The turkey vultures wheeled above, though there was no blood as yet, the idle pace of their circling in the thermal would change soon enough. It wasn’t too bad of a last view, she thought, their outstretched wings silhouetted black against a clear blue sky. A few white puffs of cloud at the edge of her sight seemed to exist just so one could truly appreciate how intense the blue was. The air was crisp enough to make the warmth of the noon sun quite welcome. She felt her dog lean against her side and distractedly scritched the damp fur. THUNK went the rock.
Her brother and his family were out of town, so Susan had an opportunity to plan a solo adventure around their new home. She had Googled regional trails and found one near Oakridge that looked nice, with a spot for Jaz to swim and some not too challenging hikes. Planning a trip with a senior dog takes almost as much homework as they had when she was still a puppy, she snorted, except directions are WAY easier. She clicked the button in the browser on her laptop to send the directions to her phone, then gathered up the water and snacks both human and dog would need to make it a pleasant outing.
Jaz was snoozing under the deck, escaping the light rain that radar showed was just about over. She emerged sleepily when called, but quickly perked up seeing the leash in Susan’s hand and headed off around the corner of the house. It took the normal few moments to convince her the gate could not be opened while her nose was pressed against it and that she needed to back up. Susan eyed the lightening sky as she lifted her dog up onto the back hatch of the Smart. “We might need to keep the top up for the ride out there, Boo-bear, but it should be nice weather for our walk.” Jaz thumped her tail against the driver’s seat, but seemed more interested in digging a few forgotten treats out of her car bed.
The sky continued to brighten on the drive over and when they pulled into the empty parking lot by the water mid-morning it was a beautifully sunny day. The breeze was running the length of the lake, stirring up miniature whitecaps, and making Susan glad for the heavy fleece she had on, though it could be too warm later. Jaz needed to simply stand and absorb all the good smells being carried on the wind, her shaggy coat fluttering, for several long minutes before their walk could begin.
Two hours later, after less walking than one might expect, but lots of canine swimming and delighted rolling on things her human tried not to identify, they returned to the still empty lot. Jaz pulled Susan over to the lake’s edge. There was a narrow path that angled down a small, rocky bluff to the water’s edge. Hell, Susan thought, there’s no one around to complain. She leaned down and unclipped the leash. “Okay, one last swim!” She watched her dog scramble down the short trail and move out into the shallow water. She stood there motionless, chest deep, utterly happy. Susan walked along the upper edge of the bluff to set of picnic tables and set the leash down on a bench. She could just see the tip of Jaz’s nose from here.
Of course, that’s when a white van pulled into the lot, parking in the very first spot, half the lot away from her grey Smart. Maybe they’ll head off onto that far trail and not even notice my dog is off leash practically in front of the posted rules to the contrary, Susan wished fervently. No such luck. The driver got out and headed in her direction. He took a long, considering look down the empty lot as he all but sauntered over. “Funny that no one else is around on such a pretty day,” he said, sliding onto the bench of the table closest to the lot- the one between her and her car. Susan took an immediate, instinctive dislike to him. His comment was creepy and the way he had walked over made her feel like she was being stalked. She could feel her chest tightening as he blatantly looked her over and she was grateful for the baggy fleece she had never taken off. “Waitin’ for somebody?” he asked, tilting his head slightly and smirking, like any of the guys she’d ever seen at a bar who thought they were THE gift to women. Ugh, like I’m waiting for you, she mentally shuddered.
“Yes,” she said, quite honestly. My dog, oh please hurry up Jaz. “It is a lovely spot for a picnic lunch,” she embroidered. It is and maybe somebody else will show up with just that idea. Susan looked towards the entrance and only then realized this guy’s van perfectly blocked the tables from view of anyone who was just driving past. I need to get my dog and get out of here NOW. “Yeah,” he drawled, “It is. And you know, I am awfully hungry.” They moved simultaneously: The guy came around the table as Susan dashed towards the bluff. Jaz is old, but she’ll attack and that could be enough of a distraction for me to take him down. Groin. Knee. Throat. She reviewed the critical strikes as she aimed for the path down. She was several yards away from the trail when he grabbed hold of her left sleeve.
Her forward momentum pulled her arm free and she lunged sideways, using a dimly remembered trick from games of crack-the-whip on the childhood playground. She heard a welcome growl as she and her attacker spun in a lopsided circle towards the lake and had a brief glimpse of her fuzzy bear charging towards them. She heard her attacker grunt and Jaz yelp, saw the bluff’s edge as she was falling down, pulled by her attacker’s weight after he tripped, the sleeve of her fleece ripping at the seam.
It was three days before the headline popped up in Google’s Local News section- “Serial Rapist’s Body Found in Melton Lake Park.” Susan clicked the link to a local station’s video coverage. The female anchor led off the story coverage, “Investigators say that the body of a man believed responsible for raping at least 7 women across 3 different counties over the past month was found this morning by two joggers and their dogs in Melton Lake Park. Police are saying the cause of death is accidental.” The video switched to a clip of a police officer, the lake in the background, with a white truck in a parking lot off to the side. “We believe the suspect was deliberately flaunting the posted signage by relieving himself in the lake and got too close the edge of the small bluff behind me. The lip crumbled and the suspect fell approximately 12 feet, suffering a broken leg. It would appear that he tried to pull himself up with some of the roots on the bank’s edge, and in the process dislodged several larger rocks, at least one of which led to a fatal head injury.”
“So you don’t think there was another victim involved?” an offscreen voice asked. “No sir,” the officer replied, shaking his head. “We have no reason to believe, based on evidence at the scene, that an 8th victim exists. It just appears that karma caught up with our suspect.”
Yeah, Susan thought, as she finished sewing up the shoulder seam on her favorite fleece and smiled over at her her snoozing pooch, Karma is a BITCH!