Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Case of the Junkyard Dog-Episode 1

The Case of the Junkyard Dog: Episode One


Jogging is not supposed to kill you. Nevertheless, Sue Charles was about to die.

Of course, the fifty-five year-old Corporate Communications Specialist didn't know when she laced on her New Balance shoes at 4:30 that this mornings run would be her last.

Sue had just touched the 'one way' sign on Deer Pen Road, the turnaround point of her daily 5k run when she first heard the sharp snap of a dry twig. She didn't stop and scan her surroundings, there was no point, the sun hadn't even begun to brighten the August sky so the woods on all sides were jet black.
The next time she realised that she wasn't alone - not counting the park's racoons, mice, birds, insects, harmless snake and, of course, the bison, goats, deer, and Llamas of the High Park Zoo - Sue Charles was near the kid's playground just off West Road. The sound of heavy breathing, not her's, was unmistakable and a little frightening.

Even more frightening for the three-time winner of the Chilly Half Marathon, two-time winner of the Kitchener MS Charity Run and soon-to-be participant in the Atlanta Marathon, was her heart rate, which according to her Fitpro Monitor was 145 bpm.

"Too much!" she said in a whisper between breaths. Still, as she passed Light Pole 233 - the 3.5 kilometer mark in her circuit - she decided to pick up the pace. Not a strategy her running coach would have approved of, but she needed to reach the well lit and heavily traveled Bloor Street quickly. 

Sue had just accelerated when something grabbed her waist. The added resistance caused her to falter, but only briefly. Only until she began pumping her arms powerfully, lowered her centre of gravity an inch or so, and further extended her stride.

It worked.

'Whatever you want buddy, youre not gonna get it!" she thought then veered suddenly to the left and raced into a stand of tall birch trees.

Sue found some comfort in the forest. The firm ground provided good traction and the trees were spaced far enough apart to allow her unimpeded travel while close enough to make it difficult for her attacker to ambush her from an angle. Furthermore, she thought she could see the light of Bloor Street in the distance. Unfortunately, what she didn't see - until too late - was the three-inch diameter branch jutting into her path at forehead height.

Sue Charles figured that she must have been unconscious for only a few minutes. Her sweat hadn't evaporated and the sky's halftone purple was no lighter than before she went for her 'nap.'  

She stood cautiously, brushed the dead leaves and dirt from her clothes, wiped the dark, sticky liquid from her eyes, then resumed running, slowly at first then rapidly gaining speed.

The stand of birch suddenly gave way to Erin Bales Football Field where eight people - Sue couldn't tell if they were men or women - stood bent over staring at their own small area of grass lit only by the flashlights mounted on their foreheads.

The worm-pickers were not a new sight to Sue. She'd encountered them before. Once she even tried to strike up a conversation with one, a skeletal woman who had looked up and half-smiled at her, but Sue's inability to understand Polish, or Ukrainian, or whatever the woman spoke.

She could have stopped and asked for their help, their protection but she didn't. "I have this under control" she thought - incorrectly as it turned out - because no sooner had Sue Charles entered the last well-landscaped patch of tall bush that separated her from the sodium-lit safety of Bloor Street than the attacker reached out from behind with a yellow handled box-cutter and sliced her jugular. Sue Charles's limp body slid belly-first to the ground and her life began pooling around her left cheek.

{{ }}

The basement still stank of the solvent Mr. Alvarez used last Saturday to clean Jack Muir High School's aging boiler. Neither Bridgit nor Emma had yet arrived so small talk dominated the conversation, although Keisha once tried unsuccessfully to introduce the topic of Do-it-Yourself DNA testing.

At 8:32, twenty-eight minutes before the bell, the air was broken by the sound of someone jerking open the basement door then hurrying down the stairs.

Bridget had today's Toronto Star tucked under her left arm, the Toronto Sun under her right and the Globe and Mail open in front of her.

She sat on the a wood crate and said with an exasperated tone, "October 12 meeting of the Grade 12 Detective Club is hereby convened. We can do anything old people can do but..."

Although only Bridgit spoke the first portion of the Club's motto, they all recited "BETTER!" in unison."

"Why the long face?" Kaseka asked Bridgit.
Keisha blurted out, "Unfortunate genes."

Bridgit shot Keisha 'a look' then held up the newspapers she was holding and said in a depressed tone, "I've got nothing for us. Squat!"

"What! No crimes to solve? No criminals to catch?" Emma asked in a surprised tone.

Bridgit replied, "Not unless we want to help the police find...." then pointed to the mug shot of a white male with serious hat-head, a stupid grin, and a plaque with the number 238970993 printed on it, ..."this escaped killer or assist the Court of the Hague to track down Andriy Khodakovsky - nickname 'the impaler' - the head of the Muslim death squad that operates in the Ukrainian region of Luhansk."

Janet spoke first, "in tracking down not 'to track down' You incorrectly used the preposition 'to' and anyway, with his photo on the front page of the largest news publication in Canada he might as well surrender and regarding the Ukraine, Mr. Sheppard will never approve the travel expenses."

".... and on the subject of 'expenses' ... I got a part time job..." Emma said in a meek tone.
"Thought you already have a part-time job," Bridgit responded.
"Another one - usher at the circus - which is gonna kinda cut into my..."
"Me too," Heri added.
"Me too what?" asked Bridgit.
"Me too I've got a job. Working the Municipal election. Just one day, and a three-hour training session tonight."
"I'm doing 30 hours a week," said Emma quietly.

Kaseka half-turned toward Emma and said with a sarcastic tone, "Ahhh Hello! Huge midterm Science and Technology project due in three weeks?"

"I have no choice... none," Emma said.

Kaseka was about to reply but instead he stopped and noted Emma's face, the dark circles that had recently formed around her eyes, her slouched shoulders, her fingernails - bitten to bloody stumps. And he decided to remain silent. Kaseka knew that Heri took on the election job simply to feed his love of politics and government affairs, but Emma's motivation he strongly suspected was money... likely for university but there also could have been a secret boyfriend in the picture, or gambling debts Or drugs. Emma was not one to share information about her life outside of school.

Bridgit said to Emma, "No problem but if one of us doesn't get a text from you at least once a day then we're calling 911."

And they all laughed, all except Emma.

"All right, meeting dismissed," Bridgit said in an official tone then added, "...but I need all of you to keep checking your favourite newsfeeds, social sites, and the twitterverse... Sherlock was only as good as his last case and after rescuing the Scotts and Gloria....and kicking the perps butt, we need a case we can sink our teeth into as my grandfather would say... and he wore dentures," Bridgit said with a wide smile on her face.

Everyone - including Emma - laughed.

{{ }}
Students weren't allowed to sit on the front steps - "tripping hazard" according to the administration's edict posted in last winter's edition of the Muir Stallion, their student-run newspaper so Bridgit thought was strange to see Margo sitting where she wasn't allowed.

Bridgit figured that Margo was waiting for her parents to pick her up. Still, 'parents waiting was always done in the Principal's office, not the front steps.

"Is that how you would interpret Mandela's comments Ms. Stein?"

"Absolutely," Bridgit replied and the other students immediately burst into laughter.

Mr. Agee loved to embarrass students who 'drifted off' in his class. Bridgit scanned the room of laughing faces, then glanced at Mr. Agee, then turned back toward the window. She didn't care if they were laughing at her, what she did care about was Margo, and why she was crying, or at least that's what Brigit surmised from Margo's hunched back and repeated passes of the palm of her left hand over her eyes.

"May I use the washroom, please?" Margo asked Mr. Agee but she was already half-way to the door by the time she uttered the last word of her request and never heard his answer.

{{ }}

"Hey Margo," Bridgit said in a soft voice as she approached from behind.

Margo turned, glanced at Bridgit and forced a smile.

"Hey Bridgit."
"What's up?"
"My Auntie Sue died - killed really - yesterday morning. Parent's coming to pick me up. Don't think I'll be able to come back to Muir. The police say that Auntie Sue was murdered by a... by a... dog or some kind of animal with sharp claws. Mom and Dad are gonna hide me out in some safe location until they figure out how to remove the family curse."
"Evidently, it skips a generation so I guess I'm up next. Auntie left all her money to me - in trust - so when I turn 22 I'll be rich, very very rich - if I can avoid his jaws that long."
"The 'Junkyard Dog,' that's what Mom called him. Black with a huge body, razor-sharp claws, and eyes that glow red in the night. Stupid huh?"
Still, just about everybody in the family believes he exists and now..."

Just then a fire engine red Audi A5 pulled to a stop in front of the school and the passenger door swung open. Bridgit couldn't tell who was driving but from the three glistening rings on the driver's left hand, which gripped the top of the steering wheel, she figured it was a woman.

"Gotta go," Margo said in a sad voice then stood and began walking toward the Audi, but when she was still ten or so feet from her destination she turned hesitantly and spoke with a mixture of sadness and embarrassment, "If the Club isn't busy with a case.. I know you probably are... but if you're not then would you consider trying to find out who killed my Auntie Sue? I don't believe in curses or dogs with glowing red eyes."

"Nor do I," replied Bridgit.

Moments later Margo and the red Audi were just a dot in the distance.

{{ }}

Because she composed it while running back to Mr. Agee's class, the text message Bridgit sent the Club members just read, "we have a case. Meet out front after school."

{{ }}

Janet had basketball practice so the rest of them hung out at the Second Cup down the street until she finished. It was 5:12 and already night had fallen when the five of them pulled up in front of 14 Manor Road.

Ramu began checking the front windows for movement the instant he leapt from the back seat of Juggernaut.
"How'd you find..."
"The Wizard of course," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
"You ever tell us whether the Wiz is a her or a him?" Keisha asked.
"No, I didn't."
"It's not nice to keep secrets from your Club mates," Keisha replied.
"OK, you're right, I should tell you, and I will now, so listen very, very closely."
Bridgit spoke softly, and at an even cadence..."whatever, whatever a Wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz is one..."
Keisha rolled her eyes while Kaseka chuckled then joined in, "... because, because, because."
And then Janet added her voice, "... because of the wonderful things she or he does."
"OK, we won't ask again," Keisha said.
"Yeah, you will," Bridgit replied.

Both yesterday's and that morning's copies of the Toronto Star lay on the reddish brown welcome mat. Bridgit scooped them up
Just the signal burglars look for," she said
Kaseka had the front door unlocked in under thirty seconds but he hadn't swung it open more that a few inches when a dozen or so flies escaped, bring with them the whiff of death.

"She wasn't murdered at home was she?"
"High Park, besides, tissue doesn't decay at that rate. Whatever is emanating that odour didn't die just this morning. Or yesterday morning for that matter."

Bridgit pushed past Kaseka into the lobby and flipped on the light.

 Kaseka gave her a questioning look.

"It's OK for the place to look as if Auntie Sue is home. The media hasn't released the vic's name so the neighbours aren't going to know she's dead," Bridgit said in between gasps as she removed a gym shirt from her backpack and tied it over her mouth and nose while the others either pulled their t-shirts up over the lower halves of their faces or just cupped their hands over their mouth and nose. Neither method kept out the stench but at least it prevented them from inhaling a fly.

"I'll check the kitchen. Keisha you take the living room. Kaseka, the den. Ramu and Janet upstairs.

Bridgit hadn't made it to the kitchen door when Keisha yelled out, "Dead cat!".

"Ditto in the den," said Kaseka

"Make that two more dead cats in the living room plus one small skeleton and an a little pile of miscellaneous bones on the coffee table."

The two foot high pile of dirty dishes first caught her eye but only momentarily. Then she saw the high chair.

"Hey! Any of you see evidence of a child living here?"

"Empty crib in the master bedroom," replied Ramu from the floor above.

"Smurf baby blanket crumpled on the floor of the second bedroom," Janet called out.

"Dust covered toy truck in the living room," shouted Kaseka

"Baby stuff scattered over the living room, but all of it looks unused, still in its original packaging," Keisha said matter-of-factly, "so where's the...."

Just then the house went black and Bridgit froze.

"Breaker trip?" Keisha asked from the living room.
"More likely Toronto Hydro shutting off Auntie Sue's power."

"And what makes you think...?"
"Elementary. Top of the kitchen's recycling bin... Hydro bill... unopened.. envelope stamped 'final notice'.
"How you doing Ramu?" Bridgit called out the floor above.
"I've been better," he replied.
"Janet with you?" asked Bridgit.
"No, I don't know where she is," he replied.
"Janet?" Bridgit said in a normal voice, then repeated, "Janet!" much louder but only silence answered. 

Bridgit reacted immediately by whipping out her Protec flashlight and hurried up the stairs. She found Ramu standing against the west wall of the master bedroom. His body was stiff, his eyes nearly as wide as Kaseka's new OLED TV.

I dont like the dark, Ramu said in soft voice.

Bridgit knew to speak slow, soothing tone. "I know but I'm here now. We're gonna walk out of the bedroom, down the stairs and outside. We need someone to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity."

Ramu just nodded in agreement and forced a smile. His hand was clammy and stiff when she took it and began leading him out of the room. But they hadn't made it more than half-way to the stairs when Bridgit stopped suddenly, fell still, then turned toward Ramu.

"You smell wet dog?"

Bridgit paused for a moment. inhaled through her nose then said with conviction, "No", but a half moment later said in a whisper, "Make that a yes."

At first the growling was almost imperceptible. More a directionless rumble than a sound. But as it grew in volume and ferociousness, Bridgit determined that it was coming from behind. Bridgit would have preferred to keep going - the top of the stair case was only three or four paces away, but with the second growl Ramu froze and she with left with no option other to stop as well.

Ramu didn't turn and considering the rigidity that had seized his body, he probably couldn't have turned, but she could, and did. At first there was nothing before her but a black void, but then two red eyes that never blinked appeared out of the darkness. At that point, she was glad Ramu hadn't turned to look and rather wished she hadn't either.

"Walk!" she said in a whisper and Ramu took one stiff pace forward, then another, and another. Red Eyes didn't seem to be following them, instead the dog, if it was a dog, seemed content to simply glare at them.

Although the urge to turn and see if it had followed them down the stairs, Bridgit didn't, instead she led Ramu straight to the front door, opened it, and gently pushed him out into the night air.

She had just shut the front door when she heard a toilet flush, then hurried footsteps on the floor above. Janet came rushing down the stairs looking sheepish, Sorry, had to pee.

Bridgit gestured toward the second floor and asked, You see or hear anything up there.

Like what?

Just then Keisha said with a tone of dread in her voice, "Barbie! You gotta see this."

Bridgit, Kaseka, and Janet all entered the living room within moments of each other.

Keisha was pointing at an oak chest, inlaid with mother of pearl and, unlike the other furniture in the house, frequently dusted and lovingly polished. The chest's lid was open, but Bridgit couldn't see inside from where she was standing.

"Tell me that's not what I think it is," Keisha blurted out in a nasal tone, the thumb and forefinger of her right hand pinching her nose.

The three of them converged on the chest in unison but each of their reactions were quite different.

Janet and Heri stared in stunned silence.
A wave of sadness washed over Kaseka's face
And Bridgit, well tears began flooding her eyes and streaked down her cheeks.

"What are you doing in my house?" The voice was male and mad. Bridgit and the others turned toward the foyer and saw a middle-aged man, wearing a long, beige trench coat and a black bowler hat.

Ramu said from just inside the front door. I tried to stop him,

"Your house?" Keisha shot back.
"Exactly! Allow me to introduce myself, I am Professor Clifton Charles the Third, brother of Sue Charles and rightful heir to her estate. Which includes the abode in which the four of you are currently trespassing."

Bridgit took three paces to the right to draw Professor Charles' attention while Kaseka and Janet walked around the chest to partially impair his view of the casket. Keisha, moving quickly and quietly, pulled a latex glove from her right pocket, slipped it onto her hand then removed a three quart pickle jar and set it on the floor between her feet.


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