a psychological novel by
Alex K Delph
Set in Dublin 2021
About two dogs, and the people around them
With the spotlight riveted on being an outsider
In this jaw-dropper Alex K Delph explores the physical solitude of Londoner, George Wilson, and the stark psychological aloneness of Sandymount-born Clara Browne, amidst the sinister presence of Ben McDuff whose darkness threatens them all
Doberman, Joshua Daniel
German Shepherd, Sofia Guaico
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners, 'dogs in dublin' eMagazine and author Alex K Delph.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Please note: Alex K Delph
writes fiction for adults.
'dogs in dublin' eMagazine
publishes 'Perception' on a
designated adult fiction page.
The last hour of daylight so Hugo is running free in the large open space enveloped by tall bare trees, close to the main gate of Dodder Park. George sits back, arms outstretched on the top of a green wooden bench, savouring the powerful, energetic sprinter go through his paces. Dog whistle at the ready to call him in if needs be. By times he has been known to be mildly aggressive to some other dogs. So far so good today.
As he draws the leather puller of the zip of his Parka right up to the neck, the last flash of late evening sun reflects off the metal Schoffel-branded plate. His black ribbed knit, Stetson turn-up brim hat feels incredibly soft and warm against his shaved head and ears. The down-filled lining of the charcoal overcoat breathes satisfaction within him. He’s a sucker for quality in things.
A young man passes by in a hurry carrying a single red rose wrapped in cellophane. George sits up straight and lowers his arms to his body. Black cashmere lined leather gloves are absently withdrawn from the right drop-pocket of his winter jacket, the label ‘Aspinal of London’ vaguely registering in the now half-light as he pulls them on. ‘Valentine’s Day again’ he mutters. He was at work in Bishopsgate police station that evening. A diligent sergeant in the City of London Police at twenty-nine and on the way up. Of course it helped that Pops was a Chief Inspector based in Guildhall. As a boy George listened avidly to his father waxing lyrical about ‘his territorial police force’ that operates within the city of London, separate from the rest of the metropolis. ‘Smallest territorial police force in England and Wales son’ he would gush proudly. ‘Sure, the financial business district attracts a large commuting work force but only a small resident population. You’ll not find a better place to work I tell you that!’
Amidst the clatter of a busy working office, George was suddenly summoned by his Inspector to step in for a minute. Even now he can hear the sombre tones of the voice that gutted him that evening. ‘It was a head-on collision in foggy conditions. They both died at the scene.’ Thirty-two years ago and it still leaves him cold to think of it. George Wilson lost his parents, his entire primary family, on Valentine’s Day on the way back to London from a romantic week’s holiday in Brighton. Both were fifty-three.
A sharp blast of the dog whistle. George stands up to his full six-feet-three in brown lace-up hiking shoes in crazy horse leather. Hugo approaches with grace and at full pace coming to an abrupt halt before the park bench. George deftly attaches the clasp of the strong steel ringed lead to the broad, blue collar on the dog’s neck. He likes the look and feel of the soft leather. Naturally the manufacturers, Hunter, have discontinued the line so he will have to keep an eye out for something similar to replace it down the road. Nothing stays the same, even for a while, these days! He briskly commands ‘Heel’ as they turn right to go back home by the river bank.
Darkness has fallen. The birds are now quiet again after their dusk flurries. The park feels suddenly deserted. The new moon, now three days old, reflects off the water as it babbles along. Instinctively George bends down to hug the smooth, short, black and tan body of his big dog. The warmth of the heated animal so close to him is both reassuring and a reminder of how much he misses the intimacy of being with a woman. The familiar sexual frustration that he mostly manages to keep in check threatens to momentarily overpower him.
‘Looking back on it now I shouldn’t have depended so much on Wendy after the accident’ he tells Hugo. The young dog, used to being spoken to, continues to walk along quietly beside his master, back gently sloping down towards the croup as he moves. ‘She seemed to relish it at first’ he remembers ‘no mother to compete with anymore.’ How grateful he was for her in the soulless weeks and months that followed Valentine’s Day 1989. ‘I took it for granted that it would last I suppose’ he whispers wistfully. Back then, it wasn’t long before he threw himself full-steam into his work and seamlessly both of them resumed their established pattern of working long hours again. Careers were a priority. A mutual decision taken six years before the accident, just prior to the wedding. Then Wendy was busy developing a niche for herself in Financial Services, steadily acquiring a much sought after expertise in pensions. Fifteen years ago last Christmas she left Collier’s Wood to live with her boss in Croydon. The ink was hardly dry on George’s appointment to Inspector, hard earned over the years, having built up a reputation second to none at surveillance in London. He hadn’t seen this coming.
Without warning Hugo stiffens like a board beside him. George is instantly alert eagerly assessing things around them. They are approaching the footbridge. A medium-size silhouette in motion is as much as his sharp eyes can detect before it almost immediately disappears behind the tall, nude silver birches to the left of the exit and into the shadows of Lower Dodder road. The water gurgles gently along as George looks down at the flat-topped long head of his dog, before Hugo, uncharacteristically, snarls passing the entrance to the narrow bridge.
The scent of expensive after-shave fills the evening mist now forming over the river. Hugo’s ears are pinpoint erect as they proceed past the padlocked river entrance to High School, currently shut due to lock down restrictions and on to the brightly painted tall red wooden latch-gate that is the pedestrian entrance to Weir Cottage.
As George opens the gate he observes that the latch is not sitting fully in the slot as he usually leaves it, as though shut in haste. ‘What the fuck is going on?’ he exclaims, pulling a slim torch out of the top pocket of his Parka. Instantly, white light illuminates a radius of 360 degrees. Still that faint, rich scent but nothing else. Hugo shakes himself restlessly and pulls forcefully to go in ahead of him. Once released, the dog takes-off up the moonlit gravel lane, that eventually leads to the cottage. George glimpses the rust-red markings of the dog’s body under the moon as he disappears into the distance. He draws the heavy black bolt across the inside of the gate and carefully secures the padlock.
A distinct sense of unease rests with him as he follows Hugo. With the ‘five kilometre’ restriction in place here he seldom uses the vehicular gate leading out to Rathfarnham road these days. A flash of anger akin to a thunder bolt darts through him. He misses driving his new station wagon. Just minutes later his thoughts are rudely interrupted by Hugo’s large compact, cat-like paws ejecting gravel in all directions as he bounds back to his master after his nocturnal scarper. Now at the turn in the lane, George is also welcomed by the glow from the window lamp which has just become visible in the mist. The weir sounds gentle this evening. Then, his nostrils are filled with the comforting smell of burning peat wafting from the chimney.
Late that Sunday evening, the CD sleeve of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ by Bruce Springsteen is lying on the sofa. George steps over the bulk of his dog, almost filling up the fireplace, wearing stretch twill cotton five-pocket jeans in slate blue. He’s coming from the kitchen, where he has just put the dishwasher on, with a can of Budweiser cool from the fridge in his hand. Sinking into the old-fashioned red velour upholstered sofa, he rolls up the sleeves of his cotton cashmere quarter-zip jumper in dark teal before reaching over to his laptop to hit ‘play’. ‘Badlands’ drowns out the distant sound of the dishwasher as he pulls the ring of his beer can. He has just stopped writing and as happens more often than not, his mind is full of the stuff. He breathes in deeply, taking comfort from the original black cast-iron fireplace in front of him. The lively fire throws out both heat and a warmth he can’t quite put his finger on, from the simple wide black arch inset. Hugo rests his long head on the slate where the fireplace sits.
It’s ten days since he started following her. The previous Thursday week when the biting gale was blowing strong in torrential rain, his attention was drawn to a small, frail looking woman enclosed in a long black raincoat meticulously cleaning-up after a burly German Shepherd. ‘Would I clean up after you Hugo in woodland, in driving rain and biting wind with apparently no one around to notice?’ he posed. The dog had regarded him quizzically through almond-shaped eyes.
From the window seat, at the time, he detected a sense of helplessness in the face that he only snatched a glimpse of at the moment when the wind caught her red glove and dumped it in the river just upstream of the weir
George lifts the beer can to his lips again. The decision that she is his ‘character’ came not two hours later that day. Ten years before, when George first started writing novels, following his retirement from the police, he had a thorny issue when it came to developing credible strength and depth in characterisation. Frustrated, having diligently had a go at all of the reasonable advice on the subject that he could get his hands on, he was on the brink of quitting. In Summer 2011, he was crewing on Stephen’s boat in Andalusia. The modest Seamaster 925 sailing yacht was moored in Puerto Deportivo de Aguadulce, close to the capital in the Almeria province of Spain. Late one night, having a laugh while guzzling a few beers in the main saloon of the boat that also houses the galley, his friend suddenly became serious. ‘George, you are the master of watching people innocuously! Perhaps if you could build your character around a real person?’ Now, with three published books under his belt, George never looked back.
The V-necked white t-shirt under the black jacket of young Springsteen behind the old typewriter script of the title catches the corner of his eye as he sips more beer from the can. Heartland rock, a style of music, combining mainstream rock music with narrative songs about working class American life hits the spot for George. A good half hour has passed. Now, the title song ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ resonates in the cosy sitting room, the back wall lined with heavy mahogany book shelves. Hugo stands up to his full twenty-seven inches withers to toe, stretches languidly before turning around on the shabby red rug, moving even closer to the hearth, then lying down again.
‘Well they're still racing out at the Trestles
But that blood it never burned in her veins
Now I hear she's got a house up in Fairview
And a style she's trying to maintain’
Tonight the song switches George into vigilance mode. ‘ I can’t be sure yet because he is so fucking on-the-ball but I have a hunch that the shit we saw this evening at the footbridge is the same man we watched that day Hugo’ he speaks aloud. It was probably an hour and forty-five minutes after the woman and German Shepherd had passed by. George had just finished a long e-mail to Richard, his publisher in London. Through the rain, still streaming down the window panes, he had observed a dark figure on the other side of the weir. The erect medium-size man was wearing waders as he gingerly navigated the fast-moving water at the weir’s edge. George couldn’t get a good look at his face, even with his powerful binoculars, because of the black covid mask he was wearing and the ribbed beanie hat pulled down over his eyes. ‘Probably around my own age, maybe even a bit older’ George guessed as he watched the fit-looking older man stealthily move his bulk in the water with a hand-held ‘pick-up’ stick in his left hand.
The current was frustrating him as the severe gusts of wind threatened to topple him but he was so tirelessly patient. At one point he was hanging onto an out-stretched branch to maintain balance. Nevertheless, he persisted. Time after time, he edged closer and closer to an outcropping rock, probably no more than three feet from the water’s edge. ‘What can be so important to merit this painstaking effort in driving rain?’ George remarked to Hugo, then seated on the window seat beside him. Fifteen minutes later, after probably a further half-dozen failed attempts, the figure waved his ‘pick-up’ stick and secured a red glove.
Spellbound, George continued to watch as the man carefully retreated, step by step, back to the river bank again. It was the slow, gentle way he caressed the red material with his right hand before avariciously thrusting it deep into his left pocket that alarmed George.