The Pale Green Sedan
On a bright April morning, one of my brothers found Belle's body. She lay cold, stiff, and dead behind the old outhouse in our back yard. Since we had never seen her this way, we couldn't even be sure, at first, that she was actually Belle. She wore the familiar gray fur, however, so we finally had to accept the fact that our aristocratic, aloof Belle was never coming home again. Although the cause of her death was highly suspicious, we didn't even think to call the police. Perhaps, we should have. The killer was, we later learned, ready to strike again.
Not that our small town on the prairie had a police department. We didn't even have a Sheriff Andy Taylor or Deputy Barney Fife. What we had was a town cop. If he had an office, I never saw it. His pale-green sedan seemed to be "it," as he quietly patrolled main street, the three-to-four-block stretch of paved highway running through the otherwise dusty-roads outpost. If the local teens horsed around too loudly on the veranda of the Knaus Mercantile, all it took was the sight of that pale green auto up the road, slowly turning the corner from main street. The rowdy youth either settled down immediately, or scattered off to other pursuits. The town seemed to need little policing. I doubt our cop ever had to pull his gun. That is until our experience with Belle's killer.
Since I graduated high school a year early, too soon to leave home according to my parents, I became minder of the parsonage and my younger siblings. Dad, covering a four-point rural parish, often took to the country roads from early morning to late afternoon. Mom taught first grade in the neighboring town. So, big sister me became the one the others turned to.
"Eva! Something's wrong with Baby!"
It was late morning, the same day we discovered Belle. An awful realization suddenly struck me, as I hurried outside. If Belle had been poisoned, could Baby have found the poison, too? The little tomcat had originally been named Puff, due to his resemblance to the kitten in the Dick and Jane readers. But he didn't seem to grow. So he earned his nickname. Now, as I knelt down at his head, I couldn't help bursting into tears. Independent Belle was our pet, but she wasn't our Baby. We had funny stories to tell about Belle and her antics. But Baby needed our cuddles, he pulled out our protective instincts, and we couldn't bear to see anything bad happen to him.
Now, Baby lay crying in obvious pain, his pitiful mewing begging me for help. I recalled Mom say something about raw egg protein being used to bind poison, so I tried that on the suffering pet. But, all my nursing efforts availed nothing. I think I may have finally suffocated the poor animal, trying to dropper cold coffee into his mouth.
Although I was no stranger to funerals, it was the first time I had looked death in the face. I certainly knew that breaking the law had consequences, but this time I observed the ultimate effects of the curse, first hand. Years later, at Mom's bedside when she took her last suffering breaths, I saw that same expression I had seen on Baby's little face. It was as if life in the form of smoke were being sucked out through a keyhole. Or, pushed out through the birth canal. I wept, inconsolable.
A week later, the killer struck again.
We had a little dog. Everybody said our blonde Spaniel-mix, Toni, was the sweetest dog in town. My sister Rachel observed that even if nobody else acknowledged our comings and goings in a big family, Toni noticed. And, Toni definitely knew how to express a welcome home. Her face filled with delight as she bounded down the driveway and jumped up on us, as if she were as eager to give us hugs as she was to receive them. My concern now extended to Toni. I tried to keep her in the house, as much as possible, for her protection. And, she even tried to be helpful.
One day, after shaking all the scatter rugs and dusting the floors, I proceeded to put everything back in place. A little later, Toni trotted out to the kitchen, obviously eager to show me something. I followed her back into the front rooms. She had neatly gathered up all the rugs and placed them in a pile for me. She tried her best to show me that she could lend me a hand, if only she knew what to do. Naturally, I explained gently to her that it was okay to leave the rugs right where I put them. And, she understood, I know, because she then left them alone.
Our whole town was rather like a big family. Nobody locked doors. No yards were fenced. Family pets and children ran free range. Everyone recognized everyone else's property. George, the hairless Weimaraner from next door often came over to play with Toni. Six days had passed, and no other pet had met destruction. So, my guard was down, a week later to the day, when I heard Toni barking frantically from the doorway of her doghouse out back. When I ran out to see what was wrong, I found George in attendance, obviously concerned about his friend. Toni's expression frightened me. I had never seen her bare her teeth, before. Now, she appeared to be warning me to back away from her. I ran in the house to break an egg into a dish. But, when I returned, she had fled.
Now, I took to running to whatever neighbor I saw outdoors. "Something's wrong with our dog!" I bawled, "Have you seen her?" The women expressed alarm. "What if it's rabies? Our children could be in danger!" But, it couldn't be, I assured them. I was convinced someone was deliberately putting out poison.
Just then a furry blur charged through the yard like a rocket. I didn't know a dog could move so fast. Perhaps, Toni was trying to outrun whatever pain she was experiencing. She disappeared and I couldn't figure out where she went.
Just then, the pale green sedan came on the scene. Through my sobs I tried to explain my suspicions to our cop. As we spoke something caught our attention. Up the street that ran along the west side of our house, at the crossroad T that bordered the school yard, we saw Toni. She was on her back, legs in the air, and she appeared to be having a seizure.
As I ran up the street, ahead of the slow moving sedan, I saw my ten-year-old brother Joel, running down the slope from the school house. "What can we DO!" I cried.
Our cop said, in a soft voice, that the best thing would be to put the poor creature out of her misery. "Isn't there anything else we can do?" I wailed. He assured me, "No. There's nothing more we can do."
Joel turned, head hanging, and began to walk slowly back up the school yard. "Wait, Joel! I'll need you to help me carry Toni, after...."
"You kids run along," the cop told us, gently. "I'll take care of everything."
Still bawling, I was halfway to the parsonage when I heard the sound of a single gunshot behind me.
Copyright 2006 by Edy T Johnson
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