C. Auguste Dupin didn’t like the idea of spending the day tramping around the woods instead of sleeping in the sun.
Except his human, Poeville librarian Penny Copper, wanted a picnic by the falls with her boyfriend, detective David Clemm. If Dupin wanted sardine crackers, chicken, he needed to go with them.
Not the best way to get lunch. Especially when sasquatch might lurk in the woods.
In all his years in Poeville, C. Auguste Dupin preferred the warm sunny places to sleep, like the hill beneath the Reed Moore Library, to the dark woods that climbed the hills around the town.
He yowled his protest again to this excursion, which so far amounted to walking up mossy-smelling trails beneath trees that dripped cold water on his fur. What happened to the picnic? What happened to the treats?
Ahead, his human, librarian Penny Copper, touched the arm of detective David Clemm.
“A second, David. Dupin doesn’t sound happy.”
At last, someone was paying attention! Dupin stopped and sat down, taking advantage of the moment to chew away some of the sweet sap that stuck pine needles to his paws.
“I told you he wouldn’t like it,” David said.
For once Dupin agreed with the human. As humans went, David wasn’t entirely disagreeable, and Penny liked him. He did have the unfortunate mannerisms of a raven, looking quickly around him, his long black coat floating around him as he moved. Despite that, he had a rational mind and listened to Penny.
She came closer, crouching on the trail. Her new boots smelled of leather oil and rubber. Not at all like the sleek shoes she usually wore. Today she wore blue jeans over her long legs and a fuzzy flannel shirt, with the sleeves rolled partway up. Again, not at all the sort of thing she usually wore, although somewhat appropriate for day hikes.
Her long fingers scratched through Dupin’s fur around his neck. The purr, entirely unbidden, welled up from his chest.
Dupin pressed against her fingers and reached a paw up to her messenger bag, where she’d hidden away the treats.
She laughed, like a clear mountain stream. “You devil! You just want a snack!”
Of course! As if he was going to climb through the woods without proper nourishment!
She held up a finger. “One now. You can have more when we stop for lunch.”
One? Hardly —
Penny pulled the plastic sandwich bag from the messenger bag she wore over her shoulder. A rich oily scent escaped. Sardine crackers, a gift from Penny’s Auntie Dido. Quite possibly one of the best foods on Earth, and Dupin regularly frequented the restaurants and cafes along Poeville’s main avenue.
She took one of the golden triangles from the bag and held it up, between thumb and forefinger. Thumbs, the key to the advantages humans held.
Dupin meowed. He pawed the air in front of her hand, claws carefully retracted.
“Here you go, then, since you asked nicely.”
Penny put the cracker down in the dirt and pine needles.
Dupin blinked. Was she seriously expecting him to eat from…
It smelled so delicious. Oily fish, mingling with the garlic, and other seasonings. His mouth opened, inhaling, drawing the delicious scent up along the top of his mouth. He crouched, taking in more.
“Is he going to take all day?” David asked.
“He likes to savor them,” Penny said. Her hand ran down the fur on his back.
Dupin ignored it. He closed his eyes. Dirt or not, pine needles or not, he wasn’t leaving the cracker there for the ants and other crawling things.
He bit into it, the light cracker crunching delightfully between his teeth. Perfection. Exquisite. The flavor intensified the odors released, and yet two bites later, the cracker was gone.
A pine needle stuck in his mouth. He pawed it from his face. Then he rose, butting his head against Penny’s knee. He meowed.
“No more, not right now,” she said.
The plastic bag disappeared back into Penny’s messenger bag and she stood. She tapped her thigh. “Come on, Dupin.”
She walked on up the trail to where David waited. Dupin rose and trotted after.
“Don’t you worry that he’ll run off?” David asked.
“No.” Penny laughed. “Dupin won’t leave me.”
He might if there wasn’t the promise of more crackers and more food. The scent of chicken escaped from the basket David carried.
“It isn’t much farther, in any case,” David said. “Another quarter mile or so to the falls.”
A quarter mile? Dupin growled softly and padded after the humans. Maybe he should have stayed home back in town. At least there he could have picked up treats from the cafes, followed by a nap on the benches near the library.
The trail continued, seeming without end, twisting and climbing through the forest. Tall cedars and Douglas firs rose above them, some of immense girth. Ferns clogged the spaces between, spores tickling Dupin’s nose. Passing a clump of blackberry vines, he heard rustling beneath the thorny vines hanging thick with dark berries and paused.
Penny stopped, plucking a thick berry from the bush. She popped it in her mouth. “Oh, these are good. We should pick some for lunch.”
David came back with the basket. He opened the lid and brought out a shiny blue enamelware mug. “Here, we can use these.”
While the humans picked berries and chatted, Dupin turned his attention to necessary cleaning. All sorts of things were sticking in his fur. Dirt, dust and pine needles stuck to him along with stray seeds.
Whatever had rustled beneath the vines was gone. Not that he was of a mind to chase it anyway.
A voice called out, from up the trail. “Help!”
David rose quickly, setting down the mug he had half-filled with berries. “Did you hear that?”
Penny sat down her berries too, dark purple juice staining her lips. “Yes.”
“Help! Help me!”
David turned to Penny. “Stay here.”
Good idea. Dupin crouched, watching the trail, ready to bolt if it became necessary.
Before David had gone more than a few steps up the trail a man came running around the turn up ahead. He was pale, thin and shorter than David, wearing a blue hoody, jeans, and sneakers. His eyes were wide, white with dark pupils. He sort of looked like a panic-stricken dog.
Dupin crouched lower, a growl crawling from his throat.
David held out a hand. “Hey! What’s wrong?”
“God!” Sobbed the man, skidding to a stop. He half turned and pointed up the trail. “You have to help me! It took her!”
Then Penny was moving forward. For a human, she was ordinarily pretty smart, but Dupin didn’t think this was a good idea. Not at all.
The man gestured frantically back up the trail. “Please! Help us! It took her!”
“I’m a police officer.” David held out his hand, the other still close to the gun he carried. “I’ll help, I need to know what happened?”
“Mary, my fiancé, it took her off into the woods! We have to go!”
Penny reached David’s side. “What took Mary?”
“It’s a, a, what do you call it?” The man pressed his hands to his face and groaned. “A sasquatch! That’s it, you know, Bigfoot? It took her!”
Dupin blinked. He’d grown up in the library, following Penny to work every day. He’d spent plenty of time looking at the books as humans read them, sitting on the tables, and backs of the chairs.
Sasquatch, 001.944 by the Dewey decimal system. Although there were plenty of humans that didn’t agree with that classification, Dupin had never any reason to think there was any reality to the stories.
He licked at his paws, dealing with the absolutely impossible task of keeping them clean. What this really meant was that no one was going to be focusing on feeding him. Not until he helped them figure out what had happened.
Dupin rose and trotted forward, catching up to Penny. She was right about that, at least. He wasn’t going to leave her.
“A sasquatch?” David exchanged a look with Penny.
“I know,” the man groaned. He dropped his hands. “You think I’m crazy. I get it. We still have to save her!”
“What’s your name?” Penny asked.
“Albert, Al. Payne.” The man took a step back. “We can’t just stand here!”
“Okay, okay.” David pulled his phone from his pocket. His face darkened in a scowl. “I don’t have a signal. Penny?”
She was already checking her phone. “No, I don’t.”
Dupin breathed in deep. The man’s sneakers were muddy, even though the path was dry. They smelled of marsh muck and algae. He’d been somewhere wet, the Deschutes river wasn’t far through the woods. The sound of it carried through the woods.
“Penny, head back to the car and see if you get a signal there. If not, drive out until you do. Call the station, get us some more help up here. I’ll go with Al and look for Mary.”
Penny shook her head. “Let’s go see where it happened first, otherwise no one will know where to look.”
“Yes,” Al said. “Come on. I’ll show you!”
He spun and started back up the trail at a run. David scowled, but ran after him.
Penny looked down. “Dupin, stay.”
Then she was running too.
Stay? Alone in the woods, where a sasquatch had reportedly attacked a human?
Dupin chased after them.
The spot wasn’t far ahead, up around a bend, and then down into a wetter area where a tiny trickle of a stream ran through the cut down to the river.
“Mary! Mary!” Al yelled into the woods, cupping his hands around his mouth.
Dupin slowed. David and Penny spread out around Al, looking at the scene. Ferns had been trampled. Mud was oozing into footprints along the stream.
Al dropped his hands. He pointed at the mud. “See! You can see the tracks!”
Dupin followed David and Penny to the edge of the path, where the stream passed through a culvert and then entered a marshy area overgrown with plants. The tracks in the mud were filling slowly with muddy water. The smell was the same as Al’s shoes, full of decay and algae.
Near the path were several smaller tracks, parallel and then joining a larger set of tracks. Much larger, easily twice as large.
Penny had her phone out. Taking pictures. David rose and grabbed Al’s arm. The smaller man jerked away.
“We have to find her!”
“What happened, Al?” David asked, his voice calm. “The more information we have, the better equipped we’ll be to find her.”
“God, I can’t believe this is happening!” Al pressed his hands over his mouth for a second, then dropped them, taking a deep breath. “Fine. We were walking. Just a day hike, you know? Mary said it’d be fun. And it was okay until that thing came out of there!”
Al pointed at the thick bushes choking the wet area off the trail.
“A sasquatch?” Penny asked.
“There was a god-awful stink. I thought there was a skunk around or something and was telling Mary we should go back when it charged out of the bushes. It was huge and hairy, taller than you.” Al looked at David. “It grabbed her and took off back that way. I tried to follow, but the mud, it sucked at my feet. I almost lost my shoes getting back to the trail.”
Dupin crouched at the edge of the path. There was a stink, clinging to the bushes near the edge of the path. He sneezed. It could be a skunk, he’d encountered them a few times when they came into town, looking for food.
Yet a sasquatch? The woods extended back from here, connecting back to larger wilderness areas all the way to the national forests. Dupin sat back and licked his fur. In between licks, he studied the scene.
Something had crushed the ferns around the path. Spores in the air tickled his nose. Branches had been broken on the bushes, and reeds lay crushed into the muck.
“Okay,” David said. “Penny, go back until you can get a call out. Al and I will stay here, and keep an eye out.”
“We have to look for her!”
David touched Al’s arm. “If we go out there and get lost, then we’ve made things three times harder for the teams. We’ll get people out here. We’ll search for her.”
Al moved to the edge of the trail, cupping his mouth again. “Mary!”
Penny moved closer to David. Dupin paused in his cleaning. Going back made sense.
“Be careful,” Penny said. “I’ll come back as soon as I get through.”
She leaned close and pressed her lips briefly to David’s.
Then Penny turned and headed up the trail, tapping her thigh. “Come on, Dupin.”
Back down the trail again? At least they were heading back in the direction of the picnic basket, and away from the Sasquatch, if it existed at all.
Maybe Penny would remember to feed him when they got to the car.
The trip back down the trail went surprisingly quick. Dupin’s hair was on end the whole way, watching the woods around them.
Was it possible that a sasquatch was out there? Did it eat cats? Surely, if it took a whole human it wouldn’t want a cat, but what if there were more than one?
Or he was being a skittish kitten about the whole thing? The far more reasonable explanation was that Albert Payne was responsible for the woman’s disappearance, and was telling the sasquatch story to misdirect them all.
If Penny was concerned about the possibility of a sasquatch, she didn’t show it. Her long stride ate up the ground, stopping only to pick up the picnic basket when she reached it. Fortunately, it remained unmolested by whatever lurked in the woods.
As she walked, she kept checking her phone, searching for the elusive signal that would let her call for help.
When the trail head came into view, Dupin raced forward to Penny’s bright red VW Beetle. Penny reached the car a moment later.
She made an exasperated noise, almost like his own growls. “Still no signal!”
She turned back to face the trail.
Dupin reached up, pawing at the car door. He meowed to get her attention.
Penny looked down at him, her pretty face lined with worry. “I don’t want to leave David up there alone, but I don’t see any other choice. We have to get help.”
Exactly. Dupin pawed at the door again.
“Okay. We’ll head back to town until we get a signal. Then I’ll stop and call.”
Gravel crunched beneath Penny’s boots as she walked around to the driver’s side. The car beeped, and she opened the door. Dupin jumped up into the seat.
“Move over, Dupin,” Penny said.
He jumped into the passenger seat, turning in a circle to face her.
She tilted her seat forward and put the picnic basket, and her messenger bag into the back seat. Then she shoved her seat down and got in, slamming the door.
Dupin inhaled deeply. In the closed confines, away from the woods, the smell of fried chicken was even more enticing. He turned and jumped into the back as Penny started the engine.
The messenger bag was shut, but not strapped. He nosed at the flap.
Penny turned around, her arm reaching across to the passenger seat. She glanced down. “Stay out of the food, Dupin.”
Stay out of the food? It was torture! And why let it go to waste? Not for the first time, he wished that he had the ability to converse with humans. It’d be so much easier.
Denied the food, he did the sensible thing, the only thing to do under the circumstances. He turned in the seat, between the basket and the bag, and settled down. He closed his eyes and inhaled the rich, spicy aromas and drifted off.
The rumble of the tires on the road slowed and stopped. Awareness returned and Dupin opened his eyes thin slits without moving.
The car had stopped. The sky out the window was mostly clear, broken only by a few fluffy clouds. Penny was on the phone, her voice urgent.
“That’s right. I’m heading back there now. No, I won’t wait. Detective Clemm is alone with that man, who is mostly likely the one responsible for her disappearance.”
A low purr rolled through Dupin’s chest. There was a reason he followed Penny. She displayed the best traits of both humans and cats. The story of a sasquatch wasn’t going to sit well with her either.
Her head nodded. “That’s right. Hurry.”
She hung up and twisted around, looking in the back. Dupin opened his eyes wider, so she’d know he was awake. And not getting into the food, even though his stomach felt as if there was a bottomless pit beneath him.
“I got through,” she said. “We’re going to head back. Hopefully, David is fine.”
The detective could take care of himself, even if he did need their help from time to time to solve a case.
Today looked like one of those days. Dupin yawned wide, showing his teeth. Penny wasn’t even looking, she had the Beetle in gear and was turning it around in the street, heading back to the trail.
Dupin closed his eyes. If he was going to tromp around through the forest again, without food, he was going to need to rest.
This time Dupin didn’t sleep deeply, only dozing, listening to the sound of the car. He recognized the speed bumps as they turned into the drive for the park. The rattle of gravel, as Penny swung into the parking area.
Although he hadn’t moved a muscle, he was poised and ready the instant Penny opened the door. He darted out, slipping behind her seat, and jumped down onto the gravel drive.
“Dupin! I wanted you to wait in the car this time.”
He looked up at her. Really? Why do you think I jumped out so fast?
He walked away a few steps and looked back. Penny sighed, and lifted her seat, ducking inside for a second before she came out with her messenger bag.
She slung that over her shoulder, then popped the hatchback and shut her door. She went around to the back and came out with the blue and white first aid kit she carried. She opened the messenger bag and stuffed the kit inside.
“Okay, then Dupin. You’re going to have to keep up.”
He turned in a circle, then started for the trail. Behind him, Penny chuckled.
“I’ve never known another cat that likes walks as much as you!”
Walks meant more treats. Even if it did mean following a trail into sasquatch-infested woods. Sooner or later, he’d get Penny to give him more of the sardine crackers she carried. Not to mention the chicken back in the car.
The faster they found the missing woman, the faster he’d get fed.
When they reached the spot in the trail by the stream, there was no sign of either David or Al. The muddy prints were hardly anything more than oval mud puddles now.
“David?” Penny cupped her hands to her mouth. “David! Where are you?”
Dupin sniffed at the ground, picking up traces of Al’s mucky shoes and David’s oiled hiking boots. The scent trail went on up the trail, not into the muck.
He meowed and trotted on up the trail.
“Dupin! Don’t you run off too!”
He heard Penny’s fast steps behind him, and before he could dart aside, her hands slipped beneath his belly and hoisted him into the air. He fought the urge to grab on, and instead, let his body go limp and boneless.
“Dupin!” Penny fought to keep her grip, and pulled him up against her chest. She cradled him close, with her arm beneath his body.
“I’m not having you run off too,” she said.
Penny bent at the waist, studying the ground. “I can’t tell if those tracks are old or new…”
She moved back, looking up and down the trail at the tracks. Dupin lay limp in her arms, waiting. The dry dirt and pine needles didn’t show much of an imprint, but Al’s tracks showed bits of mud.
Penny straightened. “Let’s go up the trail a little way. They may have heard something.”
The trail went up, turned left and dropped down again around a flaking outcrop of stone. A cedar grew on top of it, roots twisting and climbing down the rocks like a nest of snakes. The trail ahead continued generally down slope, heading for the river on the other side of the next ridge.
It was empty. A crow cawed from a treetop nearby and took off flying. Penny looked up too, following the bird. Crows were scavengers, maybe it had seen something from up among the tree tops?
Penny bent and put Dupin down on the ground. “Come on. You can walk, just don’t run off.”
Walk? Why had she assumed he wanted to walk? Being carried was just fine.
She didn’t wait. She started off down the trail at a brisk walk. Dupin blinked, then rose and ran after her. He meowed.
Penny looked back, shaking her head. “You could have stayed in the car. We’ve got to find David.”
He caught up and streaked past her, then slowed and meowed again. Penny neatly side-stepped around him and kept going. Dupin flicked his tail.
This was a bad idea. The farther they went from the crime scene, the less likely they were to be found when the police finally showed up.
That didn’t stop her. She kept going, calling out David’s name now and then. Or maybe just letting the Sasquatch know where they were.
The trail dropped down into a valley until it reached a small wood bridge crossing the stream. Then it turned and rose sharply, switch-backing up the slope to a ridge line, and over that before descending again toward the river.
The roar of the river was louder now and the air smelled wetter. Dupin trotted on after Penny.
“David!” Penny paused listening, then called again. “David!”
A crow cawed again from somewhere among the trees. The river rumbled on. No other voices came out of the woods. It was as if the two men had been swallowed up by the forest.
Dupin’s hair rose. Maybe there was a sasquatch, one that wasn’t opposed to attacking humans. Unlikely, maybe, but their absence put him on alert. He slowed down, ears listening for the slightest sound.
Penny started moving fast again, down the trail, each footfall loud as she charged down the hill.
He raced after her. After all, it wasn’t only the sasquatch he had to worry about. What other predators might be in the woods? He’d seen books on bears, whether or not they’d go after a cat wasn’t clear. Coyotes would, but hopefully, Penny’s yelling would drive off most of the predators.
After a couple switchbacks, Dupin saw the river below, jumping in white rapids down over rocks. It was much more vigorous here than the slow-moving river that passed through town, attracting people to the water in hot weather. Odd creatures.
Nothing no answer.
Penny slowed her pace and finally stopped. The river continued beneath them, and the trees dripped with water. Dark cedar boughs bent low to the ground and leaned out over the river. The air was cool and damp.
Dupin pressed close to Penny, rubbing against her legs. He meowed, eyeing her messenger bag.
She ignored him, hands on her hips, turning in place as she studied the forest. “Maybe we should go back? Wait for the police?”
He meowed his agreement. She looked down and smiled a small, worried smiled, her forehead creasing.
“I don’t know where they’ve gone. David knew better to run off into the woods with that man. For all we know, he did something to her, and now has David.”
Dupin bumped against her legs again. Her reasoning was sound, although she’d also run off from the crime scene. Going back made sense. Eating more crackers, even more sense.
He turned around her legs and went a few steps back up the trail. Penny lingered, looking down toward the river. Dupin stopped and meowed.
“Just a second, Dupin. I thought I saw something.”
Of course, she did. Dupin meowed again to no effect. Penny was off, heading down the trail to the river.
He ran to catch up, slipping off the trail through the underbrush to cut across the switchback. Wet ferns dragged across his back. It was going to take forever to get clean when they were done.
It didn’t take long before Penny reached the bridge across the river. This wasn’t a rickety wood bridge across a foot-wide stream. The bridge was made of thick metal girders, with a concrete deck and pine needles drifting along the sides. A few weeds grew out of the V shapes where the girders came together.
The whole thing vibrated from the river below. Spray drifted across the bridge, leaving the concrete damp.
Dupin stopped at the edge of the bridge. He didn’t have any interest in going out on it. Penny didn’t hesitate.
She stopped halfway out, clutching the side of the railing. “David!”
This time it wasn’t a call, but a scream that set Dupin’s hair on edge. He growled, still not sure what she was screaming about. She was moving, running his way, back off the bridge.
Dupin scurried out of the way and looked downstream.
A man lay face-down beside the river, his black coat dragging in the water. David. The other man was there, Al, but he was running away downstream, splashing and stumbling along the river.
And there was a third person. A woman, naked and pale lying on the rocks next to David.
Penny was picking her way down the steep slope beneath the bridge, following a rough path that led down to the narrow, rocky beach.
It wasn’t safe. He followed her to the top of the trail and balked. He meowed.
Penny looked up, her eyes wide and wet. She held out a palm toward him. “Stay! Stay there!”
Turning away, she scrambled down the last few feet, splashed through a small pool, and ran to David’s side.
Dupin sat down. He didn’t really want to go down there anyway, that close to the raging river? What if he somehow fell in? Aside from the getting wet, he’d get washed downstream.
Al was gone from view, around the bend in the river. Now, if he fell in, it might not be so bad, since apparently he’d had a hand in whatever happened to the woman and to David.
Dupin licked at his foreleg, cleaning away the dust and pine needles stuck to his fur. Every few licks he looked up to see what Penny was doing.
She reached David. Dupin paused long enough to see David stir and push himself up. So he was alive? That was good, at least for Penny. Dupin went back to cleaning.
The other police would arrive soon, and then they’d take over all of this. He switched paws. After this, the picnic was most likely canceled, which meant going home. Then, maybe Penny would remember to feed him and after that he could spend the afternoon sleeping on the window seat.
David got to his feet and stopped Penny from going to the woman. He shook his head. Their voices floated up, indistinct against the roar of the river. At one point Penny pointed downstream, obviously indicating which way the culprit had gone. David started that way, and she grabbed him, holding him back.
A few more words and David looked up the path, his eyes locking on Dupin. Blood ran down from his dark hair. Dupin looked away, focusing on cleaning his paws again, starting to groom his face as well.
When the other police came stomping up the trail, Dupin slipped beneath the ferns along the river bank and watched from his hiding place.
Penny and David were still down the steep slope, watching the body of the woman. She had to be dead, and David had refused to leave her. Probably concerned that scavengers would get her. A crow cawed from the branches above the river, one of three or four that fluttered from tree to tree above.
The police came in great numbers, wearing uniforms and not, along with rescue personnel in bright vests. Everyone became very excited when David and Penny called out.
Ropes were thrown down, and the two of them helped out of the river gorge. Two emergency medical techs immediately went to work on both, covering them in blankets, checking David’s head wound.
“I’m fine,” Penny said. “I didn’t fall or anything.”
While the EMTs worked, police officers listened to Penny and David’s statements.
“The suspect is Albert Payne, late twenties,” David said, wincing as the EMTs worked on his head. He went on to finish describing Al to the policeman taking notes, and several others listening.
“He ran off downstream,” David concluded a minute later. “We need to find him and bring him in.”
“We’re on that now,” the other policeman said. “We’ve got people out there to intercept him. Did he assault you?”
“I don’t remember,” David repeated. “Like I said, we followed the trail through the woods, until we came back to the trail. When we got to the bridge, we saw the body. The last thing I remember was climbing down the bank. The suspect was behind me, but I might have slipped, I don’t know.”
“Take it easy,” the EMT said. “You’ve at least got a mild concussion. You really should have that looked at in the hospital.”
“I’m fine,” David insisted. “I was first on the scene. I want to finish this.”
It was easy to see why Penny liked the detective. Hearing louder voices, Dupin turned his head to see what was going on.
A group of people from the coroner’s office approached the edge of the drop-off, and the steep path down the bank. Dupin shrank back further under the fern. Unfortunately, the movement caught the eye of the man in front.
He was a big man, with white hair and a face more wrinkled than a Shar Pei. He was wearing a dark blue rain jacket with the word CORONER across the front, hanging open to accommodate his ample belly. He tapped the shoulder of the younger man with him.
“There’s a cat here!”
Penny pushed through the crowd of police and other personnel on the bridge. “He’s with me.”
The man looked at her, grinning. “You brought your cat to a crime scene?”
“We weren’t planning on finding a crime scene,” Penny said. “The plan was a picnic.”
Dupin rose and stretched his legs out, sinking them into the loose ground while he yawned.
“He’s a big one,” the man said. “My late wife used to keep cats.”
“His name is C. Auguste Dupin,” Penny said. “He’s very smart.”
Dupin settled back. Obviously, he wasn’t smart enough to avoid getting dragged into all of this.
“That’s a great name for a cat,” the man said. He offered his hand. “Ethan George, coroner.”
Penny shook the man’s hand, smiling. “Penny Copper, librarian.”
Ethan laughed. “Pleasure to meet you. Maybe you’ll give me luck getting down this bank!”
Dupin closed his eyes as they laughed.
Then Ethan was calling to the officers milling around, to hold ropes and help him get down the bank without breaking his neck. A jovial fellow, but ill-equipped for climbing up and down steep paths strewn with loose rock. As the big man descended, Dupin rose and wandered over near the edge, sitting next to Penny’s legs, to watch.
David came over to stand beside Penny on the other side. “You’re free to go, they’ll ask if you need to update your statements later.”
Penny was looking past the coroner making his laborious descent, to the body beside the river. “That poor girl. What do you think happened?”
“I don’t believe that a sasquatch carried her off, if that’s what you mean?” David said.
“No, but why would he make up such a story?”
“He’s trying to create reasonable doubt. Next, he’ll say that he didn’t actually see what it was, maybe it could have been a bear.”
“I haven’t heard of bears dragging off a grown woman,” Penny said.
“Maybe not, but he’ll play the grieving victim and claim we’re trying to blame him. If he sows enough doubt with the jury, who knows?”
Dupin listened to the conversation with interest. Penny enjoyed watching shows on television that dealt with these sorts of situations. They were much more enjoyable in a warm house, with a belly full of food than sitting out in the dank forest.
Around them, the police and other humans were briskly getting on with the search for the fugitive, while down below the coroner and his assistants dealt with the body. Dupin watched them move around, carefully noting evidence found. All of it would later feed into the case.
Fascinating on television. Less interesting under these conditions. He bumped against Penny’s leg and meowed.
She said, “I think Dupin is telling us he’d rather go home. Poor kitty hasn’t had his lunch.”
She touched David’s arm. “And you took a blow to the head, you probably shouldn’t be out here either.”
He touched her side. “You should go. This isn’t exactly a place for a civilian or a cat. I’m fine. Really. Unless I start having concussions —”
Penny swatted at him the way Dupin batted at his cat toys.
“Hey! No hitting the injured man.”
Penny stopped. Obviously some sort of human courtship ritual. Dupin closed his eyes rather than watch more.
“We can stay,” Penny said. “Right Dupin?”
Of course. Because it was so much fun starving in the wilderness with either a sasquatch or a potential murderer running around loose in the woods.
Down by the river, Ethan directed the others to load the body into a slick black bag.
Hands touched Dupin’s sides. He started and relaxed as he smelled Penny’s familiar clean scent. She scooped him up, tucking him up in one arm. With the other, she reached around into her messenger back and he perked up.
Penny brought her fist out of the bag and her long fingers unfurled, revealing two sardine crackers on her palm! She held her hand flat in front of his head.
“Since you’ve been so well-behaved,” she said.
Dupin inhaled the rich odor and carefully picked one of the crackers up from her palm. It crunched very satisfactorily between his teeth, the rich fishy taste flooding his mouth. Crumbs fell on her palm. He licked them up, his tongue rasping across her salty smooth skin. Bare skin, one of the odder things about humans.
The second cracker disappeared as quickly as the first. When he was done, Penny stroked his head.
“What do we do now?”
David pointed down the slope where the coroners were beginning to hoist the body up from the river. “I want to find out a preliminary cause of death, look at anything else they found. Hopefully, someone will catch up with Al Payne before he gets far.”
“He can’t get too far going down the river, it’s too rugged.”
“He might fall in and drown,” David said.
If no one was going to leave until they caught the man responsible, then it only made sense to help them. Dupin squirmed in Penny’s arms and she responded by setting him gently on the ground.
He shook himself, then sat and started cleaning his paws again, while he considered the facts in the case.
The woman, Mary, was dead, cause yet to be determined even though it looked more and more like murder.
Her fiancé, Al Payne, claimed that a sasquatch had carried her off. When David discovered the body, Mr. Payne had either assaulted the detective, or not. In any case, he had run off when Penny arrived.
Fleeing didn’t necessarily imply guilt. Dupin knew better. Sometimes fleeing was entirely appropriate.
The quickest way to verify Mr. Payne’s story, then, was to determine if there was something, or someone, else out in the woods beside those present. Either other potential witnesses, or assailants. With big feet or not.
Dupin stopped cleaning and stood. The coroner, Ethan George was huffing and puffing, as several police officers and rescue personnel heaved on the ropes to help him up the trail. He reached the top with a red face and sweat dripping down his brow.
David extended his hand, and helped the coroner up the last step.
“Thank you, I don’t want to do that every day!” Ethan squinted up at the bandage on David’s head. “You’re the one that found her? You were down there too?”
“I was,” David said. “Any thoughts about it? Do you know what killed her?”
Ethan grunted. “I think the broken neck may have had something to do with it.”
Dupin looked over at the steep drop.
Ethan’s shoulders shrugged in slow big rolls. “Hard to say until I get a better look. She’d been in the water and her clothes were gone. She might have drowned and the break came later.”
Ethan’s shuffled his feet closer to the detective. “Is it true, what they’re saying? The man with her claimed Bigfoot did it?”
“We don’t need to spread that right now,” David said.
Ethan waved a hand. “I’m not telling anyone! I just don’t believe it. Bigfoot is a gentle creature. I ever tell you about the one I saw when I was younger?”
David shook his head and patted Ethan’s arm. “No, and first chance I get, I want to hear it. Right now we need to get after this suspect.”
“Of course, of course. Stop by later and maybe I’ll have more about the cause of death for you.”
As David turned back to Penny, and the coroner huffed and walked off escorting the body, Dupin slipped away through the remaining personnel. A lot had left, off to search downstream for the suspect.
No one was going upstream. Yet, if the body went into the water upstream and washed up down here, there might be more evidence. And the falls were upstream, that’s where Penny and David had planned on having their picnic.
He walked to the end of the bridge and sat down, looking back through the crowd at Penny. She was still talking to David. Then she looked down, checked the other side and turned. Now she realized Dupin had left her side.
As soon as her eyes met his, Dupin rose and walked on up the path.
If she caught him, she might carry him back to the car, so Dupin moved at a fast trot on up the trail. All of his keen senses alert to the sounds in the woods. The chatter of the people on the bridge fell away. A finch flitted away through the undergrowth. He tensed, then moved on.
No time to chase birds right now.
So far everything had carried him farther from lunch. Sooner or later the police would catch up with Al Payne. Maybe he was guilty, maybe not.
Penny’s footsteps sounded loud on the path behind him. There was another pair too. He glanced back, and as expected, both Penny and David were following at a fast walk.
“Dupin! Come here!”
He almost did. His stride slowed and then he darted up the slope, slipping beneath the damp ferns off the trail, up to the next switchback. It was steeper going straight up, but shorter.
At the trail, he looked back again. Penny and David were running now, with difficulty, up the slope, around the switchback. Running uphill was harder on them. He hurried on up the trail.
David said something, the words indistinct. Dupin ignored them and continued up. It made sense that Al Payne and his fiancé would have gone to the falls. Maybe she fell there. Her clothes might be there.
He cut across the next switchback, slipping under and around a cedar tree growing out of the decaying trunk of an older tree. An orange, sour-smelling, salamander slipped away through the decaying bark beneath the trunk.
It didn’t take long to get upstream to the falls. Dupin pushed out of the underbrush onto the last bit of trail. His fur was wet, with pine needles and other debris stuck to it. He was a mess.
And there was something bright green on the edge of the trail, near the bridge.
Dupin kept an eye out for any sasquatch lurking nearby and walked slowly near the bridge. The roar of the water beneath drowned out other noises. There was a flat area off to the side of path, clear of undergrowth, with three picnic tables. A log fence ran along the drop off to the river beneath.
The bridge itself was built of big riveted girders and a concrete deck slick with spray from the falls. It was right near the bridge, on the right side of the trail, where the green whatever it was, was hung up on the bushes just past another log fence.
A woman’s dress, Dupin saw when he got closer. Torn, caught on the branches past the fence.
He looked back. Penny, breathing hard, was coming up the trail with David behind.
“Why’d you run off?” Penny asked, approaching slowly. She held her hand out, holding a sardine cracker.
That was more like it. He licked his lips and meowed, but didn’t move closer.
Penny came forward several steps, and that’s when David said, “What’s that?”
Finally! Dupin rose and walked to Penny while David went over to the dress.
David didn’t touch it, looking at it, and then calling to the other police on a walkie-talkie he must have borrowed.
Dupin didn’t care about that. He’d found the clue, and he wanted his reward. Penny crouched and held out the cracker.
He sniffed deeply. Delicious. Wonderful! There was a reason that Penny’s Auntie Dido was one of his favorite humans, and it wasn’t her yippy dog Patches.
With her other hand, Penny scratched his head. “Good kitty! Is it her dress, David?”
“Looks like. They’ll send a team up to get photos, and pick it up.” David came back and stood above them.
Dupin ignored the detective as he bit into the cracker.
It was gone too soon, leaving only the lingering taste. He licked his lips and moved away from Penny, studying the area. The dress was there.
“I guess he wanted his picnic by the falls,” David said.
“It’s a beautiful spot,” Penny said.
Dupin ignored them both, listening carefully. It was hard to hear anything over the roar of the falls, but he focused on the bridge and the woods beyond. Something made his whiskers tingle. It wasn’t only the vibration of the falls.
It felt like someone watching him.
His whiskers drew back. He slipped away from Penny and David, and moved quickly to the end of the left side of the bridge and crouched beside the thick steel girder.
The fury of the waterfalls below vibrated up through the concrete into his paws.
“What’s he doing now?” David asked.
Small rocks crunched as the humans came closer.
“I don’t know,” Penny said. “He’s been acting spooky since all this started.”
Who wouldn’t, with a potential sasquatch attack? Dupin watched the forest across the bridge. Something had moved, he was sure of it.
Whatever was over there was watching them.
The sensible thing to do, the smart thing, was to turn and head down the trail. Get all the way back down, to where the cops waited, and then keep going until he got to the car.
Penny reached for him. He felt her hands brush his fur and he slipped forward, out onto the bridge.
“Dupin,” Penny said. “Don’t run off again!”
A branch cracked ahead in the woods. A dark shape moved behind a large stump. Dupin broke into a run. He raced across the bridge onto the trail on the other side.
There was another picnic area, this one on the right side of the trail, but the movement came from the left, up the slope. Dupin slowed, watching intently.
There. A brown furry shape rose and slipped behind another tree. It was big. Sasquatch? Dupin’s ears flicked back. He growled a warning at whatever was up the trail.
“There’s something up there,” David said as both he and Penny came up behind Dupin. “He sees something.”
Dupin growled another warning as the shape moved. Penny gasped.
A creak of leather, a snap, and Dupin looked up to see David holding a gun, pointed at whatever was up the slope.
“Come on out now! Hands in the air where I can see them!”
Would a sasquatch follow orders? This one moved, obviously trying to keep trees between it and David.
Dupin slipped away from the detective, and angled around up the trail. He left the trail and moved beneath the ferns.
“Dupin?” Penny called softly.
Dupin ignored her. Whatever it was, David didn’t have a clear shot, and it was trying to climb higher, using the brush and trees as cover. It was noisier now, crashing through brush.
“Stop right there!” David said.
Bigfoot wasn’t listening.
Running now, Dupin gained ground and got farther up slope from the beast. It’d all be worth it, if they could leave and go home!
He jumped up on a fallen tree trunk above where the sasquatch crawled through the bushes. It hadn’t seen him yet. The fur was dark brown and long. It scrambled ungainly at the slope, trying to climb higher, its head down.
It slipped and fell face first against the slope.
“Damn it!” The sasquatch said.
A sasquatch was unlikely. A sasquatch that swore in English? Very improbable. Dupin waited until it was almost upon him. Metal glinted through the fur along its back. A zipper?
This wasn’t a sasquatch, it was a man in a costume!
Dupin growled and hissed at the man.
“Oh hell!” The man stood, lost his balance and stumbled back, hairy costumed arms waving.
Dupin’s ears laid back and he growled again at the fanged, rubbery face.
“Freeze! Poeville police! Stop right now!” David’s voice carried clearly through the air.
The sasquatch’s shoulders slumped, but he raised his hands in the air.
David had moved up the trail. He was closer now, with a clear shot of the man. Dupin settled back, still watching the man carefully, but it looked like something the detective could handle.
“Take off the mask, slowly.”
The man did as he was told, revealing a disappointingly normal human face. His face was round, with reddish cheeks and blond hair. He tossed he mask to the ground. Tears filled his blue eyes.
“It was an accident, I swear!” He sniffled. “I loved Mary! We were just trying to scare away Al.”
“Slowly turn around,” David said. “What’s your name?”
The man turned to face David, arms still up. Dupin rose and walked along the tree trunk. Penny had come up the slope and stood behind David with her arms tightly crossed.
“John Harper. You have to believe me. It was all an accident! Al, he’s obsessive. He kept going on about how they were going to get married, and wouldn’t listen when Mary said she wasn’t ready to get married. She tried to break it off, and he wouldn’t listen.”
“So you decided to dress up like Bigfoot?” David asked.
John nodded. Dupin sneezed from fern spores and jumped off the tree trunk, picking his way among the bushes to rejoin Penny.
The suspect just kept talking.
“Yes. I mean, it was Mary’s idea. Al believes in that sort of thing. And UFOs, ghosts, whatever. It was a prank.” John moaned. “No one was supposed to get hurt! I was going to carry her off, scaring Al away. She thought the next time he might get the message.”
“So what happened?”
John lowered his arms.
“Hands up!” David snapped.
Penny bent and scooped Dupin up. He settled back in her arms, content for the moment, and watched.
John’s hands shot up. His voice shook and turned blubbery. “After I carried her off, Al ran away screaming. We came up the trail. We were playing around by the falls and she fell, that’s all. She was there, and then she wasn’t! I couldn’t believe it. I ran down the trail, I tried to find a way to get to her, but I could see she was dead already. And then I heard voices. Al’s and others.”
His voice broke for a second. He wiped his nose with a hairy hand. “I freaked out. I ran up here and hid. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have hurt her for anything. You have to believe me.”
“I’ve got to take you in,” David said. “You’ll have a chance to explain what happened. Okay?”
John’s bottom lip stuck out. He nodded, tears streaming down his face.
Humans made things complex. Dupin purred against Penny’s chest. At least now they could finally go home and eat!
Evening sunlight streamed through the window onto the window seat at home. Dupin lay stretched out full length, muscles sore from all the running and climbing, but his belly was comfortably full for now.
Penny’s phone rang.
He opened one eye, watching her pick it up. “Yes? Oh, they picked him up too? Did you hear back from the coroner? A fall, so Harper was telling the truth?”
She was quiet for a while.
Dupin closed his eye. Of course the man was telling the truth. The police would run around and confirm their stories, talk to friends and family.
In the end nothing would change the fact that the poor woman was dead. Some people would refuse to accept the facts of the case.
There’d probably even be those that still believed a sasquatch was out in the woods. Dupin stretched out sore legs, too tired to even clean his fur again. Who knew? Maybe there was. He wasn’t planning on any more picnics to find out.
This story is the 102nd short story release, written in March 2013. This story takes place after the events of The Murders in the Reed Moore Library and my novel The Task of Auntie Dido.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Endless Worlds of Sorrow, a story set in the Moreau Society Universe.
This story by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.