Ladd and the Case of the Missing Malamutes

A Talking Dog Adventure: sequel to "Ladd Come, Ladd Sit, Phooey Ladd!"
By Alfred Goodale | Sep 11, 2010
Ladd

Introduction

Hi, there. Is the mike on? My name is Ladd, everybody. In case you can't see me, I'm a medium-sized dog of eight or nine years, black with some white on the muzzle and chest, rough but not quite wire-haired, with slightly crossed black eyes. I'm also a talking dog unaccustomed to public speaking, so if you don't mind, I'll turn now to my prepared speech.

Robert Baker, my blind former master, was probably the last human being on earth to know about it. Boys and girls knew about it. Dog handlers and cat lovers knew about it. The mailman knew about it. But Robert, a writer, just kept sitting at his huge clunky word processor, adjusting the robot voice, and turning out pages that he most often crumpled and threw away.

So it went until one day he needed a book from the Maine Public Library in Augusta, the state capitol, 20 miles from here. He had friends at the library and was told that nowadays he'd receive not a bound volume or an audio cassette but a tiny electronic cell to be placed directly above his right ear or his left ear, whichever he chose. The text of the book would then be displayed inside his head and could be scanned at will. Yes, the new technology worked for the blind, as well as for the sighted. Surprised and pleased, Robert ordered the book, specifying large print instead of regular print, if possible, and sat back to wait for the appearance of the mailman on this thrice-weekly rounds, another aspect of the recent "wonder years," as they'd been designated.

Now listen, little children. The story that follows takes place in those wonder years. It's a phrase coined by President Bannock. The successor to Barack Obama and our first woman president, as you know. It's a good phrase be cause it passes over the usual things and says nothing about the weather or the wars or the economy. Which is appropriate, because what happened back then was that the Jarvis Maneuver was invented and human beings and animals, especially dogs, began to talk to each other.

Today an article quoted by Wikipedia boasts that fully 44 percent of American dogs feel comfortable when talking with humans. In addition, 42 percent are literate and 19 percent have passed the necessary tests, including a road test, and are licensed to operate motor vehicles. Now these are great numbers but not surprising, really. Why be surprised when a dog sees an opportunity and goes for it, when a cat learns to read and write and runs for School board?

It's like the moonlit night when my dark glasses flew off into the long grass and I never went back to look for them. From that day to this, I wear nothing on my nose, nothing on my back where some dogs look like pack mules or dromedaries, nothing on my collar except my rabies tag, my Town of Liberty tag and a special State of Maine tag identifying me as a licensed private detective. This one right here.

OK. Well, that's the end of my prepared speech, but let me say a little more in praise of the Wonder Years. What year are we in now, anyway? Four already? Five? Whatever it is, remember it's a time when almost any animal can walk into his or her local Co-op and find someone, a clerk or a teller or a customer, who speaks his language. It's the same in other cities. If he's in a car, he can read the road signs, ask directions, get a bite to eat, walk around, talk to human beings who understand what he's saying, wink at a pigeon, do it all. And listen, remember that travel is easy now, at least compared to what it used to be, and not just local travel; travel around the world.

I know of a case where a solitary cat boarded a plane in Nairobi, Kenya, in Africa, and flew 7,000 miles and seven time zones to Newark, N.J., and nobody thought anything about it. Well somebody did, the FBI did, but that's another story. No, it's not, I take that back. It's this story and it starts right now. Enjoy!

 

Chapter 1

Robert Baker's first book tour opened in Boston. As Ladd, the modest hero of the featured work, I expected to be there and was sorry when developments in the Greywolf case forced a last-minute cancellation. The hearing had ended and the decision had come down. Both my clients, both Greywolf and his identical twin, Dennis, were judged dangers to the community and would have to die.

Literary success had introduced Robert to instant messaging as well as the book tour. "Hey man! This Greywolf matter is huge. It will make or break Ladd, Inc. as a credible force for good. Stay with it," he sent from the Parker House in Boston, where he'd checked in with Joyce, his sighted guide. "We arrived in time for lunch. I meet my literary agent at 4 p.m., sign first book at 6 p.m. Dinner with the publisher tonight. This hotel is a big old place overlooking the park. No leash laws visible. Did you know that in instant messaging punctuation is optional and you don't have to say goodbye, you just write TTYL, talk to you later??? Robert."

I went into the back room and complained to the good Amy, a white-winged gull who worked for me sometimes when not busy with the state police or her own private courier service. "Oh Amy, I wish I hadn't canceled. I wish I were on tour with Robert and Joyce in Boston, running in the park, meeting other dogs, having supper with the publisher. Instead I'm stuck here in Liberty, trying to save the lives of two malamutes. Do you know what malamutes are?"


"Those big dogs?" she guessed.

"Those huge dogs. Sled dogs as big as wolves. Supposedly they're wild and unpredictable, though these two haven't given any trouble until now. That's why the sentence seems so unfair. Yet so inevitable!"

Perched on the rim of a long-unused bathtub, one rusty fixture among several in the room, Amy flapped two graceful, if travel-stained wings, in protest. "What sentence? I don't read the messages I carry, you know, Mr. Dog. I only hear the news leaks and gossip. I also know I'm dirty as a pigeon after my latest run to Boston. So why don't you adjust your fancy new chair and talk to me while I work on my primaries?"

She was referring to the ergonomic office chair I'd ordered from a catalog. Thanks to its comforts, I now did some of my best thinking back here. Meanwhile, my old swivel chair and my wicker sleeping basket remained in the outer office, familiar and reassuring to clients. A certain yellow cat hadn't worked out as my first receptionist and had been let go. But that was a long time ago and nobody now noticed the absence of her litter box, which had been replaced by a simple end table and magazine rack.

Pecking and pulling, Amy listened while I explained things. "It's like this. Greywolf and Dennis are twin brothers. They look exactly alike. Even their owners, Dr. and Mrs. Anderson, can't tell them apart except that they behave differently. Just between you and me, Greywolf is the pack leader and Dennis is the follower. But you already know that through the grapevine, I suppose."

"Of course. My whole colony knows which dog is which. And not just the river gulls, but the herring gulls and the terns. We can read the headlines from an altitude of eighty feet!"

"Oh, dear. If only you knew, Amy!" She retreated a few steps while I vented my disapproval. If only you knew how disclosures like that prejudice the case. It's no secret that the Andersons asked a neighborhood boy to feed their dogs while they were away for the weekend, but...."

"The boy got mauled. Seventeen stitches. His arm and his leg."

"Right. Those are the facts. And the facts have been heard and decided. But that's not the end of the story. The Andersons are well connected, Amy. She's from out of state and he's a professor at the University. They're unhappy with the decision and are planning an appeal to the Governor. That's why they want me to re-examine the case and dig for new evidence. In fact, I'll be going into Rockland this afternoon to see Greywolf."

A compact bird, shining white, Amy folded her wings and fluffed and settled herself, got everything right. "What do you want from Greywolf?"

"I'll tell you. Listen to this. I've been talking to Jim Anderson, the dogs' owner. He's a psychologist who's read Robert's book and was very gracious when I called. He wants the interview to start as a social time. Being a dog myself, I'll be useful because I can communicate with Greywolf as no human could. Saying hello and all that. I'm to be friendly but submissive. No eye contact. Then, when I've gained his confidence-Amy, did you say something?


"I said, Good luck!"

"Thank you. Having gained his trust, I'll try for a confession. If Greywolf would agree to testify that he alone had attacked Carl, there's a chance, just a chance, he could be released somewhere in the north woods and Dennis could stay with the Andersons. It sounds pretty reasonable, really. What do you think?"

"Well, it's a plan, at least. How are you getting to Rockland?"

"On foot. It's a nice day and I don't want to drive if I can help it. I could call a taxi but it's a secret mission, after all. Why tell anybody where I'm going?"

"Should I go with you? Fly cover. Keep you company?"


"No. You're needed at home and I need time to prepare for my meeting with Greywolf and Dennis. But maybe we can get together later, Amy. Are you still current with the microchip? The listening device?"

After years with Sergeant Jarvis and the State Police? What do you think?" With a hop and flutter she lifted onto the open window. "Which leads to a request. If I'm to work with you on this case, I'll need to study up on it. A transcript of the Greywolf hearing, if you please."

"A transcript of the hearing? Sure," I promised, badly missing Jonquil, the yellow cat. As my receptionist she would have manned the switchboard and applied for the transcript then and there. She also tidied the office and generally kept things going. But where was she now? In Africa. Africa, of all places!" "Sure. Don't worry about it, I'll do it myself!" I called out as Amy winged away.

 


 

At a fast trot on Route 17 East, I practiced the lowered head, the madly wagging tail. Three times bigger than I, Greywolf would fill his cage. I'd pull some shedding fur from him while he talked about himself, his preferred brand of dog food, his diet of lamb and rice, his keen vision and why his eyes were so red and intimidating.

He'd be too conceited to notice my notebook and pencil, but how to proceed? How to tap his memory of that fateful October day? What had happened and why had he attacked Carl, the innocent boy bringing his supper? Was he sorry or would he gladly do it again? Was Carl his only enemy, or did he hate all humans, all creatures who came too close and dared touch him or meet his fiery stare?

Enough! I kept going towards the coast as the wind changed and the nice summer day disappeared behind black clouds. Then south to places I'd known as a puppy. A few new homes brightened the far side of the estuary, but on this side, always the spooky side, the broken dam was still broken, dead elms felled, but not hauled away. Fields were not mown , pastures  not grazed. Decrepit apple trees, birch woods, dense forest as thunder rumbled. Ahead was the rutted track supposedly traveled by coyotes, then the lonely airport road and the high railroad bridge perilous to cross.

"I once spent time here myself," I'd confess. "The good old Rockland pound, Only I wasn't in isolation like you and your brother, I was in the general population. Picked up off the streets, a runaway, a good for nothing mutt. I hated the confinement and longed to be free. You know how it feels to stretch out and really run, to fly like the wind. Think about it, Greywolf. Maybe you could do that. Maybe I know a way."

A light Cessna dove towards the runway, trying to beat the rain. Hurrying too, I left the airport road and scrambled down an embankment. The railroad tracks were rustier and more grass-grown than I'd ever seen them before. I remembered the height of the trestle ahead, the loose planking that thudded underfoot, the stones boys would drop into the outrushing tide below.

But the boys were grown men now and the loose planking had rotted away and been removed, leaving only the bare ties. Creeping close, I stretched out a timid paw and drew it back. The ties were too narrow, the spaces between them too wide. Nor could a dog balance on a single rail as a human could. Or could I?

The rain was coming fast. The cold steel accepted one foot, then two, then three and four. I kicked into my normal fast trot, maintained speed through salt air and a huge draft of wind. The old railroad ties beside me passed rapidly, smelling of tar and wood and the first splashes of rain. The wet glistening of the rail tempted me to hurry, to dash for safety, but I resisted. Not until the end, with the bridge behind me did I break stride. Then I stretched out and ran and ran, flying like the wind.

 


 

After the storm, the lights were out in the City of Rockland. Or no, there were lights: Blue lights, red lights. Sirens on Elm Street, where the pound was. I approached a snarling police dog. "What's happened?"

"Get out of here!"

"No. What's happened?"

"It's them malamutes."

"What about them?"

"Them wolf-dogs, you never can tell with them."

"I know. But what happened?"

"Can't you hear? They've been abducted. That's ab-ducted. They're gone!"

 

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