By Jean Majury

The dog frightened me more than the man. It strained toward me in a menacing manner. Without the man's firm grip on its leash, I was convinced it would attack me. Its angry growl heightened my fear. The dog winced as the man pulled it to the side of the path. "You can pass now," he said.

The streamlined power of the wolf apparent in the dog's German shepherd frame made me hesitate.

"Lucy won't hurt you," the man said.

"That's what you say." I remained where I was.

"She's a good dog, but she's been abused," the man said. "You should've seen her when I got her. Didn't trust anybody."

The man could have been describing me. I looked at Lucy again. Did I read suffering in her eyes? "Poor thing," I said. I stretched out my hand to pet her.

"Don't," the man warned. "Lucy doesn't know you yet."

I dropped my hand to my side.

The man stroked the dog's back with his free hand. She flinched. "As you can see, Lucy still hates to be touched."

The same as me, I thought.

"I rescued Lucy from a shelter. They told me be patient and she'll come around."

"How kind of you," I said. I wished someone had rescued me from my former husband Alan's abuse.

"You must be kind yourself," said the man. "I can see you empathize with Lucy."

Before I could respond, he shifted gears. "Do you walk this coastal path often?"

"Only when I'm on vacation," I answered. "Why?"

"Because Lucy and I walk here every afternoon." He flashed an engaging smile. "Care to join us today?"

"But what if Lucy doesn't like me?"

"Give her a chance. She'll get used to you."

I stared at Lucy. I was about to reject the invitation when Lucy whimpered. The sorrowful sound swayed me. "All right, I'll give her a chance. One."

"Only one?" The man laughed.

We set off, with Lucy in the lead. Part of the path hugged the cliffs bordering the Pacific Ocean. Rolling waves, a salty tang in the air, and the sun on my back made it a beautiful day for a walk with a man and his dog. And to think I had been on the verge of refusal.

"My name's Paul," the man introduced. Our conversation progressed until he said, "Tell me about yourself." I hesitated before finally answering. "Divorced six months ago. No children. Fortunately."

"My wife Sadie died six months ago, too. No children either." Paul pushed up his sunglasses. He dabbed at his eyes as if to staunch a flow of tears."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"So am I." Paul pulled the sunglasses back down over his eyes. "Prescription," he said. "Allergic to the rays."

That first walk became one of many. Despite my overtures, Lucy remained guarded. Paul, on the other hand, opened up and provoked stimulating conversation. His gentle persona, in contrast to his rugged appearance, appealed to me. The admiration and respect he expressed for his dead wife, Sadie, impressed me. I had received precious little of either from Alan.

Yet, a few of Paul's comments turned on caution lights. "Sadie was stubborn," he said one day. "Didn't like to be told things."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Oh, how to arrange the furniture. What time I liked dinner."

Another time he mentioned her carelessness. "Sadie was a drop-aholic. And it wasn't always stuff I didn't give a rat's about."

Alan had insisted on precise locations of our furniture. He obsessed over eating dinner at six o'clock. And he'd fly into a rage if I dropped anything. My psychologist had warned me about comparing all men to my former husband. Was I doing that with Paul because of three negative comments about his dead wife?

The last day of my vacation arrived. Before our last walk began, Lucy sniffed my closed hand without chewing it off. Paul noticed and said, "Hey, you're making progress with her."

"Finally," I said, and realized I was a little disappointed I would not see either of them again.

Perhaps that's why Paul's dinner invitation a few minutes later tempted me. Yet daytime walks with a man and his dog were not the same as an intimate dinner for two. "I'm sorry," I said, "I can't."

Paul fingered the rims of his dark glasses. "Why?"

"I'm just not ready for dinner with anyone yet."

"But Lucy brought us together for a reason," he said, smiling.

I smiled back and asked, "What is Lucy's reason?"

"You'll find out."

Paul didn't pursue the dinner invitation further or reveal Lucy's reason. Instead, he suggested, "Let's head to the lighthouse today. Lucy would like that, wouldn't you?" He pulled on her leash and she barked.

The lighthouse was a mile away. Nobody was walking to or from it.

Don't go, a voice whispered in my mind. I answered, "Why not?"

The three of us began. We zigzagged along the path for about a half mile before dark clouds covered us like a shawl and strong winds swirled around us. "We better go back, Paul," I said.

He paused, holding Lucy still, and said, "Not yet."

I watched swarms of crying seagulls fly toward the cliff's nooks and crannies. "They know more than we do." I pointed to them. "I'm turning back."

Paul frowned. "Okay, you win," he snapped. He yanked on Lucy's leash and started back. I followed, but soon lagged far behind them. Yet as I rounded a curve in the path, there was Paul sitting on a flat rock close to the cliff's edge. One hand rubbed his head, the other held Lucy's leash.

"What's wrong?" I asked as I raced to him.

"I fell and hit my head against the rock." He grimaced. "It hurts like hell."

"I'll call for help."

"No, don't do that." He stood up, swayed, and sat down again. "I feel out of it," he said.

"I'm calling 9-1-1." I pulled out the cell phone from my jacket pocket.

After I had barely punched in the numbers, Paul lunged toward me and tore the phone from my hand. He threw it up and away. The powerful wind caught it and carried it over the cliff.

Stunned, I cried, "Why did you do that?"

"No idea." he said.

"Think clearly, Paul. What if the call didn't go through. You're hurt and need help. Can you last until I get it?"

"Maybe I could walk by leaning on you."

"Okay, let's give it a try." I extended my hands toward him. He rose, grabbed one, but still held on to the leashed Lucy with the other. Although he leaned against me, he refused to let me guide him toward the path. Suddenly, he jerked his hand from mine and dropped Lucy's leash. Next he dug his hands into my shoulders, forcing our bodies together.

"What are you doing, Paul? I cried.

"I need to tell you the reason."

"What reason?

"Why Lucy brought us together."

"What is it, Paul?"

"Lucy's reason," he began, but never finished the sentence. Instead, he gripped me tighter. With his body close to suffocating mine, panic claimed me. "Let me go," I shouted, pounding my fists against his chest. Paul ignored me and continued his vice-like hold on me. Somehow I managed to raise my hands upward until I reached his face. Once there I scratched and clawed at it like a tortured cat. I even ripped off the sunglasses he still wore. What I saw behind them made me gasp. Paul's eyes reminded me of how Alan's looked before he would harm me.

Lucy's ferocious snarl interrupted that memory. Before Paul could voice a command, she buried her teeth into his leg. He shrieked in pain, whirled around, and staggered backwards. "Watch out," I shouted, but Paul didn't. Lucy stalked him until, like a statute cut from its base, he toppled over the cliff. The howling winds swallowed up his terrified screams.

Shocked, I stumbled back to the rock where Paul had sat earlier. Had I misinterpreted an injured and disoriented man's actions? Was I to blame for what had just happened to him? From my own blame I turned to Lucy's.

Why had she done such a terrible thing? She must be as unpredictable and dangerous as I had first suspected.

Eventually, Lucy left the cliff's edge and came back toward me. I feared she might attack me, too. What could I do to prevent that? Perhaps my past could guide me in dealing with her. The comforting tones and language I had often used to stop Alan's abuse might help.

"You didn't mean to hurt Paul, did you?" I said as Lucy approached.

Her ears went down.

"You're a good dog, aren't you?"

Lucy got down on all fours and crawled to where I sat. She stopped at my feet, submissive. Cautiously, I bent down and gently stroked the fur around her head and neck. When my fingers accidentally hit the metal buttons on the outside of her collar, she fussed. "Is it too tight, Lucy?" I said. "Should I take it off?" She licked my hand.

I removed the collar. When I turned it over, I found inch-long nails attached to the surface buttons. I gently touched where they had penetrated Lucy's neck. Soon my hand was covered in red. Horrified, I threw the collar with its attached leash down to the ground where it lay like a broken noose.

Responders traced the 911 call and found me 30 minutes later, still seated on the rock, with Lucy beside me. They discovered Paul's body on a ledge above the water below. A week after it was recovered, a detective followed up on his initial interview with me at the scene.

"At first all we had was a killer who preyed on lonely women," he said, "until you came along and filled in the blanks." Disgust crossed his face. "Imagine using a dead wife and his supposed rescue of an abused dog as a ploy."

"Detective, the dog was abused."

"Yes, we know that. It's in my report." He pointed to the dog at my feet. "So, you're keeping her?

"Yes, Lucy's mine now," I said. "I should have been afraid of the man, not the dog."

Jean Majury's mysteries have been published in Mystericle-E, an online mystery magazine, which published "Daisy and Dolly" (January 2014), in Woman's World, and she received mention several times in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's write-a-plot type monthly contests.

Her short story Watchdog appeared in omdb! in February, 2013.

Copyright 2014 Jean Majury. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.