Sam was sitting in the waiting room at Glacier Village Animal Clinic when she heard an angry growl. Her stomach. Despite taking a longer, more difficult off-trail route to the village to avoid running into Wesley, she had made good time, but she had completely forgotten about food. If she ordered a pizza now, she could enjoy it before the orientation session for the Alpine Survival Challenge later. She reached into her backpack and pulled out her phone. A missed text message from her dad popped up.
“Working late tonight. Don’t wait up.”
Just as well. She had to help out at the Challenge anyway. Still, it would have been nice to spend some time with Dad, she thought. Do something that didn’t involve answering questions or talking about feelings or blowing through boxes of tissues and having to clean up the wontons later. Wontons. That’s what Mom called them, the used, balled-up tissues. Feel like wonton soup? Dad would ask when they were trying to figure out what to have for dinner. He’d laugh and pull out an old Kleenex from his pocket. Mom would respond with a groan that ended in a giggle. But there was no giggling in the Shepherd house now, no corny dad jokes, no mom groans, no mom anythings. She was gone and she’d taken Dad with her. Busy at work, he said, but gone all the same. Probably more like he couldn’t stand to be around the person who had killed his wife and the son he’d always wanted, Sam thought. It had been months since they had gone for a hike, or just hung out, or done any of the things they usually did together when Mom was still alive.
“Helping @ASC after all. Don’t forget, the hydro bill is on the fridge,” Sam texted back. Her dad had been forgetting to pay the bills lately and this one was now a week overdue.
“Phew, girl! I normally wouldn’t say anything, but wow! That is a new kind of stink I’d never wish my worst enemy to meet,” a voice said. Penelope Farmer walked in the front door of the clinic, accompanied by two little brown and white dogs who were madly wagging their tails. Sam recognized Penelope from school, but they had never had classes together and had never spoken before. “Whoa, that is a bold fashion statement,” Penelope said, arching an accidental eyebrow. She then seemed to notice the blood that had flushed into Sam’s cheeks and raised her second eyebrow to match the first. “I mean, this is Glacier Village. No one cares. Everyone’s too busy bird watching or looking for fresh powder or sneaking over to their neighbors to clear snow from their paths. You could be naked and people here would offer you a toque, just to make sure you don’t catch a cold. You do you, girl. It’s all good.”
“Sorry. I found a stray dog and…” Sam motioned towards the floor where her dirty, smelly and torn clothes lay in a heap. She had forgotten about them, just like she had forgotten about her stomach.
“Omigosh! You rescued a dog? Okay, I get it. This all makes sense now.” Penelope nodded as she eyed the trekking pole and rope peeking out from under the clothes pile. “What kind?”
“I’m not sure. He’s big and in pretty bad shape. He’s been on an IV for a while now and he’s getting bloodwork and X-rays and some other stuff done too.” Dr. Henry Chow had told her that the dog had mange, that he was clearly malnourished and in extremely rough shape, but that it was good that he still wanted to eat and drink, good that what she had fed him wasn’t too hard on his tummy. But it was her own stomach she was thinking of now. Arms crossed, she bent over in her seat. She could feel her gut gnawing away at itself.
“Hey, are you okay? You’re looking a little—”
A blast of cold air swept into the room as the door flew open. Wesley stared at Sam through narrowed eyes, his knuckles white from holding the rifle too tightly.
“YOU!” Wesley boomed, chest puffed out, chin pointing at her. “Did you take that thing off the mountain? That thing was mine to kill. You saw my hand, it bit me. It needs to die!”
“Alright, what is that smell?” Drew said, brushing past Wesley and grimacing at Sam’s makeshift stretcher. Sam recognized Drew from class and then noticed Ben standing quietly behind Wesley, his hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans. He made eye contact with her and immediately looked down at his shoes, like he’d just seen something embarrassing, like a fool sitting in her long underwear in the middle of the village. She looked down at her damp clothes and felt everyone’s eyes staring at her. The burn in her cheeks spread to the tips of her ears.
The heat from Sam’s blush seemed to fuel Wesley’s fire and he raised his voice a notch louder. “I’m trying to protect innocent people here. That thing probably has rabies.” Droplets of spit flew out of his mouth. “And what are you doing? I mean, look your face! You obviously know you’re wrong.”
“That thing is a dog and he doesn’t have rabies, he’s just sick,” Sam said, standing to face Wesley. She knew she was the cause of many horrible things, the stench in the room, her mom’s murder, her dad avoiding her, her baby brother never getting a chance at life. But this? No way. Endangering others by bringing this sick dog to the vet was at least one thing she couldn’t be accused of. She took a breath and swallowed the little spark of anger that had flared. “You are not going to kill him.”
Wesley raised his rifle to look through its scope, aiming it at the door to the examination room. “Just watch me.”
“Wesley Allen Black! What do you think you’re going to do with that?” The voice sounded like it came from someone in the room, but Rose Bloom was still scurrying across the Ice Bridge towards the open door of the vet clinic. She must have seen Wesley from her office across the walkway, where she ran the Glacier Pique newspaper. Wesley lowered his rifle, twisted around and glared at Rose, who was now standing behind him at the door. He said nothing, but a muscle in his jaw twitched and he blew out a short burst of air with the flare of his nostrils. He turned his back on Rose and shifted his angry stare to Sam, the hate in his eyes inching up another level.
“That dog’s as good as dead and you’d better watch your back too,” he snarled before spinning around and leaving the clinic.
Drew raised his eyebrows at Ben and gave him a strange look that Sam couldn’t interpret. “Hey Mrs. B,” he said, casually walking out the door.
Ben gave her a slight nod while his eyes darted up sheepishly to meet hers for a microsecond.
With a quick turn of his wrist, Ben pulled something out of his pocket, opened his fist and showed Rose what he was holding. Sam couldn’t hear what he was saying to her, but whatever it was made the alarm in her face disappear. In its place, Sam was sure she saw hints of confusion and relief. She watched Ben glance past Rose and look straight at her for a brief moment before following Drew and Wesley. Sam let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.
“What was that boy doing here with a rifle?” Rose asked after closing the door and watching the boys walk away. Penelope shrugged while Sam glanced at the door to the back room. “Was he threatening you girls?” They both shook their heads. She paused to give the girls a stern look, full of concern, but neither said a word. Then she softened, let out a resigned huff, shifted on her feet and changed tack.
“So Sam, how are you doing, kiddo?” Rose was now giving Sam a look that she had been giving her for months. It radiated sadness, sympathy, concern, pity and even helplessness. Like it was, in a small way, a request for comfort from Sam to let her off the hook from having to feel bad or awkward. It was the same look almost everyone gave Sam these days. The one that made her want to find the quickest escape so she could just be alone. Without waiting for a response, Rose asked, “Why are you dressed like that? Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, thanks. Just a sick dog who needed some help.”
“Of course, I could have guessed. Typical of you, kiddo. Always going to extremes to help others.”
“How are you and Mr. B?” Sam responded, trying to shift the focus from herself.
“Oh, we’re good, Sam.”
Sam knew that Robin Bloom, whose family owned and operated the adjacent ski resort at Mount Blue, was, in fact, not good. He had had a mysterious health crisis some years earlier and now Marta, his caregiver, accompanied him everywhere he went.
“Marta’s got something special planned for Thursday,” added Rose. Thursdays were not only publication day for the Glacier Pique, but also Thank-You Thursdays, when the Blooms would set up a table outside their office and give away free lunches and newspapers to anyone in the village who showed up. Robin and Marta were always there in the background somewhere, usually with smiles and waves for everyone who spotted them.
“I’d really love it if you’d come up to the house for a dinner sometime, when you’re ready of course.” Rose had been sending Sam and her dad meals for months, along with notes like Our thoughts are with you, and Straight from the oven. Hope you like this, and Please call when you’re ready, we’d love to see you. But Sam was never ready when she read those notes and she couldn’t see a future when she ever would be.
“Thanks,” Sam said with a polite smile as her gaze wandered down to her boots. She had become adept at being noncommittal. Even though she genuinely liked the Blooms, she just couldn’t imagine how many boxes of tissues she would need to bring along with her for any type of visit. Just the idea of it now was making her throat tighten.
“I know it has nothing to do with your dad, Sam, because Chief Constable Joe removed him from working on the case. I mean, I do understand his point of being too close to victims to investigate the crimes and all that. But I still don’t understand why they haven’t caught those evil monsters yet. They don’t have any leads at all? It just doesn’t make any sense how they could’ve gotten away with it.”
As much as Sam hated hearing anyone criticize the police, and her dad by association, she agreed with Rose. She was furious that even with her own father on the force, they couldn’t get justice for what had happened to her mom. Especially since, according to what Rose had told her, the shooting was the worst crime to occur in Glacier Village in almost twenty-five years.
What could compare to her mom’s murder, Sam wondered. Rose had completely shut down, shaking her head at herself and fumbling around like she’d regretted bringing it up and couldn’t think straight because of it. Sam had never seen her like that before and it made her curious about the decades-old incident. But she couldn’t get answers from anyone. Whether it was fear, respect, pride or something else, it seemed like there was a dark secret about Glacier Village that no one dared talk about. She had tried to look for answers online, but local newspapers were still print-only back then. It was like the crime, whatever it was, never happened, and it didn’t make any sense. For as long as Sam could remember, Glacier Village was the happiest, most fun-filled place on Earth. At least, it was the best place in the world until a few months ago. Sam looked down at the white tiled floor and her mind flashed to the Village Square Market and its floor, which was also tiled and white, until it turned red with the spreading pool of her mom’s blood.
“And drop by the office anytime too,” Rose continued. “Your mom wasn’t the only one who loved it when you would come around.”
“Thank you, Mrs. B.”
“When you’re ready, kiddo. Morning, noon or night, just call.”
Sam watched Rose walk across the Ice Bridge and enter the Glacier Pique. Her eyes welled up as she looked into the newsroom, where she could almost see her mom, hair tied up into a loose ponytail, still working. Sam turned away sharply, her whole body trembling.
“Do you know if Mr. and Mrs. B like clams? I only ask because I love clams and I usually have a clam dish at least once a week. Well, not always, but usually,” Penelope said, interrupting Sam’s train of thought. “But if they don’t like clams then it might be a bit of a problem if they adopt me. I mean, my parents are great, and I mean, really great and I love them and everything, but I would just love for the B’s to adopt me. They are such awesome people, don’t you think? Ooooh, I hope they’re not into spicy food. I cannot handle spicy.”
Sam had almost forgotten that Penelope was there, but she was happy for the distraction. Penelope flashed her a wide smile and her two dogs started wagging their tails madly. Sam couldn’t help but smile back.
“Well, you know, your dog is pretty darn lucky you found him. But I have some bad news for you,” Dr. Henry Chow said as he walked into the room fumbling through papers in a folder and dropping half of them on the floor. He bent over to pick them up and dropped the other half in the opposite direction.
What did he mean by bad news? Sam bit her lip as she waited for him to continue.
The young veterinarian slowly collected the papers that had spread across the floor, clumsily piling them into a crinkled, upside-down and backwards mess of sheets in the folder. A few papers still managed to fall out of the stack and onto the floor beside him. Penelope’s two Spaniels picked up a few notes and presented them to Henry, like they knew he needed all the help he could get.
“Oh thanks, good dogs, good dogs,” Henry said, giving each a pat and a treat.
Sam rubbed on a hangnail with her thumb, waiting as Henry sat down next to her, sorting through the documents. Finally. What was the bad news? After going through the stack twice, he found the page he was looking for.
“Listen,” he said in a hushed voice, “I just got a call from Animal Control. They are looking for your dog.”
“He’s not my dog. He’s just a stray I found,” Sam interjected.
“Listen! They are coming! They said that they got a complaint that he bit someone. That he has rabies. Of course he doesn’t have rabies! But they are coming now. This is Dr. Maxwell’s clinic, you know, not mine, otherwise maybe I would refuse. I don’t know for sure, of course, but your dog is very gentle. He reminds me of my first dog. So big, but so gentle. Such a wonderful dog, you know. Even when I give your dog pain from examination, he cries, but he doesn’t try to run away. He just gives me licks, just like my dog.” Henry was looking past Sam with the corners of his mouth turned up slightly. Then he refocused, looked hard into her eyes and spoke more urgently. “So if you want to, you can fight for his life. Otherwise, if he stays here….” He turned the palms of his hands upwards, raised them slightly and let them go limp, like dead weight falling into his lap.
Sam stared at Henry’s slender face. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What was happening?
“You know, of course I cannot lie and say that your dog is not here. But how do I know for sure your dog is the one they are looking for? So I say to them, ‘I don’t know. Maybe. Why don’t you come here and see for yourself because I cannot be sure which dog might be the one you are looking for. I have many clients here, I cannot force them to stay. Maybe they are busy and cannot wait here all day, you know. But I will ask them to stay until you come.’”
“So here.” Henry thrust the list he had in his hand at Sam. “You must follow these instructions carefully. It’s not much to do. Mostly wait and see. I know you can do it. I think this will make you busy. Maybe you are too busy to stay here, no?”
Sam’s thoughts raced to figure out the best route back home. She’d have to take the long way on the snowy paths. She had been looking forward to taking the direct way home, the easy, snow-cleared walk along the Ice Bridge and past Mario’s Pizza. Change of plans again. She bent over and grabbed her makeshift dog stretcher.
“Can you help me put him in this?”
“Oh okay, you are busy then. It’s too bad you cannot stay here and wait for the officers,” Henry said as he gently pulled on Sam’s arm and guided her towards the back room. “Hurry, they are coming now. Whatever you do, just make sure they don’t see you.”
Are you enjoying the first chapters of Fool’s Bluff? Please share this with your friends and family who would also like this story!