"I'm tied up downtown," Eddie said. "Can you check on Shiloh and give her dinner tonight?"
"Sure, no problem."
Eddie didn't elaborate before hanging up, and Debbie didn't ask him to do so. They were both dog people, which formed the basis of a pleasant neighborly bond. Eddie was new to the neighborhood, and Shiloh's presence discouraged casual visitors.
Debbie had grown up with a Doberman, so her first reaction to the breed was always a rush of affection, not terror. Shiloh was a real sweetie, about a year old, full of energy, and food motivated.
Debbie crossed the street and let Shiloh out into the yard. "Good girl!" she said, when Shiloh refrained from jumping on her in greeting. Shiloh cocked her head, not quite sure why she was being praised but always ready to accept a kind word. Debbie tossed a tennis ball and they played a modified version of fetch, which involved Shiloh running past Debbie a few times with the ball between her teeth, and eventually playing tug of war.
For variety, Debbie threw the ball against Eddie's fence; Shiloh caught it on the bounce. At six feet, the fence wasn't high enough to contain a Doberman who wanted to get loose. Fortunately Shiloh had shown no desire to bolt, and at least she was microchipped. Debbie threw the ball again, and wondered if Eddie had considered an agility class. Shiloh would probably enjoy that--especially the part where she was rewarded with treats.
Debbie left her racing around the house and went into Eddie's kitchen to fill the water bowl and set out her food. In theory, anything Shiloh didn't eat was picked up as soon as she walked away from her bowl; in practice, Shiloh never left a single piece of kibble uneaten.
"Shiloh!" Debbie called from the door. "Dinner!"
The Doberman emerged from Eddie's garage, but she was definitely not her usual bouncy self. She bent her head toward the ground and made hacking noises. Debbie felt the beginnings of panic--Eddie was a good, responsible dog owner, but garages could contain all sorts of dangerous things. The death of her last dog still weighed heavily on Debbie; she didn't want to go through that again just yet, and certainly wouldn't wish it on Eddie.
She knelt beside Shiloh, offering encouragement in soothing tones. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced into Eddie's garage. She saw no obvious dangers, no large overturned barrels labeled with skull-and-crossbones. If anything, the garage was unnaturally neat.With a mighty hacking noise, Shiloh dislodged something from her throat. Without hesitation, Debbie reached into her mouth and drew out the offending object. "Good girl. All better?" Evidently the answer was yes; Shiloh waggled her hindquarters and bounded off.
Debbie smiled, and only then realized she was holding a human finger.
She almost dropped it. But while it was quite recognizable, there was no logical reason for her to have a severed finger in her hand. No reason for Shiloh to have had a finger caught in her throat.
Nightmare scenarios overpowered squeamishness. Shiloh wasn't aggressive, but if she had maimed someone, they would demand that Eddie put her down. Debbie glanced into the garage again--there was no sign of the finger's owner. No thief passed out on the floor, no screaming trespasser bleeding in the street. And, looking more closely, the finger had not been torn off by an animal. It had been neatly separated from the hand by a sharp blade.
A sharp blade like, perhaps, the circular saw Eddie had bought over the weekend.
If Eddie'd hurt himself, why hadn't he asked her for a ride to the hospital? And was it too late to reattach the finger? Debbie walked into the garage, expecting to see a puddle of blood on the floor. But there was nothing. Just a recently cleaned floor, and an array of tools laid out neatly, everything in its place.
Shiloh rejoined Debbie and began sniffing around on the floor. She had found food in here before, and therefore might find food again. Never mind that the first snack had choked her; never mind that the first snack was a human finger.
Debbie felt a little ill. If the finger hadn't been cut off accidentally, then it had been cut off on purpose.
She flipped open her cell phone and checked the last incoming call. It wasn't Eddie's cell number. She hit Send, and was unsurprised to be told she had reached the police department, and that she should dial 911 if it was an emergency.
No, it wasn't an emergency. She stared at the finger, wondering who it belonged to and what he had done to offend Eddie. She wondered if the finger's owner was still alive, or if the rest of his body had been carted off this morning in Eddie's pickup truck. She wondered if this was what Eddie did for a living. The question had never come up; Shiloh was a more interesting topic of conversation.
The Doberman whined, unhappy that she was not currently the center of Debbie's attention. "Just a minute, sweetie." Didn't the police have anyone answering the phones? Didn't they want to be informed about evidence discovered in garages? On TV, there was always someone answering the phone.
And on TV, there was only one phone call, almost invariably used to call for a lawyer. Except Eddie hadn't done that. Eddie had just wanted to make sure Shiloh was all right.
Debbie closed her hand around the finger. She didn't know anything about the man it had belonged to--but she knew enough about Eddie.
"Hello, and thank you for holding--"
Debbie hung up. "Time for dinner, Shiloh."
BIO: Megan Powell's short fiction has appeared in various places on- and offline, and sometimes she writes longer stuff, too. She edits the webzine Shred of Evidence and maintains a homepage at www.meganpowell.net.