THE DOG ON BALMY BEACH
I wrote this story based on a news report about a young man who’d planned to carry a mass shooting on the boardwalk in the Toronto Beaches District. Especially chilling because my friends and I walk and bike there regularly.
Published in Going Out With a Bang, Anthology by the Ladies Killing Circle, Rendezvous Crime / Dundurn Press, 2008.
Now Basil, too, had vanished. Ora shouted the dog’s name. No sign of him.
Where is he?
The man drew closer. He was wearing heavy black boots like the ones skinheads favoured. He looked like a skinhead, too, with his closely shaved head and baggy camouflage pants. Ora’s skin prickled as if it were full of tiny electric needles, the way it did whenever she had a near miss in traffic. Or last week when her new boss asked her into his office and closed the door.
Suddenly Basil came hurtling out of nowhere, a gold cannonball. Where had he been? He flew past Ora to Melanie who stroked and tussled his fur. “You’re all wet, boy. What have you been doing?”
“For God’s sake, Melanie, hold him.” A dark oily substance clung to the dog’s chest and forelegs. “He’s got blood on him!” she cried. “It’s all over your hands.”
“Oh, my God, is he hurt?”
“Basil, stay still.” Ora pulled out the small plastic packet of tissues she always carried in her pocket and tried to wipe him off. In an instant, the papers were soaked a dark reddish brown, but with intense relief, she spotted no wounds. “He’s fine. He hasn’t cut himself. Here, give me your hands.” She used the remaining tissues to clean her friend’s fists, one at a time.
“Bad dog, where have you been?” Ora went on, glaring at Basil who bounced out of her reach. “Rolling on a filthy, dead sea gull, I bet. And what have you got in your mouth?”
Basil tried to dodge her, but this time she was able to snatch the red disk free of his teeth. It was a faded Frisbee, pock-marked with threadlike tufts of worn plastic. Dark fluid had settled under the rim, streaking her hands as well.
Horrible, Ora thought. How could the bird’s blood end up there? She chucked the toy onto the sand. Basil leapt down and scooped it up instantly. “Bad dog,” she told him while she foraged through her purse, looking for a bit of paper, anything, to clean her fingers. She settled on her cheque book, tearing off the numbered pages, crumpling and tossing them to the wind, one by one, as she used them. No value to me anymore, she thought.
Finished, she looked up. Her heart beat faster.
The man stood fifteen feet away. Motionless, he stared across the lake, his heavy shoulders turned slightly away from them. He dropped his pack on the boards. Ora felt the vibration through the thin soles of her shoes.
Basil bounded up to man, tail wagging. He nudged the man’s leg and dropped the Frisbee beside him. The man’s large fist hung down, unresponsive. The dog nudged him again.
“Bad dog,” Ora called out. “Come here, Basil. Bad dog.”
The man leaned down and picked up the toy. He stared at Ora. Smiled as he sensed her fear. With a sweep of his muscled arm, he flung the Frisbee out over the sand. Basil shot after it.
“Basil!” Ora sprang up. The dog caught the Frisbee in a white flash of teeth. He galloped over the beach, running round and round in a great circle, tail raised to the sky. “Here, boy. Come here, good dog.” Ignoring her pleas, he headed straight back to the man who, with a coolly contemptuous glance at the two women, tossed the Frisbee again.
“For heaven’s sake,” Ora said. “Melanie, help me for once. Call your dog. He never comes to me.”
“What’s the big rush?”
“It’s some man. He looks like a skinhead. He’s using that mucky toy to play fetch with Basil.”
“So let them play.”
“Melanie…”Ora tried to rein in her voice. Her new boss had accused her of being loud and shrill. “I want to leave. He’s making me nervous.”
“Oh, stop it. Why do we always have to do what you want? You haven’t changed since grade school.”
“And you’ve never grown out of grade school,” Ora flared. “You only survive because your friends and I look out for you. And who looks out for me? Nobody!”
“Why does it always have to be about you?” A dark obstinacy twisted Melanie’s mouth. “If you’re that worried, go home. I’m staying till Basil gets tired.”