This was way too early on a Saturday morning for any dog to go outside. It was still dark; the woman was half awake, so she didn’t realize the leash didn’t connect to his collar. She blamed herself for not hooking him to the leash before she picked him up and carried him across the highway to the beach side. She tried calling him a couple of times before she realized he was not paying attention and already had a good lead on her. The wind was blowing in her face so it was unlikely he could even hear her.
After wrapping the leash around her wrist like a bracelet, she took off running after him as fast as she could. That Rascal, she thought, he lives up to his name. As soon as she stood up thinking he was hooked to his leash, he broke free and headed toward the water. The sand was deep where the woman stood. Rascal was making more progress. Rascal had the advantage of four-paw drive, and he was running closer to the water’s edge where there was firmer footing. She made her way over to the wet sand.
In the darkness Rascal was barely visible and the distance between them was expanding. The full moon reflected off the sand giving just enough light to spot him up ahead. He was having a gay ole time running as fast as he could. She’d never catch him if he kept up this pace. When she got closer to the pier she was afraid she would lose him for good. He would be out of sight for a few seconds. He might turn left and make his way to the parking lot and over to one of the neighborhoods across the highway.
Running along the wet packed sand made it easier to control her breathing and she picked up her pace thankful for a routine of morning runs. It was good training for chasing this guy along the beach. She wished he would stop and sniff something, and then she could catch up to him.
When she got to the pier, she didn’t slow her pace. When she ran under it, something hit her hard on the back of the head. As she fell, stunned, she thought something tripped her. It was harder to see in the shadows under the pier. When she turned to see what it could be, someone stepped out from the darkness. Her last thought was what would happen to her sister and little Rascal now if this guy got his hands on them.
Sunrise broke the darkness in Jiff’s family condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico waking me up with its arrival. My boyfriend, Jiff Heinkel, and I both live in New Orleans. We were finally on a much-needed weekend alone. Even in late February, the weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cool. My name is Brandy Alexander, and I love the beach this time of year. We might get a cool snap, but it’s normally very nice weather with no one around to share the beach with.
His condo was the penthouse, seventeen stories up on Gulf Boulevard, with a spectacular view of the Florida beach with its pure white sand and turquoise blue water. I couldn’t wait to go for a swim. We had gone to bed leaving the sliding door open to listen to the soft sound of waves rushing onto the beach. It worked its magic as the sound carried up to our room with the sea air and lulled us to sleep.
While this was a family stretch of waterfront condos I always loved to come in the late winter or early spring before the families and college kids littered the sand. I find the beach is better enjoyed without music blasting. I could do without dodging volleyballs or footballs, tripping over water rafts, sand toys, and hearing the playful screaming that came along on family vacations.
I nudged Jiff and whispered in his ear, “C’mon, let’s go for a walk before anyone else is up.”
“No one else is up,” he said, rolled over and put a pillow over his head. I heard a muffled, “What time is it?”
“Almost six-thirty,” I said and pulled the pillow off his face so I could try to kiss him awake. It was really only six-o-five.
“We’re on vacation. The beach will still be deserted at nine. No one goes out before noon,” he grumbled and with his eyes still closed reached around for his pillow.
“I’ll go by myself,” I said, bouncing off the bed.
“Okay, just give me a sec,” he said, but he laid there a few more minutes.
“I already have my suit on,” I called from the bathroom. I combed my shoulder length, blonde hair and pulled it up in a ponytail. I stepped into a black, one-piece bathing suit that only covered what a bikini should cover and the rest of the suit had mesh holding it together. I took a second to admire the hours I had put in at the gym all winter and I was pleased with the results. I added a black and white cloth hat that had a floppy look about it. It could roll up and be stuck under a shoulder strap if I got tired of wearing it.
“Here,” I said throwing his swim trunks on the bed. “You don’t even need to get up to get dressed. C’mon. It’s beautiful out there right now. Just you, me and the beach.”
When we made it to the sand, Jiff was still walking like a Zombie. Going through the loose, deep sand I thought he looked a little tipsy since he wasn’t fully awake until I realized he had his eyes shut.
“Even with my eyes closed, I can tell we are on the beach,” he said. “I feel sand between my toes.” He removed his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes for the umpteenth time.
“I thought you might be sleep walking because you haven’t said anything about my new suit. I bought it just for this trip,” I said. “You know I love the beach.”
Jiff made an effort to open both eyes wide. He looked me up and down taking in my new bathing suit and said, “I know you love the beach. And I love you.”
Wait. What? This was the first time he said I love you. It felt as though something sucked the air off the entire beach. I didn’t want to make too much out of it or too little. I casually added, “I love you, too.”
He scooped me up off my feet and spun around. He was fully awake now. When he set my feet back in the sand he said, “I’ll race you to the pier,” and took off running.
“Oh, you’ve been playing me, you big cheater!” I yelled at his back.
I was never going to catch him since he had too much of a lead and a much longer stride. He also had run track in high school and college while I had run my mouth. I saw him ahead of me. He stopped sharply and turned away from the water’s edge under the pier. He stood looking down at something. Something that looked like a beach towel or blanket all balled up.
When I approached, Jiff turned and said, “No, don’t come closer. This is bad.”
“What? What is it?” Leaning around him I managed to get a look at the top part of the girl that was on the sand and half floating in the water. “Oh, no. That poor girl. Did she drown?”
“I’m not sure, but from the look of her, I don’t think she’s been in the water. I see bruising around her neck. We need to call the police,” Jiff said looking up and down the beach to see if there was anyone else around.
“We left our cell phones in the room.”
“Yeah. Look, walk back away in your own footprints in the sand so we don’t contaminate this crime scene any more than we already have,” Jiff said. He was an attorney in his dad’s criminal law practice and had defended a friend of mine in the past.
“I’ll stay here and make sure no one else walks up on her,” I said trying to see what was wrapped around her wrist.
“No, I’ll stay here and you run up to the street and see if you can find a phone or someone with a phone. I don’t want you alone if someone is still lurking about,” Jiff said.
“Okay,” I said and squatted down to get a better look at what was wrapped around her wrist. It was a dog’s leash wound partially around the woman’s arm with the end floating in the water lapping at her side. “Look, she must have been walking her dog, but where’s the dog?” I could feel Jiff getting ready to react to my being so close to the woman. I held up my hand and added, “I’m not going to touch anything.”
“I don’t want to move her. The local police will love that but she might be floating away soon and the water might destroy evidence,” he said.
Before I stood up, I looked up and down the beach and said, “I think it’s safe to say she lost Rascal and Rascal is a Schnauzer.”
“Rascal? How do you know he’s a Schnauzer?” he asked looking up and down the beach mimicking me.
Schnauzers were our thing. Well, it was definitely my thing. I rescued them and found homes for those people had abandoned or left at shelters. I had one and Jiff had one. He saw me bringing a rescue to a man in his condo complex and shortly after that we had a chance meeting and started dating. It sounds simple, but like Tina Turner… I never do anything nice and easy, not even when it came to meeting the man of my dreams.
I pointed to the part of the leash that had unwound from her wrist. It showed an image of a little salt and pepper schnauzer stitched right in front of RASC. “I’m guessing that’s the first part of the dog’s name on this leash,” I said. “It’s one your special-order sets with the dog’s name and a picture of the breed on it. Sometimes the collar has the owner’s phone number stitched into it like the name is on the leash.” I started to point closely to one section on the woman’s wrist. “Look right here…”
“Don’t touch it.” Jiff said it so loud I jumped. “Sorry.”
“Give me some credit, please.” I had picked us a small thin piece of driftwood. Using it I lifted the part of the fabric floating in the water so he could see the part I could see still on her wrist. “There’s a Schnauzer image stitched right next to the name. I’m guessing the name is Rascal. I was going to order my Meaux and your Isabella one for next Christmas.”
I carefully walked in my own footsteps back up the beach while Jiff took a couple of steps back and yelled, “I’ll wait here and keep anyone else from walking up on her, but don’t let anyone see you in that swim suit.”
I looked at him, shook my head, shrugged my shoulders up asking him, “So do you think I should take it off to go look for a phone?”
“I wish I had put on a T-shirt,” he said.
Copyright © 2018, Colleen Mooney
Paperback ISBN 978-0-9905527-9-6
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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