The Dog Walker
A novel by
Michel David Lowe
On Judith Carter’s last day on the planet she ran for her life.
She ran from her family’s history of shitty food and too many cigarettes, the lifestyle of the poor and languorous. She ran from her father who smoked and drank and died too young. She ran for her mother, whittled away at the surgeon’s knife, one ulcerous black toe at a time. She ran for her life.
She ran along Short Pump sidewalks wet with snow melt from the overnight fall. February snow was not unheard of in Northern Virginia but this winter had been unusual for its extremes: near zero and heavy snow at Christmas, warm days in January, all snow melted off, now snow two days after Valentine’s Day.
Richmond closed its schools today, again, despite a couple of sloppy inches. But Henrico County schools opened on time so the Carter children did not milk winter for one last snow day. It stopped snowing at 5:00 am, the sun came out at 10:00, and with the kids and their classes cramming for the spring SOL exams, Judith ran for her life.
She breathed easily pounding down Lockport; she struggled some as she ran east on Park Terrace and then to Rutgers, panting and side-stitched when she turned onto Burnlake and the home stretch. She passed a few others outside that morning – the lady powering walking her baby stroller, the guy with the dog, another runner or two but she paid them no attention. Her focus was on her run, her breathing, the pain.
Jogging in place on her front porch she checked her Robic exercise watch. Damn! Pulse was still way too high for such a short run!
She muttered to herself as she unlocked the door, “Too much Cheese Cake Factory, not enough Bally’s!”
Judith trotted up the staircase, through the master suite and into the bathroom where she stepped out of her shoes and sweats and into the shower. The phone rang unheard and unanswered while she showered. The doorbell rang, too, but she didn’t hear that, either.
She toweled off and replaced the sweaty sweats with fresh sweats from her walk in closet. She was a little clammy, still perspiring after the cool-down shower. With her hair damp she closed the bedroom door behind her.
She paused at her home office door. Should she check email? There was certain to be some outrageous request from one of the partners; seemed like they just did not want to understand the concept of job sharing. Yes, there was bound to be more stuff in her email, but this was supposed to be her off day and the firm just needed to accept that off means off.
Judith skipped the office and went downstairs to start the dinner.
The phone in the kitchen was blinking. She picked up the voice mail. After listening to the message she pressed a speed dial button and heard the other end pick up on the second ring.
“Honey?” she said.
“You missing me?”
“Carl Anthony Carter, what kind of question is that? I always miss you!”
“You’re just glad it was me and not your office,” her husband replied.
“Tell me something nice.”
“I’m not wearing any underwear,” he whispered.
“Something nice for me.”
“Full on commando.”
“That’s not helping.”
“You feeling a little down today?”
“I just ran my medium circuit, you know? Four miles up to Short Pump Town Center and back? I thought I’d have a heart attack!”
“You push yourself too hard, baby,” Carl reassured her. “How long you run that? Twenty, thirty minutes?”
“Longer than that!”
“Most women work in an office, got two babies at home, can’t even walk that far, let alone run it.”
“Now that’s what I wanted to hear.”
“Want me to pick up something?”
“I’m cooking the pot roast tonight.”
“You know you could spend the day putting polish on your nails, that perfume I like. And that little nighty I like even better. I’ll pick up some wine.”
“You nasty man! It’s a school night, I’ve got work tomorrow, everybody’s got to get to bed early tonight.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. Early to bed!”
“But you know I like it when I talk dirty.”
“I know you do, baby. Let me peel these carrots and potatoes. Weekend’s coming. Kids can have a sleep over.”
“Not at our house!”
“At someone else’s house.”
“That’s what I like to hear!”
She hung up the phone and set about prepping the pot roast. She lined up the vegetables on the polished granite countertop and began peeling and then slicing them into the roasting pan.
She turned on the water, then the disposal, and washed the debris out of the sink with the hand sprayer. She was drying her hands on a paper towel when the doorbell rang.
The familiar colors through the side light. Judith opened the front door and saw him standing on her porch. She knew this man, from the neighborhood, someone she had seen often during her runs.
She opened the door.
He made his excuse; with no hesitation Judith Carter committed the biggest mistake of her life and let her neighbor into her home, closing the door behind him.
He follows her toward the kitchen. He has something in his hand, something he has slipped from his back pocket. She does not notice.
The first blow stuns her almost unconscious. Almost. She stumbles to her knees, crawling across the threshold, into the kitchen. She touches the back of her head and feels the rising knot, the sticky blood. She screams.
The scream chokes in her throat when he kicks her ribs. She gasps for breath but he keeps on kicking. He rolls her over with his foot and she looks up at him with clouding eyes as he strikes her head and face, over and over, left then right, back and forth. Her eyes flutter but do not close.
She blacks out but he continues to beat her.
He does not know if she is alive or dead; it does not matter for the job he has to do, his work. He steps through the swelling blood halo, tracking it across the kitchen tile to the counter. He’s noticed the expensive knives in the hardwood block. He likes the thin carving blade and considers using it, but that would be changing the plan, and the plan is everything. He replaces the carving blade and selects another.
He chooses, as always, the chef’s knife.
When he finishes with the knife, he drops it. He bends to take her loafers off and throws them across the room. He is almost finished, but not quite.