“Oh my goodness, girl! That was so close! A rabid dog? With a girl? How is that even possible? Like some chick is casually walking around town with a rabid dog on a leash. For goodness’ sake, people.” Penelope walked towards William and Harry. Their heads turned in unison, their eyes still focused on her pocketed hand. She pulled out two treats and gave them to her dogs before lifting them out of the wagon.
“I was this close to pooping my pants,” Sam said, smiling and squeezing her thumb and forefinger together. She pulled the blanket off her dog’s head and rubbed his neck. “You were a very good boy too.”
“Good thing there’s a hole in your ski suit, girl.”
Sam gave Penelope a playful shove and the girls rehashed their encounter with the officers on the walk home, each excitedly retelling the same event from her own perspective.
“Here, take this,” Penelope said, removing the dog bed from the sled after they had arrived at Sam’s home and carried the huge dog inside.
“Let’s put him over here.” Sam pushed the bed closer to the fireplace in the living room.
“I’ve got to get going. I haven’t got much time to give William and Harry a bath. They so need one now, thanks to your smelly dog,” Penelope said with a smile. She stopped in the doorway and turned. “Hey … be careful, okay? And I don’t just mean about your dog, Sam. Watch out for yourself. Wesley Black is … well, you know about him, right?”
“Thanks. And I mean, really, thanks.” Sam couldn’t muster the right words to tell Penelope how much she appreciated her help. So much had just happened.
She spotted her ski jacket and pants, torn and dirty, crumpled on the floor. I just bought those, she thought. She started to feel upset over ruining her new clothes, but then her eyes wandered to her dog, who was sleeping peacefully, and the cloud of disappointment lifted. He wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t even be alive, and I can always save up and buy a new ski suit. Her dog’s eyelids opened drowsily and his big, brown eyes stared at her. Sam smiled back. For the first time in a long time, she was content.
Dan Shepherd picked up his phone and read his daughter’s message. Good, he thought, he wouldn’t have to lie to Sam again for a few days, at least.
“Have fun. Be safe,” he texted back.
“Detective Shepherd! You coming out to play tonight? Or are you still too scared of losing all your loonies?” Constable Carl Monahan poked his head around the corner. Some of the members of the Glacier Village Police Department met monthly to play a friendly game of cards. With the exception of the last few months, Dan had been a regular attendee. He knew it was a great way to build rapport with other members of the force and stay on top of everything happening in town.
“I’ll never lose with you around, Carl. Your bluffing is borderline pathological,” Dan joked, but it was true. Dan could always tell when Carl was overplaying his hand because of the little vein in his temple that would enlarge ever so slightly and pulsate violently.
“I’m springing for pizza and drinks tonight. You should come.”
“Sheila got another bonus?”
“Yep! I tell you, I have no idea what that woman does on her computer all day, but her bosses love it. I keep telling my boys, go for the math nerds.” Carl laughed.
“Good for her, Carl. But no, I can’t make it tonight. Promised Sam I’d have movie night with her.”
“Ah, yeah, okay then. Have a good one and we’ll see you Monday.”
“Good luck, tonight,” Dan said, watching Carl leave and knowing that he would not be seeing him on Monday. Should I call in sick? No, he’d have to fake flu symptoms or blame food poisoning, again. He had used that excuse too many times already. Personal time. That was it. He would request some personal time and take Monday off. That would give him two days away from work and free of Sam.
He checked behind him to see if anyone else was around. The station looked empty.
“Hello? Anyone still here?” he called out loudly. Silence.
He pushed the files on his desk to the side and hunched over, ensuring that if anyone happened to peek over at him, they wouldn’t be able to see what he was doing. Peeling off the tape securing a tiny SIM card to an inner corner of his desk pad, he replaced the card in his phone.
Dan arched his back, stretched his neck and glanced around the room again. Nothing. He slouched over his desk and with one hand cupped over his mouth, he spoke in a hushed voice into his cell phone.
Sam opened the door to her mom’s home office and looked in. Along with all of her mom’s other belongings, the office had remained completely untouched. Stacks of files and books littered her desk. Photos of Sam and her dad on various family excursions lined the walls; her mom was only in a few of them as she was the one always taking the pictures. Sam picked up a picture of her mom and her dad in Whistler, where they had lived for a time before marrying and moving north to Glacier Village. She brushed off a layer of dust from the glass. This room needs to be cleaned, Sam thought. The whole house needed it. And not just to get rid of dust. Cleaning the home of Mom’s stuff would start in here. It would be less painful than, say, Mom’s closet, where her clothes still smelled of her and Sam could still picture her wearing them. Almost everything in the office could probably just get thrown in the garbage. What did it matter what story Mom had been working on now? It would never get published anyway.
Sam had successfully avoided entering the room for months, but now she had no choice. She needed to replace the gear she had lost and broken earlier. Packed away neatly inside the closet, her mom’s gear waited patiently for the next adventure. Sam pulled out the items slowly. A satellite phone, trekking poles, ropes, her jacket and ski pants. She brought the jacket up to her nose and inhaled deeply. Her mom’s scent was unmistakable. She felt a lump form in her throat and she hugged her mom’s jacket against her chest as she sat on the floor, letting her tears spill down her face and splash off the jacket.
A little nudge on the back of her shoulder told Sam she was not alone. Before she could turn, her dog lay down, placed his head in her lap and licked the tears from her hand. She stroked his neck as they sat in silence together. Her phone beeped from the living room, but she ignored it, opting instead to enjoy the quiet moment she was sharing with her dog.
“Now you can walk, hmm? Glad you’re feeling better,” Sam whispered. “You stay here, buddy, I’d better go check my phone and let Dad know about you.”
The dog groaned as she moved to get up. She held his head, gently lowering it onto the floor.
Sam picked up her phone and texted back, “Pls call.”
“Message not delivered,” the phone responded. Sam retried. The message failed again.
She dialed her dad’s number, but he didn’t answer.
That’s so strange, she thought. Hadn’t he just texted her ten minutes ago? Where was he? What was going on with him lately? Of course, he was mourning the loss of his wife just as much as she was missing Mom, but there was something off. Something wrong. She would have to find time to talk to him. But when? He was always so busy. After the Challenge, she decided. That’s when she would make him just come out and say it, make him confirm what she already knew, that he hated her because she killed Mom. But she couldn’t blame him. How could she? She felt the same way.
Sam felt a light touch on her hip and looked down. Loving eyes stared up at her. She patted Penelope’s dog bed and her dog crawled on top. “Go to sleep,” she said softly petting him until his eyes closed and tiny snores filled the room. She was surprised at how comforted and relieved she felt, listening to her dog’s relaxed sounds and seeing his chest move with every breath.
Sam’s stomach complained loudly, reminding her it was finally time for pizza. Her phone beeped just as she picked it up. She expected to see a message from her dad. Instead, it was Lorne from Glacier Rescue.
“Orientation: 15:00 hour. Challenge Start: 16:00. Your group: Cara Walker, Wade Pratt, Penelope Farmer, Drew McConnell, Benjamin Black, Wesley Black.”
Sam stared at her phone until the screen went black and she saw her own face reflected back at her. Of all the people participating in the Challenge, this was the group she would lead? This wasn’t just any group. It was one that included the boy who had threatened her and her dog. And not only him, his brother too. Would Wesley actually act on his threat? Would Ben be a threat too?
She looked over the names on her list again and shook her head. Turning off her phone, she headed for the shower to get ready. Sam had lost her appetite.
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