No Avail Slaps the Tale - A Jordan Dane Mystery
Slaps the Tail - Chapter Four
Sprawled across the camping mat she kept on her front porch for
pre-run stretching and post run sunning, Jordan Dane was feeling a
few animals short. Of course that was the point, she knew. To remain
as short of animal company as she could possibly and humanely be.
Besides, Marshall Chester was overdue for a visit and he usually
came calling with a carload of abandoned dogs and sometimes an
injured member of larger rodentia or two. The place just seemed
unusually tranquil. For a Sunday morning.
Despite all the mantras and rationalizations, Jordan constantly
battled separation anxiety with the animals she successfully placed
in either home or wild. It had been more than a week now, for
example, since she had released the kit fox triplets. She still
missed them and was half hoping they'd find their way back to her
door, which was of course highly unlikely since she had released
them miles away up on the Uncompaghre Plateau.
Under the pretense of a picnic she had accompanied them to a high
meadow, watching them frolic in the grasses and thickets, eventually
rolling out her bag next to a campfire and staying the night just to
be sure they were adjusting properly. The smallest one had slept at
her feet most of the night but she was finally able to creep away
the next morning after they had ventured far enough off in the woods
not to notice. She felt bad but not guilty about this maneuver and
since they hadn't yet found their way back down to come scratching
at her door for food, she supposed she could claim another
successful re-acclimation. She didn't let herself think about the
alternative. That they were cold, hungry, and alone. If she let
herself think that way her house would be overflowing with animals.
Just the previous afternoon however, she had lost two regular
members of the jogging corps, canine division, to adoption. A
squatty, sausage bodied Basset sort of fellow who'd been cruelly
adorned with the head of a Corgi and his little Beagleish sidekick
who, Jordan found, seemed to respond to the name Tim, had been taken
together by a clan from the Norwood area. Jordan purposely hadn't
given the Basset/Corgi any name for fear of growing too attached to
him but had been reluctant as always to let them go. The Norwood
folks offered a small farm that promised plenty of room for the dogs
to roam and three cute little girls with knees and faces dirty
enough to seem to Jordan like good risks.
Having them housed together was also a plus and Jordan had grown
painfully aware that she just couldn't keep any more animals, even
those as congenial as Tim, once they had convalesced from whatever
misadventure had sent them her way. It just wasn't feasible
economically, spatially, or otherwise and besides, as she was
forever explaining to people, she wasn't really an animal lover. For
that matter, she wasn't really even a veterinarian.
She did have to admit, however, she seemed to have that way, as they
say, with animals; an almost immediate rapport with anything
feathery, four-legged or furry.
And because folks around the area had become aware that she was
available to give these furry things rudimentary first aid and
provide free animal advice, she had, mostly by accident, ended up
with a budding industry in her cottage. A fledgling business with
animal clients who couldn't pay her a cent and their sometimes
keepers who often could but usually didn't. Most people, Jordan had
come to realize, would go to great lengths to support kindness to
animals as long as someone else was supplying the kindness and doing
the majority of the work. Her mantra about not getting emotionally
involved with her clients just never seemed to help much when it
came time to say goodbye to them.
On that morning after the Word played Rico, Jordan was housing nine
dogs on the property, with five being too old, lame, fat, injured,
or young for a three mile run. Matthew, the one dog since Sleuth who
was threatening to become a permanent fixture, always coordinated
these runs, and being of some muttish heritage that obviously
included a healthy mixture of sheep dog, had adopted the duty of
herding the others along so they didn't get confused at the drill.
After hunting season, Jordan usually had several faun orphans as
well that sometimes trotted along curiously but she was down to only
one of these. With the odd assortment of semi-domestic ferrets,
hares, badgers, and weasels, that periodically got caught up in the
excitement and joined the pack at the outset of the run before
heading off into the woods after a few hundred yards, Jordan was
usually surrounded with a larger and more heterogeneous crew than
were gathered on that morning. Matthew could be counted on to herd
one and all around the Loop at least until they went up trees or
down holes, with an equal enthusiasm and without instinctual
prejudice against animals that might have made up the quarry of his
And although there were several Tabbies, Minxes, Siamese and bob
kittens living about the property, China Cat was usually the only feline
to join the running group.
China Cat had come to Jordan as a two-week-old cub whose mother had
been shot by poachers off limits and out of season. Jordan had been
hiking and seen the hunters kill the puma on the adjacent ridge and
ran down to confront them at the road as they heaved the carcass
into the back of their pick-up. They had roared away leaving her
standing in the dust with nothing but a license number for Game and
Fish and little China Cub peaking from the underbrush.
Initially, she expected to simply nurse the kitten awhile before
attempting the re-acclimation she did with most of the other wild
creatures. But China Cat seemed cheerfully domestic from the
outset and had never shown any signs that she desired or even was
suited for a life in the wild so Jordan had ended up just keeping
her around. As the cat grew and remained every bit as playful but
seemed unaware of her own strength, Jordan had her declawed and
defanged for her own safety and that of everyone else in the area.
Not to mention that of her furniture and floors.
On rare occasions, Jordan would take China, who was now three years
old and weighed nearly two hundred pounds, with her into town on a
leash, and enjoyed observing the town phalanx of dogs who, smelling
kitty cat, would come charging up only to skid to a halt when they
got close enough to realize that their noses had evidently betrayed
them and they were facing down no ordinary feline. Jordan had only
recently given up monitoring China for signs of latent wild animal
tendencies that she had suspected lay dormant and would eventually
surface. She just hadn't seen any evidence of overly feral behavior
and China at three years was just as snuggly and needy as China at
The one exception was that when the cougar was out on her run at
night, she would occasionally let out one of those bloodcurdling
screams unique to mountain lions and horrified debutantes, a scream
sure to send chills up the spines of the uninitiated. Jordan, who at
one time might have been considered a debutante herself and
definitely had friends that qualified, had seen them horrified
during those years more than once and had to admit that when China
Cat split the night with one of her screams, a tingle or two crept
up her back as well.
On this particular Sunday, all Matthew had managed to rustle up for
the morning run was the one jittery faun, the dogs Flotsam and
Jetsam, and China. The group set off around the Loop in the usual
counter-clockwise direction and made fairly good time on the initial
downhill. Jordan had picked up the pace when she realized that the
reduced animal distraction might parlay itself into a personal best.
15:05 was the time to beat.
They passed the Proud's gate in full stride at 12 minutes even and
were about to kick into a sprint down the home stretch when the dogs
began howling and crossing frenetically back and forth under
Jordan's feet quickly bringing her up short by nearly tripping her. She slowed expecting
trouble, suspicious that there might be porky scent in the air.
The average mutt, Jordan knew, only has to bite into a porcupine
once to learn they are chomping down on a losing battle. Certain
breeds however, sled dogs in particular, just seem to get more
irritated and determined to fill their mouths with quills at each
encounter. Jordan watched warily as Jetsam, a dog whose thick
undercoat and steel gray eyes suggested husky or malamute ancestry,
zigged and zagged from trees to ditch, his nose flush to the ground.
She had spent enough of her time knocking dogs out with pills and
using pliers to remove the fishhook quills from the inner jowls of
the area's more persistent porky chasers.
No porky was immediately apparent however. Often, Matthew flushed
them out and treed them immediately, which effectively kept the
other dogs quill free. China, the only one Matthew couldn't
outsmart, bully, or outrun, had been raised on Jordan's vegetarian
cooking and seemed uninterested in the pursuing game altogether.
The scene before her now reminded Jordan of when Matthew had caught
up with his one and only porky as a pup. The look of embarrassment
on his pin-cushioned face as he came whimpering home for help would
have been comical if there hadn't been so much blood oozing from the
insidious quills in his little pink tongue. Slowing in her reverie
as they approached the spot where Mangas Creek passes under the
Loop, Jordan realized with alarm that she was looking at more blood.
Blood and fur in the road.
Just like so many animal hit and run scenes that Jordan had stopped
to assist that ended up being a wounded badger or maimed deer. She
slowed to a walk now assuming that another animal had been hit by a
car although she couldn't imagine any of the regulars on the mesa
not stopping and delivering the injured animal to her door. Well,
maybe Ms. Turnbee or Ms. Gotham. Or those two living down at the
Finkelstein place. She wasn't well enough acquainted with them to
know what they might do.
The dogs had sensed the blood as well and were tracking feverishly
in and out of the underbrush. The heightened baying and snuffling
had the faun even more jittery than usual since, lacking the nose
for the hunt from the hunter's point of view, the little guy was
genetically prepared for being on the other end of this sort of
frenetic behavior. Stopping to comfort him, Jordan could tell that
every quiver and quake in the faun's tense body was warning him to
run away. Instead, he stood nervously with his withers twitching as
he peaked between Jordan's legs. His large brown eyes were
Jordan examined the fur and jogged in place waiting for the
escalated yelping that would tell her the wounded mammal had been
located and that Matthew was keeping the others at bay. Perhaps it
was able to drag itself away or had died and been carried off by a
scavenging fox or coyote. Looking at the fur more closely, Jordan
suddenly knew that it wouldn't be a creature of the wood the pack
found. The fur hadn't belonged to a badger, beaver or bear but was
much thinner like a cat or dog's. It was very similar, in fact, to
the hair Jordan was always using the Shop-Vac to suck from under her
baseboards. Jordan had whistled for Matthew and began running again
when she noticed the water.
Instead of running down through the culvert as it normally did,
water was gurgling along in the ditch to a spot further down where
it spilled across the road in glistening rivulets. The edges of a
swimming hole sized pond, which had formed in the crevice where the
creek cut down to the pipe, lapped up instead around gnarled roots
at the fringe of the wood. Puzzled, Jordan stood staring down into
the rippling murky green and her disembodied reflection. Perhaps a
stump had dislodged and rolled down to clog the pipe. Maybe a passel
of rotting leaves and twigs.
A lazy beaver starting a dam?
Or the body of the unaccounted for animal that belonged to the fur.
Jordan made a mental note to call Sherman Proud when she got home so
he could notify who whoever it was that came around to handle such
incidents for the homeowner's association. With one last glance
around, she jumped the muddying seepage and took off. Using the
lunges and piercing yelps particular to his forbears, Matthew
badgered the rest of the gang into immediate pursuit.
Sprinting to an imaginary finish line at the base of her winding
driveway, she finished second to last behind the excited animals
save the faun who still stuck close to the back of her legs. Jordan
checked her stopwatch as she walked slowly up her driveway. 22:02?
Forgetting for the moment about the delay at the creek, she wondered
why her time was so slow. As she coaxed the faun back into his pen
down by the aspen grove, she looked past her old Subaru toward the
house. Deb Finkelstein sat huddled in the swing on Jordan's porch
with what appeared to be a bearskin draped across her lap. As Jordan
got closer and could see that it was actually a large Newfoundland
puppy that Deb held, she had a guess where the fur back in the road
had come from.