Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I have never buried a human body in the woods. Rest assured, I have not.

Tuesday was typical. Work stuff was normal, the drive home uneventful. Angel was still in Wisconsin. There was a bit of stress relaying messages to her about the owner of one of the dogs we adopted out now having second thoughts… But other than that, the weather was nice and my biggest concern other than the dog owner in question was whether to have leftover spaghetti or a sandwich for supper.
I opted for the pasta and made a salad. After I finished and cleaned up the mess, I took Myster (Mystery, the pit bull) for his first evening walk. He only did half of his expected business, he’s a bit poop-shy. I made a mental note to myself to take him to one of his more favored spots on his second evening walk.
I sat back in my recliner, and flipped through the channels looking for something stupid to dull my brain. Myster laid down on the floor on my right expecting to have his head stroked. I called Angel and told her the latest on the dog owner, she said she’d take care of it. Problem solved!
Movement outside the sliding glass door caught our attention. Myster loves visitors but has trouble communicating that glee. It is usually misinterpreted by those that don’t know him. He growls, barks wildly and runs directly towards them, massive jaws wide open and thick muscles taut and active. To the unfortunate uninitiated this looks a lot like they are being attacked by a wild and angry Pit Bull.
I got up and thumped his ear, he retreated like the big baby he actually is. Outside the door was a very alarmed and wide eyed County Deputy. I slid open the door and stepped out, the deputy’s eyes never left the dog. “Does he attack?” the deputy asked… This presented a quandary for me. After all I did not know why the deputy was there, so I shrugged my shoulders and replied: “He’s in training.” Leaving the deputy to conclude for himself what that actually meant.
“Do you own this property?” he asked. “Some of it, five acres.” I replied very quickly.
Our property used to be a part of a ninety four acre spread, mostly wooded, some of it could have been pasture at one time, though not very good pasture. Very hilly, wooded over, swampy in many spots. The owner of the ninety four acres inherited the acreage and the house and tried to sell it all. No one was willing to lay out the money to take it all, so he split the house and surrounding five acres and sold that, to us. The remaining eighty nine remains unoccupied and unused, the ‘Acreage For Sale’ sign is fading.
I explained this all and pointed to the orange sticks and paint marks that separate the properties. “Well sir I’m sorry to bother you, but we need to take a walk around the entire area” He paused, I let him continue. “We found some partial remains up by the road.”
I know, you’re thinking “So what? This sort of thing happens every day!” Well believe it or not, I can’t recall ever having had this come up before in my short, yet handsome life.
“We don’t know if the remains are human or not.” (ughhh) “We’ve sent them to a lab but we won’t hear back for some time, and we’d like to look around if you don’t mind.” He said rather professionally.
“By all means!” I sounded too excited, I’m sure. Bailey and Blue were outside in the fenced back yard, barking wildly at the uniformed and armed intruders. “Do your dogs or other dogs run free?” he asked. I stared at him trying desperately to look as innocent as possible, which is very difficult for me especially when I am actually innocent. He continued:” It looks like the remains were drug to the roadside out of the woods.” I sighed with relief, even though there was no reason to feel relieved about anything. “No, we keep them fenced in or on leashes, and they would let us know if there was another dog about, much like they are alerting now to your being in the yard. So no, I haven’t seen any strays.” He seemed to believe me, or he was very good at hiding his suspicion. “My wife’s a dog trainer and is outside with the dogs a lot every day. “ I added for no apparent reason.
“Are any of your dogs trained to track cadavers?” He asked. It took me a moment since I never kept up with Angel’s complete curriculum. “No, but we have one, George, that went through a week of training with the DEA in Maryland a couple of years back. I don’t think they covered cadavers though, drugs, mostly drugs, and we certainly don’t have anything like that here of course, no drugs, never did, never would.” Wow, I really over-answered that!
“We lost our tracking dog.” He said flatly, once again not showing any suspicion at all. “Is your wife here?” he asked. “No, she’s been out of town for a few weeks. ” I answered sounding exactly like a nervous confronted husband on ‘Law and Order’. “And that dog, George?” He quickly fired back. I stuttered a bit: “She took George (the only trained drug/cadaver tracking dog in the county apparently. How convenient, too convenient?) with her, to Wisconsin, quite a ways away. Her cell phone doesn’t work where she’s at most of the time.” Sweat was forming on my brow. Did he see it? Sheesh, there’s sweat on his brow as well! What does that mean? Oh yeah, it’s eighty degrees out with very high humidity, get a grip!
“That’s too bad.” Was all he said. Man this guy is good! “Well, if you don’t mind, could I get your name?” He whipped out a cheap, generic pocket pad and touched he tip of his golf pencil to his tongue. I answered, spelling it three times for him until I finally got it right.
“Alright Dennis, we’ll just look around a bit, sorry to bother you with all this.” he said, obviously baiting me for a sophisticated mind-game trap.
“Sure, no problem.” I retreated back into the safety of my home, called Myster over to my side and stood there at the door with my arms confidently folded. Myster leaned forward, bared his enormous teeth, growled and barked at the departing intruder. This is what he does when he wants someone to scratch his belly.

I sat down once again in my comfy recliner and explained to Adam what was going on. “Interesting” was his entire contribution to the conversation. In the telling, it occurred to me that when the deputy was asking about dogs running loose, that he was trying to figure out what dragged the remains out of the woods and up to the roadside. “I forgot to tell them about the coyotes!” I shrieked. (I didn’t actually shriek I just ran out of unique verbs to use here instead of ‘said’) I put on some shoes and glided out the door. (sorry, I left my thesaurus open)
I crunched my way down to the bottom of the hill where I found not only the deputy from earlier, but two others as well. I joined up and explained that there had been a lot of coyote activity the past few weeks, and if anything was going to scavenge, shred and drag, it was probably them.
They were walking side by side about twenty feet apart. “Can we get to that lake from here?” the chubbier of the men asked. “Sure, it’s right around this ravine.” I pointed. It occurred to me then that I knew the area better than they, and without asking, decided to stay with them as they stumbled through the thick, tick laden saplings, oak leaves and brush. The ‘lake is what the neighbors call it. To me it looks like a large pond, no more than an acre in size. As we trudged we chatted and one of the deputies asked me if I shot deer or anything else because they had found several animal bones and skulls. “No, I don’t hunt, and the neighbors told me when I first moved here that there was a deer with an orange collar that was kind of a free-roaming pet, and asked me to please not kill it. I assured them as well that I don’t hunt.”
“Yeah we heard about that deer, saw it a couple minutes ago.” Another one replied. “You heard about it?” I asked, wondering if this was some sort of larger local legend. “Well your neighbor that told you about it is our dispatcher, we’ve been talking to her on the radio.”
As if this whole affair had been scripted by Kafka himself, a surreal and dreamlike sensation came over me. The collared doe, which I had seen several times, but only from a distance, at that very moment stepped out of the woods and walked directly up to us. She followed us as we searched the ground for the remainder of the remains.
“How many teeth do people have?” One of the deputies asked me. “Thirty something isn’t it?” I replied. “Yeah I thought so, so you think this probably isn’t human then?” he asked, pointing to a spot in front of him. I looked at the bleached jawbone half buried in swampy muck and sized it up pretty quickly. “Well it’s a bit pointy, disproportionately so for a human, and if it is human we’re talking about a serious vegetarian.” They looked at me baffled, as if I were Noah explaining all the construction noise to his neighbors. “The teeth, no incisors, those are the teeth of a grass eater, not a carnivore. It’s probably deer.” It could have been a zebra or a kangaroo as well, but I was betting on logical probability, not possibility. “You know anatomy stuff?” One asked. “Only basic stuff, I did take a college course in anthropology ten (twenty) years ago and spent time on a dig site, so yeah we learned some basics” (Like how to tell a deer skull from a human skull) “Wow, that’s handy” the largest one said.
It was getting dark, and we were a good half mile from the house. I suggested that we take an alternate route back to the house, a cleared logging trail after a rather significant incline. The deer stopped following us at the bottom of the hill; I had patted her neck and she quickly scampered away.
We reached the top, and I noticed that I was in the lead. Odd, three of Jefferson County’s finest were huffing and puffing, red faced and sweaty. To be fair, I was red faced and sweaty and breathing hard myself, but I’ve been holed up in cubicles most of my adult life. I used to be forty-something, these guys were all in their twenties or early thirties. They have a job that requires them to do much, much more than push a mouse around a spongy pad and tap it occasionally. They were huffing and puffing and asking for a break. I laughed, I finally realized I could out-run them if I needed to.
A cell phone rang, which surprised me since I can hardly snag a single bar out of the sky from my house. The small deputy answered and started laughing. “Yes we did find it!” (Had I missed something?) “I’ll send you a picture!” He started laughing and fiddling with the buttons on the phone. “It’s Nancy, wanted to know if we saw her deer.” They chuckled, I stood in awe, wondering what cell service provider the county used. “Tell her that her deer is covered with ticks” I jealously told him.
We approached the house, and shook hands. “Well if we find out the remains are human, and from what you’ve told us, they probably aren’t, but if they are human we’ll be back to bug you for a while longer.”
I smiled and replied “Cool, I can make sandwiches.” They didn’t get the joke, neither did I, for that matter.
It was getting late and time to cycle the dogs. Bailey was tired from barking at us the entire $%$$!! Time we were in the woods, Blue was hungry, because Blue is always hungry, and Myster was anxious. Myster had stayed in the house the whole time, because he’s my dog and Angel’s not here, so I get to make the rules.
I cinched up his choke-chain and long lead and headed up the driveway for his late evening sabbatical. I recalled that I need to take him to his favorite spots. One of those is at the top of the driveway where I can conveniently step in it on trash day.
He did nothing. There was the sound of a car coming down the road and that is all he could think of. Myster tends to obsess over cars going by at night. By obsess, of course I mean ‘go berserk’. I pulled the slack out of the fifteen foot lead and prepared for the imminent fifty pound thrust of raw and singularly purposed muscle launching toward the road. He tensed, waiting, waiting. I dug in. The headlights soon broke the darkness, Myster didn’t flinch, he’s just a dog and hasn’t associated headlights with cars, just the noise. The headlights seemed bright, and high. Then it occurred to me that it was actually a car mounted spotlight, like those on the sheriff’s cruisers. “That makes sense, they’re still looking around. Must be a slow crime day” I told Myster, who wasn’t listening at all. The stocky black dog tightened up as the car drew nearer. I could feel his vibrating tension through the lead. Just as he was prepared to leap (and suddenly rediscover that he was on a leash) it turned all surreal again, suddenly and loudly. At the very point that Myster would normally lunge; just as the car, a mere twenty feet away became visible from his low vantage point, the Deputy, for reasons unknown, activated his blue flashers and ridiculously loud siren.
Myster froze, absolutely froze, he didn’t leap, he didn’t blink, he didn’t breathe. It was as if he had been hit by cosmic, Old Testament lightening, completely frozen in place. The car was well gone when he finally moved. He sighed, turned around, squatted on his favorite spot and fully relaxed the required muscles. He’d been holding on to that for a while.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Angel is out of town, for three full weeks. She is attending advanced training classes to obtain certification and become a listed trainer on a national registry. Though it costs a lot more than a classified ad in a newspaper, the hope is that folks looking for dog training will be able to quickly and directly link up with her. She took Georgio (George) with her as he is the most stubborn of our trained dogs. Where the others snap to position on command, George slides slowly and reluctantly as if his limbs were operated by heavy hydraulics.
The classes are being held in Hazel Green Wisconsin. A small spot at the Iowa/Illinois/Wisconsin corner. Hazel Green is the location of that state’s first permanent settlement (1825), and is the geographical ‘point of beginning’ for all the state’s property deeds. That may sound important and significant, however that does not quite equate to stately grandeur; the town is only one and a half square miles in size and home to only eleven hundred people.
A week or so prior to leaving, Angel ran across a craigslist plea for assistance. A lady from a Chicago Suburb had adopted a puppy, site unseen, from someone in Desoto (a town very near our home) and needed help to get the pup from here to there. Angel, being the person she is, contacted both parties and arranged to take the puppy as far as Peoria, about as close a point to the lady’s suburb as her trip would take her. Of course my lovely wife did not ask for a dime. “It’s on the way and no trouble at all.” She said. I of course explained to her that “if you keep giving away your services like that, nobody will ever buy the cow!” Followed immediately by about an hour’s worth of apologies backlit by my son’s laughter.
Saturday, She took the two dogs we have been fostering, Max and Katy Sue, back to ‘the farm’ (the rescue group’s facility) for the duration. Fosters have to be managed separately from our own dogs, they don’t always get along so great, and without Angel about to ramrod the mixed herd, it was decided they could suffer kennel life for a while. She was taking George with her and that left only Blue, Bailey and Mystery at our house. Even lazy amateurs such as Adam and I can handle those three. The boys sleep a lot, and Bailey is quite content to spend the entire day in the back, using her commanding baritone bark to ward off all offending squirrels and motorcycles.
Later, Angel drove down to Desoto to pick up the puppy, an eight week old St. Bernard. This was the last of the litter that the owner had been blessed with; she had rescued the mom from a bad home situation and was not aware that the massive, but loveable dog was already in a family way. The blessings appeared out of nowhere, without warning. Fortunately they were the most cutest, fluffy faced, precious, cuddly things imaginable. Once posted on, they went fast, the last of which to the lady in Chicago. Seriously, this little fuzz ball was beyond adorable. So adorable that you might easily forget that she would eventually weigh a hundred twenty pounds or so.
Sunday morning Angel packed her bags and dogs into her SUV, and left the boy and I alone in the driveway, sobbing. (not really, the boy wasn’t even out of bed at the time, and I don’t sob.)

Three full weeks of figuring out the least possible time and effort meals, cleaning techniques, and chores. Three full weeks driving a pathetic, tiny rental car so the boy can use my car to get to school and work. (he has a job at ‘Subway’ in Hillsboro).
Angel left a comprehensive checklist for us: 1. Feed the dogs. 2. Feed the fish. 3. Don’t burn the house down. So far so good.
The boy (Adam) is a pretty good housemate. He stays in his room or plugged in to the Wii downstairs most of the time, I can go weeks at a time without actually seeing him. He does things he is asked to do and doesn’t generally leave a big mess behind, not one that I have noticed anyhow. I saw him for a bit on Monday, I was watching T.V. contemplating snack and beverage options, he passed through to do… something, I don’t recall what. He sat for a moment and finally spoke: “It’s weird without mom here” I sighed heavily and paused the TV show (I love my DVR!) and replied “In what way?”
“I dunno” he replied, “nobody to talk to I guess.”
I thought about it for a moment: “You’re right.” I finally added. He wandered off, I pressed ‘play’. It was indeed a warm and touching moment of father-son bonding. I hope we can do it again sometime.