WALKING THE DOG
© 2010 Martin Rickerd
“The body was found by a man walking his dog”.
How many times had he heard that on the news? The canine sense of smell had been responsible for all sorts of discoveries. It was a dog that found the World Cup after it was stolen in London in 1966.
Nothing like that ever seemed to happen to Pete when he was walking Jack. All Jack ever smelt out were old crisp packets, sweet wrappers and leftovers from Chinese meals abandoned along with empty beer cans by late night revellers in the park. The most exciting thing Jack and he had come across was a woolly hat, which he had placed prominently on a gate post near where he picked it up. Three days later it had gone, whether back to its rightful owner or just someone who fancied a free woolly hat, he didn’t know.
On Tuesday morning, all that changed.
Jack was sniffing in a bush alongside the canal towpath and at first Pete didn’t pay any more attention than usual. But when Jack emerged from the bush he did not have the habitual piece of litter in his mouth. It was a wallet.
Pete thought of those news headlines and after getting Jack to drop the wallet he parted a few branches to see further into the bushes, not sure what he was expecting to find. He called out “Hello?”, almost involuntarily as he was pretty sure there would be no reply – and indeed there was none. He peered deeper through the tangled foliage but could see no other sign of recent activity.
Jack had already lost interest and Pete let him sniff the trail of some animal or bird along the towpath while he inspected the wallet. Good quality leather, not scratched or damaged. Inside the banknote slots were empty, as were the credit card pockets. Lifting a flap he was met by a smiling group, two adults and two young children, presumably the wallet’s owner with his family. Behind the old, much-thumbed photo was a book of stamps, a library card and a driving licence.
The dog looked up from his snuffling and Pete realised he had said this out loud.
The wallet belonged to a Mark Slater, who lived at a nearby address. Pete decided that he would deliver the wallet to its owner after taking Jack home.
His wife was out, so Pete left Jack in charge of the house as he set off on the short walk to Laburnum Drive. One of the reasons they had moved to the outskirts of the town was that it was quiet, and he hardly met a soul on the way. It was, after all, mid-morning and most people would be at work, at home or at school rather than in between.
He arrived outside number 27, last on the left, an older house set back from the road and twenty metres beyond the road’s modern detached homes. The grass was uncut, bushes that had at one time grown up to the ground floor windows now partly obscured them and the paintwork was cracked and peeling. There was a car in the drive, suggesting that someone was home.
Pete walked up to the front door and, not hearing any faint “ding dong” in response to pressing the door bell button, used the knocker between the two panes of frosted glass. Still no reply, so he knocked more firmly. At this, the door creaked ajar; it had been closed but unlatched.
“Hello?” he called from the threshold. He pushed the door open a little further and called again. “Hello – Mr Slater?”
A small dog started to bark from deep inside the house, perhaps upstairs. Repeating “Hello – is anyone there?” from time to time, Pete made his way into the hallway and towards the first room. The place was a mess, almost as if it had been ransacked; but then he decided that some people just lived like that. Every chair was covered with magazines, food wrappings or discarded clothing. A low table in front of the sofa was scattered with beer cans, books and DVDs. He could hardly make out the design on the carpet, so much detritus was there on the floor. Not the home of the smiling family in the wallet.
He went through to the kitchen where the sink was overflowing with used crockery and glasses. On a small table was a cardboard box full of tins, packets of food and bottles, as if their owner had not unpacked after returning from a shopping trip.
The dog was still barking, definitely from upstairs. Pete had turned out of the kitchen towards the stairs when he noticed some movement in the room at the back of the house. He called out again and made his way cautiously into the room.
At the far end was a tall figure, facing a display case, dressed in a black hooded jacket and dark blue tracksuit trousers. “Mr Slater?” called Pete.
The figure turned and Pete instantly realised that this was not the legitimate occupant of the house. It was a young man, his face bearing a day’s growth but his head shaven, with cold eyes and a boxer’s nose.
Things moved quickly. As Pete stood in the doorway, about to ask what the man was doing there, the youth lunged forward and a knife appeared from a pocket. As the intruder forced his way past Pete, the knife caught Pete’s wrist, perhaps unintentionally and so quickly that he did not notice at first. He tried to grab the youth but the criminal stabbed him in the chest, and Pete slumped to the ground. The young man ran down the hallway and out of the front door, leaving it ajar in his haste. Pete tried to reach for his mobile but his bleeding wrist wouldn’t let him.
Two days later, a man walking his dog noticed the open door. Pete himself became the news headline.