They hanged Rudy in the morning. Strung him up and took turns shooting at him long after he was dead. Poor Rudy was too sick to care; he barely whimpered when they dragged him out to the big old tree by the dried up well and put the rope around his neck. They dumped his body in the well.
At least he was free.
Jack moved slowly over to the edge of the cell and put his mouth against the corner. It rained last night and a trickle of water continued to drip into the dark box. With the downpour last night, they’d gotten a kind of reprieve when the water poured through a crack in the cement and they were able to satisfy their terrible thirst. He didn’t know if it was a mercy or not. In the end, they were all going to the same place.
A few of the smaller ones looked like they’d only last a day or two more at best. Flies settled on them, and they were too weak to knock them off. They labored to breathe. Jack nudged one over to the corner to drink some of the healing water. He should have let him go, but it wasn’t in Jack’s nature.
That’s what made him a champion for so long, but even champions wore out eventually. He couldn’t last much longer. His bones ached and his empty belly rumbled. Sores covered his body.
He heard footsteps and drunken laughter. “Let’s get the big bastard.”
“I don’t know. He’s still got some fight in him.“
“Don’t worry. How much fight could have left? Anyway, it’ll make it more fun. That last one went too easy.”
“Idiot. He’s got teeth.”
The voices came closer, and Jack moved to the back of the cell. They wouldn’t get him without a fight.
He hated the men, especially the short, skinny one with the black hair. He smelled like blood and evil.
For a while he used to dream of breaking free, of running away, and no one would catch him. He’d be Lord Jackson again, the king of the track, fastest of the fast.
A rumbling sound in the distance made Jack’s ears prick up. A storm rolling in, maybe? At least the others would have another day of water.
“Oh shit!” The men stopped coming and started to run.
Cars came roaring into the compound, and voices shouted. When the cell door opened, Jack’s body trembled, and he felt himself fall.
Two women and a man came inside. “Oh God,” the one woman said. “It’s worse than I thought. Look at them, Marcia.”
The second woman was already picking up Daisy and brushing away the flies, “Poor baby, we’ll take care of you.” Daisy tried to raise her head. “Shh, girl. We’re here to help.”
The man approached Jack. “Hey, big fella,” he said softy. “Look at you. I won’t hurt you.”
Jack wanted to bite this human, but he had no strength. The man ran his hand down Jack’s side. “You’ve been here a while haven’t you?” He waited for the man to hit him, but he continued to pet him, his hands gentle. He pulled something out of his pocket a black rubbery thing that attached to his ears and had a silver bottom. He placed it against Jack’s chest. After a minute he looked up.
“How’re the others, Lisa?”
“Bad. Two are barely alive; this one is a little better. How’s the big guy?”
“I think he’ll be okay. He’s dehydrated and starving, but he’s a strong. I bet he was something in his day.”
“They all were once. All these beautiful dogs.”
Jack felt the man’s arms slide around him. “Okay, fella, I’m gonna pick you up and carry you to our ambulance. We’ll get some fluids and antibiotics in you, and you’ll feel a lot better.”
Jack whimpered in terror when the man wrapped him in something soft and lifted him, but the man was gentle as if he knew where all the cuts and sores were.
Blinking in the bright sunlight, Jack saw police cars and strange looking trucks. He saw other humans carrying greyhounds out of their cells and taking them to the trucks. Two men in uniforms stood with a third man by the well and stared down into it, their faces angry, but Jack didn’t see the men who killed his friends.
The man cradled his head against his chest so he couldn’t turn it.
The man said, “It’s okay, big guy. You’re safe now. No one will hurt you again.”
Jack wanted to tell the man he once was a champion, but he thought maybe the man already knew.