Another short story taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales: A Growling Pack of Hungry Horrors, book 2 in my Creature Tales collection (due out the end of March this year).
Lucy first met her master to be as a wee young pup, no bigger than a palm-sized tiny ball of mischievous fur, but with a heart as big as the world. In stark contrast to the gorgeous golden coat of fur starting to emerge, she had the sort of big beautiful brown puppy eyes that made you instantly fall in love with her.
The introduction was to see if she immediately took to the man whose life she would hopefully transform. From the moment she was placed on the couch beside him, Lucy nestled up beside his leg. The man sitting there instinctively reached down to caress and stroke her back. Lucy liked that, turning to lick his hand. It was clear from the start they were going to be a good match when the time came.
Vince Downing had slowly been losing his sight for several years. It was just a matter of time, perhaps a year to eighteen months at most before the last flicker of light disappeared forever. He wasn’t bitter about it, just one of those things, the luck of the draw as he would say. But he already missed his independence and hoped a guide dog would at least help make him less reliant on others. In return, he would love and care for that dog with every fibre of his being; like Lucy, he had the kindest nature you could hope for in a man, or indeed a dog too. Thankfully, Vince still had enough sight left to cope with the 12 months of puppy raising before she went off to the training centre. It practically broke his heart when the time came to wave his faithful companion off after guide dog trainer, Chris Morton, arrived to collect her.
Lucy had been a dream to work with, and Chris Morton would be sorry to see her go, more than he cared to admit even to himself. He’d made the cardinal mistake of any trainer in becoming overly fond of one of his charges. Lucy too had grown to love the man who had patiently taught her all she knew, but even so, Chris was a sighted man, and would never need her in the way she was being trained for. Lucy understood this.
She was a natural for the job; it wasn’t that she was some blindly obedient canine equivalent of a sat-nav, she had a wilful and mischievous playful streak, but when it came to the important stuff, she instinctively knew what was expected. Come ‘playtime’ though, she always enjoyed the rewards of all the hard work she was putting in. But after nearly 9 months of obedience and guidance training, Lucy was ready to fulfil the role she’d been earmarked for when her loveable nature and extraordinary intelligence had first been remarked on.
The timing was fortuitous – Vince had less than 5 per cent of his sight now and had officially registered as fully blind. All that was forgotten though when Chris brought Lucy back. Vince recognised her bark immediately.
“Hello, my Lucy, I’ve missed you so sooooo much, girl,” Vince said, kneeling to give her a welcoming stroke of her back. Lucy licked at his hand, just like she used to when he was puppy raising her. Now though, she held her boisterous personality in check – no sudden jumping up at him or quite the same playful nature as before. Lucy had been taught well; she knew her master’s limitations and her role as his guide and protector.
For the next three years, the two of them were very happy together. Lucy was everything Vince could have wanted in a guide dog, and just as importantly, as faithful a friend and companion as ever lived.
With all the modern technology and speech to text software available, Vince was able to continue his career as a successful writer. With several best-sellers to his name, Vince was now a very wealthy man. Such success had attracted a lot of interest of late, though in the most recent case, not from a good source. In a recent interview, the subject of his blindness had come up, something a certain career criminal by the name of Dean Smith had picked up on. Dean was a thief, burglar, and one-time street robber, the last of which he’d given up when one of his victims decided to fight back. Nowadays he was far more selective about his victims, usually picking the elderly or otherwise vulnerable. Vince Downing sounded like a perfect candidate.
Though not the smartest guy in the world, Dean knew his way around a keyboard and the internet and was soon able to discover the well-to-do address where Vince lived. A quick check on StreetView showed it to be an expensive house too, no doubt filled with valuables. He made his plans accordingly …
It seemed like the perfect night to put his plans into operation. Months of planning and preparation, and exploiting Vince’s blindness, had allowed him to neutralise the problem of Vince’s burglar alarms and other security measures. His only concern was Vince’s guide dog. Observation had revealed she had free run of the extensive gardens to the back of Vince’s house day and night. Dean figured that throwing several pieces of drugged meat in them enough to keep her quiet on the night; his first thought had been to simply lace said meat with some fatal poison, but he’d read somewhere that if he used enough to ensure death, a dog’s acute sense of smell might alert it to the danger. On the other hand, if he used less than a significant amount, he’d have no way of knowing how long it would be to take effect. Reluctantly, Dean opted for lacing it with a sleeping draft, harmless in the long-term, but sufficient to knock her out long enough to rob Vince’s house without interference once inside. As it happened, his plan worked better than he could have hoped for. Lucy enthusiastically devoured the bait, quickly succumbing to its effects.
Noticing the increasing lethargy of his beloved companion, Vince wasted no time in calling for a vet, and Lucy’s trainer, Chris Morton. The fact that she simply appeared ill rather than there being any obvious effects of being poisoned, it didn’t arouse the same sort of suspicion that would have followed the latter.
Dean was watching from inside his van at a discreet distance when both the vet and Lucy’s trainer arrived. Shortly afterwards, the dog was taken away in the veterinary ambulance with Chris in attendance. Vince had wanted to go too but had reluctantly accepted Chris’s assurances that he would stay with her until the vets gave the okay to bring her home.
Vince was now in the house alone. It was already getting late and the time Vince usually went to bed. Nonetheless, Dean waited another hour, not being able to rely on the usual turning off of lights to indicate Vince going to bed as he would with a sighted person. Dean figured though on having several hours at the very least, and more probably until the next day before the dog was likely to be returned home. Still, he was anxious to get in and out asap; the last thing he wanted was to wait too long and risk being interrupted in the middle of a robbery. With the alarms already taken care of and the dog out of the way, Dean made his way through the rear garden, entering the house via one of the back doors. That was the point where things started to go awry. Dean had been wrong to think Vince would simply go to bed, knowing his beloved Lucy might be fighting for her life. Of course, he hadn’t gone to bed. What would be the point given the worry and turmoil raging through his mind? Even so, being worried and anxious wasn’t enough to stop Vince from picking up on the faint noise Dean was making as he rummaged through Vince’s study and other rooms to the rear of the house, assuming the occupant to be asleep upstairs. It was perhaps that same worry and anxiety that prevented Vince from thinking straight; he had a panic button/app on his mobile phone to trigger an alert to the local police station, but he’d left it in the kitchen, and instead. instinctively called out …
“Hello, is someone there?” Dean froze. The voice sounded like it had come from close-by, an adjacent room maybe, but certainly a downstairs one. The sensible thing to do would have been to get the hell out. But not Dean. He had invested a lot of time and effort into this job and wasn’t about to give it up.
In the semi-dark, he worried that Vince might have an advantage in a confrontation and switched a light on to see better. He took an involuntary gasp at seeing Vince standing in an opposite doorway just a few feet away.
“Please, I know someone’s there. Please, just go, I won’t call the authorities or anything,” Vince pleaded. Again, Dean was being given a second chance to cut his losses and run. Instead of taking it, he instinctively lunged and struck Vince with the flashlight he was still holding. It was a hard blow that sent him crashing to the ground and combined with the force his head hit the polished wooden floor, a fatal one too. It wasn’t how he had planned things, but Dean knew he could dispense with being so quiet now and proceeded to ransack the house for any cash or high-value items.
Chris tried phoning Vince later that night to let him know Lucy had had her stomach pumped and would recover just fine. There was no answer. He guessed Vince must have gone to bed, and so elected to return with Lucy the next morning. Again, there was no answer to the doorbell. Lucy was barking loudly; not the usual enthusiastic barking that you might expect from being reunited with her owner, but a more urgent and agitated sort, so Chris used the key Vince had given him to let himself in. As soon as the door opened, Lucy pulled free of Chris and ran inside to where Vince was lying. Had he simply been unconscious or asleep, Lucy would have licked at his face, nudging him with her nose to try and waken him, but Lucy knew the smell of death, and that her beloved owner wasn’t going to be getting up to stroke and caress her ever again. She slumped beside him, softly whining. Chris joined them a moment later, kneeling to take Vince’s pulse to check for life despite the futility; he could see from Lucy’s body language and lack of interaction with her owner that Vince was surely dead.
Chris Morton was not happy with the decision to assign Lucy elsewhere quite so soon after her owner’s death, especially given that Vince had left him his house and a large sum of money for Lucy’s future care and veterinary bills. Ideally, he would have liked to take Lucy himself, allowing her to continue living in the home she had shared with her former master. But guide dogs possessed exceptional qualities and were expensive to train. There simply weren’t enough of them to go around, and not to reassign her would be too much of a waste. Chris understood the reasoning and agreed to introduce her to a prospective new owner.
The man in question had recently been blinded in a street attack, acid thrown in his face according to the file. While feeling sorry for the man, Chris couldn’t help but wonder might have provoked such a vicious attack. It could of course have just been another senseless act of violence, but if not, it worried him then just what sort of man he would be leaving Lucy with? He forced himself to put the thought from his mind as he made his way to the man’s apartment.
There was no garden for her to play in, and the area was in the poorer part of town, not the sort of place he would want for Lucy. But rich and poor alike were deserving of the very best help they could get, and if he was a decent sort, there was no reason to believe Lucy wouldn’t adapt and be just as happy as she had been with Vince.
The meeting was short and perfunctory. The man seemed to have little interest in asking questions about Lucy’s care other than how much it cost to feed a mutt? Lucy for her part didn’t display the usual degree of curiosity and affection either when meeting someone new for the first time. Oddly, she seemed more interested in sniffing about the man’s apartment, in his closets and cupboards like a sniffer dog looking for drugs. After completing a few formalities, Chris reluctantly left Lucy in the man’s care, determined not to allow his misgivings to influence him.
Lucy was guiding her new master to some local street corner. To exactly where and what for, Lucy had no way of knowing, her job was to simply ensure he got to wherever he was walking without mishap. It was night, and while that made no difference to the man at the other end of the leash, it was not ideal for Lucy guiding him.
They stopped at a crossing. Despite the late hour, there was a lot of noise and activity, too much for the audible warning to either wait or cross to be heard. Lucy could see and hear the approach of the oncoming bus. A gentle tug on her lead was the cue for her master that it was safe to cross. A split second later he caught the full force of the bus, killing him instantly. Thankfully, Lucy had managed to jump back in the nick of time, her leash immediately dropped from her master’s grasp at the moment of impact, and so she remained safe. The police and an ambulance quickly arrived on the scene, but too late. Lucy had stayed put where she was just as she was trained to do. The emergency service staff arranged for Lucy to be returned to the guide dog training centre as per the information on her dog tag.
Back at the centre, there was some discussion on how such an accident could have occurred. Lucy was by far the best guide dog they had ever trained, but Chris was able to successfully argue that given the circumstances, Lucy could no longer be relied upon in the role. No one objected to Chris applying for her custody.
Subsequent investigations into the background of Lucy’s second deceased master threw up some interesting results. A search of his apartment revealed several items stolen from Vince Downing’s house along with forensic and DNA evidence linking him to the tragic robbery and murder. It was those same items that had almost certainly prompted Lucy to immediately start sniffing around the apartment when Chris first took her there. Some remnant of Vince’s scent was probably what had alerted her, though Chris was hardly to know that at the time. Speculation immediately arose as to whether Lucy may have deliberately allowed Dean Smith to walk into oncoming traffic, leading to do his death?
There were a few jobsworth officials who tried to insist that Lucy might be a danger to people and since, for obvious reasons, Lucy could not be questioned on the matter, it might be best to have her put down. On the other hand, the consensus was that Dean had got exactly what he deserved. There was little doubt either that the acid attack had most likely been related to his criminal activities, and besides, any suggestion of taking action against Lucy would have outraged every dog and other animal lover in the country. The last thing any Texas judge wanted was to be the first in the world’s execution capital to be the voted out of office by the dog vote.
To this day, Lucy still sleeps on her favourite rug in the exact spot where her former master, Vince, had died.
For more canine-themed stories – some sad, some savage, and others more subtle – keep tuned for:
Publication date – 31st March 2019