He could see the vertical blinds moving when he was halfway up the driveway. Even though she could neither see nor hear, Delta would always come to greet him at the door when she sensed him returning home.

He drove with care past the downed limbs scattered across the driveway. The late spring storm had come with sudden and terrifying force while he had been at the pharmacy and the grocery store. He had stood in the foyer of the pharmacy with a handful of other customers and refugees from the gale, none of whom was willing to make a frantic scramble through the parking lot; the wind was driving the rain sideways and was bending the trees almost to the earth. After ten long minutes, the storm had abated and Bud hobbled as quickly as he could through the now-light mist and got into his old Buick. When he started the car and turned on the windshield wipers, he grunted, rebuking himself for forgetting again to get replacement blades for the wipers. Might as well just poke my arm out the window and wipe the windshield with my sleeve at this point, he had thought.

But now he was home and the yard was puddled with water in places, and Delta’s seeking snout was poking out between the long, swinging slats covering the patio door. Just as he killed the engine, the rain picked up again, sweeping across the yard in a gray curtain. Bud decided to leave his bags in the truck for now, rather than getting soaked while trying to get them in the house. Some cold stuff in there, but it’ll be okay for a few minutes. Shouldering open the door, he stepped down into the squishy grass and made his way to the door. The keys fell from his fingers as he fumbled with them, trying to find the one with the blue rubber grip on it. He muttered to himself as he bent and fished them out of the puddle next to the steps. Wiping it on his shirt, he put the house key in the lock, twisted, and slid the door open. Then he slid the vertical blinds aside and reached down and touched Delta.

She began bucking like a horse, shrill squeals spilling from high in her throat. She barked once, then spun in a fast circle, her rump striking him behind his calf and almost knocking him down. She was panting and yipping, her mouth in a wide grin. Bud began calling out to her, even though the rational part of him knew that she couldn’t hear him. His voice was pitched high like Delta’s yips, and his hands rubbed her all over as she pranced and leaped.

“Are you the girl? Are you the girl what was waiting to see me? Waiting to see her daddy? Has you been good? Has you been a good girl today? Was you waiting on me? Was you resting? What was that girl doing? Was she being a good girl? Was her resting? Was her taking it easy? Was her living the life of a princess?”

And even as he called out to her, he had the same thought he always had when he talked to Delta: if any of his friends ever heard how he talked to this old blind, deaf dog, they would make so much fun of him, he would probably have to move to another county.

But Delta did seem to hear him on some level. Perhaps she sensed vibrations. Maybe she detected changes in air patterns as he moved them with his exhalations, or it could be that something extrasensory was going on with her. But it was clear to Bud that she always knew when he was speaking directly to her, and she always knew when his wheezing car came back up the driveway after an errand. She also had a notable ability to sense when he was asleep and when he had awakened. Within seconds of him opening his eyes in the morning or after a nap, or even after coming awake in the dark, silent hours after a bad dream, her muzzle would be in his hand or alongside his face or poking his side.

So he romped with her and laughed at her gambols, even when her vigor almost knocked over the century-old lamp his mother had left him. He grabbed it before it toppled to the floor, noticing that the light on the answering machine was red and steady; no message. He frowned a bit, displeased that the pastor still hadn’t returned his two calls. Guess he doesn’t get too excited when a retiree says he’s having a rough time of it, he thought. Guess he’s busy with the Singles Group. Then Delta took his hand in her teeth with a light grip, and tugged him towards the kitchen, and he laughed so hard that he doubled over.

“You know just how to get your way, don’t you, girl?” He followed her to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and took out a slice of cheese, a neat square of yellow processed dairy product in a clear film. Delta stood with her head up, facing away from him but very alert, waiting for him to dangle a bit of the cheese in front of her nose. When he did, she nipped it from his fingers and then yelped, a single piercing “Reep!” Bud laughed, pulled another strip from the slice and swung it over her white snout. Delta opened her mouth, then closed it and her ears went up and her tail went stiff.

“Well, ain’t that sweet? Old fool and his doggie.”

The voice came from behind him, and Bud jumped and turned. Standing right behind him was a a pale, cadaverous young man with a tuft of hair on his chin and large metal discs in his earlobes. He was wearing a filthy T-shirt and the rank odor of his body struck Bud like a fist. Behind the young man was an even younger black man, dressed all in black and wearing a knitted skullcap on his close-cropped hair. Both of them were sneering at Bud, and both of them had glittering, crazed eyes. The one closest to Bud lifted a pistol and pointed it right between the older man’s eyes.

“Where’s the pills?”

At first Bud didn’t understand what the man said, but the last word clattered around in the kitchen. Pills. Pills. Pills. So that’s what this is about.

“How did you know I had pills?”

The thin man pushed the pistol hard against Bud’s forehead, angry now. “You don’t ask me questions, old man. You better just pay attention and answer me.”

A low growl from Delta made all three men look at her. The ancient Labrador was facing the black man, her teeth a white gleam in the dim kitchen. The thin man swung the pistol towards her and Bud saw that his knuckle was white on the trigger. “Better call off your dog, old man.”

Bud raised his hands. “She’s blind, and she’s deaf. She can’t see us or hear us. Let me take hold of her and calm her down. She’s just scared.”

“Yeah, well, she’d better be scared. Don’t you move, man. If she makes a move, she’s gone. Now answer my question, bitch. Where’s the pills?”

Bud gestured with his head, his hands still up near his shoulders. “Out in the car. I…I left everything out there because it was raining.”

The thin man nodded at the black man. “Check it out.” The black man sidestepped past Delta, who was no longer growling but who was still displaying her teeth and her hackles. He left the kitchen and Bud heard the patio door slide open.

The thin man moved the pistol back and forth between Delta and Bud, his teeth a yellow smear in the middle of his face. To the old man, the pistol looked like a toy, made of black, somewhat shiny plastic. Not how pistols used to look. Bud could hear the Buick’s door slam. In a few seconds, the black man was back, holding the bag from the pharmacy and a pint of ice cream from the grocery bag.

“Got ’em. Percocets. Perk. Oh. CETS!” He laughed. “And dessert, too!”

Delta barked, making the men jump. The thin one aimed his gun at her and said to Bud, “You’d better settle her down.”

Bud knelt and moved on his knees to his dog. “Hang on, please. She’s just scared.” He wrapped his arms around her and held her, talking to her in a low voice, hoping she could tell he was speaking calmly. He bent his head near hers, and said from his chest, so she could feel the words, “Delta girl, Delta girl. That’s my Delta girl.” She was trembling so hard it was difficult to keep his arms around her. He looked up, his eyes brimming. “Please don’t hurt my old dog.”

The thin man shot Bud twice in the face and Delta jumped and barked, coiling her body back into the corner. Bud slammed backwards against the dishwasher and fell over on his side, still as a stone. Delta was low on her legs, like a wolf, aimed right at the two men and snarling, her barks punctuating the low rumblings from her chest.

“You need to rest, dog,” said the thin man, and shot Delta. She cartwheeled over and fell across Bud’s midsection. The black man stared at the two bodies on the floor, at the pattern of blood and brains on the wall and the appliances. He looked at his partner, then back at the bodies. Finally, he snickered.

“Damn, man! ‘At’s cold!” He turned and pulled out drawers until he found one with silverware. Taking out a spoon, he opened the ice cream and dipped the spoon in, taking a mouthful.

The thin man watched him, then shrugged. He reached over and took the bag of pills from his partner and said, “Come on.”

They left the kitchen without glancing again at Bud and Delta, who looked to be sleeping together. They got into the tiny car, a used sports model that looked like something marketed to college girls, and went down the driveway quickly but not too quickly. In a few seconds, they turned onto the road and the sound of their engine faded. Inside the house, on the kitchen floor, two friends slept in silence.

Near the house, Bud’s pastor slowed, looking for the driveway. Long as I’m in the neighborhood, he thought. Bud had forgotten to sign his tithe check last week, and the pastor was bringing it by to get his signature so the secretary could deposit it before Thursday. He’d also gotten a message that Bud wanted to talk to him about something.

Well, look at that, he thought. Bud left his car door open. He must be trying to get that old dog of his into the front seat again.