Louise strained her eyes to identify the man who was trying to help Pepper but came up empty handed.
Gregarious people, Louise and her late husband, Tom, were easily assimilated into the community and, as a result, quickly became either fast friends or familiar with most whom quite rightly so called themselves permanent residents.
Staunch in their cohesiveness as a community, they learned to endure the onslaughts from the city as nothing more than pesky insects defining a season.
“Hey Pepper! What are you doing? Get over here,” she commanded, pointing down to her side. That’s not like him not to come, she thought, as she marched toward him.
The man who had been helping Pepper began to walk toward her. His toque was pulled down tightly over his ears and his high-back collar partly obscured his face. He smiled at her as he approached and slowed down, tipping his head in her direction as he passed. “Cute dog you’ve got there.”
She smiled and nodded back. He seems familiar, she thought. “If you think disobedience is cute,” she chuckled, pointing in the direction of Pepper who stayed his distance while playing with the running shoe he had retrieved from between the rocks.
“What can I say?” he replied, laughing. “He’s got the curiosity of a perpetual two year old. But, he’s still cute.” And, he began to pick up his pace.
“Ethan? Is that you?”
Stopping, he turned and slowly walked back toward her with a wide grin on his face.
Pepper dropped a soaked and muddied running shoe at her feet and attempted to get her attention.
“Shss.” And, she kicked the shoe away. “My god, Ethan! Is it really you? This is the last place on the face of the earth I’d expect to meet you. Take off that silly toque and let me have a good look at you.”
About to remove it, he hesitated. “Why don’t I keep it on until we find warmer surroundings?”
“Then I’d recommend the Boar Inn.”
When Pepper returned with the shoe in his mouth she bent down and grabbed him by the collar and hooked on the leash. Unable to dislodge the shoe from between his teeth she gave up and, placing her arm under Ethan’s, the two of them toddled off toward the Inn with Pepper leading the way.
“You know, you look pretty good for an old fart,” she said teasingly.
“Thanks,” he chortled, patting his stomach. “I’ve put on a few pounds there
since the old beat.”
“Tell me something. Would you have just kept on going if I hadn’t called out?”
“Louise…I know you’re still grieving over Tom. Timing…well…I didn’t want to intrude until…”
“Oh, Ethan! “ Why would you even think that?” She gave his arm a squeeze. “You and Tom were so close.”
“Yes…at one time we were. But, if you remember, he and I didn’t part under the greatest of circumstances.”
They crossed the street in silence and stopped outside the pub’s entrance.
“Ethan, all I knew back then was that you two were no longer partners. He never spoke about it…at least not to me. I’ve never held any rancor toward you.”
“Louise, I know that.” He sighed deeply. “Look, he was sworn to secrecy. Just like me. Few people knew. That’s the way the department wanted it played out.”
“Wanted what played out?”
“Let’s get in out of the cold,” he replied, opening the door. “Should we tie him outside?”
A smirk formed at the side of her mouth. “No…Pepper’s a regular like me. Anyway, he’s got a special in with the owner.”
A few minutes later they were sitting in a booth with hot coffees between them. Lying on the floor beside the table was Pepper with the running shoe tucked between his paws.
“It’s as plain as the nose on your face that you don’t want to talk about what went on back then between you and Tom. I’ll buy that for the moment. But, can you at least tell me why you showed up here after all these years?”
Ethan blew across his coffee and took a sip before answering. “I’m here investigating a murder.”