Chapter 4, Part 1

Ladd and the case of the missing Malamutes

By Alfred Goodale | Mar 20, 2011

Alexander Kahn and his two recruits only splashed and enjoyed the water when their rented canoe capsized near the Allagash shore. They paddled among water-soaked logs floating half-submerged, stepped on sunken pine and spruce, kicked the settled muck of many years into clouds and billows of silt. They lifted the narrow-gauge truck from the grass, set it on its rusty rails, and whooped down the embankment, seeing who’d be first to jump. They dropped everything to listen as two kayakers toiled upstream against the current. “Keep paddling, sweetheart. Otherwise you’ll just go backwards again!”

“But I want to see where the loggers lived.”

“Keep paddling!”

The boys laughed and hooted. Alex threw his apple core at these Americans grown so dull and weak, so despicable.

 

***

“Alright, gentlemen, we shall start,” Alex said. “ Yesterday we talked about Greywolf,  today we talk about Dennis. Dennis, who will travel to Washington a week from today, establish a good name for himself, and set the stage for the following week of July 4. Is that clear? Alright, here are some details.”

All eyes were on Alex’s clasp knife as it peeled a long unbroken ribbon from a small Macintosh. “Rule One. Never say Dennis’s name again. Dennis is dead. In public call him Smitty or Doc or anything you like, but never Dennis. Rule Two, he must never be called a malamute or the twin brother of a malamute. When you’re asked what breed he is, just say he’s a service dog in training. Talk about guide dogs for the blind. Say nothing memorable, Hunter. Keep your advanced thinking to yourself. You won’t mention the fire in your belly, will you? Benjamin, why all this secrecy about names?”

Benjamin, a law school dropout from Philadelphia, was ready. “Because we don’t want people to be reminded of the Greywolf and Dennis case, which is still open and under investigation. There’s been a theft, so the local police are involved. The assistant district attorney could bring criminal charges against the owners. And Ladd has been called in, I hear. The dog.”

“Never heard of him.” Alex said without a blink. “Hunter, talk to me. He says there’s been a theft. What’s he talking about?”

“The theft of the malamutes, I guess. How him and I, Benjamin and I, stole them out of the pound that night in Rockland.”

“Yes, and left behind 40 pounds of invaluable lamb and rice dog food, I might add. But never mind that now. Good. Hunter. Very good. Who will be in charge of Greywolf on assassination day?”

“I myself.”

“You yourself. And the poison capsules?”

“You, boss. You’ll have them in your pocket until we get to Washington and you load them in his jaws.”

“Right again. You’re too good, Hunter. You’re perfection, beyond criticism or praise.” With his thumb and forefinger Alex cleaned his knife blade, folded it, and out the knife away. “Now, one last question for you both. Why was the theft of the dogs necessary in the first place?”

“ Because the plan called for identical twins or lookalikes,” Benjamin said, “and the crow option hadn’t worked out.”

“Why not?”

“Because of the West Nile virus spreading among crows, and because crows aren’t commonly seen in downtown Washington, D.C.  That’s a fact confirmed by the Maryland Audubon Society, by the way.”

“And what do you say to that, John Crow? Alex asked, slipping a sliver of apple to the bird sitting ruffled on his shoulder.

John Crow grabbed at the morsel and added it to the collection of pebbles and small feathers in his master’s shirt pocket. “It isn’t true,” he squawked. “Crows seldom get sick and are seen in cities all over the world. Check your sources!”

They all laughed. Alexander Kahn said: “John Crow, you were the first thing the boys asked about, meeting me in Montreal. How had I smuggled a foreign crow into Canada? They couldn’t believe it.”

“That’s true. I was so impressed,” Benjamin admitted. “Here I was at the Montreal Jazz Festival and here was this tall Arab-looking guy with a long pigtail and a crow on his shoulder. And your answer was so cool.  You just said you got off the airplane carrying a covered birdcage. The door happened to come open and the bird escaped. Cool, man!”

“Thank you. Yes, John Crow was very good. He had to wait on the roof while I went through customs. There was the usual long line, then the inspector when he came to me looked into my toilet kit and the pockets of my shorts, but he passed right over the open mesh bag holding what looked like peanuts and marked 'Agricultural Sample. Product of Somalia.' It didn’t hurt that I also had a box of palm sugar marked confectionery 'Sample. Product of Somolia' and that I carried my import-export business card.”

“Stop! It’s too much, it’s too much.” The boys howled with laughter and wiped tears from their eyes, entranced by this crazy guy.

“It was the same at the American border,” the crazy guy went on. “They’d had no warning either. It would have been different if they’d been tipped off by Jonquil, the yellow cat who left Somalia before I did. She knew all my secrets, including my date of departure.”

“Wow! But they didn’t hear anything, or you wouldn’t be here now. So you’re home free, no?” Benjamin asked.

“So it would seem, wouldn’t it?” Alex said, watching John Crow peck, surely painfully, at the back of his wrist.

 

Alfred Goodale lives in Liberty.

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