This is my Derringer Award-winning story, now a finalist for the Macavity Award, first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in July/August 2022.
I’m including it here for the consideration of any Mystery Readers International members who want to read and vote. And for my lovely readers. Following the voting period, only the opening will remain, so read it while it’s hot. Thank you!
My two-legs is gone.
I stick my nose out the window opening and sniff, hoping to detect his unique
scent. When he slammed the car door, I enjoyed the final tang of his two-leg male sweat,
soap, and lemon shampoo. But I can no longer detect Sunil’s smell. He is too far away.
And he is gone too long. My bladder feels uncomfortably full. Even with the rain
pattering on the car roof and the cool, misty wind blowing through the snout-sized cracks
in the windows, I feel too hot in the back seat. I shake my shaggy yellow coat and
whimper twice, panting loud and fast.
I hear footsteps, the light slap of an adult female two-legs’s shoes on pavement in
the rain. She grows closer. I whine louder and paw the worn beige upholstery under the
She approaches my window. She smells like garlic tomato sauce and her sweat
scent is sweeter and fainter than my two-legs. She is not Sunil. But she peers at me with
kind brown eyes. I rear up on my hind legs and scrabble my front claws on the window.
The garlic two-legs seems to understand. She even says “Sunil’s dog,” so she
knows who I am. I wag my tail extra hard.
She surveys the few other cars resting in the evening shadows of the Lighthouse
Inn before she turns back to me. Her eyes linger on the black knob that locks the door.
She says “Sunil” again and some more words. Some of them I understand, like “Look for
I bark, high-pitched. Right! Sunil! I can help you look for him. I can smell him. I
know his steps. I know he was wearing his old leather boots caked with mud from our
gravel driveway. His maroon sweatshirt that still smells like gasoline from the time he
spilled a drop on the right sleeve. His oldest, softest pair of jeans, that he doesn’t mind me
jumping up on, even if he scolds me. I know his voice, gravelly and irritated when he
yells “No!” and his nonsense love syllables when he rubs my stomach. I know his hands,
the firm grasp of his hands on my collar, his absent-minded pats on the head. I know
exactly how tall he is: when I jump up to say hello, my paws reach the top of his
stomach. He is shorter than the alpha male two-legs who moved in with us, but only by a
The garlic two-legs says, “Stay, Star.”
Star. She knows my name! But she’s telling me to stay. That’s when Sunil wants
me to sit down and not move. Why would I do that when Sunil is missing?
I jump and paw the windows again, whining high and fierce.
This two-legs says some more, like “Good girl” and “I’ll be back,” but she’s
walking away! Just like Sunil did! These two-legs don’t understand anything!
I bark. Urgent! Urgent! My two-legs is gone. Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!
A couple emerges from the heavy wood front doors of the Lighthouse Inn. Not
Sunil, not garlic Two-Legs, not Sunil’s alpha male. They walk slow, clutching each
other’s waists. The female stumbles on the pavement. She falls heavily on her knees and
stays on all fours, laughing, until the male hefts her up by both elbows. Even then, it
takes them two tries for her to rise to her feet.
I keep barking. I try to rouse them from their stupor. Urgent! Urgent!
The male drops his keys on the pavement with a metal tinkle. He curses and
stoops next to my car. He smells like tomato sauce, fried chips, stale male sweat, but
mostly beer. Like Sunil’s alpha.
I know these two are hopeless, but I keep barking. They might be able to open the
door. Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!
“Damn dog,” says the woman.
The man laughs, a mean, low laugh. He presses his face against the window.
I bark. I scratch. I yelp.
The man sticks his tongue against the window, red flesh blanched dead white
against the cold glass. The smell of beer floods my nose. I whine before I bark, bark, bark
“What the hell,” says the man. I know this phrase. Sunil’s alpha male says it all
the time, usually before he does something that makes Sunil leave the room. On a good
day, Sunil will clip the leash on me and we’ll get a good, fast walk out of it, even if Sunil
is making angry noises into his metal rectangle phone the whole time.
This adult male’s fat hand reaches through the window opening, but his forearm
gets caught. His fingers are only five inches shy of the black knob. I stay very quiet,
panting my heat away, fogging up the windows while he wiggles his arm and curses, but
it’s no use. This two-legs can’t release me.
He withdraws his arm, swearing and rubbing the forearm that got caught in the
jaws of the window. I jump and bark frantically. Try again, two-legs! Try again! You can
The adult female laughs at him until he says something in a flat, low voice. She
sways on her feet and sticks her arm through the window, muttering something about
“him biting me.”
I know what biting is. Sunil shut me in a crate after I nibbled his hand when we
were playing. So I don’t bite anyone. Not even Sunil’s alpha.
I sit back on my heels and try to be very quiet, except for my panting.
The woman’s skinny arm waves through the window, poking forward hopelessly.
The man says something and she reaches downward, complaining the whole time, but her
hands brush the black knob.
I bark. She jumps and curses. But her fingers pluck the knob upward!
The man opens the door. “There, there.”
But I am already leaping past him. No leash. Feels good. Feels free. The man tries
to grab me, but I race past him, streaking through the parking lot, into the rainy darkness
and the garden at the back of the Inn. I sniff wildly, retracing our pre-dinner walk. The
patch of grass where I peed–I cannot resist squirting another hot stream of urine on the
same site, covering up the scent of a male German shepherd, who sprayed it after me.
I dash to the top of the nearby hill of sand, topped by an overturned wheelbarrow.
I find the wrapper for the piece of cheese I scavenged, and the delicious scent of squirrels
and spoiled hamburger, but no Sunil.
I’m barking. Help! Help! I sprint around the little garden, the lavender bushes, the
overhanging trees, the patio with a mermaid statue.
No Sunil. Only old Sunil smell, washing away with the rain.
My stomach growls. I whine. Sunil, Two-legs, where are you?
I tilt my nose in the air, sniff for him. My nostrils are flooded with the smell of
food. Two-leg food, the spaghetti sauce and garlic and the beer. I can’t resist. I dash to the
back door of the restaurant and sniff the open crack. Light spills on the cool patio stones.
Moist, heavy, sauce-scented air billows toward me.
I want to track Sunil and drag him back to our little cabin at the Lighthouse Inn,
with its soft red carpet, its sofa covered in my dog blanket, plus my plastic bowls of food
and water, and my bone. Our small space. Safe space.
I launch into the restaurant. Urgent! Urgent Urgent! Sunil! Sunil! Sunil!
My heart thunders in my chest. I dart around a two-legs standing next to the
closest table. A woman screams. A man shouts and jumps on a bench, hollering like I bit
Crash! Someone drops a water glass, shattering five feet in front of me. Water
sprays onto my nose. I whine, bark, manage to skid to a stop, while two-legs scream and
shout around me.
“A dog! A dog!” they scream like they’ve never seen one before.
The two-legs who smells like garlic tomato sauce, the one I thought might let me
out of the car first, flies into the room. She says, “Star!” and runs straight at me with her
I veer away from her and I smell, then see, one two-legs still eating his spaghetti
in the corner like nothing’s going on.
I scramble out the back door, still barking. Worried! Worried!
Sunil’s not there. I didn’t see or smell him anywhere, even though I know he
walked through the heavy wood front doors like the rest of these people.
I am afraid.
I am running back to the sand pile, shivering and barking, tongue dry, bone tired.
Back in the restaurant, the man calmly twirling spaghetti on his fork was Sunil’s
alpha. The two-legs I thought we had left behind, along with my stainless steel water dish
and my tasty kibble.
What is he doing here? And where is my two-legs?
I should run. I still hear two-legs yelling inside. I hear the tinkle of someone
sweeping up glass. Soon someone will come and sweep me away where I can’t help
But first, I creep back to the back patio. A shallow puddle of water has collected
in the hollow curve of a stone tile, and I must quench my thirst.
I lick the puddle until I am licking cool, damp stone.
An adult male two-legs throws open the back door.
I retreat behind a clump of pampas grass. I don’t dare run while his light shines on
me. He yells into a phone, “ … find that damn dog!”
Garlic two-legs yells back at him from inside.
The phone two-legs surveys the courtyard. I watch him carefully between the
stalks of grass. If he chases me, I can run faster than him, but he will call other two-legs
and eventually, they will catch me.
He swears. He yells some more into his telephone. But already, he is looking over
his shoulder, back into the restaurant.
He grunts and pulls the door closed behind him.
And I am safe for one more minute.
I nose in the pampas grass. I don’t smell anything except the grass, earth, and
I need to smell Sunil two-legs. If I could smell him, I could find him.
I sit on my behind and lift my rear paw to scratch my right ear furiously. Sunil
two-legs did not come out of the front door. I was watching from the front parking lot.
He could still be in the restaurant, but I know my two-legs. If he heard me
running, he would spring to my side.
So maybe he came out the back door.
The light shines through the back door. The back door is too close to the two-legs.
They could snatch my collar. They could throw beer bottles at me, like Sunil’s alpha did
Sunil’s alpha. He could take me away in his car.
I scurry to the back door anyway.
The air smells like spaghetti and other two-leg food, but I dig my nose deep into
the prickly doormat. I smell long and hard.
Is that mud from Sunil’s boot?
Yes. A speck of old driveway mud with a bit of gravel dust and a bit of my old
Sunil was here. In the past hour.
I cast my nose around, sniffing, searching the stone patio. Even with the rain, I
should be able to smell him better than this–
And then, at the edge of the patio, I finally catch a smell of something that makes
my hackles rise.
Fresh blood. One spot about as big as my paw pad, hardly diluted by rain.
I whine. Two-legs! Two-legs hurt!
I circle the stone patio and the mulched earth at its edge. No more blood, but I
smell Sunil stronger now–mud, a little sweat–and something else.
One other adult two-legs. A new one. He smells like cigarettes and black licorice
and something wrong, something dangerous yet familiar that makes my hackles rise
This licorice two-legs smells like sex. Sex with Sunil’s alpha.
I bark. Worried! Worried!
I hear a shout from the restaurant, but I keep going, nose to ground, sniff sniff
sniff run sniff sniff.
Following Sunil and Licorice Two-legs. Licorice has bigger, deeper footprints
Sunil. Walking crooked. Leaning on his right. Leaning on Licorice. Here, his boot
dragged in the mud. I sniff a gum wrapper that fell out of Sunil’s pocket, but it’s empty
and smells like mint and his laundry soap. It’s already damp from the rain.
Sunil smell is very strong here.
He fell down. I nose the imprint from his body. He couldn’t walk anymore.
I nudge a clump of his hair, tangled in a stick on the ground.
Yes, Sunil collapsed here. But his scent keeps going south, out of the woods.
I circle around this strong Sunil spot, check the scent trail backwards and
Forward, I don’t find any more Sunil prints. Only Licorice boot prints, even
deeper than before. And more Sunil hair and Sunil blood.
Licorice is dragging Sunil! But where?
I bark. Sunil! Sunil!
I hear two-leg voices. I hear a car door slam near the Lighthouse Inn. I hear two-
They are tracking me.
They are coming to get me.
Sniff run run. Sniff. It’s easier to track Sunil now that his head is bumping on the
ground. More blood. More hair. More sweat.
Licorice smells stronger too, a tangy sweat. Fear sweat.
I break into the parking lot of the next building. A street light shines on me, but I
I can smell Sunil stronger now, mixed with fresh blood and sour vomit and wine.
I’m barking now, loud barks, alarm barks, as I race toward the big green dumpster in the
Wedged between the dumpster and the building, covered in rain and blood and
I lunge forward, knocking a soggy cardboard box off his body. I lick his cold cold
nose, his cold cheek, his neck, his ear.
His eyelids flutter.
I lick his head. I lick the blood seeping from his scalp. His blood tastes salty and
metallic, mixed with the smell of lemon shampoo.
He groans. He shifts his head.
I keep licking.
A two-legs in uniform runs up yelling and shines a light on us. He swears and
grabs his phone. Soon I hear sirens wailing and more two-legs in uniforms screech up
with their cars and their flashing lights. But none of them are Sunil’s alpha or Licorice.
We are safe.
I curl up close to Sunil, using my body and my fur to keep him warm. I always
take care of my two-legs.
Dedicated to my bestest dogs, Olo and Roxy