3rd Place – December 2020

Lost and Found

by Gail Armstrong

The storm hit at midnight and ravished the night with unsettling fury.  Angry winds howled around the eaves and sides of the old house. Harsh rain pelted the window panes  relentlessly.
Carl hunkered under a pile of cozy, warm blankets, his beloved shepherd Duke at the foot of the bed. He felt secure.
***
“Not what I feel like doing this morning, but you come first boy,” said as he tied up his gum boots and pulled on his police raincoat lined with flannel for extra warmth.
The retired cop opened his mouth as a loud yawn escaped. He clicked the leash on his partner’s collar.
“Just you and me boy, against whatever,” said with pursed lips as he looked at his buddy who waited patiently.
“Seems like forever that Emily died. Four years. It’s been a lonely road,” he thought. He felt his stomach sink.
“Stay.” Duke obeyed. He unlocked the front door and opened it.
“Come.” The eager shepherd pranced forward.
“Heel.” Duke positioned himself to the left of his master and waited. Secure at his side, on a short leash, the two ventured out.
Bulky, broken branches from trees long established lay on the soaked ground.
Dusky, wet leaves scattered streets and lawns. Some stuck like glue and others were slippery as grease.
“This could be dangerous,” he thought. “I won’t let him off the leash.”
The duo walked with extreme caution as Carl scanned for downed wires.
Duke stopped to relieve himself, lingered and sniffed an area around it. As they headed off he stopped to sniff again, and the leash was loosened to allow it.
They walked a quarter mile north, up Main Street where the Pawcatuck River flows from Chesterfield through the sleepy town of Woodville, to the Atlantic Ocean.
They made an imposing duo as they walked towards the river.
***
Swirls of waves cascaded like tumble weeds over the center of the water fall.  Usually calm, now a river of fear and folly.
Something caught Duke’s attention.  He stopped, his ears perked, all four legs braced, his compact body tightened.
“What Duke? What’s the matter boy?” Carl saw him in action, looking for missing people. He rarely missed a clue.
He sniffed the area. A low grrr and a quick whoof rumbled from the dogs’ muscular throat: his inquisitive eyes directed to the bank of the river where water was rushing over the falls.
“You sense something?” Carl strained to see as he leaned forward.
Duke scoured the ground with his sharp nose and jetted towards the bank of the river.
Dark stains splattered over the leaves near the edge of the river caught Carl’s attention.
“Blood. That’s the scent you picked up before, isn’t boy?” He unleashed the police dog.
Through branches of twisted vines on the bank of the river, a large shape was visible at the bottom of the river bed nestled into thick underbrush.
As they reached the edge an “aww” emitted upwards.
“Hello down there. You okay?”
Oh my God. Hello. You found me. Aww, it hurts—my leg—it’s bleeding.”
Blonde, straggly hair was stuck to her head and face, her light weight brown sweater, blue jeans, and sneakers, not suitable for a damp, cold morning.
Carl moved closer as he took out his phone and called 911.
“An ambulance is on its’ way.”
“I’m Carl, what’s your name?”
“Susan Collins– I opened my door this morning to let Bailey out—going for a walk,” she opened up her cardigan. A cairn terrier peeked out, shivered, and nestled back in.
“A loud noise spooked him —he ran off– me after him.  I fell on a sharp rock hidden by leaves– just after we left,” she said in spurts of breaths.
“He wouldn’t stop– came this far– and—he went to go near the water– I tripped– we both fell down. I grabbed branches to keep from going into the water– was able to grab and hold on to him, thank God. Been here twenty minutes.  I screamed but no one heard me.” A parade of hot tears caught her off guard.
“He’s all I have,” her sore body shook with each sob.
“I’m Carl Baker. This is Duke. He won’t hurt you; he knows what to do. I’m sending him down. Grab his collar for support.”
“Go down,” Carl gave the command and Duke obeyed.
She was happy to have a warm body next to her.
“Thank you. I don’t know how long I would have been here and it’s colder now. My feet are ice cold, my mouth tastes like dirt.”
“You’re going to be fine now Susan. It’s over.”
***
The EMT’s retrieved the bloodied and bruised young woman and her scared dog and were set to head to Memorial Hospital.
Susan looked up from the gurney.
“Carl, I live alone. I have this crazy question. Could you, would you, take Bailey until I get home from the hospital? It won’t be long. I would be forever grateful, I am anyways. Holy crap, you saved my life.” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Just doing my job. Duke and I are retired cops.”
“I’m one lucky women you two came by.”
“Thanks. Yeah, I’ll take your dog. That would be okay. Duke and he will make friends.”
He reached up and grabbed the frightened pooch and clutched him to his chest.
“Where do you live Susan?”
“28 High Street.”
“Huh, that’s funny. I live at 24 High Street. We’re neighbors. I’ll give my name and phone number to the EMT so you’ll have it.”
***
At five o’clock Carl’s phone rang. It was Susan and she was home and would be by to pick up her beloved pooch.
“I have ten stitches in my leg, and because of a small bump on my head they wanted to keep me longer for observation, I told them about Bailey, and they let me go earlier.”
“I’m so thankful. The temperature was forty two.  I didn’t have much chance of making it if—”
“Hey, if nothing. You made it. Duke and I were meant to come by.”
“Interesting we’re neighbors. How long have you lived here Carl?”
“Going on twelve years. It’ just Duke and me. And you?”
“I’m recently divorced. This is my first year in this friendly town of Woodville. Guess I picked the right neighborhood.” She chuckled.
How did Duke and Bailey get along? I hope little guy wasn’t a pest.”
“Like Batman and Robin.  Duke is protective and your little guy cozied up to him.”
“Glad to hear he has a friend. I’ll be by later to pick him up.”
“No need, you just had stitches in your leg. You’ve had an ordeal. If you don’t mind being without him, I can bring him over tomorrow. Give you a little time to heal. Save you the trip.”
“That is thoughtful and, yes that would be fine. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. What will you be doing?”
“Yeah, Thanksgiving, I’m going to get take out tomorrow somewhere. Just me. Not much of a cook.”
“Hey, no take out for Thanksgiving! Come to my place. Do you like turkey?”
“Having stuffing?”
“Of course. What’s turkey without stuffing?”
“Hey, it’s my favorite combo. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“I’m fine. The turkey is thawed, ready to cook and potatoes and peas are easy. So that’s it. Come to my place tomorrow for turkey. That’s two houses down, at—how about three?”
“Okay, I’ll be there at three o’clock. What can I bring?”
“Bailey and Duke.”
“Do you drink wine Susan?”
“Absolutely.”
“Then Bailey, Duke and a bottle of wine.”

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