"Murder, Misfits & Mutts" Part One - Chapter 1 - Carmel Dog Tales

PART ONE

“The more men I meet, the more I like my dog”

Chapter 1

 

The glare of the women suggested they were more than a little skeptical and suspicious, of what they were about to witness.

     Huddled in a corner of the Pebble Beach horse barn, one of the ladies decked out in English riding attire whispered something to the middle-aged woman next to her.

     “No. She dumped him,” the woman corrected her friend. “Preferred sleeping with her dog.”

     “I’d take him in a heartbeat. Derek is a hunk and a half,” said the first woman – herself a hunk and three-quarters poured into tight riding breeches.

     “Shhhhh…” said another woman. “Give her a chance.”

     All eyes turned back down the breezeway where a big grey horse, Rex, peered into the probing eyes of Abby Purcell, standing close beside his head, sketch pad in hand.  A stern 50-something woman, Jackie, held Rex’s halter lead rope.

     “The vet can’t find anything,” Jackie said. “But I know my horse. Something’s very wrong.”

     Abby nodded, focused back on Rex.

     “Have to tell you,” Jackie said, “I’m not a big believer in… what you do.”

     “That’s all right. I’m not either… Sometimes,” Abby said. She was used to this, and smiled at the horse. Rex felt equally enamored and licked the hand of this youthful forty-six year old in denim work shirt and Giants baseball cap.

     The women in back had already made their verdict and turned to leave the barn when Abby pulled a pencil from under the back strap of her cap, closed her eyes and started sketching rapidly, her pencil a conduit for transmitting some higher force onto the paper.

     Her vision finished, Abby looked deep into Rex’s eyes, questioning.

     Rex leaned in and licked the sketch pad. Good enough for Abby. She tore the page off and handed it to Jackie who stared at the drawing. Not a clue.

     “It’s… pizza,” Abby said. “He wants to know when you’re going to give him more pizza.”

     “What? That’s crazy! I’m not giving him pizza. Poison for horses!”

     “I know. But that’s what I got.”

     Jackie had heard enough, scrunched up the drawing and was about to throw it across the barn when…

     “I’m sorry!” came from a woman in back of the barn. “I should have told you, Jackie. Last week… I was eating pizza. I passed Rex’s stall and he grabbed it out of my hand. I was afraid…  It’s all my fault…”

     The woman burst into tears and ran out the breezeway.

     Jackie regarded the crumpled sketch in her hand, gave Abby a long look. A painful, apologetic smile morphed across Jackie’s face.

     “Do you do snakes? My daughter’s got a reticulated Python…”

  _____________________

 

Jerry Newman foraged in the grassy slope below Pebble Beach’s 10th fairway.  Nudging a ball from thick rough with an old Sam Snead 9-iron, Jerry wiped it clean, glared at the old ball, and heaved it back in the rough.

     A shaft of light from the sun rising behind the Santa Lucia mountains hit Jerry in the face. Tugging the bill of his weather-beaten Cypress Point golf cap, Jerry turned from the sun and gazed out to the crescent of Carmel Beach. The view did nothing to improve Jerry’s mood, or the wretchedness of his fifty-three-year-old body clad in a ratty windbreaker, muddy khaki’s and ancient Etonic golf shoes.

     Jerry turned to his ball-hawking compatriot. “Any luck, Jack?”

     A giant white French Poodle pulled his snout from the tall grass, looked Jerry in the eye and gave him a raised lip grrrrrrrrrr.

     “Excuse me… Jacques,” Jerry muttered.

     Another beautiful morning shot to hell. Jerry used to love coming down here early before golfers reached the back nine – also too early for Carmel Beach to be assaulted by tourists and their four-legged family members. It wasn’t the canines that ruined the beach for Jerry, but the mess left by their off-leash primates: coffee cups, flip flops, beach toys… Worst of all, plastic bags filled with their dog’s poop that they had the courtesy to collect, but then chose to leave on the beach. Made Jerry wonder what they thought would happen to the poop: Picked up and disposed of by some Carmel Chamber of Commerce poop fairy?

     The thought did nothing to improve Jerry’s funk when Jacques slapped Jerry’s pant leg with a muddy paw. The Poodle dropped the golf ball in his mouth at Jerry’s feet.  Cleaning off the muck, Jerry gave the ball a critical look and pocketed it.

     “Keep it up, Frenchy. Someday I might let you caddy for me.”

     Declining the invitation, Jacques raised his leg and peed on Jerry’s 9-iron.

     “Don’t push it, Jack!”

     Jacques pulled his lips back giving Jerry the full impact of his perfect canines.

     Fine with Jerry who pulled his lips back and snarled his own pearly whites.

 

     Down the beach, Abby Purcell snuggled in the sand beside Murphy, a big brown Labrador Retriever. Murphy and Abby watched dogs and their humans romp along the beach when Abby noticed an older couple, strolling hand in hand, barefoot in the sand. Abby was happy for them, and jealous, her feelings taken out attacking a fat Bear Claw and large coffee.

     Murphy turned and gave his woman a soulful look.

     “Go. Go play! I’m fine. Go on.”

     Murphy dropped his head across her thigh. Abby stroked his head, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.  Seizing the moment, Murphy stole a bite of Bear Claw – only caught in the act by the scream of the older couple almost knocked over by a big black Poodle galloping down the beach.

     Abby opened her eyes just in time to see her Murphy licking his lips, behind him a big white Poodle racing after Black Beauty.

     “Jack! Come back here! JACK!!” Jerry hollered, jogging after the dogs.

     Abby watched Jerry slog to a halt, sucking air far behind the dogs. Another clueless male primate. Gulping down the last of her coffee, Abby and Murphy headed off the beach towards the staircase up to San Antonio Ave. Just left of the stairs a stone and timber sea-wall buttressed a massive Tudor home, only the upper floor visible behind impenetrable shrubbery and Monterey Cypress trees looming over the multi-gabled roof.

     The place always made Abby think of a derelict estate out in the Scottish moors – a perfect setting for an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

~   ~   ~

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