A dozen donuts popped and sizzled in the deep fryer. As they floated into one another, Cosmo took out a pink box from under the light display, now empty of donuts, and with a pair of metal tongs plucked out each of the dense cakes, placing them side by side in the box.
Cosmo ran around the shop, closing cabinets, draining the center sink, sweeping the powdered sugar off the floor, turning off all the lights.
He grabbed his box of donuts and left for his beat up Toyota, where the tires didn’t hold air and the dents spread like polka-dots over the doors. Sitting in his car he stared at his shop. Holy Donuts was sandwiched between a hair salon and a Taco store. The sign looked back at him, a different colored frosting dripped off each of the Os in the name.
But his smile turned in to a sigh of discontent as he noticed smudges of flour dotting his baggy jeans and the smashed sprinkles staining his white shirt. It may have been a Saturday, but he wouldn’t be driving home to change. And he wouldn’t walk into his house and smell the fresh tortillas browning on the stovetop, or feel Maria and Manny, his two little ones, charge into his thighs after he walked through the front door, and he wouldn’t have the opportunity to lay out Manny’s white pajamas with faded green and purple dinosaurs as Manny bathed, or throw popcorn into Maria’s mouth during the movies they watched on Saturdays, if he was home, which meant he couldn’t cuddle Alejandra, his wife.
Cosmo, instead, had to hunt dogs.
And he wasn’t the only one.
He had first heard of dog hunting right after high school, when he was deciding whether or not to go into debt by attending college or pursuing his dream. He was washing dishes at the local Chipotle when, during one of the idle moments in service, Trey, his co-worker, mentioned working sixteen-hour days.
“They make you work that much OT?” Cosmo asked.
“Nah. I headhunt dogs after this. Brings in some extra cash. I use it to get some more food in the apartment.”
Cosmo never wanted to be in Trey’s position, which was why he chose to open Holy Donuts. Owning his own store meant endless amounts of money coming in, but what they failed to mention about dreams was that they don’t pay well.
Bounty hunting people was made illegal for civilians, leaving cops to do the work, which was okay with him, for he didn’t know if he had the capacity to hunt another human. But what he didn’t like was hunting dogs all afternoon. Sometimes all night.
He hoped today wasn’t that long.
Most times he was retrieving dogs that people reported lost on Bounty, the app where all the dogs were posted, returning them directly to their owners. Other times he was hunting Wanted Dogs which had nothing to do with local animal shelters seeking to get dogs off the street as one might expect, those were High Alert Dogs, but rather dogs wanted by owners, usually breeders or influencers.
Cosmo hated the Wanted Dogs. Too much unexpectedness mixed with a chance of getting hurt, so he kept to the High Alerts or missing, but after a negative month at the shop, he needed the extra cash. Rent was paid, but food was low, and his family had been using the same Brita for the past half a year and he was sure they had some sort of rust flakes floating through their bodies at this point.
There was a Wanted Pit bull he had seen on Bounty. The velvet hippo was rare these days. They had been banned not by the state, but by the people, as many shamed others for owning such a dog, with the breed’s inherent violent tendencies and all, people felt it better if no one was allowed to own a pit. Cosmo believed the people in charge of the social media algorithms were running a test to see how feeds influenced opinions, and it just happened they wanted to start small. A continuous feed of hate and fear toward the pit bull created community bubbles for people to police others. It made no difference in public opinion when the old leaders who hated pit bulls retired or died off. Citizens had written their own unspoken restrictions to prohibit the ownership of pit bulls and with the wealth of information that flooded people’s screens in a day, nobody did anything about those laws, they just accepted the new normal. In fact, the only people who owned velvet hippos anymore were social media influencers, as it farmed a certain nostalgia in people about the animal. They, the influencers, were the type of people to not face backlash for owning a pit. Well, they did, but paying the fines was nothing to them, and police had no problem acting like they didn’t see the post, which kept the breeding of pit bulls alive, despite not everyone being able to enjoy their soft skin, floppy ears, and soulful eyes that contained a universe of life.
Cosmo pulled into the dog park. It was always the first place he looked before he drove up and down the roads. The people at the park recognized him either from his consistent appearances, despite not being able to afford a park pass, let alone a dog, or from Holy Donuts.
“What you trying to find?” Hannah asked as he approached. She recognized him from the shop.
“Let me show you,” Cosmo said. She was on sitting a blue cooler with a white top, a cracked beer in one hand, watching the dogs play through her Ray Bans. “This.”
He showed her the screen.
He watched her welcoming smile turn into a mouth of concern.
“Here, have a beer and a seat,” she said, standing up and plucking a beer from the cooler. She closed the lid and made room for him. “Why would you want to find one of those?”
He took the beer and the seat. She was wearing a muscle shirt and her squishy, sweaty arm rested against his average bicep.
“It’ a whale,” he said.
“A shark, actually. You’re gonna get hurt trying to find a dog like that.”
He ran his finger around the aluminum top, avoiding the tab as he stared out to the open field where dogs ran around the large fenced in structure. Bright green trees stood tall and waved in the background. Owners tossed saliva saturated tennis balls and punctured frisbees while some picked up steaming piles of shit into black bags. Cream-colored labradoodles, golden labs, white and grey huskies, and dalmatians played without the need for toys as entertainment.
“It’ll be fine,” he said. He snapped the tab open and took a sip. “I highly doubt I’ll even run into the pit.” He was more concerned about whether or not Manny and Maria believed he was enough for them. This past month especially.
Cosmo remembered how he thought his dad never cared because of his lack of presence. And when his dad was in the house, he sat in his recliner, responding with nothing more than a grunt when someone asked him a question. It would have been better if he wasn’t there at all. The only way to get more out of him was if Cosmo took a shower before his dad did. This resulted in his dad yelling and screaming about what an ungrateful child he was. Cosmo froze in his tracks, unsure about whether or not to move further up the stairs. His mom sat there, not doing much of anything. “Just go,” his dad would say, waving his hand, watching the TV as his tirade fell to mutters, and the older Cosmo got, the more he understood his dad’s outburst. If his dad was yelling at him for taking a shower, he couldn’t comprehend what his Grandpa yelled at his dad for when he was a child. He was lessening the severance of abuse one generation at a time. Plus, his dad was probably exhausted, carrying the tiredness with him after a long day of packing semi’s at FedEx, and letting Cosmo take his shower before him was, in his own weird way, an act to show how much he had cared.
Cosmo just hoped that his two little ones forgave him for his absences when they were older.
“So you haven’t seen anything?”
“You really trying to find it, huh?”
“I need to.” Standing up, Cosmo finished his beer and handed the empty can back to her. “Which way should I head?”
“I don’t care. Just be safe. Oh, and here.” Hannah dug out a couple of dollar bills from her camo cargo shorts. “Buy yourself some candy.”
“Thanks, but I have donuts in the car.” Hannah jammed the bills close to him. Sighing, he took them. He let a smile out.
Bruce, Hannah’s mixed mutt, ran between Cosmo’s legs with such force that he fell on his ass. He laughed, laying out and holding his bald head. Hannah helped him up. They hugged and after giving Bruce a few good pets, Cosmo was off.
Dusk came on quick, like a wine hangover, and Cosmo still hadn’t found shit. Countless parks were patrolled, neighborhoods of apartment complexes and houses, usually ranch style, he didn’t have access to the larger communities, were scanned, and parking lots turned up what you’d expect.
The pink box of donuts he had taken with him as bait was running low, due to Cosmo’s inability for self-control, and not as a result of hunger.
Potholes covered most of the roads resulting in Cosmo having to pull into the Shell next to the highway to use their free air. And there he was, squatting down with the metal device pushed into the tires valve when Zack, another Hunter, pulled his lifted grey Chevy into pump number five.
Zack was an asshole. Dressed like one, too.
He wore all black: a branded tee shirt and symbol stenciled basketball shorts, shoes, and calf high socks. Oakley’s were suctioned so tight around his eyes and the side of his head that Cosmo, and he knew he shouldn’t be thinking this but just had the feeling it was true, believed that if they were to be removed, the sunglasses, what little dust Zack had stored behind them would spill out and never be replaced.
Cosmo watched Zack pump gas and was taken out of his staring by the beep that came from the machine, letting him know that his tire was at 36 PSI. Muttering to himself, he capped the valve and got into his car without making eye contact.
As he drove under the freeway, he reached for another donut, realized that there were only two left, and decided against it. This only made him more angry. After drowning out the synthetic pop voices from songs, Cosmo flipped to talk radio just to keep himself awake, but the preaching almost put him to sleep, resulting in multiple wheel jerks to get back into his lane, scaring, he was sure of it, the one unlucky car behind him. That left the wide-open window to keep him awake. Sometimes he made up his own songs, dancing his fingertips on the worn leather wheel as he sang out of tune and shuffled his shoulders.
But loneliness always set in if he searched for too long.
And today was too long.
With the radio off and the impromptu songs over, the only thoughts now being self-deprecating, Cosmo was numb. How long had he been driving this road? It felt like hours, maybe even days at this point… stuck on the same road, patrolling neighborhoods and forest preserves because that was when he had last saw a stray. Cosmo allowed himself to feel pathetic and defeated and all the stress of having lost when he couldn’t afford to lose.
How much longer? How much more will he need to keep doing this—this job? It was running him down and he wanted to act on his anger, show his frustration, but he knew people would never understand. He had his own business and a loving family, yes, but there always seemed to be forces working against him. He was raised to believe that he needed to work twice as hard as everyone else just be where they were if they didn’t try at all. And look where that’s put him: in a state of merely surviving, never really living, and someone of his status and complexion was to be grateful for being given that.
Fuck that, was what Cosmo thought, and as he pulled a U-turn at an intersection for the hundredth time this night, he saw it. The pit bull. The velvet hippo. It was in front of a thin line of trees that shaded a neighborhood. He swerved toward the dog with such intensity that the pink box jumped from the center council to his lap, spilling the last two donuts on him.
The pit moseyed along the tree’s edge, sniffing the ground. Cosmo parked on the road before he entered the neighborhood, along the side of the three rows of trees so that he could cut back if he needed to. He evaluated the situation. Peeking his head around the tree line, Cosmo saw the dog. Still huffing as they searched the ground for something to eat. Their hair was pitch black, and they had a pretty good amount of weight on them.
Looking around to the neighborhood to see where the pit may potentially run, Cosmo saw the first house. Typical starter home. You know the kind: a maroon wooden porch with chipped floor boards, bird feeders, mini windmills, a weedy garden section, no fence, and brown patches of grass, either from a dog using the spot same over and over to relieve themselves, or from the kids paying in the area.
And who should be here but Zack. His truck was parked in front of the house.
Cosmo parted from the tree he was hiding behind and came along the road, sticking to the curb. The pit was growling as they looked into the trees. He took out his hog snare from his belt, unfolding it.
The pit snapped its neck around and looked at a frozen Cosmo. It began to growl, a staccato bark dispersed in between the low tumbling. They took a step toward him. Cosmo noticed that the pit’s eyes were locked on his belt. He took a peak down and what do you know, a donut hung from the tail of his belt. Must’ve happened when he took that turn, now the circular delight hung there like some sort of mistletoe.
The pit stalked closer.
A branch broke.
The pit stopped and turned its entire body to the tree line.
There stood a frozen Zack, custom gold hog snare and all.
The pit killed its growl. There was no warning. It took off to his left, Zack’s right, in full stride. Cosmo watched as a whole ass paycheck ran away.
And there they stood, staring at one another. Cosmo with his back to the road, holding a cheap snare, a donut dangling off his belt. Zack opposite of him with a golden snare and what looked like Batman’s utility belt: pepper spray, cuffs for some reason, a bag of treats, cellphone, rings that he didn’t recognize.
It was a hard stare down for about ten seconds.
“How long have you been on its tail?” Zack asked.
“The past five days. Couldn’t seem to find them.” The only thing that moved was Cosmo’s lips.
“Huh. I happened to stumble on to it.” Zack tilted his head to the left. A crack rang out. “My daughter’s purity ball is soon, and I thought this would be nice to show off. Hell, maybe I’d even sell it for something better or let her keep it.”
“Neither of us will have it if we keep standing here and talking.”
They squinted at one another before craning their necks in the direction the pit bull took off in, and saw that they were just within eyesight.
The two refocused on each other.
It was like an imaginary timer was above them, for they both took off toward the dog. Cosmo’s donut hung in the air for a few seconds before falling to the ground.
Most of the sprint they were apart, with Zack ahead, but the more ground they gained, the more parallel Cosmo made the race. Each foot fell heel to toe, left to right, like they were in a military cadence.
Sweat beads formed on Cosmo’s head. He felt both his shins tighten, his hamstrings stretched to their limits, and when he looked to his left, Zack was no longer by his side. He looked back to find that he was seven or so paces ahead.
Cosmo put his attention back to the pit and, with a smile on his face, began to expand his snare. The pit wasn’t even aware that it was being pursued.
That’s when he felt the cold clasp around his ankles. And before he could look down, he slammed against the ground. Around his ankle was a ring attached to a thin rope. Cosmo scrambled to get rid of it, but the emptiness in his lungs overtook him and he fell back, wheezing as he grabbed his chest.
Zack jogged pass him, struggling for breath in the same capacity, if not more than Cosmo, who watched him take out another ring and launch it to the left of the pit. Unsheathing his snare from his back, Zack had the upper hand and directed them toward the contraption. There was a click, and Cosmo saw the poor pit’s leg was snatched up like his.
Yelps screeched into the air.
Cosmo let his head drop. All he could focus on was his breathing, trying to calm himself. He tried to keep an even count in his head, which was soon changed because in situations like these, failure associated themes took up in his brain and stayed there for days, sometimes weeks.
He came to and looked up. The pit was gone and so was Zack, and as Cosmo flattened back out, he let the cold ground cool his throbbing head.
Coming through the garage door, Cosmo slid out of his shoes and placed them on the mat next to Maria’s knockoff light up Nikes. He smiled as he looked down the line at Manny’s slides and Alejandra’s flats.
In the kitchen he found a piece of paper and a pen. He took out the candy bars from his pocket. Writing the names of his two little ones, he placed their treats in their respective seats at the small round table in the corner, and went to wash his face before bed.