Ladd and the case of the missing Malamutes

By Alfred Goodale | Jan 29, 2011

Chapter Three Continued:

The Anderson’s house and empty dog pen stood on a well-kept residential street. I scratched at the front door and was welcomed by Jim’s wife, Nan. “Laddie, dear! It’s so good to see you here at home and not in that dreadful hearing room. Come in, come in. Jim just got home from work and is having a beer. I’m having tea. Cold milk for you?”

She poured from a pitcher and put the bowl down on the hardwood floor. She was wearing jeans and sneakers and looked like any other faculty wife. However, there was something definitely wrong with her husband. So professional and helpful on my previous visit, Dr. Jim sat in his big armchair with his suit rumpled and his necktie loosened. The glass gripped in his hand wasn’t’ quite vertical and he looked perplexed.

Bombed, as humans say. Seeing me, he gave a wink of recognition, but except for that and an occasional hiccup he remained silent and let his wife do the talking.

“How did we come to own two Malamutes? I’ll tell you how. We’re great summer travelers. The university encourages a month or two off, and I can take time off from my gardening and hospital work. It was in Alaska, two summers ago, that we bought the puppies. That was apparently the whole surviving litter, sold at roadside. No papers or anything, but who needs papers? Who cares? Any fool can see that these are special animals, with or without papers!”

Her tea cooled as she went on. “This business is such a farce. Not only is Dennis not aggressive, he’s a wimp. He hangs back, he hides under beds. To think of him savaging somebody’s elbow is ludicrous! Of course there was blood on him. There was blood on the ground and on Greywolf. Wouldn’t you expect him to get into that? Wouldn’t you expect him to run up to the fence and start barking?”

“She’s right, of course,” Jim put in suddenly. “I attended every hour of the hearing and heard every word. The boy said nothing, but nothing. He admits he doesn’t remember what happened. How can you destroy an animal on evidence like that? How can you do that? Pardon me” he said gassily. “How can you?”

They looked at me for an answer. “You have a strong case. But before we go forward with it we have to find the dogs. Now, on that, I have some possible good news for you. You know the Allagash Waterway...."

Nan Anderson’s face darkened with displeasure. “The Allagash? What’s that got to do with anything? My husband and I canoed the Allagash, camped on the Allagash, recommended the Allagash to others, but what are you asking? Ladd, I don’t care if you’re a talking dog or a talking elephant, I don’t want to hear that name in this house gain, do you hear me? You’re a bad dog. Bad dog!”

Jim rose from his armchair. “Wait. Wait. Just wait. Quiet, Ladd. Stop wagging your tail. Be still. There. Now. Sweetheart, what can I get for you? Some more tea? A little Scotch?”

“No.”

"In that case I’ll drink a little Scotch myself. Ladd, you may come along. You should know that my name inside the family circle is Mr. Dumbluck. My wife is Mrs. Pretty. I tell you because I want you to know that we are, like many childless couples of a certain age, deeply attached to each other and to our pets. We are also,” he said at the bar, coughing and sneezing in the heavy fumes, "an academic pair full of our own peculiarities. Not just pet names, but quips and jokes and our own tenured nonsense, I’m afraid. We also make our full share of mistakes, Ladd. I want you to understand that!”

But I didn’t understand and was hurt concerning my tail. I thought it best to act at once. Back at the armchair, I completed the message I’d started to deliver. This got him to sample his drink and sit down. He repeated my words. “The dogs haven’t been seen but are thought to be there. And somebody’s in the kitchen with Dinah, is that it? You know the old song. Or do you?”

He rambled on. “Smoke coming from the chimney? That’s possible. There were some rusty old railroad tracks when Nan and I were there, years ago.”

“ They’re still there.”

He held his glass with both hands, gazing at it. “Well, he warned me. He told me this might happen. The man in the kitchen is called Alexander Kahn.”

 

***

“Alexander Kahn, I don’t know that name, I’m afraid.”

“Alexander Kahn is from the Middle East but was brought up in this country. He and I used to play squash in college.”

Lowering her voice only slightly, Nan Anderson hissed at her husband, “Jim, do shut up. Think what you’re saying and to whom you’re saying it. He can write and is taking notes!”

Ignoring this, Jim looked from her to me. His bleary eyes seemed to mistake me for a family member, a trusted cousin or brother-in-law. “Mother said how we travel a lot in summer, remember? Well, last summer we visited East Africa. We were in Nairobi, sitting on the terrace of our hotel, when I saw him again. Before, he’d been kind of a playboy, with nice clothes and a nice car. No more! He was only allowed in the hotel because the management knew who he was, or had been. Very scruffy, bearded, left-leaning. But still the charmer. Very much the charmer. Pardon me. There I go again!”

He blew his nose and went on. “I reminded him how we used to play squash together and how I once cracked him on the head. He was a good player with a good right-handed swing, and I was left-handed and awkward. My racket caught him right here on the forehead. He wears that scar to this day!”

“Stop, Jim. Please stop!”

“That was a year ago. We talked again more recently. On the telephone, in this country. He’d heard about the Greywolf and Dennis case and wanted to know if he could buy the dogs. I said no!” The tipsy man paused as his wife rose and started to leave. “ Nan, don’t go. I may as well go on with the rest of the story. The rest of the story — who used to say that? Paul Harvey, the radio commentator, of course. He wasn’t bad. I sued to listen to him between classes. That’s all right, Ladd. It’s not a name you need to know. Paul Harvey. Can you say Paul Harvey?”

He tottered to the bar and once again suffered a coughing fit. He wiped his wet, tired eyes. “Seems Slex wanted to kill the President. The new American President. Some sleight-of-hand trick calling for two identical animals and a potent African poison. He’d planned to use crows at first, but that didn’t work out. So in the end he arranged for the two malamutes, Greywolf and Dennis, to be kidnapped. But you now about that, don’t you? You know about that !”

“Did you tell the police?”

“No. It was onone of my business and Alex was and is a paranoid jerk. My professional opinion, sir. He’s flipped. Crazy as a hoot-owl."

Jim closed one eye, then the other, and went to sleep in his armchair. Mrs Anderson had disappeared upstairs somewhere, so after lapping up the rest of my milk I let myself out the front door and returned to my office, saddened.

 

***

Two instant messages came from Robert, one right after the other. Here’s the short one: “Hey Ladd. In answer to your question, the answer is no. I’ve never met the Andersons. Heard of them in Liberty, never sought them out. Only now with a bestseller on my hands am I getting out in the world and meeting people. Speaking of the tour, the little kiddies really love the book, Ladd. They wait in line, barking at each other. I sign your name as well as mine and they go away happy. TTYL R.”

And here’s the long message: “Hey Ladd, at an event today I met an airplane stewardess who’d flown from Africa to Newark with a yellow cat, surely Jonquil. The cat was pretty banged up and apparently raving mad, so was seated near the galley where the stewardess could keep an eye on her. She told wild stories about a game park destroyed and gone to seed. Terrorists armed with automatic weapons, gangs of poachers with machine guns. Buildings burned to the ground. No more communications center or Radiotelephone. Too bad for the cat.

The only animal she met was a famous old rogue elephant thought to be a 100 years old. He was the grandfather of someone called Gendarme, who though only half grown had been slaughtered for his tusks. The cat had once known Gendarme but had to continue on her way, explaining that she carried an urgent message that now would have to be sent from District headquarters in the south, where there was a telegraph.

The old elephant understood her need. “You can catch a ride with the weekly trade truck. It’s due today. I’ll wait with you.” They stood in the thin shade of a palm tree. “It used to be a camel caravan that passed every week, but not now. Now it’s all motor vehicles. They have to post guards every hundred miles or so to protect the fuel depots, but even so the guards are murdered and the fuel drums stolen. It always was a rough area, this District. Always was!”

Jonquil wondered how much longer he could survive in this “rough area,” as he called it. “My message is for the President of the United States,” she confided. “He’s in great personal danger.”

The elephant continued to fan his ears in the heat. “She is, you mean,” he corrected. She’s in great personal danger. I don’t think you’ve heard the news, Yes, Americans have their first lady President,” he told the stunned cat. “A former senator named Ellen Bannock, from — I forget which state.”

A cloud of dust rose in the distance. "All the more reason to warn her, then. Please, I’ll need a written message!”

“Surely. I can do that,” the elephant said. He swept the littered ground until he found a discarded cigarette packet. Then with a bristle from his tail and the body of a liquidified dung beetle he inscribed Jonquil’s few words, read them back to her, and handed her the slip of paper just as the panting, overheated trade truck pulled up.

The elephant set Jonquil on top of a crate of chickens next to Jamal, the driver. Jamal shifted with a terrible grinding of gears and the truck moved off.

 

***

District headquarters lay inside a walled hilltop. Beaks open in the heat, ravens crowded the ramparts. The rooms below were hot but breezy. Papers everywhere, stacked on the floor and on the safe. Seeing that the message was addressed to President Banock, the District Commissioner smiled broadly, scrawling his initials. The telegrapher cleared space on his desk and tapped out the urgent words. Leaving, Jonquil passed Jamal, the truck driver, at the door but thought nothing of it. Confident that all was well and the new President was safe from the poison of the African kefir tree and the seedpods that looked like unshelled peanuts, she went to the airport and bought her ticket for Newark, New Jersey.

Ladd. That’s the end of the stewardess’s story, which she passed on to the FBI in Newark by the way. Jonquil was well enough to deplane but said nothing about her future plans. So watch for her back home in Liberty area, I assume. TTYL. Robert PS What a story, huh? I worry about J.

 

Alfred Goodale lives in Liberty.

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