Everyone in the village liked Raffi- the friendly mongrel dog who lived near the bus station, in an improvised kennel made of wooden crates. Though not pure- blooded, Raffi looked impressive, maybe because he had gotten many of the genes of his granny – karakachan dog with a pedigree. Everyone knew Raffi and many fed him regularly so he had managed to pick up flesh. After his owner died three years ago, Raffi started roaming the streets, frightening the children, and not only them, with his fearful looks, but a week later no one doubted that the big animal was meek and harmless. The kids were climbing on him, tugging his ears, thrusting their hands into his mouth and in return getting series of wet licks on the face. Raffi induced roars of laughter when playing with a stick or a ball because in these moments he looked like a cub what he wasn’t more than twelve years now.
The saleswoman, smoking by the shop entrance, saw Raffi trotting clumsily along the street and called him playfully but a second later her eyes narrowed to compensate the 2 dioptres of shortsightedness. She was trying to see what’s sticking out from Raffi’s mouth, or, more precisely, to convince herself that the thing in question just resembled …human hand.
“Hey, Peter, what’s that in Raffi’s mouth?” she asked and tugged the old man limping along the sidewalk by the sleeve.
Peter was longsighted and saw very clearly what Raffi was carrying.
“Wow, Mary… human hand! Between Raffi’s teeth!”
“Are you sure it’s real?”
“Looks real at least.”
“Come here, boy, come, come!” Peter shouted out to the dog while Mary uttered a choked cry and pressed her palm to her lips.
Raffi stopped and looked around, his huge bloodshot eyes shifting anxiously back and forth. He had obviously sensed the tension in Peter’s voice.
“Raffi, come here, boy!”
Raffi didn’t budge, but the hand was swaying slowly between his yellowed teeth. Peter crouched and fixed his eyes on it. The fingers were pale, with purplish tinge, thin, slightly bent except for the thumb that jutted out as if trying to hitch a ride. The nails were manicured; shining colorless polish could be seen. A few inches above the delicate wrist the skin was frayed, covered with congealed blood, and from under it a sharp bone fragment protruded. Severed muscle fibers and tendons were hanging out.
“Raffi, drop it, now!”
Raffi tucked in his tail, lowered his head for a moment, then tore away.
“Mary, run to tell the mayor!”
Mary immediately made a dash for the municipality, not even bothering to lock the shop door.
The news soon got around. Anxious crowd quickly gathered on the village square and the mayor hurried to deliver a calming speech.
“Calm down, people! Everything will be clarified. I called the police. They promised to send a team as soon as possible. There is no reason for panic.”
“No reason? Someone has been murdered, obviously!” roared someone. The villagers were shouting helter-skelter.
“Raffi may have killed someone!”
“Dug up into a grave most likely!”
“Someone murdered his wife, cut her body into pieces and buried it, then Raffi…”
“Folks, listen to me! Just keep cool and think! Raffi is a good dog, can’t kill a man. And you can’t tell he’s famished, everyone feeds him so… Rule out Raffi! The last funeral was three months ago and that hand was… fresh, so to say. So we drop this option as well. Peter thinks that the hand belongs to a girl, or a young woman. Here in the village we have about ten females aged between fifteen and forty years. Is one of them missing? Why are you looking at me like that, answer the question!”
Oppressive silence ensued.
“As it seems no one is missing,” the priest mumbled.
“That’s it… obviously the first assumption is the right one. We have a murder here, but the victim is not native. The police know its job, we only have to find Raffi and retrieve the hand.
“But he won’t give it to us.”
“Bait him with something, sausage, salami, whatever.”
“Wow, here he is! Oh dear! That’s really a human hand!”
The people rushed toward Raffi who tuck his tail between his legs and ran away. The pursuers didn’t manage to catch him – though well past his prime, he still was in good shape.
“Mayor, you have a shotgun. Shoot him!”
“No way. I’m not going to shoot at Raffi. What happened was not his fault.”
“Hell, why is this damned mongrel running?”
“Maybe because we are chasing him,” said Peter.
“So… if we stop chasing him... he will come voluntarily.”
Peopled calmed down and no later than ten minutes after that Raffi appeared on the square, happily wagging his tail. But the terrible hand wasn’t in his mouth yet.
“He has buried it somewhere, for sure,” said Peter as he gave Raffi a slice of sausage which he immediately devoured.
“And when he gets hungry, he will dug it out and eat it. So gross!” said one of the youngest wives in the village – Angela.
“I would not be surprised,” the mayor answered. “He is a dog after all. That hand is just a bone for him, nothing more.”
“Disgusting, disgusting. It makes me sick just thinking about it,” Angela murmured.
“I presume that for him the sight of a man, eating a cucumber, is no less disgusting.”
Angela, who was notorious for her fierce vegetarianism, bristled up.
“We should kill this dog, immediately!”
“What’s your problem, you cow?” the mayor’s wife growled.
Angela managed a scornful smile and started explaining.
“Unbelievable, you sill can’t understand! This dog, once he has tasted human flesh… You still can’t grasp it, can you? He may attack a kid! And when I merely imagine this disgusting tongue licking my son’s face…
Meanwhile Raffi was lolling his tongue out in a goofy grin, wagging his tail enthusiastically at the sight of the consecutive slice of sausage about to be given to him.
“Kill the dog!” cried Angela.
Voices sounded in her support, voices that gradually turned into a powerful persistent chorus. Seized with hesitation, the mayor lowered his head.
Someone brought rat poison.
“Wait!” said the mayor. “If we poison the dog, the police may not be able to find the hand.”
“Mayor, if you think they would be waiting our Raffi to dig the hand out, you are wrong. They have trained dogs for that purpose.
“Still, let’s not be overhasty.”
“Poison this monster!” Angela shrieked.
When Raffi engulfed the poisoned sausage, Angela gave out a malicious grin and said:
“I will vote for you again, mayor, because you have always listened to people’s opinion.”
The mayor waved his hand dismissively and headed home. He didn’t want to witness the poor animal’s agony.
A stranger was waiting by the door.
“Are you the mayor of this village?”
“Yes. I’m the mayor.”
“I need a tractor. Your neighbors told me you could provide one. I will pay you, of course.”
“Why you need a tractor?”
“My pickup slipped and turned into a ditch, up there, less than a mile from the last houses. Only a tractor can pull it out.”
“Car crash? Victims?
“No,” the man answered, shaking his head. “I only bruised my shoulder. But sadly several properties got damaged. Too bad.”
“Yea. My company produces movie props. The Americans shoot a movie nearby, you heard that?”
“If…a human hand…”
“Oh, you have found Lina’s hand? I was just wondering where it disappeared.”
“Lina? Who’s Lina?”
“Lina is a cousin of the protagonist. A maniac rapes her and kills her, then cuts her body into pieces with a hacksaw so he could stuff it into a suitcase and take it out of the apartment. Low budget slasher flick, you know. But we had a hard time with Lina’s hand. Two of the technicians worked on it nearly a month before they made a thorough job of it. So… you have found Lina’s hand?”