Still, Lucky ignored him. As more murmurs and chuckles rose up from the other boys, Mendez turned an ugly shade of red. Then Tyler watched Mendez’s body language change. Apprehension shot through Tyler, filling him with adrenaline. Without saying a word, he dropped Apollo’s leash just as Mendez kicked out at Lucky, catching the dog in the chest.
The dog yelped at the same time Tyler yanked Mendez by the arm and pulled him away. “You’re done here.”
Tyler grabbed the kid by the front of his shirt, his fist trembling with barely restrained rage. He wanted to pummel him to a bloody pulp, but he was a minor under Tyler’s care. He could restrain him, but other than that, he’d have to rely on the system to do its job.
“We have a policy here to keep these animals, who have already been through more than they should, safe. You’ve had plenty of chances to change your behavior, but you’ve done nothing but show your disdain for what we do. All of that could be forgiven, but not this.”
Mendez spit in his face, the slimy ball oozing down Tyler’s cheek. “Fuck you.”
Tyler shoved Mendez to the ground and took the cuffs from his belt, securing them on his wrists. When Tyler stood up, Mendez rolled over onto his side, a long string of curses exploding from his mouth. Tyler wiped his face with his shirt while the kid glared at him from the ground, but Tyler was done letting him be macho. “You really blew it; you know that, right?” Pulling out his walkie-talkie, he held the button down.
“Sergeant Kline, Carlos Mendez will no longer be staying with us. Can you please come out and retrieve him? And let the judge know he’s a violent little prick who likes to kick dogs.”
While Mendez struggled to get to his feet, Tyler spoke to the rest of the teenagers. “Let this be a lesson to all of you. Any abuse allegations will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. If you do not report it, you will be removed from the program for being complicit. We are these animals’ last hope, and they deserve to be treated with respect.” Staring directly at Mendez, Tyler added, “Lucky didn’t respect you because he knew you were a coward, too scared to be his leader.”
Mendez cursed him, but Tyler ignored the little shit. Approaching Lucky slowly and calmly, he knelt down in from of the dog. He tried to shy away, and Tyler spoke softly. “It’s okay, Lucky. You’re safe.”
The dog’s brindled head dipped as he approached. When he finally stopped and sat before Tyler, Tyler rubbed his ears and fed him a treat from his bag.
The dog reacted excitedly, practically crawling onto his lap. Laughing, Tyler started to stand up, and one of the guys shouted, “Look out!”
Pain exploded in the middle of his back, and he was propelled forward. Lucky moved out of the way swiftly as Tyler hit the ground with a heavy weight on his back.
??You still think I’m a coward, puta?”
Dazed and with the wind knocked clear the hell out of him, it took Tyler a second to throw his weight to the side and come out on top of Mendez. His back throbbed with the pain of where Mendez’s head had hit his spine, and his knee protested as he dug it into Mendez’s back, but he ignored it all.
“Somebody grab Lucky!” Tyler shouted. It wasn’t as if the dog could go anywhere besides the fenced yard, but Tyler didn’t want him thinking he could just take off.
Dwayne Harlow handed off his leash to Olsen Meyers and ran after the loose dog.
Mendez lay on the ground, still talking shit, and Tyler finally addressed him.
“You asked if I still thought you were a coward? The answer is yes. I think only a coward would attack someone when his back was turned.”
“Yo, everything okay out here?” Kline called from the fence.
Tyler stood up gingerly. “Yeah, just get him the fuck out of my sight.”
Kline grabbed Mendez and lifted him nearly off his feet. “No problem.”
Mendez kept shouting curses at him as Kline hauled him off, and Tyler grimaced. Turning back to face the rest of his guys, his tone was harsh. “Anyone else want to piss me off today?”
No one said a word. Dwayne, who always seemed to be smiling and was one of Tyler’s favorites, came back to the group with Lucky, as stone-faced as the rest of them. Tyler went to retrieve Lucky from him.
“Thanks for grabbing him, Harlow.”
Dwayne gave him that gamin grin. “You’re welcome, boss.”