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SHORT STORY: The black dog — dognapping

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Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 10/2018 vom 26.09.2018

Auch wenn der ehemalige Kriminalinspektor Bill Hale keine Zeit hat für einen Hund, lässt sich ein Vierbeiner doch nicht so leicht übersehen. Und in Bills neuer Stelle als Privatdetektiv könnte ein Hund vielleicht auch nützlich sein. Bill ist diesem Hund ja auch was schuldig.


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Bildquelle: Spotlight, Ausgabe 10/2018


Keeping her body as flat as possible, Commodore the cat moved carefully along the top of the wall.

Her target was hanging out his washing in the yard below her, whistling. She tensed her muscles, ready to jump as soon as…“Bill, have you seen Commodore?” called a woman’s voice from the kitchen. “She hasn’t drunk ...

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... the cream you put out.” “She’s crawling along the top of the wall behind me,” said the man, without turning round. “Not sure why.”

Commodore sat up and washed her face with a paw before jumping off the wall and trotting into the kitchen for her cream. One day, she’d surprise him. Bill followed the cat into the kitchen, ate some breakfast, washed up the dishes and left them to dry. He put on his raincoat and picked up a briefcase.

“Bye, love!” he called out. “I’ll be back about six.” He shut the door to the empty house behind him.

Bill parked his Ford Escort, straightened his tie in the car mirror, then walked past a small Asian supermarket, before stopping at 117 Chamberlayne Road, a busy street in north-west London. There was a sign on the door: “Winchester Detectives. Discretion garanteed.” “But not the spelling,” thought Bill. He pressed the bell. There was no answer. He pressed again, longer.

“Hello?” said someone from a window above him. Bill stepped back and looked up. A young, fair-haired man was looking down.

“Mr Winchester? Bill Hale. I’m here for the interview.” “Interview? Interview. Right, of course! Come up. Second floor.” A buzzer rang, and Bill went up a narrow staircase. He found Mr Winchester waiting at the top with a cup of tea in his hand.

“Come in! Come in! I’m Nigel Winchester. Tea? I’ve just made some. My office is through that door.”

The tiny room had three chairs, two desks, two telephones, two dusty filing cabinets and a calendar, which showed the correct year, 1980, but February instead of June.

“Well, Mr Hale…Oh, can I call you Bill? That’s your desk. The office opens every day at nine, but you know how it is with detective work. We often have to work pretty late. Pay? Yes, well that…” “Excuse me,” interrupted Bill, “but aren’t you going to interview me?” Nigel looked surprised. “Oh, but I read the application you sent me. You’re perfect! Five years in the army, ten years in the police, detective inspector when you left…What more could I want?”

“No, no, no, Mr Winchester. How do you know I’m not lying?” “Are you?”

“Of course not. But…but…maybe I got kicked out of the police.” “Oh, dear. I’m not very good at this, am I? All right: why did you leave the police 18 months ago?”

Bill hadn’t meant the conversation to go in this direction. “Personal reasons,” he said finally.

Nigel looked excited. “Aha! You want me to be tough, do you? Fine, I can do that. I’ve seen it on television,” he leaned across and put his face up close to Bill’s.

“That’s not good enough, Hale,” he shouted. “What personal reasons?” Bill was silent. Nigel banged the desk with his fist.

“We’re supposed to be partners. Spit it out!”

“My wife, Sheila, was ill,” Bill said quickly. “I looked after her until she died last month.” It was the first time he’d told a stranger.

For the next hour, Nigel apologized close to a hundred times as Bill explained about Sheila’s long illness. He didn’t tell him about the conversations he still had with her when he was at home, though. That would seem a little strange to most people.

“Anyway,” he said finally, “when I saw your advertisement in the newspaper for a partner, it seemed just right for me.” “Well, if you’re sure,” said Nigel. “And let me just say again, I’m so sorry about…” “That’s enough! So, what cases are you working on at the moment?”

The first thing the dog did when he woke up was sick up the meat that the man in the white van had thrown over the fence into his garden. His head hurt, and the sleeping tablet that had been hidden in the meat left him dizzy. He drank from a bowl of water in the corner of the cage, which made him feel slightly better.

He could hear the sounds of other animals, and as his nose started to work again, he could smell their fear. What was this place? Why wasn’t he at home with master? Had master sent him here? Had he done something wrong?

A door opened somewhere, and two men came in carrying strange sticks. One was the man who’d given him the meat. A small dog nearby started barking, and he joined in. “Take the new black one,” said the older man.

They dragged him out with a catch pole, while he barked wildly. “Give it to him, Dad!” said the younger one. “He’s strong.”

The older one touched him lightly on his side with the stick, and the dog felt a terrible pain. He howled and collapsed, his legs twitching. They pushed him back into the cage, still whimpering.

“That’ll teach him!” said the older man. They threw some dry food into each of the cages, then turned out the lights and left. The last thing the dog heard that night was a padlock being shut.

The story continues on the next page.

Foto: freddie marriage/unsplash.com


The day — which had started sunny and warm — was now rainy. Some distance away, thunder rumbled. That, and the water that had found a way inside Bill’s jacket and run down his neck, did not improve his temper.

Why was he sitting in a tree looking for a dog? He didn’t even like dogs. After his interview with Nigel, Bill’s first case for Winchester Detectives was to find Trixie, a chihuahua. What was unusual was that Trixie had not been lost; she’d been kidnapped.

“I know this case probably doesn’t seem too exciting for an ex-police officer,” explained Nigel. “But it’s all we’ve got at the moment, and I haven’t had any success with it so far. The client, Mrs Daley, thought she’d lost Trixie on Hampstead Heath a couple of weeks ago. She put up posters in the area where she lives in Hampstead, offering a reward of £50 if anybody returned the chihuahua.

“Then, last week, she got a phone call from somebody claiming they had Trixie and saying they wanted £500 to return her. They said they’d seen her house, and she could easily afford that. When Mrs Daley said she wanted proof, they sent her the dog’s collar, a Polaroid photo and a message saying she now had to pay £800.”

“Why doesn’t she go to the police?” asked Bill.

“She tried, but she said they’re not really interested.”

“What about just paying the thieves?” “They know where she lives, so she’s worried they might come again. She wants them locked up. Do you think you can do anything?”

The next morning, Bill visited one of his old police contacts to ask about dog thieves. The man ran a market stall in the East End of London, selling dogs and cats as pets, so he knew a thing or two about the business. After £10 had changed hands, Bill was given a couple of addresses to try.

The first address had turned up nothing suspicious, but Bill was optimistic about the second.

“Peters Farm belongs to Sean Rourke,” his contact had told him. “He and his son have nothing to do with farming. Officially, they run a scrap metal business, but I think they’re into all sorts of bad stuff as well. A couple of times, he’s offered me and some of the other traders in the market here dogs. He says they’re strays that nobody’s claimed, but they didn’t look like that to me. Pedigree dogs — you know, expensive. I never touched them, but he gave me his address and said I should contact him if I ever needed something to sell. But you want to be careful with how you approach those two. Start being nosy, and they’ll just kill and bury any animals they’ve stolen, and your client won’t get nothing.”

That was why, instead of going up to the front door of Peters Farm and asking if he could look around, Bill had spent the past two hours with a pair of binoculars in a tree on top of a wooded hill above the farm, spying.

In front of the farmhouse, old cars, radiators, refrigerators and other bits of junk were piled up high. Behind the farm was an overgrown garden, at the end of which stood a large wooden building that had once been a barn.

The thunder was closer now, and Bill was about to give up, when something happened. A large man came out of the back of the house and walked down the path towards the barn. Through his binoculars, Bill could see that the man had an electric cattle prod in one hand and a bag of dog biscuits in the other. He unlocked the door and went inside. Bill could hear a faint sound of dogs barking, but then suddenly came a much louder howl of pain, followed by silence.

A little later, the man came out again, locked the door and went quickly back to the house to get out of the rain. Interesting, thought Bill. As soon as it was too dark to be seen from the house, he’d go inside the barn and have a look. He got into his car and waited.

The storm was right overhead, and the rain was drumming hard on the roof of the car by the time Bill decided it was safe. He climbed over the fence and managed to slip over in the mud on the other side. Swearing and wet through, he got up and ran to the barn. Inside, he could hear the dogs whining in fear. The occasional flashes of lightning helped him find the padlock and, using tools that he had been given by a retired burglar, he got inside.

He pulled a torch from his jacket and shone it around. The room was dirty and smelt bad. Down one wall, he counted 20 cages, each with a pair of frightened eyes shining back at him. The whining and whimpering increased, and Bill was grateful that the storm covered the noise the dogs were making. He walked along the row, looking for Trixie. He’d get her out of there, then go and fetch the police. This couldn’t be legal, something was…Bang!

There was an enormous crash overhead, and Bill was knocked to the floor as a lightning bolt hit the barn, and the roof exploded into flames.

The story continues on the next page.


For a moment, Bill was blinded by the lightning, but he managed to pull himself up by holding on to one of the cages. The roof was burning fiercely now, and already pieces were falling to the ground, causing the straw on the floor to catch fire. Get out! He had to get out. But the dogs…He couldn’t just leave them. They were whining and yelping, terrified by the flames. Bill pulled desperately at the cage doors, trying to open them, but they were locked.

He looked around. There had to be a way…there! An axe was standing in the corner, the handle already being licked by fire. Bill took off his jacket and beat the flames back, burning his hands as he picked up the axe.

Never mind…first cage: swing the axe, smash the door, pull out a terrified Jack Russell. It shoots across the floor and out into the rain. Next cage…this time a spaniel. The heat is unbearable. On to the next…a chihuahua: that must be Trixie. She’s paralyzed with fear. Pull her out, and throw her out of the door. Now a black Labrador — strong dog: pushes aside the pieces from the broken door and jumps out…On and on down the row. The last cage…Can’t see anything — too much smoke…swing the axe, smash the door: pull something out. Don’t know what: can’t see, can’t breathe, fall to the floor…going to die…

Bill woke up with a gasp. He was lying on the ground with an oxygen mask being held over his mouth by a fireman, blue lights flashing in the dark. Other firemen were spraying the ruins of the barn, and sitting next to him was the black Labrador. It leaned over and licked his ear.

“You all right, mate?” asked the fireman. “Bloody amazing dog you’ve got there. Never seen anything like it…” The world started spinning again, and Bill didn’t hear the rest.

When he woke up again the next morning in hospital, Nigel was there to tell him the story. The police and firemen, who had arrived just after the dogs had started racing out of the building, didn’t realize that anybody was still inside. But the Labrador had kept running up and down outside the door, barking at the men. Finally, he jumped back inside, found Bill and started dragging him towards the door by the arm. A couple of firemen saw this and got Bill outside just before the roof fell in.

“Another minute, and I’d have had to look for another partner,” said Nigel. “So, we were both very lucky — thanks to that dog.”

“Did you get Trixie?”

“Yes, the police managed to catch them all, and Rourke father and son are now having to explain exactly what they were doing with 20 stolen pedigree dogs. I shall be taking Trixie round to a very happy Mrs Daley in a minute. Excellent! So, when can I expect to see you back in the office? Tomorrow? Something new has come in…”

One evening two months later, Bill was sitting at home reading the newspaper when the phone rang.

“Can you get that?” he heard Sheila say. Funny how he could still hear exactly the way his late wife would say things — especially those ordinary things. He picked up the receiver.

“Who was that?” she said when he’d finished.

“The dogs’ home. All the stolen dogs were taken there until their owners could be traced. But the owner of the Labrador is dead. He died shortly after his dog had been stolen.”

“So there’s nobody to take the Labrador? What’ll happen to him now?”

Bill looked at Commodore, who was watching him suspiciously from the top of the sofa. “They said that if nobody came forward to take him within a week, they’d have to put him to sleep.”


“He’s very expensive to feed, apparently.” Bill picked up his newspaper again and pretended to read it. “That Mrs Thatcher,” he said after a moment. “Two million unemployed by August they reckon. Unbelievable!”


He looked up.

“You can’t let that happen!”

“But Commodore…and work. It’s just not practical.”

“Find a way, Bill. You’d be dead if it wasn’t for him.”

Nigel didn’t mind at all when they had to get rid of one of the filing cabinets to squeeze a dog basket into the office.

“We haven’t got that many clients anyway,” he said. “I got two cabinets simply to look professional. Much better to have a dog in the corner. What’s his name, by the way?”

Bill looked at the Labrador, who had already settled himself into his basket and was chewing on a bone that Bill had bought that morning from the butcher downstairs. On his side, there was still a mark where the older Rourke had used the cattle prod on him.

“Spot,” said Bill. “I call him Spot.”

Fotos: NikolaVukojevic, MirasWonderland/iStock.com; wes hicks/unspalsh.com

Fotos: Alexei-DOST; MorePixels/iStock.com