by Heather Haven
This mystery short story with a dog as the hero, was originally published several years ago.
Mrs. Rappaport sat with the German pistol in her lap, loaded and ready to go. It would get going soon. And with her father’s fine example of World War II weaponry. Even though Mrs. Rappaport had not slept for nearly twenty-four hours, she went over her plans again and again. She was meticulous.
Her husband’s upcoming demise had nothing to do with him being with other women or his gambling debts, although these things did not make her happy. It was the fact he’d looted her beloved antique store, a business that gave her life meaning. How could he think she wouldn’t notice his substituting a bad reproduction for the Early American “Eye of the Boar” roadhouse sign, circa 1793, worth sixteen-thousand dollars? Absurd.
The disposal of his body would take place on top of a plateau on a steep hill in an adjacent park. The tree-covered plateau butted up against their backyard and never had anyone on it. It was a perfect place to get rid of the body, because that was the rub, she thought shrewdly, how to get rid of the body.
At one fifty-nine a.m. the front door opened. At two a.m. a well-aimed shot was fired. Her plans took shape.
At six-thirty a.m. and as was the custom, Gemma Marie Zenbull of Belgium trotted through the neighborhood on her powerful short legs toward her favorite part of the twice daily walk, the park. Gemma loved the park. The morning air was cool and crisp and the day promised much. In the evenings, the park smelled of the sun and all the visitors it had seen during the day. The evening walks were usually a little shorter than the morning but just as enjoyable to her.
All her life, she was a dog that was pampered, adored, coddled, kissed, hugged, and fussed over. Even in a breed known far and wide for their sweetness, this English Bulldog was more good natured than most. She had known only kindness and love and returned those feelings to the world ten-fold. However, Gemma Marie Zenbull was about to run up a small, plateaued hill and everything would change.
For nearly seven years, ever since her owners saw that the hill was fenced on the far side and no harm could come to their beloved pet, they released her leash and let her run up to the plateau as fast as her short legs would take her. This was her ten or fifteen-minutes of total freedom, a chance to be herself. She could stop where she wanted, say hello to flowers, insects, squirrels, and, just possibly, roll around on some lovely, questionable mound or other.
At the base of the hill her female owner unhooked the leash and, with the words, “All right, sweetie, you can go now,” the dog scrambled around to the side and up the narrow path she had traversed many times, a path unknown to anyone save Gemma and her owners. This unseen path had sturdy roots, small ridges and deep rock formations that was used for the secure placement of thick paws, as she placed them now, scampering up the almost forty-five degree incline.
Once at the top, she would have a brief rest. It was tradition. Then, after a bit, there would be the sniffing of bushes, grass, and trees searching for anything new and fun. Snorting loudly and trying to catch her breath, Gemma padded to the center of the plateau, splayed herself down on the cool grass, and sniffed the air appreciatively.
As she did so, some surprising new scents greeted her. First, there was the puzzling scent of a human nearby. Puzzling, because it did not smell quite the way she was used to humans smelling. Second, was the aroma of fine leather, a fragrance near and dear to this canine’s heart.
Gemma, as previously stated, was a wondrous, beauteous bulldog, and her virtues had been sung far and wide, but she had one tiny, little flaw. Leather. Her owners finally resorted to putting their shoes out of her reach, particularly after she ate a pair of three-hundred dollar Feragamo heels. Consequently, she had not had the taste of fine leather for quite a while.
The dog got up and walked over to where the two smells converged and saw that they were attached to one another. She grunted for a moment, accessing the situation and rightly concluded that this male human was not quite himself. She had found a gopher like this once and knew instinctively the gopher would not be getting up and going about his business anytime soon. So, as only a really intelligent animal can do at such a time, she shrugged and moved down the body to the second and most interesting smell.
There, on each foot and giving off a delectable aroma, were exceptionally fine Italian loafers complete with fringed tassels. Tassels were the tastiest part of any shoe and rarely, if ever, seen by her. She grabbed at one only to hear a well-known voice.
“Gemma! Come on, girl. Come on down. I have to go to work, sweetie.”
Her mouth froze around the tassel. Then she dropped the soggy morsel and looked toward the sound of her mistress’s voice.
A finger was removed from the trigger of a pistol aimed at Gemma’s head.
“Gemma! Gemma,” came a sterner command. “Come down here this minute.”
Grunting with disappointment, the dog took a step or two toward the voice. The pistol lowered.
With a sad snort, Gemma glanced back at the tasseled loafer and then dashed down the hill toward her waiting owner.
Mrs. Rappaport, pistol in hand and perspiring profusely, stepped out from behind the thick pine tree some thirty feet away. She looked at Mr. Rappaport, half hidden in the brush, and wiped the sweat from her burning eyes.
“Where did that animal come from? I’ve been watching this place for weeks. It’s inaccessible except from our yard. Oh, God, it’s beginning to get light,” she said, already exhausted from her night of murder. “I’ve got to hide you better,” she muttered, as she began to drag the body deeper into the brush. “I’ll be back tonight, when it gets dark. I’ll bury you and be rid of you, finally! And I’d better not see that stupid mutt again, either.”
It was early evening and Gemma sat by the front door eyeing her leash. Yes, she had been let out into the backyard to relieve herself when her owners came home, but it wasn’t the same. After dinner and before everyone settled in for the evening, she would have her walk.
She heard the lower, male voice talking to her. “Ready to go for your walk, girl?”
As her limited vocabulary did include the word “walk,” she leapt up, sneezed in her excitement as bulldogs often do, and nuzzled her leash. Off they went in their familiar routine. At the bottom of the small hill, Gemma scooted up the side and ran directly to the ex-human and his tasseled shoes. Yes, he was a little further back in the brush, but his smell was riper now, which made the shoes all the more alluring. Without hesitation, she grabbed the heel of one.
“Drop that shoe, you disgusting animal!” the woman growled softly but with a fierceness that made the bulldog freeze.
She didn’t recognize the woman’s voice but she did know the three words “drop that shoe,” so she obeyed. She also knew the difference in vocal tones, but this voice was full of rage, an emotion never before expressed to Gemma.
Her ears raised and she looked at the woman coming toward her out of the gloom carrying something unfamiliar in her hands. It was a shovel and the woman was holding it like a baseball bat.
“Gemma! Come on, Girl. Time to go home. Time for bed,” the voice of her master sang out to her, warm and loving. Gemma turned and dashed toward the familiar voice, and so intent was she, she didn’t see or sense the swinging piece of metal that missed her hindquarters by mere inches.
Mrs. Rappaport stood on the hill furious and determined. She had no intention of letting a dog interfere with her plans. She had worked too hard and there was too much at stake. She tried to contain her panic by telling herself that once she buried Mr. Rappaport, the dog would either lose interest or wouldn’t be able to find the body.
Content in her ignorance, she began to dig. She found the ground a little harder than she thought, due to a lack of rain for the past several weeks, so even though she worked through much of the night, the grave was shallower than she originally planned it to be. But then nothing was going quite the way Mrs. Rappaport planned.
The next morning Gemma raced up the hill and could not believe her good fortune. She found the ever-ripening body instantly and was thrilled that it was under a foot or so of earth. This was one of her favorite games; find the buried treasure. Grunting and rumbling, she dug with her sturdy forepaws, dirt flying everywhere.
Within thirty-seconds she had uncovered half of the body and the feet completely. She jerked at the shoe nearest her. What fun, she thought. The hill had never been as much fun as it had been for the past two days.
Mrs. Rappaport, stunned almost to paralysis of motion, stood at her kitchen window, straining at the binoculars in an effort to see why earth was being flung through the air in the bushes, right where she knew Mr. Rappaport to be lodged.
Her head began to ache from eyestrain, until she saw the dog come out from the brush into the small clearing, running in circles and tossing his shoe into the air.
“You disgusting little animal,” Mrs. Rappaport said aloud, as her face contorted with anger. “There’s only one solution for you. It’s time for you to join Mr. Rappaport, you flea bitten canine. Tonight.”
Gemma, meanwhile, was so elated that she had found her quarry again, that chewing on the shoe became secondary. From her point of view, she had dug a hole, found her delicious, prized possession and, as an extra bonus, covered herself with dirt. She hadn’t minded that she lost her pink bow, for she was a dog of great courage and strength.
A descendant of warriors that had brought bulls to their knees, was our Gemma. She gave a heady flip to the shoe and it sailed through the air and landed almost twenty feet away. She was about to run after it when she heard her mistress’s voice, a voice that brought the dog back to the here and now. She grunted and ran down the hill to listen to an alarmed owner question the condition of her once clean and well-groomed dog. Then Gemma spent the better part of the day at the groomers, where she acquired a pert blue bow.
Mrs. Rappaport had a new plan. She knew the dog’s name. She now knew that the dog came to the plateau twice a day, mornings and evenings. She decided against using the pistol, as she had almost done in her panic the day before. That was too noisy and might make the dog’s owners climb up the hill before she had the time to return to her house.
The shovel was too cumbersome and hard to manage; she had learned that the hard way. She had been aiming for the dog’s head but missed the animal’s body completely. No, the shovel would never do.
Her weapon of choice was a large, heavy, and deadly hammer. A hammer she had seen her deceased husband use to knock down a wall between the bathroom and a closet several years ago. Yes, Mrs. Rappaport thought, practice swinging it in the garage, this will do very nicely. One smack of this and the dog will be silent forever.
That evening the woman sat beside the half-buried body of her husband, extremely content to watch beetles and other bugs crawl all over him.
She had not bothered to rebury him, as soon there would be another, smaller beast in the grave. She smiled at the thought.
Gemma almost didn’t come to the park that night. She wasn’t sure what was happening but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Her owners were having a discussion about the condition she’d returned in that morning and she sensed her female owner was opposed to the outing.
Finally, Gemma saw the male kiss the female on the forehead and turn to her. Fifteen minutes later than usual, man and dog were taking their customary evening walk. As the man tried to walk past the hill, Gemma wrenched the leash out of his hand and scurried up her well-worn path.
Panting a little from the climb and unheeding her master’s calls, she stopped about ten feet away from the ever-ripening man, now sans shoes.
“Come here, Gemma. There’s a good dog,” Mrs. Rappaport said stepping out of the shadows, both hands behind her back and smiling.
Gemma cocked her head. The woman’s tone was insincere, so the dog stood her ground.
“What have I got, Gemma?” the woman crooned, bringing one hand forward and waving a tasseled loafer. “Come and get it, you mangy mutt.”
Fortunately, Gemma didn’t understand the words ‘mangy mutt’ or she would have been highly insulted. Her blue-blood lineage was top of the line and she’d never had mange in her life. But she did notice the shoe in the woman’s hand and focused her attention on it.
“Gemma!” called her master from down below. The dog turned her head toward the sound of his voice and the woman put one foot on the end of the leash. Gemma looked back at her. Mrs. Rappaport stepped closer and closer on the leash, dangle the shoe enticingly in front of her.
“Gemma, come on, baby. Come on down now.”
Gemma turned her head again to her master’s voice and the woman brought the other hand forward containing the lethal hammer. Her arm slowly went up over her head in preparation for the fatal strike.
Gemma looked back at Mrs. Rappaport and came to alert attention. Another game! It’s Throw the Toy Time. She played this game countless times with her owners and knew that with her short, stubby legs, she should get a head start.
So, as the woman’s arm continued back, Gemma turned her body to face the other way and made a lunge forward. At first she felt the weight of the woman standing on the leash but, ultimately, pulling one hundred and thirty pounds or so was a small handicap in the long, illustrious career of English bulldogs. They were built, not for speed, but for power. The dog’s massive chest sucked in enough air to feed the mighty muscles in her upper torso and she leapt forward feeling the weight on the leash suddenly release.
Gemma ran for several feet and then turned back to make sure she was heading in the right direction of the thrown toy. What she saw baffled her enough to make her not even hear her master’s pressing call again. For there was the woman, lying on the ground, with her head resting on a rock. Gemma’s eyes were drawn toward the movement directly over the woman’s head. She saw the toy rotating, going up, up into the sky until it paused and then began its revolving descent back down, where the heavy steel hit the woman in the dead center of her forehead. The gentle bulldog heard a slight crack and then silence, broken only by her master’s voice.
“Gemma Marie, don’t make me come up there after you!”
When she was called Gemma Marie, she knew she’d better hustle and hustle she did. She ran to where the woman dropped the shoe, not bothering to look at the sightless eyes staring up at the darkened sky. Gemma grabbed it by the tassel and ran down the hill.
“Gemma, it’s about time. What have you got there, girl? What is it? Give it to Daddy. There’s a good girl, give it to Daddy.”