Avery was always taken with dogs. He had five of them at the moment, all projects that he could not let go onto other owners. Cats, he could take or leave, which was how they viewed people. Dogs though, they were loyal and he related to them in ways that he could seldom articulate to other people. Harlan got it, and he had been particularly taken with Buttercup, the Malinois that was the latest addition. Harlan would feed and walk them when Avery had work but the dogs respected him. Avery, they loved and feared in the way dogs do, which is the same thing. At a party for the launch of Harlan’s book, there was one incident that Harlan dined out on for months afterwards.
He once got into a serious argument with a woman who spoke proudly about how her labrador thrived on a vegan diet. Avery’s upper lip curled into a sneer and his bright blue eyes fixated on her with an intensity that made the ambient temperature of the room drop a few degrees.
‘Your dog is vegan?’
Harlan had looked up, concerned that the book launch was going to remembered for something other than his sparkling wit.
She had nodded, with the kind of certainty that came from choosing an ideology over the evidence.
‘It doesn’t thrive, ma’am, on a vegan diet.’
She had shook her head, looked around the room for moral support but found that on this one, she was on her own. Avery considered a polite withdrawal, but he had looked to his brother and on receipt of the wink, leaned forward to speak to her.
‘I bet you think that you using supplemented enzymes makes a difference, yes?’
She was, outside of her work, the ultimate vegan keyboard warrior, armed with a black belt in dank memes and razor sharp gifs. Avery typed with two fingers like a starving bird. She swallowed nervously, caught the scent of cedarwood and cinnamon that he exuded, and beneath that the musk of all that time spent with animals.
‘I mean vegetables are what, starch, cellulose, and carbohydrates? Your dog can’t handle that. Their pancreas doesn’t break it down into glucose molecules so it kind of sits there, fermenting like beer.’
‘When this stuff sits in Fluffy’s intestine, it not only irritates the lining of the bowels but also provides the perfect environment with plenty of undigested materal as food for bacteria. You’re killing it because you want to impose what works for you on something that can’t speak up for itself.’
‘That dog is going to die or suffer a greatly reduced quality of life in order for you to feel better about yourself. Last week, I got called to help retrieve a Rotty who’d been left in four square feet of concrete, surrounded by it’s own fecal matter. It hadn’t known a kind word all it’s life and the owner couldn’t look any of us in the eye.’
He fixed her with a stare that made her bowels turn to water. She was appalled to find that she would think about it later when her girlfriend would go down on her.
‘What you do is just as bad, worse because you seem like a smart woman and clearly you love your dog. Just do right by it, ma’am.’
That was the story Harlan would tell people if he asked about his brother. He left it out of the book because Avery had been through things that made for more sensationalist anecdotes.
Avery gave the same loyalty to his brother. His world was a simple one, aligned to a purpose that could survive anything.
Avery took the pack out twice a day. In the mornings, he would go over to the compound where they slept, just after dawn. He did so without complaint, and no matter whatever else was on his mind, the reaction he engendered from them was entirely it’s own reward. He would take them out once they had eaten, even when the prosthetic bit into his stump for up to four miles. To bystanders, he controlled them with a series of grunts and clicks, and it was one of Ogden’s miracles that he could control such a mix of different breeds, and how they would move the way a flock of birds does.
The evenings were a different sort of walk. Taken at night, and if anyone saw them, they would wonder why the dogs would still run in a column.
And why there were six of them.