“C’mon ovah ta hyah, Russee,” the Old Man said, his put-on accent so cloying he didn’t sound like he was speaking English at all. He used it when he was talking to the dog. “Wachoo gots dere?”
The dull-witted animal waddled over to him, brown tail gyrating happily. Rusty was a giant mutant daschund with a long thick barrel body and the longest, constantly hard and showing-pink doggy dong that I had ever seen in my life. His one and only trick, self taught, was to air hump while lifting his head and emitting a stomach-churning moan/howl until he ejaculated. We tried to put him outside during his performances so he wouldn’t soil the rugs in the house. I had to hose down the patio every day or it glistened like a slug trail. Granny generously declared that he was a difficult pet to love. Only the Old Man found any charm in the dog at all.
He reached under Rusty’s chin. “Look! Rusty done found money.” he said, holding out a moist paper rectangle. It was soaked in dog spit, but it was a twenty dollar bill.
“Damn. I hope that mutt didn’t eat your wallet.” I looked at the dripping money while it dangled from the Old Man’s fingers and suppressed a laugh because he would know it was at his expense.
He reached into the dog’s mouth with his other hand and poked around. “Nothing. He ain’t chewed no leather.” he said turning his head towards the kitchen. “Granny! Get me my wallet!”
Rusty sat with a thump and began licking his nether regions, his tail still wagging madly. This was the precursor to his special trick and most of the family took it as warning to have something pressing to do in another room. He would quickly become aggressive, snarling and snapping at everyone who tried to stop him until the climax of his trick.
Granny came in the living room and smacked my grandfather on the shoulder with his wallet. “You stop that dog from doing that right now or put him outside.” she said, placing her hands on her hips and taking a step back. Rusty stopped licking himself and stood up. He began to cough and gag.
“Hyaaack.” There on Rusty’s chin was another twenty dollar bill. He shook his head and the money hit Granny’s shin with a splat.
The Old Man stooped over and peeled it off of her leg. Same as the other, it was saturated with dog slime.
Rusty twirled a few feet, like he was chasing his tail. “Hyaaack! Hyaaaaaack!” Two more bills lay on the rug in front of him.
“He’s coughing up money! One of these is a hundred dollar bill!” I said picking them up before he could try to re-eat them.
Granny began clucking “Oh oh oh” over and over as the dog hiccuped and gagged out more and more cash. She ran out of the room and came back with a roll of paper towels and some old newspapers. “Here. Blot that money and lay it out on this newspaper to dry.”
The Old Man began dancing on his tip toes around the puddles that now contained bundled bills, bank rolls, thousands of dollars. “We’s rich! We’s rich!” he sang out like he had won the lottery.
Rusty’s cash cough came in spurts. Sometimes he just sat there looking perplexed until “Hyaaaaack” another bill appeared in front of him. A few times he belched deeply and a bank roll would fall out of his mouth. For fifteen minutes he vomited up thousands and thousands of dollars until he slowed down, coughing up a five, then a one, then nothing. He was finished. He keeled over onto his side, snorted, and fell asleep.
Granny and I mopped it all up and spread it out to dry. I counted as we went along, and it summed up to $117,000. The Old Man was especially happy and kept his song long and loud. The entire afternoon was miraculous. But there was a problem.
“Ugh. These bills smell like vinegar and sour milk. We should rinse them off instead of just drying them.” Granny said. She picked up two twenties and a fifty and walked over to the sink in the kitchen. “I’ll run these under the faucet as a test.”
The water flowed over the bills. At first, it looked like the detritus and flotsam of Rusty’s stomach would wash away cleanly. The money started looking crisp and new. Then the ink began to run and the money dissolved away like butter on a hot griddle, a harsh hiss of a chemical reaction cracking the air.
“Hey, maybe his stomach acids did something weird to the money.” I said. “Maybe we ought not to wash it. Maybe we should take him to the vet instead.”
The Old Man stopped his jig in mid-step. “We ain’t taking that dog to the vet. He’s a money dog! You know, like that gold goose story!”
“That’s ‘The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs’ and as I remember that story did not have a happy ending. They killed and cut open the goose looking for the gold and didn’t find any. And the gold they had changed to worthless lead.”
“See I ain’t got time for fairy tales, bud. This dog is a magic money dog.” The Old Man tensed and shook his arms at me.
“That’s got nothing to do with it! The dog has somehow eaten a large amount of cash and needs to go to the vet!” I got a little louder. “If we don’t go to the vet and cut him open, the money still inside him could dissolve just like that money Granny just ran under the sink!”
Granny looked at the cash lying all over the room. “Rusty’s an unnaturally large dog for his breed, but you know, I just don’t believe even he could have held this much money in his stomach and still had room for more.”
Hearing Granny say his name, Rusty opened his eyes and thumped his tail. I heard a little fart sound and then a clink of coins. The dog got up and behind him spun a sleeve of quarters. It rolled over and touched the Old Man’s work boot.
“Holy shit! Money Dog is crapping coins!” he said, turning purple with excitement.
I could see the wheels grinding in his head. The dog had produced thousands of dollars barfing up bills through his mouth. Now he was farting change. His frequent and scattered bowel movements had rendered the backyard virtually unusable. It was a minefield of dog mess from a few feet off of the patio. No one except my friends and me (too busy getting high to care) wanted to sit at the wooden picnic table that overlooked the befouled lawn, so the area became Rusty’s dogdom of crap. The Old Man gave me a knowing look and jerked his head towards the back door. I understood his intention immediately.
“Oh no, I am not going out there and sifting through dog shit for coins, Old Man! Forget it!”
“I’ll give you half the coins and a quarter of the money if you do it.” Granny spoke from behind me. “That dog is just as much mine as his. I figure I’ve fed that thing more than half the time, and I know I’ve cleaned up after it more than anyone else combined.”
“Hey I clean up that slimy patio every day! I deserve a third!”
Granny cocked her eye at me. “If you didn’t clean that patio off there’d be no place you could sit and smoke pot with your hoodlum friends.”
I sighed. “I still think it should be divided into thirds. And we smoke Salem 100’s, not pot. You think anything that’s not a Malboro is marijuana.”
She kept her eye cocked at me. “You’re too young to smoke.”
“Y’all shut up and let’s go find one coin and test it afore you go and dig through a pile o dog mess,” The Old Man said. “Best run it under the sink just like that paper money. Maybe it’s gonna sizzle like a griddle too.”
It was late afternoon, almost dusk and the shadows in the back yard were deep. I had a long shoe horn I picked up from the porch and plans to use it as an instrument to look for coins. The Old Man’s flashlight swung on a nylon cord from his wrist. We wouldn’t need either of them. All over the back yard were shining piles of gold, with the occassional quarter stuck here and there, a few other silver coins lying like confetti around the brilliant lumps.
“Jumpin’ Jesus! Would ya look at that!” The Old Man stood stunned a second then began his lottery dance anew.
Wondering how I sat out there so many times and missed the mounds of gold, I poked at the nearest pile with the shoe horn. It was hard and gave a metallic clank along with an incredible stink, like ten days in Rusty’s intestines. I shouted at the Old Man to be heard over his We’s Rich song, “Hey! These things all smell worse than the money in the house does!”
He bent over a golden pile and took a whiff. He didn’t have to breath deeply. The stench was fecal and intense, the malodor of ten turds in one. He picked it up with the handkerchief he kept in his back pocket and walked over to the outside faucet, holding the cloth well away from his face. He creaked the handle open and stuck the gold under the running water. It didn’t sizzle or dissolve. It smelled worse and stronger each second that it was being rinsed. It took the Old Man a moment to realize what was going on before he flung it back out into the yard.
I looked at him, mouth agape, silenced by the heavy atmosphere of sewage. He coughed once and we both trotted back into the house, gasping for clean air.
“Now what?” Granny asked the Old Man. She had dried some of the cash with a hair dryer. It sat in sour, wrinkled stacks on the kitchen counter as she spread out a few more to be done.
“That dog laid some gold turds that stink worse than this money,” he said. “They all stink worse if they gets wet. Smells like shit.”
“Well, that makes sense, I guess, since it came out a dog’s backside.” She went back to drying the bills as if this was part of her daily routine. She fanned her hand at me “I’ll finish this and you go scoop up those gold nuggets.”
“Butt nuggets,” the Old Man said into his hand.
Over the next couple of hours, I shoveled the golden shit into a sack. A big glob of Vicks Vap-O-Rub under my nose didn’t help with the smell, and I could still taste crap in the air. I took the gold inside and put the sack in the back of the garage with the fertilizer. Granny finished drying and ironing the money which still smelled strongly of vomit. The Old Man tried to feed the dog different things he believed would turn to gold in the animal’s system. He sat in a kitchen chair tempting Rusty with pens, coins, his watch.
We all went to bed late after spending hours holding noses, re-counting, and attempting to clean the money. Granny and the Old Man were already awake when I walked into the kitchen early the next morning. The odor from the money and gold was incredible and seemed to seep throughout the house and garage, even into the walls and carpet.
Granny sipped her coffee, clothespin firmly clenched over her nostrils. “I think I’m going to Walmart and get us a new washer.”
The Old Man lifted the bandana tied over his nose and mouth and took a swig from a bottle he had hidden beside him under the table. “It ain’t a good idea to go round flashin’ cash. Tax man’ll come and take it all away, stink or not.”
“They aren’t going to care down at Walmart where the money came from anyway. And people pay for big TV’s and stuff all the time with cash. It’ll be fine if we don’t overdo it.” I said.
Granny nodded. “And that big TV would be for who, mister? I said I was going to get a new washer.”
We gathered up a few thousand dollars and put it in a brown paper bag, the kind made to carry lunch. We left Rusty at home, locked up humping oxygen on the back porch, in case he produced any more wealth. On the way to the store, the smell from the money in the sack filled the car. It hung like a fog around us as we crossed the parking lot and went into the gigantic building and over to the TV and appliance section. I found an flat screen plasma set I liked while Granny cooed over the front loading washers.
The Old Man held the sack tightly to his chest while we shopped. The stench began to capture other shoppers’ attention; several people stopped to smell the air and make rude, screwed faces at us. A manager came up behind us and tapped the Old Man on the shoulder.
“Sir, is there something that you brought into the store that is making that awful smell?” he said, distress and distaste in his eyes.
“Is there a problem? Our dog ate our money and spit it back up. It’s nothing we can help.” I butted in, hoping the nebbish little man would go away.
The Old Man held out the sack and gave the manager a peek into the contents. The man winced when he leaned over to look. The smell hit him like ammonia.
“Ugh. Too bad. You should use a credit card instead. That smell is really awful! It’s driving customers away!” He choked out the words through the thick, clinging stench.
“We could but we don’t have a credit card, you little assh-”
“My my my we are sooooo sorry to create any inconvenience for anyone, sir!” Granny diplomatically interjected. “We’d really like to pay for our merchandise and be on our way.”
The manager turned his head towards her and said through a clenched-teeth smile, “What makes you think we are going to accept odiferous bills like that? Now get out of the store with whatever that is before I call the police!”
The walk back to the car was long, and the only extra thing to accompany us was shame, and of course the cloud of foul odor. Everyone had stared at us like we were lepers as we left the store.
“Well, I can never go back to Walmart,” Granny said, her voice sad, almost crying. “They’ll always know us as the Stinky People.”
It was the same at every store. We would walk in with the sack of money and be escorted out a few minutes later, empty-handed except for a big dose of humiliation. Sears, K Mart, Target, Home Depot all had policies against store disturbances, and the money was a powerful disturbance.
Granny lamented the cash each time we came back with nothing but a putrid odor. “All the money in the world to spend and we can’t even buy gum,” she would cry. “It might as well be mulch!”
The Old Man and I took the gold turds to every pawn shop and gold dealer within a fifty mile radius. They were even more difficult to try to sell. No one believed that the things that smelled like excrement could possibly be gold. The lumps not only smelled worse if they got wet, they ripened even more as they aged. As soon as he opened the Tupperware container with the golden crap, the store owners would chase the Old Man out, one even spraying air freshener over his head as he ran my grandfather out of the door. I didn’t laugh, mainly because I really wanted a big TV.
Frustrated, the Old Man buried the gold in the back yard. He planted a garden and grew big, prize-winning beefsteak tomatoes in the enriched soil. Granny used the paper money to fertilize a little herb garden over by the garage. I was glad the gagging smell was gone. The dog went back to his debauch life. We didn’t learn what made the money start or stop, not knowing where to start asking questions. Or even the questions to ask.
Rusty never brought up any more cash or shat out any more gold and coins. Once, months later, he did come into the kitchen at dinner with one last act of alchemy. He grunted and strained, then pooped out a gold Timex watch, clean, in working order, and odor free, on the floor in front of the Old Man.