Photo is the author’s
Not your typically hateful Chihuahua, Baby loved everyone. The plumber, a total stranger to the pup, got tickly licks on his butt-crack, making everyone who saw it happen laugh out loud. Even Simon, an employee of We R Roto-Rooters, though embarrassed, chuckled, pulled up his trousers, and tightened his belt a notch. By the time she turned one year old, half the small town of Riverton would talk about the friendly, coal-black, pound-and-a-half pooch, and most knew her name, to the delight of her proud owner, a ten-year-old girl named Sandy.
The conversation often went like this:
Have you ever seen the Miller’s Baby meet the mailman? No? It’s worth your time to go over there and park on the street at 2:30 when he delivers. Take your phone, too; you’ll want to video it. She turns somersaults, and you’d think that her tail would break loose for all the wagging. That little pup takes in the mail unless there’s too much for her. Mr. Towns gives her a couple of envelopes that are three times her size, and she scampers to the doggie door. It’s just the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.
Mrs. Ferguson, the widow at the end of the block, was another familiar character to the townsfolk. If one didn’t know her name, they referred to her as “the waving lady” because she’d sit on her porch swing every afternoon and greet passersby whether they walked or drove. Those who didn’t wave back were a rarity, but even those folks usually smiled. When the reclusive senior failed to show, no one thought it strange, at first. Maybe she’d fallen ill or had visited a family member who’s delivering a baby. After a week’s worth of mail and newspapers had accumulated, Mr. Towns went to her door and immediately called 9*1*1 to report the putrid stench of death emanating from her home.
Crime scene investigators wouldn’t have a cause for her passing until Dr. Regan, the coroner, had examined the corpse, but it appeared that small animals had ravaged Mrs. Ferguson’s body. Tiny tooth and claw marks were all that remained of her neck, besides some small, half-eaten chunks of flesh on the blood-soaked mattress.
Detective Lieutenant Raymond Stevens had left the Chicago P.D. for a change of pace and was the only Riverton cop to have ever worked a murder. He assumed the role of lead investigator when Dr. Regan’s report came in. Mrs. Ferguson had not been strangled or shot, and she hadn’t died of natural. Her demise had been the result of the animal bites if that’s what they were.
“Are you sure the lady didn’t have any pets?” Stevens asked the next-door neighbor.
“I never saw a dog or cat, but she’d put out food for the birds.”
“Coroner says it was an extremely small animal, like a squirrel or rat, or even a mouse,” said Stevens.
“Damn! Maybe some animal has got the hydrophobe,” said the elderly lady.
“We’ll know more when the lab results come back. We found some hairs, and the coroner says they may have collected some foreign DNA from the wounds.”
Baby jumped five times her height onto Sandy’s bed and smothered her owner with kisses. The little girl squealed happily before both settled down for a good night’s sleep.
In the wee hours, Sandy’s treasured pet crept to the floor and made a bee-line for the closet, moved a shoebox in the corner to the side, and squeezed through the hole she’d made to the home’s crawlspace.
Mr. Towns, the postal carrier, lived less than a mile from Baby and her family. An early riser, he cheerfully swung out of bed at 3:30 a.m. and headed to the shower. By 4:00, he’d had his usual breakfast, three boiled eggs on a slice of toast. He sat on his back porch, smoking his pipe when movement caught his eye. Turning toward it, he got the briefest glimpse of a sleek, black form before it slammed into his chest and tore at his Adam’s apple. In his last moments of consciousness, the carrier worried that his mail route would get neglected before puzzling over how the hell a rat would be crazy enough to attack a human being.
He also wondered why his thoughts were so mundane as he was, without a doubt, being killed — then all faded to black.
Baby knew she only had a few minutes to make it home and into Sandy’s bed before the little girl would wake. Still, she couldn’t arrive soaked in blood, so a slight detour through the neighbor’s yard to swim the length of their pool was a dire necessity.
A sopping-wet Baby climbed through the hole in the bedroom closet, nosed the shoebox into its place, and jumped into the clothes basket to wallow, drying the water from her fur. When Sandy stirred, it was her cue to jump onto the bed and nuzzle her little girl awake.
“Whoa, girl; how’d you get damp?” Sandy squealed and giggled with glee. She thought no more of it and dressed for school, before considering whether to take her pet with her or not.
She could hang out in my bookbag, but what would I do when she needs a potty break?
Deciding not to do it, she put a pee-pee pad on the floor and locked Baby in her bedroom with bowls of food and water.
Lt. Stevens looked forward to the lab results that would likely arrive today. That’s what he thought the call would be about when his work phone rang.
Shit! Another one.
Stevens floored the cruiser he’d borrowed from the local cops and arrived at the mail carrier’s home within five minutes. With not much to do but check out the body and wait for the crime scene investigator’s report, he soon headed to the police department, hoping for good news from the lab.
Dr. Regan waited for him in the lobby and wasted no time filling Stevens in on the results.
“This is the most unusual case I’ve ever heard of,” said the coroner. He handed a sheet of paper to the detective.
Stevens read the print-out that specified tests had detected the smallest breed of Chihuahua’s DNA on both victims.
“A what? We’ve got a killer yap dog?” Exclaimed Stevens, who’d gone slack-jawed; his eyes felt as wide as silver dollars before he became self-conscious, closed his mouth, and composed himself.
“I’m afraid so,” said Dr. Regan. “I can’t imagine what besides rabies would drive a dog to do something as gruesome as this. Still, how could such a small animal get the best of a grown man? Mrs. Ferguson had been asleep, but Towns, the mailman, was wide awake when he got attacked. And there were no defensive wounds on either victim. I’m completely stumped, Lieutenant, unless a serial killer is imitating a canine.”
“Yeah. Someone would have to use tools that imitate miniature claws and teeth while planting the hair and saliva of a teacup Chihuahua without leaving any evidence that would incriminate him or herself. I’ve never imagined such a thing, but I suppose it would be a remote possibility.”
Within another month, security companies from up to a hundred miles away had come to Riverton to cover the demand for alarm systems with cameras. In the meantime, the citizens wondered who amongst them might be a crazed murderer. Despite their efforts, citizens continued to get brutally mauled, but in the middle of October, the cases mysteriously ceased in the small town. In early December, Tucson, Arizona, reported its first incidence of a similar mauling. It seemed that the serial murder, whoever it was, didn’t care for cold weather. Coincidentally, Baby had been missing for a month and a half, much to the chagrin of one ten-year-old girl.
Detective Lt. Stevens had heard of the Tucson case and was on his way to the office to learn the details. A lost dog poster caught his eye. It was a midnight-black Chihuahua dog, missing for six weeks. He considered the possibility for a second, then dismissed the idea with a shake of his head.
Tucson is over 2,000 miles from Riverton, Illinois.