Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 1

It's Thingadailies time! As previously discussed, this year I'll be scribbling a book, one chapter at a time (as opposed to some other way? Great writing there, T) and audience participation is strongly encouraged!

So if you have a burning desire to get a character named after your best friend from second grade, or some bizarre manner of death would brighten your day, make a note of it in the comments!

(If you just want to tell me what terrible writing this is... you can keep it to yourself. This is first draft madness, not perfect prose.)

So without further ado, I give you: Death Walks A Dog.

Chapter One

Penelope Standing tugged her ski cap down over her silvering hair, hoping that her target would get a little closer before she was discovered. The mayor hadn’t developed his paunch by taking the long route between his office and the nearby cafe, but he’d make a change if he saw her too soon.

Flanking the mayor on his left was his administrative assistant, Catriona “Don’t call me Cate” MacDonald, a stout black woman who half the town assumed had regular Botox injections because her expression never changed. Penelope didn’t necessarily believe the Botox story — she assumed that anyone who worked with His Honor would have to have superhuman control just to keep from murdering the man so keeping a few wrinkles at bay would be child’s play.

On the mayor’s other side walked the acting chief of police, Jake Wheeler. Penelope knew the exact point he saw her from the slight hitch in his stride, but aside from raising one eyebrow he didn’t do anything. The giddiness she felt at the sight of him after over two years together still caught her by surprise.

A smattering of other people enjoying the spring sunshine helped her blend in, and she saw the mayor take his usual path between the concrete planters. Now he was trapped.

Jumping to her feet, Penelope took a deep breath, pitched her voice to carry to the edges of the tiny park, and channeled her inner Janis Joplin.

“Oh Lord, grant me the confidence / of a mediocre white man,” she sang. The two men sitting nearby glanced at her then away, an immediate dismissal she was getting used to now that she’d hit fifty, but a teenager on the other side of the path pulled out his cellphone and started recording. “I’ve tried Tony Robbins. I can’t understand. Worked hard all my lifetime but no upper hand. Oh Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

As she finished the first verse Penelope looked to her right to see that the mayor had stopped walking and was staring at her, lips pursed. Penelope took another breath. “Oh Lord, can you end this mansplaining to me. He dropped out of high school. I have a degree. Worked too hard all my life to put up with idiocy. Oh Lord —.”

“That’s it!” The mayor’s face was flushed. “This is harassment. Every day it’s something different. That stupid ad in the paper lost me investors and I’m still finding glitter in the goddamn bathtub!” He turned to the man next to him. “Arrest her!”

Jake paused and rocked back on his heels. “Your Honor, I’m not sure that bad rhyming and out-of-key singing are legal crimes.”

Penelope straightened. “Bad rhyming? I’d like to see you do better, Mr. ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, I can’t finish this because I have to go to a training class on resuscitating people who are Tasered’.”

“I don’t think that’s exactly —,” Jake started before the mayor cut him off.

“I don’t care what you have to do, just make her shut up!”

“Sir, there’s only one thing I can think of that will make Ms. Standing stop talking, and then I’d have to arrest her for doing it here in public.” His voice trailed off as the mayor stomped down the path toward the cafe.

Penelope and Catriona stared at Jake.

He smiled. “There’s an ordinance against sleeping in this park. What did you think I was talking about?”

Penelope shook her head. “Nice try, Slick.” Her phone beeped. “I have to go see a dog about a walk. We still on for dinner tonight?”

“If I’m not there right away, there’s a bottle of wine chilling in the refrigerator.”

Penelope blew him a kiss as she waltzed away.

Two streets down and one to the side, the mayor’s recently estranged wife lived alone in a tiny nineteenth century cottage originally built for the mother-in-law of the town’s founder. “I’ll be damned if I keep living in one of those monstrosities he builds,” Jezza had told Penelope three months earlier when she’d hired her to walk the dog. “But there’s not enough room for Brutus in the house unless he gets more exercise, and it’ll really chafe the troll’s chaps when he finds out his money is paying your salary.”

Brutus, the world’s most ill-behaved Mastiff, had become The Thing that both halves of the couple wanted, or at least wanted the other half not to possess. Penelope couldn’t understand why one person, much less two, would want a dog that weighed as much as a full grown man, left ropes of drool in his wake, and couldn’t be reliably house-trained. Nevertheless, it had taken a judge’s threats to throw both parties in jail to force the couple to come up with a custody arrangement they could both live with.

As she walked briskly to the house, Penelope checked the time. Five minutes later than planned. If Jezza had been home that might have been a problem, but Penelope had heard Brutus barking from a block away, which meant his owner wasn’t there. As she put the key in the lock, Brutus’ barks of loneliness turned to growls of protection, a scary sound coming from a dog that outweighed her. “Relax, buddy, it’s just me,” she called through the door and his growls turned to quiet whines.

The smell of dog poop hit her like a wave when she cracked opened the door, so it wasn’t a surprise to see dog prints all over the normally immaculate hardwood floor. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, Penelope pushed her way into the entrance hall, slammed the door behind her, and tiptoed across the living room, one hand on Brutus’ head to keep him from jumping on her. From the looks of things, he’d had an accident soon after Jezza had left him in the morning, and then spent the intervening time running a marathon in the house.

Fifteen minutes later Brutus had clean feet, and the worst of the mess on the floor had been cleaned up with paper towels and a spray bottle of citrus-based cleaner. Technically it wasn’t Penelope’s job to clean up the house — she’d been hired to walk Brutus, not house-sit — but Jezza was a steady client who paid her bills, and that meant keeping her happy. If Penelope did a fast mop of the worst areas the floor would be dry again by the time she and Brutus came back from their walk and she’d only be a few minutes late for her next appointment.

“Where does your mom keep the mop, buddy?” she asked the dog who was now sprawled on the couch with a stuffed shark. Penelope opened the closet next to the front door, and found only coats.

Jezza was usually home when Penelope came to walk Brutus, so this was the first time Penelope had really looked through the house. She’d seen walk-in closets bigger than the Victorian-era bedrooms, but there was a certain charm to the multi-paned windows and crown molding crowding the rooms.

At some point in the past, probably before the house had been listed with the historical society, the bathroom had been remodeled to include a shower. The wall of the house had been bumped out for extra space, and the room divided to make a laundry room which was where Penelope finally found the supplies she’d been searching for.

She froze with her hand on the mop, all thoughts of cleaning up gone.

Jezza hadn’t left alone Brutus early that morning because Jezza’s lifeless body was crammed into the laundry room sink.

Tune in tomorrow-ish for the continuing adventure! And comment below!


Richard Crawford said...

Lovely! I would love to be killed off in your novel, digested to death by a moon worm.

Richard Crawford said...

Oh, and a request.... could you separate paragraphs by a blank line? That would make it easier to read.

Theresa B (of Nebulopathy) said...

Good point about the blank space. I will work on the (super old and obsolete) blog formatting this weekend to get a better format, but in the meantime I'll add some extra white space.

And moon worm? Hm... I'm going to have to figure out how to get that one in there, but I'm pretty sure I can find a way...