by Rosemary McCracken
While not actually a mystery short story, “All Maxed Out,” features Pat Tierney, the heroine of Rosemary McCracken’s mysteries, Safe Harbor and Black Water, telling how the Tierneys’ golden Labradors joined the family.
A chorus of barking greeted me as I entered a room filled with cages. A dozen pairs of hopeful eyes stared at me.
The Toronto Humane Society’s animal shelter was the last place I expected to find myself late that Friday afternoon in May. It had been a hectic spring, a constant round of meetings with my clients and strategic talks with the top brass at Norris Cassidy, the investment firm where I work. Before I knew it, it was my daughter Laura’s seventeenth birthday and I still hadn’t bought her a gift.
Laura, the younger of my two girls, had never been easy to shop for and in her last year of high school; she was extremely particular about her clothing and accessories. I wouldn’t dare assume whether her tastes on any given week ran to punk chic or preppy co-ed. What to do? I didn’t want to hand her a gift certificate at her family birthday celebration that evening. I didn’t even know what shops she currently favored.
As I’d left my office, I spotted a small black terrier tied to a parking metre. He looked up at me, his eyes pleading. “Woof!” he said, clearly anxious for his master to finish shopping.
I thought of Max, our family’s beloved golden lab. He’d been killed by a speeding car in front of the house the previous summer. Laura had cried for days.
“Woof!” the dog repeated.
That’s it! A dog for Laura.
“Woof to you, too,” I said.
I hailed a passing taxi. “The Toronto Humane Society,” I told the driver. “On River Street.”
At the shelter, I scanned the cages, trying to avoid eye contact with the occupants. “I can’t take all of you home,” I murmured.
In the last cage, a golden lab sat up and gave an enthusiastic bark. I sucked in my breath and approached her. She could have been Max’s younger sister.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” a twenty-something attendant said behind me. “Came in yesterday,” she said. “Three years old and in perfect health. We even have a leash for her.”
I let out my breath. “I’ll take her.”
I called a taxi, and Maxie and I waited for it outside the building. I was scanning the street when a figure in a black hoodie with a woman’s purse clutched football-style under his right arm—knocked me over as he dashed past.
My grip on Maxie’s leash loosened and she bolted after him.
“Help! Thief!” a voice called out behind me.
As I stood up, I saw an elderly woman hobble along the sidewalk towards me, using a cane.
I hurried over to her. “Are you all right?”
She nodded. “But we need to get him. There’s five hundred dollars in my purse.”
Up the street, we heard the thief yell, “Get off me, you mutt!”
Maxie! She had knocked the man down and he tried to swat her away with the stolen purse. She had her front paws on his shoulders, pinning him to the sidewalk. She was licking his face.
The woman and I laughed. The purse snatcher didn’t realize that Maxie wanted to play.
Good dog, bad dog, I thought as I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to call the police. Good dog for stopping a thief, bad dog for running off.
Like Laura, Maxie was going to be a handful.
When we got out of the taxi in front of the house, Maxie was straining on the leash, eager to examine her new home.
I opened the front door and patted her. “Easy, girl.”
“Laura!” I called when we were inside. “Come see your birthday present.”
Laura raced down the stairs from the second floor. On the landing, she stopped, her mouth open.
“Happy birthday.” I held up the leash. “Meet Maxie.”
Laura came over to us and Maxie licked her hand. “I, uh, I… thanks…” she said.
“You don’t like her?” She doesn’t want a replacement for Max.
Another golden lab bounded down the stairs and went straight up to Maxie.
“Meet Maxine,” Laura said as the dogs sniffed each other. “Happy Mother’s Day, two days early. Mom, I know you missed Max as much as I did, so I thought…”
I hugged her. “Maxine’s beautiful.”
She smiled. “So is Maxie.”
She led the two dogs out to the backyard, let Maxie off her leash and tossed a ball that they both raced to retrieve.
I looked at the dogs as they chased each other playfully. “I guess you could say our family pet situation is like pushing a credit card to its limit.”
“How’s that?” Laura asked.
“It’s all Max-ed out.”
More short stories, including more mother related ones over the next few days, can be found in our Terrific Tales section.