I sat on the steps of a bluestone terrace that shimmered like a lake in the morning sun. Its half-dozen wicker chairs appeared to float on the blue mirage. Two Rottweilers, one on each side of me, waited like racehorses at the starting gate. They were a gift from my father and mother on my tenth birthday. I had named them Kipp and Razz, and they had accompanied me everywhere I went until four years ago when I entered the Stuart School of Business in Chicago.
I stood and with a running step launched the yellow Frisbee into the air. Even before it left my hand, the Rottweilers sprang to life. I laughed as the disk began to lose altitude, and they leaped into the air. When they came down, each clutched one-half. Nose to nose they shook and pulled, trying to tug it free. Two black clowns performing for me on a green-carpeted stage.
The contest between Kipp and Razz would last for a while since they were of equal weight and strength. I didn't care. The morning sun was warm and the light breeze refreshing.
Unconsciously, I found myself staring at the glass structure that enclosed the mid-sized swimming pool, which was my mother's pride and joy. Today, it stood as a painful reminder of her recent death. I had not only lost a mother but a close friend and confidant. During my early years, I had few opportunities to make childhood friends. I attended private schools, and my classmates lived miles away. Our parents had occasional sleepovers, but it was not enough to develop close relationships--girls I could share secrets and trade experiences. An only child, I had been lonely during those years. Surrounded by adults, my mother became the one I turned to. Although busy with her own business, she always had time to listen to my concerns and help me to find solutions. She taught me not to expect others to solve my problems.
For the thousandth time, I wondered how dogs could have killed her. She had been a gentle woman who would never have intentionally hurt, antagonized, or provoked an animal. The police never found the dogs and classified her death as an accident. The case remained open only because of several similar killings in other precincts.
I forced myself to concentrate on the struggle between Kipp and Razz. Tired for now, they lay on the manicured lawn that stretched hundreds of yards back to a stand of maple trees and an eight-foot stone wall which surrounded the two-acre property.
I knew my father loved me, but after the loss of his wife, he retreated into a cocoon that excluded me. I was forced to grieve alone.
When the Rottweilers jumped up to resume their contest, Kipp wrenched the Frisbee free and raced toward me with Razz trying to snatch it from him. They bounced off each other like rubber cars in a demolition derby. I smiled and the knot in my stomach eased.
Something yowled in the distance. It hadn't been Kipp or Razz. A minute later, I saw three dogs lopping toward me with a strange lurching gait. I took a step back, appalled at their ugliness. They had large heads with black muzzles, powerful bodies that looked a faded yellow splattered with dirt, and a strange bark that sounded like laughter. I wondered if they were happy or laughing at something of which only they were aware.
The Rottweilers' game ceased in mid-stride. They turned and charged, meeting the dogs in a clash of fury. Kipp grabbed one by the throat and hung on as it tried to shake him loose. Razz smashed into one of the other two, knocking it off balance. Teeth bared, they clashed together. Razz held his own until the other dog sunk its teeth into his hind leg. As he writhed to break free, his original foe latched onto his neck. The two strange dogs tore and ripped at his flesh as he lay bleeding. They savaged him like vultures over a dead carcass.
My heart raced as I watched in horror.
The dogs that had killed Razz then turned on Kipp, who continued to hang onto his opponent's neck. His powerful jaws should have killed the dog, but the cur appeared uninjured. Against three, Kipp didn't stand a chance. With a yelp that ended abruptly, he went down. Long after he lay dead, they continued to tear at his flesh.
I stood paralyzed, unable to run, screaming for help. My hands shook as I looked around for a weapon. The rattan chairs seemed too light. When I looked up, the strange dogs had begun to lope towards me. My stomach roiled at the sight of the dogs' muzzles, dripping with blood, and their flaming-red eyes.
Panic released me. I whirled and raced up the steps to the terrace. Scrambling to reach the safety of the terrace door, my toe hit the top step. I stumbled forward, fighting to maintain balance. For several steps, I managed to stay on my feet; however, in spite of my best efforts, I landed on my hands and knees short of the sliding glass door. As I scrambled towards the open slider, I could hear a dog's claws rasping on the stone steps behind me. Halfway inside, one of the dogs clamped onto my foot. I winced at the pain as the dog's jaw sank through the leather into my heel. I clawed at the floor to pull myself through, but couldn't because the dog was dragging me away.
Panic gripped me as I heard the scraping sounds of the other dogs on the steps. My mother's death...could these be the same dogs? Could this be how she died--savaged as she lay helpless? No, I refused to believe she hadn't fought them with her last breath.
I growled in fury as I twisted around and drove the heel of my free leg into the dog's eye. It jerked sideways, ripping my sandal off and tearing my foot open. A trail of blood followed me as I bounced backward through the door. I slammed it shut with my foot, smearing blood along the glass just as two dogs crashed into it.
Pushing the pain aside, I staggered up and ran, limping, toward my father's study, yanked open the door, and hobbled to the gun cabinet. Damn! Where was the key? I gave up trying to remember. Grabbing a paperweight from the desk, I threw it. Glass shattered in every direction. I reached in and seized the side-by-side shotgun. More glass broke as I pulled it out. Reaching back in for a box of twelve-gage shells, I gashed my arm. Trying to ignore the searing pain, I limped back to the slider, leaving a trail of bloody footprints.
My father's butler, Henry, stood looking out the slider.
I broke the shotgun open, jammed a shell into each chamber, and snapped it shut. "Where did they go, Henry?"
He turned to face me, his eyes wide with panic. "Miss Anne, you're bleeding." (I was often called Anne as a shortened version of Annette.) His voice rose as he pointed to my foot.
As I slammed the slider open, the box of shells dropped to the floor. The three dogs, with their strange gait, headed in the direction of the swimming pool enclosure and the stone wall fifty yards further on. I put the gun to my shoulder, sighted on the trailing dog, and fired twice. The dog stumbled and fell. Before I could find two shells and reload, it staggered up and loped after the other dogs. Screaming obscenities, I managed to reload and fired again; however, by then they were out of range.
I dropped to my knees in despair. Were these dogs with their eyes flaming with hell's fires, the same ones that kill my mother? I cursed in rage and tears streamed down my face. Why couldn't I have killed at least one of those goddamn mongrels?
Moments later my father and Aunt Renee entered the room.
"What happened?" My father raced across the room and bent over me. I sat there, my face streaked with tears, my arm bleeding, and blood pooling around my foot. He knelt and scooped me up. Spent, I took refuge in his arms and buried my head in his broad shoulder.
"Call Doctor McCall, Aaron," Renee said as she gently examined my foot and arm. "Several of these cuts are deep and will need stitches."
"I've already called, ma'am," Henry said.
"Dad, three curs killed Kipp and Razz, and they almost got me. I shot one, but the bastard managed to get up and run off. I want them killed." I shook with rage. I wanted to chase after them, although in the rational part of my brain, I knew the dogs were long gone, and my injuries required attention.
"We need to take her to emergency. Those cuts on her foot will need to be cleaned and sutured. There's glass embedded in them. Oh my god, possibly rabies. We need to find those animals." As Renee talked, Henry dashed through the front door. By the time Renee and my father, carrying me, exited the house, Henry had the BMW running and the doors open. Renee jumped into the passenger seat, and my father slid into the back, cradling me in his arms. He pulled the door closed, and Henry sped down the driveway toward the gate.
"Stop at the gate, Henry," my father said. As we approached, the guard activated the electronic controls. The gate stood ten feet high with a large "J" in the middle.
"George, be careful. Three mad dogs are loose somewhere on the grounds. They killed Annette's Rottweilers and attacked her. Call the police and keep the gate closed. They must be caught and killed."
I sighed in relief. Surely, the police would find the dogs and kill them.
By then the gate had swung open. Henry accelerated down the country road toward Good Shepherd hospital, which was only a few miles from the estate. My father called our family's doctor.
"Dr. McCall said he would meet us at the emergency entrance," Father said when Renee turned around to look back at him.
When Henry stopped, Renee had the door open before he could get around the car to help. My father settled me more firmly in his arms and hurried through the automatic sliding doors.
I felt embarrassed being carried like a child, but felt safe for the first time since my mother died. Before we reached the reception desk, McCall motioned to us from the hallway.
"Follow me back to one of the examining rooms, and I'll take a look at Anne." He didn't stop to see if we followed as he strode down the hallway. Halfway down the corridor, he opened a door and ushered us into an examination room. It was a small sterile room with a steel desk and examining table. McCall nodded towards the table, and my father lowered me onto it. As he did, a nurse pushed in a medical cart.
The doctor looked up after examining my foot. "It's not-life threatening, Aaron, but it'll take time to patch this up. Take Renee to the cafeteria and get coffee. If you stay, you'll just distract me. When I'm finished, I'll call you."
My father paused before he opened the door for Renee, and they left. I knew my father normally wouldn't have left quietly. He would've insisted on staying, but he trusted McCall. He had been the family doctor for over twenty years. He and my father had a long history of friendship.
"Most of these aren't dog bites," Dr. McCall said, examining my arm and foot closely.
"No, most are from breaking into my father's gun cabinet." I wished my father had a .30-06 rife with a scope in that cabinet. Those damn dogs wouldn't have gotten away.
"Next time I suggest you use a key."
I winced when he pulled a piece of glass out of one of the cuts and held it up for me to inspect. He found five more before he declared the wound clean.
"I was in a hurry. Those damn dogs were getting away." I riled at the thought.
He shook his head. "I guess I couldn't expect anything less from Aaron's daughter. Did you hit one?" He retrieved a small kit from the cart.
"Yes, but it recovered and managed to get out of range before I could shoot again. They have to be trapped on the grounds. If you patch me up quickly, I can join the hunt." I desperately wanted to be there when they were found. Hopefully, I would get to kill one--for Razz and Kipp.
"You aren't going anywhere, young lady." He began to clean out the cuts with an antiseptic, which painted the skin an ugly yellowish-brown color.
I knew he was right. Now that my rage had eased, my foot and arm throbbed with pain. McCall's probing didn't help. After he had sutured the worst cuts and tears, he bandaged my foot and arm.
"Here, take this. It'll dull the pain and help you sleep. I want to keep you in the hospital overnight. Your foot needs to be x-rayed, and I want to inspect those gashes on your heel tomorrow to ensure they don't require additional treatment. Don't shake your head at me. You're staying here tonight," he said, holding my chin to look me in the eyes. "I hope they do kill one of those dogs. I'd like to examine it for rabies. Although, based on your description of their behavior, I doubt it."
I knew arguing with him qualified as an exercise in futility. He wouldn't let me out of his sight until I had been safely tucked in bed under the watchful eye of some ex-marine nurse. The nurse seemed redundant. Within minutes the sedative had me fighting to keep my eyes open. McCall's smile was the last thing I remembered.