Rain splattered along the roof and porch, washing all the late winter and spring grime away. Geoff Raynes loved it. He was thrilled by the adverse weather. After the last couple weeks he’d had, it was a refreshing change. He hoped the evening shower would last all night. He would crack the window a couple inches on the bedroom window just so he could fall asleep to it. Something the twenty-eight year old hadn’t done since his youth in Georgia.
He stretched out his arms in a big exaggerated yawn then he picked up the remote to lower the television volume. Traffic along the single lane highway approximately forty yards from his front door usually petered out around six at night and rarely had late visitors. At least that had been his experience so far the last two weeks.
The house was new to him and a recent rental. His latest troubles sparked to life right after his course finals. For the past three years, Geoff was a literature professor downtown in Seattle. This year’s end results for his students had been abysmal and a third had actually failed. This was unusually high and when he was grilled by the faculty board, his answers were as weak as most of his students. He tried to blame the current course material being too obscure. He promised to find a better selection of texts, but the look in their eyes deemed this a major cop out.
Then Sammi left him, dumping him without much regard for him or his pleas. She wanted to leave the school and return to her hometown in Andrews, North Carolina. He accused her of seeing other people or old lovers, but she said she was too young for the seriousness of their relationship. Sammi claimed he was too possessive. Geoff couldn’t believe she’d be so selfish and cold. Back and forth the argument escalated. The night had ended ugly and alone.
Then of all things his house had been burned down! It was looking like a faulty electrical outlet was to blame. Luck, however, graced upon him and he soon found the listing for this little abode away from it all, nestled in pine trees and cozy, rolling hills outside the city.
The sound of a chair falling over broke his train of thought. It came from outside on the porch. If the television remained on, he would have missed the sound surely.
He pulled aside the vertical blinds.
A glowing pair of orbs swiveled slowly to stare back at him. Geoff gasped in reaction, then blushed seeing it was a medium-sized dog. Mutt must’ve come onto his porch to avoid the soaking downpour.
He considered for a moment, then the old dream as a kid having his own dog percolated up in his mind.
“Why not? I can use the company tonight,” he mumbled aloud.
He opened the door and heard the muddy dog softly whine at him through the screen door.
“Bet you could use a bite to eat too.”
The dog carefully poked its head to check out the interior to the living room. It was a young pitbull, mostly black fur except a few splotches of white on its nose and a patch on its chest. A silver pendant hung from its light blue collar. Geoff read its small letters: “Meet Max the Most” on the back it had a phone number.
“Is someone missing you, pooch?”
It opened its wide jaws and let its long tongue loll out and gave him a friendly grin. It then shook with all its strength to get mud and water from its fur.
“Dammit!” Geoff’s hand came down hard and smacked it along one side of its head.
The dog’s grin disappeared instantly and it only stared at him. The bright yellow eyes were intelligent, probing his face. He felt they were challenging him or maybe judging him. The experience was quite unnerving.
“Well, what do you expect? Look at this!” Geoff snapped. “I don’t like messes!”
He then sighed and took in a few breaths. “Okay, maybe a little of an overreaction there, Max. Sorry. Let’s do a quick bath so we don’t have any more messes okay?” He petted the animal’s head and rubbed the ears vigorously to add to the apology. It softened its glare.
He led it to a small kitchen, leading to a shallow closed in patio. It was similar to a greenhouse with wall-to-wall windows. As he sprayed Max’s muddy legs with a soft spray of a garden hose, clumps of mud and black ash went into a drain in the center of the floor.
“Sheesh, boy. What have you been playing in?”
The next morning, he found Max the Most laying before the front door. Geoff rushed over in his bare feet, the wood floor considerably cold. “Here! Let’s get you out before you make a pile I don’t want to pick up.”
Max whined and pranced in front of the door. “Looks like the rain is going to be here all day! I’ll work on finding you some–“
As soon as he turned the handle and opened the door a bare two inches, Max forced it wide with a paw and shot out. Geoff could only watch as the pitbull sprinted back down the wet road, heading into Seattle. It didn’t glance back once.
“Use me, huh? Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” he cursed to himself. Max appeared to be the typical male — any port in a storm.
He watched it a bit more with hands curled into fists on his hips. Guess that’s not a childhood dream I’m going to fulfill after all.
He shut the door and went to the kitchen. His laptop still open to a hiking enthusiast web page. Returning to the chair, he poured some milk into a bowl of cereal, trying to not get overly worked up by Max’s sudden departure. He returned to the article he was reading on the top five ranked backpacks for long treks.
Geoff had the summer to himself and considered hiking the Rockies. “Maybe teaching isn’t my real calling?” he wondered aloud. His eyes glanced over at the swollen knuckles of his hand.
He spent the rest of the day researching what he would need for the hike and living in nature. His mind returned often to the strange dog and wondered what would happen to it.
Maybe it was due to being in a new house, but Geoff felt on edge all day. There were eyes on him he was certain. Somehow he was being watched. He didn’t like it and his mood soured at the invasion of his privacy.
That evening, Geoff woke to a set of soft raps on wood, like thumping sounds.
He must’ve fallen asleep after his meager frozen dinner. Sitting up on the wore-down couch, he scanned the room. Finding nothing, he snatched the remote from the coffee table and snapped the television off. The storm outside had returned but only drizzled with light rain. Lightning flashed several times but was not accompanied with thunder.
The sound of the thumps had been oddly muffled, maybe coming from the back of the house and were out of place among the noises outside.
He walked to his bedroom to get his jacket and put on his shoes. In the center of the room, he froze in his tracks. Swaying on his feet, he stood with his head cocked to the side.
He swore he heard a woman talking. Again the sounds and words were muffled, but they were still audible and feminine.
What the hell, he thought. He tiptoed over to the nightstand and picked up a heavy flashlight. The thick metal handle felt right in his hand and lent him confidence. He liked this tool a lot.
An abrupt clash of thunder caught the small house and shook it as if in anger.
Upon opening the door and stepping through, fat rain drops slid down his neck and between his shoulders. It was miserable outside and threatening to get worse. He half-jogged to the back of the house, shining the flashlight ahead, yet when he turned the corner his feet slid in mud and he fell off the sidewalk. Cursing, panting, and sitting in mud he suddenly heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway in the front of the house.
Again, he wondered what the hell was going on tonight.
He got to his feet and worked his way carefully back to the porch. There, at the top of the porch steps stood a man, facing his door.
“Can I help you?” Geoff called out.
The man shot a step forward, spun around, obviously startled from Geoff’s sudden appearance.
“Oh, hey, sorry,” he apologized.
The man, white and middle-aged, still wary and embarrassed, asked, “Are you Geoffrey Raynes by chance?”
He joined the man under the cover of the porch as the storm went up another level. The man had thinning blonde hair and fresh stubble on his chin.
“Yes, I am. How may I help you? It’s rather late, you know.”
“My turn to apologize, Mr. Raynes. I’m Detective Cole Jacobs of the Seattle Police Department.”
Geoff grinned but didn’t offer his hand for the officer to shake. He waited patiently for the man to continue.
“Uh, well, yes. I drove out here to ask you a couple questions I had concerning a case I’m working on. Would it be okay to talk inside where we could warm up?”
“No. I’d rather not. I don’t like messes.”
The detective squinted at him after hearing the response and studied Geoff a second. “Okay. Alright.” He paused as he gathered his thoughts, then continued. “You are a literature professor, correct?”
“You had a student by the name of Samantha Anne Price in one of your courses?”
“She has been reported missing. Have you seen her recently? Or have you had any contact with her?”
It was Geoff’s turn to examine the detective. “Well… I guess you wouldn’t have come all this way to question me if you didn’t already have some of those answers and know about our former relationship.”
Jacobs remained quiet.
“No, I don’t know where she’s gone. We broke up a couple weeks ago. March 10th, Tuesday night –“
“That was a rather bad night for you, Mr. Raynes. You lost your house that same night.”
“One didn’t have anything to do with the other,” Geoff snapped at him. He wiped at the back of his neck and collected himself. “She told me she was heading home and that she wasn’t interested in having a long distance relationship. I was upset, but I couldn’t talk her out of it. Once she’s made her mind, she’s like a bloodhound on a scent.”
“Was that the last you spoke to her?”
The detective pulled out a pen and pad from his jacket pocket and noted the information.
“I understand your suspicion and I can see why it appears odd, but there’s nothing going on. I am sure she’s actually in Puerto Rico with her gaggle of girlfriends getting drunk and living it up. Not the first time she’s runaway and vanished. Ask her parents! They’ll tell you.”
Jacobs didn’t write anything down but was staring at Geoff’s muddy pants and shoes. “You like walks in the pouring rain, sir?”
“Actually I thought I heard someone in my backyard when you came–“
Loud barking cut him off.
Max the Most had returned it would seem.
“It was your dog not an intruder,” the detective reasoned.
Geoff sighed in irritation. “Apparently, but it’s not my dog.”
“Is that black ash on your sneakers there?”
Among the clumps of mud, there was a smear of black ash along the top of his shoe and streaks along the white laces.
“Have you been at your former house tonight?”
“No. Besides I think it’s just mud. Hard to tell–“
Again the dog barked incessantly. The barking continued on and on.
The detective tried to ignore it. “So that I’m understanding your story here, you had a fight with Samantha Price, she dumped you and that’s the last you spoke to her. You believe she didn’t vanish but ran off to a beach with some friends?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“How odd,” the detective murmured aloud.
“Well, that’s the same story Scott Peterson said to the police the day after he had butchered his pregnant wife and threw her–“
“That’s it! This is enough. Get the hell off my porch!”
“Okay. Okay. For now, I’ll leave you, but we’ll be talking soon, Mr. Raynes.”
Jacobs nodded and walked down the steps.
Geoff shook from cold and outrage, watching the officer get into his car.
Another crash of thunder rattled the house at the same moment a dog barked and howled from the back yard.
Goddamn it, Max! Shut up! He marched again down the steps, his fingers curled into tight fists, heading to the backyard as the detective backed his car out of the driveway.
The barking continued even as he approached the crawlspace under the wooden back porch. Max had dug himself a little cave in the mud.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he groaned. “Come on, dog. Out!” The dog was due for a lesson about respecting property.
He shined the flashlight and spotlighted the dog’s hind end. It slowly twisted its head and grinned mischievously back at him. It’s snout crusted in black ash.
First thing Geoff spotted was more black ash coating Max’s tail and back paws. The second was the partially buried, ash-covered skull looking back up at him. A pair of long femurs and a partial rib cage poked out from the wet mud.
Another spotlight circled the cache of bones. “Well, hello there, Max the Most.” Detective Jacobs smiled down at Geoff and the pitbull. He stood behind him and already had his pistol in hand.
The detective pointed the flashlight at the dog. “I guess you never knew Sammi had a pitbull. Dog has been missing since March 10th, Tuesday night….”