by Dawn DeBraal
Tom Rayburn lived off the beaten path with his wife Sandra and their eight-year-old daughter, Vale. The small house, steps from the walking trail in the middle of a small patch of woods, was a dream come true when his grandfather left his home to his only grandson.
Sandra was reluctant to live out of town so far away. She voiced her concerns until the house fixed to her specifications showed its charm. Sandra resignedly agreed to move. Vale’s freedom to roam the property safely far outweighed the extra fifteen-minute bus ride. That and the addition of a substantial black Newfoundland named Bob to the family clinched the deal.
Lucy and Tony Bail lived next door to the house in the country. Next door meaning they were over a mile away. Lucy loved Bob from day one, saying he had good energy. She attached a medallion to Bob’s collar for protection; she liked to dabble in the “arts” Lucy called it. She told Sandra it would help Bob one day; they should never take the medallion off. Bob didn’t need saving, especially by the size he had grown to, but Tom and Sandra humoured her. Tom had known the Bail’s since he was a child visiting his grandparents. They always had his best interests at heart.
Tom was looking forward to his two-week staycation. He had purchased the lumber and pulled the permits to put an addition on the house. The slab poured last week, had cured for a sunroom on the east side of the house, facing the woods so that the full fall foliage would be visible from their new addition
On Vale’s last day of school, Tom walked her down to the bus stop at the end of their long driveway with Bob running alongside them. First, he was out in the field and then came back walking along the side of them until the next dragonfly had him chasing out into the tall grass. Vale laughed at his antics. Bob was attached to Vale and had his bed in her bedroom. They were inseparable, especially since Vale didn’t have any brothers or sisters to play with, Bob fit the bill.
The sunny June day promised to give him the dry weather needed to build off the sole-plate he had installed the day before. Tom and Sandra had big plans, and he only had two weeks to get the outside of the addition up.
Tom returned to the addition and started forming the wall on the ground. Studying the plans carefully, he had two walls lying on the ground completed by ten-thirty in the morning. Tom wondered how strong his wife was; could she handle lifting the walls while Tom bolted them together? He could call a neighbour, but everyone was working. Tom hated waiting until five to get someone to help. Why hadn’t he gotten friends lined up? He could still work on the final wall.
He looked at the tree next to the house, wondering how much rope he had. Perhaps he could use a pulley system to pull the first wall up to secure it in place. Tom was lost in thought until he heard Bob’s low growl. Following the gaze of the big dog, he watched as a man carrying a backpack walk off the trail and into his yard. Tom was unsettled by the brashness of the man who was trespassing on his property, he told Bob to chill but was glad the big dog could be intimidating to someone who didn’t know even though he was a big fluff ball.
“I think you’ve lost the trail. I’d appreciate it if you’d get back on it, you are trespassing on my property.” Tom said threateningly. The man chuckled, putting his backpack down on the ground.
“I noticed what you were doing. I’m a carpenter by trade and thought you could use some help getting that wall up. But you are right. I will go. Sorry for trespassing.” Tom felt the bristled hair on the back of his neck lay down. The guy was slight in stature. He seemed harmless enough. Bob watched him closely, another low growl. Tom reprimanded him but was happy Bob interfered with their interaction. He watched the man swing the backpack up and start back to the trail.
“Wait, I could use help in raising these two walls, I have to admit. You’re a carpenter, you say?” In a few strides, the slight man approached him, putting his hand out to shake.
“Jack Saylor.” Tom gripped his hand and shook it. The man had rough hands, the hands of a carpenter. Jack surveyed the construction site. “You have a good start here. Judging by the windows, you are building a sunroom?” Tom nodded his head.
“Well, if we put a kicker on this wall, we can prop it up while you attach it to the house. We can do the same with the other wall. Tom agreed with his suggestion. Sandra came out.
“Why is Bob growling?” She stopped mid-sentence looking at the stranger in the yard. Jack quickly extended his hand.
“Hello, Jack Saylor, I saw your man here could use help on getting up a couple of walls. I have offered my assistance.” Sandra looked at her husband, questioningly. Tom shrugged.
“Jack is a carpenter, and he’s given me a few tips and offered his strength to get this wall up.” Sandra thanked Jack for his offer.
“Would you like to stay for lunch?”
Jack accepted. He then showed Tom how they were going to get the wall up. Sandra called Bob into the house, he still did not like the man, and it wouldn’t do to have the dog bite the helping hand Jack offered.
Tom was relieved the guy seemed to know what he was doing. They put the final wall together on the ground. While they talked amicably, Tom was glad he allowed Jack to help. The guy knew what he was doing. They completed the wall on the ground when Sandra called them in for lunch. Jack stood at the kitchen sink, washing his hands. Bob continued to growl at him. He seemed not to be bothered. Sandra put the big dog outside.
“He’s normally not like that. I’m sorry. We seldom get strangers here, so he hasn’t been exposed. He’s only a year old.”
“Just a puppy.” Jack laughed. “But a big one! I am sure he makes you feel safe.” Tom thought that was a strange thing to say. They ate the lunch Sandra prepared and headed out to the addition. Sandra put Bob in the outbuilding. He had not changed his attitude about Jack.
The third wall was attached to the other two. The prefab trusses would go up next. Jack helped Tom put the trusses on to the frame. They hung upside down into the addition. They would swing them up and mount them in place.
The addition was well along the way when they took a break. Jack sat next to his backpack drinking the glass of water Sandra had given each man.
“So, where were you going?” Tom asked, making conversation.
“What?” Jack met his gaze.
“On the trail. How far were you going?”
“I don’t know. I packed a sack, and I was going to see if there was a place to camp. I know it hits the National Forest a few miles from here. It’s a beautiful country.”
“Yes, it is. So, you just packed up and started walking?” Jack nodded.
“I do that sometimes,”
Sandra called from in the house. “Tom, can you help me a second?” Tom rolled his eyes, excusing himself. The television was on in the bedroom, the sound was off, but Jack was on the screen.
“What do you need help with?” Tom stopped when he saw Sandra pointing at the television, seeing Jack Saylor as a wanted man. His mouth dropped open. Tom picked up the phone. It was dead. His cell was on the counter, as he came into the kitchen, Jack Saylor had Tom’s cell phone in one hand and a gun in the other.
“So, now, you know. That is a shame. We were having a good time.” Sandra let out a moan. It was late afternoon. They had a murderer in their house, and she had locked Bob up in the shed. “Both of you sit down NOW,” Jack shouted, making them jump.
“Look, take the phone, we don’t have much money we’ll give you what we have. Take the truck, or the car, use it to getaway. You can disable the other vehicle. It will take us a while to get anywhere to report you. Please take what you need and go.” Tom pleaded. Jack chuckled. He reached in the backpack taking out some tent ropes, throwing them at Tom.
“Tie her up.” Sandra started to cry as Tom tied her as loosely as he could. “Now, her feet.” Tom followed the orders. “Now make a slip knot and put that around your hands. Keep the rope in your teeth. Hold your hands out in front of you.” Tom did as he was told. Jack approached him and kneed him in the groin. Tom fell over. Jack hogtied him tightly, redoing Sandra’s ropes.
Jack went through the house, finding their envelope of emergency money in the bread box. Tom thought that was a good hiding place. Hiding in plain sight, he said when he taped the envelope in the back of the box. Jack also found the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink.
“Now, what am I going to do with you two?” he asked.
Tom again offered anything he wanted, asking Jack to leave.
“Tom, really? Do you think you have anything to bargain for? You and Sandra are tied up. You have been rendered immobile. I knew when I started to walk away; you’d soften, thinking you were safe because I'm a small guy. It happens every time: my stature, and the offer to stand down. Only Bob sensed the truth. You should have listened to him, Tom. He’s a good judge of character.”
Vale would be home soon. She would be getting off the bus wondering why one of her parents wasn’t there to walk back with her. Tom wished Sandra hadn’t put Bob in the shed. Bob always sensed when Vale was coming and walked down to the end of the driveway before they did.
“So, Sandra, where is your purse?”
She winced, hearing her name from the lips of this creep. Jack pulled it out of the desk drawer, rummaging around until he found her cell. He put that in his backpack along with Tom’s cell. “Get in the pantry, both of you.”
They followed his instructions hopping into the pantry. Jack shut the door putting a chair up against it.
In the dark, Tom put his back to Sandra’s, trying to loosen the ropes that Jack had redone. He was trying not to panic. Sandra mentioned Vale. Tom silenced her.
“He doesn’t know about her. We need to untie ourselves and get rid of him before she gets home. We still have a chance.”
“Let me try to undo your hands.”
Tom relaxed, letting Sandra have a chance to loosen his knot. The screen door slammed. Jack was back in the house.
“Well, Tom, you’re going to need a new distributor cap for the truck. Sorry about that. I think I will take you up on the offer on the car it’s nondescript.
Sandra loosened the knot on Tom’s hands when the door opened. Jack reached in, pulling Sandra out, dragging her on the floor. He closed the door behind him, putting the chair up against the door handle. Tom begged him to let her go. Jack stepped on Sandra’s tied hands. She cried out in pain.
“Stop! Jack! Please, what do you want?” Tom pleaded through the door. He tried hooking the knot onto the corner of the counter in the pantry.
“For now? Your wife will do!” Jack stood Sandra up, untying her feet tucking the rope in his back pocket.
Sandra moved out of the door and then took off running as fast as she could. Jack ran after her. Bob threw himself up against the shed door, but the latch held. Jack pulled Sandra by the hair behind the house, near the addition.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Sandra. I was going to be nice to you, but now. I don’t know. I think I’ll have to get a little rough with you.”
Sandra spit in his face. Jack slapped her; she fell. He shot the gun next to her. Tom shouted from inside the pantry, still struggling with the knot. Sandra sobered. She knew what she was facing and started talking.
“Please, Jack, take what you need and go. You know they are looking for you.” A small trickle of blood from her cut lip excited Jack. He hammered a nail into the new addition and hung her hands off it. Sandra was on tiptoe, barely touching the ground. Jack ran his hands up and down her body. Sandra winced, trying to kick at him. He took the rope from his back pocket and tied her feet to the bottom of the corner post.
“Oh, this makes it so much sweeter you, fighting me.
The bus dropped off Vale. The driver asked if she should wait. Vale said no, her parents were working on the house. They probably lost track of time. Vale wondered why Bob wasn’t there.
Vale walked along the dirt driveway she could hear Bob barking. It sounded like he was locked in the shed. Why had her parents locked him up? When she reached the outbuilding, she pulled the bolt that had been dropped through the latch. Opening the door, Bob lunged out, pushing Vale to the ground.
All one hundred and thirty-two pounds of Bob raced around the house. He sprung on Jack, knocking him over. Grabbing Jack’s leg, Bob shook vigorously, pulling Jack along the ground.
He was possessed. Jack was trying to shoot at Bob but worried about getting his leg in the mix. He was shouting at Bob, trying to get a shot off. Vale came around the corner. She looked at her mother, seeing her tied to the post. Sandra was shaking her head, no. Vale read her signal and ran into the house, hearing her father banging at the pantry door. She pulled the chair back. Tom had managed to untie himself, told her to hide. Vale ran into the bathroom, where she folded herself into the hamper.
Tom raced out of the house, seeing his wife tied to the post like a sacrifice, became incensed. He could see Bob was doing a superb job of keeping Jack at bay. Tom kicked Jack in the head. Jack wildly shot his pistol, trying to gain control of the situation, hitting Bob. The dog cried out. Something happened then that Tom and Sandra would never be able to explain. Bob’s eyes glowed red. His frame seemed to get bigger if that were possible. Despite the pain he had to be in, Bob never gave up, he still had a hold of Jack’s leg and wouldn’t let go. He no longer struggled with Jack but pulled him around like a rag doll. Tom was able to wrestle the gun from Jack’s hand. He pulled Sandra off the nail, untying her hands and feet.
The dog obeyed limping off to lick his wounds. Tom held Jack at gunpoint while Sandra ran to the house, calling for Vale. With Vale safely at her side, Sandra rummaged through the backpack finding a cell phone, called for help. The police came, Jack was taken away. One officer remained on the scene.
“Wait, we have to question you.” Sam Willis said as Tom started the car up. He had known Sam Willis for many years.
“Look, Sam, Bob took a bullet for us, I am not going to sit here and talk. You can have someone follow me to the Animal Hospital we’ll make a statement there, but we have to help Bob first. I will not let my daughter see her dog die. Officer Willis stepped back.
They waited in the waiting room, while the officer took their statements and left them still waiting. It had been a couple of hours. Lucy and Tony Bail came through the door.
“It’s all over the news and town. How are you? How is Bob?”
“He’s not out of surgery yet.” Sandra sniffed. “Oh, Lucy, you should have seen him. He was a super dog. He saved us. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Bob.”
Lucy Bail put her arm around her neighbour in comfort.“He will be fine. I have this feeling. Just you wait and see.”
The door opened, and the vet came out, dropping the bullet in Tom’s hand.“He’s a strong dog. He made it through surgery. We’ll see how well he heals. He’ll be limping for a while though, that shoulder was damaged pretty bad.” Tom thanked him.
After what happened out at the farm, they didn’t want to live off the beaten path any longer. Tom knew he would never enjoy the addition. Sandra refused to go back to the house. They found a home to buy in town, near the school.
Bob seemed to like the new place just fine. Every day at 3:15 p.m., Bob used his big head to push open the gate. He casually walked down to the school a block away. Everyone in town knew him, the big black fluffball with a distinctive limp. He was famous for saving his family and was a local celebrity. Vale would wait for Bob to arrive, and together, they would walk home.