Find out now. As a treat, I’m sharing the first three chapters of Book 3 of the Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries.  If you haven’t read Books 1 & 2, Death Scent and Stray Trouble, you can find them here.

 

1 – Lost Lady

“JESSIE, can you come?”  The slow words delivered in a low grumble, the tone always one anticipating a negative response—that was Sheriff Landon Reid.

“Ah….  Sure.”

“Are you at Sam’s or the shooting range?”

Leave it to Reid to keep tabs on her whereabouts!

Jessie had known Reid since high school.  …Well, not really known, but recognized.  He was the guy who was always the hero—football, basketball, track, top notch student, and, ultimately, co-valedictorian, friends with and graduating the same year as her older brother.

Reid was a ‘winner’.  Always in the spotlight, always in the winner’s circle.  She, on the other hand, was what they called ‘average’—a straight B student—somebody who had to figure things out and really work to get a decent grade …except when it came to dogs.  Dogs she ‘got’, and they ‘got’ her.

She looked over where her crew were playing in Sam’s empty lower pasture.  They immediately noticed her watching and turned their heads, ears alert.

Well, mostly, anyway.  “Dad and I are out at Sam’s, feeding his stock, Sheriff.”

“Then you’re close to town.  Good.  I’ve got a lost Alzheimer’s patient.  Remmers’ teams …ah …some of your SAR group’s teams—the three who live in town—are already working, but, so far, nothing.  I take it your dogs are with you?”

“My dogs are with me, and, yes, we can come.  Where are you?”

“The lady disappeared in …or from the Northridge Theater.”

Sounds like a simple search.  Wonder what the problem is that the teams can’t locate her?  Something wasn’t right.  “Is Nelson Remmers there?”

“I haven’t been able to raise him.  Got somebody heading out that way.”

“Okay.  Well, we’ll be there as fast as we can.”

“Thank you,” he said, abruptly ending the call.

“Well, at least he gave you a few days off,” Oli grumbled.

She turned a grin on her dad who was leaning against the hay stack.  Oli’s face was masked down.  Numa, his brindle-colored Malinois, was sitting beside him, leaning into his knee.  They were both waiting for a verdict of ‘bad’.  “It’s a lost Alzheimer’s patient.  In town.”

Oli’s face cleared a little, and he nodded.  “Well, we’re done here, except for feeding the outside cat.”

“You have the kibbles and can of meat?”

“I do.  I’ll lock up.  You round up your crew and head for the rig.”

Two throaty barks—insistent—Acer’s.  Then a nerve-splintering howl—Milo’s.

A chill ran down Jessie’s neck and back.  Gooseflesh erupted on her shoulders and arms.  Her breath caught, stalling.  Both she and her dad looked.  Frowned.  Glanced at each other.  “What in the world?!” Oli muttered, his hand immediately dropping to his sidearm.

The only time the pack leader …or any pack member, for that matter, summoned others of the pack was when there was danger or a find.  That it happened now bespoke danger—serious danger—the double bark, then the resounding howl as reinforcement.

Her own hand slid to her hip. She wasn’t armed.

Within moments, all the dogs congregated.  Milo, the Wonder Dog, launched himself over the four foot high board gate, Acer following, the two other GSDs and Mitch, a tawny Malinois yearling pup, right behind him.  While giant Milo cleared it clean, the rest crested the top, their front feet catching at the top board, their hind feet hooking to drive them over.  Except for Duchess who squeezed under the bottom board of the fence.  The dogs now came at her and her dad at a dead run.

Was is los?  What is it?” she asked as they bounded up around her.

Acer, her big, sable protection dog and a fine tracker, huffed.  White and brown Milo wagged.  All of them circled her.  This isn’t danger.  This is something else.

A yip and a series of insistent barks—Oso and Queenie—left behind beyond the gate, a gate neither could scale or leap.

“You’d better go get them,” Oli grumbled, locking the barn.  “I’m off to feed the cat.”

“Okay.”

All the dogs trailed along back down the hill, including the little black puppy, Duchess.  Opening the gate for the two left behind got the others to swap ends and immediately take off back up the hill again.  They know.  Somehow, they know we’ve got work to do.

Queenie, her red-headed setter cross, and Oso, the Elkhound, stuck with her, the latter uncharacteristically moving in alongside her …on the wrong side, as usual, pacing her.  “Race you to the tailgate,” she said, and, opening his mouth, tongue curling, eyes squinting sideways at her as if he were laughing, Oso bounded forward, Queenie with him.  Jessie was right on their tails, until they both kicked it into gear and left her behind.

She slowed to a walk, giving her still sore leg a break.  Her dad and Numa trotted up.  Oli chuckled.  “Crazy mutts.  I think they somehow know they’ve got a job to do.”

“Yeah.  I must leave off a scent or something.”

“Hmm …maybe.”

“Okay, everybody, ‘sitz’,” she requested, getting to the rig, and, almost as one, the dogs, English speakers and German speakers, all, parked their butts on the ground.  Both Oso and Queenie lifted their heads, their faces grinning up at her.  The rest sat, but their heads swiveled to scan the yard, their nostrils sifting air.  “Come on, guys,” Jessie chided.  “Pay attention, here.  We’ve got a lost lady to find.”

That seemed to do the trick.  All of them settled down.

Done checking and changing out the batteries on their RF collars, her dad helping, she opened up both passenger side doors.  “Hup.”

Their pack order prevailed as they all jumped in, with Acer and Britta taking shotgun in front until her dad shooed them into the back.  The rest jumped in behind on the carpeted doggy platform that extended the full length of the rig behind the two front seats.  Oso took the outside, sitting right behind the driver’s seat, his nose to the glass, Queenie next to him.  Mitch and Milo took the rest of the space behind the front seats until Acer and Britta jumped back.  Sumi, pushed and shoved, sandwiching herself in behind Acer and Britta and next to Milo who downed into his characteristic sphinx mode.  Jessie lifted the pup in and put her on the front seat as her dad climbed in.  He scooped up the little black fluff and plopped her on his lap.

Rolling the windows partway down for her pack as Numa jumped in at Oli’s feet, Jessie started the rig as soon as it let her …when the doors were all secured and locked and her dad had latched his seatbelt.  Got to fix that so I can run it with the doors open.

Getting to the highway, Jessie was thankful that traffic was light, and, seven minutes later, they crossed into the Northridge city limits, a cop car picking them up and giving escort.  That surprised her, though it shouldn’t have.  Landon was pretty much always on top of things.  Until he’s not.

***

 

 

2 – Accidentally on Purpose

BITTERROOT COUNTY Sheriff Landon Reid watched two of three local search and rescue, or SAR, teams, each skilled pair comprised of one dog, one handler, comb up and down a two, three, four, and now five block radius starting at the theater.  They were seeking traces of the missing woman so they could start tracking her down.  One team, along with one city P.D. officer and one S.O. deputy, was still inside, searching through the maze of nooks and crannies of the three-story, century-old theater.  Their leader, Nelson Remmers, still hadn’t gotten here—not surprising since the man lived fifty-some miles south.  Luckily, these three members of Remmers’ group actually lived in the town of Northridge.

Dedicated and, like all SAR members, unpaid volunteers, they’d come to Reid’s call within minutes.  Unfortunately, twenty minutes into their search, their dogs had yet to find anything, and, with each passing minute, Landon was losing hope for a swift and speedy resolution.  And the horrible thought struck him that maybe there wasn’t anyone to find.  No.  Unacceptable!  If she’s not outside, she’s got to still be inside …which is better.  She’s warm.

Then why aren’t we finding her?  The other thing that troubled him was that nobody they’d asked who’d been at the high school concert remembered seeing Mrs. Little or Sheila Long, and soft-voiced Dorothy Little was everybody’s favorite ‘gran’.

It was the rule of law that, when an Alzheimer’s patient went missing, his office was immediately notified.  They then organized the search, and handled the subsequent investigation.  Rarely did an incident like this happen, though, and, for him, this was only the second time in his short career as sheriff.  The first time—an incident last summer—had been relatively easy.  The weather had been sunny and warm, and the man was found walking naked down a residential street in broad daylight.  This time it had rained most of the day, it was almost dark, and the fifty-three-year-old woman who’d gone missing was diagnosed with the early onset form of the disease.

In calling Jessica Anderson, Landon was hoping that, by some miracle, her dogs could pull off the same kind of coordinated search operation he’d seen them demonstrate several times before.  Their ability to coordinate a search between them to cover a huge area all at once was their specialty.  He needed that.  Right now!  The wait was irritating.  “Get here, Jessie!”

Despite it being late in May, the nights were down in the low-to-mid-forties—characteristic of mountain country.  At eight-thirty in the evening, it was already cold, and, according to the daughter who doubled as the woman’s caregiver, her mother was only wearing a black cocktail dress, no coat.  Black!  On a black night.  What’s wrong with red or white?  Fluorescent yellow, maybe?!

Behind him, Dorothy Little’s daughter, Sheila, was huddled with her girlfriends.  She was noticeably drunk.  So were her pals.  What bothered Reid was that, occasionally, short bursts of laughter reached his ears.  Something’s not right.  She really doesn’t seem worried.  But, then, some people exhibited a weird hysteria when suffering anxiety or when faced with potential tragedy.  Give her a break, he told himself.  It’s her mom.

A police unit, its lights flashing, whooped its siren once as it turned the corner.  Expecting Jessica’s mug-ugly old Suburban to trail it, Landon felt his spirits rise, but, instead of the old Suburban, a brand new, pearl white Lincoln Navigator turned the corner, vanity license plate ‘DOGGIRL’ mounted in its plate holder.  Oli Anderson was riding shotgun, though, so it had to be Jessie.  She got herself a new rig.  About time. …And what a rig it was, too!

“Wow.  That’s a Black Label L,” the deputy beside him whispered.

Yeah, he could see that—as big as a long-bed pickup truck.  And, suddenly, he wondered.  Shook his head.  No.  He wouldn’t have!  Not Brian Ingalls.  …At least Landon hoped not.  Too much of a miser. 

“Okay.  Here we go,” he said to the older man to his left.  “If anybody can find the woman, it’s Jessie and her dogs.”

“If you say so,” Northridge P.D. Caption Dirk Compton. muttered.

Landon cast a sideways glance at the man.  “What’s the problem, Captain?”

“The woman missing is my kid sister, that’s what!” he snapped.  “And it’s her daughter’s fault.”

Landon blew breath.  Oh, boy.  “Sorry.  I didn’t know.”  How’d I miss that?  Then, “Shouldn’t you get somebody to relieve you, since you’re personally invested, Dirk?”

“No!”

Yes, you should, Landon thought, but wasn’t going to push it.  Compton was a decorated veteran, a long-standing, stellar officer on the Northridge P.D.  “Okay.  Hang tight.  We’ll find her.”

Crossing the street at a trot, Landon got to the Lincoln just in time for the doors to pop open, the dogs, all seven of them, boiling out.  For most people, the sight of this many dogs coming straight at them would freeze them in their tracks.

It wasn’t so much the setter or the dog Jessie had told him wasn’t a small Husky, but something called a Norwegian Elkhound.  It was the two big, burly German Shepherds and the one more normal one, the darting Malinois, and, especially, the gigantic white and brown-spotted mutt Jessie called Milo—something that looked like a cross between a huge pitbull and a Great Dane.

A little over a month ago that would have been true for Landon, too.  Not now, though.  Not after the jobs they’d pulled off for him so far in the short time he’d been working with Jessie and her pack of search dogs.  Despite his stress, his face broke open seeing them.

Queenie, the setter, and Acer, the latter still in a cast just like his mistress, bounded up, then around him.  Milo and Mitch, too, the latter’s ear finally free of its bandage.  Even the more reticent Britta, Sumi, and Oso seemed happy to see him.  Tails wagged so much that hips and bodies swayed with the motion as they greeted him.  They like me.  That thought brought a smile, despite the circumstances.

“Hi,” Jessica Anderson said, her bobbed, platinum blonde hair fluorescing under the street lights as she came around from the back of the rig.  She swung her big pack on as she closed the car doors, and Landon noted that she still limped.

He touched the brim of his hat as Oli got out, Jessie’s foundling black puppy cradled by its belly in his left hand, his dog, Numa, with him.  The man’s face was its usual mask, but he acknowledged Landon with a nod, then leaned against the front fender. Jessie tossed him the keys, then turned to face Landon.  Her deep blue eyes were serene, almost happy.

Serenity was something he hadn’t spotted in Jessie since they’d become reacquainted.  It was a good thing to see.  “Nice,” he said, nodding toward the Lincoln.  And he meant it.  About time she got herself a decent set of wheels.

She grinned.  “It was a gift.”

“From?”  And he hoped she’d say ‘Dad’.

“Brian Ingalls.”

He did!  “Oh.  …Nice,” he said, again, not meaning it, this time.  At all.

“You said that already.  Scent?” she asked.

“Right.”  He grabbed one of the two big bags held by the deputy beside him, the one containing the woman’s coat.  “This and her purse is all we have.”

Pulling on nitrile gloves, she fished from an outer pocket of the backpack, she pulled them on, stretching the right hand one over the end of her cast, then nodded.  As she did, the dogs crowded in, tails wagging.  They knew all about this.  He opened the bag with the coat.

Immediately, all tails went still, then suddenly dropped.  The dogs backed away and began to blow and sneeze.  Jessie’s nose wrinkled, and, backing up, too, she shook her head ‘no’.

He sealed the bag with the coat back up and dropped it at his feet, the scent hanging around him despite that.  Hope I don’t wind up smelling like that the rest of the night.

He opened the other bag, and Jessie did what Landon thought she would—opened the purse that was inside, poked around a bit with a finger, then grabbed the one woman’s glove that remained in it, the glove Landon hadn’t given the other teams.

Surprising him, she also pulled out a handkerchief he hadn’t noticed.  “Handled,” she said.  “Lucky that.”

She pooched the glove open with her good hand, and held it out to her dogs.  The animals, tails a-wag again, moved in, putting their noses practically inside it, then sniffed in long draughts.  How does she get them to do that?  None of this grabbing them and forcing the scent onto their nose like the others had done.  They just go for it all by themselves.

Now she held out the handkerchief clutched between the fingers of her gloved right hand, those fingers and the end of her thumb being the only thing not covered by her cast.  The dogs really seemed to take notice of the hanky.  Noses delicately sniffed around and under.

When the dogs finally dropped their heads and backed up, Jessie put the glove and hanky into two different bags, the fingers of her cast right arm surprisingly deft despite the fact that her arm up to the elbow, her wrist, plus most of her palm and thumb were immobilized.  She sealed the bags and stashed them in her pack.  Her dark blue eyes had turned bright …or was it the street lights?  They caught at Landon’s.  “I’m keeping those for now, okay?”

He nodded and, closing the evidence bag, motioned to a deputy to come take it and the one holding the coat.  Why have her eyes changed?  They only changed when she stressed.  He knew that now.  Way too well.

Jessie squatted down.  “Okay, are you ready?” she asked, the dogs crowding in.

Tails wagged, bodies again swaying with the motion.  The red setter-like dog and the one called Mitch both bounced and whined.

Brave Hunde.  My good, good dogs,” he heard her croon.  Then, “One.  Human,” she said, her hands making odd movements as she spoke, movements that, as usual, made no sense to Landon.  …Well, maybe one of them, did—the upraised single index finger of her right hand when she said ‘one’.

Standing up, she gave another set of hand signals, saying, “Sweep.  All.  Such.  Seek.  Find it,” her voice light and excited.  The dogs swapped ends from facing her to facing out to stand in a fan of fur around both her and Landon.  Their stilled and their noses worked.

The deputy who had come to take the evidence bags stopped and stood stock still, his eyes rolling down to eye the dogs.

“It’s okay.  You won’t bother them if you move,” Landon told him, and the man reached, grabbed the bags, then eased clear.

Oso—the one that still, to Landon’s mind, looked like a small, grinning Husky—suddenly sat, then downed.  Then, tawny brown Mitch downed, too.

“They’re telling us ‘no air scent’,” Jessie said, canting her head his way.  “How long has she been missing?”

“We don’t know.  The concert got over at eight, so well over forty minutes, now, at least.”

Her left hand’s fingers clawed at her hair, pushing it up and back, then combing it back down just as suddenly.  The nervous tic was back.  Why? he wondered, as her fingers worked her hair again, her eyes going to the theater, then back to her dogs.

“There should be some remnant scent envelope,” she said.  “It’s very odd that they’re catching nothing.”  And what she said disturbed him.  A lot.

The dogs, all standing stock still watching one another, not her, touched noses to each other, one by one, as soon as Oso and Mitch downed.  It seemed to be their cue.  They took off, noses near the ground, each in a different direction.

“What’s happening?” he asked, watching them disperse.  Landon had only been eye witness to her dogs search for dead bodies on a mountainside.  The only live search and rescue work he’d been close enough to somewhat witness was during Nelson Remmers’ test of Jessie and her dogs.  The search for Ingalls had been completely out of sight, the dogs moving so fast that there had been no keeping up with them.  Never had he seen the pack in action close up, hunting down the lost.  Well, I guess I get to, now.

“They’re seeking some ground scent trail from which to start,” Jessie said to him as the dogs scattered.  “Oso is scouting for an air envelope.  Mitch is doing both.  When one of them locates something, they’ll alert the others by vocalizing, but there are a lot of alleyways and hidden spots to cover.  This will probably take time with no air scent.  It’s why the other teams have had no success, as yet.”

“What do we do?”

“We just wait, listen, and watch.”

Her eyes were bright blue, now, instead of their normal dark, and it wasn’t the street lights.  She was holding something back.  With a start, he realized that the nervous tic and the sharpening color of her eyes only had happened after she’d opened the purse.  What’s bothering her?

“Can you give me some background, Sheriff?”

Landon did and watched her nod.  “I know of Sheila Little from school,” she said …muttered something under her breath he didn’t catch.  Then she said something that rattled him.  “So, maybe the perfume was accidently on purpose.”

Now, why would she say that?  And the way she said it bothered him—there was rancor there, something he’d never before heard in her voice.  Worse, a sudden harshness had taken over her usual affability.  Her face had turned hard-bitten.  It was the first time he realized just how much she actually looked like her dad.

As if reading him, she said, “Evidentially, there’s saturation of perfume on the coat, but not inside the handbag or on the kerchief.  It’s apparent in the bag you put the purse in, too.  But there was a different scent when I opened the purse—clean leather, linen, and lavender soap smells—and absolutely no perfume in or on the glove or hanky.  A woman who wears a lot of scent will get it everywhere, but this is just saturating the coat with some on the outside of the purse.  It’s probably also saturating Mrs. Little, possibly to try to alter her mood or to disorient her.  What isn’t commonly known is that Alzheimer’s sufferers lose their sense of smell.”

She volunteered something!  Completely out of nowhere and against her psych profile!  Something’s changed.  …But what she’d volunteered!  And her voice was now cold enough to freeze Hades.

Landon knew her degree in crime scene analysis and her status, now, as a certified paramedic in both Idaho and Colorado, probably gave her these kinds of insights, but what she was suggesting went beyond a case of accident or even criminal neglect.  It brought up intent, and he sincerely doubted that in this situation.

I really don’t like the way she’s reasoning.  It was the first inkling he had, though, on just how much the Grierhausen case may have affected Jessica Anderson.  It sent her over the edge, and she’s really never come back.  It made her dangerous, not just whacko.  Once she’d smelled the perfume, she’d started to exhibit stress and, simultaneously, seemed to grow remote …harder—‘calloused’ was the word that came to mind, that and ‘jaded’.

That sudden change ticked him off.  The girl, already as changeable as the weather—wait five minutes—plus susceptible to weird PTSD ‘drop-outs’, had, in seconds, moved even further away from who he remembered she used to be in high school.  But that was then, and this is now.

***

 

 

3 – Something’s Wrong

JESSIE SAW THE QUESTION and read the doubt.  She shouldn’t have said anything, but it had needed saying.  For Mrs. Little’s sake.  …Because Landon Reid often took things at face value, then, simultaneously, switched gears to thinking things overly subversive.  He often missed problems that he should catch, while assuming problems where there were none.  …Like about her.

Even now, she watched his anger rise.  He tried to hide it by ducking his head down, the brim of his precious white Stetson® hiding his eyes and pock-marked face, but she’d seen it, and that was okay, too.  She’d done her duty.  Her old boss, Captain Dennison,. would be proud of her.  He’d always chided her on keeping things too much to herself.  This time, she hadn’t, and, by Landon’s reaction, she’d hit the mark.

She had her own selfish motives for doing it.  It was a trade, because now she needed to know.  For her dogs’ sake.  “Have your deputies checked the river bank?”

The head raised, the eyes leveled.  “We have.  No sign,” he said, his deep, gravelly voice sounding incredibly ominous as it all but hissed the words.

So he was angry with her, and Jessie wanted to burst out laughing for some bizarre reason.  She quelled it.  But she was relieved by his answer.  “Good.  That’s very good,” she said, and meant it.  “Hopefully, Mrs. Little stays away from the water.”

Then, intentionally, eyes on Queenie and Mitch, not him, she added what she considered the obvious, deliberately putting ‘sappy, happy’ into her voice.  “So, now all we have to worry about is her getting run over, mugged, raped, hurt from a fall, along with suffering hypothermia and, maybe, contracting pneumonia.  …Or that she’s been abducted, of course.”

Now she saw him get really mad, and he didn’t try to hide it.  Good.  Get a clue, Landon.  There’s something wrong hereThere should be scent.  Her dogs were good—very good.  They were finding nothing.

Upset, she tried to put her mind solely on her dogs.  Somehow, they’ll find her.  She didn’t want to think about the condition in which her dogs would find the woman, though.  She couldn’t.  Something’s wrong.

Her eye caught on Queenie and Mitch, again.  They were approaching the crowd of people standing under the theater’s marquee.  Watching,  Jessie began to worry for them.  “Excuse me, Sheriff,” she said, and headed over.

Reid came with her.  Jessie hadn’t expected that.  Nor did she expect him to answer her impertinence, except maybe with his characteristic groan and unintelligible grumbling.

“She’d better not get run over or attacked by anyone,” he said quietly, his low voice soft again, anger gone or at least suppressed.  “The entire on-duty police force is out and a lot of my deputies, too.  All of downtown is shut down.  So are all nearby roads.  All through traffic is supposed to be stopped up to a sixteen block radius.  Mrs. Little and your dogs shouldn’t be in danger from traffic or misfits in the downtown and nearby residential areas.”

“Good,” she replied as she dodged between parked cars to reach where, between them, Mitch and Queenie were isolating a group of women all about her age, several of whom she recognized.

People who weren’t used to dogs sometimes didn’t deal with them well and hers were not wearing their Search and Rescue vests.  She’d left them home.  In the wash.  Mistake.  Buy a backup set.  Their bright RF collars identified them with the word ‘RESCUE’, but that was it.

Sure enough, as Queenie brushed between the people, sniffing legs, she heard a couple of the women squeal.  One of those exclamations became a yell, then a scream of hysteria, and, getting there, Jessie tried to calm the woman down as poor Mitch just stood, looking up at her, his eyes confused.  “My good, good dogs, Mitch, Queenie.  It’s okay.”  Of course, it has to be Sheila.  “They’re just finding your mother’s scent on you and will move on.  Don’t be upset,” Jessie told her gently, the reek of alcohol coming out of the woman’s mouth overwhelming.

“You get your filthy animals away from me, you freak!” the woman screamed, her fists balling up.

Mitch’s ears snapped forward, his eyes turning.  He now identified Sheila Long as ‘threat’, his protection drive kicking in.  Jessie called him to her.  Immediately, he dropped his head and came.  Queenie, too.

“You stay away from my mom, too.”

“No, Mrs. Long,” Sheriff Reid said, stepping in to put his tall form between Jessie and the woman.

With a start, Jessie noted that Reid had his body cam on.  That was rare.  “Their job is to find your mother,” Reid said, his voice firm.

And, again, Sheila Long stepped forward, her fists clenching again.  “And I said keep that freak and her mangy animals away from me and my mom!”

Instead of pushing things, the sheriff, just stood staring down at the woman.  He said something Jessie couldn’t hear, but she saw his body shift.  Oh, boy!

She began backing away, signaling the dogs to come with her.  Everybody else around them, including Sheila’s friends, backed up, too.

Despite the impediment of the cast on his front leg, Acer bounded up, his hackles raised.  Jessie grabbed for him, hissing a command for both him and Mitch to ease.  Queenie’s head was dropped and turned away, her tail sagging.  “It’s okay, Queenie.  Not your fault.  It’s okay,” Jessie whispered to her oh-so-sensitive girl.  Queenie loved people, and she didn’t understand people who didn’t love her back.

Reid, on his part, didn’t react to Acer’s sudden, bristling appearance, though he had to see him.  He was still speaking soft and low to Sheila Long.

An all but subliminal low rumble….  Milo arrived, the big dog shoving through to plant himself in front of Jessie and the rest of the dogs.  His tail was stiff and still, his hackles up.  So were Mitch’s, now.

Suddenly, all dogs were in defense mode, protective of her and of their pack members.  “Ruhig,” she whispered, asking for calm.  “Ganz Ruhig.”

Calling Milo by name, then asking him to ‘fuss’, purposely Jessie only used the German instead of English, blessing the fact that, because of her consistent use of both, all her dogs now responded to either.  German was the choice around people who mostly wouldn’t recognize the commands.  Need to make my own language, like Remmers does, so nobody knows what I’m asking for.

Milo tipped his head a little and backed to press his butt into her, but kept himself in front of Jessica.  Acer was again giving warning growls, too, and, by their warnings, Jessie knew things were getting tense.  Dogs could sense these things when humans often wouldn’t have a clue.  She wanted to warn Reid, but didn’t know how without further antagonizing Sheila Long.

An older police officer—a captain by his insignia—shoved his way in, and, with a nod the sheriff’s way, said something to the woman which Jessie also couldn’t hear.

Reid stepped back, bumping into Milo, his hand reaching down automatically, then stopping as it touched wet nose.  Turning, he reached for and grabbed Jessie’s bad arm.  “This way.  Now,” he said quietly.  “Bring the dogs.”  Jessie felt his tension and urgency.  His grip on her upper arm hurt as he pushed and pulled her.

Moments later, Sheila let out a stream of vulgarities.  Reid twisted, pulling Jessie behind him as the dogs, as one, turned to face the heightened disturbance.  “Ruhig.  Fuss,” Jessie reinforced, Acer tense beside her left knee, his hackles stiffly upright.  Milo who maintained his position between Jessie and the hostility was completely on alert, his hackles ridged now from tail tip to the top of his neck.  Beside him, Mitch, matched him in attitude.

Sheila suddenly lunged at the police officer with awkwardly swinging fists.

The dogs didn’t move.  Nor did they retreat.  Tension rippled through them.

One of Sheila’s fists connected with the man’s chest as he caught the one headed for his face and did a twisting quick trick that turned the woman around, his foot tripping her, his other hand grabbing her dress’s belt to ease her, face down, onto the sidewalk.

The crowd moved further away.  The dogs now backed, keeping distance.  Some of their tension eased.  …Not all.  “I warned you, Sheila,” Jessie heard him say.

The woman was now kicking, screaming, and cursing like something out of a bad movie.  Reid urged Jessie back out into the street, her dogs moving with her.  “He’s her uncle,” Reid said quietly.  “If anyone can handle her, it’s him.”

Dropping hands to dog heads, she felt their noses touch.  “Sheila’s always been …rambunctious,” Jessie responded, “even in high school,” and saw Reid’s eyebrows arch.

“Is that what you call that,” he replied.  “‘Rambunctious’.”  He chuckled.  “I’ll have to remember that one.”

On her phone, a bark came through—Sumi.  Mitch and Milo took off.  Then Acer and Queenie, too.

Jessie pulled her new unit off her belt and, seeing location, spun around to look down the street.  She saw nothing, though—a dark shepherd on dark streets with stopped cars, the street lights leaving pockets of ‘dim’.  “We have an alert.  Sumi’s found something,” she said, and chased after Acer and Queenie.  Mitch and Milo, who had moved as soon as the bark had sounded, were already halfway down the next block.

On Jessie’s phone app, it showed Sumi was more than eight blocks south—over half a mile—but Jessie wasn’t surprised that it was Sumi who’d had success.  The dog was comfortable in urban environments from her days with Kingston as a law enforcement dog.

As she ran, Jessie saw a flash of blonde.  Britta raced out from between buildings two blocks down the street.  On Jessie’s app, the dots for Britta and Sumi converged.  Shortly, the rest of the dots, including Oso’s blue one, reached Sumi, too.  Way before Jessie.

When Jessie finally made it there, all the dogs were sitting with Sumi, all heads turned toward Jessie as she ran up. Tails tentatively wagged—’we found something, anyway’, that told her.

What Sumi had found was a crumpled napkin by the curb.  It was a bar napkin …from a bar located yet another couple of blocks south, nowhere near where they’d been told the woman disappeared.  We’ve started their search in the wrong area by more than half a mile.  While that wasn’t a big deal in wildland searches, in an urban search like this one, especially like this one with all the people and the traffic exhaust, it was huge.

Praising them all, especially Sumi, Jessie got new gloves on, gingerly picked up the napkin, and, as Sheriff Reid pounded up, held it out to her crew.  She asked them for another sweep.  “Such.  Seek.  Find it.  One.  Human.”

Just like her first set of instructions, she didn’t include ‘live’ …because she wasn’t sure that the woman was.  Now, with Sumi’s find, it was possible that the woman had been hit, the injured or deceased body hidden by a panicked driver.  Unfortunately, it happened.  Or abducted, came unbidden to her brain, something she didn’t want to think about.  …But she knew she was beginning to think like a cop, again, not as who she was.  Stop it.  Not my job, she scolded herself, and attended her dogs.

“Which bar did that come from?  The Craven Inn?” Reid demanded as she dropped it into another clean scent bag, sealing it up.

“It say’s ‘Henley’s’,” she answered.  “I’ll give it to you later, if that’s okay?  I might still need it for the dogs.”

He nodded, keyed his shoulder mic, and snapped instructions to someone to get deputies in there.  “I want answers,” she heard him say.  “Before they all conveniently ‘forget’.”  He eyed her.  “The chances she was picked up by someone?”

“I don’t know yet.”  She turned to watch her dogs.  “Hang on.  They’ll tell me.”

Jessie’s dogs were on track, but they were close, two of them, Milo and Mitch, trotting back from the bar’s door to the crosswalk to cross the street.  They stuck to pedestrian crossing stripes that traversed the width of the six-lane avenue that was also the main highway.  So she crossed here, Jessie thought.  Oso was sitting in the middle of the street, his head up, nose active.  He was pointed west.

Jessie turned back to Reid.  “I don’t think so.  I think she used the pedestrian crossing.”

Again, Sumi barked.  She was half emerged from the entrance to a narrow alley between two buildings on the far side of the street a half a block north, now.  Britta stood with her looking down the alley at something.  They had taken Oso’s hint—seek west.  “Gotta go,” Jessie said.

Jessie took off after her dogs as the rest of her pack headed for Sumi, noses almost grazing pavement.  Small sounds of quiet affirmation came from them, including Milo.  Only Oso was silent.  He was not catching a strong air scent, just traces, and his silence told her so.  So the scent trail envelope had already grounded or maybe had been dispersed by traffic.  Pausing just long enough to make sure she followed, Jessie’s dogs bounded down the dark, block-deep alley.

At a trot, Milo, with his long stride, quickly took point beside Sumi, Mitch, the Marvelous, loping along right with him.  All three had their heads low, noses near the ground.  Long trotting, Acer and Britta moved into flank position.  Then came Oso, and Queenie pulling rear guard.

Jessie marveled—modified pack formation.  They had moved to defense position, probably because of the environment, an environment they weren’t used to.  They were wildland search experts, not urban search conditioned, though they had now, just last week, in fact, all passed their urban tests with flying colors.  That included Mitch, thanks to Callen Parker pulling strings for her.  Mitch had passed, despite the technicality of him being a half-year too young.  But Jessie and her dogs worked wildland.  It’s what she and they both preferred.  They were on alert and hunting, though, despite the unnatural territory.

Brave Hunde,” she whispered, trying to keep up.  “My good, good, great dogs!”  But she was losing ground …couldn’t run fast enough to match their increasing pace, especially with her bad leg.  Yet, she didn’t want to call them down.  Traffic was stopped, they were trained, and she had her app that tracked their RF collars.  She’d catch up when they found their target, which she had no doubt they would now.

Soon.

She hoped it would be soon enough.

***

 

 

So what was the sound of taffeta?  The delivery guy fixing the drape of the big lavender bow on top.