February 13, 2012

The Midnighters: Black Dog

For over thirty years, Jerry worked as a police officer in Pittsburgh. In his time on the force, Jerry had seen some bad things, some worse things, and some downright evil things. Cleaning up when people got mad or got crazy was part of the job, but there were other things that Jerry saw, things that most people never see, things that prowl the night, things that refuse to die.

I interviewed Jerry several times in 2002. The following incident is just one of the many stories Jerry shared in hours of audio recordings. I have transcribed them just as they were told to me by Jerry.

“I remember this happened back in the ‘60s, I’m thinking it was ‘65 or so. Frank and me – that’s my partner, Frank – we were cruising down Penn Ave in Lawrenceville and it must’ve been almost midnight when we get a call about a dog.

“Now, Frank and me, we weren’t the captain’s golden boys any way you cut it, but we were cops – beat cops – and we weren’t no dogcatchers.

“Dispatch says they need us to go over to this house and keep things under control just until the dogcatcher gets there. They were having trouble finding him on account of he wasn’t at his regular bar.

“Well, we’re pretty steamed about it, but we go over quick as we can ‘cause dispatch says there’s a little girl involved. They ain’t ordering up any ambulance so we know she ain’t hurt, but we don’t want things to get outta hand.

“Nice little place just off Butler. Teenage girl answers the door and says she’s the babysitter. The mother is a widower, works nights at the hospital. So, this babysitter’s scared outta her wits, going on about a dog nearly bit her arm off. I’m like, I don’t see no dog, and she says it’s in the basement.

“Frank and me, we ain’t gonna down in the basement, we’re just gonna wait. So, I ask the babysitter, Where’s this girl you’re supposed to be watching, and she says, Down in the basement.

“Well, Frank is ready to haul the babysitter into the station, he’s so mad, but now we gotta go down there. The babysitter swears the little girl ain’t hurt or nothing but we don’t exactly trust her judgment on stuff anymore.

“So, Frank and me, we don’t know if we go down guns drawn or not. What if we shoot and hit that kid? Frank says it might be too late for the kid, but that dog has gotta be put down.

“We open the door and look down the steps, right? There’s a smell down there not like a dog exactly, but like a dead dog that’s on fire or something. Real rank stuff.

“We start going down those steps and I’m wishing I got the flashlight outta the trunk. I can hear a soft crying just like a little girl and it’s sad to hear but it means she’s still alive, right?

“Frank finally finds the light switch and we see her, this little girl in her jammies, sitting in the middle of the basement floor, all red-faced and crying. Frank goes to take a look at her while I’m covering his back and checking the shadows for this dog.

“Frank is talking to the girl – her name’s Val – and telling her it’s all right, asking if she’s hurt and tell us what the heck happened. Well, she doesn’t have a scratch on her and she finally calms down a bit and spills her guts.

“She says the babysitter tried to get rid of her dog or something and then it tried to bite the sitter. Now Frank and me, we’re thinking, this sitter is a nutjob for calling the police and letting this kid sit in the basement. Then I hear this scratching in the corner.

“I put my gun away and I’m all like, Here poochie, and laughing, and then I see these red eyes in the corner, right? And they’re not where a little dog’s eyes oughta be, they’re like five feet up the wall.

“Frank sees it, too, and he starts to draw his weapon, but he stops, I don’t know why. This thing starts to growl and it sounds like a bulldozer taking the house down above us.

“I do what I was trained to do and I point my freakin’ gun at it. Well, that was a dumb thing to do and what happened was this thing barked and right away my gun gets slapped out of my hand and it goes flying into the corner. Now, I didn’t see nothing even hit my hand, but something did just the same.

“Frank asks Val what she calls her pet, and she says, Spot. Cute kid, right? Anyway, Frank asks her where Spot came from. Did her mommy bring Spot home from the store?

“Val says, Oh no, mommy doesn’t know about Spot, mommy hates dogs and all this. And Frank asks again where did she find him and she says that he just followed her home from the park a few days ago.

“And Frank says, Which park? And she says the big one down the block with all the stones in it. Frank rolls his eyes and says, That ain’t a park, sweetie, that’s a cemetery!

“Well, poor little Val don’t know what that means but the Allegheny Cemetery is just a stone’s throw away and that sucker’s huge. Been there forever, too. Nice place for a walk.

“Frank explains to Val how Spot needs to go home, right? She gets it ‘cause she don’t want trouble from her mom and the cops at the same time.

“We all go up the steps and Val calls Spot out. The sitter is long gone and Frank and me, we’re just looking in from the next room, being all non-threatening like they say and everything.

“So, as this thing comes up from the basement, it looks like somebody turned the lights off. It was like a dog – dog-shaped – and it was big, right? But it seemed like it made the place darker just by being there, like it was sucking up all the light. It was so black you couldn’t look right at it, you could see it but you couldn’t at the same time.

“And lemme tell you, this thing’s head was huge but all you could really fix on was these giant red eyes – they were almost glowing like they were on fire.

“It came up to the kitchen with Val and it’s padding through the rooms as Val leads it to the back door and it’s not making a sound as it goes. It was like watching a shadow just slide away out the door.

“So, there we all go: two cops following a little girl in her pajamas and a giant dog down the street in the middle of the night. That’s my life, I guess.

“We get to the cemetery gates and Val goes through the motions of trying to get this thing to go, to leave, and it’s just as hard for a monster ghost dog as it is for a real one, I guess. Finally, this thing turns toward the cemetery and, of course, walks right through the gates like they wasn’t there and it disappears.

“Val’s kinda shook up but I think she’ll be fine. Now when we get back to the house, we find the dogcatcher, guy by the name of McNulty, drunk on the stoop. We tell him to go home but he’s riled up on account of being called out so late, so we tell him the story just to mess with him.

“This guy, McNulty, he cusses and spits, then he apologizes to Val, then spits again. He says, That damn dog don’t belong to you little girl, belongs to Satan himself. I seen him, too, on nights like this.

“Then Frank goes, I bet you see a lot of things when you’re looking up out of a bottle. Well, we sent that guy home but we had to wait for Val’s mom to show up. We told her how a dog got into the house and scared off the sitter and of course she bought the whole thing.

“That black dog, though, Frank puts it down in his files as a harbinger, and they say a harbinger means something else is coming, something bigger and badder.”

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