BY CLAUS BREEDE
This is the conclusion of a two-part story. Copyright is held by the author.
HE LEFT the office locking the door behind him and wandered out into the cool early morning breeze coming off the lake. He slid in behind the wheel of the cruiser, parked right outside the town hall and tossed the belt onto the passenger seat next to him. Reaching up, he caught the keys that dropped out from behind the sun visor and started the engine. There was absolutely no traffic, so no point in putting on the “cherry.” Out of concern for Gus and his wife living next door above their Dry Cleaning business, he did not bother to put on the siren either.
Bill made the half block drive between the police station and Mildred’s apartment in about two minutes and pulled up at the foot of her stairs. He rolled down the window of the cruiser. Mildred was standing at the top, on her deck, still with her dressing gown wrapped tightly around her small frame with Merlin “sitting” guard right next to her. She was shaking, no longer out of fear but with anger. She cried out before Bill could open his mouth.
“You took your bloody sweet time getting here! What took you so long? Had to finish that donut did you? I could have been killed waiting for you! You just don’t give a damn! Do you?”
“Now look, Mildred. Calm down! Take it easy.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You just don’t give a damn!”
“So, what’s going on?” Bill asked.
“They could have robbed me blind too. They could have come up here and killed me. You took you sweet time, you did.”
“Who could have robbed you? Are they still here?” Bill still had not ventured out of his police car.
“They are long gone! You took so long in getting here. They took off down the alley ten or fifteen minutes ago. I saw them from my kitchen window. There were three of them. They didn’t look like they got anything. They just took off out the back door. I tell you, they could have killed me.”
“Well, if they’re all gone, then there’s not much I can do about it. Is there?”
“You got to do something! Go catch them or something. You don’t know if they’re coming back. Do you? You don’t know anything. Do the thing policemen are supposed to do. Go catch the crooks.”
“I tell you what, Mildred. Why don’t you just let Merlin go and let him catch them? I’ll follow him in the cruiser here. If he catches them, then I will arrest them. How’s that?”
Since the instruction came from a uniformed police officer, Mildred bent down, nudged Merlin behind the ear and gave him a bit of a nudge towards the stairs.
“Go get the bad guys. That a boy, Merlin go get them!”
She went on to mumble something about Merlin now having been officially deputized by the Portsmouth Police Department. As soon as she took her hand off his neck he took off like a shot almost knocking Mildred over in the process. Having spotted something below he took those steps two at a time and diapered into the darkness below chasing a small raccoon into the bushes at the side of the laneway. He passed the cop car and disappeared into the night barking wildly. He was long gone before Bill could even put his car in gear. The pursuit never really took place. Bill tried to spot the stupid mutt but gave up a few minutes later. He drove home figuring he would catch up on all the paperwork first thing in the morning.
Mildred spent the night sitting on the straight back chair at her small kitchen table looking out window waiting for Merlin to return so she could let him in. As the sun slowly began to rise and eventually cleared the top of the water tower up on Albert Street, Merlin was still not home. By lunch time Mildred was frantic.
She had called Walter first thing in the morning and told him he had better get down to the hardware store extra early.
“They broke into the store last night. Right though the back door. Right under my stairs. There was nothing I could do.”
“I’m on my way!” said Walter.
A few minutes later he was knocking on Mildred’s door checking that she was all right. Walter showed more concern than that lazy, good for noting Bill just a few hours earlier.
Mildred told him all about the previous night’s excitement and finished her story with a quiver in her voice.
“And I haven’t see Merlin since. I don’t know where he is.”
The lock on the back door had been smashed. The storage right under Mildred’s deck and Walter’s small office were a mess. Walter tripped over a very large sledgehammer that had been abandoned on the floor and carefully walked around a large assortment of all kinds of other hand tools thrown about. There were hammers, chisels and even a couple of electric drills, one of them still in its original wrapper. Everything had been brought from the front of the store and all of them dumped on the floor.
The perpetrators had tried to get into the large floor safe that Walter had inherited from his dad when he took over the business. That thing, made by Diebold Safe & Lock Company out of Oregon, back in 1891 still had a small brass plaque bolted on the front door of the safe, just below the combination lock that proudly announced that it was “TNT Proof.” Walter assumed that those idiots probably didn’t even know what TNT was. They had tried everything they could think of to crake that thing open. All they had managed to do was scratch the paint on the door and make a mess on the floor before they finally gave up and ran away.
Walter never kept much of anything in that safe. A bit of cash and a copy of the deed to the store and that was just about it. He had lost the combination years ago. In fact he was not even sure he had ever had it. All he ever did, last thing at night, right after closing the store was to count the days receipts, take out just enough change to be used as a small float in the cash register for the next day, put it in the safe and pull up the handle. Then he went over to the bank, right across the street and dropped off his night deposit bag. There was never more than ten or twelve dollars in that safe. To open it all they would have had to do was simply push the handle down and pull the door open.
It was not until late afternoon that Mildred got the call. She had already been out walking up and down the back alley and along Main Street a couple of times yelling herself hoarse.
“Merlin, come on Merlin. Come home. Where are you Merlin?”
She had asked just about everyone she bumped into if they had seen Merlin. There was no need to describe the dog, or put pictures on posts, everyone knew what he looked like and everyone knew that Mildred and Merlin were inseparable.
“How did he get out in the middle of the night?” everyone asked. By the fourth or fifth time she had been asked this question, Mildred had come up with the short version of the previous night’s events.
“That no good for nothing Constable Bill Oakwood deputized my dog last night to go chase after some dangerous criminals and he hasn’t come home yet. I don’t know where he is.”
Mildred finally took a break from her search. She was exhausted, and besides she needed to make some lunch. That was when the phone rang.
“Are you the owner of a large dog by the name of Merlin? He has a tag with this phone number on it.” Asked an official voice at the other end of the line.
“Have you got him? Is he OK? Who is this?”
“He’s OK lady. Calm down. This is the Port City Animal Control Office. We have your dog in custody. He was picked up by one of our officers early this morning causing a dreadful disturbance. We are told he was barking outside someone’s home all night. He had trapped a baby raccoon under their porch.”
They had arrested Merlin, apprehended him and put him in “dog jail.” They had him in custody.
“You can come and pick him up any time. The sooner the better. There is a fine of $75.00 for letting him loose without a leash and for every day we have to keep him it will cost you an additional $35.00. If you don’t pick him up within the next five days, we will have to put him down. We can’t keep him any longer. When can we expect you to come and get him?”
“But he was on police business,” insisted Mildred. “This isn’t fair. He was doing his duty. He had been deputized.”
“Ma’am, I don’t know anything about that. The only thing I know is that at the moment you owe us $110 and please have that ready when you come to pick up your dog. Please make it soon; we can’t stop him from barking. He clearly doesn’t like it here very much. If you wait until tomorrow we will have to charge you an other $35.00. That will then be $145. We close at seven.”
Mildred immediately called the emergency number of the police station. This was their fault and they would have to solve it. He had, after all, been apprehended while on police business. There was no way Mildred could afford that fine let alone the cost of taking a taxi all the way to Port City. That was 35 kilometres. And by the sound of it, Merlin was now on Death Row and knew it.
As usual, Velma answered the phone. This was the first Velma had heard any of this and she had just finished typing Bill’s report about the attempted robbery of Walter’s Hardware Store. Bill had made no mention about “deputizing” Merlin and made no mention of instructing Mildred to let her dog go off into the night chasing criminals.
Mildred was and with good reason, really upset, which made it even more difficult to understand what was going on but she finally figured it out.
“Leave it with me Mildred. Give me a few minutes and I’ll call you right back. In the meantime, go make a cup of tea, or something. Have you got any rum? Rum is good in tea. I’ll see what I can do at this end. I will call you right back, I promise. And Mildred — for God’s sake relax. We will get Merlin back home somehow. Today. They won’t kill him. I promise.”
Her first call was to the animal control office to tell them in no uncertain terms to back off with the threats and under no circumstance to call Mildred back.
Then she managed to get hold of her son, Scott and talked him into driving Mildred to Port City right away. A few minutes later he showed up in his great big, fire-engine red pickup truck and with a small push, he helped Mildred to climb up and in to the thing and they were off to Port City to re-unite with Merlin. If there was a problem with the money, Velma told Scott to make sure he had his credit card with him. Mildred could always pay them back the $110 later.
Those nasty folks at the Port City Animal Control Office insisted on payment — right then and there — and Scott had to use his credit card.
By the time they were all back home Mildred’s anxiety had changed to anger. She was hopping mad at the uncaring Animal Control Officer but also at Bill Oakwood. She was angry with the town for having that fat, lazy, no good for nothing on the staff of the police department. There was no way that man should be in any kind of uniform let alone given the responsibility to Serve and Protect anyone, least of all the good citizens of the town of Portsmouth.
Mildred now owed Velma’s son $110.00 and she hated owing anyone anything. She always paid cash for everything she needed. It was embarrassing, and all because Merlin had been deputized and ordered to take part in a police pursuit.
She sat down and wrote a very stern letter addressed to His Worship, the Mayor of the Town of Portsmouth and all the other members of the town council. She explained, in no uncertain terms, all the circumstances leading up to this traumatic experience, demanding that she be fully reimbursed for all her troubles. It wasn’t just the money, she also demanded a formal letter of apology and a certificate of appreciation, signed by the mayor and the chairman of the Police Committee citing Merlin’s heroic efforts at doing the police work that the responding constable appeared to be either unwilling or in incapable of doing himself.
Two weeks later the Portsmouth Town Council accounts were quietly approved for payment. The approved accounts including an invoice for $110.00 for services rendered by one “Merlin Canine.” Council also agreed to write a very nice letter of commendation siting the brave service provided to the town of one Merlin Canine. That letter was suitable for framing, complete with two signatures and the corporate seal of The Town of Portsmouth. Walter even picked up the cost of framing that citation. Mildred hung it up, about eighteen inches off the floor, just above Merlin’s favourite spot on the coiled rug, next to the rocking chair in the big bay window overlooking Main Street.
Constable Bill Oakwood lost two weeks of paid vacation for never getting out of his cruiser that early Thursday morning and was told by the Police Committee to lose some weight. He took off the two weeks anyway, to go hunting with his buddies. It was, after all his pickup truck, with the four-wheel drive, that they used to get right back in the bush where they could “bag those deer” without ever get out from behind the wheel. He made up for the lost pay by working a few extra hours of overtime. He never lost the weight and he won the arbitration. The Chief was ordered to stop harassing him about his “personal appearance.”