When last we saw, Emily had just been gotten big time by her friend, Sgt. Megan Deveral.
While Emily finished getting dressed, Megan started prepping breakfast. Several rasher of bacon and poached eggs. She made sure there was extra for Dakota, even though he didn’t deserve any, in her mind for having given her away too soon.
“Hey Megs,” Emily called from inside her tent. “When do Jack and Stacey get in? Thought they would have been here last night.”
“Jack had to do a last minute prisoner transport yesterday and the other day Stacey broke her arm,” Megan called back.
With a sweep of her arm Emily threw the tent flap back. “She . . Her what!”
Megan looked up from propane camp stove and laughed at what was standing before her. “First, finish combing your hair. You look like Cousin Itt. Second, she tried jumping her dirt bike over a ditch and missed. At least the soldier took pity and helped her back to base.”
“As long as the bike wasn’t damaged. I know how much she loves it,” Emily scurried over to the grill and snatched the tongs from Megan’s hand.
Megan glared back at her over the top of her Ben Franklin bifocals. “Not. The bike got the worse of it. Front fork was bent in half. She made the guy straighten the fork as part of his punishment.”
Emily slumped her shoulders in relief, not realizing she’d tensed them. “Well, that’s good. Least she wasn’t hurt too badly. But, how’s she going to fish, after all it was her idea we have Trout Amandine for dinner tonight. And I brought a couple of bottles, and don’t you dare laugh, of Wily Jack Chardonnay ’08.”
Megan shook her head in astonishment at the wine choice. “As for Stacey fishing, I don’t think she’ll have a problem.”
“Jack,” they said in unison.
With a puzzled look Megan stared at her friend. “My only question-is your choice in honor of Stacey’s Jack or another Jack. As in Jack Armstrong from the Target Series.”
Emily smirked, then without daring to look Megan in the face gave her answer. “Yes.” She left it at that, letting Megan figure out the correct answer.
While they cleaned up from breakfast Emily gave the signal he could go and explore the surrounds. She knew from experience he wouldn’t go far or get into trouble. Her only concern, the river. She was thankful the spring runoff floods had subsided and turned the river into nothing more than an overgrown stream.
Around midmorning Jack and Stacey arrived. Together. Which was no surprise to the other two. Even though Jack was stationed in New York and Stacey, Texas they’d carried on a very long distant relationship via phone and email.
Emily and Megan had bet each other as to when Stacey and Jack would finally get hitched. Emily’s money was the summer while Megan held out for early fall.
They all, even Stacey helped, well sort of with her arm in a cast, finish getting the camp area set up. As always the tents, now three, down from the past four, were the perimeter with the cook/eating area offset in the center. A stone fire pit taking center stage.
The July sun generated the perfect amount of warmth allowing them to change into shorts in various degrees of brevity and t-shirts.
Exiting their tents, after changing, each had their own particularly favorite tackle with them. Emily, being of the old school had a seven foot handmade, by her father, fly rod while Megan stuck to her favorite-night crawler(fake) with a custom made bamboo bait casting pole. Stacey and Jack both had spinning rods.
Early afternoon found the four streamside. Each at what they hoped and prayed would be the lucky spot. Actually, Emily was standing knee deep in the water, needing the extra space for back casting.
Meanwhile, Dakota had found himself the perfect spot overlooking the water. A maple tree provided the perfect amount of shade, while the sun warmed, weather flattened and smoothed, rock afforded him the perfect sleeping platform. From this vantage point he could keep an eye on the humans. And from past experience with them, they needed all the looking after he could muster.
As he relaxed one of his front paws slipped into the stream. Too sun warmed lazy he left it. As the coolness of the water seeped into past the fur he let out a happy puppy moan. Within seconds his eyes closed only to open then a second later to a tug on his paw fur.
Somewhere deep in his highly trained puppy dog mind Dakota knew exactly what was nibbling his fur. Trout. Not just one but if he didn’t miss his guess two of the little devils. With a flick of his paw he sent both sailing through the air. With a plop they landed on the shore.
He twisted his head around just in time to see Stacey reel in a small squirmy thing. I’ve got teeth bigger than what she hooked. With a canine version of a humph he resettled his paw in the cooling water.
“Nice big one you got there Stacey,” Emily teased.
Her reply-a Bronx cheer.
A few minutes later Emily felt a tug on her line. A snap of the wrist set the hook. With caution she worked her catch in. A triumphant grin changed to a disappointing frown when she lifted her trophy from the gently swirling water. Her prize-not much bigger than Emily’s.
“Good one girl friend. At least we’re going up in size,” Stacey called over to Emily. Stacey knew to keep her mouth shut.
Unbeknownst to the four further up the river from him, Dakota landed, with calm collie coolness, four more. Each not only a keeper but big enough to stuff and mount.
As his boss and friends struggled he felt his eyes succumbing to the warmth of the afternoon. Before he let sleep and dreams, of chasing squirrels and cats, invade his mind Dakota lifted each trout with his teeth and carried them to one of the food coolers and set them in.
His mission for the day accomplished he returned to his rock, circled several times and settled down for a post-fishing nap.
Finally frustrated, Emily and friends, as a group, admitted defeat. “Guess we have our second choice for dinner-steak,” Jack announced to the group as they headed back to camp.
Moans and groans of disappointment met his proclamation.
“Hey Em, where’s the big guy. Figured he’d be stuck like glue to you,” Megan asked, looking around the camp for Dakota.
“Don’t know. He can’t be far.” Emily’s voice hinted concerned panic. “I’ve never known him to disappear before.” Several times she called his name but to no avail.
Jack wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Once the steak hits the grill he’ll show up. Remember that last time we camped.” Everyone laughed as their minds recalled seeing Dakota with Filet Mignon hanging out the side of his mouth. A ‘who me’ look in his eyes.
In the distance voices slipped into Dakota’s mind, chasing the cat he’d been dreaming about away. He started to contemplate the thought of, as Emily was frequent to say, RTB when a now familiar tug refocused his attention. A sleepy eyed collie grin told him he had more of those annoying fish nibbling on his paw fur. This time not one or two. But three of the little buggers.
An extra forceful flick of his paw and the monsters were, as like the ones, correct four, sent sailing through the air. This time, he noted, they didn’t land with a plop but a thunk.
Pleased with himself, for some reason only a collie would know, he slowly rose to his feet. A good front-back stretch and shake to resettle his fur and he ambled over to see his catch. Not wanting to overexert himself he carefully positioned the trout so he could carry all at once, by their tails.
A sweep of the tents and immediate surrounds didn’t turn up one errant collie. Concern became evident mostly on Emily’s face and was soon by the others. They all had the same worrisome thought. That somehow, someway he’d fallen into the stream. “I doubt that, but right now I’m not in the mood to take chances. He was downstream from me, so yeah, he could have fallen in and none of us would know,” Emily said as they started out to the river. This time toward the area she’d suspected he’d been.
Returning to the campsite by a more doggie route-not a straight line-Dakota was surprised to see it empty. As before he dropped the trout in the cooler. But, instead of returning to the river or going anywhere else, he stayed. Tired from his exertion, he hopped onto the cooler, gave one warning howl to any and all within the sound of his voice, then settled for a nap.
The search party of three partially panicked friends and one headed to total panic mother had just reached the river when a familiar sound assaulted their hearing. Not stopping to finish processing the noise, Emily reversed direction in midstride and flew in the direction of the howl. Jack, Megan and Stacey close on her heels.
Dakota hadn’t completely drifted off to sleep when a sound, reminiscent of stampeding buffalos he and Emily had seen/heard in Yellowstone National Park, brought him wide awake. He sat up on his haunches and gazed about. When he saw his boss exit from the trail into the campsite clearing, he flashed a collie smile in her direction. Normally, that would have calmed her, he knew, but not this time. Onward and onward she ran pell-mell, arms out stretched, panic in her eyes.
As she entered the campsite Emily saw her friend, buddy, partner, therapeutic brat sitting on one of the coolers. Even if she’d wanted to, she couldn’t slow her forward progress. All she wanted to do was get to him. Hug him. Check him for injuries. Then, scold him for scaring her.
She never got the chance.
Special Agent Emily Dahill had always said that timing was everything, he remembered. So he waited and waited until she was almost on top of him. Then, in much less time than it takes to tell, he slithered off the cooler and with his nose popped up the lid.
Emily slid to a dirt scattering stop inches from Dakota and the cooler. What was before her she couldn’t put into words. Seven eyes clear, scales bright trout lay stacked like cord wood on iced cold wine, beer and soda. Without a backward glance to her friends she announced, “Jack, looks like you’re right we get steak. But. . . Dakota gets trout.” She stepped aside uncovering the chest filled catch.
Silence, except for the Silence of the Collie panting ever so pleased with himself, rained down on the surprised friends as they gazed into the cooler.
* * *
Join us next week when
Attorney Jeff Mehalic
will be stopping by to discuss contracts
involved with self-publishing.