering and dying,
scared and alone in whatever dark hole he had hidden himself in, tortured him as he

     He came back to the Pontiac and slumped on the curb with his bottle. As he opened it,
his ragged sob sounded into the night and tears rolled down his face.

     The voice in his head told him that he was the asshole. If he just hadn’t stood in the
fucking street, if he’d taught Tico anything that meant anything…

     When the bottle was empty and his tears were dry he went up to Jim’s apartment. He
never saw Tico again.

M. L. Nichols lives in Eastern Idaho with his wife and six children. Told by his sixth
grade teacher that he had a talent for writing he assumed she told everyone that and
moved on. He now finds that he enjoys writing and hopes that his teacher was right.

© 2006 Underground Voices