Jimmie never discussed the details of his work. He was so used to most of his life being under a veil of confidentiality that he never offered any tidbits of information. It did no good to ask him anything he may have discovered about Suzy. I sensed he wouldn’t tell me. The few times we were finally able to be together (without interruption) we talked about ourselves and Logan, a very safe subject. Jimmie didn’t seem to feel threatened by my hobby or my need to train and show my dog.
“A confident man accepts a woman’s hobbies, I believe.” I said, testing him.
“I was raised around horses. Their care always came first. It was a hard lesson to learn growing up, that the animals depended on us. But their care also kept us kids out of trouble. And away from drugs.”
His words melted my heart, frightening me, with the level of emotion that I felt for him. I looked at Jimmie across the dinner table, his thick wavy hair, the scar on his cheek from a fire fighting accident. He was real and normal and kind. He was everything Kent never was. Except most dates ended with his phone ringing, from either a County Coroner, the sheriff, his office staff or the media. Five minutes or five hours, I thought, became my mantra. He made me happy.
Logan and I were unable to attend shows or even enter the qualifying Gaines Regional competition. My job ended and I had to pinch pennies in any way possible. For five months I trudged from one business to another looking for work until finally the County hired me. They had strict rules about vacation time though. I was on probation for six months and then would have two weeks of vacation that I could use. Logan had already qualified for the Gaines Classic in Denver in November. I put in for vacation time the second month I was with the County. No way would I miss that show.
Chris showed a lot over the summer. She said she hadn’t seen Suzy at any of the Oregon/Washington trials. I had told Chris about the incident in Seattle so of course we speculated about Suzy. Why would someone who is rich, had an RV and a driver, with access to expensive dogs and her own training facility in California want to commit a criminal act, if indeed she did? With Jimmie so closed-mouthed we could only speculate.
In the early fall, with some trepidation, I asked Jimmie if he would go to Denver with me. It would mean five days together. But that night over dinner he looked at his cellphone’s calendar and shook his head.
“I’m a speaker at a Fire Prevention Conference in Sunriver that weekend. I’m so sorry.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “I could leave Saturday night though?”
“No, it’ll be over by the time you would get there, unless we meet in Steamboat Springs, Colorado afterwards. “ I thought our time together could still be saved, but in reality I knew, only if he left his cellphone home and that wouldn’t happen. I repeated my mantra to myself knowing even a short time with this man would be special.
“Let’s see how it goes. I don’t need to be there after my part on Saturday. It would be nice to get away.” He said softly, looking down at the table. Such a hard workingman, I thought, could I measure up to him?
One cold, wet November day I looked at my preparation list for the Gaines Classic. Logan was washed and groomed, wearing a new leather collar, his metal crate lined with a thick comforter. I had every inch of the Toyota packed for our trip to Denver. The Toyota’s odometer showed a little over one hundred thousand miles. Could it handle the high elevations, the long distance and possibly snow? It was all part of showing dogs, if the stars and the moon all aligned and it was meant to be we’d get to the show and have a great time. The bigger question was if Logan was ready? Before leaving my rental house, I looked at the pictures of Rowdy on the wall.
“This show is for you, sweet Rowdy.”
Sure enough the Toyota behaved without incident and Logan and I pulled up to the host hotel in Denver. I saw Chris’s van and then recognized several other competitors from the northwest. The Classic drew trainers from all over the country, the best of the best. It took three average scores of 195 out of 200 to qualify. It was an honor to participate, but to win or place would make it all worthwhile.
The next day, the first of two days of competition, it was controlled chaos inside the Denver convention building. There were a few hundred dogs and handlers, crates, commercial booths and the media filling the sidelines, with the obedience rings and their pristine blue mats in the center, waiting for dogs to step inside one by one.
Chris was already at one vendor’s booth, surveying the expensive gold breed- themed jewelry.
“Come on, Chris, “ I teased. “No retail therapy until tonight. Remember why we are here? Dog show? Tripper?”
We tried to laugh and joined other Oregon competitors who were crated together. Before long, the show began. At that point it was a show like any other dog show. But unlike other shows, we competed against famous trainers, authors, or others who made video’s and gave expensive seminars. Dog after dog gave great performances and of course, dogs being dogs, there were the occasional problems. I relaxed with Logan. We would do our best and enjoy this memorable experience. Once I relaxed he did too and we excelled. Even his breeder, Jill, drove to the show to film Logan. The only person who marred the event for us was the presence of Suzy. She was not the big shot at this competition. She was one of many. Her clothes were therefore flashier: black pants, a sequined bolero jacket and her earrings were big and looked like real diamonds. Her new dog, Zipper, drew the crowds with his prancing pace and shiny black and white coat when he worked in the ring. In the end our scores matched. Suzi and I had lost one point each over the course of two shows. Chris had only lost two points in her Open division.
“Chris, I’m not going to the big dinner tonight.” I told her after our last run. “You understand, right? I want to be with Logan in the hotel room.”
Chris’s eyes teared up. “Can I leave Tripper with you then?”
We hugged each other and had a few moments trying not to cry, trying to forget the night that I would never forget, the night I lost Rowdy. But Logan nudged me. Dogs are so intuitive. He kept me in the present with his goofy face and his nose licking my hand.
I relaxed in my chair at the end of the show, not yet ready to return to the hotel. But I sensed someone looking at me and looked up. It was Suzy, with one hand on her hip and her chin held high.
“Don’t think for a moment that you’re going to beat me.”
For the first time I realized she wasn’t talking about my dog earning a higher score than her dog. To her it was about me as a dog trainer beating her as a rich, entitled, well-known and beautiful trainer.
“It’s up to the judge how she scores our dogs. My dog is working well and of course, I hope we win Novice.”
“I don’t train dogs to lose. They either get a blue ribbon or they go to the pound.”
“No.” Was that why Tif from last year’s cancelled Gaines Regional was missing from this competition, why she had a new Novice dog?
“If your dogs aren’t good enough I’ll take then in a heartbeat, “I said impulsively.
“Why, so you can take them and try to beat me with my own dogs?”
“No, they don’t have to show. They can herd sheep, track, any number of things. They don’t deserve to be dumped.” I said hotly.
“If I were you I’d be more worried about that dog of yours, not mine.”
Then she said something that made me shiver. “Any dog that tries to beat me can burn in hell.” She turned after her threat and left. Her anger, her need to win at all costs was chilling.
That evening when I talked to Jimmie I debated whether to tell him about Suzy’s threat. Jimmie had given me no inclination as to any unusual background info on her. I decided not to worry him and said nothing.
The next morning, we were ready to perform one more time, second in the ring. Logan was more settled on Sunday. After the last exercise, the recall, I almost burst into tears. Logan was excellent, beautiful, well-behaved, a dream dog who had morphed from a wild and crazy puppy into becoming part of a confident team. He made me look good. After our performance I gave him some treats while we waited for the stationery exercises. An hour later he again maintained a long sit and down next to a dozen dogs unknown to him. I could relax. We were done, just waiting until after lunch for awards. The scores for Sunday were not posted after each dog’s run. The results would be a secret until the awards, which kept the tension high all day.
It was time to shop at the many vendors. Leaving Logan in his crate, I walked slowly around the building, surveying all the items my dog or I would ever need.
But as I turned to go up the steps to the vendors on the second floor a man in the distance looked terribly familiar. He turned and looked over the balcony. It was him. It was Kent. I’d know him anywhere. Panicking I ran back to Logan and started packing up my chair and crate and grabbed Logan’s leash, attaching him to the lead, practically dragging him toward the door.
Chris came walking up to me.
“Where are you going? I heard Logan did great, possibly a perfect score, “Then she saw my lip trembling, my hands shaking.
“Kent..Kent. He’s here. I have to leave.”
“No, you’re safe here!”
“My purse is gone,“ I panicked, looking around where we had crated our dogs. My cell phone was also gone. Fortunately, I had some cash and credit cards I’d taken for any purchases at the vendors. Running out with Logan I said, “Call Jimmie. I’m driving to Steamboat.”
Then Chris’ armband number was called back into the ring and she was torn between me and the show.
“Go!” I ordered. “Show. But call Jimmie, please.”